Sunday, June 9, 2019

JUNE 2019

As has been clear for fuckin' years now, I don't have a lot of time to crank out (long ass) reviews with some degree of frequency like I did once upon a time. There's probably not gonna be many "featured"-type reviews going forward and things are probably gonna be mostly in this vain, which is some blurbs about things I'm listening to (both submissions and just shit from my own collection). 

Playboy - Celebration [Negative Jazz]
The greatest Canadian record of all time? Well maybe not as good as Leonard Cohen's, but better than the Matthew Good Band's. All seriousness aside, this is the greatest Canadian record of all time. I can't stop listening to it, and when I listen to it I can't stop punching the fucking air (until I have to stop and flip the record). And when I'm listening and punching the shit out of canuck ghosts, I also have to drink ice cold English gin. I can't figure this out because they're Canadian and I'm a whiskey/rum guy. It doesn't make sense. But when I listen to Playboy, I'm a gin guy. I actually keep gin in the freezer so it's available whenever the moment strikes. I don't know why, it just feels right.
So Playboy sort of has that early No Trend or Flippery vibe. Thuggish and sluggish. The bass grinds as much as it grooves (and has this odd, somewhat metallic quality that I still can't pin down--adding just a hint of Shellac-y seasoning). The rhythm section is really the foundation of Celebration, with A Frames-like precision, it churns like a machine. Its importance can't be overstated. But the thing that sets Playboy apart is those clarinets, man.
Is it one clarinet? Is it a cadre of clarinets? I can't tell, but they can really wail! Every so often I hear a bit of barely-there synthesizer but when it comes down to it this is one of the most arresting, rocking, virile and tough-as-shit records I've ever heard, and without a guitar in sight.
Normally, packaging isn't especially important to me but this is top notch stuff both in production-quality and the cool cartoons-meets-vorticism design aesthetic. Los Angeles's Negative Jazz imprint (LA rules, fuck you) did the whole fucking world a solid dropping this hot little number.
Just fuckin' buy it, buy a fuckin' case of Ford's or whatever's on sale and don't stop listening 'til yr dead from a busted liver. Be a part of history and own the magic for a mere 10 bucks. Oh, Canada. 

Aaron Zarzutzki & Nick Hoffman - Exhaustive Expulsion [Pilgrim Talk]
As far as I know this is the cacophonous duo's follow-up to the the bizarre and awesome LP Psychophagi and its accompanying cassingle Opening Band. This dual tape set of live performances is no less obscure or interesting in its sounds but less of a curatorial eye was taken in its construction. The LP had a single 20+ minute improvisation and two more in the 10-12 minute range; the cassingle was fascinating as it distilled Hoffman's and Zarzutzki's efforts down to under five minutes a side. 
This session of dual hour long tapes is more difficult to consume and a bit of a "fans only" affair. But if you can't get enough of a spinning metal plate scraping other pieces of metal, you know who you are and you should have this dynamic duo's full discography in your collection. There are dozens of us!

Amalgamated - Spark I [Intangible Cat]
Amalgamated is a crew operating somewhere in Illinois (I think) with a bit of an unusual set-up that makes their name ring true. Four people generate music, not sure if they’re all jamming separately or together, and then another two people are responsible for editing and other post-production duties. Apparently this 3” CDr had been in the works for some time and saw the light of day earlier this decade (yeah, I'm late). The vibe is mostly chilled out electronic music drawing on a variety of sources. I’m assuming there might be some acoustic instrumentation in here but I’m not positive, there’s definitely a hearty dose of synths, samples and drum machines often spun through spacey dub delay and filters. To the group’s credit, I don’t think this sounds like 6 people had a hand in it; it sounds like it came from one mind to me.
“Rot Makor” features some heavier synth percussion but the tracks generally yield to a smoother pulse. Usually, at least one element in the mix is set to ultra-glide at all times. So even when things get a little crunchy, there’s a plush keyboard somewhere smoothing out the bumps.
People into the trippier electronic music spheres take note, if you haven't already that is!

Back Magic - Chorus Line to Hell [Milvia Son]
I woke up one Sunday morning and had a hankering for Back Magic's Chorus Line to Hell LP. Figured I could try out one of those "Now Playing tweets" and link to the review I wrote about it. Except after some mildly frantic searching, there was no review to be found. Could've sworn I'd written one but once again I reveal myself to be an incorrigible fuck up. So here comes the review that I thought I wrote and definitely should've:
A pungent concoction of punk, surf, no wave, medieval folk and moldy psychedelia (that doesn't quite sound like any of the above) emanating from some basement in Indiana. Back Magic is the work of the Brothers Hoffman, billing themselves as Hair EXP on guitar and sometimes voice and Terror Trans on drums. Chorus Line to Hell marks their debut LP following up 8" and 5" lathes (which included one of my favorite punk rippers from last decade "Cough Syrup Buzz") and a tape on Nick Hoffman's Pilgrim Talk label. And I did actually review those (here, here and here).
This is full of bangers and well worth grabbing to hear all the alleyways the Back Magic boys trek down but a couple favorites are the lo-fi punk anthem "Peace Police", "Thing I am" which heads into a noise rock zone (with a certain Suicide-ish propulsion), the Middle Eastern vibin' of "Paradise of Skulls" and the eerie and droning "Class Coven" with its 60s Italian pulp film score fumes. Oh yeah, there's a ripping Crass cover too because obviously an LP as magnanimous as this should end on a Crass cover.
You can grab yourself a copy from Back Magic themselves here.

Bearded Astronaut - 9.8 m/s^2 [Green Tape]
Like all projects released by Illinois's mysterious little Green Tape label, Bearded Astronaut is a little mysterious. Nearly every phrase on the j-card (save for the label's URL) has at least one space or physics related term: the artist name, tape title, track titles feature words such as "Moon" "Trajectory" "Stellar" and "Transmission" and, probably the most telling "Third Sun from the Stoned." 
Bearded Astronaut at first really subverts the general, sonic expectations associated with "space." There's no ethereal, cosmic keyboards, no 'future sounds'. The tape sounds decidedly terrestrial. Clean-toned guitar offers pleasant arpeggios amidst a backdrop that sounds more than a little raw and gristly. There seems to be a light coat of rust on everything, nothing is space age or state-of-the-art. Bearded Astronaut mostly ambles along pitching makeshift song structures comprised of said guitar, fuzzy bass and stumbling drum machine. 
You know, when I said there's nothing here generally associated with space? Well that only holds true for so long as "Pause and Reflects" does feature pretty organ and guitar glistening. The drum machine still thumps underneath giving the universe a heartbeat. It's a humble, quietly beautiful piece--certainly the centerpiece of the tape. After soaring for so long the piece crashes and burns into a crude 8-bit drum machine loop. Maybe there's some sort of concept going on here: Bearded Astronaut beginning in the terrestrial sphere, ascending upward to the heavens before falling face first once gravity gets its paws on the spaceman again. Jus' sayin'...
"Final Transmission" marks a spiritual heir to "Pause and Reflects." Gliding organ notes are overcome by pulsing static and humming feedback into another very fine track, the aforementioned "Third Sun from the Stoned." There's nothing radically "new" about this tape, but there's something a little intriguing about how they concoct the recipe.

Body Morph - Pussy for Breakfast/Medical Fame [Moon Myst]
Who love da sax, baby? Are there still sax duos out there nowadays? Haven't been keeping my finger on the pulse but Daniel Dlugosielski was in a pretty rad one called Uneven Universe which I hope you heard back in the day. Dlugosiekski helped to pioneer those moldy scrape 'n creep "jazz" moves that oozed out of Michigan on a regular basis (and has since been coined "psycho jazz" if I'm applying the proper meme).
Double D has been in the game a long time and Body Morph is his ongoing solo project of processed sax and mildew. This hour-long album luxuriates across two 30 minute tapes. Bleary-eyed sax drifts from place to place via the occasional sputter and bend of electronics and tapes. There's an occasional harsh punctuation but mostly Dlugosielski lets you just sink in the foggy bog, cushioned by tape hiss.
Each half-hour tape is given a separate title (Pussy for Breakfast and Medical Fame respectively) but they blend together as one big clammy mass for all intents and purposes, though the lovely, drifting melodies of Medical Fame's first side do stand out. When you're in the mood, there's nothing that scratches the itch like Dlugosiekski's brand of reedy, feverish lethargy. Soak up the sonic smells while lying flat on your back and except no substitutes.
Tape's longggggggg sold out as far as I can tell because I'm a pathetic no good loafer, but there's a host of other great ways to ruin your ears from Moon Myst.

Embarker - Point Location [Send Help]
Embarker - False Purview [Send Help]
It comes with the territory, but in the realms of the that's-just-noise genre there are some folks that just seem to fly a little too under the radar for my liking, not getting the amount of pub they deserve from my vantage point. Michael Barker better known (or perhaps not) as Embarker fits into that category. He dropped a self-titled LP over a decade ago, my first introduction to his work and still one of my favorite harsh needle drops in the AuxOut home library. He's been plugging away since, dropping a tape every year or two on labels such as Phase!, I Just Live Here and Spleencoffin, but lucky us, The Bark dropped a tape twofer last year of Point Location and False Purview.
I was gonna try to work this next bit into paragraphs with complete sentences and shit, but I decided fuck it. Here are my listening notes, reproduced verbatim:

point location
side a
track 1
cut-up freak out - killin' it
track 2
Unexpected shift in to vintage Yellow Swans territory. sheets of electric needles crashing on the beach - hell yeah
track 3
splits the difference between the first two
track 4
clicky percussive track, longggg

side b
heavy, violent herk & jerk, sounds like hightops on a basketball court (sick. where are the wells fargo center samples?), some background whispers (really sounds like a mashup of first two tracks)
then back into clicky percussive track, longggg
banger.

False Purview is a 60 minute slab of twisted tech(no)ise. The opener "Chrome Hill" embraces the minimal, patiently building around a thick, irregular throb while "Skeeball w/ Georgio" could totally bang at an adventurous club if you upped the BPMs a bit.
The casual yet insistent slow burn of "Haze Gradient" is far better than so many recent techno 12"s I've heard (okay, I probably haven't heard that many) but, still, Barker's grasp of pacing and drama is far better than most. Somebody offer this guy a record deal!
Even though False Purview is the most approachable Embarker joint that I've heard, dude's not looking to go pop anytime soon dropping the title track's 21 minutes of trance-like rhythmic noise nirvana on the listener only four minutes into Side A. I don't know if False Purview represents the current Embarker phase or if MB has already moved well on to some other exciting territory but it's a direction he certainly excels at.
Check for the tapes (and the excellent LP) HERE

Future Storms - "Chew Me Up" & Other Dance Hits [no label]
The thing that attracted me most about this tape when I received it was the recording credits which read: "I did everything my goddamn self." In places such as "Nacho Mountain" and "Crap Island" no less. How could you not look forward to listening to something with that scrawled inside. This tape is lo-fi. And not just in terms of genre or sonic affectation, this truly sounds like it was recorded all by someone's "goddamn self." There are five tracks, maybe 15 minutes?
It seems like the tracks could be sequenced chronologically based on the date of recording as the production seems to shift as the tape rolls along. "Stellaphone" which opens Side B, while blown out, sounds much louder (and better) than the first side perhaps indicating a musician figuring shit out. The track really thumps with a great little guitar lead peeking out near the end, easily making it the high point of the tape's hissy, buzzy Future Storming. The kicker is that tape ends with a verbal "You're Welcome." Yes, thank you very much Mr. Storms.
Not sure how you're supposed to acquire this tape, but it exists.

Things Falling Apart - One Must Not Move Quiet [Green Tape]
I am curious if there is any overlap in personnel between Bearded Astronaut and Things Falling Apart, as there were certain touches of post-rock dynamics among the mounds of basement grit. Well this tape pretty much eschews the basement grit and amps up the post-rock. 
My relationship to post-rock was always something of a love/hate affair; for every piece of genius like F#A#that the genre produced there were another 25 completely underwhelming, useless albums. Maybe it's been so long that the bad taste has worn off or maybe post-rock just doesn't seem so damn priggish on a cassette but this tape is pretty enjoyable. Even the goddamn title One Must Not Move Quiet is coming straight out of the A Silver Mt. Zion or Do Make Say Think playbooks. With the world drowning perilously in a sea of crooked cheats, some truth-in-advertising is more appreciated now than ever. Thanks guys.

Voicehandler - Light from Another Light [Humbler]
Whoa. This one is potent. If I see percussionist Jacob Felix Heule's name attached to anything my expectations skyrocket, from my discovery of Ettrick back in '06 to this modern day banger by Voicehandler, every experience I've had with his live or recorded work has delivered. I missed out on Voicehandler's debut several years ago so this is fresh territory for me and it certainly stands apart from Heule's other work that I'm familiar with.
Voicehandler marks Heule's percussive prowess teaming up with Danishta Rivero's processed voice and things get wild. This CD collects three sessions recorded late May/early June 2017 in Berkeley ranging from 11-18 minutes, which is kind of great for a short attention spanner like me cause I just pop on an individual set if I just need a 15 minute dose.
That's not to say that care wasn't taken in the track sequencing as "June 8" is a perfect introduction to the album with its kosmische freak jazz vibes. Shards of digital synthesis ping hard back and forth across your speakers, with feral chirps and barks creeping in and, of course, Heule keeping the foundation ever shifting as he volleys between manic and minimal modes. Particularly excellent is the breakdown midway through which sounds like Heule practicing his chops to an alien transmission instead of a Milford Graves record.
I wasn't familiar with Rivero before this but her contributions here are pleasantly unexpected. It's my own bias speaking but when I see "voice & drums" I assume the vocalist is going to be going for a lot of volume (shrieks, guttural moans, whatever) but Rivero's work is wonderfully subtle and calculated on Light from Another Light. She has her in-yr-face freak out moments for sure, but she derives a lot of interesting textures from her voice and electronic processing. The tactile nature of the sounds fits seamlessly with Heule's approach.
That kosmische vibe I hinted at earlier comes thick and heavy on "June 1" which is a sort of twitchy, witchy drone track, really tossing the jazz elements by the wayside with percussion emulating crackly patterns of static. The longest session "May 25" concludes the disc, with Heule picking up the sticks again for some focused, champion-level workouts and Rivero droppin' some wigged out Gremlins-inspired vocal exhalations, an angelic coo or two and a heap of cyber-mainframe pulses.
Great care was put into the recording and it sounds sharp as hell, listen loud on a decent system if you can. Hit up Humbler records for the pro-pressed CD which looks quite spiffy with artwork supplied by Brittany Nelson. Edition of 200.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Ricardo Dias Gomes - Aa [Kill Shaman/SDZ]

Happy New Year! Uhhhh... Well, quite embarrassingly, at AuxOut HQ we're kicking off 2019 in March. This one's been caught in the meat grinder for too many months now. But I promise you it's tops and well worth the wait. The record I mean, not the review. I never vouch for anything written on these pages.

When Kill Shaman puts out a record you always have to take notice and the LP Aa by Brazilian artist Ricardo Dias Gomes is their first release since 2016's essential jaw dropper by Heimat. Teaming up for Aa with Parisian label SDZ, who's no slouch in it's own right, makes a lot of sense considering the two labels released records by several of the same artists (The Rebel, Dan Melchior, and AuxOut favorites, Cheveu) over the past 15 years. Gomes stands just a bit to the side of that trio, however, forging an unquestionably specific aura within the grooves.

Forever late to the party, I was unfamiliar with Gomes's work before Aa, despite a heavily praised solo debut in 2015. My first encounter with Gomes was the music video for "Precipício" released summer 2018. (I excitedly called it "DAF in slow motion".) A gooey, grunting quease with an obsidian gleam, and it kicks off the LP in style. When I listened to the record I anticipated more of the same, and while you get "Tela Parada" which grooves with ease on a thick electro-throb and chopped up hand percussion, that's not totally what Aa offers. As a big fan of the DAF ethos I obviously would have welcomed revivalism in that vein, but Gomes serves up something more his own. A blend of agitation and gentleness, always proffered with as few instruments as necessary.  

Aa is interesting to me because of this minimalism, but minimalism itself isn't all that interesting anymore, it's that Gomes is applying a trajectory burdened with pretensions to a short record comprised of, at their core, pop songs. (Pop songs to my mind anyway.) I'm probably overreaching using the loaded "pop" term as these aren't exactly verse-chorus ditties and their structures feature built-in abstraction. "Paranormal", for instance, is founded on a simple bassline. Gomes's vocals sit midway between a purr and growl. And it's just those two elements aside from a few bars of drums that pop up out of nowhere and disappear just as suddenly. Fittingly, after so much quietude a brief maelstrom of fuzzed out voice and guitar erupts at the end of the track.

"Partimos Daqui Pt. 2" follows suit but even eschews the trappings of drums, guitar, and distorted voice--anything remotely conceived of as aggression. A soft voice and electric bass in ballad mode, and nothing more. Just as "Partimos Daqui Pt. 2" fades, Gomes hits home with the biggest surprise of the record. "1 2 3 Nenéns" begins this time in full-fledged ballad mode with a downright lovely tune of finger picked acoustic guitar and a lyrical bassoon(?) line with Gomes showing off he has quite a nice singing voice.

Aside from that DAF mention, I've found it's a bit of a struggle to pinpoint specific comparisons for the record. I keep coming back to Young Marble Giants. Not a similarity in sound so much as rationale. Also, I'm surprised to say this but there's a distinct flavor of Kid A-era Radiohead (Kid Aa?) on "Fogo Chama" but Gomes chooses to undercut the somnambulist charm by inviting Arto Lindsay (DNA, etc.) to lurk in the shadows and lay down a bit of tasteful guitar skronk.

Aa clocks in around 20 minutes but you'll feel as if you've traveled much further. When dealing with temporal media, length is an aesthetic feature. For some films it's important that they run for three hours and for others it's just as important that they run for 90 minutes. It's no different with records. I believe that the enigmatic qualities of Aa would dissipate some had it run for 30-35 minutes. Gomes practices perfectly calculated restraint, giving the proverbial Listener just enough that it can't walk away after a single listen, or a second, or a third...

For a while I was spinning this everyday before work and before bed; Aa's either thoroughly invigorating or thoroughly relaxing depending on the time of day. Gomes has made a record that slots in perfectly to relieve us from this inveterate 21st century lifestyle of ours.

If you're stateside you can grab the record (cut at 45rpm for the audiophiles!) from Kill Shaman, in Europe you can grab it from SDZ or from the artist himself.