Frozen Corpse - Dance of the Insects / Samara Lubelski - Quartet (Sloow Tapes CSs)

When the most recent Sloow Tapes mailing list update arrived in my inbox, the subject was "The Fall of the Sloow". My heart leapt into my chest - say it isn't so Bart! But thankfully, it wasn't. Sloow Tapes weren't falling like an aging empire; it was just a play on words you see! Phew. They may be expensive but I'm telling you each tape is worth its weight in gold. Most of the time I have no idea who the artist is behind the project Bart's releasing and I'm all the happier for it since it's always quality releases and usually means I'm discovering something new...my two favorite things, you could say. But I actually do kinda vaguely recognize those involved on these two new ones, if only be indirect association. Frozen Corpse is a duo with Orphan Fairytale and Carlo of Audiobot Records fame while Samara Lubelski has played in groups like Hall of Fame, the Tower Recordings, the Bummer Roads as well as going it solo and recording some of your favorite records ("Halve Maen", "Blueberry Boat", "Arrived in Gold" and "Out of One, Through One and to One"). The three have never been photographed together.
The Frozen Corpse tape is a one-sided c60 so you get about a half hour's worth of whatever kind of brew they're stirring in the cauldron...totally tough to get a grip on who's doing what. I know that Orphan Fairytale does a lot of stuff with keyboards, synthesizers and organs but I'm majorly ignorant as to Carlo's weapons of choice. Whatever's around, maybe? The sounds on "Dance of the Insects" don't offer up many clues at all...sounds like junky sub-aquatic percussion clatter, pretty reminiscent of the recent No-Neck Blues Band collab with Embryo albeit wayyy more lo-fi and abused tape mannerismed. Sometimes the rhythms the duo blurt out lock in sync (it almost seems accidental) and sometimes they don't. It's kinda like playing in one of those huge ball pits you see at McDonald's or what have you only filled with billions of marbles instead, and you've stuck your head under. A whole load of droney kerplunking sounds to get caught in your earwebbing. There's a small cut-off and the direction changes slightly as the two meddle in some kind of crumbling drone sounds akin to a construction site somewhere off in the distance. It's got a way New Zealander vibe for some reason, making me think of early Birchville Cat Motel as well as the Dead C/Xpressway form-annihilating quasi-rock gestures with disintegrating melodies being forced out of heavily damaged equipmentry. Nice. Confusing, but nice.
I'm also unsure about the membership of this "Quartet" referenced in the title of Samara Lubelski's cassette (another one-sided 60). The juciest tidbit I could dig up about this recording is that there's four violins involved. Maybe they're all played by Samara and it's an overdubbing job? I doubt it. One day I'll crack the mystery. Anyway it's a good thing I found out beforehand that there were guitars involved because I never really would've guessed it from listening alone, which is probably the ultimate Invisible Jukebox failure on my part. I went in there expecting Tony Conrad's layers and layers and sharp, stringy sheen...or even C. Spencer Yeh's recent works for the violin: dense and noisy. What I got was different but no less engrossing. Samara's served uo a thick, woozy undercurrent of "home recorded cosmic ambience" (according to the Sloow bloog) underneath these beautiful, stretching violin strokes that are almost too ghostly and wispy to be imagined as even coming from a known instrument. Have you ever heard of the glass armonica? Benjamin Franklin is generally credited for inventing it in the 1700's. I won't get into the whole schematics of how it works (you can read up on it here) but the noises Samara (and co.?) draw out from their Strads is almost exactly like what I'd imagine the armonica to sound like. Pure, pristine, glistening and sun-spotted. Except...you know...without all the death and mental illness associated with the maligned armonica. Read the Wikipedia, buy the tape, and see for yourself! Very highly recommended and not yet sold out at source! Run, don't walk!
As is the custom with Sloow Tapes, both these babies are beautifully rendered artistically. The Frozen Corpse tape is sprayed blue and features very apropos insect-themed art, not a single space wasted. Samara Lubelski's tape is particularly eye-catching because it juxtaposes a transparent mylar insert (with artwork courtesy Samara) against a reflective insert, with a tape and cassette box sprayed orange. What this means, of course, is that the tape doubles for a pocket mirror...so you can tote around heavy jams in case of emergency or just use it to powder your nose. Sprechen sie sassy?


Hototogisu - Chimärendämmerung (De Stijl CD)

The Hototogisu duo of Matthew Bower (Skullflower, Sunroof!, Total et al.) and Marcia Bassett (Double Leopards, Shackamaxon, GHQ, Zaimph et al) have seen a considerable raise in profile lately...I remember back in the day (okay, it was last year) as soon as word of a new Hototogisu release got out, you immediately had to start scouring distros and firing off emails and calling in favors to try and get one. But these days I can practically get them from those BMG or Columbia Music House 10 CDs for the price of 1 deals. It's a luxury! And very much appreciated. Small print runs are fine when the band has a minimal fanbase but I wholeheartedly welcome these recent "limited"-to-1000-copies editions that've been coming around: "Snail on a Razor", "Some Blood Will Stick", "Prayer Rug Exorcism" and now "Chimärendämmerung", their third release for the De Stijl label (first two were the "Floating Japanese Oof! Gardens of the 21st Century" 3xLP and the "Cuckoo Cloudland" LP which it's safe to say you most certainly do not own). By the way I was curious and I ran the album title through the Babelfish online translator and apparently it means "Chimaerendaemmerung". Thanks, internet.
Five untitled tracks occupy the space here, clocking in at just over an hour. I'm not sure how intended it was but the album has an interesting continuity to it, in that the tracks get progessively more noisy as they wear on. The opening track is a brief 6 minute introduction and though there's an impressive amount of the kind of guitar skree you've come to expect from the group, it almost sounds like they're coasting - you'd figure they can dash off these kinds of tracks in their sleep by now...although the viola carving throughout lends an interesting air to the tune, almost developping some kind of Western feel like the last Earth record. Or maybe that's just me. In any event. The second track is the longest at 18 and a half minutes, and easily my favorite on the whole disc. You have to imagine Angus MacLise's cloud doctrines or John Cale's dream interpretations with ten billion times the visceral power and aggression and only then does it start registering - and MacLise and Cale were heavy enough to begin with. But this is like an over-the-top, totally volatile space/sound flexing that comes close to erasing minds. During the middle jam you can almost make out the early aggro riffage of Skullflower circa the 80's as what has to be Bower (though it's impossible to tell) stabs out ugly, disjointed strokes colliding directly with Bassett's redirected gamma ray yarn. You can even make out the melody that starts the song throughout the entire fifteen minutes if you hold your breath and wish hard enough, provided you don't pass out first. The penultimate cut sounds like it was an extended jam left on the editing room floor from Bower's most recent excavation under the Skullflower moniker, "Tribulations" - an almost overwhelming assault of aural bolts needling into your head going 64,000 mph...I think there's even some vocals on here but who's to say. The last track is short like the first, and features Hototogisu at their slimiest, thickest, and dirtiest, as if the duo were jamming together in a swamp fifty feet below sea level. You see that mirrored animal skull on the cover? Well it's what I'd imagine his puke sounding like. If you can dig it.
It's hard to find too much to say about these kinds of tunes, which is probably the best compliment I can pay it anyway. It's just the kind of musical tour-de-force that needs to be heard for itself to be believed. Not all of it is 100% capitivating at every minute, and I wouldn't call it the group's best effort yet either, but it's here for you to grapple with so you might as well give it a shot. Personally I'd like to see the group revisit the melody/ambience than infected early/pre-Marcia era Hototogisu recordings, just because I think it'd be an interesting change of pace. How many full-lengths of endless balls-to-the-wall blasting can one make and/or listen to? Having said that though I'm especially curious about this upcoming "slab of death metal" LP soon to be released on Nashazphone...if it's anything like their prior metal exploration "Green", it'll be a winner hands down.


Wolf Eyes - Human Animal (Sub Pop CD)

At last (for me), Wolf Eyes' new album. Although I feel like I have to get into the ironies of that statement because as we all know (and as this very blog is wont to document), Wolf Eyes release a "new album" every other day. But like I've preached time and time again, the Wolf Eyes mode that appears on Sub Pop albums (the "rock" mode) is decidedly different from their long-form abstract noise approach often showcased on the self-released limited edition American Tapes CD-Rs and the like. And while that sound has its merits, there's nothing finer than Wolf Eyes' in true "band" format, laying down the kind of noise-as-pop-song strokes only hinted it at on major works by Throbbing Gristle, Lou Reed, Butthole Surfers, the Dead C, Sonic Youth, et al. Say what you will about them but Wolf Eyes' very brief but very prolific history belongs squarely in the midst with canonical artists of that ilk. If you don't believe me then check out their strongest argument to date by far and their second on Sub Pop, "Human Animal". Anybody can get together junky equipment and make a noise song but the level of composition behind the majority of these eight tracks is truly remarkable - and certainly not something you'd expect from three (or four, not discounting Aaron Dilloway who helped produce this one) guys decked out in denim and leather and overusing words like "totally" and "dude".
A lot of Wolf Eyes tunes featured the tried-and-true method of working from a slow, scraping build-up into an explosive fist-pumping melee. Well "Human Animal" as an album is laid out like that, which is a switch from the more song-oriented "Burned Mind". This much is evidenced on the first three tracks: "A Million Years", "Lake of Roaches" and "Rationed Rot". As they play you get the same excited/sinking feeling one would during the opening ascent of a massive rollercoaster ride. The opener features sparse, crunchy percussive blats like neon lights flickering incessantly and John Olson makes use of his sax to great effect (which was totally underused/inexistant on "Burned Mind" so I'm glad to see that's something that bled over from his Graveyards project). The track ends in a firestorm of screeching courtesy Nate Young and a shower of white-noise static like something straight out of Poltergeist before segueing into a high-pitched 2-minute electronics and synth excursion. Upon the arrival of the pounding drum intro of third cut "Rationed Rot", you know something big's gonna happen sooner or later - it can't be this quiet all the time. In addition to the lurking, sinister drums, more electronics whizz by the listener's ears and Young takes to the mic delivering the kind of ambivalent/buried narration not heard since "Desert of Glue" on 2002's "Dread". The song bends and twists for another six minutes or so before the bomb drops in the form of the title track - a rapturous, head-banging, fist-throwing, full-on Wolf Eyes anthem if there ever was one with Mike Connelly throwing out mangled guitar riffs and Young practically spitting blood in between the thick, rhythmic crushings courtesy all involved this time. "Rusted Mange" is no less furious as Young is still screaming and tripping over his words (but who knows what he's saying) while a pulsing machine-gun beat is pounded out, reminiscent of the Peter Brotzmann Octet album which took the weaponry as its moniker. It's certainly got the same level of overall passion and intensity involved. "Leper War" is a small respite from the onslaught but still gnaws at your gut via its pitch-shifting bassy backbone, electronic wash-out and more heavy squiggled bellowing from Olson's reeds. Last cut is the instant-classic current live staple "The Driller" which I've gushed about previously when it was heard on the 12" Sub Pop single backed by "Psychogeist". Speaking of new anthems, if there was ever a potential topper for "Stabbed in the Face", it's the "The Driller". Talk about the catchiest, gloomiest beat detonating in your face and singing your eyebrows as the band pile on every trick in their repertoire - guitars, electronics, synths, vocals and saxophone gelling together in a cacophonious near-symphony. If you got the CD version of "Human Animal", then your version is 2 minutes long with the addition of the hidden (!) track, an on-the-money cover (at first I had to ask myself if they were directly sampling the original song - I'm not convinced that they aren't) of hardcore group No Fucker's manifesto "Noise Not Music". As the song approaches its grand finale and Olson and Young are trading off screams, surely you must realize that this alone was worth the price of admission. But then just like that the roller coaster grinds to a halt and the brief (33 minute) ride is over...so you head to the back of the line to do it all over again. Totally classic stuff, and easily Wolf Eyes' crowning achievement to date. Whenever people dismiss Wolf Eyes as being "just noise", I'm baffled to the point of being angry. How can you not hear how well put-together these songs are? How could somebody listen to "Human Animal" and hear only noise...and not music?


Refrigerator Mothers - Ghosts of a Primitive World (URCKarm CD-R) / Refrigerator Mothers - Arab National Anthem (URCKarm 7")

Usually I'm pretty good at keeping track of who's sending me what and when, but this package caught me totally off-guard. I failed to recognize the band name, album titles, record labels or this "Hop-Frog Collective" thing plastered all over both releases. I did some digging through old emails and indeed found a request for my address from one of the dude's behind the URCKarm (that's "Unified Research for Chemical Karma") label dating back to August 30th. The email was pretty non-descript too: "can I have your address?" and nothing more, no indication as to what I'd be getting. I'm still not entirely sure what I got, but there's a sticker on the sleeves for both these releases proclaiming Hop-Frog's Refrigerator Mothers to be "midi-eastern post-asiatic psychedelic dron-e raga punk". Friends, that's a whole boatload of buzz words. Then I tried to uncover the secret behind this Hop-Frog stuff but their extraordinarily busy (as in cluttered) website crashed my computer and immediately brewed strong feelings of distate within my heart. Plus, the name. Refrigerator Mothers? Surely you can understand my skepticism. I also wasn't sure what to think of the album art - the CD-R is packaged in a beautifully hand-made "Chinese Ghost Money with hand lettering" slipcase with a glossy black-and-white insert (with more massive "Hop-Frog" logos - what the fuck!) but the clear-yellow 7" comes in a sleeve that looks like something you'd draw in your notebook during a particularly boring math class...but it too comes with a slick B&W insert accompanied by a legit vintage-style black-and-white photo. So I was instantly conflicted - was this going to be some shitty third-rate "noise" band or would it basically fulfill every hope that entered my body when I read that ludicrous blurb I retyped for you a few sentences up? And what the fuck is a Hop-Frog?
After much internetting I've come across what I think is some concrete info - the Hop-Frog Collective seems to be a California-based group of twenty-ish music-makers, visual artists, dancers, and similar creatively-inclined folk who work in various bands and offshoots - the Refrigerator Mothers being just one of said offshoots. Others include Hop-Frog's Drum Jester Devotional, the Master Musicians of Hop-Frog, Catastrophic Mermaids on Parade, a dude named Phaul and affiliations with better-known groups (well, to me, anyway) like Auto Da Fe, Amps for Christ and Soriah. According to their MySpace, the core of the group is made of suspiciously-monikered people like Carl F. Off, e.loi, Hermit the Flog, Denise Owens, Adam Reese, Karen Crews and Jewelie Off, but there's a whole host of other collaborators on the CD-R which features a rather impressive range of musical instruments (printed on the liner notes but copied directly here from the URCKarm website), and no I don't know if the first one is ironic: "kitchen sink, juno 1, juno 106, cura cumbus, melodica, sh-101, pipes, chains, industrial filter device, electric guitar, twelve string acoustic guitar, electric bass, soft synths, computers, frame drum, floor tom, various cymbals and bells, harmonium, effects processors, Ruan (moon guitar), predpared acoustic guitar, prepared piano". You can probably take a guess at what they sound like from that information alone, and you probably wouldn't be too far off, but I assure you it's a lot more complicated than that. The 20-minute track "Bedding Down the Revolution with a Mouth Full of Shit" what opens the album gets all the Sunburned Hand of the Man/No-Neck Blues Band/Jewelled Antler Collective/Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood/Wooden Wand & the Vanishing Voice comparisons out of the way right away, which is good because I think it's one of the weaker tracks on the album (a pity since it takes up about a third of the total running time). The song is built around gently strummed short rhythms that repeat for a while before the group switch gears and take the song somewhere else - in the time they're working within that theme they allow for plenty of left-field instrumentation over top, sometimes coming off like a freak-folk Throbbing Gristle and others sounding not at all far removed from a Sublime Frequencies radio mix compilation. There are a lot of nice, catchy rhythms scattered throughout but sometimes the journey to get to those points can be a little long in the tooth. The remaining seven tracks range from two to nine minutes and display the Refrigerator Mothers at their tightest possible leve of operation. Especially diggable are the jaunting, mid-Eastern flairs of the guitar, bells and tabla on "Arab National Anthem" and the incredible pumping percussion beat behind "Tied in Sacks" which deserves to be about twenty times longer than the meager 2.5 minutes alotted. I was just listening to the "Congotronics 2: Buzz n' Rumble from the Urb'n'jungle" compilation this afternoon and this track wouldn't sound terrifically out of place in the slightest alongside Konono No. 1 and the Kasai Allstars. The first half of "Black Moth Scrap Serum" reminds me a heck of a lot of the Sun City Girls on their "Horse Cock Phepner" LP with a male voice repeated intoning what "he is" over thumping bass drums, rattled chimes and squiggly electric guitar excavations. The second half revisits the throbbing looped rhythms of the previous two tracks while simultaneously bidding farewell to that sound - the rest of the album is considerably less bouncy and more moody. "Pasilla Mangoes" is a total dirge at near-ten minutes, and never really takes off despite the intriguing synthesizer clippings and some heavily-distorted, chapel-echoed vocals. "Spiritscar" melds a great deal of fuzzy reverb wash with a brisky-plucked acoustic guitar, kinda bringing back memories of that Erik Amlee CD from awhile back or even Matt Valentine and Erika Elder. It's a nice piece, nothing too eventful but nothing shabby either. The last two tracks are a bit of a downer party: the deep-throat vocals, stabbed guitar strings and infrequent hissing comes across as way too overdramatic while the closing "Christifari's Collapse" is the kind of instrumental piano ballad that borders on Spinal Tap/"Lick My Love Pump" territory, a bit too pastiche for my liking. I would've liked to have seen the Refrigerator Mothers bring it all back for one final earth-shaking crotch-dampening supreme rhythmic roar but alas I don't call the shots.
For whatever reason, the 7" contains two tracks that are both available on the CD-R I just reviewed ("Arab National Anthem" and "Black Moth Scrap Serum"), so I don't really see what would prompt anyone to buy the record over the disc (especially when you can get the CD-R for only a buck more). But despite this the packaging is very nice: like I said before it comes with a photo, an insert, and a rather baffling art job on the inside. The front of the disc bears the words "the nightmare is only a flower on the path to enlightenment", words which are also etched into the 7"'s inner rim. And the 7" is rendered on lovely urine-yellow wax that makes me think of that Hot Girls Cool Guys 7" from years past...who are also California raisins themselves. Must be something in the water down there. The biggest strength of the wax is that "Arab National Anthem" gets better every single time I hear it and the flip ain't so bad either. Both sides end in a locked groove, the first one which will undoubtably curl your toes and have you lunging over to the deck in no time while the "Black Moth Scrap Serum" lock is the kind of stuff you could leave on for days and just rock out or take drugs too. It's fiiiine.
I have to say, the Refrigerator Mothers/Hop-Frog crew provided me with one of the most bewildering, interesting, confusing, polarizing and flummoxing documents I didn't solicit, and I thank them for that (especially for sending me one of the 7"s with the photo, only the first 50 out of 428 copies gets one of those you know) and for introducing me to their song "Tied in Sacks" which is the most addictive shit I've heard all week, the kind of song you feel the need to play roughly 7,600 times in a row. It's the bitch. If any of this sounds of interest to you, I highly encourage a thorough investigation of their website. Clearly these folks have put a lot of time and effort into their releases and are at least worth a cursory glance. I just hope your browser doesn't crash.


Ariel Kalma - Osmose (Beta-Lactam Ring CD)

If I could, I'd like to talk a bit about a record that blows everything else today out of the water even if it was originally released in 1978. Since its original release on 2xLP, "Osmose" has been eternally out of print and unavailable until this year when the good peoples at Beta-Lactam Ring took it upon themselves to get a reissue going. Thank god they did. This music is just too great to not be heard and appreciated. The story behind "Osmose" is that in 1977 a visual artist named Richard Tinti set out for the Borneo rainforest equipped with a Nagra recorder, a pair of microphones and a camera, and spent many hours documenting the sounds within. So lots of insect noises, some birds, war drums (!), other animal-generated sounds, but mostly that kind of almost subliminal vibe that such a place emanates. More on that later. Later that year Tinti hooked up with musician/composer/artist Ariel Kalma and Kalma, using Tinti's recordings as the foundations, proceeded to create incredible works of cosmic ambience using saxophone, synthesizers, keyboards, flute, drum machines, harmonium, guitar, vocals and multiple effect/pitch filters. Heavy? No foolin' - "Osmose" is subtitled "space music in the rainforest - a breath of fresh air".
As the Beta-Lactam Ring website states, Kalma's creations don't just rely on the rainforest's drones to provide a backdrop - they're actively integrated into the sounds being produced and Kalma is careful to consider the pitch and tone of Tinti's original recordings before adding his own. Which is probably why the lush blast of warm harmonium drones on "Planet-Air" are a match made in heaven when combined with the call-and-response chirping of the birds, who sound like they may just as well be sitting atop the harmonium. Ditto for the swirling psychedelic opener "Saxo Planetariel" wherein Kalma uses circular breathing to draw out a heavenly, organic sound from his saxophone. It paints a strikingly vivid portrait of the rainforest at night, the kind that compels you to curl up right there on the dirt floor for 50 or 60 years. Some of the tracks on "Osmose" have a lot in common with the early space/kraut investigations of bands like Tangerine Dream, Guru Guru and Cluster, but very much relieved of their "rock" elements. What you're left with is a pure and sweet gloss that sticks in your nostrils and pollutes your mind in the kindest kind of ways. Most notable of these is "Manege" which features a loping keyboard rhythm in duet with "frogs, fireflies, and all kinds of night creatures", as the liner notes say, and "Gongmo" which was originally created for a 1973 slide show named "Voyage au Centre de la Tete" so you know it's turned on. Best of these cuts has to be "Forest Ballad" which is described so well in the liners that I could never top it so I'll just reproduce it: "a silver flut echoes ever changing, harmonic waves of flanged keyboards and tuned reverbs amongst the trees of the rainforest, and as the sun gets hotter, morning birds and insect alike revel in a crescendo of sounds". A-fucking-men. The morning birds, the insects, and me.
That sums up the tracks from the original issue but this re-release includes three bonus tracks, recorded at the same time as the others but completely unreleased until now. "Osmose Chant" is exactly what the name foretells it to be, and although Kalma's vocals aren't as striking as the man himself, the piece does a pretty great job of conjuring up visions of Prandit Pran Nath working on the morning raga in the heart of the forest. "Saxo Forest" is a bit of a companion piece to the first track but features no effects or synths that I can pick up...just the terrestrial ambience and Kalma's thoughtful huffing on the sax. You know how Kaoru Abe used to practice by the roadside until he could hear himself over the oncoming traffic? Exact opposite, baby. "Orguitar Soir" is the best possible closing track for the effort: "a sweet guitar and flanged keyboard (tuned in a Morrocan G' nawa music style) lounge in a summer glade, intermittently pierced by birdsong". If that doesn't make you want to strip off all your closes and live free, well nothing else ever recorded will.
The only critique I could possibly come up with in regards to "Osmose" is that it's got a pretty fierce "New Age" feel to it which could turn off some people/squares. But maybe if all New Age music was like this it wouldn't be such a maligned pseudo-genre. And if you've already had your run-ins with Hermann Nitsch, Charlemagne Palestine, Pran Nath, Akio Suzuki, Toru Takemitsu et al, then you've probably already wondered about the potential New Ageyness of it all already. Nevertheless. "Osmose" is all the relaxation you'll ever need compressed into just under an hour's time. The perfect album to sleep by, or do anything lazily by really. But it's such a beautiful, subtle, well-crafted album you'll be revisiting it over and over and over and soaking in it like hot bathwater. And best of all, now you don't have to pay $175+ for it either!


Black Chicklets - Slow Quease & Shoebomber - For the People of the Valley Tonga (Pasalymany CSs)

And while I'm on the subject of addenums, here's the final entry to the quartet of recently-released Pasalymany Tapes, the first three of which I reviewed here, that being the Black Chicklets tape. I was originally going to review just that but I didn't realize it was one 15-minute side so I added in a more recent Pasalymany release, Shoebomber's "For the People of the Valley Tonga". If you're not knowing, Carlo is the brains behind the whole operation and has been hard at work (legitimately hard at work - did you see the art for the new Kolumkilli 3"? Are you kidding me?) documenting the best, weirdest, and weirdly best sounds of the Montreal subterrane. The releases are beautifully rendered and painfully limited so I highly recommend not wasting any time and sending Carlo suitcases full of money - you can do so by visiting right here.
Black Chicklets is an offshoot of the shapeshifting Rivers & Mountains collective, and it's an archival document at that, culled from a 2003 performance at the now-extinct Pasalymany Bar. Three short years ago but still before my time, but I can fake like I was hip to the whole scene anyway. There's a list of players printed on the cardstock liners but it wouldn't do a bit of good to reproduce it here since there's a good chance that if you recognize all of the names, then you were in the band the night this was recorded. Anyway the (only) side opens with a woozy, fading sax/guitar/harmonica sounding jam that's kinda No-Neckian or what have you, but with a really nice melodic underwebbing. Shame it lasts for like three minutes then. The rest of the recording is built around this insanely bonked, free percussion raving...sounds like more than one pair of arms to my ears but I've been wrong before. Anyway the R&M dudes often take a kind of "play it if you've got it" approach to whatever's on the stage at the time and I'll say with the utmost respect that it sure ain't Milford Graves on the kit here...and when the drumming's joined by a flute or a sax or both, well it ain't Coltrane/Ali either, but there's a whole lot of hooting and hollering from audience and/or band members throughout so evidently someone somewhere's having a good time and that's what counts in the end. I tell you though, I don't know if I could take much more than ten minutes of that brand of confusion. My ear has never felt so molested. Well except for that one time when I met this clown behind the gas station and - nevermind, not the right time for that story. Or for those memories.
The Shoebomber tape isn't any easier to get a read on, but that's to be expected when it's the responsibility of one of Dead Bush's co-founders who I believe is a scholar by the name of Nim but I can't be sure, too many names and aliases to keep track of. Correct me if I'm wrong, by all means. So the first half of side A is a bit like those Golding Institute records only not nearly as stupid/unfunny, but what I mean is it sounds like a wiggy remix of a relaxation tape with the softly-urging omnipresent male voice kept intact. There's some other vocals and samples in there too, at first I thought one was Jesse "The Body" Ventura rapping which would've been the hippest shit around but I think it's just KRS-One. All that takes place over a gently looped electro-near-techno rhythm, too laid back to be fucnky but too catchy to not take up immediate occupancy in your cranium. The other half of this side is even tougher to describe but there's some more loops like a violin and some tapped glass percussion, closest thing I could come up with was Reich through a Nouvelle Étrange Canadienne scope but I was doing a crossword puzzle at the time (what's the capital of Tibet anyway? Lhasa?). The flip is even bester, starting off with a sort of chant and weaving into an intensely dense analog drone raga, which is surely deserving of more complimentary words than I can come up with now because it truly is a fine slice of attuned nod-out raga bliss. Kinda in a similar vein with Growing, Dialing In, Lamp of the Universe, etc. There be another drone later on, more staticky and coupled up with some illegible wordal transmissions which closes off the set. Super nice. Totally belies the retina-detaching cover art which definitely hints at a punk/noise rock sound within, replete with titles like "Harry Smith Singing Convention" and "Our Generation Died When Our Fathers Were Born". Heavy.
Almost as exciting as hearing these rectangles is reading what Pasalymany's planning next: Death Drive (!), Metis Yeti, more Rivers & Mountains, Emerald Cloud Cobra (!!), and a split c92 compilation with the other heroes of the town, Fluorescent Friends. Sure these names might only mean something to you if you arrived early to a Montreal show and caught one of the opening acts but oh man what names they are. If you're an out-of-towner looking to get on the up-and-up then here's your golden ticket Charlie fucking Bucket.


Grasslung - Psychic Venom (Phaserprone CS)

A while ago I reviewed a bunch of Phaserprone stuff - a U W OWL LP, and HsDOM CD-R and a Southern Man/Pykrete CD-R. And they were good. But Jonas of PP also sent me a cassette which unfortunately refused to play more than 10 minutes of music. A shame since it had gotten good reviews elsewhere. Well to Mr. Jonas' credit he was on the ball and sent me a replacement tape within weeks, much to my elation. So here it is, the review that never was, Grasslung's "Psychic Venom". Grasslung is Brooklyn's Jonas Asher himself and this the books are closed on this little edition after 45 copies. I checked the Google cache of the Phaserprone website (since it seems to be down) and they're sold out but it seems like a bunch of distros around have copies so I suggest you hurry. As I learned upon receiving the other goodies, Phaserprone do a top-notch packaging job and "Psychic Venom" is no exception with the plastic tape case enclosed in a wraparound cardboard sleeve with some beautifully/ugly-rendered artwork to boot...always nice to see.
Side A is untitled and does feature those hornet swarms I was talking you up on in the non-review I linked to above but man, lemme tell you - a super-sinister vibe is afoot courtesy the Grasslung's claws. All sorts of evil loner basement vibes, bare-light in the middle of the room/myriad of photographs type jamming. And this is coming out of Bushwick, not say Oslo or Hungary or something like that. This is the sound of Joe Davola kicking the opera and and giving in to the synth-drone urge. Pagliacci out, de Deyster/Schnitzler/Radigue et al in. As a matter of fact, this whole side makes for a nice companion spool to all those Creel Pones I've been talking up recently, specifically the Jurgen Karg one which could possible be my favorite one of all I've heard...and that should at least say something about how much I'm feeling this one. Scores of whooshing cosmic-style heavy-hitting, in and out with a very drugged air, bombed psychedelics, all those good charms that I guess do brew and spawn in Bushwick basements...I can't think of too much to say about it because it's late and it's already fried my dome from the inside-out, but I get a feeling here like the last man on earth is creating aural documents for the vapor trails of the very same comets that did the rest of us in. Oh dear.
The B does have a title, and it's "Der Luftkrieg" (where you at Karg!). Gave me a scare when I flipped it because it played for like 5 seconds and then short-circuited on me. But a little fast-forward magic and it was love on the rocks again (just in case I didn't think of it last time, I tried the first one they sent me and it still wouldn't play...phew! Imagine me owning 2/45 copies?). This here flip is more into the drone, less swirling fog and vessels and all that. Moreso than anything just a heady, fare-forward jrone, massively stretched like a bright summer harmony buzzing inside your ear...same kind of sound as when the ham radio's playing in the background and it ain't loud enough to catch anything but the pops and crackles coming through. Well take all those sounds, mash em up and string em together and you're kind of on the right track. Whatever it sounds like to you I can bet you'll find it as fully intoxicating as I did. And when it's finally extinguished, man it just gives you that cleansing rush like a spring-water enema. Well, not like I would know but you get the idea. I'm executing hell of yawns here at the desktop so it's time to switch off but thank god I heard this tape beforehand because I think I'll be dozing to it every night for the rest of the week. Killer nightmare lullabies, we're talking. Freddy Krueger filling in on harp for the Dream Syndicate, we're talking. My face embedded in the keyboard, we're talking - no, seriously. So on that note I'll say good night.


Wolf Eyes - Tin Coffin 2 (American Tapes 2xCD-R & CS)

It's pretty hard for me to not buy Wolf Eyes rekkids, they just seem to find a way into my collection. They're cheap, easy, and fun to look at (I could make a lame similie here but I'm taking the high road for once). But see around this time I was actually supposed to have a hand around a physical copy of their real legitimate new album "Human Animal". I never saw it around, but then again I didn't look, so I finally went and ordered it but I think by now reviewing it would just be irrelevant...although I probably still will just 'cause. But in the meantime here's something I picked up while waiting, the "Tin Coffin 2" the band was selling on their recent North American jaunt. It's a pretty sweet deal too - 20 Canadian ruples and you get 2 40-minute CD-Rs, a c30 and a "poster" which is actually a bit of color-printed Olson-style artwork that holds the discs together. And the cassette comes in its own case too (with American Tapes paste-on art) and of course the sturdy tin box (sorry, coffin) decorated on both sides like you knew it would be. And everything's all sprayed and markered-up - like you knew it would be. But if you didn't get one on the tour, you ain't getting one unless eBay's yr pal - this and other items the band brought along were strictly for tour only...allegedly. But even if that isn't the case I wouldn't expect the band to be bringing any of these sets home with them after the tour, what with Wolf Eyes merch hounds and all. I guess that's the fate of the first "Tin Coffin", but I'm not even sure that exists...a quick scan of the American Tapes discography reveals no precursor to this set so who the heck knows.
I played the tape first, since it was lying on top. It's not too far removed from any other dirty, scuzzy, fuzzy, (wuzzy?) Wolf Eyes-on-American Tapes that you or I have ever heard, but I would say it sounded even more grizzled and frayed around the edges. It's always hard to tell who's doing what on a given Wolf Eyes release but I have to believe on this one they aren't always working in trio format...or they're coming and going while the recording's going on. Because there's a bunch of lengthy stretches where it just sounds like solo for busted electronics, real desolate and introspective-like...the 4am pre-dawn post-Hiroshima torched-factories miasma. Only thing missing is the sound of your sneakers slapping against the pavement. The second side is a bit weirder, it's got this odd hand-clap thing (well that's what it sounds like) going on at the start and then eventually lapses into a whole busload of high-pitched wheezes and chirps that are sure to send your dog and/or you crazy. It's intense, I'm talking night sweats intense. I think I liked the other side better, at least I was in a comfort zone.
The CD-Rs aren't really numbered or anything, it's just that one's painted green and the other's painted blue. The green disc has six untitled tracks and is a bit of a snoozer on the whole, but manages to send in a couple of noteworthy tracks down the middle...track three is a 9-minute seismograph, constantly building on top of itself (with Olson throwing down some sax...either that or some other kind of hysterical yowling) until it ruptures like a well-worn bladder, leaking out the kind of harsh audio fluid you only hope to ever see on medical programs and not, say, in your own toilet. The conclusion is a particularly harsh supernova of near-sine wave tones, kinda like the Waves CD-R reviewed awhile back but more compressed. And then the next cut sounds more 80's industrial Coil/Nurse with Wound than Sub Pop-anything with a slowed-down voice being looped and a few swathes of gurgling color laid down across that. If I'm going to be comparing anything to "perfect Halloween music" in the coming week, it might as well be this. The rest passes by with not much else happening aside from the usual grimy shenanigans, par for the course by now and no real distraction. The blue disc (seven untitled tracks) is a bit more interesting, particularly because track two sounds like it would fit right in on "Burned Mind" or "Human Animal", its dense murky throb being constantly punctured by a revisited synth bleat - it'd be catchy, if it wasn't so slow. Track number five moves with the kind of hidden intensity that calls to mind Whitehouse's "Thank Your Lucky Stars" only without all the racket while six is almost a total anomaly...there's a looped, damaged-sounding percussion beat (kinda like the otherworld ugliness that protrudes from old Turkish psychedelic records...maybe that's why I like it so much) and either Young or Connelly or Olson dribble out zonked-synth themes and tape-machine abuse. Other than that the cuts mingle around the "nice enough" turf but what else were you expecting from a Wolf Eyes tour item? It's background music to a dinner party bloodfeast.
Bit of a downer that the music doesn't compare to the packaging, but then how could it? It's a real pretty item and there's still quite a few decent minutes worth of enjoyment in these near-two hours of hard partying. Plus it'll look good on your shelf, it's a great conversation starter and undoubtably a good place to hide your narcotics. What I'm trying to say is that Wolf Eyes could lead to you getting laid. Although it hasn't worked for me. Ever. Which is why I cry myself to sleep every night. Oh my god I hate you Wolf Eyes :(


Sissy Spacek - Sepsis (Helicopter 7") / Wooden Shjips - Dance, California b/w Clouds Over Earthquake (Sick Thirst 7")

Here's a couple of 7"s I've put together for the sole fact that they share the same format. See I originally was going to do a solo review of the Sissy Spacek 7" that I picked up recently, but it's one-sided. And the A side is just 5 minutes long. Which John Wiese neglected to mention when he sold it to me at the Wolf Eyes show. Fuck! Ah who cares. Maybe he did mention it. My mind tends to get all fuzzy in the presence of a Wolf Eyes merch table 'cause I'm a sucker like that. Anyway so I was trying to figure out how to work in a review of "Sepsis" until my eye fell upon the Wooden Shjips EP that came in the mail today and I figured I'd put two and two (or 7" and 7") together. Ain't that just a slice of harmony? Despite the fact that they just don't really go together. Sissy Spacek was the "grindcore" project of John Wiese and Cory Ronnau although in recent days they seemed to have dropped the grindcore and struck strict with the noise, but I'm no expert. Wooden Shjips meanwhile have been blazing trails on every music review site from there...to here basically. Their "Shrinking Moon for Your" 10" was a real jewel of nowadaze psychedelic jamming with all sorts of monkey wrenches and kitchen sinks up in the bidnazz. They don't seem to believe in album covers though - both that record and this single are in clear plastic folders although this one's got clear vinyl to match. The Spacek 7" on the other hand is in a hand-sprayed folder over cardboard cover which looks a lot like the Mouthus side of their split with Cousins of Reggae now that I think of it.
Wiese described the "Sepsis" sound to me as being "kinda like electro-acoustic, but using human sounds". I'm paraphrasing, I think it was a more eloquent description than that. Anyway when he said it, I totally knew what he meant. There must already be something like that, right? And maybe I've even already heard it but just can't quite think of it at the moment...the closest comparison I could draw at the time was Wiese's California cohort, Randy H.Y. Yau. "Sepsis" touches down on that base slightly. I'm guessing most of the throat undulations heard on the track are Ronnau's because Wiese just doesn't seem like the type to frab on a mic but you never know, I'm no purple people-reader. But yeah there's a good deal of teeth-gnashing and gagging and who really knows what else, just the whole nine yards. I can also pick up scant few musical instruments in the background, like something being strummed. I'll guess that it's a guitar but I swear the way it's presented it sounds like a zither. Not much else to say about this, neat little package but 5 minutes of this kind of jive doesn't really get my groin steamin' like maybe a full album would. I guess I'll start digging into the Sissy Spacek back catalogue and seeing what else they've got going as I'm really quite ignorant towards their whole operation. If you want to get a handle on this it's limited to 150 copies but probably still available so hit up yr fv distros.
The first side on the Wooden Shjips 7" is called "Dance, California (Radio Edit)". What is this, the Rejd Hojt Chijllij Pejppejrs? Ahahaha! I kid because I love. Well what that song is all about is two funky guitars going at it, one providing a boppin' backbone and the other bending out some gnarled near-solos ala Orthrelm or more to the point Orthrelm's guitarist when he played on that Angelblood record back in the day, both doing battle atop a prodding drum beat. It's a pretty neat (non-literal) locked groove which certainly doesn't do any harm but that's okay...it's just a nice slice. "Clouds Over Earthquake" bears a more ominous title and a sound to match which kinda reminds me of the dark psychedelia glanced at by Emerald Cloud Cobra's Genou project (also reviewed in these virtual-pages some time ago). The forumla here is similar to the other side; repetitive drum beat, gently-fuzzed guitars creating a total nodding atmosphere but then the surprise loop - deliberate, intoned vocals bearing a troublesome "New Age" vibe, like those relaxation tapes one would put on if one was a soccer mom with a casual interest in yoga. I won't tell you what the voice commands though, you're just going to have to find that out for yourself. Not as immediately intriguing as the 10" but still enough to keep me curious about a full-length (when? Harvey? When?). I think the Wooden Shjips folks put up all these tracks (10"+7") on their MySpace, or at least samples thereof, which you can check out by clicking here. I'm uncertain re: the limitedness of the 7" but with all the bzzzzz surrounding this group it's safe to say they won't be around till next St. Swithens' Day.


Raccoo-oo-oon - Is Night People / Dove Yellow Swans - Live During War Crimes #2 (Release the Bats CDs)

Special nods to Sweden's Release the Bats for contributing to today's double dosage of American weirdness. What we have here is a band that's been around the bend (that's the Yellow Swans) and back and a relatively new upstart group who've cut their teeth on cassettes and CD-Rs and are moving on up to the big leagues (that's Raccoo-oo-oon). Both releases come beautifully packaged: the Raccoo-oo-oon disc is in the same kind of cardboard folding sleeve as the Root Strata Bonus disc I reviewed a while back (called an "Arigato Pak" according to the press release - learn something new every day!) with a lovely gold letterpress and a cardboard insert to boot, while the Yellow Swans CD is in an oversized glossy cardboard gatefold (called a "Dual Plover" FYI) with the CD itself resting snug against a black felt backing. The Swans album is limited to 1000 copies whereas it's a count of 1080 for Raccoo-oo-oon. You know the drill.
To be perfectly frank with you, I'd already had my mind made up about Raccoo-oo-oon before I really heard them: I hated them. Don't you just have those bands that come around and rub you the wrong way (not literally, although that's possible too) off the bat? That's the vibe I held for the Raccoo-oo-oon duu-uu-udes. The whole operation just seemed to smack of that "rehearsed psychedelic pseudo-improv" (down to the hippie-folk cover art) stuff that Animal Collective seems to get away with (and wind up on the face of every magazine from Arthur to the Wall Street Journal no less). After spinning this disc a couple of times, I'm still not ready to throw down my guard and admit I was wrong and I'm a godless heathen and have mercy on my judgemental soul. Everything on the "Is Night People" album sounds pretty carefully planned out, but that's exactly what I've come to terms with. Why should they have to improvise? Moreover, why did I impose such a stigma on them? I've got no answers for those questions. It's just who I am, baby. Anyway this group gets described as a "swirling sax-and-effects-heavy free-form punk" band...I would say that's fairly accurate, except the punk part only really shows through on the last two tracks "The Canyon's Long Winding Words" and "The Great Horn of the Wilderness". And even then it sounds like they're borrowing heavily from Sonic Youth's book. But then Sonic Youth never made consistent use of shakers and sax like Raccoo-oo-oon do, so kudos to them for their original touch at least. There's a pretty decent balance of New Weird hippie feel and rock n' rollin' moves, demonstrated best on "Call Out Your Friends" when the band joins the two worlds together seamlessly. After about four minutes of No-Neckian wandering and tribal flare, they launch into this epic, thundering prog rock move that seems to come out of absolute nowhereland. It's not the same kind of face-melting dragged-behind-a-moving-vehicle feel you get when a band like Circle puts forth one of their aggressive attacks, nor is a total doom metal swipe. Somewhere in the middle, more like. But I don't care what it is, it's great. "Stamped from the Stump" and "Uh-Oh" are both rock-rooted numbers propelled by insistent drum machine (right?) loops, decorated with tons of unintelligible buried shouting and wailing and featuring guitar lines reminiscent of post-rock groups like Mogwai or Do Make Say Think. I'm almost mad at myself for liking "Fluff Up Your Fur" as much as I do since its pure psych-pop (or pop-psych to be more exact) intentions are almost painfully pastiche, but I guess therein lies the charm because once this one gets into your head, there's no getting it out. And also it reminds me a lot of Animal Collective, perhaps another reason for my attempted disdain. But I guess I'm just a pushover, although that near-acappella refrain of "a miracle is a miracle" pushes it! Totally hard for me not to enjoy a large part of this, because it's pulled off with an air of unabashed naiviety. I wish they'd indulge in those punk/rock leanings a little more though...when I first read the description I reprinted above, I was hoping I was way off base and Raccoo-oo-oon were a scuzzy, lo-fi psych punk band sorta along the lines of what you'd hear from the Jewelled Antler Collective's Pink Skulls CD-R label. Oh well, the end result wasn't so bad after all. Certainly a band worth keeping an ear on at the very least.
The Yellow Swans are also known for their forays into psychedelics, but that's not the case on "Live During War Crimes #2". Culled from a recent U.K. trek earlier this year, these five untitled jams are absolutely brutal. Wholly dark, harsh, droning throbs putting the proverbial smackdown on your ears for some 40 minutes. I don't think I've ever heard the Swans play so aggressive - makes me regret skipping them when they rolled through with Grouper in tow recently (Liz Harris of Grouper also provided the drawing on the cover, incidentally). The whole CD is like a sickening roller coaster ride: the duo of Pete Swanson and G.M.S. strap themselves in, put their heads down, and focus intently on building up a furious churning din until the sound seems to overwhelm your headphones and pour out the sides. Visceral, beastly, and insanely powerful. The only real respite comes at the end of track four (previously heard on a Fuck It Tapes release according to the album innards), which spirals off into a dusty-basement collection of death ambient emissions and chilled sonic tension. But the true coup d'état is the 10-minute closer, where the duo shuffle and noodle around for a bit before quickly setting the wheels in motion for a real ass-blaster that is sincerely up there in league with Sunn O))) in terms of heavy gut-busting air-curdling stormcloud threat. The little photo in the album sleeve shows the Swans' and their gear set up with nary a guitar in sight but that's exactly what it sounds like this piece is based off. Even if there really isn't a guitar, this piece demolishes several other doom/drone metal acts which rely so desperately on the instrument. Fuckin' a! I don't know what these guys had to eat before the show to get in such a mood but I'll have what they're having, please and thanks. Highly recommended.
It's also worth noting that jack of all trades Pete Swanson is resposible for the mastering not only on his own Yellow Swans record, but on the Raccoo-oo-oon album too. The jury's still out on the latter (at least for me, I need to hear more I think) but they've been getting so much praise from every other blog/zine on the planet that they don't need my help anyway. As for the Yellow Swans album, I was just thinking to myself recently that for all I've heard from DYS, they've never had a release that truly blew me away. They've been consistently good, but never anything more than a casual liking. Safe to say that's all changed with "Live During War Crimes #2", it's the best shit I've ever heard them spew and you can take that to the bank. And again, cheers to Release the Bats for the great design jobs. If only all labels would put so much effort and dedication into making their records presentable. They've got releases on the way from the Non-Horse, Catena Collapse, Suis la Lune and the Holy Kiss so stay tuned if any of that interests you because I'm sure they'll look just as good as these.


Ruth White - Flowers of Evil / Steve Birchall - Reality Gates: Electronic Meditations by Steve Birchall (Creel Pone CD-Rs)

Part two of a Creel Pone smorgasbord! Despite the fact that all Creel Pones were originally issued as many as sixty years ago, they seem more relevant than ever to me today, especially with the big early-electronic revival that seems to be sweeping (or is that BLEEPING? ahahaha) the nation lately. Finding out about all these obscure, obtuse, unknown diamunz in the rough is a lot like when I first started getting into 60's psychedelia, in that it's hard to believe there's so much quality stuff that seems to have gone so under-documented. So, of course, another tip of the chapeau to Creel Pone for doing just that. Because god knows I never would've found these on my own. Sometimes we just need a little help from our Icelandic friend(s).
These two were also both blind buys, going off their Mimaroglu descriptions alone, but the fact that Ruth White's dealio is essentially a half-hour homage to Baudelaire helped sway me. There's nine pieces on the LP (okay, CD-R) and each one centers around White reading off a translated version of a Baudelaire poem. But it ain't at all that easy, as White does her best to match the loneliness and despair of Baudelaire's words with her monotonic voice and of course numerous synthesizers, filters, effects, pitchshifting, tape abuse, and the like. Also when White translated the poems she went literal rather than trying to make em all rhyme up again in English, and it works to great effect, particularly on the opener "The Clock" where she intones lines like "my metal throat can speak all languages" and "time is a greedy gambler who wins at every turn of the wheel without cheating". Man that's far out! And to think this came out in '69? On a major label no less (Mercury)? Obscenity. "Mists and Rains" is a similar piece with White's near-catatonic recital painted with whooshes and gusts of, well, mists and rains...either prerecorded or generated by her machines. It's stark, but pales in contrast to the life-ending "Spleen". Coupled with the voices (White's?) running in reverse against Baudelaire's words: "and long hearses, without drums or music, move in a slow procession through my soul". It's like the first time you saw the Shining, only with you on the Big Wheel and Danny on the sofa with the popcorn. Speaking of Kubrick films, "Evening's Harmony" does a whole great deal to remind me of Wendy Carlos' seminal A Clockwork Orange soundtrack, so much so that I glanced over the ACO OST tracklisting to be sure and apparently it's an original work. It's also worth noting that the movie came out a full two years after "Flowers of Evil"...hmmmmmmm. Other preferred tunes are the tense, psychedelic/spacey nattering on "Lover's Wine" and of course the grand finale of total alienation, "The Litanies of Satan". If you know the poem, you should already know there's no better way to conclude a Baudelaire-centric disc. Especially when White's warbly, heavily-modified vocals are doing the reading. Aw shit Ruth, why you gotta give me the night creeps like that?
Steve Birchall's "Reality Gates" is pretty much the polar opposite of Ruth White's record, at least in terms of wordiness. Birchall does all his talking through the equipment listed on the back sleeve: 16 track recorded, Spectrasonics console, EMT reverb, computerized lathe and EMS synthesizer, among others. What this translates to is a 40-minute long electronic freakout of the highest degree. John Olson describes it as "dude with problems and synths" and I agree. This sounds every bit like the obscure loner descriptions you read about when Edmond de Deyster records are brought up, and of course Conrad Schnitzler as well. But I dunno, Birchall's working totally on his own tangent, like a one-man space station sending out anonymous transmissions to anyone who'll bother to listen. But that's not to say it's random noise or anything of that sort...despite the fact that what we're hearing is as far removed from humanity as possible, there's an impressive narrative running throughout "Reality Gates". I don't know what it is and I don't know if I want to know but I can't say it's off the cuff - Birchall knew exactly what he was doing when he laid down these five galaxy-defying slabs. It's not at all droney like the Jurgen Karg Creel Pone was but still dabbles in the same realms of gentle isolation and introspection. At least, that's the vibe I get. Plus I'd put the Karg one on as music to fall asleep to, but this one would keep me up all night with my thumb in my mouth. Despite the fact that there's a track called "Summer Memories" (which doesn't sound a thing like my summer memories but to each his own), Birchall inadvertantly nails his own M.O. with two other titles: "Music of the Spheres" and "Cosmic Carousel". It's brilliant and weird, naturally. As the best things usually are.
If you were to go out on your own and pick up some Creel Pones, I'd recommend you Jurgen Karg's and Ruth White's at the moment, but the other two could just as easily take over top spots in a couple of days' time. I've got a morbid curiosity to find out if this CD-R series can do any wrong, I think I'll take another chance and find out. Blind buying Creel Pones at $10 each could easily become a hobby of mine...sure beats spending $40 a single LP (but I'm not bitter). Checking out the Creel Pone website just makes me even more aroused...they've got their release schedule through the end of the year posted and dig these two compilations: one with the intriguing title "Creelpolation 1" which looks to be a 3xCD-R (already out! gasp!) and another bearing the name "Israeli Electroacoustic Music". Whoa. As if that wasn't enough there's also one on the way from Tod Dockstader, Grupo Experimental Electroacustico, Bernard Parmegiani, and more. Sure winners, all. No wait, that's us, because we get to hear these records and most for the very first time. 'Scuze me, I've got a tear in my eye.


Edward M. Zajda - Independent Electronic Music Composer / Jürgen Karg - Elektronische Mythen (Creel Pone CD-Rs)

I love impulse buys, especially if the predominant shade on the album cover is black. That's the criteria I went with for these two Creel Pones I picked up on the random (don't worry I picked up two others without grim-looking covers just to switch it up; maybe I'll review those sometime/tomorrow). I like to subscribe to the Spinal Tap philosophy as in "how much more black could it get"? And the answer, of course, is none. Well except on these two covers it could be blacker, because there are some other shades (mostly white) being used. But I tried to go as dark as possible because there's nothing more fun than digging up something truly dark and disturbed and fucked from forty years ago. Unfortunately that doesn't always pan out, I snagged an LP from this German Gravestone band because the cover was an intriguing mess of camp "goth" art, and it was in the psych section. Money, right? Wrong. Turns out the album came out in '79 so not only is it untrue psychedelic coattail riding, but the band latched on to another up-and-coming genre the year after, that being heavy metal. In fact you can view their band page at the Encyclopaedia Metallum, god it's embarassing. But lucky for me, Creel Pone have already weeded out the potential electronic pioneer posers by strictly limiting the scope of their "reissues" (more on that in a jump) to LPs which came out in between the years 1947 and 1983. You can read why on their website but basically Mr. Pone has decided that this is the so-called golden age of electronic music. And who am I to argue? I don't know jack shit about electronic music! And that's my other fave-rit thing about Creel Pone is that you don't have to be a Wire-reading mugworm gribleck to enjoy their product (although I most certainly fit that criteria anyway). You just grab a fistful, throw the Jacksons on the counter (they're like $10 a piece and I think Jackson's on the $10 in America? I think that's what the SNL "Lazy Sunday" rap taught me) and get skronk. About that "reissue" thing from before, these are not technically legitimate reissues, but they might as well be. See, they're all limited to 100 copies each, they come in their own plastic sleeves with an official Creel Pone seal of authenticity and the CD-Rs themselves (with snappy labels no less) are snug inside a mylar sleeve which in turn comes in mini duplicate of the LP's original album art, front and back. So it's like someone took a shrink ray to the original records except they didn't because (a) that might render them unplayable and (b) that kind of technology doesn't exist, get your head out of the clouds.
I got mine from Keith Fullerton Whitman's excellent distribution center Mimaroglu Music Sales 'cause he seems to have almost all fifty CPs in stock and the man knows his electronic music. He had rave reviews for the mysterious Edward M. Zajda, a composer from Chicago who appears to have issued this one (and only) gem on his Ars Nova/Ars Antiqua Recordings label, and also does a mean Buddy Holly impression in a pinch. The LP sleeve provides lots of info, mainly about the music and not so much about Zajda himself but it does dial up a nice little auto-bio wherein he references friends Bob (Bob!) Ashley, Bill Ribbens and Gordon Mumma. Then he goes on to detail the five pieces on the album: the brief "Study No. 3" which is apparently one of Zajda's earliest attempts, the remarkably-titled "Magnificent Desolation" which owes much to the moon-landing (hence the repeated "eagle has landed" transmissions near the beginning), "Study No. 10" which uses electronically-generated sounds as well as actual recorded sound sources ("I'll leave it to the listener to identify them"), "Points" being a composition for the Moog synthesizer and "In March for Ann", dedicated to Ann Waterman and described as a "bleak sort of piece". Whew. Zajda's descriptions just about render mine irrelevant. I will say that the absolute best one is, of course, "Magnificent Desolation", a real whopper at 17-minutes and laced with the kind of cosmic drones one would expect a moon-landing-influenced piece to bear. Zajda hits on all kinds of effects that present-day explorers My Cat is an Alien must've dieted on as youngsters. Throw in a bizarre, repeated syllable from the introduction to a female vocal pop song (maybe?) and tons more unrecognizable near-lyrical blurts and you have a truly bizarre and interesting opus. The opener "Study No. 10" is pretty great too, with Zajda incessantly flirting with electronic beeps and scrapes until a barrage of thumping noises and cut-up vocals floods through...reminds me a lot of the late 80's/early 90's musique actuelle stuff. Of course the best is saved for last; that being a series of dull, throbbing drones that almost sound like bass chords dragged across a concrete floor. The other tracks aren't any less interesting, they just feature a rather active style of knob-turning and button-pushing that it would be fruitless to describe. Safe to say though that Eddy Z has an itchy trigger figure, nearing an almost Aphex Twinian-level of analog glitchery and unintentional beat haven. If I may paraphrase 90's avant-garde free-thinkers Rednex: "where did you come from, where did you go, where did you come from Edward M. Zajda?".
I also applied another Spinal Tap rule when I picked up the Karg disc, and that's anything with an umlaut is great (my dad used to tell me that any song with a cowbell is a great song but times are a-changin'...except that this came out in the '70s. So I don't even know). Man, dig that cover portrait of the man himself...doesn't he look like a guy who should be chopping wood? Or children? Quite frankly I'm scared. If you didn't guess by now Karg is from Germany which means the lengthy lines he wrote on the back of his record (in -125 pt. font thank you very much) are all in German. Can you believe this nerve of this guy? Like he didn't know I'd be writing about this some four decades down the line. Fucking guy! I'll forgive it because "Elektronische Mythen" is about the most badassed name for a record since the Electric Light Orchestra (didn't) come up with "No Answer". Makes me wonder if ELO would've been better fated (billionaires instead of millionaires, I mean) if they were Das Elekronische Licht Arkestra? No, not even, what the fuck. I'll cut to the chase, this is a 100% boss record and I love all of its 40 glorious minutes. Karg has a more, uh, subdued approach than the Zadjan One and lets his tones float into glorious, shimmery, gently cascading crystalline epics (both side-long humpers at 20 minutes a piece). From what KFW deciphered from the back cover, Karg uses "4 ems-sythesizer (sic) mit digitalspeicher (sequencer 256) als zentraler steuereinheit.
5 tonbandgeräte mit 2-, 4- und 8-känalen, zum teil mit variabler geschwindigkeit.
peripherie; steckerfeld, mischpulte, filter, hall etc". Ha ha ha! "Etc." indeed! But really though, I can't recommend this enough as a gorgeous industrial-metallic forest to get Rip Van Winkled in. Dude just pours it on constantly, sweetly chiming synthesizer glints and melted-silver dreamscapes. Mmm mmm! Also according to KFW (I should've probably ended this review when I linked to his site huh?), Karg was once the straight man to Wolfgang Dauner's early electronic hijinks, if you know who that is. I don't. Hey I told you I was no scholar! But really. If you dig your drones stretched out and blissful and icy and eyes wide open style, Karg is your man. Or should I say...der mann?
Gems man, there's nothing sweeter than digging up gems (generally with somebody else's assistance, in this case it's Creel Pone of course). I got the feeling on Friday with Il Gruppo and now it's in my loins again with these two discs. So happy I took the chance and grippled a fistful of these. Unfortunately they're all so cute and collectible that I feel compelled to buy all fifty so I can line them up on my shelf and encase them with bullet-proof glass...and they're CD-Rs! So a thousand kudos to Creel Pone for bringing the music to the people the way it should be done, with lots of respect and painstaking attention to detail. Gentleme/an, your efforts do not go unappreciated. It's one of the few instances where I don't find myself going "aw gee this is nice and all but I really wish I had the original LP". These'll do just fine, thanks.


Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza - Azioni 1967-69 (Die Schachtel 2xCD & DVD)

It's taken me a long, long, long, long time to get around to reviewing this because it's a hefty package to crack. Two CDs, a DVD, a 72-page booklet and a poster. I've owned it for a few weeks now and I still don't feel like I know any more about it than I did the day I first heard about it. What I can tell you about Il Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza is that they were an open-door collective of composers-performers formed in 1964 at their core by founder Franco Evangelisti, Mario Bertoncini, Walter Branchi, John Heineman, Roland Kayn, Egisto Macchi, Ennio Morricone and Ivan Vandor. Also floating through their ranks at various times and dates were Frederic Rzewski (present on several notable recordings), Carmine Pepe, Larry Austin, John Eaton, William O. Smith, Giovanni Piazza, Jesus Villa Rojo, Antonello Neri, Giancarlo Schiaffini, Alessandro Sbordoni and probably a whole bunch more I don't know about. Il Gruppo continued a few years after Evangelisti's death in the 80's but seemingly fell apart with no one willing (or able) to take the reins of the project. Most involved however seem to agree that Il Gruppo's true period of growth and innovation was from 1968 to 1972, so this set is bound to contain some seriously choice cuts.
Disc one consists of three pieces, a 7-minute one called "Kate", a 25-minute one called "Es War Einmal" and an 18-minute one that's simply untitled. The lineup for all the tracks is Bertoncini, Branchi, Evangelisti, Heineman, Macchi and Morricone. I haven't read the booklet cover-to-cover yet but I'm unable to find out where these recordings are taken from. From Evangelisti's archive I'm guessing. All I know is that, like everything here, they've never before been available in any format. Despite the fact that the musicians work with conventional instruments (piano, strings, brass and percussion), they play them in such unconventional ways that it's perpetually difficult to be entirely sure of what you're hearing. Add to that the prevalent use of non-traditional instrumentation (sheet metal on "Kate" for example) and it really is a mixed bag. GINC's sound falls somewhere between Harry Partch's noisemaking inventiveness and AMM and MEV's pioneering electro-acoustic chatter. "Es War Einmal" is pretty sparse for the first half and slowly grows into a frenetic, busied whirlwind of sound from all directions. Dig the percussion seemingly devised from hitting anything within striking distance, or the sound of somebody (Morricone, if I remember what I saw on the DVD correctly) blowing into some kind of reed mouthpiece, or Heineman's strangled horns, or the heavily prepared and abused piano, or the oddly charming birdsong near-solo. The ending sounds almost cartoony, walrus hornwork, skittery percussion and bowed strings colliding playfully in a mini-tornado of improvisational wizardry. "Untitled" takes a similar form only with quite a few more bouts of silence and tends to get downright musical, especially with the crescending horns and strings as the piece nears its conclusion. It's all very active but at the same time somewhat relaxing. Like I just want to put it on and let the sounds bounce all over my body. Like friendly jellyfish with big smiles on their plasmic non-faces.
Disc two features everybody from before plus Ivan Vandor and Roland Kayn, but not everybody appears on all nine tracks. The group functions in trios (according to Evangelisti's "rules" for the group, Il Gruppo could not perform with any less than three members present - no solos or duos) all the way up through septets. Four of these tracks are taken from a 1967 concerto; "Trix 3" and "A5-4" are based more on extended tones and skull-scraping brass drones while "Fili 2" and "A7-2" are quite cacophonious in contrast with the former shadowed by a lurching piano undercurrent and various brushstrokes over top while the latter moves from near free jazz territory into classic horror film soundtrack moments of spooked out gut-wrenching ambience. As for the other numbers, "Fili" loads up on strained string and piano-gut ratcheting before dropping into the static-laced, dimly lit "Concreto" - very reminiscent of AMM and Keith Rowe's work with shortwave radio frequencies. "A5-3" is another example of GINC's noir diggings, aside from a few saxophone squawks near the beginning and the sharp near-sine wave tones of the conclusion it's another brood-fest. "A7" tangles up the best of both worlds, starting off ominously before launching into an outrageous calamity of jazz-inspired activity. The same can be said for the beginning of the CD-closing "Trio", featuring Branchi, Heineman and Vandor, whose horns are put to great effect. The group benefit greatly from the added space as they appear to play cat-and-mouse with the audience, launching a full scale attack on their instruments before receding into the shadows and preparing their next onslaught. This up-and-down style of playing offers no real beginning, middle, or end - perfect on the whole not only to Il Gruppo's sound, but seemingly their philosophy as an entity as well.
The DVD is a 45-minute black-and-white film by Theo Gallehr and depicts Il Gruppo in various candid stages - in interviews, setting up, recording, working with eachother, and performing onstage. The players showcased here include Bertoncini, Branchi, Evangelisti, Heineman, Kayn, Morricone, Vandor and Frederic Rzewski. It's interesting to watch the composers interact and perform spontaneously as it is to see them preparing the piano by tying horsehair around the strings and rubbing the interior with empty plastic bottles and vaccuum cleaner attachments. Italian and English subtitles and provided, but unfortunately these only seem to come into play when a member is being interviewed and are woefully absent when the group is conversing amongst themselves as they set up while the camera rolls. Too bad. In all honesty I probably wouldn't recommend the DVD if it was a standalone purchase, but it's invaluable as part of this set.
As if two CDs and a DVD wasn't enough, Die Schachtel also put together a thick booklet containing some great photos as well as a brief introduction from John Zorn, a biography by Daniela Tortora, an excerpt about Il Gruppo from a 1991 book about Evangelisti, a letter from Walter Branchi to Evangelisti, Macchi and "friends in music and life", and a personal footnote from John Heineman. These appear in both English and Italian. The only thing it seems that hasn't been translated into English for unknown reasons is an enclosed interview with Mario Bertoncini. But if you can read Italian, have at it. And as if all that wasn't enough, the discs come in their own digipak style cases housed inside a lavish, sturdy, cloth-covered box. And there's a poster. Die Schachtel really went all out on this one and their efforts should not go unappreciated - I tip my hat to them not only for unearthing this music and bringing it to the forefront but by making it look so darn good at the same time. I've already heard people pegging this as the release of the year...certainly a contender, but at this point it's a runaway for the best discovery of the year, period end of story.


Boris - Vein (Important Records LP)

So, here it is. After two years of waiting and endless delays, Boris and Important Records have finally unloaded "Vein" upon us. Despite the fact that I'm a huge Boris fan, I'm inclined to hate it right from the get-go...actually I started up with these feelings of hatred when it was announced that the price tag would be somewhere in the field of $36, give or take. $36! For a domestic-issue 37-minute single LP! I'm paying a dollar for every minute of sound that spills out of my speakers! But according to Important, what we're paying for in large part is the complicated packaging. You see this isn't just a picture disc, the images you see on the wax are actually printed on the inside, rather than on top (and I'm no vinyl-pressing pro but I'd think it would be impossible to have a clear vinyl picture disc? Hence the additional sweat and hard work). The record itself comes in a thick plastic sleeve (like the "Solomon" LPs) and inside THAT sleeve are two clear mylar inserts containing landscape (reminiscent of "Earth 2"!) depictions on each which match up with the other one. Hard to explain, but again, it looks very nice. Unfortunately my copy arrived with minor slits on the bottom and one of the sides of the sleeve but that seems to be the case constantly with these plastic LP sleeves. Doesn't make it easier to shake the feeling that I paid $36 for (essentially) damaged goods but I'll trust the Important Records people that it was in tip-top condition when it was placed in the cardboard mailer. And I'll remind myself that nobody had a gun to my head - I bought it of my own volition. That'll make me feel better.
But at this point I'm wondering if "Vein" is just a sociological experiement. See, the album went on sale on October 3rd or thereabouts and it's already sold out from the label. But if you read the label's blurb, you won't find any mention of the actual musical content of the record. And that was one of the biggest questions leading up to its eventual release - what genre are Boris doing this time? Stoner, sludge, doom, drone, shoegaze, post-rock, etc etc etc??? But alas, no answers. So the conclusion one can draw for this is that Important managed to sell out a good portion of the 1,500 copies pressed up without ever mentioning a word about the entire reason people should be buying the record for - the music. Basically what this says is that (a) Boris are master entrepreneurs and (b) Boris fans are ten different kinds of retarded, myself very much included. This could be two sides of Atsuo shaving and Important wouldn't have to answer to anybody because they never said it wasn't an album of Atsuo shaving. Know what I mean, Gene? Lucky for us though that the label and the band aren't that cruel (although 36 clams still isn't easy to forgive, mind you) and "Vein" appears to be a pretty significant entry in the overwhelming Boris discography. It opens with a blast of dissonant guitar noise and quickly curls into a fuzzed-out riff of epic proportions, but rather than blast off into the mesosphere it goes the other direction entirely, dovetailing into a smattering of electronic near-ambience. After that an ominous, pounding doom metal session before some Japanese sample plays and the group kick off their fastest, angriest, punkiest sounding jam ever. Squiggly guitar solos, ungodly stampeding drums and Takeshi's vocals sounding their most ripped and ragged and alcohol-shredded. You know what it reminds me of? Have you ever heard that Swedish metal band Disfear? With Tomas Lindberg (of the Crown, At the Gates, Nightrage, the Great Deceiver, etc.) on vocals? Right. The way they kinda straddle heavy crust-punk and thrash metal. Well, on their "Misanthropic Generation" at least, I haven't heard any others. Damn that album ruled. Anyway that's exactly where "Vein" is at, although with a bit more variance - there's some studio trickery in between tracks with tapes played in reverse, some borderline harsh bits namely around the album's opening and before the last "track" (there's eleven or twelve different ones but play as two long sides) and an all instrumental number that goes for about a minute and still leaves you breathless when it ends. The only respite is at the end of the album where the group delve into a 10-minute (also instrumental) Sabbathian workout and touch on various cornerstones from history like the floaty, spaced drones and fuzz-washes of "Flood" and "Feedbacker". Wata provides the proverbial icing on the cake with a wildly epic, stretching prog solo appearing on and off throughout the track. Kind of the antithesis to what the rest of the album is all about but then again I guess that's the point.
If you're reading this around October 11 and you're fretting because you missed out and you've got $40 burning a hole in your pocket and you've really really gotta have this, don't panic. Important's sold out but they're going to be available soon from Boris' Japanese label/distro Inoxia (whose mailorder service comes extremely highly recommended by the way), various other distros around the country, and from Boris themselves on their upcoming U.S. tour dates. Presumably it'll cost more if you choose to get it from a distro than if you got it from Important directly, but those are lumps that you're just going to have to take. Then again you could also wait for the inevitable reissue because I can just feel it in my bones that 1,500 copies is not going to be enough to do the "scope" of this release justice. Boris have always had their limited edition side thingies but "Vein" feels a lot more like a full blown capital-A Album and I'm sure that's the kind of treatment it'll get somewhere down the road. Which pains me to say. And it also pains me to say that despite the heavy price tag and despite the relative brevity of the album, this is a most critical Boris document, especially if you want to hear them pushing the "Pink" formula to the limit (an album which everybody and their grandfather seemed to love - I mean it was a good album but they've done better people!). Remember when Dylan Carlson described "Absolutego" as "the soundtrack to two snails fucking"? Well "Vein" is like the soundtrack to two cheetahs fucking. While wearing jetpacks. In fast-forward. But man...I really wish it sucked and I could tell you not to waste your money and fuck Boris those scammers but damn I enjoyed this. And I hate myself for it. Somebody break these chains - set me freeeeeee!
Addenum: After I wrote and posted this review, I started hearing rumblings that there may in fact be two different versions of "Vein" - exactly the same packaging, just different music depending on which one you get. If this is in fact the case then I can now kind of understand why Important didn't describe the musical content on their website in the interest of secrecy. Of course, for diehard Boris fans, that just means more back-breaking efforts trying to obtain this supposed "other" version...


Rope - Heresy, and Then Nothing But Tears (Family Vineyard CD)

Family Vineyard also released this yesterday alongside Hisato Higuchi's "Dialogue" album: the sophomore record from Poles-turned-Chicagoians Rope. In case you weren't aware Rope are kind of a power trio plus - Robert Iwanik takes care of bass and vocal duties, Przemyslaw Krzysztof Drazek plays guitar and Michael J. Kendrick does triple time on percussion, electronics and trap set. Joining them for this release is vocalist Grazyna Auguscik, saxophonist Martin Belcher and Oxbow's Eugene Robinson who co-wrote and guested on four of the songs.
It's hard to get a real handle on Rope's sound - the sticker on the sleeve this came in describes the band as a "flummoxing rock trio". They certainly are flummoxing. And rooted in the rock genre, but touching off on free jazz, explosive heavy metal, no wave, prog, avant gardisms and dosed with an equal amount of film score atmospherics. That's a lotta ground to cover in 50 minutes. Ultimately though this isn't nearly so much Naked City blasterpieces as it is one long brooding threat divided up into seven not-so-easy pieces. "She the Assassin" wanders through skittery avant jazz turf that quickly calls to mind Last Exit before they really get cookin' and even (bear with me on this one) the stretched-out freakprog moments of the Mars Volta. Both "She the Assassin" and the following track "Heresy" dwell in the same dark confines of their collaborator Eugene Robinson's band Oxbow although considerably more disjointed (it's possible!) and less the face-bruising metal that Oxbow's iron fist brings. In fact there are a couple of neat parts that would never find their way into an Oxbow song or a Swans' song for that matter, like Kendrick's all-too-short rolling, flailing drum solo. "Blood Stained Lust" teases plenty of balls-to-the-wall rifftastic moments and wildly free jams but never really builds to anything (despite its 9 minute length) and instead settles for short, machine gun bursts. The last four songs on the album were all co-written by (and feature) Robinson's unique talents, and the first of these is "The Financial Imperative" which at two minutes in length could almost serve as an introduction to a seperate album entirely, or an album within an album if you prefer. Robinson whimpers, growls, moans, groans, whines and slurps his way through apparent actual lyrics - they're right there in the booklet - and pretty much sets the stage for the remaining thirty-ish minutes. "Our Beast" follows and is far and away the best track on the album and dare I say the best Oxbow track that Oxbow never wrote because that's exactly what it sounds like to me...although, again, I'm not sure if Oxbow could pull off the wonderful, cascading guitar lines that crystallize like sand being blown into glass in the way Rope do. Add to that Robinson delivering lines like "It is now five o'clock in the morning/I breathe hard and watch the yard down below" in his trademark howl and it's really a thing of beauty. "This is Love" is another brief track and of course is rife with Robinson's mumbling and smacking lips...geeez it sure is a pretty ominous thing despite the title. Album closes with the "Grand Humiliation of Misery" which is every bit as huge as the name would imply at 20 big minutes. Man this cut throws everything at you and appears to be the culmination of all of Rope's efforts to date: Robinson's present and so is Grazyna Auguscik (to chilling effect towards the song's conclusion); there's massive feats of percussive frenzy, flatlined guitar string dissonance and full-on chaotic noise-rock brainbombing...unfortunately for all their efforts the group seem to run out of ideas halfway through and pad the rest of the track out with long drones, Robinson's vocal chord calisthetics, a drummed-out heartbeat rhythm and some pretty inconsequential electronic jabbering. Maybe I'm just a sucker but I was hoping the group would finally take full-flight instead of only showing flashes of the beautiful aural violence they're capable of creating. And I guess that's my problem with the album as a whole - it's nice and there's a lot of good ideas but sometimes the group seem focused so hard on creating the perfect spooky/threatening sound that they neglect the obvious simplicities that they should be indulging in. Sometimes you just have to break out the powerchords, the riffs, the pounding drums and get primitive with the whole thing. Then again maybe I'm just a simp.
All that being said this is a nice album but I can't help shake the nagging feeling that I'd rather just listen to Oxbow - when your sound already identifies closely with a band, but on top of that you invite their singer to co-write and perform on half your album, you're pretty much begging for inevitable comparisons. Still though I'm curious to find out where the group will head with their next album...and hopefully it won't take another three years to find out the answer.

Happy 10,000 to Outer Space Gamelan

Recently this blog hit 10,000 individual site hits. Despite the fact that most of them are probably just me, it still swells my cockles with pride at the notion that something I started (for a lark!) is now viewed and visited daily or otherwise by people from the world. I'm well aware that there are plenty of other zines and blogs who do 10,000 hits in a given hour, but nevertheless I think it's pretty good for something I started with almost zero promotion or advertising. I just started writing about music every day because it was something to do and it snowballed from there. So if you would please oblige me a few lines, I'd just like to say a big thanks to anybody who reads the site, who has it bookmarked, who has it linked on their page, who left a comment (positive or negative - OK just the positive ones), who passed on information, who dropped me an email, who took the time to send me a sampling of your wares in the mail and especially anybody and everybody who ever stopped to pay a compliment or a word of encouragement - it's greatly appreciated. If you'll excuse me I think the band is playing me off. I'll have to save this in a .txt file somewhere for when I get to 20,000. Anyway thanks again and see you tomorrow I suppose.
Keep scrolling to get to today (Oct. 10)'s review.


Hisato Higuchi - Dialogue (Family Vineyard CD)

Every review I've read on this CD is really really short. Probably because (a) it's a short album at 35 minutes and (b) there's not really too much you can say about it. But I'll give it a shot. Hisato Higuchi is an "up-and-coming" Japanese puppeteer-turned-guitarist who specializes in barebones wispy folk/blues-tinged excercises. "Dialogue" is his first release on this continent, preceded by 2005's "2004 11 2005 4" LP and 2003's "She" EP and you can also hear his work on the PSF label's "Tokyo Flashback 5" compilation.
So wot's it all about then eh? Well, it's Higuchi's voice, a guitar, and nothing else. Simple, right? Well kinda, but "Dialogue" is works very very well for all its so-called simplicity. No finger-bleeding amp-scorching powerchords here, this is a record that's entirely soft around the edges with Higuchi's patiently plucked strings and gentle, wordless crooning wafting out into the fog-filled night sky and rolling down the block like smoke from a chimney. An obvious point of comparison is Higuchi's countrymen Keiji Haino and Kan Mikami at their absolute-most sedated...and even better one would be a man who was recently the subject of an exhaustive Family Vineyard retrospective: Loren Connors. Both Hisato and Loren dabble in the same fields of gently coaxing sparse, docile rhythms out of their guitars and infecting them with the weighty spectre of loneliness and desolation. Hisato does this best when he lets his voice join in on lethargic sighs and whimpers, as heard on "Hajimari No Bamen", "Kizuato", "Manazashi No Saki E" and the opening "Himitsu". There's also a series of numbered "Guitar" pieces (though only 2 through 5 have been included) and the striking "Breath #2" which is just what you'd imagine it to be - Higuchi's icy lung-wind ushered through your speakers to swirl around your room and evaporate as quickly as it came in. By the time "Dialogue" winds down into its final two numbers ("Mitsumeau Sekai Ni" and "Borei No Ude"), either the tape they were recorded onto is going to crumble or my heart will because this album is just a total beatdown of emotion..and you can't even tell what (if anything!) Higuchi's saying. That's power baby, raw and pure and I've not heard it translated through music the way that Higuchi's done it in a real long age...at least not since I first laid ears on Jandek or "Skip" Spence or the first Vashti Bunyan album. And I'm not just blowing smoke up your...nostril.
"Dialogue" comes out on this very day (the 10th) and I recommend you check it out at least, especially if you're into late night/early morning sobbing sessions because that's exactly the kind of state Higuchi will leave you in if you spin this at the wrong time with the wrong kind of heartache on your mind. But in all actuality this is a stunningly beautiful album that demands repeated listens to fully begin to appreciate the type of warm-yet-lonely familiar-yet-distant hopeful-yet-heartbreaking magic it weaves. It also deserves every bit of praise you've read about it to date.


Skaters - Diminishing Shrine Recycles (Self-released VHS)

That's right, it's time to drag out your VCRs - the Skaters have put out a tape, and not the kind you can pop into your car's deck either (although they've made plenty of those kind too). Me, I just recently dragged my VCR out lately anyway, albeit for other reasons. I recently bought the RRRecords "Moby Dick" compilation tape. It's a doozy. So it's a happy coincidence that this came along at the same time I had all my ghetto technology hooked up. I'm not really sure what prompted the Skates to put out a video. "Diminishing" comes with a Xeroxed insert listing five different "tracks" (one with a 12-line paragraph as a subtitle - oh boy!) and says in small print at the bottom "all works will be screened at the Hawaii Center of Crystal Recreation Aug-Sept '96". Well that would've been ten years ago and Google turns up absolutely nothing for a Hawaii Center of Crystal Recreation so I don't know what to think. Maybe it's a sly reference to something I'm not privy to, who knows. Like Aerosmith once said, all I can do is just push play.
It's kinda hard to pick out where the tracks start and stop but there are some pretty distinct shifts in sounds and in images. The opening "Clarity, Melted Knowledge (Deconstruction of Aural Planes)" features kaleidoscopic images and sounds with flashing triangles and the only discernable object being the word "LIGHT". The music is a lovely organ-sounding/tinged muck...I hate to be John Everyreviewer but it's kinda the Perfect Visual Manifestation of the Skaters' Sound. Let me tell you something though, the lo-fi VHS grunginess and the sinus-thickening sounds are not a good combination if you're battling a headache, or epilepsy for that matter. The duo are in usual form in terms of sonics though - heavy, thick and impenetrable. The next clip I think belongs to "Wheel of Heaven" but it's weird because it's totally silent, with a negative/neon animation of what looks like a jellyfish and the reflection of a human's face. I actually had to stop the tape and put in another one to check and see if my sound was busted, but nope. No sound. So watching the jellyfish loop gets pretty tedious when there's no music anchoring it. Luckily the following "Archetypal Cruises" features sound, a sound reminiscent of the Skaters' form from the "California" box set with a looped stuttering flute (made me think of the Nath Family records actually) and warbly analogue drones. The pix are bright, saturated psychedelic hues with lots of moving cells and globs. I could maybe make out another face, a pinwheel, and an image of rugged mountaineers but maybe I'm dreaming? My VCR had a bitch of a time playing this and at times the frequent sound/video dropoffs had this thing working like a "Disintegration Loops" for the underground set. Somewhere along the way there's another change into the fourth clip "Decorations of Raising Dream Shrines (Diminishing Shrine Recycles)" which is also the title with that super-long subtext I was telling you about before. But I'm not about to type it all out here. Here I'd swear they're sampling Marianne Faithful's voice and I was so certain I'd used that comparison before that I actually Googled my "California" review and lo and behold I had brought up Mme. Faithful then as well. So, I don't know. Cut from the same cloth? Probably. Anyway along with those bizarre intonations there's a high-pitched, almost giddy sounding hum in the background, and I say background because the sound on the VHS drops out a lot here and I had to crank my TV up to like 50 just to hear anything. Which is when I heard a grinding noise and I thought it was my VCR till I hit mute - nope, just the Skaters doin' their thang. If I got all the order right then the last track is called "Memory" and it too is silent, and pretty fucking terrifying so as not to mince words. Let me tell you. When the soundtrack drops out and the camera's focus lands on the grimacing face of a dummy/doll/mask looking like some cross between Capt. Howdy and Michael Jackson in the "Thriller" video, and it's the first non-effected straight-forward shot of the whole tape...well it makes your heart leap into your throat. At least mine did. And then there's another shot of somebody with the same face (so I guess it was a mask) swinging a knife. So what if I had the covers pulled up to my nostrils, okay? Then that ends (not soon enough) and there's some footage of a dog walking by on the street startling some pigeons - also soundless - and that's it.
Hmm...interesting document to say the least. I guess maybe Nate Young started a trend last year with the highly-touted/impossible to find "Video Madness" tape, which was upgraded to a DVD(-R?) recently. It seems to me like the Skaters are making these to order for the Aquarius Records folk, so you shouldn't have too much trouble trying to score one through them but I could be wrong. I'm not sure if anybody but Skaters die-hards will find themselves totally gripped by the sights and sounds here but it's a fun curiosity nonetheless and since Skaters stuff is so hard to come by, you take what you can get. In case you're wondering, I'd estimate "Diminishing Shrine Recycles"'s length to be around 35ish minutes, give or take 5.