Saturday, October 20, 2012

Kirtan Choir - The Unquestioned Answer [Skrot Up]

This cassette by Kirtan Choir was a little bit unexpected coming from Skrot Up which has made a name on a lot of nasty sounding stuff from the gothic nether regions. I'm talking bands like Grave Babies and FNU Ronnies and noise mongers like AG Davis. Unlike the previous names mentioned, Kirtan Choirs music is much more orchestral in nature.
The trio, consisting of Barbara Arriaga (cello, voice), C.J. Boyd (bass guitar, harmonica, cymbals, voice) and Jim Edwards (sampling), reminded me immediately of Godspeed You! Black Emperor when I first listened. They obviously have a significantly pared down lineup (it's unclear but I don't believe Edwards performed with the others on the first and third pieces but was solely responsible for re-working the second piece from pre-recorded material.) The other major difference from the aformentioned Canadian post-rock symphony is the duo of Boyd and Arriaga improvise their material.
You wouldn't automatically think "Beast with Two Backs" is improvised considering how lovely and wistful it is. Arriaga's work on the cello is fantastic and Boyd works simple little melodies around her long bowed strokes. It sounds like there is some multi-tracked embellishing, but Arriaga and Boyd clearly have chemistry together, creating the illusion of more than two people playing and seeming able to guess each others next move at any given moment. This is a really wonderful performance, particularly near the end when Boyd delivers measured chords and Arriaga alternates between intricate, chugging melodies and lonesome howls
"The AIDS Industry" sounds like material was recorded by Boyd and Arriaga and then handed over to Edwards to refashion. I'm unable to tell if he's working with material featured in the other two pieces but he's at least using material that appears in the third piece--or perhaps it's the third piece that's using his material. Edwards's hand certainly pushes the Kirtan Choir into another direction. Often shrouded in digital crackle, he samples and splices various melodies together creating a much more propulsive, rhythmically-driven version of the band. It's an interesting experiment though the unadulterated improvisations are more to my taste.
As alluded to earlier, the beginning of "Life After Near Death" overlaps with "The AIDS Industry." After a few minutes though a glistening harmonica drone fades in and Arriaga's cello is as melancholy as ever. This section eventually segues into an array of voices before reintroducing the cello and harmonica producing a gloriously enveloping blanket of sound. I have a hard time believing this was improvised, but either way, this is good stuff regardless.
Unfortunately, only 60 tapes were made and they appear to be long gone. It looks like the album was also released on CD from Canadian label Jeunesse Cosmique though. It's well worth a little research to track it down though.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

April in the Orange - In the Mirror Under the Moon [Cae-sur-a]

While Cory Card's output as head of the Cae-sur-a label has been fairly varied, I was pleasantly surprised when I heard this April in the Orange cassette. Not only does it mark yet another new direction for the label, it's also really good.
Opener "Of the Night Hymn Ikue" is a great little folk ditty with bouyant acoustic strums and a spacey electric guitar (and possibly a keyboard) blanketing the piece and providing occasional counterpoints. This introduces the blueprint that the duo of Andrew Barrett and Samantha Linn use throughout the course of the tape. Acoustic guitar, drowsy vocals, heavily effected electric guitar and keyboard.
There are a lot of great songs on the tape but the best is "Same Old Mystery." It's reminiscent of Warm Climate's Stunned tapes minus the strange soundscaping and rock & roll panache. It's seriously catchy and the electric guitar accompaniment kills it again with an equally catchy riff and nice little solo. Can't get enough of this tune. "Xerxes Folding Roses" ups the ante even more with a positively gorgeous acoustic guitar melody that appears halfway through. "Love All the Same" feels like some of the sleepier MV+EE stuff, very nice.
Barrett and Linn throw a bit of a curve on "Outsideinsideeverywherenowhere" at first, with some reggae-like guitar stabs before they start rolling with acoustic guitar again and somebody starts shredding on his/her axe. One of the more rambunctious tunes included here, making for a great climax before the brief, soft "Under This Wave" leads you into the tape flip.
"Amethyst & Azure" waltzes along, drifting like a cloud with excellent slide accompaniment and hazily effected keyboards. Linn takes over on vocals for "To a Lost Family," and her vocals add a different dimension to the band. Her vocals are recorded much cleaner and their a bit stronger (though still soft) than Barrett's whose vocals tend to blend in with the instruments. Barrett's style probably fits the overall aesthetic a bit better but it was nice to hear Linn for a change of pace.
The final track "Morning Never Came" clocks in at nearly 13 minutes. It's at once one of the stronger and weaker tracks. It features some of the most beautiful songwriting on the tape though It segues into a long "drone" section that feels a little tacked on. I admire the adventurousness but the duo is much better at arranging songs than drones. The main misstep is that the section just sort of goes on and on without being particularly dynamic. Had they shortened it to a minute or two before wrapping things up I might have have applauded them for the left turn but as is I think they veered a little too far off course. Still, I am mostly just complaining at this point, the song is still a good one and you can press stop at any point in the drone and start the tape over.
Druggy, hippy folk can go either way for me, a lot of it is none too great but based on this cassette alone April in the Orange has to be one of the best groups practicing the genre.
In the Mirror Under the Moon is fantastic. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous atmosphere and brilliantly bare little songs. Nimble and pretty addicting, check this baby out!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Long Distance Poison - Ideological State Apparatus [Constellation Tatsu]

Despite having dropped tapes on Digitalis LTD. and Ecstatic Peace!, I somehow missed the memo on this analog synthesizer trio(!) Thankfully brand new label Constellation Tatsu is here to save the day and fill me in with Ideological State Apparatus.
Casey Block, Erica Bradbury and Nathan Cearley do their trucking with an array of seven synthesizers and you can tell cause this thing sounds dense. This isn't some kind of fluffy, soaring-on-a-cloud synth affair; this is the dark side.
The first side, titled "The Three Voices of Tawuse Melek," gives you a good ol' gut punch at the get-go and somehow increases the bass over the course of the track. This isn't pure drone, the trio indulges in sequenced thumps and other synth flutter which is nestled in along side the deep one-finger jamming. When the sequencer kicks in you get instant dystopian crime-drama atmosphere. Too grooving to be militant, the pulse is relentless and easy to succumb to--whether you're a getaway driver, escaping from New York or just a dude on his couch like me, you can't help but feel fucking cool when listening to this. Top-notch shit.
"The Government Spawn Seek the Tomb of Her Stars" begins in a similar fashion with a sole bass drone. After a few minutes of shuttle-launch jettisoning, a member of the trio starts to punctuate every ten seconds or so with a stab as the other synths whimper and whine. While the flip has a groove, this track is dank and damp with a rhythm that's akin to pounding your head repeatedly against a brick wall. This is the sound of things going from bad to worse over a single tape. Crushing stuff.
I now must ask: "why aren't there more synth 'bands?'" They're awesome! I'm all about one mind realizing its vision but there's also something special that a crew brings to this kind of party. Three people all zoning, throbbing, screeching in unison, it's a rare added dimension. It can't be hard synth aficionados, get on it. Pretty soon there will be quartets and with a little luck we'll find The Beatles of the synth-drone genre. A revolution is brewing...
In a short few months, Constellation Tatsu has already dropped 12 tapes! We'll see how long they can keep up the stamina for that pace, but in the mean time this tape is still available at their site.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Kanukanakina - A - Arrival B - Departure [A Giant Fern]

I don't know much about this Kanukanakina project other than Portuguese artist Miguel Pipa is the brains behind the operation. Well, that, and I know this tape rules.
There is a laundry list of materials in Portuguese that I plugged into the ol' internet for a translation and this is what it came up with: "born from crossing experiments, the logical connections and little probable, Funding outer races for bentados collection of pedals, a vast collection of hardware, box-bent, changed radios, tv, sampletrack-bent keyboards, video games, tapes, vinyl, glitch box." There are probably more than a few inaccuracies there but you get the idea.
All this is beside the point however, who needs words when you have sounds?
While Pipa sets a wide array of interesting sounds in motion, the key to the tape is the space he leaves. Pipa never overplays his hand, instead he takes his time traveling through the aural space, suitcase in hand, brimming with sounds. As the title A - Arrival B - Departure suggests, the tape does feel like a journey.
The sounds range from quiet crackle to strange, frantic circuit emanations to mechanical/percussive clanks to (I think) treated field recordings/samples. Pipa does a splendid job imbuing his palette with vibrant energy yet keeping so it so tightly coiled there is a heightened sense of anticipation throughout the tape. There is a tactile quality to the sounds which I love, you can feel Pipa's hands creating this. The tape continually develops organic little rhythms, often juxtaposing frequencies each with its own opposing rhythm.
One of the most fascinating aspects to the tape is the tension between chance and control. The type of sounds that Pipa works with suggest an element of randomness or unpredictability but the feel of the tape is so confident and focused, it's hard to believe that this was not composed down to each nanosecond. Truth be told, I have no idea where Arrival lies on the spectrum between complete composition and complete improvisation. Considering how meticulous the construction is, I would not at all be surprised if Pipa had somehow created sheet music for the entire album despite there being very few musical notes over the course of the tape (there is a very lovely lullaby that opens the second side however.)
The process of the tape is a single fluid motion through a series of vignettes, each created on its own terms yet a seamless extension of those that precede it. Pipa is precise in his layering of the audio: he uses the stereo spectrum to his advantage, creating the illusion of three-dimensional space between the two headphones and he only chooses a few sounds at a time, arranging them to all have impact without causing distraction.
I don't know how long this guy has been doing this, but he sounds like a master to me.
With the culmination of the tape Pipa breaks out of the intense subtlety. He lets circuits squeal and freakout leading to a brief clip of an author at a book reading then onto a heavily processed reconstruction of a female-fronted pop song. Then the curtain falls.
Comparisons that come to mind are Peter Taylor's excellent Mortuus Auris & the Black Hand project or the Foton tape on Field Hymns that I recently reviewed. Pipa is traveling in his own channel though and its a good idea to come along for the ride. Putting the headphones on and pressing play is simply a treat.
The cassette is still available from Portugal's A Giant Fern label and I definitely recommend you take a look.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

In Brief #2: Hymns of the Field

For the second, and long-awaited I'm sure, installment of "In Brief" I'm shining a bit of a spotlight on a great little label out of Portland, OR (one of the few places I call home.) Headed by founder and CEO Dylan McConnell, Field Hymns always seems to exude fun and exuberance for the music it releases. While fizzy electro-pop seems to be Field Hymns's forte, some of my favorite releases from the label have been from when it went a little off-script and, thus, Foton, Mattress, Susurrus and White Glove are our subjects today.

Foton - Omega [Field Hymns]
I don't know who this Foton is, but I'd like to. My only possible guess would be that this is another offshoot of Dylan's, although the titles look like Russian (?) but perhaps that's a red herring.
Omega is a pretty great piece of work. Lacking a better term, I started just calling it "something-concrete." It doesn't quite fit into the typical notion of sound-collage/musique-concrete, the vast majority of the material if not all appears to be inorganically (that is electronically) created rather than working with found sounds. That said, it doesn't fit into the "academic synthesizer electronic workshop" field too neatly either--it's a little too vibrant, or energetic shall we say. There are elements of those modes, along with a touch of avant-percussive pitter-patter. There are various fragments of synth--some beautiful, some more in line with 50s sci-fi sound effects--strange filtered guitar passages, synthesized whistling etc. all patched together into a well-paced though decidedly not seamless trip. It's a bizarre world of sound. Often you don't get much more than a glimmer but that's usually enough for these capsules to be absorbed, particularly when Omega morphs into more "symphonic" phrases. A strange synthesized circus number and another grand, almost funereal, piece at the end of the first side are highlights.
While the first side is ostensibly divided into 5 tracks (I can't discern where one ends and one begins--the side seems to be a continuous series of vignettes) the second side is billed as a single piece. It's still similar to the first but there's a noticeable shift in pace, it unfurls much slower and more quietly. It perhaps promises more but maintains it's scaled-back minimalism throughout. One of the more interesting elements of the track is its indulgence into "free" territory, sounding like a sparse jazz ensemble reproduced on synthesizer. In comparison to the first side, it's at once more epic and smaller in scale. My preference veers toward the oddities littering the first side but the extended transience of the second is commendable as well. This is a great little tape and an unsung gem from the year so far.

Mattress - Lonely Souls [Field Hymns]
If you don't know Rex Marshall's music track down his Low Blows LP pronto. Dude's shit is awesome simple as that. The reductive Rolling Stone capsule review would read "Mattress is Nick Cave-meets-Suicide" and while that is true in a number of ways Rex's style is uniquely his own and, plainly said, the guy's one of the best songwriters we have right now.
Lonely Souls marks the second time I've had the pleasure of hearing Rex on cassette, well third if I count his work with his R&B group, The Reservations. Marshall channels his frequent muse Suicide in the fantastic opener "Done All My Time" but does so with a decidedly cosmic bent. A propulsive drum machine hisses while Marshall opens interstellar portals with deep synth throbs. "I am not a member of these times" he croons, how true. "Forget My Name" features live drums by Ethan Jayne (even so they still sound filtered/blasted to hell) but they imbue the track with a certain looseness that keeps the repetition fresh and organic. Also, Rex duets with himself on this track, sweet! "Lied Again" reminds me a little of Blank Dogs, albeit at a lethargic pace, before Mike Sniper stopped caring. Totally unnerving, this has slowly become one of my favorites; the mix sounds inherently unstable, I half expect the floor to drop out at any moment and the drum machine to die, if not Rex himself.
Guitar and bass rear their heads among the the synth-buzz on "Dead Ends" allowing Marshall to work in little keyboard counter-melodies here and there. It's one of the relatively cleaner sounding tracks and still Rex sounds like he's singing from across the room. "Shake Me" edges into some weird, nearly dubstep territory. Incongruous drum machines wobble and trip over each in asynchronous fashion. It catches you off-guard at first but makes perfect sense given Mattress's style.
The quasi-title track "Only Lonely Souls" enters the pantheon of 100% Solid Gold Mattress Hits, joining "Roll Roll Roll," "Church That Shit," "Remember" and "Bad Times" among many others. Rex gets down, unleashing the most grooving piece of work he's ever composed. Mattress has always been catchy in its own special way but Rex seems to be courting pop vibes a little more than usual on this one. It's a good look for him.
I could tell you that all the songs are top notch, but that kinda goes without saying every time the spine reads "Mattress."
This is the darkest, heaviest, nastiest and flat out bassiest release I've heard from Rex. Much of the time, Marshall employs pretty sparse arrangements. And in a way the arrangements on this tape are still minimal: the elements are voice, drum machine, synth, occasionally guitar and guest drums by Ethan Jayne on two tracks. Yet these Mattress songs sound much more immense than any previous ones--Rex's booming voice sounds claustrophobic wedged between mountains of thick synth signals.
The inside of the j-card reads "Low Fidelity... A Mono Recording" so maybe that's the secret to whipping up this monolithic mash.

Susurrus - Susurrus [Field Hymns]
Speaking of monoliths, Dylan McConnell stealthily slipped out a release by his drone alter-ego Susurrus a few months back. This was a left-field smack in the face of the highest order. This is legit DRONE. I was used to bobbing along to McConnell's various playful synth-pop tapes under the Oxykitten and Adderall Canyonly monikers, so learning that this tape was executed by Dylan was a shock. Headphones are recommended if not essential (I suppose a fancy surround-sound system would do nicely as well) as there is a lot of play along the stereo spectrum. And plus, this thing sounds heavy. Not "heavy metal" kind of heavy, I'm talking fat, thick, sounds-like-it-weighs-a-ton heavy.
Organized into two movements (one on each side naturally) this album is orchestrated seamlessly. At its bass, (bad pun, deal with it) there's always some sort of deep tone or throb. The movement's expansion is nearly imperceptible at first. What's particularly great about this is there's a heavy dose of microtonal aesthetics but rather than boring the shit out of you for better or worse, McConnell massages various "musical" features out of his tones without betraying that deep, immovable-object aesthetic.
The second movement has a higher degree of sine wave pitter patter in the midst of subtle but deep tone tunneling. McConnell whips out waves of every form and it's great.
Honestly, I can pick out the minutiae of the different moments and try to give you an idea of what it's like but I'm not getting you any closer to actually hearing it. There's not a ton I can say about this other than this is some really good fucking drone. And I feel it's been some time since I've heard some really good fucking drone (the recent Dull Knife LP is also quite good.) It just feels good to be enveloped again.

White Glove - White Glove [Field Hymns]
White Glove is a bedroom project of Tim Wenzel; consisting of acoustic guitar and muted snare drum, Wenzel weaves snarky tales of trust fund kids, skateboarding, getting beat up by skinheads, having pink eye and also just what Heaven is like.
The tape is chock full of great songs from the start. The opener "Trust Fund Kids" implies that trust fund kids are just like pod people ("they look like me and you/but they got us fooled") Furthering the pod people implication, the previously skeptical Wenzel quickly succumbs to wishing he was a trust fund kid--he'd buy all his friends pizza, build a super-tight spine ramp, buy beer and a bunch of tapes and ultimately "make financial mistakes."
"High Bike" is a soft ballad about  the silly high bikes some people ride around Portland. "Jesse" is a sort of re-imagining of "Jesse's Girl"--it's not a cover, and musically doesn't share any ground with Rick Springfield's "classic"--but it is about Jesse's girl who "swings both ways." "Too Young" is a sardonic ode to young love, and a possible sequel to "Jesse" (?)
My hands down favorite is "Skate Heaven," Wenzel's detailed description of the new skate park that was just built in Heaven. Wenzel notes that it "sounds like a super heck-a fun" and "You don't have to wear full pads/You don't have go with mom and dad/You don't have to pay any money" although he notes the one rule: "If you wanna go you gotta die... and go to heaven." However, Heaven is not all sunshine and skate ramps, Wenzel admits "the one thing that kinda sucks is it's always cloudy"
To those cynics out there who might ask: even if there is a "Heaven," why would there be a skate park there? Well, the answer my friends is simple: "They're trying to get more people in heaven/that's why they built a skate park and a 7-Eleven"
 The track perfectly culminates in a hallelujah chorus by the "skateboarding angels" who "ride the sky." It's a great song; one that has earned many repeated listens.
"Sober" whips out the electric guitar and it's actually a pretty good fit for White Glove shenanigans--I wouldn't mind seeing Wenzel play these songs with a sloppy, blown out punk band.
The bottom line is the tape is a lot of fun. You like fun right?

You can hit up Field Hymns to grab these suckers. And you probably should.