Religious Knives/Zodiac Mountain - Split & Workbench/Black Quarter - Split (Self-released CD-Rs)
All right! Since the Double Leopards appear to be on a semi-hiatus these days, we're treated to more music from the duo of Mike Bernstein and Maya Miller, who you may remember from my Religious Knives write-ups a couple of weeks ago. They appear under the Knives moniker on the first disc here (along with Mouthus' Nate Nelson on the sticks), opposite Zodiac Mountain. That band is also an off-shoot of more popular groups, as it features James Toth aka Wooden Wand and Clay Ruby of Davenport.
Despite being listed second on the back of the sleeve, Zodiac Mountain actually play first, covering the traditional dusty cowboy raga "I Know You, Rider", made famous in these circles by the Grateful Dead. Both men handle guitar and vocals on the 17-minute long track, and I don't know Clay Ruby's voice but I'm venturing a guess that Toth's voice is in the front and Ruby is harmonizing. The two take their time moving slowly through various sun-parched badlands, messily wrangling their guitars until you can just barely hear the original chords being played. The vocals are low and distant, and it makes for a very atmospheric punch to the tune. Their guitars get increasingly restless as the song wears on, which lends itself to some pretty zonked-out moments of desert-induced hallucinations. I was hoping for a bit more of a rock-god "Freebird" endless epic and a bit less rambling and noodling, but I like it all the same, especially when they bring it back full circle for the finale.
Religious Knives' contribution "The Train" is a continuation of the temple-minded drone found on their No Fun Productions LP. I guess I'm a bit spoiled from seeing them live because they ripped it up on a whole 'nother plain of existence that I wasn't even aware of. The show was even further "out" than their recorded output, so it feels like a bit of a step backwards in some ways. Maya's organ playing drives the piece, while Nate adds some soft, mostly cymbal-based percussion and Mike handles vocal chants and guitars. There isn't a tremendous amount of deviation to the song, and what you hear at the start is almost what you'll hear at the end, with the notable exception of the organ changing pitches at times. If you liked the kraut-influences of the No Fun LP and want some more of that sauce, look no further.
The core members of the Knives split down the middle with Mike Bernstein's Workbench project handling one song on the next split and Maya Miller's elusive solo outlet Black Quarter doing the other. I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out which person does which track, but I think the sound of coins (quarters???) hitting the floor at the beginning of song one is a tip off that Maya's "Bird Breath" goes first...but I might be wrong. There's some airy vocal droning in here but it sounds too androgenous to my ears to be a dead giveaway. The song is kind of all over the joint, but it's mostly anchored about keys and organ (which sounds like Maya's bag), sometimes hammered and sometimes delicately carressed. There's a kind of sad beauty about all this, and I'm reminded a lot of early Jandek at times (in spirit rather than in sound), crossed with Vashti Bunyan at her most down-n-out (now I really hope this isn't the Workbench track). But still, even those don't do the uniqueness of the song justice. Only complaint is that at 24 minutes, it starts to become a bit oversaturated...a nice 15-minute jam would've left me wanting more, and that's the way it should always be I think.
On the other hand, Workbench's "Aphid War" is even longer, coming in at just under a half-hour. There's a lot of droning and subtle shifts going on throughout, which kinda makes me think of Eliane Radigue or Coil's "CoilANS" album. In fact there are lots of thick, industrial-tinged tones throughout, being reshaped and revamped every few minutes or so. It's a nice thing to put on and let wriggle into your head for thirty minutes, but I don't think I'm ready to call it dinner party music yet. This could easily pass for one of the obscure, one-man basement projects on American Tapes or Hanson Records.
I'm not ready to call either of these the best artifacts anybody involved has ever laid hands on, but they're nice and fun (and I believe they're tour CD-Rs, so what more do you want?). I have yet to hear Zodiac Mountain's "Come & Gone" 2xCD-R, but I hear lotsa good things, so maybe that'd be a better place to start...and the Religious Knives folk have an LP coming out sometime soon on Troubleman Unlimited, so I recommend waiting for that.
Also as an aside, I'm not sure if these are Heavy Tapes releases. They look the part, but they've got no label identifier on em, so I'm leaving it blank for now.