Various Artists - Not Alone (Durtro/Jnana 5xCD)
According to the hefty liner notes packaged with "Not Alone", Jnana Records honcho Mark Logan came up with the notion of a benefit album for the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa upon reading a book on the very same subject. Rather than send a few bucks through the Red Cross like most of us might've done, Logan instead enlisted the help of Current 93's David Tibet and a whole host of kindred spirits to cobble together five massive CDs (as in, at least 70 minutes apiece) that read like a real whooz who of modern avant-garde, experimental, electronic and indie music. Then, after the costs of expenses, all the proceeds would be donated to the Médicins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders foundation Although Logan explains in the liner notes how he basically tried to organize the songs in an order that "felt right", there really isn't too much cohesion to this set (although in all honesty, what do you expect when you're collecting mainly-unreleased tracks from 60+ artists?). On that note, rather than review the album song-by-song, which really wouldn't accomplish anything and be even more boring than my usual reviews, I'll do a selective run-down of the more interesting or note-worthy tracks. I'll also cool it with the hyphens while I'm at it.
irr.app.(ext.) - "Fly Away - And Then What?": Opens the compilation up with strange, kind of haunting loop of a conversation between a young boy and an older man, then delves into an acoustic guitar riddled with industrial drones and eclipsed with a lovely flute solo. I'd heard some irr.app.(ext.) before and didn't think it sounded anything like this...
John Contreras - "Brian": Current 93's cello handler turns in a thick and marvelously somber funeral march.
Fursaxa - "In Lieu Of": A lot more naked than some other Fursaxa recordings, this is built around Tara Burke's unique, angelical vocals and fierce acoustic guitar, swamped with dirty production like this was salvaged from a lost 45 somewhere.
Tom Recchion - "Sea World": Los Angeles Free Music Society-associte Recchion uses computers, electronics and an awesome tape loop to pursue his vision of perfect sound. I'm not sure if he's found it, but he must be getting close by now.
Matmos - "A Song for the Appeal": The Schmidt/Daniel duo put a whole host of instruments to work in a throbbing, funky track that kinda seems out of place amidst most of the other gloomy contributions. Regardless, it's a heck of a lot better than anything on their last record...
Keiji Haino - "Fleeing Panic-Stricken Shriveled Equal Temperament": To be honest I was kinda hoping for some vintage Haino acoustic balladry circa "Watashi-Dake?", but this is fine too. Remember his synth-only album "Uchu Ni Karami Tsuiteiru Waga Itami"? Cut six minutes out of that and slather a deliriously out-there flute solo over top and that's where it's at baby.
Allen Ginsberg - "On Another's Sorrow": A recording from 1995 with Ginsberg reciting a William Blake poem and contributing harmonium, also featuring Stephen Taylor and Stephan Smith. I won't spoil the recital for you as it should be heard for yourself, but the instrumentation and feel on this are very reminiscent of Tom Waits, good or bad.
Devendra Banhart - "A Sight to Behold": Banhart appears to put his usual high spirits on hold and delivers a quietly morose bedroom strum that is neither remarkable nor offensive.
Jarboe - "Mantra": Jarboe's contribution is wildly dramatic and over-the-top, which is probably par for the course and perfect for you if you're a fanatic.
L - "The First Flower People": L is Hiroyuki Usui, a Japanese musician who has played with the likes of Fushitsusha, A-Musik and Marble Sheep. Here he lays down an absolutely picture-perfect raindrop of acoustic folk psychedelia augmented by gentle percussion and birdsong.
Six Organs of Admittance - "You Will Be the Sun": This song is an early demo version of "Black Wall", which appeared on this year's "The Sun Awakens". So right away you know it's a winner.
William Basinski - "Because": Really not what I was expecting, given the Basinski output I already know ("Disintegration Loops" et al.). "Because" showcases dramatic vocals across a heart-shredding minimal piano plunk, and I'm not really sure what to think.
Vashti Bunyan - "The Same But Different": If you've ever heard Bunyan, you know what to expect, as this is a home-recorded demo from (I'm guessing) the "Lookaftering" sessions. Delicate and spectre-like.
Thighpaulsandra - "Star Malloy": The Coil contributor's track features none other than Jhonn Balance on ARP synthesizer and Sion Orgon on guitars, vocals and "audiomulch". It's all very reminiscent of Coil, although a bit too heavy on the histronics for my tastes.
Michael Yonkers - "Somebody": Michael Yonkers goes metal? No kidding, the riffing on this song is shit-heavy! And Yonkers' vocals are ballistic, going from high-pitched squeaks (actually he sounds more like Vashti Bunyan here) to drunken Morrison-esque shouting. Whoa.
Bevis Frond - "Someone Always Talks": Forgotten 80's psych rock legends dig into the archives and unleash this largely-acoustic rocker which errs a bit too much on the side of the toothy-grins that pollute most classic rock stations and could've been left "lost" in my humble opinion.
Antony - "Hole in My Soul": Count me among the few who don't "get" Antony. While he does have an admittedly remarkable voice, it's not something I'd necessarily listen to voluntarily, especially when it's coupled with a wholly grating piano...but what do I know, I'm not the NME.
Charlemagne Palestine - "Espoir Guerison": Okay so Charlemagne doesn't work best in the various artists format, but he does land the longest of all contributions at a whopping 8 minutes and 26 seconds. It's obviously an excerpt from one of his eye-opening and mind-wiping organ drone sessions, but curiously enough his entry is the only one in the entire booklet to not feature any background information so that's all I've got to go on. Nice, but nobody's satisfied after just 8 minutes!
Alex Neilson & Richard Youngs - "House of Constant Song": The guitar and drums and miscellaneous sounds duo of Neilson and Youngs both also sing on this charming, avant-folk number. I'm still not entirely sold on the Rick Youngs myth but a few more tunes like this and I'll get there.
Anomoanon - "Hit the Road": This is Ned Oldham (brother to Will)'s country/rock project, and it's a 2004 take on classic sides laid down by the Grateful Dead, Neil Young, Skynryd et al. I can't say I'm a huge fan but I do like the obvious unpretentiousness and unironic air of it.
The Hafler Trio - "The Work of Washing": I'm not sure if this is taken from the album(s?) they did together, but "The Work of Washing" sees the Hafler Trio's Andrew M. McKenzie manipulating the voice of Sigur Ros' Jonsi Birgisson, although I wouldn't have known Jonsi was on it if I hadn't read the liner notes. McKenzie turns his vocal chords into a whitewash high-pitched drone that owes much more to machines than to
Marissa Nadler - "Judgement Day": Weighty title but an air-light song, with Nadler's fragile, ethereal voice snaking around a pushing acoustic guitar line. Maybe not Bunyan caliber, but nice enough.
Nurse With Wound - "Ubu Noir": I know that "Ubu Noir" is a Coil track, but the alien/mechanical vocals on this track are based around "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair" so I'm not too sure what's going on, but who cares. A tremendously excellent, desolate and detached droning robotic read-out. Words can't do this track justice.
Current 93 - "Sunset": I used to hate Current 93, I least I used to think I hated them/him (Tibet). But every track I hear in recent days knocks me flat, and "Sunset" is no exception. Featuring the current C93 lineu: Tibet, Chasny, Contreras and mixed by NWW's Steven Stapleton. No real surprises, and I'm all the happier for it.
Thurston Moore - "Sex Addiction": I've wondered how appropriate a title like that is for a compilation aimed at benefitting HIV/AIDS victims, but I'm probably over-thinking things. "Sex Addiction" sees Moore trying his hand at sculpting noise, clearly influenced by young'uns like Prurient, John Wiese, the American Tapes/Hanson crew, and so on. The song never reaches the brutal heights reached by the aforementioned dudes though, and sounds more like a casual experiment - a toddler prodding a loose tooth with his tongue, say. But if Thurston Moore is a toddler, well he's the tallest one I've ever seen.
Simon Finn - "A Crow Flies": Like Vashti Bunyan, Finn has recently resurfaced to join the current brigade of New Weird folk anti-heroes, and he fits in perfectly...although the mix on this one rubs me the wrong way, with Finn's vocals much louder than his acoustic to the point of sounding like they were recorded on a whole 'nother plane.
Thee Majesty - "Thee Seeding Ship": Thee Majesty is Genesis P-orridge and Larry Thrasher and apparently this was taken from a CD released in 1994 featuring spoken word from Genesis. So, uh, if I tell you this was for TG/Genesis diehards only, would you hold it against me?
Jim O'Rourke - "Naoru": Brief, solo piece for acoustic guitar, totally non-experimental O'Rourke at work here. Think of the more contemplative moments of Gastr del Sol and mayyybe...
Coil - "Broccoli": This is a song culled from a live Coil performance in 2004, and it begins with a slightly unsettling story told by Balance about his stepfather. But I guess it wouldn't be Coil if it wasn't unsettling. Anyway you probably know the track from "Musick to Play in the Dark Vol. 1" and it's not outrageously different, but tweaked enough to warrant a listen. It's definitely more in the vein of what the band hit on "...And the Ambulance Died in His Arms" though.
Ghost - "Daggma": Last track! Another live version of a previously-released song, this one is found on Ghost's 1999 corker "Snuffbox Immanence". It's a charming, woozy, headspin lead by a very Eastern-sounding flute twirl. The last two minutes of the song are entirely life-affirming. A fine choice to end the album.
And so (in case you forgot after reading all those), there's a summary of the some of the more notable album tracks, though certainly not a detailed one. In the interest of time (and not spoiling the whole album) I left off a whole bunch, some just as good and as not-good as anything I touched upon above. Anyway, I encourage you to buy this album yourself because not only is it for a great cause, but it only costs $24.99 U.S., pre-shipping. $24.99! For five discs of music! And with 75 artists, I guarantee you'll turn up some real gems here. Honestly, stop taking my word for it. Go buy it. So far, Durtro/Jnana have raised an impressive $12,000 U.S. for Doctors Without Borders, but I'm sure they could use your help. Stop reading and get out of here! The link is on the right side! Go!