Hototogisu & Burning Star Core - II (Heavy Blossom CD-R)

"II" being the second volume of a Hototogisu & Burning Star Core union, with the first expected to be released sometime soon on C. Spencer Yeh (of BxC)'s Drone Disco label. Hototogisu is of course the duo of Marcia Bassett (Double Leopards) and Matthew Bower (Skullflower, Sunroof!, et al.) while Burning Star Core this time around consists of Spencer Yeh alongside Robert Beatty and Trevor Tremaine (Hair Police, Eyes and Arms of Smoke). It's a live set recorded from a gig in November 2005, displayed here as two half-hour jam trax.
The first second of track one sets the tone for the entire disc. Shrouded heavy spectre-whispering drones, all buzzing and creaking and warbling. There's a floaty and weightless yet beefy and weighty schism at work here. Think Hototogisu's more blown-out freee affairs circa latter-day releases "Sardonic Wooden Moonlight" and "Prayer Rug Exorcism" teamed up with Sunn O))) on a kraut-filled diet, with less riffage and more formless oomph. It gets a lot more interesting as it wears on, and slowly you can detect cracks forming in the primordial ooze until it becomes clear there's a power struggle between two levels...Tremaine (whose free jazz percussion nod-outs do a whole lot to take the piece to the promised land)'s cymbal-rapist clattering and Bower/Bassett's high-pitched feedbacking guitar flailings doing battle with the murky, deep-blue drone undercurrent. There's also some delirious, dentist-drill excavation fireworks towards the end giving this one a highly psychedelic taste ala chewing on tinfoil.
Track two opens with intermittant psycho blasts, rippling through the wavy, slipshod din. It's slowed-up and calm space-slosh in comparison to the first one, more single-minded and unified. Like a mechanical meat-grinder blotting splotches of paint on the four walls inside your noggin. Not as wild and free-based as the first one, instead it's more like the come-down thereof. Finally the group show signs of fatigue and the music starts falling apart until all we're left with are debilitated spurts of junky noise rattling.
It's easy to grow cynical of the new weird CD-R scene, because I can recall a couple of seperate occasions where I picked up some so-called "full-lengths" from these kindza outfits only to find the action bottoms out and my CD player shuts off at the 23rd minute. But at over an hour, there's plenty of gristle on this (sexy, thermal-printed) CD-R for you to wrap your lips around. A tower of strength from two of the more interesting outfits from the day, but it's limited to a hundred so you better move it (or wait for volume one).


Venetian Snares - Cavalcade of Glee and Dadaist Happy Hardcore Pom Poms (Planet Mu CD)

Aaron Funk aka Venetian Snares is back, but you usually only have to wait a few months for him to return anyway. Last year he put out the genre-defying, world-beating, rectum-prolapsing "Rossz Csillag Allat Szuletett" which confirmed my suspicions that Funk was reigning supreme over his peers in this zany electronica/IDM genre that I know little to nothing about (so I won't even front). Aphex Twin was in an analogue regression stage with the whole "Analord" 12" series that I don't think anybody legitimately cared for, Autechre and Boards of Canada came out of hiding to release horrifically boring full-lengths, and Squarepusher has been M.I.A. (to my ears) since 2004's slightly-above-average "Ultravisitor". The field was ripe for a newcomer, and while Funk isn't exactly new (his first LP was released in 2001), he was probably a fresh face for some and that's as good as anything.
So then this album is the follow-up to "Rossz...", despite the fact that the drill-laden "Meathole" EP came out in between. And if you heard "Rossz..." and liked it nearly as much as I did, you were probably wondering what the heck brotha was supposed to do next. Unfortunately the colorfully titled "Cavalcade..." isn't the same kind of artistic break-through as "Rossz..." was. Actually, like Aphex, it too is a regression of sorts. The tunes on this disc are much more akin to Funk's 2004 album "Huge Chrome Cylinder Box Unfolding"...which may not seem like a long time ago, but when you take into consideration all the releases that came in between, it puts things into perspective. I guess it kinda makes sense though, as some of the sounds here are a year and a half old now.
"Donuts" kicks things off, built around a sample of a woman repeating "donuts on a glass plate" ad nauseum. To me, it sounds a bit too much like the best stuff on "The Richard D. James Album" or old Squarepusher jams - sure it's good, but I thought we were over this? It's a quirky drum-n-bass number with wildly cascading synths and keys haunting choppy vocal samples. Not bad, but certainly not what I felt when the first (actually second, excluding the intro) track on "Rossz..." kicked in. Like having my pants pulled down in front of the entire gym class. The next song, "Swindon" also makes me think of Aphex Twin's lighter moments, particularly "IZ-US" or "Flim". The song is a touch more aggressive though, and can get positively frantic at times. "Pwntendo" as one might guess is a track made up entirely out of samples from 8-bit Nintendo games. It's a clever composition, but I'm so tired of hearing Nintendo dragged into music that I'm balking at this almost instantly.
"XIII's Dub" and "Twirl" are both druggy numbers, like being at an early-morning rave in Mario Bros. 2's dream world (you did know the whole thing was a dream, right?). The brief "P" is similar in spirits, except it sounds like live instrumentation rather than cut-ups. "Plunging Hornets" and "Tache" are more barbaric, with Funk choosing to layer kinetic breakcore rhythms over a whitewash of ambience. "Cancel", the album's 7-minute closing track, combines both of these approaches, starting off all fluttering and woozy, but quickly getting up a full head of steam with a digital techno onslaught.
Though I consider this album's far from being Funk's best, it's got enough things going on to make for an interesting coulpe of listens. And I'm not sure if I'm just not that into the album, or if "Rossz..." actually ruined Venetian Snares for me. Depends on what comes next, I suppose. Then again, what was he supposed to do? Retire? If getting back to his roots is a way for Funk to get truly inspired again, then I'm all for it. Personally I'll leave this one politely aside and wait for his next flash of brilliance, due in 8-12 weeks no doubt.


Francisco Lopez - Untitled #180 (Alien8 Recordings CD)

"Untitled #180" is Francisco Lopez's fifth release on the Alien8 label, coming just under a year after after they put out "Live in Montreal". "Montreal" was the last Lopez album I heard before this one, so I'm not too sure what he's been up to in the meantime (though with his release schedule, I'm sure he was up to something). I also couldn't tell you if this album is the result of an in-the-works evolution or merely a one-off, but it certainly sounds different from the Lopez albums we're accustomed to hearing. The blurb on the Alien8 website describes this as his most humorous outing to date, with Lopez's sound culled from major Hollywood motion pictures (!). A few years ago Alien8 released "Untitled #104", Lopez's death metal album, so clearly he feels comfortable enough with them to step outside the confines of his usual massive organic soundscapes. And speaking of stepping outside the confines, this is Lopez's first release in the "Untitled" series to feature actual artwork (very minimal artwork, but nevertheless!) as opposed to a blank CD in a clear jewel case.
And the change is noticeable from the instant you push play. For one thing, it doesn't begin with a huge chunk of silence. No, instead there's a rush of sounds, blurring together and changing so fast it's impossible for your brain to latch onto any one of them for a reasonable amount of time. They sound mechanical, almost industrial, like a less harsh Merzbow album or James Plotkin's Atomsmasher project. It's hard to immediately identify the sound sources here because everything's moving so fast. Before you know it a long stretch of near-silence (ah ha!) interrupts the proceedings. It's either a supremely lo-fi EAI drone or I'm hearing things. But if you give it enough time, the sounds come racing back, this time much more identifiable. I could've sworn I heard Darth fucking Vader on a Francisco Lopez album. Basically it's like a million tiny supernova and/or Michael Bay explosions going off at once. Then more silence. And the album proceeds much in this fashion, flip-flopping back and forth from breakneck cut-ups to hushed tones and earthly rumbles. I think there's a strong air of John Cage and musique concrète here, but some of the scrapings and shatterings remind me of the present-day noise brought by Raven Strain or Damion Romero. Except for the odd snatches of rain here and there this is almost entirely removed from other Lopez works - ones which I would consider to be more "outdoors"-y while I'm pegging this one as a definite "indoors" disc, if you can dig it. The soundtrack to a thousand movies playing at once. It's a hard album to write about, just like seeing the man perform live is tough to discuss with friends afterwards. You can't bring up a favorite "part" but you just know the experience had an impact on you.
Whereas other albums by Francisco Lopez piled up the silence at the start, seemingly taking forever to unfold, this one disperses lengthy bouts of it throughout. It makes for a unique listening experience and once you get used to the format, you're practically cringing in anticipation for the next rush of robot swarms or lion's roars. The 45-minute track ends with a sustained break of silence, which is a bit of a bummer as I would've really liked to have seen (heard) Lopez push it all into the red and go out with a bang. Hey wait, isn't that how the album starts? I should play this backwards! Yes I think that's exactly what I'll try next...


Tombi - Cavern Tapes Volume 2 (Twonicorn CS) & Drunjus - On the Heels of Sleipnir (Twonicorn 2xCS)

Two new fallen comets from the "basement new age crawl" of Twonicorn, out of Providence, RI. This is the first I've heard from this label, but apart from these they've got a Glass Organ tape under the belts and a Spectre Flux one on the way, so you know they won't be tremendously unknown for long. And it's almost entirely a tape label! Fuckin' a I love tapes. And I love tape labels. And I love sweet jams. So it's all good here. Both tapes come with some swank Xeroxed green & black inserts but the Drunjus one in particular has a nice handmade wrap-around binding the two cassette cases and some curious prose on the inside.
We'll do the Tombi one first. I've never heard of this outfit prior to picking up the tape, and Google isn't much help either. Alls I can tell you is that volume one of the "Cavern Tapes" series came and went on the same label as this and Tonefilth also put out another one of their tapes. Mysterious, just the way I like it! Side one contains the track "Futurh (sic?) Skull Prayers" and there's a huge blast of red streaming out of my stereo upon pressing play, slow-evolving drones various strands bleeding into eachother. It's hard to tell what the sound sources are at first but I'll play it safe and say guitars and assorted busted electronics. Could be a microphone dropped into a hole in the earth for all I know. Later there's definitely some squeeeling guitar, sinister rumbles and sonic dithering. It's like the sound that lingers in your ears when you put the TV on static at super-loud volume and then shut it off (or am I the only one who's done that). The kind of ecstatic drones that scream live free or die. And indeed when the white-walled detonations fade out there's some barely-there vocals, calling and chanting.
The flip side has two tracks. The first is "Sunken Rib Tones" which is as apt a description for the sounds as any. It's a harsher, more gut-busting guitar drones. Looped patterns and skull-burning resonance.
Finally "Ether Blossom" starts out like screechy alien transmissions, entering in an epic duel with some vibrating fuzzed-up guitar. This one's got a serious waaahhh-drenched vibe to it, colorful-hued towers scraping the sky, circled by helicopters. The first side and the last track reminded me of contemporaries the Skaters as well as Double Leopards but this last one comes across more kraut/psych influenced. Which can't ever be bad.
Double set from Drunjus next, who stopped gobs last year with a magnificent self-titled natural drone blow-out. They seemed to be heavy into field recording-incorporation on that one which is sadly absent from these tapes, but I think I'll survive. This is an offshoot of Davenport, another sect which I am virtually ignorant about. The first tape is split, with a quieter ambience on the first side and a spikey roar on the second. I'm partial to the first, kind of like a nice prelude to a No-Neck or VCO gig. Over the course of the side the drone they conjure up starts stretching and spreading its wings, real nice and wondrous-like. It all stops abruptly and I'm left with the clicking of the tape which might not be intentional but sure does sound nice as it too fades out and stops with the side. The B side is like a vibrant laser-light show with deliciously swarmy, frolicking soundwaves. Hermann Nitsch coming from a rock background?
Tape two commences supremely damaged, tapes playing frontwards and backwards in varying speeds. A heavy, lysergik church vibe permeates. It's all sorts of smothering, grinding, and foreboding. Like looking into a great big yawning mout-and then it ends.
Side 2 plays with the dichtonomy again, placing a quieter piece on the other side of a more zapped effort. This one is lilting and drifting, the soundtrack to bathing in the Milky Way. No surprise then that I'm reminded of other cosmic drone emperors My Cat is an Alien. This one has a lovely ending, like the fragility of the white streaks left behind by a lear jet before they crumble and dissipate. Dare I say angelic? I do indeed. The sounds on here aren't as fresh or as inspired as what we heard on that self-titled behemoth I was talking about earlier but enjoyable all the same.
I'd like to recommend these but unfortunately they both seem to be very sold out, with the Drunjus tape limited to 50 and the Tombi one a second edition of 25 copies. Aquarius Records got almost the entirety of the Tombi tape though so try hitting them up first. The only thing I can recommend, however, is staying tuned to the happenings over at Twonicorn. If these are any indication, you're not going to want to miss what's up next.


Orthodox - Gran Poder (Alone Records CD)

The Alone Records (not be confused with the hardcore label of the same name) website says that this Spanish new-blood doom-metal band Orthodox are beginning to experiment with instrumentation that demonstrates their Morricone, Coltrane and Ligeti influences. On Julian Cope's Head Heritage website - which gave this record album of the month honors - he references Speed, Glue & Shinki, Flower Travellin' Band and Link Wray. Quite the melting pot we've got then. And that's about what it takes to be noticed these days, with doom metal and all its variants ruling supreme like never before. It seems like everybody's all aboard the doom bandwagon now. Rest assured though, Orthodox pass the doom metal test with flying colors. Not because of their originality so much, but just because they do everything so well and in a unique enough way that it doesn't irritate. On the contrary, it's a welcome change from all those sludge/doom Isis clones that come around every other week. Orthodox do have sludgy moments, as often as they have doom-y moments and drone-y moments and stoner-y moments. The fact that this band is (or appears to be?) a three-piece allows them to switch easily from style to style, whether it's drone a la Sunn O))) from the two axemen or gunz-a-blazin' stoner ala High on Fire with all three going at once. And indeed they cover a whole bunch of styles across the hour of music present on this disc.
The first track "Geryon's Throne" immediately recall's Sleep's classic "Jerusalem" album, with a hazy, repeated guitar riff and heavy, pounding drums. It takes longer to unfold than "Jerusalem" though, content to bang on the same notes over and over again until it becomes some kind of wordless mantra. Orthodox seem to have put everything into overdrive though, trying desperately to beat the skins a billion times harder than Sleep did, and for all intents and purposes it works. This is heavy, heavy stuff. At about the halfway mark (it's worth noting the song is almost 30 minutes long) some classic stoned tremolo-swathed vocals come soaring in, reminiscent of the almighty Electric Wizard or Burning Witch. There's a rumbling, drone-y breakdown before the band picks up the pieces and comes back full-force for the closing few minutes, a mega psychedelic-tinged freakout not unlike Acid Mothers Temple at their Electric Heaviest.
The 12-minute "Arrodillate Ante la Madera y la Piedra" plays next and it initially brings a stripped-down Earth to mind, waiting until each riff has (almost) run its course before starting up anew. The guitar's joined by a crazed drum workout, like Dave Lombardo with a hint of those free jazz influences the label was trumpeting earlier. Then the vocals join up and the whole thing becomes a slow-burning fist-pumping affair, with drum-pounding and cymbal-crashing every few seconds. If you like Boris' stoner metal leanings ("Pink" in particular), I don't see why this wouldn't be right up your alley.
There's a brief ivory-smashing interlude in "Oficio de Tinieblas" and then it's onto the album's closing epic "El Lamento del Cabron" (hey doesn't that mean "Motherfucker's Lament"?). The track begins with desolate cymbal crashes intended to cut bone. Eventually (as with all things on this album, everything takes its time) guitars and drums move in and I'm again reminded of "Jerusalem", but not in the rip-off sense if you can dig it. The piece picks up steam and moves into psych-metal blast-off turf, Electric Wizard covering Les Rallizes Denudes style. It's a motherfucker. The last six or seven minutes of the song (and the album) are devoted to mind-clearing drones with a final batch of drumkit destruction to finish you off.
It's easy for a lazy reviewer like myself to get off easy by name-checking Orthodox's more obvious influences - at face value it's either Sleep slowed down or Corrupted sped up. But there's definitely something more going on here, something I can't put into words. Maybe it's all that religious and holy water and Spanish Inquisition shit Cope touches on his review (which I enourage you to read, he calls it the best debut record he's heard in a decade!). Regardless. Orthodox are a band who know exactly what they're doing, who know the game and all the players and how to play it. This isn't some el cheapo new wave rip-off of classic doom bands of yore (and even of present-day). It's just the sum of the best parts of them all.


Six Organs of Admittance - The Sun Awakens (Drag City LP)

Those with the best record collections often make the best music. At least, that's what I've found. And I've never been down in Six Organs of Admittance ringleader Ben Chasny's basement, but I'm willing to bet it's quite the sight to behold. And how could it not be? Every time I turn around Chasny is championing some forgotten 60's psychedelic jewel that turns out to be everything I could've hoped for and more...or he's championing (or playing with) some modern day psych outfit that flew in under my radar but sooner or later would wind up to be amongst my favorite bands. Strange then, that I never got into the man's work that much. In fact, I arrived to the party way late, with my first dosage of Six Organs coming in the form of last year's "School of the Flower" which was a nice enough record but didn't tickle my gonads in all the ways I'd hoped it would. So in the year between I've been boning up on all of Chasny's influences that may have passed me by the first time around, getting ready for the time our figurative paths would cross again. And eventually they did, with the release of "The Sun Awakens". I don't know what it is - if I'm more educated now and can appreciate the music more, or if it just happened to hit a sweet spot when I first laid it out on the turntable deck. Regardless, this album fucking destroys. It's like Chaz (what we call him down at the station*) combined all those great records I'd been catching up on into this 45-minute "chef d'oeuvre". Yes there's Fahey and Basho and Connors. Yes there's old private-press weirdness: Gary Higgins, Michael Yonkers, Mark Tucker, Simon Finn, Vashti Bunyan. Yes there's all the 60's/70's cult psych bands Galactic Zoo Dossier hipped us to in recent days. But it's all filtered magnificently though Ben Chasny's wondrous new-folk new-psych vision, which truly sets it apart from the rest of this jam band freakout revival we're going through.
Like the most classic psych albums of their day, "The Sun Awakens" followed the tried-and-tested formula of short songs on the A side/side-long jam on the flip. First up is the brief acoustic/percussion intro "Torn by Wolves", which helps set the stage for the whole dusty slowed-folk Eastern-tinged mood about the album. After that comes probably the best song (as in, Song) I've heard all year, "Bless Your Blood". It's dark, seedy, desperate, wheezing, and strikingly beautiful all at once. Chasny's acoustic guitar swells and deflates seamlessly around your ears while Chasny's Comets on Fire teammate Noel Von Harmonson adds some delicately cascading drums to anchor the tune. John Connell also works the Persian flute. The highlight of the song by far are Chasny's breathless, mumbled vocals which he now seems comfortable enough with to place at the forefront. All the better.
"Black Wall" is a touch more upbeat than its predecessor, with Chasny singing in the same style only around the upper register. The first half of the track is all acoustic but is joined in due time by a strung-out electric, completely sun-roasting the plains of yellow grass the group had been previously working on. Next are a couple of 3-minute jaunts starting with the even-more chipper "The Desert is a Circle". The sounds are not at all unlike Chasny's guitar-folk contemporary Jack Rose playing through heavy effects and echoes. "Attar" is the other one of the couplet, kind of like the more sinister sister to "Desert". There's a spiraling electric guitar on this track, like being sucked out the country house by a tornado. "Wolves' Pup" closes out the side and it's a solo acoustic take on the line from the album's intro. It, like the intro, clocks in at under two minutes.
"River of Transfiguration" occupies the B side's turf. It's everything you want from a Six Organs side-long jammer and more. Chasny tries out some earth-defining vocal intonation (accompanied by Al Cisneros of OM, also playing bass) as well as playing guitar, organ, gong and tone generators. There's some sparse, jittery drumming from Von Hormonson that recalls Chris Corsano, a previous drummer under the Six Organs banner. It all adds up to an incredible soupy zoned-out excursion. Kinda like Sunburned Hand of the Man adding their own spritz to songs from Earth's most recent studio album with the Forever Bad Blues Band in tow. I feel like the tornado from "Desert" has kerplunked me right into a warm, warm river and the current's carrying me way off to faraway lands...then lying on the shore I wash up on to be dried out by the rays of the sun. Incredible.
I was told this album was sonically similar to previous Six Organs efforts "Dust & Chimes" and "Dark Noontide". It's got plenty of the atmosphere dredged up from the former, minus all the mini-ragas, if you can imagine. It's definitely similar to the latter but even more polished, mature. Those with the best record collections can make the best music, but the trick is to not sound like any single one of those thousands of discs - rather, to sound like all of them ingested and projected outwardly again. Ben Chasny on this disc has, in my opinion, done it quite like no one else has in the longest time. Album of the year?
(*there is no station and I have never met the man)


Birchville Cat Motel - Our Love Will Destroy the World (PseudoArcana CD)

I'm trying to stay away from reviewing reissues in large part since I think there's enough new stuff to talk about...but this album is a slight exception to the rule (and for a good reason). In 2003, Campbell Kneale's Birchville Cat Motel released a 3" CD called "Screamformelongbeach", which contained the 15-minute track "550,00 Flowers for the Hero". That track is reproduced here, but it's surrounded by almost half an hour's worth of "bonus" tracks, essentially making this a brand new album of sorts. We clear?
Anyway, at the time it was released, "Screamformelongbeach" was an anomaly in the BCM canon. Yes it was droning, but from a different approach altogether. It's a 15-minute loop of drums and guitars straight out of the most fervent point of a given NWOBHM/"classic" heavy metal song, with Campbell piling on all different kinds of flattening guitar noise over top. The result was your Walkman getting jammed while playing "Number of the Beast" at the exact same point in time you fall into some kind of black hole space vortex. The lead-off track to the album "Heaven's Flaming Horse" follows a similar pattern, but seemingly with black metal as the source instead of traditional heavy metal. It's the sound of Matthew Bower fronting Nargaroth - actually this is pretty reminiscent of where Hototogisu were flashing upon with their "Green" album.
The last three tracks are all new additions (but apparently recorded around 2003). "Lay Thy Hatred Down" is a somber, repetitive, requiem while "Double Cascade Mini Fantasy" is like someone slowly ripping the clouds open, bewildering organ rain landing in small pools around you. The last track is the 11-minute title track, which also boasts a pretty heavy Skullflower influence. Thudding drums and acidic guitar skree whipping around your ears. I'm also hearing the finest bits of Ramleh in there (pounding on the doors trying to get out, that is).
This is a curious album, and a curious addition to BCM's discography. Anyone who heard 2005's "Chi Vampires" and was stunned with the monstrous sludge-hammer riffing that took over on the last track shouldn't be too surprised to find Campbell indulging even more in his heavy metal passion. Likewise, his Black Boned Angel project (which seems to be growing greater in prominence) is a decent tip-off as well. What I'm wondering is, will the next real true-blue "legit" BCM long-player contain even more of this metal influence that's been seeping through the cracks, or is it a return to the ecstatic Theatre of Eternal Music drones? Or, much like this album, an unholy amalgamation of the two? Regardless, the man's got my attention.


Religious Knives - Bind Them/Electricity and Air (No Fun Productions LP) & Untitled Lathe (A.A. Records 7")

More product from and related to the Double Leopards camp. I guess it's just been that kind of a week. The "Bind Them/Electricity and Air" LP is probably one of the more readily available emissions from the Religious Knives crew, which at its core is composed of Mike Bernstein and Maya Miller and also Nate Nelson of Mouthus this time around (and the record was also mastered by the other half of Mouthus, Brian Sullivan). This 12" on Carlos Giffoni's No Fun Productions is limited to 300 (never to be re-pressed!) and features a whacked-out essay from Tonya Loiterminn of Schism Magazine reprinted on the back. It's something to think about.
Like the title indicates, the record is formed of two side-long jams, about 15 minutes apiece. "Bind Them" bottles up heavy synthesized tribal zones, delicate percussion and chanted vocal invokations. Sacred rites of the hidden temple shit. There's a dark, deeply ritualistic vibe surrounding this one, circa the more obtuse of Sub Rosa "world" compilations via early krautrock a la Can, Siloah, Amon Duul II et al. Forboding and haunting - I approve.
Side two is "Electricity and Air" (the title is taken from the essay). It follows in a similar vein to the first, and I'm impressed at the vision and unity of the two jams. There's a slow-churning, almost depressing synth round-up amidst spooky, clattering percussion...hell's bells style. More vocal intonation. I'm going for a more modern mash-up with this one, maybe No-Neck, Double Leopards and Sunn O))) together in the Pit doing a "quiet one". Awesome. Both these tracks are altogether more structured and less murky/blurred than what we've come to expect from Double Leopards associates, but no less enchanting. In fact, if you find yourself bored with the whole new drone thing of late, give this a twirl for fast, effective relief.
Next is a beautiful-looking but impossible to play lathe from Nate Young (Wolf Eyes)'s A.A. label. The first groove my needle hits seems to be one of locked nothingness, so I'll try the next. Paydirt! The sounds filter through my speaker like a sunbeam through the window. But I guess I shouldn't be talking sunny because this is even more moody and desolate than whatever I heard on the LP. There's some lonely percussion; percussion as in soup cans scraped along your skull, accompanied by eerie charged electro-magnetics. My skin is hell of crawling. Before long there's some equally-deserted, Jandek-style plucked guitar...but then the needle gets trapped in an endless wrecked loop which may or may not be a perfect drone after all. I'm too paranoid to leave my needle there for long, but trying to other grooves seems fruitless. Show's over. I was able to wrangle about a minute and a half of noise out of this thing. Not bad!
This is also a part of that enormous(ly expensive) A.A. 13-lathe box-set that you thought you dreamt up (oh it's real). The box has contributions from other like-minded sickos Aaron Dilloway, Burning Star Core, Damion Romero, Graveyards, Raven Strain, and more, but they're also sold individually (or, were, they might be long gone by now).

Nachtmystium - Instinct: Decay (Battle Kommand CD)

Nachtmystium have been dropping hints in recent days that they're not like the other black metal bands, especially not their USBM co-conspirators Leviathan, Xasthur, Draugaur et al (although Nachtmystium mainman Judd did moonlight in Twilight, the USBM supergroup featuring those musicians and more). For two obvious examples, they play live and they don't wear corpsepaint. For all intents and purposes they just look like...a bunch of dudes playing music. But there was something more to them, and I think I started to pick up on that when a live Earth cover ("Charioteer") was included as a bonus track on the Southern Lord version of their 2004 release "Eulogy IV". So it shouldn't really come as a surprise to me or anyone else that their new full-length "Instinct: Decay" is shaking the boundary lines just a little bit harder as the band has grown more comfortable in its own skin.
What I'm talking about, of course, is the rise of psychedelic black metal. You knew it was coming - every other week if you glance at the Aquarius Records' albums of the week you'll find black metal mingling with other genres. So why not try pairing it up with the good stuff? Not to say this album is full-on psych, the same way the last Darkthrone album wasn't full-on punk. But it's definitely there - I can smell it. Or maybe that's all the hash and pot the band used to record the guitar solos (according to a recent Decibel interview with Judd). Whatever was in the pipes, keep passing it around because the results are highly diggable.
After the brief opener and "A Seed for Suffering" begins, you'll know what I'm talking about. A 7-minute romper stomper that begins in a manner which does recall Xasthur's recent output - slightly hazy and muddled production, disparate skin-pounding and furiously blazerin' guitars. But three minutes in all this gives way to a rather lovely Comus-esque acoustic interlude...then the solo hits, and set the controls for the cold black heart of the sun, baby. It's such a jarring thing to throw down in a black metal tune that I know people were turned off by it right away - "it's too 80's, it sounds like a synth instead of a guitar". Yeah...and??? Only a purist could not be bowled over by the sheer brashness of this guitar-work. Talk about a shot in the arm to the genre!
"Keep Them Open" wastes no time in getting down to business, a galloping BM anthem if there ever was one, replete with those signature wild-ass solos like David Gilmour on "Comfortably Numb" sped up tenfold. They're not going away, and I couldn't be happier. Next is the album highlight in my humblest of opinions, "Chosen By No One". It's slow - bordering on rock and roll, if it wasn't so obviously drenched in the lake of black metal. The structure on this one is almost poppy at times, and that's a compliment I'll have you know. "The Antichrist Messiah" is another quantum leap - imagine a hearse careening of a cliff and landing into the NWOBHM briar patch. Or "Here's to Hoping", a bizarre, punk/new wave-influenced ditty with lyrics like "I want to be the hands around your throat". It has to be heard to be believed.
And that's the game Nachtmystium like to play. They do these Bathory/Emperor/Mayhem-influenced numbers (nothing new in the realm of black metal), but then put their own innovative twist all over the thing and truly make it their own. Whether it's on the experimental jams ("A Seed for Suffering", "Chosen by No One", "Here's to Hoping") or the most straight-forward BM-sounding ones of the lot ("Keep Them Open", "Eternal Ground", "Abstract Nihilism"), it's the perfect marriage the agony and the ecstacy.
Black metal has long had a droning aspect to it. Greg Anderson of Sunn O))) once said the reason he got into black metal in the first place was because of the hypnotic, droning atmosphere conjured up by Burzum (specifically "Filosofem" I believe). But this may be the most perfectly spaced-out, hallucinatory black metal album ever. Now, speaking of Burzum, how long until we get that drawn-out 60-minute "Dunkelheit" cover I've been dreaming about? Let's see how far we can run with this whole psych thing.


Dead Machines - The Last Pallbearer / Failing Lights - Dismal Winds / Family Underground - Risen Under Altar Souls (Heavy Tapes CSs)

Eeeyoow. I finally got my hands around a few cassettes from the heavily-lauded Mike Bernstein/Maya Miller (Double Leopards) coordinated Heavy Tapes label. The packaging is as beautiful as you've read about. Some day far off into the future when this whole thing we're in the midst of now is dead and gone, Maya's artwork will be collected into a tome to be bought and sold on Amazon as a reminder of the brain-boggling stuff that went on in the hip '00s. But that tome will go out of print, and you'll wind up paying through the nose for it on eBay...don't say I didn't warn you. Best stock up now while these tapes still cost under $10 (well, most of em anyways). Let's do this shit alphabetical style.
John Olson (of Wolf Eyes) and life-partner Tovah Olson really shouldn't need an introduction at this point, so I ain't gonna do one. Their contribution "The Last Pallbearer" (c28) hits you with a grotesque wallop of pure dark matter, definitely living up to the mental image of miles of malfunctioning mechanics their moniker mandates. Waves of bombed-black nightmares abound. The second track (still on the A side) is more organic but we're still talking about living surpressed under robot rule. Far off animal calls puncture the metallic landscape, brain-dead astral grinding and scraping courtesy desolate electronics - the soundtrack to being the last human being on the planet.
B side is more of the same alienation - like a horror flick with the picture removed. Half-alive electronics clattering and jostling up against one another in the dark, screaming beneath a thick crust of bile. I'm thinking psychedelic wheat threshers. Are you?
Next on the docket is Failing Lights aka Mike Connelly (Hair Police/Wolf Eyes) with "Dismal Winds" (c20). I guess this thing is one-sided or I didn't turn my stereo up loud enough to hear the second side. Anyway. Small collection of varying bloops and brrps, like a rat on a hot tin roof. These are super lo-fi, debilitated electronic waverings, ghost transmissions trying to break through to the other side. Remember when you were a kid and you heard about earwigs actually getting into people's ears and eating through their brains, tiny bite after tiny bite? Put that together with drained tapes, dying batteries and a seriously smoked-out vibe and you're in the right coffin.
Last but never least is a righteous monster, Family Underground's "Risen Under Altar Souls" (c44). And if the title doesn't give a big enough indication to the proceedings at hand, you're not gonna make it out alive. A holistic blast of buried Vibracathedral Orchestra-tinged exorcism. This be free, buzzed-out, blown-up, drugged knuckle-dragging in its highest form. Sometimes there's wandering voices in the background, and it basically sounds like what I imagine breaking into a freemason HQ at 2am sounds like. I've got no idea what's being played here - the Grand Canyon on a horse's-tail-hair bow, maybe? Alls I know is I feel like I've woken up in a field, naked except for the warm blanket of an orange sun.
Side B is even bigger, brighter, more acid-edged and freaked-out than the first. Vocal trepidation, jet-engine guitars (maybe?) coming in for a crash landing on your veins. Or, melted glop running down the drain, spiraling out of sight. Or, tapes spliced up with a battle axe and pieced together with duct tape. Yr call, mate. A total magnum opus of droned-out euphorium, whichever way you want to take it. This tape could easily be the winner, but I don't like to play favorites.
Man alive. If all Heavy Tapes are as bonked as these three selections, I gotta throw out my Pokemon and start collecting these babies. Great tunes, great packaging...what more could a gal ask for? Next time you're laying down a thick order on Fusetron or Volcanic Tongue or what have you, throw a couple of these in your cart and I guarantee you'll have enough meat to last you till your next pilgrimage.


Wolf Eyes & Anthony Braxton - Black Vomit (Les Disques Victo CD)

I remember back at the 2005 Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville, a friend and I checked out an early morning Thurston Moore press conference because if you've ever been to Victoriaville you know there is absolutely shit all to do, in the most desperate of senses. Thurston helped to curate one of the festival days you see, bringing in acts like Hair Police, Double Leopards, Dead Machines, No-Neck Blues Band and Wolf Eyes (as well as his own Dream Aktion Unit ensemble). Maybe you've heard this story already but I'll tell it anyway: at the press conference, Thurston started talking about how Anthony Braxton (also present at the FIMAV) had caught a Wolf Eyes set in Sweden and promptly snapped up everything they had on their merch table, falling head over feet for the band. He also hinted at possibly moving to Sweden so he could see them more often, not realizing that they were from the good ol' U.S. of A.. So the FIMAV served as the perfect conduit for the old jazz and the new noise to come together for some sweet sweet lovin'. Thurston totally whet our appetites suggesting a collaboration between the two might happen later in the day during Wolf Eyes' set, but I think most of laughed it off.
Finally at the ripe hour of 3pm in the afternoon, we were all loaded into the Coliseum waiting for Hair Police to come on. I think Thurston did the introductions and told the crowd that Braxton would be joining Wolf Eyes, but I was too busy scooping up grotesque amounts of American Tapes CDRs to hear it. Hair Police did a particularly devastating set, better than anything I've heard from their records. Then Wolf Eyes came on and sure enough, Braxton was right there with them. Are you for real? I don't doubt that more than a few jazzhead skulls were split wide open right then and there.
John Olson opened up the set with some highlight reel bantering that unfortunately is largely excluded from this disc. Then they (Braxton included!) eased their way into a slow, skittery, sub-sub-sub-level jam help along by Olson's gong and tiny strangled saxophone yelps. Best part is before the jam is in post-opening mode but pre-freakout mode - Braxton's soprano snaking its way around under the Wolf Eyes doom-and-gloom skree. Total inspiration-inducing moment. I don't know if it was both parties being hesitant but in the later days of the first jam things are deliriously minimalist for awhile until Nate Young electronic waves and Mike Connelly's mutilated guitar join forces with Braxton (ripping, at this point) to topple the fuckin' Sphinx. Then everything except for Braxton's sax drops out and there's a brief pause before the band launches into "Stabbed in the Face" - holy fucking classic moment of my existence. They play an exceptionally rough rendition of the tune and Braxton does kinda get lost in the shuffle after awhile but at this point I'm usually slumped over in my chair with blood running down my lip so who cares.
Before the next song begins Olson asks the audience if we want to hear "Leper War" or "Black Vomit". Someone chimes in to let Anthony pick, and he does - "Black Vomit"! Unreal. So they play a mother of a chopped-up, fist-pumping, metal stricken terror aktion version of that "Burned Mind" track and seven minutes later the magic has gone back to the bar and we're left wondering what the fuck we just witnessed.
And now you too can experience the magic, right in the comfort of your own home! Hands up all those who thought they'd live to see a Wolf Eyes disc on Victo's label...pssshhawwww, right. In fact this one is part of a trifecta of Victo 2005 Braxton gigs, including a duo with Fred Frith (also great) and the Anthony Braxton Sextet (which I wasn't too big on). The bummer? The set's only half an hour long.


Keiji Haino & Sitaar Tah! - Animamima (Archive/Important Records 2xCD)

I tell you. I'd bought this double-discker as soon as it was available from the fine folks at Archive based on their previous track record alone. I loaded it into my 3-disc changer (Jack Rose was the third if you're curious) and then promptly ignored it for a week, possibly longer. Sometimes you just need to wait for the right mood to spin a set featuring Keiji Haino alongside a 20-piece sitar orchestra (not to mention the appearance of Fuyuki Yamakawa on igil and throat singing). Well when I came home today from a particularly arduous day of work, I threw myself in the direction of my bed and decided, for some reason, that the time was now. Nevermind that I had a muted Entertainment Tonight playing on the TV, could barely keep my eyes open, and was suffocating due to the humidity. All conditions considered I must say that it was a particularly nice way to drift off on a puffy pink cloud of steam. That is until my alarm went off at 6pm (???) and the sounds of Grand Funk Railroad were piped in to the background of this hazy sitar drone experienza. "What the hell is going on?" I thought to myself, somewhere in between my pillow and dreamland. "Why is there a Grand Funk sample on a Haino album? How did they even get the clearance to put it on? And why???". Eventually the unmistakable shouting of the new Man in Black startled me awake and I promptly solved the Grand Funk quandary, resolving to bring the CDs downstairs with me and give em a listen in my computer chair so I'm assured to not doze off.
On first re-listen, the first disc is as heaven-spun as I recall it being. The most instantly remarkable thing about it for me is that I certainly am not able to detect 20 different sitars playing at once...if you told me there were five sitars on this disc I'd buy that. I'm chalking it up to the notion that there's a greater focus on unity than on divergence, whether it's from within the orchestra or how they work with what Haino and Yamakawa are doing. Which, if you ask me, is perfect. This project is gelling in the most major of fashions. Nobody's doing too much (even Haino who's on vocals, flute, electric tanbur, rhythm box, electric hurdy-gurdy and electric sruthi box is in alarmingly restrained form) but there's never too little either. Anyway disc number one (one track, 46 minutes) has a strong Eastern taste to it, probably because the focus lands a bit more on Sitaar Tah! here in comparison to the second disc. Haino outdoes himself with some flutist mastery, weaving all different kinds of fluttery harmonics around the orchestra's droning, sun-baked sitar strumminz. Yamakawa's contributions border on the sublime, adding just the perfect pint of low vocal intonations. Haino does a little bit of wailing about half an hour in, but it's not over-done to the point of being an irritant. Quite the opposite actually, his vocals splash even more colour into the proceedings.
The first half of disc number dos (one track, 51 minutes) is a blazer. Well as blazy as a sitar orchestra can get, anyway. This cut has got some mean undertones, like the build up to Scatman Crothers getting it in the chest in the Shining. Yamakawa seems to spend most of his time on the igil while Haino occupies himself with various noisemakers, blending in seemlessly with Sitaar Tah!. Around fifteen minutes in there's a shift and things slowly morph into a sound more akin to the first disc, slower-paced and droning with Yamakawa's throat singing taking on a bigger role. Kinda makes me think of that Young/Zazeela/MacLise/Conrad/Cale joint at times, or Rob Laufer's "Towards the Sunrise" (believe it or not!), or what bands like Hototogisu, Eyes and Arms of Smoke and Burning Star Core are shooting for nowadaze. It's the sound of frayed horsetail strings baptized in gas-o-leen. There's a third "movement" as the set nears its end, early morning hang-over music to drag yourself out of the bed to. Haino's makes another brief vocal appearance and then it all just buzzes out n' off.
Archive and Important have done us all a great service in releasing this 2004 live set (following up Haino's earlier Archive/Important jam "Reveal'd to None as Yet"), and let's face it - if you weren't immediately persuaded by hearing the words "Keiji Haino" and "20-piece sitar orchestra" together, how could anything I say ever sway you? But if you're debating, better make up your mind quick - one time pressing of 1000 copies and Archive's plum out.
Extra points for the fantastic die-cut packaging job, as is the custom when the Archive folk are involved.


Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped (Geffen CD)

Yeah, as if you need to read another review of the new Sonic Youth record. As if. Besides, what is this, Spin magazine? I ain't no Qualified Reviewer, I just string adjectives together! But. I spoze it's only fair that if I'm reviewing a bunch of bands raised on Sonic Youth (and who, at one point or another, probably opened for them) I might as well mention that the real deal have released a new record, their 14th legit studio LP by my count, and potentially their last one for the Geffen label. But then maybe they'll jump ship to join Thurston Moore's Ecstatic Peace! label on Universal, so how much better is that in the long run?
All right enough of that. I'll try to keep this short because for once I genuinely don't have a lot of time and there are a plethora of other, more competant reviewers who actually know a thing or two about chords and bridges and whatnot that could do a way better job than I ever could. Anyway I'm sure the Wire has told you by now that this SY LP is of important because Jim O'Rourke isn't on it and it shows - the average song length of the 12 tracks is 4 minutes and 18 seconds, and not one of them is led by Thurston going El Freakazoid on his guitar. Bummer? Not really. I don't think there are too many people listening to Sonic Youth anymore expecting the band to do something outrageously left-field, especially when you take the sound of 2004's "Sonic Nurse" into account. That kind of stuff seems reserved for the SYR label and appearances at the No Fun Fest nowadays with the "mature" SY taking the driver's seat.
The album opens in similar fashion to "Nurse" with a Kim Gordon-fronted track, "Reena". In fact the song itself is strikingly similar to "Pattern Recognition" from "Nurse". The music is bouncy and energetic while the vocals are vintage Kim - sultry and subdued. The lyrics, as with most all of the lyrics here, are take em or leave em (maybe I've just been listening to too much instrumental stuff these days). I dunno, sometimes they just seem kinda...awkward. I'm sure they'll wind up into more than a few MySpace profiles so no worries there.
"Incinerate" and "What a Waste" both share similar ground - slightly more aggressive and definitely more "rock" SY tunes, but infused with a healthy dose of pop. The difference is that Moore does vocals on the former and Gordon on the latter. Thurston's vocals are particularly attractive in a kind of disarmingly wimpy sense. Is this guy really 40? Still looks and sounds 14, man. Speaking of Moore, he also does vocals on track number three (and hands down album highlight) "Do You Believe in Rapture?". It's so fragile it makes your heart ache and swell - particularly when the delicate rumbling metamorphoses into pure pop bliss.
Other songs follow in similar suit. Signature jangly Sonic Youth guitars ("The Neutral", "Pink Steam", "Turquoise Boy"), a sturdy rhythm section ("Rats", "Jams Run Free"), and vocals that jump from emotive to bordering on snotty (album closer "Or", "Lights Out", "Do You Believe in Rapture?"). One instantly notable trait of the album is the amount of tracks Kim Gordon fronts. Thurston does six (half the album) while Kim handles five. The lone anomaly is Lee Ranaldo's "Rats".
It's almost uncanny how vaguely familiar all these songs are. The best music is the music that sounds like the artist plucked it straight out of the sky - it's always been there, just waiting to be put to tape. This is what gives "Rather Ripped" it's strength - although this is by far Sonic Youth's poppiest effort to date, it's equally successful because it doesn't come off sounding forced. Like it or not, these were songs SY were meant to write. And in my belly, well that sits just fine thanks.


Prurient - Pleasure Ground (Hospital Productions 2xCS)

I had almost forgotten entirely that I even had this double-cassette from Providence's (now New York's) Dominick Fernow aka Prurient. You see, I picked it up at this year's No Fun Fest, and anyone will tell you that things start getting a little blurry when you approach the edge of the merch tables and before you know it you're pulling bills out of your wallet because there is no fucking way you're going to miss out on that Skaters tape. Although I will say that I remember this purchase more clearly than most, particularly because Dominick's girlfriend (I assume?) was selling it to the guy beside me, and when she cracked it open to reveal that it came with a lock of her hair...well I was sold too. Not because I have a thing for his girlfriend, but come on - how badass is THAT. The fact that it's limited to 40 copies didn't hurt either. Platinum blonde hair aside, the chunky case also holds a lyric sheet, tracklisting/recording info, as well as a bunch of Xeroxed images captioned with various lyrics from the album (don't show your mom the picture of the larvae with "the cruel final cum" pasted at the bottom).
The four 10-minute tracks represented on each cassette side are indicative of the new direction Prurient has been pursuing lately, the "long form" direction. Gone are the short, amazingly harsh amp blasts of "The History of AIDS" and "Shipwrecker's Diary". In their place are sounds that may seem less direct but are effective all the same.
The first side is "Military Road", a surpressed electronic diffusion highlighted by haunted, strangulated vocals piercing the mess every now and again. It's almost passive-aggressive in approach yet willing to explode all the same at any moment. It never does though, trailing off into a solo vocal performance that reminds me of Pig Destroyer's J.R. Hayes, a band whose lyrics often dwell in the same dark corners as Prurient's.
Side two is "Earthworms/Buried in Secret" sounds like thunder splitting the planet wide open and listening to the screams of whatever the fuck is down there. Imagine every classic horror movie monster's on-screen death and you're somewhere in the right vicinity. Later on the harshness subsides and an eerie synth/keyboard line is audible, reminiscent of an Emperor intro track or "The Baron's Chamber", Prurient's most severely underrated work. Add all that to the man himself screaming the line "what of this destruction" endlessly and you've got a recipe for disaster pie, à la mode.
On to cassette two, side one: "Outdoorsman/Indestructible". It rings familiar to me and I'm pretty sure that's because it's the same mutant piano fandango Prurient used in his No Fun performance. Killer. The side is a veritable slow burner of stomach churning drones and some lyrics that require an extremely attentive ear to decipher, lyrics in hand or not. Pony up to your stereo speaker if you've got the grapes.
Lastly, "Apple Tree Victim". I'm picking up an air of black metal influence on this one...are those guitars? They sound like guitars. Either way, more oil-coated obliteration spewn forth from the blowhole of the megalodon. The vocals are similar to those on the first side - pained and venemous. Almost melancholic in tandem with the skrawl of the sounds in the background. Rather epic, if I do say so myself.
This is a Prurient release that dabbles in similar terrority as the rest - making you feel uneasy, uncomfortable, maybe even guilty. It might be a little too over the top to succeed there, but musically it all works real well. On the other hand after I finished listening to the tapes I had Xerox ink on my hands and Prurient's girlfriend's hair stuck to my shirt...so what does that say about me?


Sunn O))) - La Mort Noir Dans Esch/Alzette (Southern Lord CD) & Sunn O)))/Earth - Angel Coma (Southern Lord LP)

If the artwork on these two new Sunn O)))-related discs is any indication, Coil have got it all backwards. Gold isn't the metal with the broadest shoulders...the metal with the broadest shoulders is, in fact, gold. Dig? And these two discs, much like pure gold itself, are now something of a rarity. Both were tour-only (although a finite number of the "Angel Coma" splits were available through Southern Lord's mail order) and both will now set you back quite aways on eBay - the first one in particular went for as high as $150 recently, which is just absolutely bullshit insane if you ask me. In fact, there may be an even greater reason why "La Mort Noir Dans Esch/Alzette" is already fetching collector's prices online, and it's because it's the center of a tiny little controversy apparently involving Malefic, the man behind Xasthur (and I guess a now-former Sunn collaborator). Of course, that all depends if you believe everything you read on these here Internets. Drone drama! I digress.
In fact, it's a real pity "La Mort" is so limited, because it's a great disc. As a matter of fact, this is what Sunn should have released instead of "Black One". First of all it doesn't rely on tedious, atmosphere-conjuring gimmicks like said album's Immortal cover as one example. Whereas I personally felt "Black One" tried too hard to create a feeling of contempt, misanthropia, and, well, blackness, "La Mort" does it all without even really trying, while still showcasing Sunn O)))'s true talents. Because this, no fooling, is one aggressive album, recorded live at Alzette Kulturfabrik in Esch/Alzette Luxembourg. The group opens up with six minutes of "Orthodox Caveman" a track you may recall from the "Black One" album (or Earth's "Seven Angels", from which it borrowed heavily), which was hands down one of the best tracks on the duo's last album and a good place to start the set. This opener leads directly into the 21-minute "Hallow-Cave", which I guess is an improvisation though I'm sure it incorporates riffs from other Sunn tracks that I just can't place. This is Sunn at their absolute best - piling riff atop riff until you're suffocating underneath a sheer hellish miasma. Tune down, turn on, drop out.
"Reptile Lux", track number three, is a bit more dynamic in terms of guitar wrenching and...horns? Not goat horns, I swear I could make out some brass instrument being abused. The aforementioned Malefic appears on this track with howled, pain-filled vocals that at times do recall "Cursed Realms (of the Winterdemons)" but the musical backdrop is a hundred times more gripping than that of the Immortal cover. Fifteen minutes later it's closing time and the band launch into the closer "CandleGoat/Bathori", coupling another set of "Black One" songs but making them sound so much more vile and disease-ridden. Malefic croons on this baby too. According to the liner notes, TOS Nieuwenhuizen of Beaver/35007 plays (synths, I'm assuming, since that's what he played on the "Black One" live bonus disc) as well as Steve Moore (research tells me he does trombone with Earth live these days, so that's definitely what I was hearing...awesome!) and the almighty Dylan Carlson is in here somewhere too. Quite the cast of characters. Like I said before, this is what "Black One" should have been - eliminate all the unnecessary bells and whistles and you've still got an album that winds up sounding twice as damning.
The split with Earth, however, is a bit of a different story. Side one is Sunn's "Coma Mirror", with a line up consisting up Xasthur (on "throat"), Mystic Robe Chekk (that'd be Greg Anderson), Drone Slut (that'd be Stephen O'Malley), TOS (Nieuwenhuizen) and White Out (John Wiese). Great lineup again, but the band sounds like they're on auto-pilot on this side...basically I can imagine the Sunn guys handing a "Black One" outtake to Wiese, telling him to remix it, and him coming up with this as a result. Malefic's windy screaming layered on top of white noise static with nary a riff in sight, for about 15 minutes. Hmm...not to say it's bad per se, but it's not very fulfilling either.
The good news is that Earth make up for it with a total monster in "A Plague of Angels", previously available on "Live Hex; in a Large City on the North American Continent" but represented here in studio form. The piece is also aided greatly by the addition of Randall Dunn on low frequency oscillator and Steve Moore on trumpet/mellotron. The track is very much in the same vein as the songs from the "Hex" album (and I wouldn't be surprised if it was an outtake as well) and there's something instantly charming about how grandiose it is. From the first minute it comes on, you just know. Like an amazing fusion of drone, old Western soundtracks, Ennio Morricone, and the best post-rock band ever created. The side comes to a close with a very understated, almost sublime kind of climax where if you blink, it's gone. Absolutely aces, like being washed in the blood of the lamb.
Both releases are packaged quite nicely, the LP in particular has a glossy gold sleeve and plays on gold vinyl. The closest either band will ever get to a gold record!


Various Artists - Tropicalia: A Brazilian Revolution in Sound (Soul Jazz 2xLP)

As I write this review we're currently the 9th of June and it's been raining all week. Not exactly the most ideal setting to review one of the most wildly popular Soul Jazz complations in recent memory, "Tropicalia". This album demands to be played on the sunniest of sunny days somewhere off the coast of Emerald City.
Tropicalia, as a movement (musical and otherwise) is based around four key figures and one key group. They're all listed on the back of the album sleeve and they all feature exclusively on the album: Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, Tom Zé and Os Mutantes. Jorge Ben is also on the album (performing one song and as the composer of others), but he is more a contributor than someone central to the sound.
The liner notes for this album do an incredible job detailing the complex history of tropicalia so I'll try and summarize. Tropicalia, essentially, was birthed by Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil in 1967. The two were artists that had become disillusioned with the both the apathetic political left in Brazil as well as the music it was commonly associated with (initially bossa nova which began a decade earlier, and later MPB or Musica Popular Brasileira - an evolution of bossa nova, so to speak). Gil and Veloso's mission was to create a political and artistic spark by infusing MPB with international influences (both were were hugely influenced by the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever" and the fact that John Lennon had written the song after taking LSD).
In 1967, Veloso and Gil presented their new sound at a televised music festival. Veloso performed with an Argentinean rock group called the Beat Boys while Gil sang with an upstart Sao Paulo rock band named Os Mutantes. The audience was composed mainly of complacent, left-wing, bossa nova-enthusiast students and they were horrified by Veloso and Gil's "bastardization" of MPB by combining it with international rock music. However it was this new breed of Brazilian pop music, combined with lyrics that were as surreal as they were political, that would form the backbone of the tropicalia movement's sound. The artists connected to this new genre would make appearances ("happenings") in the roles of provocateurs on MPB TV shows, spurring on the traditionalists of the genre and creating an even greater divide between the "old" sound and their new tropicalia music. In 1968 Veloso defined the movement when he released the album "Tropicalia ou Panis et Circences" featuring himself alongside Gil, Os Mutantes, Tom Zé, Gal Costa, arranger Rogério Duprat, sympathetic bossa nova artist Nara Leao as well as poets Capinan and Torquato Neto. Gilberto Gil and Zé also released their first tropicalia-informed solo albums.
In October of 1968, the collective may finally have pissed off the right people by performing under a flag depicting Rio criminal Cara de Cavalo, the first person killed by the government's new "death squad". Below his picture were the words "Seja marginal, seja heroi" (be a criminal, be a hero). A judge happened to be in attendance, took offense, and promptly shut down both the show and the night club. Those involved with the genre began getting the idea that they were flirting with danger, and they were right to be uneasy.
On December 13 1968, Brazilian president Costa e Silva introduced the Fifth Institutional Act (A-15) that proved to be the final nail in the coffin for both tropicalia (figuratively) and many Brazilians across the country (literally). Under this new act, political opposition to the military was outlawed, individual rights were suspended, and all press and culture was censored. Many unexplained disappearances, kidnappings, and deaths occured in the wake of this law.
Indeed Veloso and Gil were victims of the law, both being arrested on the 27th and sent to two months in solitary confinement, which no explanation given for their arrest. Eventually they were told they had to leave the country, and in July of 1969 they were deported to England. Just as quickly as tropicalia had begun, it was dead. In 1972 both men were allowed to return to their homeland, but the movement was long gone by that time. Ironically, Gilberto Gil is now the Minister for Culture in Brazil.
It's hard to imagine a sound lasting less than a year could have such a profound impact, not only on the culture it's native to but on the rest of the world as well. Listening to these 20 perfect psych/pop/avant-garde/bossa nova/MPB gems, it becomes evident that they are the byproduct of a very specific point in time in the history of a culture, and despite all the negative forces they were born out of, could never have been created under any other circumstances.
As an aside, most of the information in this review comes from the album's exhaustive liner notes, which also include some great photos from the time. Worth the price of admission alone!


Nath Family - Sounds of the Indian Snake Charmer, Vol. 2 (Hanson Records CS)

In 2005, Wolf Eyes member Aaron Dilloway headed over to Nepal with his wife, and befriended a local snake charmer/hustler family the Naths while she was off studying. Dilloway released the first fruits culled from his recordings of the family later in 2005, on the sleeper hit LP (and later CD) "Sounds of the Indian Snake Charmer". This year he follows it up with what didn't make the cut of the first volume, although that shouldn't suggest that these aren't as of a lesser quality. If you heard the first volume, you pretty much know what you're getting into with this one. The four members of this family bringing forth pure psychotropic snake- and human-charming drones straight from the source. I always feel like some sort of filthy Western interloper when I dub the music native to a region in a far-off land "psychedelic", but I truly think it fits the bill to a T here. Although it's still difficult to be critical of it just because I'm ignorant of the music - is this "good" or "bad" snake charming? Ah who cares. I know what I like.
The first side (I guess) opens with a thick blast of drugged-out drones from the pungi, a bamboo reed instrument, and never lets up. The pungis are quickly accompanied by the premtal, which is a stringed percussion instrument that sounds not entirely unlike a tabla. I'm definitely picking up a raga vibe here, with the family working within a certain framework, pushing and exploring every single corner of it. There's a clearly defined rhythm and melody but couple those with the droning sounds from the pungi and it's a totally intoxicating combination. There's really an amazing, contradictory relationship between the two. The hypnotic premtal only adds to the sheer zonked-out-ness of it all. There's also some delightful bells being jingled in time to the jams, like a smooth coating of whipped cream. It eventually breaks off into another track, the pungis scraping up even higher on the register.
Side two starts with a brief head-to-head pungi grapplefest between the brothers of the family before the rest of the family comes in and things move along in a fashion similar to the first side. This one however is a side-long jam that seems a bit noisier and freer than the other side. There's a nice bit where the pungis start to "break up" (well it's really just the players starting and stopping) and it sounds like some kind of wild static from the outside set. A truly headswirling experience.
Like I said before...I don't know what makes good snake charming "good snake charming", but I know both volumes of the Nath Family recordings rule hard. There's some kind of ancient yet modern, traditional yet psychedelic marriage going on here that I'm so ignorant of I'm not even going to bother getting into. It's like some kind of brilliantly uninformed Young/Zazeela/Nath (Pandit Pran, that is) head trip. Volume one is sold out on vinyl but still available on CD while this cassette is still in print...but not for long once the Aquarius Records guys get a hold of it I'll bet. If you do miss out, don't fret - the Hanson Records website bears four beautiful words that fill my loins with excitement - "more volumes to come".


Darkthrone - The Cult is Alive (Peaceville CD)

I'm going to have to cheat a bit and quote the user "chaossphere" on his Metal Archives review of Darkthrone's "The Cult is Alive". In the man's own words: "either you love this band, or you’re a fag." Bravo! Well said! All right, I'm not trying to imply any sort of homophobia or derogation, but I definitely think you need to do some explaining if you're into black metal and don't like Darkthrone. And that goes for every pseudo-elite internet black metal nerd who jumped off the boat as the band went into the new millenium with 2001's "Plaguewielder". There was nothing wrong with that album. Or "Hate Them" (2003). Or "Sardonic Wrath" (2004). Or this one (2006). Because, let's face it. All Darkthrone albums (except for their 1990 debut "Soulside Journey", which was clearly death metal) are cut from the same cloth. You're bound to them as inextricably as they to you. But, having said all that, if there's one thing that might test your limits as a Darkthrone fangirl, it's this.
There had been rumblings that the new Darkthrone album would be punk rock. And it's true! Okay it's not true, I lied. But there is an undeniable undercurrent of a heavy punk influence coursing through the blackened veins of this disc. And all the better for it. Black metal and punk rock were never so seperate anyway, and most musicians who began the early black metal bands were already heavily into punk and thrash metal. So why do some people act like Darkthrone have committed an act of high treason with this release? Most of the time as musicians (especially metal musicians) age, they mellow. Or they start thinking prog rock and concept albums and Casiotones would make for interesting music. Darkthrone have actually reversed all that, sounding more intense, more alive (pardon the pun) and downright younger than they did on even their earliest recordings. It's like Metallica dropping "Kill Em All" in 2003 instead of "St. Anger", if you can imagine.
Basically the band (well, duo) hit the ground running on the first track "The Cult of Goliath" and don't let up until thecloser "Forebyggende Krig". All the tracks average around 4 minutes in length, and all the songs generally maintain the same structure. Darkthrone have never been big on deviation. But how can you not be impressed by the sheer sonic fury unleashed on slicers like "Too Old, Too Cold", "Atomic Coming", "Underdogs and Overlords" and "De Underjordiske (Aelia Capitolina)".
"Too Old, Too Cold" is particularly impressive (and noteworthy - it's the subject of the first ever Darkthrone music video!), blazing forth like some kind of screeching eagle on fire from flying too low to the scorched earth. It also contains lyrics that are either amusingly brilliant or amazingly lame, depending on how you look at them (I lean towards the former): "nothing to prove/just a hellish rock n' roll freak/you call your metal black?/it's just spastic, lame and weak". Listen, if Nocturno fucking Culto is telling you your metal is spastic, lame and weak, then that's just what it is. Actually if I have any complaint about this album, it is the lyrics. While Darkthrone are obviously "taking the piss" at certain points on the album, sometimes they're just a bit too much. See track nine, "Shut Up": "you want a piece of me?/yeah, you do/begging for this and asking for that/shut up, fucking twat". Now it's obvious that DT are no longer the most serious band in the black metal galaxy, but even I cringe when I hear those (and I still have Dream Theater albums in my CD rack).
But for every brainless lyric there's an amazing head-in-the-blender riff or a double-bass drum rush that threatens to nail you to the floor. And the production! Talk about perfect modern BM production. Not too great, not too shitty. Just dirty enough to get the DT "feel" across loud and clear...clear as mud, baby. Nocturno Culto's voice is mixed so far up over the music that it's initially jarring, like putting on headphones wrapped in razorwire. But you just know it would sound shitty if it was any other way.
This is the truest of the true, grimmest of the grim, "cultest" of the cult black metal. If you find yourself scoffing at that statement because Darkthrone are a band that've been around for almost 20 years, and they now have a music video, and they don't wear corpsepaint, and they do interviews with American metal magazines, and they embrace their love of punk rock, and you can buy hoodies with their logo on them at Hot Topic...then you need to seriously contemplate your definition of "true" black metal. Also, you're a fag. Bahaha just kidding.


My Cat is an Alien - Different Shades of Blue (A Silent Place LP)

The bazillionth transmission from whatever planet Italy's My Cat is an Alien are orbiting is actually a revised reissue of a CD-R that came out on the U-Sound label (#19), ran by Jackie-O Motherfucker honcho Tom Greenwood. The lovely insert that comes inside boasts that these sides were recorded live to tape February 12th, 2004 at MCIAA's Space Room, no overdubs and no outtakes. But! Look down a few lines and you'll see the words "this is a different, re-edited & remastered version of the original release". I don't have the original CD-R in my possession so I'm afraid I'm not able to tell you just how different things are, but I suppose it doesn't really matter. It's also worth noting that this record is also available as a coloured heavy weight LP with a bonus 7" (ltd. 131 copies; sell a few of your possessions to obtain) and and "art box" edition with painted artowrk and the like (ltd. 19 copies; sell a few of your children into slavery to obtain). This regular edition is limited to 700 copies but comes with two very nice inserts, one of which is a slick postcard featuring the album's cover art in greater detail, so it's no big loss.
The first side is chock full of spaced-out drones and something that sounds like a satellite signal beaming into your skull from somewhere off the coast of the Milky Way. There's also sounds like a xylophone or a toy piano being plinked away at in the background and some pathetic machinery gasping for air. Some of this sounds like field recordings made in the year 2320 A.D. when robots have taken over the planet entirely - waterfalls of nuts and bolts and mechanical animals all about. The second half of the piece (there's a pretty distinct fade out that seems to imply more than one track on the side) is a bit more "traditional" MCIAA fare with toy guns and various cheap tricks played under the clatter of cymbals and heavily-mutated guitar tones. The peacefulness of the side is greatly disturbed by the ending when the spaceship lands directly on your roof. Fare forward, voyagers!
Side two picks up almost exactly where the other side left off, with the static from your now-crushed antenna ringing in your ears. It cools off but things are still a little more busy than the last side. It actually reminds me a lot of when I saw the duo live. Maurizio Opalio appears to be laying most of the groundwork with his "electric alien guitar" and "cosmic rays effects" while brother Roberto his hopping back and forth from toy guns to lightsabers to keyboards and percussion. Things do kinda space out here, figuratively and literally as well as the two let their drones harvest and manifest themselves into whatever form they may. This side ends much in the way the first did, getting louder and noisier and then drifing off...
I haven't heard nearly as many MCIAA releases as I'd like so I don't know entirely too well how it stands up against their already-enormous discography, but I like it just fine. Much more activity and playfulness at work here than on last year's tremendous "Cosmological Eye Trilogy" for Last Visible Dog, and we all know how great that one was. Worth checking out!


Double Leopards/Mouthus/Sunroof! - Crippled Rosebud Binding (Music Fellowship 2xLP)

The long-awaited fifth installment in the Music Fellowship's Triptych series has finally arrived, and it went as fast as it came (800 copies pressed + a preorder period that went on forever will do that to you). So hopefully you were one of the lucky ones who got while the gotting was good, and the gotting was definitely good. These four sides bring together two of the Newer Weirder faces in Double Leopards and Mouthus (both from New York) and the Older Equally-Weirder face of England's Matthew Bower, in Sunroof! mode for this joint. This set had "slammer" written all over it and could do no wrong, in my noodle as well as the respective noodles of many others (save Siltblog). But since I have to pretend like I'm some kind of objective reviewer, let's go through the motions!
The Double Leopards side starts us out with "...", and it was probably a good idea to have them bat lead-off. There isn't much activity in a given Leopards tune (not to a fault) whereas Mouthus and Sunroof! tend to be a bit more active...so a spacey Leopards track after a rabid Mouthus bloodfeast and a vintage white-hot squiggly Sunroof! jam would not a good idea make. Or maybe that's just me. Anyway the Lepz provide the perfect runway for the set's celestial blast-off, blazing about like a church procession gone bonkers. The track also showcase some distinctly male vocals (or either Marcia or Maya has a severe headcold) which isn't entirely commonplace, or at the very least audible, on many DL tunes. My only beef with this song is that it sounds like something that was left on the floor of the Tar Pit from the "A Hole is True" sessions.
Mouthus play "God of Moth" next and if you've ever seen the duo live you have a pretty good notion of what's happening on this number. It's a heavier side of Mouthus, like two cavemen playing primitive instruments in the Atacama rain. About halfway through there's a tectonic shift in the tribal plates and the rhythm bears down until the break of dawn...or whenever the groove runs out.
Sunroof!'s Matthew Bower splits his side into two parts. The former ("Untitled") has Double Leopard and Bower's co-conspirator in Hototogisu Marcia Bassett playing guitar while the latter ("Cortez tha Killa", bearing little or no resemblance to the Neil Young tune) has Mick Flower of the Vibracathedral Orchestra doing lead guitar. So, what exactly makes the first one a "Sunroof! w/Marcia Bassett" song as opposed to a Hototogisu song? I really don't know. Sonically it's not too dissimilar to Hototogisu's wailing, ecstatic, ripped sheet-metal drones although perhaps a bit more tepid than the screamers found on their more widely available releases "Green" and "Prayer Rug Exorcism". The second track is a whopper, and possibly the highlight of the whole caboodle. It's a freak-out boogie reminiscent of early Skullflower records but with the metal and proto-industrial replaced with a silky, screechy, shard of electric country, backed by (presumably) Bower on acoustic guitar. Much more structured than recent Sunroof! output; no less mindfrying.
The fourth and final side is "Haunches": the culmination of the whole thing, all seven musicians playing together. The side begins by recalling "Astronomy Domine" and slowly lurches forward, like some kind of impossibly large stone golem stretching its limbs. It's creaky, towering, and intimidating - and probably more calculated and controlled than you'd expect from all these miscreants in one room at a time. By the end of the side I'm reminded of one of Matt Bower's Skullflower song titles: the pirate ship of reality is moving out.
All said and done everything here is a total winner down to the packaging, a heavy gatefold with art done by the Mouthus dudes. What would've made it even better if is all three projects contributed to the design, considering much of the time they do the art for their own releases anyway. Still, a minor complaint. Like I said before, the label is sold out so hustle your bustle over to the usual distros and try your odds at scoring one before it's reeeally too late.


Boris - The Thing Which Solomon Overlooked Vol. 2 & 3 (Conspiracy LPs)

Boris' crusade to render their fanbase broke and homeless continues with the simultaneous emergence of these two LPs, the follow-ups to Vol. 1 released in 2004 on Kult of Nihilow (ltd. 550 copies). These two are more readily available, limited to 1000 each, but the band still won't make it easy - 300 copies of Vol. 2 were pressed on green vinyl and 300 copies of Vol. 3 were done in blue...the rest are all orange (the same colour as Vol. 1, for the record...no pun intended). The blue/green editions sold out in the blink of an eye but the "regular" versions should still be available. Hey, at least this time they didn't do two different versions with different packaging and additional music not available on the other version blahblahblah and so on and so forth.
2004's Vol. 1 marked a bit of a change in Boris' style (however temporary) by showcasing a more thoughtful, shoegazey side of the band that had only previously been hinted at. However the first volume did feature vocals, whereas these two records are completely instrumental. The first track on Vol. 2 ("No Ones Grieve Part 2") comes at you with both guns blazing, flattening the listener with a straight-up attack of heavily fuzzed-out guitars, bass, and frantic drumming. This sounds more in tune than what the band accomplished on the recent "Pink" album. The next track is "Dual Effusion", whose corners crinkle with all kinds of dreamy, ghostly, fuzzy sounds. Kind of like staring into the yawning abyss. On the flip side is the aptly-titled "Merciless", a 15-minute guitar drone piece that sucks the air right out of your lungs. This is more akin to Boris' tourmates Sunn O))) than Boris themselves. The last song is a brief ambient outro called "An Another After Image", the perfect medicine for those third-degree burns you just suffered.
Vol. 3 follows the same format (two songs per side) and kicks off with a slow-paced ambient number called "Leviathan", which really doesn't ever turn into the hulking seabeast you'd expect it to. Oh well, "Dimly Tale" makes up for that. It's a noisy, doomy excursion that slows down to a screeching halt about ten minutes in and silence and bass-y drones finish the song off. "No Ones Grieve, Part 1" is on Vol. 3's B side (go figure) but it's actually more like a sister piece to "Merciless" with heavy riffs and droning in abundance. This one is more reminiscent of Earth but with a distinct Boris touch. The last track of the set is the epic "Sola Stone" which is very reminiscent of the band's classic 2000 album "Flood" (except that it's 15 minutes instead of 50). More slow, crunchy riffs and depressive caveman-esque drumming beat their way into your psyche, eventually picking up steam and turning into some kind of thrashing, punk rock, Skullflower-indebted jam session. Nice! Are the creative juices of Boris ever going to dry up? Sure hope not.


Wolves in the Throne Room - Diadem of 12 Stars (Vendlus CD)

Wait! Stop! Scroll the F back up here. I know what you're thinking - the name is cheesy and black metal is played out anyway. Wrong! So wrong! And WitTR are totally here to prove it otherwise. If you read the Aquarius records of the week list religiously like I do, you must know these guys by now. And you probably got as exciting as I did reading the compliment-laden reviews from Andee and co. True, Aquarius have been guilty of laying it a little too thick on bands that aren't exactly worthy of all the praise, but whatever they've said about these guys, they're right. If you pick only One Black Metal Band in 2006 to Get Excited About, for the love of god make it Wolves in the Throne Room.
You'd be forgiven for thinking this was some kind of ironic joke band. Name and album art aside, let's take a look at the facts - they're based out of Olympia, Washington. Not the necro capital of the globe by any stretch. Their lineup consists of "Rick, Nathan, and Aaron". The band pictures on their website. The fact that they actualled named that page "menudo3.htm". I could go on and on. But three seconds into "Diadem of 12 Stars" and you know this shit is the real deal. It's the band's first full length, following two demos that you probably only could get from Aquarius or the band itself. Despite being from the same country, Wolves' black metal isn't the same mark as the kind put forth by present-day USBM luminaries Xasthur, Leviathan, Nachtmystium, and the like. Whereas most people readily label those three "suicide black metal" (it's depressing, you see), Wolves are operating on a whole 'nother plane of epic, thrashy, well-produced, balls-in-a-vice-grip black metal. Four songs on this screamer, all averaging about 15 minutes in length (I understand a 2LP is in the works which is just the most perfect thing ever), all containing nary a minute of tedium. The guitars race along at break-neck pace, all the more suffocating due to how thick the production is - no "elastic bands wrapped around a Kleenex box recorded on an answering machine in the woodlands" business here. And the album benefits tremendously from it. At times Wolves almost border on the instrumentation of a death metal band, but all the while mainting a total black metal essence.
The LP commences with "Queen of the Borrowed Light" and a scream so totally filled with despair. The rest of the track is a moody, speedy, magnum opus. A real album highlight (and testament to the song-writing ability of the band) is when the Burzum-esque riffs on "Face in a Night Time Mirror Part 1" fall away leading into a breathtaking folky interlude gleamed upon by epic female vocals...and then the instruments come rushing back in and the song picks up where it left off, never missing a beat. The vocals here sound like either they come from a man honing his craft in secrecy for many years, or Odin himself. I mean, this is ridiculous. Where did these guys COME from?! How are they so GOOD?! The next tune, "Face in a Night Time Mirror Part 2" is like being trampled by lava-spewing wooly mammoths. There's a doomy, sluggish breakdown in the middle of the song that only prepares you to be floored by the drumming, which is something like the bones of human femurs beating on your skull. The epic 20-minute closer "(A Shimmering Radiance) Diadem of 12 Stars" is a slice of pure blackened misanthropy and melancholy with another perfect acoustic interlude...and then the mammoths return. There's another black-tar slowdown in here that reminds me of Corrupted, which can only be a good thing.
Seriously, this album is destined to go down as a black metal classic in years to come. It's the perfect synthesis of old-school BM song writing and modern innovation and technical prowess. I could see some people writing it off for being too cleanly produced or even too "American", but those people are usually still stuck on Bathory and Mayhem (fine bands in their own right but let's move on!). The best part about Wolves in the Throne Room? They play live! Holy shit I don't believe it. What could be better?? No Fun Fest 2007, book em.