Graveyards - Bare Those Excellent Teeth Vol. 1 & Unmarked Graves (Editions Brokenresearch LP & CD-R)

Can't even figure out how to start this review, I've been looking at the little box here for a few minutes now and nothing's coming. Can you tell it's Friday? Right on. I guess I don't even need to introduce Graveyards at this point, but just in case you don't know it's a trio of John Olson on sax, Hans Buetow on cello and Ben Hall on drums. They've been really, really, really busy this year as these are there eight thousandth and eight thousand and first releases of the year and we still have three more months to go. You can even own some of them, if you're lucky. I got these from the Troubleman Unlimited distro and I think you can also find them at Volcanic Tongue and Fusetron Sound, so there's a start. These are both on the Editions Brokenresearch label, which is run by Hans and Ben. And though the packaging may look ordinary, look again! Those images are actually printed on sandpaper. Rad! Reviewing these albums together Just Makes Sense as Ben has gone on record as saying they're the most satisfying Gy discs to date and I'm holding him to that. So there!
Probably the thing I like most about Graveyards are their album titles, and "Bare Those Excellent Teeth" has to be the best yet. And it's ironic too because the teeth depicted on the album cover are most certainly not excellent! So I won't attempt to read too much into it, I'll just take it for the poetry that it is. Also worth noting is that this 12" is of the clear variety, a pleasant surprise to me when I unsheathed the beast and laid it out. Howzit sound? Pretty good...it's super minimal, for starters. At least the first side is. Near the beginning it gets so silent or so near-silent that it sounds like silence and I thought I had gotten a faulty pressing or something. But as the aforementioned interview reveals, Ben is playing a classical kit and the sounds made didn't survive the mastering process so he's there...but not. You know. In fact the stretch of tranquility makes for an unbearable anticipation that beats out any old Wolf Eyes record in terms of sheer agony...that feeling of waiting, don't you hate it? The whole record is largely engulfed in said kinds of snatches, the odd scrape and antennae feel-out here and there, ghost whispers all over the place and Jennifer Love Hewitt isn't even in the band. So while Ben is pretty muted, Hans is living all over this one with huge drawn-out strokes and Olson is like a Keith Hernandez handshake - firm, single pump, not too hard but enough to know he's there. I got a very strong film noir vibe from this one except for the ending of one of the sides where the sustained tones hit like a ray of blinding white light straight from the mouth of Ifrit. It was that scorchy. If you don't believe me, come take a look at my eyelashes.
"Unmarked Graves" isn't too different, maybe the sandpaper layout is suggesting more of a unity than I'm immediately aware of. Most notable is Olson playing electronics on the first of three untitled tracks. Hall is beating out disjointed cavemen rally cheers and then Olson's machines kick in like someone flipping the switch of a massive generator to the "on" position. Ben continues his heavy stomp, subtracting wherever necessary and the other two weave in and out, crossing paths and abandoning ship as the mood strikes them. Middle track is the shortest (occupying 6 of a possible 35 minutes) and houses a good deal of Olson chamber horn boogie towards the beginning while the rest is dedicated to that cloudy, imminent thunder feeling. Third and last jam is the "activest" as well as the most troublesome, in terms of pure terror alert/rising panic sensibility and soundtracking not a 50's mystery but an 80's splatterhouse nightmare. Kinda like the former track but this one sees Olson huffing out crop circle smoke rings against his compatriots' colossal metallic Death Star structure, and when the two come together you definitely want to be in the middle.
I haven't even heard a fraction of their output but I'm shotgunning "Unmarked Graves" as the best Graveyards to hit my lobes or their surrounding areas. The LP is no slouch either, but it's more of a night time reader than anything. I should make mention of the fact that the LP is limited to 200 and the CD-R to 100 so no slouching about or you'll have to wait until the BYG/Actuel reissues. I also heard something somewhere about an upcoming box-set compilation of all the American Tapes "Endings" CD-Rs (they're up to at least volume seven now) on a "German label" but I've got no idea if that's sarcasm/fleecing or what. Let's hope not.


Joseph Hammer - Joe & Joe (LAFMS LP)

I like to think of myself as a pretty ignorant dude, and every now and then I like to expose such ignorance for all the world to see, using some kind of a "web blog" as the means with which to do so. See, I don't really know the Los Angeles Free Music Society. I mean I know a bit of the history, I know the names of the bands and people involved, I've read Edwin Pouncey's Wire article and I've even heard some of the music, but on the whole I'm just pretty well clueless. I've been meaning to get around to purchasing the "Lowest Form of Music" 10xCD set but you know it's a lot of money for a lot of music and it was a bad time and I had a thing and...you know. But when the intellectuals at I Hate Music dropped bucketfuls of praise on this brand new LAFMS transmission, I just had to grab hold. Actually it was in a Hanson Records distro update and Aaron Dilloway adding an enthusiastic "BEST of 2006...HANDS DOWN!!" to the mix sweeten the deal. I don't really know what I'm talking about so I have to trust that other people do, see. And Dilloway may make lots of claims and use lots of exclamation points in his mini-reviews but I'm telling you he's bang on with this one (okay maybe not BEST, but up there).
Information on this record is extraordinarily difficult to come by. What I've gleaned is that although the record is under Joseph Hammer's name, it's a collaboration between him and LAFMS founder Joe Potts, who I think also played in Solid Eye (well I know for sure that Rick Potts does at least) and Airway. Not sure what kind of pseudonyms/band names Hammer has worked under, but I can tell you he's worked with Thomas Dimuzio, Cindy Bernard, Mitchel Brown, Tom Grimley, and so on (and that's in addition to all other LAFMs cohorts). Okay? Got it? As if. As for instruments, Hammer is the so-called "tape maestro" so it's safe to say he's using and abusing reel-to-reels and any other gadgets you can put magnetic strips though. I'm really uncertain about Potts, it sounds like a synth but it could be his homemade Chopped Optigan, a "Seventies optical sampling consol organ that he has customized and rewired in order to create dense undulating chords of up to 64 notes at a time" (thanks Soundnet). I've never knowingly heard the Chopped Optigan so I couldn't say for sure, but it's a possibility. Anyway, none of that's really important in the end right? I mean it's all about the music that counts man right? And oh baby it counts. The sounds on "Joe & Joe" are so unearthly yet so woozily familiar, lulling you into a state of awe and ecstasy and horror. The LP is two long tracks of intimidating aural threat, lots of vocal samples played a different speeds (Hammer) buried way 'neath a ludicrously heavy, churning, cosmic din (Potts). If I had to place it "in league" with something else of the day I could maybe compare it 80's industrial/power electronics/dark ambient a la TG, early Whitehouse, Maurizio Bianchi, and so on...but that's just superficial. "Joe & Joe" comes from a whole 'nother angle playing from a whole different rulebook. Once you're fully immersed in side A (after being hypnotized by the nonsensical babble that floats in and out of the speakers) you begin to notice the rather beautiful, dark shimmer that Potts' drone has going. It's just, I don't know. Like the sonic manifestation of "that tingly feeling". Play it loud and get fuckin' spooked. Worst part of the side is when it ends - the louder you have it, the more of a psyche-shattering jolt you're info as you're unwillingly snapped back to reality.
Thankfully the B-side picks up just about where A left off, with the same gloopy, spaced drones silhouetted by barely-there chatters, whispiters, mutters, and the delicate sound of tape spurts and splicings. Only difference on this side is that you can actually start to hear some kind of humanity behind it all - the sound of Hammer fast-forwarding or rewinding, and a long stretch of muffled yet audible porno moans. Towards the end some tape samples start coming in that are reminiscent of animals chewing ferociously and gnashing their jaws but I'm sure no such recording was involved. And speaking of which the set "ends" with a locked groove. I left the groove on for a good ten minutes (too dissolved to stand up) and I swear I could pick out the word "advancement" repeated for infinity...I won't even begin to get into the ramifications of that discovery, we'll leave it to the philosophers.
I'm not quite sure what to make of the (lack of) packaging involved. "Joe & Joe" comes in a clear sleeve and that's it (the light blue background? My bedspread, thank you very much). The label, as you can see, bears the LAFMS name and record title but doesn't say who's involved. The etching tells you the category number (LAFMS-101). Apart from that, you're on your own. You'll have a tough time getting your buddy the record clerk to order this one in for you. In fact I think the only place I've ever seen even on the internet to score this LP is from the Hanson distro. Joe Hammer has himself a website (not to be confused with JoeHammer.com) and he's posted a "new mix" of this very record, free for you to download as an uncut 50 minute MP3. I heard it a while back a long time before I played this record and it didn't blow my socks off in quite the same way, but then again I don't really remember it either. Maybe it's just because wax is so much better than digital yada yada you know how we do. Regardless. This record is outstanding and all involved deserve your Green Stamps so...go get Hammered!
(I'm sorry that's like the third time I've done that this week).


Hototogisu & Prurient - Snail on a Razor (Hospital Productions CD)

The second of recent Hospital Productions sessions featuring Marcia Bassett, this time she's in the much-acclaimed duo with guitar noise legend Matthew Bower (Skullflower, Sunroof!, Total, etc) as the Hototogisu. And joining them for this excursion is the Hospital head honcho himself, Dominick Fernow aka Prurient. Thankfully "Snail on a Razor" is a real live in the collaboration between the three, and not some lame snail mail job (not to suggest all snail mail collab jobs are bad, but these kinds of demons just demand to be exorcised in person). At first glance this might seem kinda like an oddball team-up but it really isn't....Hototogisu appear to have abandoned the airy ambient skyhigh drones from their first releases (when it was just a solo Bower outlet) in search of something darker, something harsher, something kajunga. This fits in perfectly with Prurient's recent modus operandi, as he too seems to have closed the book on shortform ear-destroying noise blasts (see "Shipwrecker's Diary", "History of AIDS", early live shows) and pursued a fuller, more "mature" sound (see "Black Vase", recent live shows). Not to mention Bassett and Bower's individual investigations into harsher turfs (see the last Zaimph record on Hospital, Bower's Mirag project). Heck the more I think of it, the more I feel like this collaboration was destined to happen!
First things first, I really don't know who's doing what and the packaging offers no help. I'm guessing that (obviously) Bower and Bassett are primarily using guitars while Prurient is most likely attuned to microphones, amplifiers and maybe even synths but it's a crapshoot. When there's this many effects loaded on, it's a wide open ball game. "Snail on a Razor" sticks it to you from the get-go, opening up with a colossal 40 minute chef d'oeuvre called "Flashing Like the Void". I read a review that described the album as 2/3 Hototogisu and 1/3 Prurient and that much seems true from this baby at least. Picture Hototogisu's mind-wiping cloudscapes at their heaviest, meanest, and most ferocious and you have a decent enough idea of what to expect. A whole mess of guitar agony and sculpted feedback are sent up and collide against one another in mid-air, tectonic plate/Pangea-splitting styles. An elephant's trunk engulfing your head and trumpeting as loud as he possibly can styles. Playing every single record from every person involved's back catalogue at 99 styles. It's just a totally dense, murky soup that defies words and challenges you to get in the ring and take your licks. Man alive it never felt so good to have my chin painted with the sweet red leather.
The title track occupies the middle position and it's no pushover either at 15 minutes, although it isn't quite the abrasive firing-on-high bad motherfucker like the first one. There's some guitar being played like the howling wind and another shooting out shards of ragged light, decorated by somebody hitting something to produce a kind of cymbal effect and if you listen closely you can even pick up Prurient's wordless shouts and howls somewhere in there. It's not as heavy on the low end either and towards the middle I'd swear I could almost make out something like the riff from "Exquisite Fucking Boredom" but I'm surely just imagining things. Track ends in almost full-on Prurient territory, lots of feedback, some shouting, and definitely some ringing ears. The last track "This is Now" (a Bowerian song title if I've ever heard one) finally starts to take it eas(y/ier), digging up a round of spectral float with gently bobbing sea-washed guitars and the kind of electronic/feedback torch that by now I'm so used to (from listening to this album, I mean) that it sounds to my ears the same way a sunset looks to my eyes. The trio access the full palette of colors hear, touching on almost psychedelic drones, prodded guitar jolts, gaping abyssic cries and threatening lo-fi ambience to round out the other. Fucking beautiful, man.
It goes without saying that this album is a safe bet, especially if you like just about anybody involved. But "Snail on a Razor" is really an occurance of the sum being greater than the parts, because it rules in its own special, crossbred kind of way. I'm not sure what Prurient's up to these days (musically speaking) but Hototogisu have a whole shitload of stuff either out now or coming soon - "Chimärendämmerung" on De Stijl, "Some Blood Will Stick" on Important, "Sculpture Built Upon the Graves" on Heavy Blossom, and "Robed in Verdigris" on Nashazphone. Jeezus! I haven't heard any of those yet so I can't tell you that "Snail" is the must-buy option, but I gotta say it's going to be pretty tough for them to top.


Wooden Shjips - Shrinking Moon For You (Self-released 10")

I'm not sure if this is actually called "Shrinking Moon For You" or if it's self-titled, but that's what the name of the A side is so I guess it makes sense. And I'm not sure what gives with the absence of artwork either...I thought I had just gotten a promo copy at first but nope, it's the real deal. I think a neat thing to do would be if everybody drew their own art on the LP sleeve as they listened to the album and then we all got together at a kind of summit and shared our art and played foosball together. But I'm not bringing the chips.
To date I've heard lots and lots of praise for this mysterious Wooden Shjips outfit. They've got a dot com and even a Myspace but a severe lack of concrete info. Is this a band? A solo project? A dessert topping? As we in the industry say: IDFK. Alls I know is they had (have?) a 7" out on the Sick Thirst label and they gave away the first 300 copies of this 10", apparently. And all my best friends seem to like them. So...that's the summary.
From the very start I had these guys pegged as some kind of wispy free-folk outfit. I'm pretty sure that's because Wooden reminds me of Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice and Ships reminds me of the last Current 93 record and the extra J in Ships reminds me of Dr. J, Julius Irving, so there you have it - Wooden Shjips. I'm somewhat happy/somewhat disappointed to reveal that this isn't at all the case (although the jury's still out on it being a solo vehicle for Dr. J). About the only thing WS have in common with the aforementioned acts is a loose affiliation with psychedelia, however you wish to define it. The title track takes up all 8 of the A side's minutes and there's this batty and fuzzy guitar riff looping over and over again, cradling your head in its bosom and weaving all sorts of imaginary playgrounds for your mind to romp in. It's bouncy, but not obnoxious. Kinda Comets on Fire all crossed up with the Boredoms and with a spike of vintage krauty wherewithal like yr boys in Food Brain and Les Rallizes. So you've got the endless riff, and you've also got a pretty strict drum beat buried somewhere in there and visitations along the way courtesy vocals (both female and male I think?), some tambourine a-shaking, and what sounds to me like some scorchy keyboard runs. I hate to drag out the orange/banana thing but it's definitely like the more layers I peel away, the closer I get to its juicy, juicy ceneter. Repeated listens = a must.
Two songs occupy the flip, a 2-minute one called "Death's Not Your Friend" and a 3-minute one called "Space Clothes". First one is definitely more "song" than the former, with a keyboard riff that nags at my mind in a way I just can't shake...Byron Coley says Suicide but I'm going the obvious route and saying "Baba O'Riley" only much better because really now, fuck the Who. It's catchy and actually features semi-coherant verses delivered in the kind of drawl honed by yr boys in...Kyuss? I told you it was a weird one. And if I didn't I'm telling you now. Closer is way bizarre in comparison: droning synth, vocal samples in reverse, and birdsong. Sun Ra jamming along with the Conet Project? Okay maybe that's a bit of a stretch but...no fuck you, it isn't! You'll believe me once you hear it. But you'll probably hear something totally different...and that's not your fault, that's just the kinda power this Black Betty wields.
Once I got over the slight jilt this record gave me when it destroyed everything I thought I knew about it, I fully fell into its clutches. Maybe it's because I'm tired but that first side just has the kind of groove you never ever want to pull your ears out of, for real real. And the other side is no slouch, save for the last cut which is kind of a throwaway when you really get down to it. So then...7"? 10"? You know what's next boys, or girls, or things (or any of those in singular form). Grab a slice of this today and join me in crying aloud: "holy shjit!" (please forgive me).


Zaimph - Sexual Infinity (Hospital Productions CD)

Zaimph, Zaimph, Zaimph... Zazazazazaimph. AKA Marcia Bassett of Double Leopards, Hototogisu, GHQ, Shackamaxon, and so on. "Sexual Infinity" is her first ever leigt/available CD release, the rest coming on very small print runs (usually of 100) on her/the Double Leopards' own Heavy Blossom imprint. This one comes to us from Dominick Fernow (aka Prurient)'s Hospital Productions label and it's pretty fitting because this is most definitely Marcia Bassett at her most harshest, at least the harshest I've ever heard. That still doesn't indicate blown out ear-raping sounds, but you know, it's all relative. For the most part Bassett seems more concerned with generating enough pure sonic power and weight with her instrument of choice (the guitar, heavily effected) than in exploring the deep pools of aural fantasy she might be better known for. But that's cool, we've all got to stretch our proverbial wings some proverbial time, right?
"Sexual Infinity" opens with an intro track called "Neither Knoweth", woefully short at a minute and a half. It sounds like thick guitar reverb and some scattershot percussion, all sufficiently muddled so you can never really see the entire picture. The first real track is called "Signal Aggression" which is a pretty appropriate sounding name once you hear it. This piece actually reminds me of something off Prurient's "Black Vase" album with longform tones and high-pitched feedback. And it kinda sears into your brain not at all unlike Sachiko M's sinewave obliterations. Or maybe she's taken a page from her Hototogisu collaborator Matthew Bower's handbook and decided to step up the noise with the guitar drones. I don't know if it's how the track was recorded or what but at some points it literally sounds like either her amp or my speaker is about to be set ablaze, with all sorts of buzzing sounds that will irritate in a flash if you're listening on headphones. Pretty unusual styles for Bassett if you ask me, I'm not so sure I'm a huge fan of that little ditty but it does make for a perfect fit on the Hospital label. "Lamination" is a return to familiar turf with a mightily processed guitar drone roaring off in the distance like a waterfall, a very nice track to bathe or get lost in for some eight minutes. "The Mutterings of Life" is another short one, seemingly based around a vocal sample? At least that's what I hear. The last two songs are far and away the best ones, "Isolation in Ecstasy" (shouldn't it be the other way around huh????) is another 8 minute beauty sounding much like Double Lepz circa "Halve Maen" with a whole lot of galactic touches like comets whizzing past your hair. There's something very intriguing about being dropped smack in the middle of this kind of musical mire with no indication as to how you got there. When you see somebody like Marcia or the Double Leopards live, you're constantly aware of the build up because you've been watching it the whole time...but it's a totally different game when you're just kerplunked right in the middle of some total space avalanche and you have to dig your way - remember: follow the direction of your spit. Last track "Double Infinity" is a hard ruler and it too grapples with the "noise" tag but from a different angle. This is a lo-fi, ultra gnarly, rumbling behemoth. There are so many bad vibes here I don't even know where to start, but it all makes me feel so good in the end. Hospital's blurb on "Sexual Infinity" compares certain parts of it to industrial heads like Uncommunity, Mauthausen Orchestra and Ramleh. At first I kind of laughed it off but the more and more I listen to the album the more and more I realize it's true, especially on this last one.
It's pretty hard to gauge the "path" of somebody who releases as much stuff as Marcia Bassett does, namely because by the time she puts an album out, she's already moved on to another sound. "Sexual Infinity" is certainly an uneven album but seems rife with experimentation and hopefully indicates a direction Bassett will continue to persue, be it under the Zaimph moniker or otherwise. It's about time somebody took these floaty drones and got (somewhat) harsh with them!


Fricara Pacchu - Space Puppet / Maniacs Dream - Zanzibar (Lal Lal Lal CSs)

As promised, part two of my Lal Lal Lal weekender feature - the cassette edition. Both these artists were part of all those tapes I ordered last time from the label, and in case you needed a refresher the Fricara Pacchu one killed and I still haven't played the Maniacs Dream one but I hear really great things. I guess I probably don't need to talk up the Lal label anymore after yesterday's exhibition, but I'll just let the two album covers speak for themselves. Aren't those beautiful? Wait till you get the Maniacs Dream one and fold it all out. Let me tell you it's a doozy. And it also comes with an insert too! I don't know how limited these tapes are but the answer is most likely "very" so don't sleep. Seriously. You won't want to.
Fricara Pacchu is actually the solo project of a dude by the same name what plays in Maniacs Dream. So, there's some six degrees of seperation there...actually it's more like one degree...but still. The other tape I liked so much was called "Waydom" and it was a severe dose of one man gang psych-rock sounds like nothing I've ever heard before. Where do you go after you've singlehandedly destroyed the entire canon of recorded psychedelic musics? Into techno, apparently. Okay that's kind of a misnomer but the best "band blender" description I can come up with for "Space Puppet" is Coil crossed with the Boredoms mixed with Aphex Twin. Playful Casio/toy-sounding looped samples, effects, brutality and sleazy electronica/techno. Lots of tape manipulation (according to Lal Lal Lal this was recorded with a four-tracker made of Pacchu's nails; don't ask). All these tracks have different names but they bleed together and there's no real point in trying to differentiate them all, but they do have great names: "Strobo Fields Forever", "Megasolar Bodyslam", "Stoneage Waydream"). These two sides of magnetic love are coated with space, the cosmos psychedelia, ur-noise, synthesizer, keyboard and sometimes a surprisingly intimidating percussion stampede. And everything up and down and in between. Heavily processed childish beats, rhythms, squelches, sound effects...it's like IDM without the so-called "intelligence" and it's all the more glorious for it. Kinda like a retarded AFX or Venetian Snares at their least solemn. Yeah. The first two tracks on the second side smacked me particularly daintily; the first one being a load of Boredoms-type swoosh that you might be inspired to tag as trip-hop if that wasn't such an absurd term in and of itself. More like: Trip. Hop. Dig? And the second one is a heavier, more rock-ish beast with all different kinds of flailing limbs attacking cymbals and strings and anything else at hand. "I will not attempt to further define pornography here today, but I know it when I hear it" -Potter Stewart. What a hep cat.
Better still is Pacchu's formative unit, Maniacs Dream (I wonder if the omission of the apostrophe is intentional and the band's name is supposed to be thought of "maniacs who are dreaming"?). MxDx are really all over the place but dip their toes most frequently in hippie stew, psych rock/pop, garage jams, and good times. But it's all instrumental. And it's all great. They come lurching out of the gate with an opening track (there's a few different tracks but they're not given titles) that straight up punishes, heavy psych/noise rock jams that would probably feel right at home on Load Records if they added a lame vocalist, lame costumes, and major Arab on Radar worship. Thankfully they don't. This tune goes on for awhile, piling on a hulking drum beat below guitars (I think), keyboards, tape machines and the almighty slide whistle which eventually takes over and plays a disturbingly loopy drone set that'll pin you to the ceiling in seconds flat. Awhile later a piano comes in and more free gypsy jamming start up and continue on into the night in varying forms...often noisy, cluttery, dusty and dirty...just the way it should be. I can't even come up with any decent comparisons for this tape, it's like everything good and decent about "weird" underground music in the past while packed into fiftyish minutes. Imagine your mom running you a hot bath and preparing you some crackers with peanut butter spread on top - that's how sweet and warm these sounds are. Highly and hugely recommended, one of the best releases all year that many people are going to miss out on - don't be one of them!
I was thrown for a loop yesterday with those 7"s, but these tapes reeled me back, took the hook out of my mouth, and fried me right up. Lal Lal Lal are hands down one of the most interesting and impressive labels currently functioning, and if you think you can do better...well throw yourself off a bridge right now because you can't. Best thing about it is all their releases are dirt cheap - like, unfairly cheap. Instead of dropping thirty bones on that Religious Knives Heavy Tape like I know you will, take those dimes and bring them over to LLL and buy up their entire available back catalogue and get learned! I guarantee it - trust me. When has the internet ever lied to you?


Armas Huutamo - Aurinko on Kaunis Asia / Javelin - Oh Centra (Lal Lal Lal 7"s)

This is part one of two Lal Lal Lal reviews - today's the 7"s, tomorrow's the cassettes. Why not spread the love around? A couple weeks ago on a whim I ordered four Lx3 releases without reading much about them. I wound up with tapes by Master Qsh, Maniacs Dream, Fricara Pacchu and an LP by Paavi. I've only had time to play the Fricara Pacchu tape (ruled so hard it brought tears to my eyes) and the LP (the less said the better). How could I not be enamored by a label that threw me in two wildly different directions? A Finnish-based label, no less? Whose releases generally explode with fantastic artwork and have already put out recordings by various underground respectoids like Avarus, Keijo, Neil Campbell, the Skaters and Kemialliset Ystavat. Not too long after I ordered the Lal crew announced four more new releases, which I also promptly snapped up. At this point I'm just trying to catch up, to be the first kid on my block with all the hippest, weirdest releases. And I think I might've succeeded, at least with these two 7" platters. But is that for better...or for worse? Read on!
LAL-26 comes from Armas Huutamo who have an awesome logo, awesome artwork and an "expert opinion" quote on the backside extolling the virtues of this group. Just who is this group? Well the backside also says that this is a "DIY art punk band" featuring two (nameless) kids who recorded 50 improvised cuts in the summer of 1998 - when they were in their mid-teens! So is it a rare find of truly undiscovered raw talent? No, but I don't think it was meant to be. LLL always had that sort of immature, infantile vibe (I mean it as a good thing, really) so "Aurinko on Kaunis Asia" fits the bill to a T. It's hard to get a handle on AH's sound - the aforementioned quotes pretty much do the trick. Two songs on the A side, three on the B. Teenage Finland punk rock with a drum machine and some hilariously enthusiastic anthemic vocals/shouts. I guess I was initially reminded of early Nirvana, NoFX, and basically any other incompetant punk band you want to name. On the other hand I was also picking up touches of La Quiete (although much less chaotic) despite La Quiete not existing in 1998. And even though it's not black or metal or black metal in the slightest, some of these riffs were dead ringers for the dead ringers found on Bone Awl's "Up to Something" tape. I swear! Maybe if I was a bit more heavy on the hyperbole I would tag AH as Bone Awl reimagined in the sweaty Finnish summer of 1998 with a brighter outlook on life but then again I can't exactly understand what AH's vocalist is yelling about anyway. The highlights would have to be the baffling, quasi-guitar solo on the title track and the furious punk/hardcore moves on "Mitas me Pienista" (I'm not even going to venture a guess as to what that title means). "Kolome Kissaa" opens with a funky techno-ish beat and contains some severely gargled, warped vocals while the other tracks are just quick flashes of two dudes playing as fast and as free as they can. What else can I say? I could only see myself giving this one serious time at a party or a gathering of some sort. I think if LLL's going to spend their money on this project they should go all the way and release all 50 songs on a double-disc effort so we could get the full Armas Huutamo picture. I played this on 33 rpm as well and though the music got considerably thicker, the vocals just morphed into this angry drunk foreign diplomat thing; it didn't really work.
Javelin (not to be confused with the power metal band) are from Providence, RI and not Finland but are no less wacko. Like, seriously batty. Or should I say catty? Really, turn the 7" over and there's like a whole bunch more cartoon cats just hanging out. It's cool, cats are cool. But I don't even know what to make of this one. Side A (featuring the song "Oh Centra" I think) sees a high-pitched equally-cartoony voice delivering monotonic lines over a techno/dance/pop/synth beat. Lines about "playing you like sudoku". It's like, uh, Ladytron or the Self album with all the toys or some sugar-sweet J-pop or I don't even know what. The B side doesn't confuse me any less and features a more masculine voice chanting "S-C-H-O-O-L go to school" alongside a kinda R&B-ish beat. And the other song has a bunch of splices and samples of someone intoning something about a mobile phone. The Lal Lal Lal website suggests the group mixes samples along with actual playing and that definitely makes sense (if anything makes sense here) but it's impossible to tell what's coming from them and what's coming from the tape recorder. I also understood a bit better when I read that these cats (ha!) were coming from Providence, and you'd kinda understand too if you heard it.
So I may not be exactly in love with both of these records (though I think the Armas Huutamo one deserves at least another spin or two), I cherish them all the same because they represent the consistently beguiling, enigmatic nature of the Lal Lal Lal label. Yeah we all have our favorite labels because they have our favorite artists on them and they deliver a reliable sound...but I like Triple-L not only because they consistently deliver, but because they consistently deliver legitimately challenging and innovative sounds. I look forward to trying to digest and explain the forthcoming tapes...where's my thesaurus at?


Hildegard - Masterik & Various Artists - Graag Traag (Sloow Tapes CSs)

All right! I finally got ahold of some Sloow Tapes! I can die happy now. Although all it took was me emailing the Belgium label's big cheese Bart and asking if I could just buy some...for some reason it seemed a whole lot more difficult than that. Maybe it's because all the tapes look so beautiful and are so limited (about 60-80 copies each) and the label has such a great rep (releases by Graveyards, My Cat is an Alien, Family Underground, Number None, Keijo, Larkin Grimm & more). So now every month I gotta check back for another one lest I miss out - look, there's a brand new one already! Actually, don't look. Because then you might buy it. Let me get mine first, OK?
Hildegard's "Masterik" is August's Sloow Tape, a c50 and still available as of this writing. Features some lovely artwork, a green spraypainted tape, and even better sounds on the inside. I've never heard of them before but I guess Hildegard is a kind of regular unit featuring members of Astral Blessing, Dredd Foole & the Din and Cul de Sac. Side A cracks a very Vibracathedral Orchestra-type feel. Marching, militant percussion, violin acoutrements, flute spawns and a low dull bass throb. After awhile there's some muffled shouts and the appearance of some semi-regular vocals, at least for this side. Well they're more like shouts than vocals, and I can't really make any of the words out. One of the reviews posted on the Sloow Tapes blog says street preacher rants which is exactly what this sounds like but I don't know if that's the straight dope or just a homage. Anyway it reminds me a whole heck of a lot of Ya Ho Wa 13 (which is nuthin' but good news) but these vocals are a lot more obscured and not nearly as upfront as the Good Father's...which is also good news if you ever heard a Yod album and said "well, I like it, buuuut....". Maybe a better comparison would be Elisa from the Magik Markers and her bizarro stream of conscious mumbled ravings, albeit set against a decidedly more gnarly and psychedelic stoned jamming backdrop. The other side is thankfully more of the same but much more percussion based, a sturdier tribal drum beat with some bells for awhile and then a dual flute thing going on with some pretty malevolent church organ pipe vibes. The group locks into some seriously kraut grooves as showcased via Trad Grad Och Stenar, Necronomicon, Amon Duul, and all your favorites. I guess the preacher takes a breather on this one because it's all instrumental as far as I can hear. I realize everybody's in a New Weird band these days but when it's done so well like this, it just gets me right there...and if I was telling you this face-to-face you'd see that I'm actually pointing at my groin.
The "Graag Traag" compilation seems to have no real theme except for something I might call "bands I've never heard of who rule". Actually that's not entirely true as I remember Ignatz and one of their albums getting lots of good reviews last year and the name Silvester Anfang strokes a gong for me too. Also included are Orphan Fairytale, Benjamin Franklin, Buffle, Shattered Minds, Hardline Elephants and Gart & Seekatze, with a few of the acts pulling double duty. All these tracks are instrumental and a lot of them sound spiritually linked. Silvester Anfang's two tracks of minimal keyboards, rubber band strummed jams, lo-fi flutes and recorders buddy up almost perfectiously with Benjamin Franklin's show-stealing two tracks of playful guitar runs, epic synth swoops and other unnameable toys and gizmos. Ignatz also contribute a nice pair, the first one is a great melancholic ghost-buzz with some legitimately weird loner "vocals" (?), total outsider madness. Their other track is a similarly minimal affair but this time with various duck calls and hippie percussion played under a foggy swirl (at least I think it's their track, I started to lose track of everything by the second side). As for the band's making lone contributions, Orphan Fairytale do this one cut of of Conrad-checking flute loops and spacey UFO synths which is totally boss; Buffle and Shattered Minds dabble in the same turf of noisy, fucked up guitar skrawl like a rusty bike in a woodchipper; Hardline Elephants do a pretty lengthy tape-chopping excursion featuring a compilation of found sounds, field recordings, ribbits, whistles, regurgitations and whatever else they could get their hands on; Gart & Seekatze bow out with tremendously minimal acoustic pickings and maybe a violin too, makes for a nice duet with the ensuing tape hiss. These tracks all have names but you'll have to discover those for yourself (after you find a way to obtain this tape that is).
I already had Sloow Tapes pegged as one of those must-have can't-miss labels just from viewing the artist names, artwork, and descriptions...and these tapes proved me totally right. It's unfortunate they're not more widely produced/distributed because this is a level everybody should be heavily into. If you make just one impulse purchase this week, stroll on over to Bart's blog and see what he's got in store for you because I guarantee you'll be knocked flat. And if you don't like them I'll buy them off you. It's a can't-lose situation!


Heavy Eye of the Sun - II (Self-released CD-R)

It took several years and the deaths of several shitty noise rock bands, but Montreal finally caught on to the new wave of psychedelia. Just in time to put the final nail in its coffin. No I'm only kidding. How could I possibly be so dramatic? First there was (is, I should say) Emmanuel Coté who records as Emerald Cloud Cobra and has received tremendous praise even from people not named me, so you know his buzz is for real. Now - NOW - comes CD-R number two from local headz Heavy Eye of the Sun (if there ever was a moniker that would conjure up Day-Glo images of all that's right & right with the psychedelic genre, it's this one). This is a duo featuring two guys, one named Olivier Borzeix and James Schidlowsky. If you live in the area you probably know them and know them from groups like Ste-Sophie, White Flower, Le Black Noise, and so on. Their self-titled disc came out in December of last year and was also limited to a scant 100 copies. I haven't seen it around but then again I'll confess that I haven't looked very hard. That first CD-R seems to be the more colourful of the two featuring toy organ and bowed cylinders - this one on the other hand is straight up guitar (6- and 12-string), banjo and vocal chords and showers in yellows, oranges, reds...you know how it's done.
I meant to review this album a while ago but it just never "felt" right. Today was unquestionably the day. See I went to bed last night around 4 in the morning and had to wake up around 9, so all day I've been stumbling about in this sleep-deprived haze. You know how it feels when your eyes are all kinda prickly and you could just be taking naps from here until the end of time? Right well that's where I'm at. And "II" provides me with the sweetest of soundtracks for such a day. Basically you get strings splayed out for you and stretched across all 48 glorious minutes, sometimes accompanied by the duo's soprano-steeped chants and cries. If I'm not mistaken the 12-string is put to good use on the first two tracks, "Comme les Ailes des Libellules" and "Dappled/Pommelé", along with the wide-open vocal chords that do kind of remind me of Ste-Sophie but that's a kind of useless comparison if you've never heard them. So I'll stick to the basics. Obv. Fahey and Basho and Kottke play a role in this and so does Six Organs (with more of an idée fixe and less, uh, drums and lyrics), Jack Rose, Glenn Jones, but maybe with less technique and more interest in creating some seriously zoned-out bliss-out-with-yr-wrists-out trance fog heaven. Definitely not as cerebral as the Fahey troupe inasmuch as you don't have to spend your days worrying about what Delta blues riffs they're subtly referencing, but right on the money if you want to spend the day (or the hour minus a quarter) on your mattress, eyes on the ceiling. I think "Shivers" is all 6-string with some overdubs, some more nice humming and sighing from their collective throat and definitely less dense than the previous two tracks (considering we're talking less strings and all that). The closing "Sun Spiralling Down" is even more spaced and distant and almost has a Western vibe going on like some Sergio Leone imagery all up in my brain, me and Clint Eastwood riding horses through the badlands and me getting shot and him getting not shot because he's better at surviving in those kinds of situations than I am (keep in mind this is Eastwood in his prime, not 99-year old "is that really him?" receiving the Oscar for Million Dollar Baby Eastwood). I'm not sure why but this one reminds me a lot of freaky Finnish contemps. a la Avarus, Kemialliset Ystavat, Es although of course pared down to two people and nobody's taking their shirt off. Except me.
What puts the icing on the sandcake here is the picture perfect photography this disc comes wrapped in, courtesy one "Maryse Latulippe". Like, major wow. My first listen through I spent exploring her images with my peepers and didn't even notice the disc had run out. And I had a good time doing it too. I guess you could call this band Heavy Eye of the Fun!
...I said Heavy Eye of the Fun!
A Google search for this band turns up an official-looking website for them but I don't think it does mailorder - you might want to try Montreal's finest Cheap Thrills instead. Also when I Googled them I turned up a poem by the name "Heavy Goth Girl in the Sun", which I also recommend. But not as much as I recommend this album.


Earthen Sea - Seeking Enlightenment 12 oz. At a Time / Jefre Cantu-Ledesma - Floating Weeds / Taiga Remains - Vermilion Dusk (Twonicorn CSs)

When Twonicorn mainman Ry Wharton wrote to me to see if I'd be interested in hearing a new batch of tapes he'd drawn up, my answer was a very enthusiastic "yes please". Because way back in some month that took place a while ago (June?) I reviewed a couple that I was able to get my hands on, a tape from Tombi and a double-cassette from Drunjus. They both slayed. And with these three new ones Ry just put out, Twonicorn's reputation for slayingness continues unabated. The only kink is that they're just so darn tricky to get ahold of, being limited to no more than 100 copies each and all. Aquarius Records is probably your best bet, or just keep refreshing the Twonicorn website until they're posted for sale. But don't dwadle.
Earthen Sea is a name I'm not familiar with, and the liners don't do much to help that situation, stating only "recorded late at night, winter of 2005 in a corner in my bedroom, Davis, California" but not explaining exactly who the "my" in the sentence pertains to. Also taken from the liners, Earthen Sea's sound appears to be fueled by Casio, electronics, coffee and beer. Well all right then. I pressed play on my stereo and then left the room to attend to some other matter briefly and in that span of time when I was in the adjacent hall it sounded like a spaceship was prepping a lift off next door. These sonics are slow-moving aquatic orbs, drifting and floating in front of your face creating massive resonances in between your temples. The long tone drones are eventually accompanied by a barnacle-encrusted organ-sounding ditty, but I guess it's actually a keyboard. Nitsche meets Cale by way of ambient forebearers like Eno et al.? Cale's "Sun Blindness Music" without all the delibitating "blindness" and leaving only the sun and the music for you to bask under? I don't know dude. "Seeking Enlightenment..." (nice title by the way) is a rather lovely, weightless, sinking feeling. The first side closes with a freaky brain crawl comet-tail synth augmentation. Over on side B things are downright blustery, like the spaceship finally took off and someone is holding a microphone out the window. It contains harsher tones than its sister side but still nothing too tremendously bent. Reminds me a bit of Hive Mind with a smoother edge. This side also closes with a byootiful little outro...nothing too fancy but Mr. E. Sea clearly knows his way around a tape/my heart. Good stuff!
You might recognize Jefre Cantu-Ledesma's name from the post-rock superstars Tarentel. I sure did. But here he's striking out on his own, goin' down the only road he's ever known. His Twonicorn set is called "Floating Weeds". Floating? Fucking you better believe there's floating...lots of it! I don't know what instruments Jefre is using (keyboards? Synths?) but he lays down some bodacious, floaty, shimmery, dreamy, oceanic tones all over the place. Like in the style of just pinching one out, letting it hang there in the air for awhile, and then sending out another one for them to rub up against eachother before they disintegrate, and then begin the whole process anew. Both sides are very, very Birchville Cat Motelian, especially circa "Chi Vampires" (minus the heavy metal) and you know that can only mean good things. The flip is a touch darker and slightly more ominous than the other side, but it's all slick and extra-nice and just packed to the gills with extra-fab, mind-freeing drones. I can't find too much to say about it since Jefre keeps his attack simple and straight-forward, but that's totally in the manner of the best sound-strategists so there's no harm done...except for when you wake up and realize your drool has hardened and bonded you to the floor.
Taiga Remains is another name I don't really know but there is some substantial detail inside the case. "Vermilion Dusk" is the work of Cincinnati's Alex Cobb, whose dreamweapons include the acoustic guitar, the voice, the organ, and the computer. I'm going to confess and tell you that I'll be damned if I can make out the first two anywhere in this bloodpool. Side A cracks open with a super-loud blast of quasi-righteous holistic ritual vibes that's soothing at 3 and sperm-killing at 9. It could all be so sunny and rosy but Cobb totally woke up on the wrong side of the cot and is determined to punish anyone and anything within a 500km radius. Talk about your orange/red/white-hot bug-grilling buzzes and whirrs. Can you imagine feeding this one through your deck after a night of hard drinking? I think I would melt. Heck I know I would. Maybe because it mirrors so well the sound that's already going on inside my head after such a night it's like a double dose, I don't know. Second side is equally punishing, and it reminds me of the outside tones and mountain drones brought on by the likes of Twonicorn alumni Drunjus. This is heavy and bright and intense and all those things in between - again, nothing too sophisticated but all the more powerful for it. I'm definitely going to play this one again though and see if I can pick out anything remotely resembling a guitar or a voice. Pass me my sword and shield.
If the Tombi and Drunjus tapes had hinted that the Twonicorn label was going to be something to watch out for, these three have completely set that notion in stone. And they've still got something on the way from fan favorite Spectre Flux aka Pete Nolan, which at this point I'm anticipating more than retirement or first-born children. They're that good. Now get out of my face and start trying to find a way to obtain these mothers.


Wolf Eyes & John Wiese - Equinox (Troniks CD)

I thought I'd end this week the same way I began it - with some Wolf Eyes. This actually came with the PACrec CDs of yesterday but I had to delay reviewing them just to work that little gimmick in. I love it when a plan comes together. "Equinox" is by my count the fifth recorded collaboration between the Wolf Eyes gang and noise sculpteur du jour John Wiese. I remember the others coming (and going) on American Tapes and I haven't heard any of them, but at least they've got a storied past going. Wolf Eyes as a group have never appeared before on the Troniks label but Wiese's involvement is well-documented - solo releases, and in the groups LHD and Heavy Seals. This particular album is limited to a thousand units, so you have plenty of time to save up if need be.
Also worth mentioning are two other things that would seemingly add to the unusual nature of this beast. Whereas the earlier Wolf Eyes/Wiese collaborations were produced by John Olson, this one's handled by the other John (that would be Wiese). And for reasons not yet explained, the Wolf Eyes lineup here is Olson, Nate Young, and Aaron Dilloway (despite the material being recorded between July 2004 and December 2005). So, you know...if you're one of those dudes who think Mike Connelly ruined Wolf Eyes but really just wanted an excuse to hate them ever since they showed up on the cover of the Wire, here's your chance to partake in a guilt-free experience. If you follow the information given to you in the booklet and on the CD, you'll learn that "Equinox" is one track clocking in at 44:31. But that's not all. There's a hidden track. More on that later.
I'm not entirely sure how this was recorded, but if you were expecting a Wolf Eyes set with Wiese on guest laptop or whatever, you're way off. I think that what's implied by Wiese's production is that he took a collection of Wolf Eyes jams and mixed them down into his own vision, adding personal touches wherever deemed fit (kinda like his collaboration with Merzbow last year, and in a further continuation of his "recycling" style). So what does that add up to? Basically a piece that sounds much, much, much more Wiese than Wolf Eyes. Even the most subdued, ambient-infected, skull-scraping atmospheric horror binges that Wolf Eyes are known to embark on pale in constrast to how stark "Equinox" comes off. At times it's hard to imagine Wolf Eyes are even involved at all, save for the odd giveaway synth blurt or mangled guitar riff. The piece starts off almost unbearably slow, shifting into shadowy drones, lo-fi rumbles and the kind of bleak machinery usually associated with Wiese's solo outings. Close to half an hour in the track's mechanical pace increases rapidly and a wash of shrieking static burns your ears but it still sounds more like, say, Kevin Drumm or Francisco Lopez's digital fury than the true feeling of Wolf Eyes turned up to 11. The track dovetails off with strokes of a post-apocalyptic industrial wasteland, fitting given the sounds of the other 35 minutes or so.
But then there's that final, hidden track I was telling you about, with a running time of close to 15 minutes. And let me tell you, this one is an absolute epic. Really! About five minutes in we're treated to a recording of the Wolf Eyes crew (including Wiese and Connelly and others) watching - and giving their commentary on - a lengthy fireworks display in Echo Park, L.A.. This rivals the infamous "Banfield's East" CD-R in terms of sheer brilliance. I would pay good money to hear commentary on a variety of subjects from Wolf Eyes - no kidding. Like, there needs to be a talk show, or a radio show, or something (kinda like the Inside Inzane Studios podcast!). You might think I'm crazy but really it's impossible not to listen to this recording and at least crack a smile, if not a full-blown guffaw when Olson comments on a "square firework". In fact I enjoyed this track so much that when it ended, I promptly played it again, just to make sure I had gotten the full effect. When I told a friend about a review I read where Wolf Eyes spent the first 10-15 minutes of their set telling jokes, he replied that he could envision Wolf Eyes morphing into a stand-up comedy act. Still bringing their gear on stage, but just laying down belly laugh after belly laugh. All releasing limited-edition homemade joke and gag books on American Tapes. You at home all trying to figure out how to play the hand-cut A.A. Records lathe you bought at one of the shows so you can hear the punchline. Hipsters all writing on their blogs "all they did was talk, I can't believe I spent $8 on that show". Oh brother. I'm pretty sure this is what Van Dyke Parks had in mind when he wrote "Wouldn't it Be Nice?".
Like I said before - if you were expecting a hardcore Wolf Eyes/John Wiese jamming session, forget about it. In fact I would recommend this much more so if you're a John Wiese fan, as it's not so far removed from the kinds of things he usually puts together. Wolf Eyes fans on the other hand might be in search of something...meatier? But if you happen across this in a record store at least stop and give a listen to the second track (and scope the killer black and white photo in the booklet while you're at it). I promise you won't regret it. Okay, you might.


Doubled Yellow Swans - Global Clone & The Rita - Thousands of Dead Gods (PACrec CDs)

Two more heavy heavy noise jams from the hardest working man in noise, Phil Blankenship (courtesy his PACrec label). As is custom to the PACrec tribe, these discs arrive in black and white cardboard sleeves with a minimal amount of information printed on the back. The Yellow Swans disc (performed here under the "Doubled" prefix) is actually a compilation of a bunch of out of print tapes from 2005, as productive a year as any in now-Californian based duo's repertoire. The Rita is a solo performer from Vancouver who also goes by the aliases BA. KU. and BT. HN.. Don't ask what those mean, it's like Christopher Columbus' signature to me. "Thousands of Dead Gods" is his second full-length disc ever, first for the PACrec label.
I'll start with the Yellow Swans release, which is great right off the bat because I missed all these releases the first time around so it's like a nice little primer for the year 2005 in Yellow Swans history. Five cuts on here, all are untitled but I can read the info off the back and tell you where they come from - one is from a tape on Tone Filth (Declawed), two is from a split with the Skaters on the Swans' own Jyrk label, three is from the DeathBombArc tape club series (a split with Sex with Girls) and four and five are off a 23 Productions cassette (Damaged). All five tracks move with a singularity, demonstrating the Swans' classic drone/noise/busted machine/effects sounds that are just as hard to place as they are to digest. The first one is a 10-minute filibuster, the equivalent of having major dental surgery performed in the basement of Lockheed Martin, with all sorts of mysterious clangs and jolts punctuating the soft whirring soundtrack laid down by the drill. I think if you listen closely you can even hear some guitar! All that placid near-ambience helps prepare you for the 22-minute hovercraft that follows, which seemingly goes through a series of "acts" steeped in low metallic tones, industrial-level drones, spaced-out extra-polarity and battery-charged whining, buzzing and general haziness. Track three is another 10-minute opus, midway through I think Pete Swanson starts smashing shit a few minutes in, recorded his cries of anguish and then played them back at half speed. At least, that's what I'm hearing. Also the little "outro" to this track has been banned in several states because if you play it enough times on headphones it makes you want to stab icicles into your brain by way of your nostrils. Try it if you don't believe me but don't say you weren't warned. Last two are a fine couplet of more active/abrasive sounds as Gabriel and Pete rain down loads of funky sounding whoops and laser beams and photon blasts (check the "solo" two minutes in) on the first one and play it almost like a rock band stuck in slow-motion reverse on the latter, crossing all kinds of early Broken Flag/Siltbreeze lines. It's almost like if you just listen a little bit harder you can pick out a severely deconstructed song (but a song nonetheless) if...only...I...concentrate...and...bah it's gone.
If the Yellow Swans were using the full range of colors on their palette, the Rita on the other hand seems focused on shades with names like smoke, fog, charcoal, grey, jet, night, midnight, black, and so on. "Thousands of Dead Gods" is ambitious both in its title and in its running time - 59 seconds short of an hour. I dig (what I've heard from) the Rita and all but I don't think I want 60 minutes worth of uninterrupted scathing static and harsh electronics. It's like if you cooked me a 200-pound chicken. I like chicken and all, but I'm going to have to put some of that in the fridge for later...you know? Maybe it takes a more hardened noise warrior to appreciate the Rita's eternal moonshine of the psychotic mind but it's hard for me to derive too much enjoyment from a disc that sounds the same at minute 7 as it does at minute 19 as it does at minute 43 as it does at minute 59 - although I must say I'm impressed at the fact that this was all recorded live to tape. It means Mr. Rita has a much greater attention span than I, that's for one thing. Another thing about this disc is that apparently the source sounds are from "Great White Shark cage diving, underwater, and from the deck". A tantalizing prospect to be sure but why bother if it's just going to end up sounding like the electronics used and abused by other noise musicians? It's like a review I read the other day about DJ Spooky and Dave Lombardo's album "Drums of Death" - what's the point of using Lombardo if you're just going to make him sound like any other drummer? So, 200-pound chickens, Michel Gondry references, Slayer drummers...is any of this getting through to you??? Good. Now explain it to me.
I don't really know if I'd consider either of these two releases essential, especially if you already own some of the Yellow Swans material and are not well acquainted with the Rita in advance. But on the other hand "Global Clone" is a must if you're a YS nut and if you're willing to take a chance on an hour's worth of a constant, overwhelming aural assault from beginning-to-end in the form of "Thousands of Dead Gods", then why not add it to your cart? Nothing to lose except your hearing.


Xasthur - Subliminal Genocide (Hydra Head CD)

So Xasthur's long-awaited Hydra Head debut finally came in the mail today. Xasthur, if you somehow are not aware, is the project of one Malefic aka Scott Conner based out of California and one of the forebearers of the whole new wave of U.S. black metal that's sweeping the nation/Internet. Xasthur's previous records have all been on more "cult" BM labels like Total Holocaust, Moribund Cult, Blood Fire Death, Displeased Records, and Southern Lord. I'm assuming this too was meant for a Southern Lord release until Malefic's well-documented split with those dudes. I guess it kinda makes sense for him to put it out on Hydra Head - they're also based in the U.S., and probably have about the same level of distribution as Southern Lord does. Of course I've already heard people chiding Malefic for "going where the money is" and having the audacity to release his record on a label that also houses metalcore/screamo acts. Personally, I'm no mincer. As long as I can obtain it, I don't give a shit who puts out. But it appears Hydra Head are trying to pick up the slack - they've already announced a pre-order pack for a black metal band by name of Heresi. Aaron Turner's newfound appreciation for black metal? Whatever you say mang!
First, let's get one thing out of the way - I'm a huge Xasthur fan. I think just about all his records are pretty well great. But they all seem to have one common snag - they're long. And when I say long, I mean they almost all clock in close to an hour. Which, if you ask me, is oftentimes too much for a black metal record. Maybe I just don't have a long enough attention span, but I don't know. I prefer my metal records to be short and to the point (well unless we're talking doom or drone records but that's a whole other thing altogether). Whereas I could stomach those other releases, "Subliminal Genocide" is a whopping 70 minutes in length. And if you know Xasthur's music, you know it tends to...well...meander. And that's exactly what happens here when Malefic is given such a vast amount of time to stretch out. The longest track is the 12-minute opener (after the brief introduction) "The Prison of Mirrors". And maybe it's because of the mood I'm in but I tell you I've been playing this track numerous times and nothing's sticking. It just seems like a total blur of riffs, synths, and Malefic's trademark howls. Same thing on the 9-minute "Arcane and Misanthropic Projection" - although that one does open with a pretty creepy keyboard/wailing guitar ala Nachtmystium's last one thing (and a very bizarre quasi-bass solo midway through)...it's just, I don't know. Too formless. Too open-ended. Too loose. Kinda like the 15-minute title-track on 2002's "Nocturnal Poisoning". I guess the problem when you're a one-man band is there's no second opinion to take you aside and say "hey, maybe we should trim of this down" which is what this album is in dire need of. It's not all bad news though - "Beauty is Only Razor Deep" is a classic Xasthur dirge that never bores and also puts to work a great keyboard/guitar glissando deal that proves Malefic still has enough surprises left in him. "Victim of Your Dreams" is a near-cacophonious onslaught with the guitar weaving endless wigs of thick, matted noise above a prodding double-bass juggernaut. The instrumental "Through a Trance of Despondancy" features a cloudy, slow-paced and distorted riff that I wouldn't at all mind seeing expanded upon, but the track is given just three and a half short minutes. "Subliminal Genocide" on the other hand is played across 8-minutes, just the right length of time for Malefic to make good use of a keyboard riff approaching near-orchestral levels by hoarsely screaming over it as only he can. The closing "Malice Hidden in Surrealism" - an epic guitar solo accompanied by minimal keyboard and fuzz - is great on its own, but by the time you wade through all 63 minutes (including "Pyramid of Skulls" and "Loss and Tuner Distortion" a couple of interludes that could've just as easily been spared) to get to it , the impact of its "epicness" is probably long since lost.
In the end it's not as if "Subliminal Genocide" is a total wash - there are a lot of great ideas on here. The album as a whole is simply marred by a poor decision to seemingly want to fill up every single possible space with sound (a decision that has often ruined many a great record, in my eyes). Maybe Malefic felt the need to be as ambitious as possible on a record that is probably his equivalent of a "major label debut". Who knows. On the other hand though if you're a die-hard Xasthur fan you'll probably be super-stoked about the fact that it'll take you multiple, possibly endless spins before "Subliminal Genocide" starts to fully work its way into your head. Though I will say that at least when Malefic's Californian BM brother-in-arms Wrest does the long form composition thing (both of his LPs clock in at 72 minutes), he manages to keep them consistently entertaining and engaging. Xasthur's on the other hand manage to fall short and lead the listener (or rather, me) to constantly check the track time wondering if it's over yet. And that ain't no fun. But then again I guess that's not what "suicidal black metal" is all about.


Sun Ra and His Space Arkestra - What Planet is This? (Leo Records/Golden Years of New Jazz 2xCD)

It's good to know that even now there are still classic Sun Ra recordings and concerts constantly being unearthed and issued for the very first time. And make no mistake, "What Planet is This?" is an instant classic in the vast and overwhelming Sun Ra catalogue. Leo Records have uncovered a real jewel with this 2xCD set, taken from a live July 1973 performance in New York. In fact it's kind of surprising that nobody got to this before Leo did - the Arkestra are at the peak of their creativity, they're mixing in standards with wide-open improvisations, and the ranks of the Arkestra are swollen to almost mind-boggling ranks. There's a grand total of 25 members playing across these two hours, including Ra (on piano, mini-moog, organ and "declamation"), John Gilmore (tenor sax, percussion, voice), Marshall Allen (alto sax, oboe, flute, percussion, cowbell, voice), Leroy Taylor (bass clarinet, bassoon, percussion, voice), Danny Ray Thompson (baritone sax, flute, percussion, voice), June Tyson (voice, declamation, percussion, dance) and a whole host of others on trumpet, trombone, megaphone, flugelhorn, tuba, cello, bass, drums, tympani, congas and dance. Suffice to say this is one of the more colourful Arkestra sets to grace my ears and you should probably know by now whether or not you absolutely need this (you do).
The first disc is an hour long and hosts two untitled improvisations (literally, that's what they're called), a 5-minute one to open the set and a half-hour one (!) about midway through. The first one begins with a kinda funky tribal percussive groove that quickly devolves into a majestic blowing session from the horn section which in turn leads to a drumming show-off pushed along by Ra's fingers skittering across the moog. Next is the Arkestra staple "Astro Black", lead beautifully by June Tyson. When she sings "the universe is in my voice/the universe speaks through this song", it's hard to argue. The whole band roars in for the closing minute of the track, seemingly bent on making as much noise as humanly possible. Next comes an unnumbered "Discipline", which may be the same as the one subtitled "Tall Trees in the Sun" found on the "Somewhere Else" album but I haven't got that one so I can't be sure. They both have approximately the same running time though. Considering the rest of the album it's a pretty straightforward piece, propelled by an insistant drum beat and featuring who I would guess to be largely Gilmore and Allen soloing over top. Ra himself adds some great otherworldly vibrations to the end of the piece. The near-30 minute improvisation comes next and it's really the kind of beast you have to hear to truly get a grip on. I mean, how am I going to explain to you what a 25-piece Arkestral improvisation sounds like? What I will tell you is that Ra makes use out of all 24 other members, giving them a complete workout in his endless search for strict discipline within an improvising unit. Don't even ask me how he did. Of note: Marshall Allen's unbelievable yowling solo, Ra's cascading walls of extra-terrestrial effects, Lex Humphries' controlled kit freakout, John Gilmore's lovely and haunting solo, and what I think is Eloe Omoe heaving his lungs red, sounding like a mastodon being born. Of course interspersed with all these highlights is the Arkestra charging forward at full-pace, still somehow managing to play as tightly as if they were playing a tune they've known their whole life. Ridiculous, insane, essential. And speaking of tunes the Arkestra knew their whole "life", the last three from the first disc are just that - Ra's trademark "Space is the Place" (one of the best versions I've heard, including an acapella middle-section!); "Enlightment", which would sound almost like a Christmas carol at this point were it not for a heavy solo from Allen that wouldn't have been at all out of place on the last Paul Flaherty record I reviewed; and a 10-minute romp through "Love in Outer Space" which builds with a near-menacing intensity augmented by Stanley Morgan and Russell Branch's work on the congas.
Disc two is almost light by comparison, althrough it still is three songs stretched across 47 minutes. The first is "The Shadow World", another Sun Ra song that has appeared on numerous albums though rarely as stretched out as it is here, in all its 20-minute glory. Though it starts with rampaging fury (dig Humphries the madman on the kit) with a few sax and moog solos, it slowly winds down, first into a sludgy, molten kind of dirge and then even more so until Ra's minimal moog effects are the only thing left, sounding way distant and off in another dimension. "Watusa, Egyptian March" plays on a classic, cinematic theme before going totally overboard with an absolute onslaught of dizzying percussion involving (I imagine) every member of the Arkestra in some form or another. This leads directly into the last track, "Disciline 27-II (Incl. What Planet is This?/The Universe Sent Me to Converse with You/My Brother the Sun)". It moves kinda swimmingly and soulfully at first up into a vocal duet/call-and-response thing involving Ra and Tyson lasting for the remaining 15 minutes. It's probably the only part of the whole set that isn't entirely engaging, but since it's placed at the end it works just find as a sinus-clearing breath-catching coda.
If you're a Sun Ra fan, I would recommend this right away hands down no hesitation balls to the wall let's do this thing. I mean, this is epic. Classic. Essential. Indispensable. That what-five-albums-would-you-want-if-you-were-stranded-on-a-deserted-island kind of necessary. Everything you've ever loved about Sun Ra, it's all right here, bold and bad and beautiful. In fact the only thing stopping me from recommending this to a total Sun Ra neophyte is the hefty price tag...but for veterans, you know this is where you need to be spending your money. And if you've heard other Sun Ra reissues/releases on Leo and are wary about this one due to previous quality issues, don't be. I haven't heard said earlier releases (I don't think, anyway) but numerous sources confirm that the recording on this one is light years ahead of those other ones. So you get one of the largest Arkstra ensembles ever put to tape playing classic tunes and wild improvisations all coming through crystal clear - really now, what could be finer?


Wolf Eyes - The Driller b/w Psychogeist (Sub Pop LP)

Whoda thought it possible to anticipate a Wolf Eyes album, of all things? After all, these guys are the guys who made a name for themselves (at least partly) by releasing a different CD-R, tape, or LP on a weekly basis. And yet that's exactly what I've found myself doing as the release date (09/26) of their new Sub Pop record "Human Animal" approaches. If you'll recall my sermonizing from the write-up I did re: the "River Slaughter" 2xLP, there are three different Wolf Eyes "modes" that vary from album to album. See when Wolf Eyes put something out on John Olson's American Tapes, they always seem to be in a very loose, off-the-cuff, maybe even lazy form. And why not? It's their own label, they can put out whatever the hell they want. Next there's the Wolf Eyes that appear whenever they record for somebody else's label - slightly more structured, but still often free-form and "jammy" (see: "River Slaughter", "Dog Jaw", "Fuck the Old Miami", "The Warriors" split with Prurient, etc). Lastly there's the Wolf Eyes that appear most rarely, like the chupacabra, and usually (but not exclusively) on their Sub Pop releases. This is Wolf Eyes in their poppiest and most easy-to-digest form (and oftentimes their best if you ask me). See "Burned Mind", "Dread", "Dead Hills", "Slicer" and now on these two tracks, one from the "Human Animal" LP and one presumably an outtake from said sessions. Have I spent too much time dissecting the Wolf Eyes trajectory? Should I probably do something or see somebody about that? Is that why I have enough time every day to write album reviews? Man. Now I'm listening to Wolf Eyes and my blog is giving me hell of emotions. Just kidding, I'm trying to pad out this review since I only have 10 minutes and 54 seconds of music to work with.
In classic Wolf Eyes trickster style (or in classic Sub Pop snafu style, I'm not really sure which), the LP label insists that you play this at 33 rpm but that's a trap - it's actually 45 rpm. Although as with many Wolf Eyes tracks you can play it at 33 if you want and get even more bang for your buck. The a-side is of course "The Driller". A more apt name never to exist because this cut would punch holes in your head like what. Built off vintage busted Wolf synths and keys, there's a repeated electronic snarl decorated with beams of bright white light before that all drops out and you're attacked with a total slow-mo fist-pump/head-flop drum machine noise metal nightmare. I'd try not to spoil it for you but when the track picks up (a rhythm a la "Stabbed in the Face") with Nate screaming words we we would never - could never! - understand, Olson blowing heavy demonry out of the sax (!) and Connelly flailing what I can only assume to his guitar but who can tell for sure...well it's in moments like these that the ugly, exceptional, horrifying beauty of Wolf Eyes at the top of their collective game comes through. Like my old gym teacher used to say, A+ 1+!
On the flip, "Psychogeist" is a bit of a snoozer in comparison and I didn't really care for it much the first time around but that's only because the first side is such a hard act to follow. Now that I've taken it around the block and back I enjoy it quite a bit more despite its simplistic approach. For seven minutes there's this weird, hollow-organ sounding riff slightly changing chords kinda playing out like the opening to the Shining, or other parts of that soundtrack. Scattered throughout are various sound effects (I swear I heard crickets), miscellaneous knob-turning, maybe the odd muted drum here or there, and lots of hiss and rattle. It's the perfect music(k) to play in the dark this coming Halloween season. Of course you'll have to re-set the needle every seven minutes but you can do that while you're handing out the Reese's Pieces and Oh Henry. Win-win!
Last night I hooked up my Sega Dreamcast and played the House of the Dead 2. Remember that game? If you don't it's like one of those arcade-style games where you just have to aim and shoot zombies like it's the only thing you've ever known. I've owned that game since the year 2000 and I've never been able to beat it, even on the easiest difficulty level with the most lives and the most continues. Last night I got to the final boss (2nd time ever!) and I was like, two hits away before killing it when it got me first. Man. Also, if you remember HotD2, you remember the hilariously bad voice acting. I mean, spectacularly bad. It was no Silent Hill or anything but sometimes the zombies popping out around the corner (especially at 3am) would give you a cheap scare, and it was all in good fun and you would keep coming back for more (ideally to some day beat it). I have no idea if that's a legitimate metaphor for Wolf Eyes or anything, I just wanted to talk about House of the Dead 2 for a bit. Also I had no real way to finish off this review. This here 12" is probably by no means essential, I mean you might as well just wait for "Human Animal" to drop. But as a teaser you can't really go wrong here either, especially if it's cheap (which it should be). Also, zombies. That's all I got.


Skullflower - Tribulation (Crucial Blast CD)

Probably the best thing about Skullflower's affiliation with the mostly-metal label Crucial Blast (since last year's "Orange Canyon Mind") is the fact that Skullflower records now get reviewed by 100% serious metalhead muttonheads. If you don't believe me, hit up Google and see for yourself. The best one I came across suggested, among other things, to "look away from this release and find something more aggressive and more heavy". Now everyone's entitled to their opinion, but is that even possible? Heavier than Skullflower? Matt Bower and co. were sculpting the very definition of heavy in the 80's while Glen Benton and Chuck Schuldiner were still wearing sweatpants onstage. But I digress. "Tribulation" finds Bower solo again (just like last year) and continuing his total dissection of rock music as you and I came to know it, as seen on recent albums from other projects Sunroof! ("Silver Bear Mist"), Mirag ("Black Temple Carved in Smoke") and Hototogisu ("Green"). Whereas early Skullflower records always had one foot in the genre, Bower appears to have bid farewell for good to all that with 2003's "Exquisite Fucking Boredom" and immersed himself fully in black strands of drone, noise, feedback, delay, and general head-swirling debauchery.
The floorplan is laid out right from the start as soon as you press play, with "Lost in the Blackened Gardens of Some Vast Star" shrieking and howling like some kind of Merzbowian attempt at metal, complete with total amplifier destruction about half way through its 9-minute orbit. "Black Wind" and "Saragossa" are both static-backed eruptions that whirl through the air between your ears while "Dying Venice" sounds more akin to something from the last Sunroof! album - huge glops of nauseating psychedelic noise detonating and reigniting all over again. The title track is one of the album's best as Bower lays down a thick bass-y rumble that grinds and evolves underneath a whole bunch of brightly burning guitar yawnings and distortions. You have to hear that snaking, barely-audible chord stretch for yourself, it's a thing of real beauty once it hits. "Void of Roses" plays like the riff to Sleep's "Jerusalem" as covered by, well, Skullflower. Which is to say a whole heck of a lot of noise and dillution on top of it. There's a great part a couple minutes in where it sounds like the entire mixing board caves in and a dense smog-like groan fills out the rest of the track. "Dwarf's Thunderbolt" is a grueling endurance test as Bower subtracts almost all the rock/metal and leaves the listener stranded on Feedback Island. It's right around here I'd imagine that our metal friends would throw their hands up in the air and the "Tribulation" disc out the window, but that's a total sucker move and besides, they wouldn't even get to hear the absolute jewel called "Silver Stars Rot Mindlessly..." which buddies up earthquake percussion (or "concussion" as per the liner notes) and more aggressive looped free guitar bellowing. Eventually the drums bow out and Bower is left to wrangle a furious speed-metal riff over the course of the track's final minutes. The album closer "In the Depths of the Stagnant Pond" is just as relentless as the eight tracks preceeding it, but offers up the album's only pause to catch your breath - the last seven or so seconds of the song as it starts to disintegrate (but never stops fully).
The thing I like about "Tribulation" (and what I liked about "Orange Canyon Mind") is the way that the album plays out coherantly but all the songs are totally isolated - no tracks flow into one another. In fact, none of the tracks really have a beginning or end. They all sound like they're edited down from a much larger recording session so you're dropped into the middle of the song, left to wade out there for 7 or so minutes, and jerked out and plopped down into the next one before you know it. If you weren't big on the last Skullflower record, or any of what Matt Bower's been up to lately (or your playlist consists solely of Suffocation, Dismember, Death and early Sepultura), I can't imagine "Tribulation" doing much to sway you...but then again I just don't have time for people like you. If you're even reading this blog you should any Skullflower is good Skullflower and always sure to rank high among the top releases of the year, whatever the year. No matter what the current political climate may be like, if there's war and terrorist attacks under way, if the ice caps are melting and the ozone layer is burning up like never before - as long as there are Skullflower records still being made, everything's A-OK by me.


GHQ - Heavy Elements (Three Lobed Recordings CD)

Man alive, am I the only one tired of CDs that come in cardboard sleeves a centimeter too wide to fit into my vertical CD racks? I used to get the odd one every now and again but these days it seems like all the new CDs I buy are packaged this way. Heck I'm not complaining about the design choice (in fact I vastly prefer cardboard to jewel cases), just the fact that I have a whole bunch of these sleeves slipping and sliding around on top of their jewel-cased brethren. I guess it's just time to go bookshelf-style. Anyway cardboard is the least of my worries when it comes to the new one from GHQ. I'm more concerned about the fact that this is the third GHQ volume I've reviewed this year (their second "official" release so far) and I'm almost certainly running out of things to say or new ways to define their acoustic/raga/drone thing. Before I get into that, a little refresher: GHQ (on this date at least) is Marcia Bassett of the Double Leopards et al, Pete Nolan of the Magik Markers et al and Steve Gunn of stuff I'm probably not aware of et al. As is traditionally par for the course on these kinds of outings, we're not privy to who plays what but if I remember the GHQ live experience correctly, Steve plays acoustic guitar and voice, Marcia plays acoustic, electric, violin and voice, while Pete plays drums and voice and possibly something else like a guitar, but who's to say. The sounds on "Heavy Elements" indeed come from a GHQ live experience, one that occured on January 27th of this year at a place called Goodbye Blue Monday. And...that's really all you need to know.
"Lost in the Blinding Sheen of Moonlight Mirrored" comes streaming out of the stereo like a bullhorn waking you from a dream, and my initial reaction is that it sounds a lot more like Marcia and Matthew Bower's black-winged metal-drone behemoth Hototogisu or even a darker Double Leopards track than anything I've heard from GHQ to date. The effects and delay are piling on right from the get-go and only at the halfway mark when Pete Nolan churns out a rather languid, quasi-tropical rhythm does one begin to identify the tune with the GHQ brand. I must say it works up quite a vivid effect, especially when Marcia's violin lays out long stretches of gamma ray shimmer in fine Tony Conrad spirit. A pretty suave marriage of early New York minimalism and the shaking Velvets rhythms that would soon come to be born, wholly tinged with the knowledge of early- and later-day Americana hippie cults. It would be no small exaggeration to say it's my favorite GHQ track that I can recall, but then I can never recall any of them anyway.
The intermediate "Twelve Events" pits a rather wah-y blues/psych guitar solo against the repetitive, almost atonal strums of an acoustic guitar with a backdrop painted by dense vocal chants and I don't know what else for the durations of its eight minutes. Reminds me of that Six Organs of Admittance track from the OM split a while back, only more genial and floaty than headsplitting. Not much to say but it sure is a nice track to wash (up) with. Last track "Cold Dark Matter" lives very much up to its definitively bleak title - if there's a more furious GHQ blast to date, I haven't heard it (or, like I said, I can't remember it). Gone are the sweet drops of acoustic dreamweaving, the skull-soaring vocals, the promises to bring the "sexy" back...in their place is a monolithic guitar skwwall, a menacing ratatat cymbal clang and lots of foreboding delay and feedback. I don't know if there were some bad veggie paninis passed around before the show and some demon exorcising was in order but this is a veritable monster - not that all the other tracks were a total romp in the park either. In fact I think I prefer it when GHQ hit the more melodic notes...the aggressive, blown-out, drones-cum-noise sounds have already been mined pretty hard, and some of those miners are even among the GHQ ranks. They've got a good mix of personnel and varying instruments (well it ain't a guitar, a mic and a suitcase full of pedals I mean) so why not make the most of those instead of sounding like everyone else? That said it's still not a bad tune by any means, just not at the level the group is obviously capable of.
Like all GHQ jams to date, "Heavy Elements" clocks in at under 40 minutes. I'm normally a big fan of shorter releases but I'd like to see what they could do over the course of, say, 50 minutes...enough time to tune in and flip it to autopilot for the duration only to wake up in fields of hay wearing nothing but Birkenstocks and drool. Kudos to Three Lobed for fine-looking release - as I mentioned before "Heavy Elements" comes in a mini LP-style sleeve but also a glossy lime green insert with artwork from Marcia Bassett herself.


Bone Awl - Bog Bodies/Magnetism of War (GoatowaRex LP)

Oh shit. Funny (?) story: once upon a midnight weary I wrote to some email address I found on the GoatowaRex website (at least, I think it was the GoatowaRex website) trying to obtain a copy of this. I don't know what the deal was but nobody ever got back to me and I assumed I missed out, as is bound to happen. So imagine the look on my kisser when reliable old Aquarius Records got a batch in? I tell you I couldn't hit "add to cart" fast enough, given the sheer radicalness of Bone Awl's previous split with Canada's The Rita and their "Up to Something" cassette. This LP is a reissue of two other, older, long-gone cassettes - 2003's "Bog Bodies" (ltd. 300) and 2002's "Magnetism of War" (ltd. 150). So this reissue is perfect for guys like me who are just a tad slow on the uptake...and it's on beautifully thick 180g vinyl to boot! Man, what's not to love? If you don't know California's Bone Awl yet, you don't know what you're missing - super lo-fi black metal/punk/thrash duo, operating under the names He Who Gnashes Teeth and He Who Crushes Teeth. Sold!
Nothing on this reissue sounds too dissimilar to what I heard on their previous tapes, which is A-OK by me. In fact the first song "Tollund Man" is very very similar to the material on the "Up to Something" tape - then again all Bone Awl songs work within a very similar framework. I swear they've used the riff on this song before, but it appears here thicker and bassier and gnarlier than ever before. Add to that the incessant pounding drums and murky, howled vocals and it's a match made in heaven or hell. "Grauballe Man" and "Lindow Man" serve up more of the same, the former being the faster-paced of the two while the latter is a slow, trudge through frozen Californian wastelands indeed. The real curveball is an 11-minute Bone Awl epic, "Virvatulet". It's instrumental, doomy, and slow as hell. And it's basically the exact same plodding riff and thundering drums over and over to hypnotizing effect. Sonically it's more like Khanate playing it straight than anything else. And it, of course, rules.
Once you get past the creepshow oddball acoustic/mic noise duet on the intro, "Magnetism of War" reverts to classic Bone Awl fare although seemingly with more bite. Almost every song on here is an absolute finger-bleeding scorcher, with each successive song seemingly trying to one-up the last. And they all seem to have varying production values, which is a nice touch! The title track (parts one and two), "Heidrun", "In Eternal Dark", "Worship of the Cloven Holocaust" and "Silver Grin of the Death's Head" - all average about two minutes, all are pure firestorm blurs of spikey swirling guitars and agonized screams. The last track is the curiously-titled "Noise of Bears Killing", and is pretty similar to the last track on the A-side in that they're both slow, instrumental, repetitive pieces. This one holds much less doom and is propelled by a pretty rigid beat, basically like Darkthrone covering an early Skullflower or Dead C track. I approve whole-heartedly.
The problem with Bone Awl is that their music is so brilliantly simplistic that I just can't find enough to say about it. I mean, you just have to hear it for yourself. Or, the good lord willing, see them live. There's no other way. This LP makes for the perfect initiation, either for yourself or for a loved one. It comes in a black sleeve with pasted-on art while the LP itself resides in none-more-black mylar housing with a printed cardstock note identifying tracks, original release information, and lyric info (tip: you have to seek out the originals to read the lyrics). Now if we could just get a similar vinyl reissue treatment for "By Ropes Through Dirt", "Not For Our Feet" and "Night is Indifferent" - all out-of-print tapes and 7"s. And if you'll excuse me I see that the group have recently put out another 7" under the title "At the Ellipse's Arc" and I'll be damned if I'm going to let that one pass me by.


Solar Anus - Skull Alcoholic: The Complete Solar Anus (tUMULt 2xCD)

They say a good deed never goes unpunished, and I guess that's the case with tUMULt's long-awaited Solar Anus compilation "Skull Alcoholic". Turns out that apparently a large batch of the second discs are defective, so you'll just have to be patient if you want to order one now. I guess I was one of the lucky ones because mine plays fine (11 tracks/72 minutes, right?), but it's still a bummer of a fate to have befallen an album that appears to have already seen an overwhelming amount of setbacks - I mean Andee and tUMULt have been working on this for five years running now. After all that waiting, was it really worth it? The answer, of course, is yes. First you have to consider the fact that all three Solar Anus albums (1997's "On", 1999's "Trance!!" and 2000's "Next World News") were only available as Japanese imports, whereas they're now widely available to us Western folk in this handy set. Second is the fantastic, eye-popping packaging. Nevermind the die-cut depiction of a solar anus on the front and back of the cardboard sleeve, the liner notes and tray card are packed to the brim with beautiful, colorful collages and paintings that are wholly damaged and wholly representative of the Solar Anus ethic. And just what is the Solar Anus ethic? I'm not really sure but a glance of their "thanks" lists (reprinted from the liners to their other albums) gives some indication: Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Cathedral, Sleep, Ash Ra Tempel, the Stooges, German Oak, Hawkwind, Electric Wizard, Gong, Magma, Flower Travellin' Band...you get the picture. In fact you probably get the picture so well that any review at this point is superfluous but then again that's why they pay me the big bucks.
Disc one begins with the title track, a 9-minute anthem that until now has never before been heard, ever! It's also the last music Solar Anus recorded before they split, so it's kind of a weird way to begin the compilation but what the heck. It sounds a lot like where Circle are going with their NWOFHM thing, with a main riff that's very traditional metal/Iron Maiden-based. In fact the only thing that gives this away as truly not being Circle is the off-kilter, borderline scat vocals (in Japanese of course). Then we go backwards to 1997 as the next eight tracks (and indeed the bulk of disc one) are the album "On" in its entirety, showcasing the humble beginnings of Solar Anus. And...how can I put this? Hmm...well, it sounds a lot like Black Sabbath. A lot like Black Sabbath. This is so Black Sabbath that it's basically a Japanese Black Sabbath hip to all the weird psychedelic and kraut music that came post-Black Sabbath. But then, I guess that's exactly what Solar Anus are, right? Anyway the band aren't one to shy away from idol worship (as the above liner notes indicated) so I don't hold it against them, and they do the Sab worship thing very very well. "Genzo" is my absolute favorite track here, a druggy blues rhythm played out for the first four minutes until the pace quickens to the point where the band are practically falling over themselves trying to keep up with it. "Bone Flesh" is also great, like "Children of the Grave" played on 16rpm. It even contains the classic freakout part of the Sabbath song and has me wondering if it's actually supposed to be a cover like "Dear Mother Coral", which is actually a track from Japan's underground psych lords J.A. Seazer. Also of note from the "On" album is the song "Blue Hood", a 12-minute epic as fuzzed-out and doomy as anything I ever heard from, say, Electric Wizard. The constant head-nodding riff and wild guitar solo push this thing to the brink until, of course, the old slow down/speed up party trick pushes it right over. You should hear it for yourself though, it works to devastating effect. The first disc closes with the first three tracks from 1999's "Trance!!", which sees the band moving in a faster, more punk direction replete with some wild screaming female vocals to go along with frontman Tenkotu Kawaho's caveman grunts and chants and rallying cries. The band definitely sound more like the Melvins than anything else here, albeit stretched out and far more abusive of early psych/prog bands ala Gong et al. Opener "Electric Jellyfish" wins for its disgustingly raunchy "live free or die screaming" style closing solo and synth workover, but "Conceive Bang!" is no slouch either, particularly when it drops you in the middle of a tribal hippie jam session. If you ever wished Acid Mothers Temple would cut the noodling and get to the point (as seen on albums like "Electric Heavyland" and "Starless & Bible Black Sabbath"), this was made for you.
Disc two begins with the final three songs from "Trance!!", which add up to about a half-hour total on their own. "Enemy Disappear" is a slow-burning, chugging freight train while the 16-minute monolith "Die in the Space" moves from drone to doom to stoner metal to wide-open ritual jamming to psychedelic rock and everything in between. If I had to pick one song to represent Solar Anus as a hole (pardon the pun), this'd be it.
By 2000's "Next World News", the band claimed to have dropped the doom metal thing altogether to focus on becoming a "complete trip band", according to Kawaho. While their earlier material definitely bore hints of influences from psych/kraut bands, here they fully immerse themselves in the genre. This plays out over the final eight tracks from the compilation, and the tracks all flow into one another perfectly, like Solar Anus' very own take on "Dark Side of the Moon". The main focus here is brief, repeated rhythms, riffs, and drum patterns...in total "complete trip band" style. At times it's hard to believe it's even the same band, especially once they start throwing in cut-ups, tape loops, samples, and anything else they can find to enhance their psychedelic visions. The only modern bands that even come close to the sound Solar Anus achieved here are the Boredoms, Circle, and maybe Skullflower. Not everything works all the time - I'd rather have seen the 12 minutes dedicated to the weak, pseudo-techno rhythm of "Meat Pressure" instead heaped on to the rocking, pulsing, borderline orgasmic "The Extreme North" and the 8-minute keyboard/guitar/water (?) trio on album closer "Reborn" isn't very interesting. But there's more than enough to enjoy in this "mode" of Solar Anus, particularly when they're channeling Can and Gong and Hawkwind's repetitive, ur-rhythms on "Asid in My Brain", "Polar" and "Nightfall New Year" (which all bleed into one another, in fact). Solar Anus cover so much ground here that's near-impossible for someone who listens to any of the bands they're influenced by to not find something to enjoy, if not love.
And although I said it before at the very beginning, the packaging for "Skull Alcoholic" is really what pulls everything together, making for the kind of album you put on your stereo and listen to while you gaze intently at the fucked up images pasted into the liners (hallucinatory aids not required). Very highly recommended if you're into psychedelic rock, stoner metal, or any of those good times - and you just might find that Solar Anus is the best band in the genre that you've never heard.