Various Artists - California (RRRecords/Troniks/Ground Fault 10xLP)

I got this ungodly behemoth like two weeks ago, and only now have I finally made it through all 20 artists on all 20 sides. In the meantime I feel like I'm writing my master's thesis on it, with my pad of scribbled notes and late night calls to acquaintances for their comments and suggestions (just kidding about that last part, I don't know anybody ridiculous enough to spend their money on this...but I'll be convincing them in due time). This is, of course, the long rumored first installment (I think) of a proposed series of noise box sets for each state, put together by Phil Blankenship/The Cherry Point, who also runs the Troniks label.
Fortunately, I'm not familiar enough with Californian noise to complain about what's been left off. And actually, I've been dreading writing up this thing because, to be perfectly honest, I am not terrifically interested in most "American" noise, or bands from the RRR scene and what have you. I'm also generally not that huge of a noise fan, aside from the more "popular" acts for the most part. But there were enough artists on here to get me innerested, so I guess you'll just have to deal with me abusing the words "electronics", "amplifiers" and "Merzbow" like it ain't no thang. So here's a few words about each side, done in the order I pulled them out of the box. You can read up on who the artists are on yer own time, clownskull.
Joe Colley - "Obstacles" I should've looked at Mr. Colley's side before I threw it on, because I found myself eternally locked in a crackly, EAI-style barely-there drone. Finally I got the plot and moved the needle, hitting some clicking and whirring electroze, buzzing up in your inner ear workings. Next one I think garbled field recordings and found sounds, then back to the whir. So I move it again and find a sinus-cleansing sine wave that quickly turns messy and...loops back around into the other groove? Holy shit I'm lost. It's a maze. And one I'll have to spend more time with, because I dug what I was digging up.
Damion Romero - "Monde Brutal" Play loud or you'll miss out on the best parts entirely. Romero's sick, lo-fi urdrone is punctuated by sound drop-outs, like in the most classic of film scenes where a bunch of co-workers are in an elevator when the power goes out. Add to that a bunch of throbbing, metallic scrapings with some horrible unidentifiable sounds and Romero's cooked up a fanciful feast of controlled mayhem. It makes me want to dive under the covers and never come out, if I can be real real for a second.
Gerritt - "Cali Mega" The first truly harsh dose of house-toppling sounds. "Cali Mega" rips from speaker to speaker in a wash of static heavy metal. If you still have the volume at 11 for the Romero side, you're gonna pull your groin lunging to turn it down for this one. There is a seriously torrential fiery downpour, rippling and crumbling a thousand times over itself. I was thinking of a wordless Masonna, and I don't compare just anyone to Masonna I'll have you know.
R.H.Y. Yau - "Point of Seperation" One of the few sides to feature anything besides a URL and a location on its label, Yau boasts that "no animals were harmed" during this recording. So you know it's on, right? Is it ever. I have no doubts that, played in the presence of the right/wrong person, Yau's vocal atrocities would have them puking in no time. At least, it sure sounds like he is. Like, whoa. If I can steal a line from Achewood here, this is like Chewbacca trying to lose weight for the prom. Unbelievably depraved vocal incantations coupled with lightning bolt electronics. Keiji Haino on steroids? The shit Mike Patton wishes he had the cajones to attempt? Maybe. The ending needs to be heard for yourself, I'm not gonna try and touch it with mere words.
Sixes - "Sluthunter" Arguably the best title of the box. There's some pulsating drones, thin breaths of static like sheets of paper shredded endlessly plus a helping of extra-terrestrial vocal jabbering. This piece is sinister and slow-evolving, but not the most gripping. It'll wreak havoc on your needle though.
Control - "The Strong Enslave"/"Your Fate"/"It's Come to This" First cut is the phantom train from one of the Final Fantasy games that we all had nightmares about back in the day...running you down from beyond the grave! Psyched-up, Prurient-esque steel ions flying through the stratosphere. Second is a bit of industrial noise vermin, kinda like the lighter parts of C.C.C.C. mixed with the heavier ones of Whitehouse (shouted insults not included; there are vocals but they're so effected I can't make out a thing). Last track is deceptively quiet, dropping into meteoric blasts of wonked-out cold fusion. Finally putting to bed the eternal question "what does your voice sound like underwater at night?".
Solid Eye - Live at WFMU, September 13 1998 - Wasn't really expecting this, as I've never heard of Solid Eye before. Freaky, bog-people-bithed swamp muck psych, complete with weirded out loops and samples. There's a strong kraut/hippie vibe to this one, kinda reminds me of what the current heads over in Finland are doing a la Avarus and Kemialliset Ystavat. A bizarre, experimental, freeee romp through high water, and another one I'll have to revisit.
The Skaters - "Wind Drapeing Incense" I haven't heard Skaters member Vodka Soap's epic "Un Chand Pyramidelier" CD-R yet, but this is what I imagine it sounds like from that rave Volcanic Tongue review. Heavy underground ritual vibe, lots of thick and sweetly-churning layers. Pulsing and flowing like a river of bluud, just the way I likes it. But then there's a shift and it kinda sounds like the song is being played at 45 rpm instead (but it's a different piece, I checked). Imagine yourself attached to the belly of a jet at take-off and then streaking through the black skies. Then there's another shift of sorts and the Skaters crew throw a curveball, plunking down some crazy, sludgy, hazed-out Middle Eastern-tinged pop line and a voice intoning who the heck knows what over and over. Then that cuts out (all too quickly) and the duo's urdrone returns, similar to the first but with a definite Cairo-esque undertone. There's some wretched, Marianne Faithful-style vocal crankings on another wilder and more open piece. The whole side ends with another weird snippet, like a foreign gospel or something. I'm totally baffled and in love; I'd lick the wax but I don't like spicy foods.
Moth Drakula - "In Heaven Everything is...Fine" Fractured screaming feedback piercing a low basement rumble, reminiscent of analogue Merzbow or maybe Bastard Noise. I think I hear a woman screaming in terror under all this. Some dapper noize skree, bubbly foaming rinse, burned-psyche ethos, broken transistors, garbled vocals, cut-ups, sonic shapeshifting...it's all here, and it's all just dandy. Nothing mind-rapingly new but it's executed flawlessly so you'll hear no complaints from me.
The Cherry Point - "Live at Camp Blood 7.11.04 (w/Ronnau)"/"Live at the Smell 10.22.03" Not sure who Ronnau is but him and Mr. C. Point make a fine tag-team Legion of Doom style with an insta-harsh howling blast of windy feedback. The second piece is a denser harshness than the former, but no less biting. It's bright, sharp, and pointy, and it's sticking into your ribs. By the end of the side it sounds like a waterfall of luscious noise love eruptions.
John Wiese - "Diamond Harmony" Noisy feedback blasts skewered by digital bloops and patches of silence. Sounds like vintage Wiese to me, which is always a good thing. It's totally all over the place. Hollow yelps, holographic drillings, walkie-talkie alien static, high-pitched attacks and shatterings...I think their might actually be multiple tracks on here but I think it's like trying to capture the illuminated moments of a strobe light. Regardless, it's a real blazer.
Open City - "Dusty Sweets, Bit Parts" Rolling, sloping drumming a la Hella w/weirdo guitar fuckery over top, like a teenage Nels Cline Singers...or Masada with a musical saw play the works of thee Magik Markers. Or a Residents/Supersilentt instrumental mash-up. I'm still not sure what to think, all of this is just so very overwhelming.
Spastic Colon - "Post Expulsion Euphoria" Minimal, lo-fi skrapingz, alien blips and creeped ambience, slowly forming into a strangely stoned electronic hospital-emergency-ward scene. I think I can hear some broken toy gizmodgery and blanked transmissions, various peculiar noises...gives this thing a total loner vibe. I'm sticking with the hospital scene on this one, that's definitely where it puts me (not literally...okay maybe).
Oscillating Innards - "In Situ" Opens with broken-up vocals and screams before exploding into an all-out ripper of mangled vox and electronics. Kinda reminiscent of Prurient, or actually a lot of basement RRR bands I've come across. White-hot and unforgiving (except for the concluding bout of silence), but nothing radically new to my ears. I think this dude's been around for an age though so it's probably the other bands I'm hearing biting his style. Yeah, that's the ticket.
Amps for Christ - "Black Eyed Susan"/"March of the Mountain"/"Tel Aviv"/"2 Inches per Hour" I guess AfC is the wild card of the set? The first track sorta sounds like...well...AfC going noise. "Black Eyed Susan" commences with weird hippie chants and wails under a glitchy machine loop and some scary-soundin' atonal horns. "March" bears a flute (right?), an acoustic, and a sitar. Fahey-esque appalachian romper stomper. There's a spoken word/prose bit about birds and flesh that leads into the last track, which is a very nice, shakey, watery drone. And there's a magnificent violin soaring over the rushing lake. The side has its ups and downs, but dude just rocked a 7.7 on Pitchfork so it's money in the bank!
Yellow Swans - "Untitled" One of the harsher, more intense Swans tunes I've come across, but just as tripped-out as their best material. It sounds like crazed vocal insanity, bright colours bouncing off the walls of a tiny jam space. Real slick, no-frills burn courtesy damaged electronics gasping for air before finally sputtering and dying. The heat is on. Toward the end there are some great, loose-ended psychedelic shards blasting off into a billion directions all at once. Worth all the pretty polly in yr pockets.
GX Jupitter-Larsen - "Alluring" - Guttural, lo-fi noise/drone a la less harsh and more dense rumbling, or maybe the albums Aube has done with chains and stones and the like. I really can't find much to say about this one, except that it probably goes down smooth at 3am.
Rubber O Cement - "Pineal Thyroid Glam-Choroids" More gizmo/effect-laden weirdness, cut-up found sounds, mysterious noises, synth + keys...harsh buzzes and metallic diffusions working their way up into a cosmic vacuum cleaner. Unfortunately either this side seems to wear on way too long or it's my patience and ears that have taken too much of a beating...I don't think so though, not like I played the whole box in one sitting. Just not my cup of joe, then.
Xome - "Carburetor" Hot-wired electro infusion, staticky and throbby. There's a fun part where the track goes fading out, almost like it's running away scared...only to come zooming back in with renewed alarming fury and force. It's kinda Merzbowian, circa "Amlux" maybe. Squiggly and ferocious, all comparisons aside.
Tralphaz - "The Engine"/"The Wake" Well believe it or leave it, this is the last one. Already? Time flies...seems like just fifteen minutes ago I was chatting up that Randy Yau side, but now it's probably more like three hours. Anyway. The Tralphaz side is a super-loud n' harsh, dialed up, swords a-slashing and lords a-leaping epic feedback roar. There's a bunch of sustained tones, occasionally interruped by frantic splotches of noise-making mayhem. Later on an oddly drowned vocal snippet joins the foray and soon it sounds like every amplifier in the world is overloading...that all breaks off into a longer batch that sounds like silence, but as soon as you turn it up to check it out your face gets melted with a supremely spiked feedback stab. What a fine way to close out the festivities.
Phew! We're done! Hey, nobody said this would be a picnic. Reading all that stuff, I mean. Listening to the box was no chore. On the contrary! It's like when you pay for something, and you're proud that you own it. This is the kind of release you want to tell strangers about, climb up to your roof to yell about, take out ads in the newspaper for, etc. I mean, come on - twenty sides of vinyl in a heavy black box for the low, low price of $75 postage paid in the U.S.? That works out to $7.50 per record! And like I said, take it from me - you don't have to be a huge noise freak to enjoy all sides (but I'm sure it helps). There's something here for everyone.
Complaints: I realize the label kept the packaging to a minimum to avoid any additional costs, but something informing the listener on a bit of background of each of the tracks contributed here would be a big help. Also, it's probably just the way my tastes are oriented but the box seemed to be front-loaded, and all the truly great stuff was over with in a hurry. I think next time I'll play all the sides in reverse order and see where that gets me.
Best of the best: Skaters, Yellow Swans, Joe Colley, R.H.Y. Yau, Gerritt, Damion Romero, Solid Eye, the Cherry Point.
Start saving up for: Michigan!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice review, good job breaking it down.

7/10/2006 9:26 PM  
Blogger Outer Space Gamelan said...


7/10/2006 10:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your reviews are killin' my wallet. Why does everything have to sound so good? Why you gotta be so witty and charming? huh? I bet david keenan's got you on the payroll... if not, he should.
(I finally caved and bought the California box...)

7/11/2006 3:28 PM  
Blogger Outer Space Gamelan said...

It's all a front, I actually hate everything I review. I listen to LL Cool J's "Momma Said Knock You Out" on repeat all day...that's the extent of my tastes. Now, David who? =)

7/11/2006 4:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your review is right on. I picked up a copy at Reckless in Chicago than risk having the USPS destroying the box through the mails. It's a great set of California sounds. The first set was NEW ENGLAND from RRRecords.

7/16/2006 9:04 AM  
Blogger Outer Space Gamelan said...

All right, cool. I should try and sniff out that New England box now...

7/16/2006 12:55 PM  
Blogger jAy @ jApAn said...

This was a good review and fun to read. kinda wet my appettie to hear some of this stuff....my tastes lie more in the drone territory than the noise area; but it was intriguing to read about the variety involved in this set. and it's an impressive, if not absurd project to have been created. cheers!

4/09/2007 9:27 AM  
Blogger Outer Space Gamelan said...

Cool dude, I'm glad you liked it. You should definitely think about picking up the box. It's a good price for a lot of records with a lot of good bands. I'm still coming back to it and probably will be for a looong time.

4/09/2007 12:44 PM  
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