I've been wanting to write about this record for a while because it's an example of how there's no substitute for buying and spending time with a record. The full length debut from North Carolina's Patois Counselors, Proper Release., was praised uniformly by voices I trust and I heard several tracks played on various radio programs/podcasts but I just wasn't fully connecting with what I was hearing. I wanted to hear what everyone else seemed to hear, I just didn't.
I think the last straw was Yellow Green Red naming it the best full length of the year (a coveted honor to be sure) and comparing them to Tyvek (a band I grew to unabashedly love very slowly) and Men's Recovery Project. The MRP comparison ("'Terrible Likeness' is the best song Men’s Recovery Project never wrote"—more on this later) is what really caught my eye because who else sounds like The Project? Do I trust my ears listening to some compressed mp3 stream on a few occasions or do I trust a reputable label and a cadre of music nerds with better record collections than mine? Well, I've found from experience, the answer to this is always the latter. So I bought Proper Release.
Given some time to sit with the record (well, listen to it, I was probably up on my feet groovin' most of the time) I think I isolated the hurdle that my ears had been tripping over. Patois Counselors' impresario Bo White's voice and cadence sounds a lot like Beck and that guy from Cake. There's nothing wrong with that. But it was just weird and a bit off-putting. I first became aware of (obsessed with) music when Cake and Beck were ruling the alternative charts, so I'll probably need a psychiatrist to sort out this uncomfortable fixation for me cause it must go way back. I resisted for the first couple listens but there was something undeniably beguiling about the record. I bought the record because I knew it was something I wanted to wrestle with, something I wanted to deliberately spend time with and not simply give up on when I don't love it after a listen—having a small fistful of dollars invested always provides a little added motivation as well. With each listen, my initial resistance melted away bit by bit, the heavens parted and I saw the vision I'd longed for. This is a damn fine record.
After careful consideration, I think "Making Appointments" is the Counselors' finest moment. It feels like a track I would have caught once on MTV [insert "when they played videos" proviso here] and been like "Whoa! Who the hell was that band?" scrambling for pen + paper when the band name flashes on screen in the final seconds. Artsy video, maybe one of those where some things are black and white and some things are in color. I'd see it one time and never have the chance to see it again because it was too weird and cool for the general public so the single didn't chart, the album didn't sell, the A&R guy responsible gets a pink slip, the band gets dropped.
The track is a delightful recipe of burbling synth, insistent bassline, Marc Ribot-lite guitar jabs, what sounds like a wooden train whistle I had as a kid, and a piano chiming in with an infectious counter-melody. All lead, of course, by White's fuzzed out lethargy on the mic. "So tired of making appointments that I just quit" is one of the most succinct, universal statements of 21st century living I've heard; the perfect call to inaction leading one of the catchiest tunes in some time.
If Patois Counselors got a chance at a follow up single when "Making Appointments" failed to chart then "The Modern Station" would have been picked due to its classic-sounding, indelibly catchy rock chorus. White slips in "Sheered his library card because he's through it!" one of my favorite lines on the record, as well. It's not like it'd be an easy choice though. Jittery opener "Disconnect Notice" with its anthemic refrain of "The bills are unpaid!" against a mass of sputtering synths and bent strings would be a solid pick. The frantic "All Clean", which finds the crew huffing on some Brainiac ether and dancing like jacked-up jerks, would be ace. If you wanted to chill things out a bit, the slinky rubberband bass groove of "Get Excitement" with snatches of synth and guitar jetting in and out is a go-to. Or pick a nod to the forerunners like "Repeat Offender" and its spastic and infectious chorus, punctuated by a Mark E. Smith-styled "Repeat offend-uh!" or the Andy Gill-like guitar skronk stabs, grooving bass line and synths drizzled all over the damn place on "Last Heat". Hell, one of the top tracks is actually the instrumental "Pffones" which opens the second side, all futuristic mood setting, the punk counterpart to a Deltron 3030 interlude.
One of the truly genius moments is "Terrible Likeness", that's "the best song Men’s Recovery Project never wrote" I mentioned earlier. There's definitely a strong whiff of Men's Recovery Project (in their heavily Residents-ish mode) but Patois Counselors use that approach to go in their own direction. White frets about his disproportional facial features and general dissatisfaction when confronted with images of himself ("You are reminding me that flaws are inherent/Some combo of my parents"). Once again he isolates a uniquely 21st malady and skewers it. I'm reminded of all the time I and others have wasted handing back the iPhone and saying "I look terrible in these. Take some more." as the cycle repeats. The zombie-like chorus of voices chanting "agreed" in response to White's complaints perfectly mirrors the conscripted photographer's resigned desperation to hurry it up and get it over with. Plus, there's a slick g-funk sine-line.
The craziest factoid about Proper Release. is that there are nine(!) credited Patois Counselors: three guitarists, three synth players, bassist, drummer, and White (credited with voice, recording and mixing). Needless to say there's quite a bit going on in these tracks. More than anything else though, what's remarkable about Proper Release. is the songwriting. Pretty much every track here is an earworm in one fashion or another, each jam packed with peculiar hooks all its own. Whether tackling US health insurance in morbidly hilarious fashion on the exhilarating "So Many Digits" or peer pressure and acting like a jackass for a source of entertainment (the wistful finale "Target Not a Comrade") White always finds an unexpected lyrical angle to match the startling sonic concoctions.
Ever/Never is entering the esteemed ring of labels where I'll pretty much buy anything I come across at the record store if its emblazoned with their logo. I know it will be satisfyingly off-center and I'll probably end up loving it. This is the finest E/N record I've heard yet.
Hailing from the prolific, ever-expanding universe of German Army, comes the offshoot Final Cop (credited as a duo of Vern Ore and Peter Kris) with this cassette released by Denmark's durable Skrot Up imprint. The label and artist have a relationship dating back to the first German Army tape I heard which feels like eons ago now. Happily, German Army hasn't slowed down one bit since then.
Fans of German Army, will have no trouble vibing to the sounds of Final Cop as its roots are still planted in the nascent Industrial genre of the late 70s and early 80s before Metal got its grubby little fingers all over it. Final Cop sounds darker though. The duo is geared more toward the crumbling of once-modern infrastructure, taking comfort in the caress of static electricity and the plush mounds of dust in the breaker box, standing apart from German Army's aural-anthropological expeditions to cultures outside the "western" milieu. If that pompous sentence isn't workin' for you, then I'll just say the tape has some cool sounds.
From the whispery, eerie slow-surf guitar strums and crispy drum machine of "Paradoxes" to the great "ooh-wah" synth sound buried way down deep on "World Analysis" Final Cop delivers their share of choice moments on Broken Windows. "Buried" is the operative word here as all the human elements at work sound collapsed upon while the drum machine rides above the fray. The fastest, loudest track—"Moral Majority"—arrives submerged in layers and layers of corrosive distortion. The vocals are reduced to mere voltages throughout, alongside the guitar buzz and drum machines. (If you do happen to make out some intelligible words while listening, then you're hearing the spoken samples rather than the live vocal.) The Cop sounds sharpest (or maybe I should say most indistinct) on the sullen throb of "Tahnahwah Comanche" punctuated by sharp snare hits, smeared with banshee electronics, as well as "Locke Lakota" an industrial shoegaze trip hop amalgam with a blurry but forceful hook. If any of the litany of adjectives used in this review sound appealing then you know what to do.
Maybe it's the Philadelphia connection, maybe it's the duo thing, maybe it's the heavy kraut-rock influence but I can't help but think of Writhing Squares as the yang to Blues Control's yin. Or maybe it's vice-versa? All this duality gets confusing. Blues Control is great when I wanna chill, but let's face it, most of the time I wanna rock and the Squares could scratch that itch blindfolded with two hands tied behind their backs.
Writhing Squares is comprised of Kevin Nickles (whose work I enjoyed on the first Taiwan Housing Project LP) on saxophone and flute and Daniel Provenzano taking care of bass duties with both guys chipping in on keys, percussion and vocals. The duo follows up their 2016 debut In the Void Above with Out of the Ether, continuing their mission to make the cosmos terrestrial-bound.
The title of the opening track "Dirt in My Mind's Eye" is about as perfect as it gets for this band, alluding to both the heady abstraction and persistent grit and grime of their sound. The metronomic drum machine ticks along as Nickles wails on the sax and Provenzano lays down some riffs but it's really just a warm up for what's to come. The duo gets downright punk on "Steely Eyed Missile Man" with a speedy drum machine, grooving riffs galore and a Mark Mothersbaugh-like yap. It'll make you move. "Bloodborne Hate and Black Book Mass" rides what's probably THE killer melody of the record with the sax and bass doubling the same line for true two fists to the gut action. Provenzano delivers a genuinely angular groove on "I Turned to the Mirror" setting up some sweet flute action. I'm usually a sax man, but the flute sounds even better within the Writhing Squares context. The way the flute's airiness plays off the dirt-caked bass is magical. Yet, it's a late developing organ melody that steals the show on this one. They attack from all sides.
The Squares really unfurl their wisdom on the sidelong jammer "A Whole New Jupiter". Unusually swirling right from the start, the track marches along diligently with Provenzano dropping wah-wah heat. The world needs more dudes shredding on bass while working the wah. Great move mid-track where everything drops out except the ever-reliant drum machine, and the guys take a break before bringing everything back and revamping the track in a whole new, optimistic form anchored by a lovely saxophone melody. Things kinda soar actually. Some true puff out your chest, I can take on the world vibes. Crucial jam.
The Siltbreeze debut was good but the Squares have taken things to another level with this one. Five tracks, all not-so-silent assassins. Pretty fucking great.
The eyeball in the circuit board cover lead me down a path of expecting heavy electronics with a sci-fi/psychedelic angle. That's not really Eyeball's game though, the North Carolina quartet is delightfully difficult to pin down, but the underused tag of "space rock" may be the best genre to nestle them within. Paradox of Eternal Limits is a four track EP with the band modulating their sound differently each time out.
"Acid War" works with a bit of a Sabbath-y riff motif but with a surprisingly clean guitar tone. Eyeball have an interesting sound, keeping the instrumentation pretty clean but dialing up distorted vocals courtesy of Myriam Martian amid the spacey synths, grooving bass line and hand percussion.
The track features some proggy elements but without getting hi-falutin' and show-offy. Prog for the people!
The eight and a half minute "Inside the Moon"is a definite high point right from the Tangerine Dream-like synth intro. With the obvious caveat of no one sounds like Elizabeth Fraser, Martian's vocals take on a Cocteau Twins-like presence but a touch huskier. My favorite aspect of the track is either a processed violin or a synth controlled by violin (or just one hell of a dialed in, realistic envelope generator). It is a gorgeous sound and Eyeball takes full advantage of it. The track is a little trance-like and even at eight and a half minutes, I wouldn't mind it floating on a little longer. Eyeball keeps finding new territory to explore as it drifts into the sounds soft-jazz EVI (I think) by the end, and they sound like they could jam forever and really test those eternal limits. I was gonna suggest someone cut together some scenes from Fritz Lang's The Woman in the Moon with the track and throw it up on youtube, but Eyeball has already done their own video.
"Astral Projector" marks another new direction with a pagan-folk vibe and time-travel-themed lyrics replete with flute, rhythmic acoustic guitar strums and a tambourine & shaker rhythm section. Eyeball finally cuts loose on "The Red Minimum" with a thuggish bassline pounding the ground and a great little synth counter-melody that I wish was louder in the mix. Ms. Martian's vocals are blazing on this with strangulated sounding processing. My preference is to push all levels into the red but Eyeball manage to sound heavy and urgent here with pretty clean production. Bravo!
Four different stylistic variations under the Eyeball umbrella, paradoxically (hey! that's in the title) they sound the best at their toughest ("The Red Minimum") and at their most demure ("Inside the Moon").
This month's unapologetically baby-themed selection. I mentioned last month I love free percussion+musique concrète but free percussion+a baby girl is pretty good too. The solo album Olive by Italian percussionist and head of the Tsss Tapes imprint, Francesco Covarino, was recorded "a few weeks before [his] daughter was born" as noted in the jacket. The album title was inspired by his unborn daughter, in Francesco's words:
"In the first sonogram, she was just a little thing, the size and shape of an olive, so “Olive” was the name we used to refer to her during almost the entire pregnancy. While recording this music, I was thinking, “When my daughter grows up she will listen to this and think: ‘This is what my dad was like when I was about to be born’.”Aww, isn't that sweet? I'm getting dusty thinking about it. Covarino has a very inviting style, and despite only percussive instruments at his disposal, subtle melodies reveal themselves willingly along with the rhythms. A half hour divided into 16 bite-sized morsels, Olive has a vignetted quality as Covarino transitions fluidly through different dispositions. The first four track sequence is case in point. The CD begins meekly, quiet enough that you'll be turning that volume knob up a little more then expected, then the second track ("oliva#56") thunders through with loud, rousing tom hits, leading into the third track ("oliva#85") which gets the rhythm rolling faster seguing perfectly into "oliva#30" which is quite evocative and moody. That's only the beginning of Olive's story, Covarino guides you down several invigorating pathways for the full 31 minutes. Excellent recording and mastering make this a delight on the stereo, unusually pleasant to relax and soak in for a solo-percussion effort.
As to be expected, my favorite track here is the weirdest one, the sixteenth to be exact, where Covarino eschews conventional drums completely for this garbled, rubbing of stones or some such object. It's great! But I make special mention because it, and the preceding track, are only available on the CD release and not on the digital version of the album. You gotta get the CD cause that track is the best note to end on. Olivia Newton-John said it best: baby, let's get into physical media.