Saturday, October 31, 2020


Happy Halloween!

Bruckmann | Djll | Heule | Nishi-Smith - Brittle Feebling [Humbler] 
Ooh baby, this is a good one. A four-way collaboration of koto, trumpet, floor tom and oboe/English horn released through percussionist Jacob Heule’s Humbler label. Maybe you’ve heard that combo before but I certainly haven’t and it works to perfection on Brittle Feebling.

Tactility is at a premium here. Amplify the slightest scrape and I’m in audio heaven and this disc hits all the pleasure centers. Every squeak, creak, acoustic throb, clattering shiver and occasional “musical” sound is rendered with immediate clarity thanks to Heule’s work recording, mixing and mastering. The ensemble works over a vast dynamic range. Tense. Spacious. No one overdoes it, even when things start to get fierce. Most interesting to me is at certain points the group manage to emulate a musique concrète sound collage vibe in the live setting which is a sight for the ears to behold. 

With computing becoming a bigger part of musical performance and composition every day, an album like this of masterful physical manipulation, whether via breath or limbs, sounds more beautiful than ever. Beauty is a rare thing, or so Ornette tells us. Really it’s just that Brittle Feebling envelopes me in the illusion of a tangible experience and makes me feel goddamn human. Heule’s involvement in a project has signaled quality for a long time now but I think this may be the best I’ve heard yet from the Heule extended universe. Definitely grab this one.

Budokan Boys - So Broken Up About You Dying [Ever/Never]
With a name like Budokan Boys, I was expecting wacky hijinks of some sort, like a turd-tier pop-punk band that rode the Blink 182 wave to a slot on a Warped Tour side stage and a goofy video on MTV2. But I also figured the high-minded likes of Tymbal Tapes and Ever/Never aren’t dipping into reissuing forgotten early 00s pop-punk (at least not yet!) so the Budokan Boys must be a far more intriguing act than the name suggests.

The opening track “The Magic Beggar” totally threw me for a loop because it didn’t totally throw me for a loop. A somber but fantastic psychedelic dirge, reminiscent of latter day Scott Walker except you don’t feel like you’re trapped in a living nightmare. Gorgeous sheets of saxophone blanket the whole thing reminding me how sadly underused the instrument is in atmospheric contexts. It is a truly incredible introduction, but not all that odd. However, things only get stranger from this point.

The architecture of the album sets up a spiral from its most straightforward song “The Magic Beggar” through increasingly strange pieces that gradually cease to resemble songs in any sort of conventional sense. The opening triad is completed by highlights “Dee Wants Death” a tweaked jam that grooves hard on overdubbed sax lines and trap beats and the frenetic “Rip U”. A lot of bands claim Suicide as an influence but few actually manage to channel what made them so great, that is seizing the listener’s body with caustic syncopation and possessing the listener’s mind with inescapable distress, but the Boys do on "Rip U". And they do it with a wink and a nod, uttering the opening lines “I feel so bad for Frank/It was only a prank”.

Like Laurie Anderson and The Residents before them, Budokan Boys are intelligent weirdos splashing around in the kiddie pool of pop music. They shove their way down bizarre (and sometimes hilarious) corridors but So Broken Up About You Dying remains a haunted piece of work. The CD is dedicated to recently deceased relatives of both members “who did not live to hear the album but nevertheless helped shape it” and you get the sense that grief is quietly lurking behind each outlandish joke. The title track is a wild plunge down a grief-stricken rabbit hole with a voice processed to the point of sounding inhuman cataloging strange behaviors in the wake of the death of a close friend or relative. The queasy histrionics of “A Dead Soul” and “Sleeping Doggies” could only be products of perturbed minds.

The epitome of Budokan Boys’ beguiling nature is probably “Beach” which is an acid house deathtrip lead by a voice somewhere between Cookie Monster and the dude from TV Watchers uttering the refrain “Life’s a beach until you fry”—complete with samples of seagulls and bacon frying at the appropriate moments. The voice is repulsive, the lyrics are bewildering, the thumping sequencers are thrilling and it all works somehow, though I can’t explain why. 

Although Budokan Boys don’t sound much (or at all) like them, the duo reminds me of artists like Chrome, Royal Trux, and the aforementioned Walker and Suicide. Artists who, in their time, understood pop music well enough that they could retain its essential oils (memorable melodies, engaging rhythms, flare for drama) while functioning in a paradigm completely outside pop music as the world understood it. So Broken Up About You Dying is at once confounding, grating and exhilarating, but most of all, it’s a thoroughly impressive record. Recommended!

Crazy Doberman ‎– Live On Spin Age Blasters [Mind/No Mind]
Confession: I haven’t been paying much attention to Crazy Doberman. This wasn’t a conscious decision. I knew it was a jazz-noizz thing. I knew there was a John Olson connection. (I dig John Olson as much as the next guy but once he hit musical project #666 I stopped keeping track of new ones.) I knew they were probably really good.

I thought the outfit was headed by Tim Gick of TV Ghost fame (if you don’t have Mass Dream, grab it, Gick sounds like David Byrne Byrne-ing in hell) but apparently I’m wrong. I swear that’s never happened before. The internet tells me that the group grew out of Doberman which Gick wasn’t even a part of (though he does seem to be an important member in the collective now.) So basically, I forgot what I “knew” and approached this tape like a newborn babe who doesn’t know shit about Crazy Doberman, and I must be doing things right because this tape is great!

This fantastic set was recorded for Spin Age Blasters on WFMU, which is part of the radio rotation at AuxOut HQ. You can always count on DJ Creamo Coyle to bring delightfully off putting sounds to the airwaves and Crazy Doberman is no exception. The sounds here are surprisingly heady, not as abrasively skronkadelic as I anticipated and I’m all for subversion of expectations. There’s no info on the tape so I don’t have a clear picture of how many musicians were included in this iteration of Crazy Doberman or the exact instrumentation. Educated guess says winds, brass, synth, drums, organ and guitar are all in play here. Some behind-the-scenes content got edited in so at various points you overhear some murmuring tech talk like “turning down the post fader”. Love it. Whether it’s the horns locking horns in a vacuum near the beginning of the second side, spacey loops and carnival organ on the first or the riveting final freakout this is grade-A stuff.

Crazy Doberman sound like the kinda band who really rocked a hollowed-out bomb shelter in Nineveh, Pennsylvania one October evening and the 15 people who caught the gig can’t stop talking about it. Gonna have to keep an eye on this Doberman going forward. The performance is recorded really well so credit goes to the engineers at WFMU too! 

Maximum Ernst - Hallmark of a Crisis Period [Ever/Never] 
Spilled plenty of internet ink on NYC whathaveyou duo Maximum Ernst last month and it was all leading up to this point: their vinyl debut, a 45rpm 12” appropriately titled Hallmark of a Crisis Period. It isn’t the concept album tracing the continued decline of the greeting card industry that I was hoping for when I read the title, but hey, you can’t have it all. 

Last month, I noted based on the duo’s history that this 12” would sound completely different than prior releases. I wasn’t totally right but I wasn’t wrong either as the duo does stretch out into new terrain. The 12” gives us two sides of Max’s face, “Un Menace Natural” is a subtle cauldron of dread like the Yellow Swans got so good at brewing, while “Hallmark of a Crisis Period” goes in a totally different direction. “Natural” is so good that even 12 or so minutes feels too short. When I reach the end groove I feel like it should continue on the second side. The side definitely evokes some dingy beach imagery early on but are those seagulls calling or squealing feedback? Are those waves crashing or blasts of white hot noise? Either option is equally disconcerting. The piece builds slowly and I love that Ernst never relinquishes its subtle, guiding hand, opting for a lingering uneasy feeling rather than explosive conclusion. Excellent work.

“Hallmark” finds the duo incorporating poetry elements for the first time, having previously manipulated tape recordings of speech but here the echoing lyrics are spoken and even written down on the insert. Clarity ain’t exactly the goal as the voices are processed, slowed, sped up, looped, and overlapped as they appear at various points across the stereo spectrum. Intermingled with blaring organ and overloaded synth signals, this ain’t the cheeriest composition in the world. When the duo lets the distortion rip near the end, it’s clear Maximum Ernst is in full-on crisis mode. I’m enjoying the compositional prowess exhibited on this record and I’m hoping they plan to further develop this skill set.   

Obnox - Savage Raygun [Ever/Never]
I came of age in the “rap rock era” and despite this disadvantage I went out and made something of myself anyway. Just like when God sent the messiah to eradicate Satan, he sent Lamont Thomas to eradicate the stench of Fred Durst from my memories. Under the guise of Obnox, Thomas has been synthesizing punk, hip hop, funk, kraut-rock, etc. into a thick, grooving mess for less than a decade, yet it feels like he’s been doing it for many decades given that he’s dropped about 5000 records in the past nine years. One of the inner sleeves showcases the front covers of 25 Obnox releases and that’s not even the complete discography!

Savage Raygun is a heavy record, 20 tracks sprawling over two LPs and judging from the mere sliver of Thomas’s discography I’ve tackled, this is Obnox’s best. The killer funky kosmische punk of “Heaven” throbs on literally floor shaking bass. It felt like a bomb went off the first time I played it with the stereo cranked. It’s not the only bassquake on the record either. The chorus “If you wanna get to heaven/You’re gonna have to learn to dance” is an ethos I wholeheartedly support. Speaking of dancing, try to restrain yourself when the fuzzy funk of “Return Fire” comes on. “Scenicide” is an early 70s basement ripper making sure you know those drawings of electric eels and Pure Hell records on the inner sleeve aren’t for show and naming a track “Hawkwindian Summer” makes no bones letting you know where Thomas is jetting from. Thomas has managed to incorporate every musical obsession he has into one project. No easy feat.

Thomas enlists some collaborators for a few hip hop cuts sprinkled throughout the record and I’m partial to the grimy future-funk of “How to Build a Bum” which features vocals from Mellowxzackt and beat production from Mike Mike Dustyloops. Thomas saves the best for last, however, sampling the guitar lick from “Southern Man” and christens the hypnotic burner “Young Neezy” (ha!). Sorry Neil, this isn’t your riff anymore, this is an Obnox jam now and forevermore. Get over it. Highlighting individual songs doesn’t tell the whole story though, as the hulking Savage Raygun is best digested in total as an immersive portal into Thomas’s mind and basement.

A non-musical note that must be mentioned is that the artwork by Raeghan the Savage is pretty fantastic all-around but one of the inner sleeves features a product advertisement for the titular Savage Raygun, a “plasmatic category racism reducer”. The ad is packed with so much witty commentary on racism that cuts right to the bone, I can barely scratch the surface here. There’s a Dead Boys parody jingle, there’s the painfully funny warning that “Honestly maybe this [raygun] isn’t actually such a good idea when they out chear mistaking phones, wallets & Lord knows what else for real guns” and so much more. Most important is the asterisk'd fine print that “for the most persistent & egregious kinds of hardcore systemic racism: please get up, get out into your neighborhood, and participate in community lead actions to help destroy racism in all forms.” The artwork should be hanging on a wall in every home in America and it’s certainly worth grabbing this record if only to have it in yours, especially with this many sick cuts to feed your stereo.

Pionier Serios - Berlin [ZZK]
As an avowed music fan since I was a little kid one of the best things about music is I am constantly being reminded of how little I know. Case in point in this reproduction from ZZK Tapes of an early 80s promo tape by German group Pionier Serios. I love German stuff from this era, yet I’d never heard of Pionier Serios. I believe Berlin has never received legit circulation but thanks to magnetic media duplication (hallelujah!) enough copies spread through the decades that we are blessed with the opportunity to listen on our very own cassettes today. 

Armed with an MS-20, Prophet 5, Farfisa and live drum kit that sounds like a drum machine, the group kicks off the tape with their sickest jam “Das Beste”. Ascending four-note bassline, organ stabs and atmospheric filter fuckery coalesce into an eternal head nodder, made all the better by two German voices speaking simultaneously (each voice panned hard left or right). Reminds me of the style mimicked by Six Finger Satellite on “Hans Pocketwatch” but creepier, more minimal and obviously more German. It even has a bit of 39 Clocks’s effortless lethargy too. I love this shit. 

Pionier Serios have an M.O. which is to build a song around a repeating pattern and melody and they get a surprising amount of mileage out of this simple approach. “Ich” do-si-dos around a squirly keyboard riff with lots of panting and laser sounds right out of a kinky video game. There are some heavy DAF vibes on “Treiben” (sweet!) managing to sound even more dictatorial than the hall-of-fame duo while “Tanz!” presages Kommissar Hjuler’s legacy of lunacy. A lot of this style of music is meant to have the cool, detached, moody vibe but Pionier Serios are too weird for that. God bless ‘em for it.

Sky Furrows - Sky Furrows [Tape Drift/Skell/Philthy Rex]
This Sky Furrows LP came out of nowhere. I saw an announcement about it, happened to sample the “lead single” on my morning commute and I was hooked, smashing that preorder button as quickly as I could. The quartet from upstate NY is comprised of poet Karen Schoemer and a trio of veterans from psych-rock collective Burnt Hills: Phil Donnelly on drums, Mike Griffin on guitar and Eric Hardiman on bass. Sky Furrows isn’t loose-limbed basement improvisation though, this is a highly literate and musically mesmerizing platter.

Poetry-rock is such a high-wire act. First, the words and delivery have to be on point. You can’t have the verbal aspects wear out their welcome. Second, the musicians have to find a way to support and empower the words while remaining unobtrusive—and they must do this without being boring. Sky Furrows just fucking nails it on all counts. Musically, there’s a hypnotic repetition at work but the melodies are so strong and memorable that the repetition never becomes tiresome. Additionally, they weave in dynamic shifts at appropriate moments, rejecting stasis in spite of the repetition. Griffin’s experimental work as Parashi comes through several times like on album highlight “Ensenada” where his guitar mimics waves crashing. The rhythmic section of Donnelly and Hardiman is air tight, seamlessly guiding the songs and Hardiman might be the secret MVP with his locked-in but melodically varied bass lines. 

Schoemer’s words are dense and beautiful and it's too far above my pay grade to provide any enlightening insights. She blends impressionistic storytelling, philosophical intimations and the occasional pop culture reference, weaving lovely, musical turns of phrase like “between what we say and what we mean, civilizations come and go” and “mere physics had carried us, consciousness without will”. Schoemer’s work is so great here that I’ll even forgive the dig she takes at one of my favorite movies (“F Murray Mozart tedious”).

SST Records gets namechecked in the first track so that’s immediately where your mind goes in terms of reference points. I’d say that’s pretty accurate and include Slint’s Spiderland as well. Sky Furrows really have their own thing going but there is a bit of Sonic Youth (a la “Tunic (Song for Karen)”) in the mix, as well as the wordy, brilliant Slovenly, the best SST band this side of SY and Bad Brains (hope I didn’t singe your brows with that hot take). On the second side of the record, a fuzzed-out guitar solo at the end of “36 Ways of Looking at a Memory” signals a shift to a more punk stance for the rest of the record as “The Mind Runs a Race and Falls Down” and “Foreign Cities” amp up the volume and quicken the tempo which provides a stirring contrast to the placid swirl of the first side. 

Sky Furrows is masterful and a goddamn delight to listen to. One of the best things I’ve heard all year, new or old. Recommended!

Staffers - In the Pigeon Hole [Ever/Never] 
Ever/Never continues to unearth fantastic artists I’ve never heard of with Staffers, a project lead by Ryan McKeever who’s based in DC but originated from Omaha, NE. Staffers come on strong like a heartland Ben Wallers (The Rebel, The Country Teasers) or fellow Nebraskan David Nance’s early tapes and the blustering Ever/Never debut In the Pigeon Hole is loaded with great songs.

Side A is nearly flawless, its peak being “Pastor Carson” one of the best songs of 2020. Riding a raucous riff and McKeever’s droll refrain of “I won’t go to hell again”, it will have you smashing the rewind button over and over. The side-ending ballad “The Gutter” is a highlight with McKeever beginning the chorus with the optimistic “I’m free now...” and hilariously completing the thought with “ crawl back in the gutter”. McKeever packs the cassette with sardonic lyrics throughout and the Washington DC bar The Brixton seems to be the number one target of his ire getting called out on both “On Staples” and appropriately “Fuck the Brixton”. Separating Staffers from your average 21st century punk band are some fantastic arrangements such as incorporating pedal steel and sax into the rough and tumble Stephen Foster-gone-punk squeals of “Brixton”. The first side alone is well worth the $5 price tag. 

My only reservation about Pigeon Hole is that a lot of it sounds pretty imitative of Ben Wallers—the closing ballad “Just Another Tuesday” could be a cut on the Teasers’ The Empire Strikes Back. It is a great imitation though, as good or even better than some Wallers material I’ve heard. I’m not paying it too much mind because it’s clear McKeever is a gifted songwriter and I’m sure the best is yet to come. I can’t wait to hear it.

Trash Monkeys - Trash Monkey Universe [Almost Ready]
This reissue (never-issued?) is a couple years old but I’ve been wanting to write about it for a while now and goshdarnit I’m gonna do it. Courtesy of Almost Ready (a label I’m forever indebted to for bringing Zoomers into my life) is the first (and only) vinyl release by Trash Monkeys, a late 1980s Miami punk band now most notable for its membership of future Harry Pussy alums Mark Feehan and Bill Orcutt. Orcutt left the band at some point so no idea if he’s on these recordings or not (very little info is included on the sleeve). Orcutt or no Orcutt, this is an essential little 7”. There’s a solid but unremarkable hardcore tune “Hitchhiking for Housewives”, a hilariously strange and catchy Jacques Brel-esque goof “Puppies, Puppies, Puppies” and a real contagious Violent Femmes-ish folk-punk tune “Clairvoyant Housewife” (they definitely got a thing for housewives… perverts?) 

All great tracks, well the hardcore one I could take or leave, but I’ve saved the best for last, Trash Monkeys’ glorious, stumbling theme song “Trash Monkey Universe”. Led by a slurred, screeching warble, the singer sounds like he’s about to fall over. The song starts with the words “I was feeling lost and alone” but I can’t tell if the lyrics are loaded with pathos or complete nonsense. The central refrain is “Trash monkey universe/Hey mama, where you goin’?” so I think it’s a coin flip. Regardless of the un-parsable lyrics, the tune has one of the sweetest, most infectious melodies I’ve heard. I’m not even sure what to compare it to. Can’t think of a band that’s managed this much unbridled nonchalance in every aspect of musicianship yet has the songwriting chops to rival Jeff Lynne. One of the best songs I’ve come across in the past couple years, “Trash Monkey Universe” is a masterpiece plain and simple. Endlessly replayable. Totally essential. Utterly trash.

various - 333 [Green Tape] 
Dang, “333” seems to be a popular title for your album. This is the second time I’ve reviewed an album with the title and that doesn’t include my copy of the A Frames 3xLP compilation which also shares the title. Even more albums I’ve never heard of appear on Discogs. Curiosity got the better of me, so I googled “what does 333 mean” and apparently it’s a holy number. The number of the trinity. I guess it’s half of 666 so that’s significant? But Black Francis already told us that God is 7 so now I’m more confused than when I started. Guess I’ll just write about the music.

This 333 is a compilation by Illinois’s long running Midweirdo outpost Green Tape collecting its series of three minute tapes (c-3s). Naturally, the c-3s are collected on a 3” CDr which accounts for two out of the three 3s. The series stretches all the way back to the mid 00s, though I’d only heard three (Holy shit! There’s the third 3!) of the entries before. I dug into the great tapes by *e* and Napoleon Blownaparte in detail HERE while I somehow ended up with mp3s of Barrabarracuda’s no-wavey contribution to the series (dedicated to the Yellow Swans no less) wayyy back in the day and even played it on the air. Elsewhere, the comp runs the gamut from beautiful folktronica miniatures (Alanthebox) to blaring lo-fi messes (Monster Monster) to gentle singer-songwriter vibes (Peoplemath). 

333 reminds me of those 7” compilations in the 90s with 10 or so bands contributing minute long songs or experiments (think Teenbeat 100 or the Xpressway/Drag City joint-venture I Can Hear the Devil Calling Me). My one qualm is that Russian Tsarlag’s second tune “Bleach Party” runs three minutes which seems to violate the spirit of things (is this an extended cut?). I’m not the biggest Russian Tsarlag fan in the first place and the plodding “Party” drags the comp’s momentum a bit. 

Overall though, 333 is an eclectic blast darting from one manner of underground expression to another in three minute chunks. It creates a kaleidoscopic effect, experiencing the breadth of the past 15 years of the no-audience underground in a half-hour sitting. And like the old saying if “If you don’t like the weather, just wait three minutes”, if you don’t like what you’re hearing just wait three minutes for something completely different.