Well, here’s a tricky one. Every so often you run across a record that seems to taunt you while you write about it. With every attempt at description, I hear a ghostly scoff of “Nice try...” One must forge on through the aural and authorial wilderness, however, for the chance at arriving anywhere close to the desired destination. Dither and die.
Waxy Tomb is Jules Litman-Cleper, ostensibly a human hailing from this terrestrial plane, though I’m skeptical. Ah, the age-old ‘alien music’ trope. Overused? Quite. But, I swear, this time it’s really true. I have no trouble picturing an extra-terrestrial researcher poring over hours and hours of static and suddenly happening on Imminent Fold beamed from another dimension. Frantically attempting to explain to the skeptical powers-that-be that these are songs. Sir, sir! If you pay attention there are rhythms, melodies and (inaudible gasp) even words: “This is pop music.” An astonishing revelation sending chills up several spines.
Though it is far from a one-to-one comparison, I keep coming back to Sightings as a point of reference for Waxy Tomb. Both artists make it a point to work within traditional(ish) song structure but eschew any traditional approach in doing so. For Sightings, it’s the power trio rock band. For Waxy Tombs, it’s synth pop.
If you revisit the beginnings of synth pop, when Kraftwerk had sufficiently infected the minds of Daniel Miller and John Foxx, inspiring their respective synthetic discharges, things were weird. The Normal is weird. Metamatic is weirder. And then Gary Numan somewhat accidentally becomes a pop star and the form gets progressively straighter, more refined, more digestible. Imminent Fold is the result of an alternate history where synth pop never catches on, instead becoming a permanent refuge for the strange. The outcast form enduring mutation after mutation for four long decades until this LP emerges.
Is it a stretch to call Imminent Fold a pop record? Probably. But that’s the point. Litman-Cleper is re-imagining what one can do with familiar features and creative building blocks. But what does it sound like? Digital synthesis brain scramble, violently swinging between severe two-second loops of thump-click-bloooop and hare-brained drip and splatter, smothering an amorphous being who sounds like she’s attempting to communicate to a new race for the first time. Not haphazard, but employing structures a mere mortal can’t comprehend. The LP’s 18 tracks don’t feel like songs so much as nooks and crannies of one big bulbous, misshapen growth (handily approximated on the cover).
A big lyrics book (yes, real words are being sung and spoken!) is included, appropriately stylized to the point of illegibility. Looking like a fucked edition of those Magic Eye books with the hidden pictures I could never see as a kid (and probably still can’t as an adult either). It feels like a momentous event when I make out a phrase in the book and on the record at the same time.
Sometimes when I finish reviewing a recording, I feel like my journey with it is complete. I know it back to front and have extracted everything there is to know. I certainly don’t feel that way about Imminent Fold and I don’t expect I ever will. Too many unattainable secrets lie within these grooves. A pop record I’ll be listening to the rest of my life and still never figure out. How often does that happen?
San Diego-based contrabassist Kyle Motl reminds us all that the double bass is quite overlooked in the avant-garde solo improv zone. I've got loads of recordings of this ilk using guitar, percussion, violin etc. but the only other example of solo double bass I recall having in my library is an excellent tape by Andrew Scott Young (of Tiger Hatchery fame). So Motl has some fresh earth to plow, and plow he does.
Motl makes his instrument quaver and quake. Sometimes swelling to a burly, hulking mass, sometimes reduced to a frantic whimper. Tones heave and wheeze, subject to insistent palpitations. Contrabass truly is an incredible instrument, capable of mammalian squeals, didgeridoo-esque drones and timpani-like percussive thunder ("Augur II") in Motl's masterful hands. I couldn't blame you if you thought "gee, that's a ripping sax solo" on the particularly impressive "Phosphene II" where Motl manages to both take the lead and provide accompaniment for himself—a one-man-band of the highest order. Another curve ball, "Augur III" almost has a 70s crime movie vibe, somewhere between moody and slinky while "Augur IV" nearly sounds like a drum solo.
Augur is about as good as solo improvised performance gets. Diverse approaches and timbres abound; Motl doesn't fall into any repetitious habits, always finding a fresh approach to his instrument. Motl wasn't on my radar before, but he definitely is now. (By the way, the cassette sounds fantastic and according to the credits we have Matt Baltrucki (recording/mixing/mastering) to thank for that. Thanks Matt!)
[Skip to the second paragraph to avoid the navel gazing] Ah, Deerhoof, so many memories from my high school days. There was the time I reviewed their album Milk Man in the school paper and actually had parents lodge complaints about it (I had to meet with the principal over them!) And there was the first time I listened to a Deerhoof album. I was staying with an out-of-state friend for my 15th birthday celebration and when asked for a gift idea I requested Reveille by a new band I heard about called Deerhoof. My friend and his mom generously granted my wish and eagerly suggested we play the CD on the way to lunch while I politely declined, hoping to avoid judge-y looks during the clatter that would surely emanate from the car stereo. They insisted against my protests, and you know, things were actually okay through the first few tracks but then "No One Fed Me So I Stayed" started blaring on the speakers and the bomb was dropped "Do you actually enjoy listening this music?" It took a little while for the mushroom cloud of atomic-awkwardness to clear and needless to say they didn't play any more of my CDs in the car. Despite, the rocky first go, I unabashedly dug Reveille and, now listening as an adult in a place of my own, shielded from taunts of the unconverted (ha!), I can say the same about Midden.
I've been a fan John Dieterich's elastic and kinetic guitar fireworks in Deerhoof but had never ventured into his improvisational work and Tashi Dorji is a name that sounds familiar but I'm pretty sure I'd never heard him play. So Midden functions both as an educational course for yours truly and a portrait of slammin' six-string skronk etched in ethenyl.
Each guitarist takes one channel. My guess is that it's Dorji on the left and Dieterich on the right. I love the inauspicious beginning as the first side begins with several seconds of near silence before the twin guitars start chiming. Bent notes build quickly to a thick, noisy thrum early on then the duo briefly approaches "regular" guitar jazz and even settles into a delicate moment before later kicking up dust in a Hototogisu-lite shitstorm. And that's just the first side.
Supposedly, this recording documents the first time Dorji and Dieterich played together, but the two are so in sync with one another that I'm struggling to fathom that this could be true. They have the uncanny ability to ride same the dynamic shifts blow by blow. It's a seamless journey through peaking levels and tempered valleys.
Throughout Midden, the most notable trait in my mind is that both players inhabit this nether region between dissonance and consonance; there's no real melody or harmony but there's the specter of both amid the gristle and grind. It's difficult to properly describe but this is the kind of out there record that could get the uninitiated into out there records.
If Midden can be this excellent as a first-go, the possibilities are scary if these guys started playing together regularly. Could the world even handle it? You know what, fuck what the world can handle. I'm ready so let's do this. Tashi and John gimme your best shot, blow my mind.
Gilgongo is killing it with this recent trio of LPs, all of which are worth tracking down.
Ohio has birthed too many great troubadours to count (Tommy Jay, Peter Laughner, Jim Shepard, Pollard/Sprout, and on and on) but one that had never showed up on my radar is Derek Erdman. This probably isn't too surprising given that Erdman is a particularly odd duck when compared to those above.
In addition to Erdman's solo material, Chicago's Sanzimat International has collected material from Erdman's groups Beauty Pageant, Double Decker Bus, The Future Cobras and Witch Duck amounting to 30 tracks recorded between 1991 and 2004. (Dates for each track aren't specified, and it's not clear if the tracks fall in chronological order) The tape flies by, however, as the 30 tracks comprise brief songs and even briefer interludes (some lasting a handful of seconds).
Coyote really runs the gamut: rolling piano pop with titles that double as lyric sheets ("Everybody Likes That Girl", "Do You Want It, Do You Need It, Do You Love It"), post-Violent Femmes frustration pop ("On Again, Off Again"), melodic tape experiments ("Carom", "Crayons"), soundtrack-y pieces ("Thirty Minutes Over Dilemma"), spacey synth-goofs ("Gorf-y"), various flavors of GBV-ish balladry ("Teenagers & Hamburgers", "Hello Claire" (twice), "Hoping That You'll Never Know", "The Ballad of You") and morose noise-sludge-pop ("I'm Thinking About Getting Married"). Sometimes it's just an unholy conflagration of all of the above ("That's Portrayal (6-Hour Megamix)").
Most tracks hew to a rough-ish fidelity but "Drunk" (credited to Beauty Pageant) is a lightly polished 90s pop tune that would have felt right at home on college radio (and maybe was!) The two tracks credited to Double Decker Bus stand out with the K Records-style shamble-pop of "You Will Never Know" and "It Really Happened" which sounds like the communal goof-folk territory Happy Jawbone Family Band has been mining in the 21st century (a la "No More Smoking Pot in the Bathroom").
All of the above is great stuff, but the track "He Knows That I Love Him" which arrives at the tail end is the reason this tape must be owned. A minute and a half of gentle pop bliss. I swore that it had to be a cover, that I already knew the song, that I'd been hearing it all my life. I searched and searched and have never come up with anything, leading me to believe that Erdman tapped into some eternal pop spirit of the late 20th century and delivered this song straight from the gods. The track feels so familiar and comforting in all the right ways, a gem of sweetness and charm. Utter perfection. Take it easy on your rewind button now cause you'll be needing it when you get this tape in your clutches.
There are one or two moments on Coyote (Archives Vol. 1) that can be annoying ("Zork-y") but overall it's eclectic and endearing, and for someone who has no clue who Erdman is, it's quite the adventure.
[EDIT: Sanzimat International sent in a photo of the full archive from which Coyote was culled]
Men's Recovery Project is one of the more fascinating 90s "rock" acts; they were a hardcore band morphed halfway into a neo-Residents outfit. (The metamorphosis completed on their masterpiece of a final LP, Bolides Over Basra, one of the more cherished records in the AO archive.) Anyway, they have a record called Make a Baby and I'm obsessed with my baby so it's getting a review. (You'll likely be seeing some random baby-themed selection each month on AuxOut for the foreseeable future.)
With 8 tracks on a 45rpm 7" platter, the Project wastes no time packing Make a Baby with weird hardcore ("Why We are Lazy"), bleep-bloop interludes ("Ant Propolis"), jokes ("Man Urinating, Laughter") and Commercial Album rejects ("Man Hole"), obviously that's a compliment. The pinnacle is the final track "Enjoy Life" with its Flipper-level philosophical insights into what it takes to be happy: "Work hard/Show promise/Make friends/Establish trust/Fall in love/Man a vehicle/Make a baby/Win approval" I followed this path exactly (seriously!) and I'm living proof that it really does work! I oughta negotiate a little endorsement deal in exchange for the MRP records I'm still on the look out for. There's no substitute for inspiring testimonials.
Make a Baby is one of the cheapest MRP project records you can score ($2.75 on Discogs as we speak) and it's one of several essential documents of the 90s' most entertaining prank-punk wackos. So, yeah, buy it already.