Top Fifty Records of Two Thousand and Six and Other Lists of Interest

There's no other way to close out a year in blogland without a list, so I've risen to the challenge and cobbled one together right here. I'm hesitant to call it definitive though, you could ask me again tomorrow and all the albums might be switched around. And I don't really have anything set in stone either so there's no sense asking me why, say, #28 is placed higher than #31. I don't know. It just felt right, how's that as an answer? The other reason why it can't possibly be definitive is because I'm but one man trying to get a grip on (seemingly) billions of records being released on a daily basis. So if you're wondering why I didn't list something totally bitching that came out this year, it's most likely because I just haven't heard it. Maybe I'll get to it in 2007. Or 2008. I'll try to hear it before I die, that much is certain. The other note about the list is that I only included albums I reviewed on the site...my personal list may vary slightly, but not by much. Anyway I included other albums I thought were good but just didn't review for whatever reason (okay sometimes it's an obvious reason) at the end, along with some reissues, compilations, splits and videos that I enjoyed. All that said, thanks for visiting and reading throughout the year, and have a happy and safe holidays/Christmas/New Year. Regular updates should return on January 3rd, hopefully I'll see you then.

Top 50 Records of 2006
01. OM – "Conference of the Birds" (Holy Mountain)
02. Six Organs of Admittance – "The Sun Awakens" (Drag City)
03. Sun Ra and His Space Arkestra – "What Planet is This?" (Leo Records)
04. Girl Talk – "Night Ripper" (Illegal Art)
05. Joanna Newsom – "Ys" (Drag City)
06. Wolf Eyes – "Human Animal" (Sub Pop)
07. No-Neck Blues Band & Embryo – "EmbryoNNCK" (Staubgold)
08. Tony Conrad – "Joan of Arc" (Table of the Elements)
09. Whitehouse – "Asceticists" (Susan Lawly)
10. Wolves in the Throne Room – "Diadem of 12 Stars" (Vendlus)
11. Pandit Pran Nath – "Raga Cycle: Palace Theatre, Paris 1972" (Sri Moonshine)
12. Peter Brotzmann, Marino Pliakas & Michael Wertmuller – "Full Blast" (Jazzwerkstatt)
13. Paul Flaherty & Chris Corsano – "The Beloved Music" (Family Vineyard)
14. Skullflower – "Tribulation" (Crucial Blast)
15. Joseph Hammer – "Joe & Joe" (LAFMS)
16. MV & EE with the Bummer Road – "Mother of Thousands" (Time-Lag)
17. Sunn O))) – "La Mort Noir Dans Esch/Alzette" (Southern Lord)
18. Birchville Cat Motel – "Our Love Will Destroy the World" (PseudoArcana)
19. Wolf Eyes & Anthony Braxton – "Black Vomit" (Les Disques Victo)
20. Nachtmystium – "Instinct: Decay" (Battle Kommand)
21. Ashtray Navigations – "Four More Raga Moods" (Ikuisuus)
22. Darkthrone – "The Cult is Alive" (Peaceville)
23. Orthodox – "Gran Poder" (Alone Records)
24. Sunn O))) & Boris – "Altar" (Southern Lord)
25. Daniel Menche – "Concussions" (Asphodel)
26. Vodka Soap – "Un Chand Pyramdelier" (New Age Cassettes)
27. Boris – "Vein" (Important)
28. Keiji Haino & Sitaar Tah! – "Animamima" (Archive/Important)
29. Ettrick – "Sudden Arrhythmic Death" (American Grizzly)
30. Graveyards – "Unmarked Graves" (Editions Brokenresearch)
31. Nath Family – "Sounds of the Indian Snake Charmer Vol. 2" (Hanson Records)
32. Hototogisu & Burning Star Core – “Hototogisu & Burning Star Core” (Drone Disco)
33. Ash Pool – "Genital Tomb" (Tour de Garde)
34. Maniacs Dream – "Zanzibar" (Lal Lal Lal)
35. The Melvins – "A Senile Animal" (Ipecac)
36. Paul Flaherty – "Whirl of Nothingness" (Family Vineyard)
37. Kolumkilli – "Cyprus" (Pasalymany Tapes)
38. Graveyards – "Bare Those Excellent Teeth Vol. 1" (Editions Brokenresearch)
39. Hototogisu & Prurient – "Snail on a Razor" (Hospital Productions)
40. Waves – "10" (American Tapes)
41. Jandek – "Glasgow Monday" (Corwood)
42. Flaherty, Corsano & Yeh – "A Rock in the Snow" (Important)
43. Hototogisu – "Chimärendämmerung" (De Stijl)
44. Samara Lubelski – "Quartet" (Sloow Tapes)
45. Emerald Cloud Cobra – "Genou" (Self-released)
46. Damion Romero – "Negative" (PACrec/P-Tapes)
47. GHQ – "Cosmology of Eye" (Time-Lag)
48. Hisato Higuchi – "Dialogue" (Family Vineyard)
49. Zaimph – "Sexual Infinity" (Hospital Productions)
50. Dove Yellow Swans – "Live During War Crimes #2" (Release the Bats)

Worthwhile compilations and splits
Bone Awl/The Rita - "Split" (Klaxon)
Double Leopards/Mouthus/Sunroof! - "Crippled Rosebud Binding" (Music Fellowship)
OM/Current 93 - "Inerrant Rays of Infallible Sun (Blackship Shrinebuilder)" (Neurot Recordings)
OM/Six Organs of Admittance - "Split" (Holy Mountain)
Sunn O)))/Earth - "Angel Coma" (Southern Lord)
Various Artists - "Aryan Asshole Records Compilation Volume One" (A.A. Records)
Various Artists - "California" (RRRecords/Troniks/Ground Fault)
Various Artists - "Creelpolation 1" (Creel Pone)
Various Artists - "Not Alone" (Durtro/Jnana)
Various Aritsts - "Portland" (RRRecords)
Various Artists - "Tropicalia: A Brazilian Revolution in Sound" (Soul Jazz)
Various Artists - "Graag Trag" (Sloow Tapes)

Reissues/single artist compilations
Ariel Kalma - "Osmose" (Beta-Lactam Ring)
Bone Awl - "Bog Bodies/Magnetism of War" (GoatowaRex)
Bone Awl - "...So, I Must Take From the Earth" (Hospital Productions)
Boris - "Dronevil Final" (Inoxia Records)
Conrad Schnitzler - "Trigger Trilogy" (Important)
Any and all Creel Pone reissues
The Dead C. - "Vain, Erudite and Stupid: Selected Works 1987-2005" (Ba Da Bing!)
Electric Wizard - "Pre-Electric Wizard 1989-1994" (Rise Above)
Il Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza - "Azioni 1967-69" (Die Schachtel)
Hototogisu - "Some Blood Will Stick" (Important)
Leviathan - "The Speed of Darkness" (Viva Hate Records)
Loren Connors - "Night Through: Collected Works 1976-2004" (Family Vineyard)
Masayuki Takayanagi New-Direction-Unit In Concert - "Axis/Another Revolvable Thing Parts 1 & 2" (Doubtmusic)
The Orkustra - "The Orkustra" (RD Records)
Solar Anus - "Skull Alcoholic: The Complete Solar Anus" (tUMULt)

"Fun From None: Live From the No Fun Fest 2004 & 2005" (Load Records/No Fun Productions)
Ira Cohen's "The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda" (Bastet)
Skaters - "Diminishing Shrine Recycles" (Self-released)

Not reviewed but enjoyed:
Å – "Å" (Die Schachtel)
Acid Mothers Temple & the Cosmic Inferno – "Starless & Bible Black Sabbath" (Alien8 Recordings)
Celestiial – "Desolate North" (Bindrune Recordings)
Clipse – "Hell Hath No Fury" (Jive)
Dem Franchize Boyz – "On Top of Our Game" (Virgin)
Earth – Live Hex; In a Large City on the North American Continent" (Archive)
Ghostface Killah – "Fishscale" (Def Jam)
Justin Timberlake – "FutureSex/LoveSounds" (Jive)
Lupe Fiasco – "Food & Liquor" (Atlantic)
MF Doom – "Metal Fingers Presents Special Herbs The Box Set Vol. 0-9" (Nature Sounds)
Nurse with Wound – "Soundpooling" (ICR)
Os Mutantes - "A Divina Comedia Ou Ando Meio Desligado", "Mutantes" & "Os Mutantes" (reissues) (Universal/Polydor Brazil)
The Pyramids – "Birth/Speed/Merging" (reissue) (EM Records)
Seven Depressions – "Pillar to Post/Mauled by a Deer" (Heavy Tapes)
Ste-Sophie "Item A-B/C-D" (Self-released)
Various Artists – "Congotronics 2: Buzz'n'rumble from the Urb'n'jungle" (Crammed Discs)
White Rock – "The Exploder" (Our Mouth)


Various Artists - Creelpolation 1 (Creel Pone 3xCD-R)

What's better than one Creel Pone? Many many Creel Pones! "Creelpolation" is a compilation of a few things: the first disc is tracks from early electronic 7"s, the second disc consists of longer pieces from albums that are perhaps undeserving of their own full-blown Creel Pone (dig those rhymes!), while the third disc is a choice set of side-long tunes. And though I've explained it before, the Creel Pone label exists to reissue otherwise ignored classics of early electronic music released between the years 1947 and 1983 in faithfully-rendered editions of 100, all on CD-R. You should head over to the CP website to read more. A most interesting and often rewarding undertaking, to say the least. And you can search the archives on this very blog to find out my thoughts on four other CP releases I came into contact with earlier this year - lucky you!
The first disc is comprised of 26 short pieces by names like Erik Nordgren, Daphne Oram, Frederick Charles Judd, Henri Chopin and Andrzej Dobrowolski, among others. I wish I could say I recognized more names besides Chopin, but I can't (and that's what I like about Creel Pone!). The bulk of this disc is dedicated to Oram and her "Ascending and Descending Sequences of Varying Nature" which, truth be told, sound about as stoic as the title they're given with some alternating synthesizer tones, notes and rhythms, almost like she's testing out the machine rather than playing it. Erik Nordgren's contributions are more on the quirky side, especially with titles like "Crazy Robots" and "Playhouse" while Judd's "Electronic Themes" and "Musique Concrete" series' are simultaneously spooky and corny, evoking the sort of naked cosmic blend that reminds me of the shorter pieces on Conrad Schnitzler's own triple-disc set that came out recently on Important. A couple of lone wolf pieces prove most interesting, especially Vladimir Ussachevsky's frantic "Four Miniatures with Origin" where it's anybody's guess as to what's happening and Jean-Louis Brau's "Turn Back Nightingale" in which some kinda throat/saliva jargon is melted overtop a catchy tropicalia beat and some bafflingly urgent French instructions. The absolute tip of my hat goes to the pieces contributed from junior and senior high school students (I wonder under what circumstances they were recorded...?) which are both astonishingly adept and striking. The 12-year's old electronic composition with a poem called "Conflict" serving as narration was top-drawer. And finally the two quickies from the M.O.O.T. (Music of Our Time) 7", explaining the methods behind "new" sound/recording techniques has to be heard for oneself. How does Mr. P.C./C.P. find these things?
The second disc is a total mixed bag, some mind-bending tunes and some not-so-gripping ones...I wasn't a big fan of Peter Eötvös' "Tücsökzeme (Cricket Music)" in which either actual cricket noises are being manipulated or they're being simulated for the better part of an hour; John McCaughey's curious rapid-fire synth freak out "Watergates" wears thin quick; and I was left in a state of confusion after Andre Almuro & Colette Magny's chanting/percussion/spoken word performance "Bura Bura" (in which the title is recited rather obnoxiously all too frequently. On the other hand, there are some real stunners in Richard Grayson & Tom Oberheim's "Rain" wherein they use a mittful of electronic noises to simulate a rainstorm (complete with phony crashing thunder!); Gilles Tremblay's two pieces "Centre-Élan" and "Dimensions Soleils" are brain trawls in vintage "dude w/problems & synths" vein that force you to ask what the heck was going on upstairs at the time; and Michael Adamis' flummoxing "Kratima" piece, which boasts ten minutes of zonked pioneering Greco electro-acoustic, psychedelia, free jazz and sheer noise...not to mention an incredible set of pipes. It's the kind of track that's so wholly disorienting I feel like I immediately have to seek out more of the composer's work to even begin putting it into context. The find of the set, for me.
The five side-long tracks found on the third and final disc are all pretty great, especially Andres Lewin Richter (whose tracks on the second disc I didn't find too outstanding)'s 20-minute drone/ambient/drum (!) journey to the center of the mind and the bizarro sermons dictated by Ralph Swickard over post-apocalyptic noire scoundscapes lending a decidedly sinister air to the Christian vibes put forth by the speaker. They sound like pieces that could've been found on a new Nurse with Wound disc or something, early outsider brilliance to be sure. Hilton Kean Jones' "Eastmontage" is a 13-minute splice piece sampling from music teachers talking to students (?), fluttery wind instruments, seasick harmonicas, synths, organs and anything else at hand to create a dizzying, intoxicating pot roast that again has me wondering...what were they thinking???? The last piece is a 25-minute marathon called "Chronometer", credited to Harrison Birtwistle (Realized by Peter Zinovieff). It's a pretty minimalist affair with its twists and turns but at the end of the day bearing a pretty apropos title given its eternally resounding rhythms. The whole last disc plays like something you concentrate on while trying to get to sleep...it'll be morning by the time you decipher everything that's going on but it's at least fun to try.
Special due must also be given to the awesome package job at work, The three discs come housed inside plastic sleeves, which in turn are inside cardboard foldovers (reproducing both the fronts and the backs of the records featured), which in turn are individually packaged inside resealable polypropylene sleeves, which are then all grouped together inside a larger polypropylene sleeve also including a "pocket fresnel len" (think magnifying glass) to help you zoom in on all the cover art/info included. Whew! Yet another beauty job by this overachieving little label. "Creelpolation 1" serves a great introduction to the kind of ethos the Creel Pone label is all about, and will also be of sure interest to those already into the CP loot bag. But, like I said, limited to 100...don't sleep!


Aaron Dilloway - Rotting Nepal (Blossoming Noise LP)

The logical follow-up to yesterday's revue...it's a two-fer! Seems to me like Aaron Dilloway's made his trip to Nepal count. Sure it got him kicked out of Wolf Eyes (sike) but he's gotten a lot of inspiration for his solo projects - first the Nath Family tapes, then the "Radio Nepal" series, now "Rotting Nepal". Actually I should probably say "Rotting Nepal" first since it was recorded in January 2005 and probably did come out before the other ones, albeit in a tiny edition of 63 on Dilloway's own Hanson Records label. Somebody at the Blossoming Noise HQ must've liked it enough to do a full-scale vinyl reissue, on 140 gram wax with a red marble design no less (although truth be told mine looks more like a solid dark rust colour with nary a marbled texture in sight unless I squint real hard). It was also limited to 500 copies and sold out quick as the dickens because it only came out on November 12th. I must say that kind of caught me off guard but hey, BxNx brings the quality so I shouldn't be too shocked that lotsa people jumped on board for this one (self included).
Although the original "Rotting Nepal" CD-R consisted of multiple short pieces, no such divisions are made clear on the record and everything just sorta plays out like two side-longs. The first opens with some chopped-up samples of Indian speak pulled from god knows where and eventually descends into prime New Blockaders electronic scramble territory. Not at all as harsh or destructive as many other solo Dilloway sets I've come to hear. Au contraire in fact...if Dilloway termed John Wiese's approach to noise as horror/librarian, well this sounds downright academic to my cauliflower ears. There isn't a whole lot to make note of apart from the convusling "dogshit electronics" as Aaron himsef so elegantly puts it. He calls it crude too but I think it sits rather nice, like guzzling velvet down the hatch. Bottums up wot ho!
The second side spins out a squelchy, dying synth rhythm or the repetitions of some ailing machine's last gasp for air on near-dead brains/batteries with drawn out high-pitched emissions like sine wave strings of barbed wire...kinda also makes me think of John Olson's Waves project and you know how much those dudes dig a synth. Midway into the scrap field a Nepali pop song does fierce but hopeless battle with Dilloway's zeroes-and-ones-puking machines and is quickly swallowed up by said racket...towards the conclusion there's more flipped high-strung exorcisms that engage in argument with the recorded voices of unknown Indian talking heads/disc jockeys till the needle lifts off the record.
The label says this is a "totally wierd" (sic) recording and I'm inclined to agree, although it's certainly not Dilloway's greatest effort to date...that has to go, hands down, to the masterstroke called "Beggar Master". Or even "Bad Dreams" on the PACrec label. And so what if these last two BxNx releases haven't fully bowled me over? I'm just a finicky kind of guy. Maybe if this was a parallel universe and I had ordered the new-ish Thurston Moore and Dave Phillips releases (which I would have, if money were not an issue) instead I'd be praising them to the hills and the label's catalogue would remain pristine in my eyes. Nevertheless! You can't keep a good label down, and I'm always curious to know what's round the bend from these guys. So too should you be.


Keiji Haino & K.K. Null - Mamono (Blossoming Noise CD)

Blossoming Noise - a quality North American noise label who don't have new releases every week and don't specialize in CD-Rs?? You gotta be kidding me. But nope, it's truth, and though they're only 25 releases young (20 on Blossoming Noise, 5 on their Pygmy vinyl-only imprint) they've been making every one count. They've already got choice releases from heavy names like Aube, Merzbow, K.K. Null, John Wiese, Thurston Moore, Dead Machines, Daniel Menche, Francisco Lopez and To Live and Shave in L.A. among others, and on a constant perusal to add more. And they can sell out a 500 pressing like it's nobody's business (see: recent LP releases from Moore and Aaron Dilloway). Luckily - albeit not so much for my wallet - I'm on their email list so don't worry, I'm strictly tuned to all their latest happenings, which is why I decided I had to score both the Dilloway LP and this, because there's not too many Keiji Haino CDs around on the cheap and I believe this is his first time on record at least in the accompanyment of fellow Japan native K.K. Null. If you don't know either man's work by now I don't really know what to tell you but get cracking - Haino's been just as prolific with his world-destroying power trio Fushitsusha as he has on the solo circuit and Null's been the man behind groups like Zeni Geva and Absolut Null Punkt, not to mention a wealth of recordings under his own name. Both men are also multi-instrumentalists, with Haino having tried his hand at just about any instrument ever created by the hand of mankind (and some that were not) and Null being a general practicioner of guitar, drums and various electronics.
Seven untitled tracks gliding across 67 minutes here, and the only liner notes list the track times and who plays what on which track, which is pretty convenient. The opening is a ten-minute electronic duel between both men made human only by Haino's instantly recognizable yelps and moans, which are admittedly pretty funny at first but then take a turn for the dramatic when he explodes in a cry of anguish like he's about to be swallowed whole by Null's impending industrial noise matrix. It's pretty rad, and easy to imagine indeed the track playing out like Haino fighting through a swarm of electronics like some kind of video game character...Guitar Hero 2 this ain't though. Or...IS IT? Shit, I could handle "The Wisdom Prepared" on super-mega-ultra hard mode or whatever it is. Not like I've ever played the game mind you. What follows that are the four "singles" from the album if you will - tracks all ranging from four to five minutes in length. The first one features the same set-up before with Null's cascading electronics and Haino spitting out globules of puke/vox that sound alarmingly like Mike Patton whenever he's on the same stage as John Zorn. The scattershot drumming on track three is also signature stick-n-move Haino style, but Null shies away from harsh blasts and matches the percussion with equally oddly-timed cuts and zips like he's playing his sound sources at double speed. Tracks four and five are probably the most interesting as the two convene in an downright conventional format, with Haino adopting guitar and vocals and Null occupying the drum chair. Both songs get inevitably loud and panicked but Haino's alternating restrained/released playing call to mind Derek Bailey's hands stabbing at his own guitar strings. The last two tracks are heavyweights, clocking in at 22 and 16 minutes apiece, and they're probably about as "jammy" as you're going to get with these two. Haino does voice, electronics and drum machine while Null handles electronics and voice (and drums on the last track). The first one probably could've been shored down a bit from its lengthy running time, it paints a cavernous black forest painting of moonlit junkyard noise, the sound of a horror film boiler room or the razing of several towns' worth of industrial sectors. But is it always relevant? Not particularly. The last cut is much more worth your while as Null puts down a frantic, racing drum beat for almost the entire song and Haino's electronics joining up in epic scope to lend a totally cinematic flair to the proceedings until everything breaks down in a blizzard of percussion from Null's kit as well as Haino's machinery. The whole track could serve as a pretty apt backing piece to a Japanese flick I saw not-so-recently, I can't even remember the name of it...Casshern, that's it. Although despite "Mamono"'s occasional long-windedness, it still makes Casshern look like a commercial in terms of length. Hah! Just kidding, it wasn't that bad. The album nor the movie, I mean.
What's disappointing about "Mamono" is that it sounds all too much like what it's supposed to be; a collaboration between Keiji Haino and K.K. Null. More passages like the ones where the two are somewhat out of their elements (i.e. not noise i.e. the couple of tracks where they're sticking to playing guitar and drums) would be greatly appreciated and add a touch of originality to the mix. Not to slight the rest though, the first and last tunes are both mostly electronic-based and still work quite well. Safe to say it's not on the same level as another Haino collaboration this year, "Animamima" with the Sitaar Tah! group/orchestra/organism. Still a cool disc, just not essential.


Joanna Newsom - Ys (Drag City 2xLP)

Whoa whoa whoa wait wait wait...I'm on YOUR side, I swear. Don't get me wrong...I didn't buy the hype at first, and when I say at first I mean when "The Milk-Eyed Mender" came out in 2004. Back when it was cool to want to like things named Devendra Banhart and Will Oldham, I downloaded "Mender" to check out what all the neo-new-pseudo psych-folk scene was aboot. And I hated it with a force unlike anything ever before. The vocals? I wanted to stomp on my own throat they were so irritating. But for some reason I'm drawn to things I hate (why else would I review half the stuff I do on this site? Nyuk nyuk) and while I resigned myself to never going back to "Mender", I did stay tuned to the news coming around about Joanna Newsom's 2006 opus, "Ys". It had all the makings of things I loved and hated so it was sure to be a true test of bipolarity or what have you. Jim O'Rourke and Steve Albini handling the recording, producing and mixing? Van Dyke Parks doing string arrangements? Five songs totaling almost an hour of playing time? Amazing. How could it not be incredible? Even if I had initial misgivings (to say the least) about the artist producing the work, this was just going to be the most ridiculous, impossible, over-the-top vortex of an album, where bad was good and left was up and down was right. It HAD to be. Was it? Well, yes and no. No because, at the end of the day, it really was the baffling iconoclast I'd hoped it to be. Yes because, at the end of the day, it's just a really incredible album.
Considering I'm talking about it over a month after it came out (I had to wait for Drag City to re-stock the 2xLP version - you think I'm going to pay good money for this and not have it on vinyl?), I'm going to assume you read all the Pitchfork and Wire cover stories about the concept of the album and what the non-word "Ys" means and all that good stuff. Actually this late into the game I should just assume you've already heard the record. It's not like I can bring anything new to the table. I've listened to the whole album at least five times but it's still tough to distinguish tracks...I feel myself going on autopilot as soon as I push play and then just living free with the notes. It's hard to pay attention to things like track divisions when there's so much other activity to be enraptured by - Newsom's voice (which sounds far more angelic and pleasant on "Ys" than I remember on any previous recording), her harp playing like dew drops falling from your eyelashes to your cheeks, and the tremendously understated performance of Parks' full 32-piece orchestra that never onces dares to upstage the songstress herself. Throughout all five tracks Newsom is almost constantly reciting her fairytale lyrics, which do border sometimes on the fringes of over-wordiness, but almost always are delightful and captivating. She ranges from a near-speaking tone to full-blown wailing but never once arches into the territory of irritation (praise be!). "Emily" and "Only Skin" are the album's longest tracks at 12 and 17 minutes respectively, but never once feel drawn-out or overwrought. The contrary, in fact - Newsom's narrative is so inviting that you're willing to wait an infinite number of minutes as long as she reaches a conclusion. And when she does, does she ever. They're also hands down my favorite tracks on the album: the former has potentially the most back-breaking refrain (I'd say chorus but I think it's only repeated twice in the whole song) ever put to tape all year while the latter piles on contributions from (Smog)'s Bill Callahan on vocals, Van Dyke Parks himself on accordion and Don Heffington on percussion and still never manages to sound even the slightest bit overdone or intrusive - it's entirely possible to listen to all 17 minutes and hear only Newsom if you so choose. And it's also a gorgeous, lush, borderline brilliant piece of music. Tracks two and three are both near-10-minute songs: "Monkey & Bear" is a playful anecdotal hymn involving...a monkey and a bear that begs to be listened to while reading along with the lyrics printed in the liner notes and "Sawdust & Diamonds" is the calmest of the bunch as Newsom's harp emitting consistently frollicking drizzles that sound more like ragas from heaven than anything else. Album closing "Cosmia" is notable for Matt Cartsonis' banjo contributions and Newsom's strained, touching yelp of "and I miss your precious heart". After about the three minute mark (after the clack-clack-clacking that sounds like a typewriter pounding out letters or a conductor tapping his baton) the song - and thus the album - begin a remarkable denouement that really is more like an ascent if anything, and provides a remarkable finish entirely befitting the fifty-odd minutes that preceded it.
There's a strong scent of Americana about "Ys", at least Americana as it exists in the present day. At least a large portion of that is due to the presence of Van Dyke Parks' string arrangements which helped create one of the greatest Americana sounds of all time in Brian Wilson's "Smile", but also due to the fact that Joanna Newsom's work on the harp reminds me of another great American string manipulator in John Fahey, believe it or not. And, to keep going with the similarities, Fahey recorded at least a couple of albums dedicated solely to interpretations of Christmas caroling standards. Well Newsom may have done him one better by inventing songs that sound like Christmas carols hitherto unheard of and only now being discovered and released. Sure Newsom's lyrics and the album's concept have absolutely nothing to do with the day Christ was born, but they're drenched in the same kind of fantastic, wistful story-telling that makes em both pertinent and heart-warming no matter how many times you hear em. Did I get my noise cred revoked yet? Then my work here is done.


Ettrick - Infinite Horned Abomination (Self-released CD-R)

Deja vu? Nah son, I got the Ettrick long-player in the mail the other day after being so enthused about their 3" CD-R on American Grizzly. In case you somehow missed my gushing last week, all you need to know about Ettrick (all I needed to know, anyway) is: two guys, one plays alto saxophone and the other plays tenor saxophone, they both play drums, and they're a black metal band. A black metal jazz band! Yeah! It's the kind of absurd idea that just has to work and you'll be thrilled to know it does. Oh does it ever. At least, in my books.
"Infinite Horned Abomination" (did they get Matt Bower on tap for that triple-loaded title? Did I already make a reference like this before?) boasts five tracks totalling almost forty minutes, with an interesting approach. See, Jacob Felix Heule plays alto on tracks two and three, drums on four and five, and occupies the left channel. Jay Korber plays tenor on tracks three and five, drums on two and four, and occupies the right channel. And nobody plays anything on intro track "Before the Semantic" which is an accurate sinister/ambient recreation of a given black metal album intro from the classics down to the currents. Which is why if you were listening to this blind, the almost bagpipe-esque squawks that come from Heule's alto on the following "Village of Decomposition" could disorient you in rather severe fashion. But then the drums come pounding in and you remember just what it is you're hearing. Like most of the tracks here "Village" doesn't sound too black metal/grindcore at all, at least not as much as the track on "Sudden Arrhythmic Death" does. What it does sound like is maybe a meeting of Peter Brotzmann's throat and Zach Hill from Hella's limbs. Or, of course the most obvious current comparison, elder statesman Paul Flaherty and young juniper bug Chris Corsano. A flattering comparison to be sure, and the Heule/Korber tandem certainly scrape along the same kinds of notes. There's some downright breatheable zones plotted throughout the track, mostly towards the end as Ettrick proves they aren't all about the invisible oranges (just most of the time). "The Wind Starry Transverse" is an interesting track because it's got all brass and no drums. Jay and Jay absolutely maul their instruments from the inside out, with the kind of white-knuckled exploding-lung/eye/cheek fury brought upon by not only the likes of solo jaunts via Brotzmann, Braxton, Abe and Hawkins but also the raw reed-ruining lambasting of jazz-as-noise thespians Jim Sauter and Don Dietrich. Again - pretty hard to tie a sax duet to metal but I'll be damned if it isn't just as aggressive as anything else from the genre. Maybe at this point you can guess what's going to happen in the follow-up jam "Resound the Other". That's right, all drums and no saxes baby. I wonder what'd happen if I played "Transverse" and "Resound" over top of eachother? World implosion? I think so, so I won't risk it. Anyway to my surprise it doesn't turn out to be a competition over who can play the fastest (although their are some moments that make me think of that "Drum>MachineGun" Relapse compilation) but for the most part the two are improvising off eachother as if they've been doing it for years. Milford Graves/Sunny Morgan style...if they were raised on Les Legions Noires. Concluding track "An Interval Inside" brings it all back full circle for a brief 6-minute sautée of horn/drum destruction, again more coke-riddled Last Exit jazznoize than Burzumic terror but it makes me warm and fuzzy inside to know it was inspired by both.
"Infinite Horned Abomination" is more uneven than "Sudden Arrythmic Death", but that kinda goes without saying since "SAD" was just one track, recorded live. And, to be fair, in my brief email discussion with Jacob, he professed his preference of "SAD" to "IHA" and was quick to remind that "SAD" is the newer release after all. So all that said, this full-length CD-R/demo thingy is still a pretty interesting document and still gives an acute demonstration of the kind of potential and skill Ettrick possess. I hear some rumblings about a vinyl release (reissue?) in the band's future, to which I say...how can I help finance it?


Ash Pool - Genital Tomb (Tour de Garde CS)

Although it appears to be kept somewhat on the down-low, Ash Pool is actually the black metal project of Prurient's Dominick Fernow and...somebody else (I'm not trying to be an asshole - I really can't find any information on who the second person is in the project and all the info listed in the notes is "no one - created nowhere"). I guess since this tape was released on Quebecois black metal label Tour de Garde and not on Dominick's Hospital Productions label, maybe it means he wanted to go it the "true" route than merely rely on people buying the tape due to what names were attached to it. Commendable, that. They also have a 7" due for a January 2007 release on the great Paragon Records label, who you may be familiar with due to releases from Eyes of Ligeia, Biolich, Rigor Sardonicous, Impiety, Diamatregon, and others. How did I come into possession of the tape you ask? Well, because of Prurient's name being on it of course. That and I was tipped off by local Quebecois one-man hypothermic drone unit Wapstan. Dude's the hook up, what can I say.
As for the sonics...well somewhat surprisingly, "Genital Tomb" is deprived of almost all of Prurient's noise moves except for the bondage/domination theme and the vocals where are becoming more and more prevalent in Dominick's Prurient project. In fact the opening track "Lascivious Tyranny" pulls out a a galloping rhythm that's as unmistakably black metal as any early Bathory or Hellhammer, but sounds as equally informed by late 70's/early 80's NWOBHM/speed metal, much in fact like the aforementioned bands. It caught me off guard (truthfully I was expecting something way more neo/industrial/BM/noise-ishlike Deathspell Omega or Anaal Nathrakh) but I quickly came to enjoy it too. The vocals (I believe both members share throat duties) are much more intelligible than I'd have expected as well, something that's aided by the reproducing of the lyrics in the cassette's fold-out insert. The duo cross all over territories with their voices, ranging from growling to screaming to downright clean vocal incantation, all without missing a beat. "Diminishing Obsession" on the other hand is quite a bit more "straight" BM if you will (or, at least more of what I was expecting) recalling the speed and deftness of Emperor circa "Nightside Eclipse". A blazingly quick guitar sound and trampling percussion join together in an unholy matrimony of lo-fi rough production buzz hell. The riffage is totally adept, the songs are well-composed...I'm game.
On the other side, "First Rape" only begins to start clawing at strokes painted by USBM loners like Leviathan, but other than that the whole tape stays (impressively) away from the "suicide black metal" shtick that's become quite the trend of recent days. On the contrary, "First Rape" is a lot more diverse than what'd you hear from typical USBMers who tend to pick a chord and, well, rape it for a good nine minutes. Ash Pool pack more diversity into the first three minutes of side B then some of those guys do in a whole album's worth, no shit. Not to mention the harrowing howls and shrieks and growls that do more than plenty to set the group apart on their own terms. Track ends with a total mudstomping drum attack as it spirals into the outer reaches of darkness and I must say it got me all hot n' bothered like. "Dragged Down the Cobblestones" opens with the same furious metal attack and features both members screaming in almost Nordician fashion as the duo power their way through a sheer brute strength, fust-pumping aktion.
I'm not only game, I'm a full-on believer, shit is the truth. Certainly worth an investigation if this sounds even remotely like your thing, I guarantee you'll be both surprised and pleased with what you hear. I don't know how many were made, but I wouldn't snooze (I got mine in an order from Tour de Garde directly, I'm sure they have some left still). And if you do, keep on keepin' on for that "Black Bondage in the North" 7".


Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood - Mutact (American Grizzly CS)

Last month or whenever it was that I put in the order with American Grizzy to get the Ettrick 3", I also threw in this tape since I don't own anything from Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood and because I felt kinda bad making an order for just one tiny CD-R. Might as well make it count, right? Besides, it's not like it was expensive. Safe to say this completely surpassed my "throw in" expectations and I'm sure glad I decided to take the proverbial plunge. In case you're not of the knowing ones, Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood is, appropriately enough, a brother/sister tandem (although their may be guests I think) from Australia and have been reaping huge amounts of praise for discs like "Run From Your Honey Mind" and "Canubisanubis" on labels like MYMWLY, Celebreate Psi Phenomenon and Digitalis...not to mention releases in the pipe on labels Students of Decay and Root Strata. Safe to say they know how to keep busy.
The first side of this fab-looking cassette (are those reals floral matters glued to the cassette insert? And the gold reflecting insert on the tape, how nice!) consists of "Skull Aperture" (which I believe was already released on a tape of the same name last year) and "Our Glorious Transubstantiation", quite the mouthful that. First one's got some frantic-sounding haywire junk/cutlery clatter and hand-thumped percussion decorated via slick flute stylings that waft in strong reminisces of the Nath Family's pungis, or at least some other sort of Eastern halo. Think like a way more organic/raised by wolves No-Neck or an equivalent type band and you'll start to get the idea. Maybe also worth mentioning the group's pursual of Alan Watts' outdoor sailboat psychedelic free-ness too. The additional electronic zapz are a fancy touch too. "Our Glorious Transubstantiation" is considerably more sparse, like Thuja covering Graveyards or some left-field pre-song Godspeedian ramble. It slowly convalesces into a delightful sea-shanty dribble with toy pianos and flutes and playful crustaceans coming to life and breaking into song and dance.
Two more songs to be found on the B, "Snakes Grow Fin Fingers" (Beefheart ref.???) and "Mournful Tentacles". On "Snakes" there's some gentle strumming amist fervent palm-stamped purrcussion, lapping at your feet like rolling waves from the ocean while "Tentacles" plays out in a similarly laid-back/dream-sequence vein. Especially notable is the outrageously druggy, washed-out fuzz guitar solo that's really much more of an excercise in restraint than you'd expect, but it still rules. Couple that with some muttered (male) intonations/instructions and you've got the perfect ending to a great "great escape tape", if you will.
Although the Brothers' output doesn't yet reach into the territories of, say, Acid Mothers Temple or Wolf Eyes or what have you, they still do put out quite a bit of stuff...and it would've been easy of them to just phone-in some slipshod, haphazard performance and call it a day but that's really not the case at all hear as "Mutact" exquisitely exceeded all my expectations. American Grizzly delivered two home runs with the aforementioned (forevermentioned, more like) Ettrick disc and now this awesome tape. I'm going to have to re-browse their catalogue and seek out even more jewels. This'll keep me occupied in the mean time.


Bone Awl - ...So, I Must Take From the Earth (Hospital Productions 2x7")

"...And Make it My Own" is how the title concludes on the backside of the cardboard fold-over housing these two 7"s. This is apparently a reissue of a cassette released by Hospital Productions some time last year that must've flew under everybody's radar since the only mention I can find of it concerns its release on the choice double 7" format. And I thought I was pretty good at picking up on new Bone Awl stuff - still so much to learn for a young grasshopper. If you don't know Bone Awl by now then you haven't been doing your reading - heavily lauded by the pages of any zine/distro/rag that's ever heard em (yours truly especially), they're a two-man black metal/punk/noise outfit with the two dudes running the show operating under the names He Who Gnashes Teeth and He Who Crushes Teeth. Aww shit. Their take-no-prisoners No Fun '06 performance converted a great deal into believers but they've still kept it on the down-low, sticking to tapes and extremely limited vinyl runs as their format of choice. I'm not sure just how limited this one is, but my recommendation is to act fast. As usual.
Bone Awl's M.O. is laid out as soon as your needle hits the groove on side A, containing the two tracks "It Must Be" and "On Black Mountain". We're talking a veritable blast of horribly-recorded, down-tuned, basement/garage-birthed blackened sludge. You know that old black metal joke about bands recording on equipment as lo-fi as sonically plausible? No shit...these tracks sound like they were recorded on an answering machine. It's perfect! It makes the group's signature buzzsaw riffs all the more lethal and the vocals come through like transmissions stabbed into your synapses. Even the drums sound like a muffled, distant rumble. It's a black metal mulligan stew and it's delicious. The riffs are Bone Awl's signature low-slung mangled ineptitude/brilliance at play. The flip is a side-long (that means 3 or 4 minutes max) scourge dubbed "Black Kali Bride", rife with more endlessly repeating rffs and near-inaudible, anthemtic growls/barks. And it's catchy, above all else. No shit.
Side C (or side one on vinyl number two) is my favorite, though I'm not sure it's for the right reasons. It's one song ("Offering to Me") and it's a totally disorienting act because the repeato-riffs spin in and out of tune lazily, slower and faster seemingly at random, as if the vinyl itself is warped. Maybe it is? I tried checking it out but nope, I don't think so. There's this mind-blistering part where the guitar swirls out completely and Bone Awl lurch into a slow, punk rock reaching breakdown before they bring it all back for the epic, fist-chucking finale. I've had that recent Wire (name-checked three times for one issue? Say whaaat?) primer about Texan hip hop on the brain lately, and "Offering to Me" is an el primo purple drank/DXM qualifier. Intentional or not. Side D concluder brings "Veins", a play-as-fast-as-possible finger-bleeding blur/wraith featuring perhaps the most indistinguishable vocals yet, you have to turn the volume up to almost unbearable levels before you can even start picking at what's what. The ever-present spiked guitar tone and all-systems-go drumming rapidly blends together into sheer noisician furor...only five songs at about 2-3 minutes apiece and I'm still spent.
If you're a fan of anything bearing the Bone Awl logo like me, this is indispensible. But if you're only curious, I'd recommend starting with the "Bog Bodies/Magnetism of War" LP reissue on Goatowarex, if you can still find it. Sonically, "...So, I Must Take From the Earth" rings closer to their "Up to Something" cassette which is one of my absolute faves anyway. The packaging on this one is pretty great too in its own filthy way, including all over (inside + out) drawings of various stabbings/mutations, not to mention a Xeroxed 8.5"x11" insert with lyrics (!). Hey, it's more than we usually get...and now you can throw that Bone Awl karaoke party I've always dreamed of.


Various Artists - Portland (RRRecords 3xLP)

Second of two noise "geographical surveys" this year, and fourth total following New England, Texas and California. All of which RRRecords had at least a hand in, if I'm not mistaken. And people talk about Sufjan Stevens doing an album per state as if it was some sort of accomplishment. Hah! I only own the "California" and "Portland" boxes but it's safe to say "Portland" sure doesn't compare in terms of packaging, but then what did you expect from RRR? This is as grungy as it gets - three records in paper sleeves sammiched between a folded piece of cardboard spraypainted and hand-markered accordingly, probably by a famous noise person (maybe even RRRon himself! Although he might be delegating too). Same format though - six artists occupying six sides of vinyl, the chosen few being Daniel Menche, Bdong, Okha, Nkondi, Smegma and Pulse Emitter. I'm in no place to whine about who got the shaft and who shouldn't be there so I'll leave that up to the dudes on the I Heart Noise forums. Oh you crazy...dudes. In what can only be described as a bizarre, once-in-a-lifetime coincidence, the order I listed the names in above is the same order that the artists got played in which is the same order I'll be discussing them in tonight! No I don't know if that makes sense...shiiiit.
Portland's Daniel Menche plays a piece called "Emanuel Hospital" which is very much in the same (ruling) vein as his most recent blasterworks "Concussions" and "Jugularis". Starts out like you, a bag of marbles and a dryer in motion, a whole endless season of audible and physical clanks but it somehow gets even faster, transmogrifying into a spun blur before your eyes/ears. And also like other Menches I menche-ioned (hahaha!), you either start noticing or start imagining distinct, complex patterns and rhythm pulling apart and shifting throughout the chaos...similar to a plane rotating on its axis, simultaneously scaling both X and Y. You'll know when you hear it. It's mind-deying. It's another episode of As the World Churns. Menche's equipped with the best ending possible to a piece like this too, a "this is your stop" style bonging sound. A ripper of the highest order.
I'm not entirely familiar with Portland's Bdong but I understand he doesn't play live anymore and may release things only sporadically (a noise artist with a sense of self-control? It's a first!). His side is pretty cool though: a slow-melting, cave-dwelling drip of ambiente noire electronics, doubling up with unearthly growls and dark cosmos extrapolation. It's sounds remarkably removed from a lot of current noise artists I'm hearing but I'll have to remind you I'm not expert. Maybe John Wiese minus a good deal of the low-end and more haunted sonicscapes? Whatever the case, sounds to me like Bdong has got his own thing going...not all that harsh but certianly not a picnic in Point Pleasant neither. Surreptitiously plays out like the background noise to an Art Bell radio show call-in, extra-dimensional beings indeed. A side I'll have to spend more time with to truly appreciate, I think.
Portland's Okha (who isn't even identified on the record's sticker label, I had to look it up myself to see who it was) opens with a pseudo-edgy pro-Nazi soundclip which is unfortunately the most intriguing sound to be heard on the whole side. The rest is a good 17ish minutes of droning, high-pitched frequencies that waver on-and-off enough to remind of that "Whistling Kettle Quartet" album Reynols had back in the day, or something by Montreal duo [the user]. Punctuating this endless whirr is the odd Conet Project-y shortwave radio transmission (literally, not metaphorically as above) featuring male voices speaking in unrecognizable tongues. Either that or I didn't put my ear close enough to the speaker. Which may be the problem altogether since I get the feeling Okha's piece would work a lot better through headphones but it's late and I'm not about to bust it right now. I'll have to admire the restraint here but otherwise, not much else holds my interest.
Portland's Nkondi are also unfamiliar territory for me, and this side probably comes across as the most "generically noisiest" side on the whole thing, not that I mean that as a bad thing. It works in a kind of Masonna-esque jumpy fervor, heavily abused electronics and intense feedbacking filtering to your system like a contact mic dropped into a swarm of whining larvae. The high-pitched tones make it a pretty good companion side to Okha's, only this one's considerably more active, not to mention harsh. Tough to come up with any real sources of comparison, the whole thing sounds like Nkondi "playing" a plugged-in cat and processing its yowls. Take that to mean what you will. Pretty decent by my standards at least.
Portland's Smegma never fail to deliver and serve up a typically baffling/indescribable take on "Dust Bowling Ballads" according to the vinyl itself (it's actually one long piece but you knew that already). It's also a take on "music" that even today sounds like nothing else you've ever heard, totally unaffected and at the same time hugely influenced by everything found wallowing in homeless area ghetto underbellies. It's hard to even pinpoint what's happening on a Smegma record, or even want to, but I can tell you the curious sounds here are at least pushed along by the unusual suspects - Oblivia's turntables and wrecked records, Dr Id's disorienting electronics, Burned Mind's sparse percussion skinflinting, Conroy's flummoxing vibraband and some intense reedwork by, via process of elimination, I'm assuming Ju Suk Reet Meate. But shit, it all collides like nothing you've ever come across before, like unicorns fucking fairies or something like that. Add to all that initially-creepy than oddly-informative samples about the nature and history of dustbowls and an incredible coda featuring a decidedly-rock drum beat and a noodly country/punk guitar squabble...you've got the making of an indeed baffling but no less brilliant side. Just when you thought you knew them in 2006, too.
Portland's Pulse Emitter has the unenviable (though randomly determined) task of closing out the set and does so pretty admirably I think...the motif for the side is set upon reading "live to 2 tracks, just analog modulator" on the label. Begins with a slow, gonging intonation and proceeds to eventually heap a whole buncha synth napalm garble onto that till the monotone stomp abandons you and you're left to fend off the remainder of the blazing electronic bombs. Sometimes they get so high-pitched you think they disappear but you can still hear their mere presence on the wax and sure enough the sounds come streaking back in risking deafness and/or worse. Before the groove is out though the low pulsing rumbles return, and then the synth scribbles, and you're back all over to square one. And then it's over.
Clearly the vets delivered on "Portland" and I was slightly disappointed that the sides from the artists I wasn't all too familiar with didn't blow me away, but I guess that's a personal thing like my choice of Tampax size or what have you. Pulse Emitter and Bdong were both good, Nkondi's wasn't bad and I wasn't too huge on Okha but at the end of the day the only ones that blew me away were the ones I was expecting to. Oh well, what're you gonna do? Still a solid set and still a pretty decent steal at only $30 or whatever it is...but it's limited to 300 so don't bide your time too too much now.


Pandit Pran Nath - Raga Cycle: Palace Theatre, Paris 1972 (Sri Moonshine CD)

New Pandit Pran Nath disc? Awesome times. Well not really "new", as the album title would indicate. And since, you know, Nath has been for some time now. But there's probably a wealth of recorded Pran Nath material that's languishing in somebody (read: La Monte Young)'s archives so anytime something that's previously unheard becomes available, you have to jump on it. he favor comes to us courtesy Terry Riley and his Sri Moonshine label, who was also responsible for one of the few (only?) other Nath release available at the moment, "Midnight: Raga Malkauns". That's a double-disc costing $36 U.S. which is a little too rich for my blood at the moment but this single slice at $17 seems reasonable enough. Like I said, you take what you can get. And Sri Moonshine did a very tasteful job with the packaging, a glossy gatefold with liner notes from Riley and translations of Nath's incantations are a welcome bonus. This disc is culled from the first of three sets Pran Nath played in Paris over the course of a weekend in 1972, these being the night ragas I believe. It's also to my understanding that Riley will be issuing the other two sets on CD at a later date, so I'll have to keep a watchful eye on that. Nath was accompanied on all three dates by his American disciples Riley, Young and Young's wife Marian Zazeela. Riley plays tabla percussion while Young and Zazeela occupy the space with tambouras.
It's tough to compare the two pieces - "Raga Shudh Sarang" and "Raga Kut Todi" - to this disc against anything else since I've only heard a couple of MP3s from Nath and even then I haven't studied them extensively enough to a point of being able to tell you the subtle differences. Heck I haven't listened/studied to nearly enough raga period to be able to tell the difference. But on his website (and in the liner notes) Riley states, "One of the undeniable beauties of Indian Classical Music is its strong connection to nature and especially the binding relationship of Raga melodies to their appropriate time of day. An elegant curve of melody, a subtle lowering of pitch, or an assertiveness attached to a particular note help to define the effect of a Raga" so you'll just have to take his word for it. He'd know far better than I would, to say the least. All I can do is tell you that I know what I like and "Raga Cycle" wins all over the place. On the "Shudh Sarang" raga, Nath's unmistakeable voice wafts in at an almost guttural approach at first before slowly opening up to reveal the multitude of galaxies embedded in his throat. At the end of the day there are only a handful of truly "pure" sounds in music and Pran Nath's eternally unfaltering voice has to be one of them. It's rather remarkable to listen to both these ragas and get the feeling that Nath has more control over his vocal chords than many others do over, say, their guitars - nothing more than what is essentially a piece of machinery. "Shudh Sarang" stretches out over 33 minutes, with Young and Zazeela's tambouras adding a sense of ever-flowing continuity and Riley's understated percussion keeping you from floating thirty miles up into the mesosphere. Most noteworthy are the moments around the 20 and 30 minute marks when Nath strays from his awe-inspiring drawn-out drones and engaging in an almost rapidfire delivery, something I don't remember ever hearing from him before in my limited listenings, although maybe I just wasn't paying attention (or I was lulled into a deep sleep). At 12 minutes, "Raga Kut Todi" has a greater sense of urgency as Nath's voice cuts through the air and you begin to sense the first indications that Nath is indeed human, snorting and clearing his throat a couple times before delivering the next flawless pitch. Riley delivers his percussion with smooth, organic feel while the tambouras remain forever unrushed, allowing to the grand master all the space he needs to unfurl silky strands of throat technique. I can't help thinking that at 45 minutes the album is still too short, but then I guess it's on me to man up and buy the 2CD.
If you're at all interested in the 60s/70s post-and-pre Velvets drone nexus and all related parts, then "Raga Cycle" is an absolutely invaluable document, especially when such documents are so hard to find (or when they aren't hard to find, they'll usually bankrupt you). Kudos go to Terry Riley for finally bringing some of this music to the people, and with any luck it'll be the first of many more to come.


Burnt Hills - To Your Head (Flipped Out Records CD) / Lunch with Beardo - Surrealistic Picnic (FDH Records CD)

Here in exhibit A I've coupled up two jewel-cased releases I've received recently, both from the strange American underbelly and both with some eye-catching covers. And both bands I've never heard of until the moment I received the discs. Burnt Hills have received some heavy press from the Wire, Siltblog and Foxy Digitalis among others while Lunch with Beardo have opened mysterious groups with names like Wolf Eyes, Borbetomagus, Mouthus, Prurient, and so on. So I guess it's really my own fault for remaining in the dark but hey, sometimes I too need to be guided in the right direction. Or wrong direction. Or what have you. But at least I got the discs, and that's a start.
I don't know if they're all full-time members but there's nine whole players listed on the back of Burnt Hills' "To Your Head" album with zany monikers like Buzz Mountain, Professor, Tapes, Ziamaluch, etc and they all play zanily-monikered instruments such as the "blutar", "gertar", "gnutar", "bootar", "glutar" and "steal yr bass". I'm going to let you in on a hot tip and tell you that I think the first for are clever plays on the word "guitar". Another strange thing about this disc is that it lists four tracks on the back, and you can pick different tracks from the album to listen to on their MySpace page, but when I play the album alls I get is one long 38-minute opus. I guess maybe it's split up on the vinyl version but I wouldn't know since that was limited to 99 copies and they're gone by now. At this point in the revue I probably don't even need to tell you what the sound is; you should be able to glean that much from the info provided. But I guess since it's "my job" I can tell you that it's everything you'd expect from nine bored Americans in somebody's garage space with a dangerous amount of noise-makers on hand. In addition to the five guitars (I mean blutars! I mean shoetars! I mean AnzeKopitars!) and bass there's at least one drummer, somebody totally masturbating a tambourine and a heck of a lot of other kitsch I'm not about to try nailing down. Every once and again over the near forty minutes they'll hit on a catchy rhythm (usually led by the bass but sometimes the drummer snags one too) and sorta improvise on it for awhile before it all subtly implodes and they move onto searching for the next riff through song, however intentional or otherwise. Soundwise the band come off as a sloppier, way less eclectic Bardo Pond, or Circle minus the flashes of metal. And it does have somewhat of a Finnish inept/outsider slant to it but what's charming and tolerable when you're from Finland just comes off as tacky when you're American. Hey, I didn't write the rules. If instrumental free-form bros-hangin'-out basement rock-out jamming is your thing, then all aboard.
Yesterday in class we talked about bands it was too easy for me to lust over (Ettrick, in case you've forgotten) and today we'll talk about a band who makes me hate them on reflex alone. Lunch with Beardo? That's seriously your band's name? Can't it be, like, any three other words in the entire English language put together in succession? You guys should get Matthew Bower or Campbell Kneale on the phone, they're the masters of that stuff. Wait lemme pull up some spam email and see if I can get a band name out of their garbled transmissions...here: "timid five gout loose loud fills / fight below when sight use finer / touch stout those witty gout rises used / don't waint / Bye". Actually those sound more like Melvins lyrics than anything else so I'll let it be. LWB is a group of five guys on various implements such as guitars, bass, drums, tape loops, pedals, trumpets, turntables, theremin, walkie talkie, See N' Say (I thought it was Speak N' Spell?), found instruments...you get the picture. Not entirely unlike the glut of sounds to be found on the previous disc, although LWB isn't nearly so close to overkill - on the contrary, the three tracks here are given plenty of space to stretch out (space indeed, these troopers appear to be on some kind of cosmic voyage and after all they do profess to be from the Planet Lunch...hey wasn't there a jazz guy who claimed to be from another planet or something?). Opening "communication" is called "Innocence to Wisdom" and lets fly with a good thirteen minutes of fuzzy noodly ambience, threating to break out into a krauty orgasm spasm but instead wisps away off into "They Ate Wonders of the World" which is even more chilly with a lot of furrowed-brow catacomb-erecting knob twists and strums, trumpet all sneaking in like nmperign sneaking onto the U.S.S. Enterprise with the help of Alan Silva's Celestrial Communications Orchestra. I dig it. The closing "Space is the Plate" (hey! That sounds familiar too!) pulls gentle chords like Mogwai or Growing might and I started to get a little disappointed thinking the massive payoff would never come but sure it enough it does. About halfway through the track erupts into a noisy but super-slow freak out sesh like a side of an Acid Mothers Temple/Merzbow collaborative played at the slowest possible speed. Shit is equal parts Guru Guru and DJ Screw...swallow it down with that yurple y-yurple y-yurple, know what I mean Gene (Okerland)? Oh gosh...despite my skepticism LWB won me over in the long run, but I'm still going to have to say on the record that I find the band name, album name, and gimmick all very hard to take. But it doesn't really matter what I think, right? Sometimes it's nice to cast off the Cage essayisms and get down to some big dumb American rock. What's the frequency, Kenneth?


Ettrick - Sudden Arrhythmic Death (American Grizzly 3" CD-R)

You need to understand something - there's just some bands I'm destined to love without ever having heard a single note of their music. Am I a sucker? Yes, maybe. But that's how it is. When I heard Ettrick described as a black metal/free jazz duo, that was it. I was sold. I liked them even before this disc arrived at my house. And now I understand they actually have a full-length CD-R available too, which I also ordered without having a heard a single note of. The cross-pollination of metal and jazz is such a brilliant idea that it's a wonder so few people have tried it to date. The obvious name is John Zorn's Naked City (and, to a lesser degree, PainKiller) but that's more rooted in jazz than anything else...and there have been some prog metal bands trying it like Cynic or Atheist or Ephel Duath or Dysrhythmia but then that's more like metal bands with jazz-ish leanings...and even then it's almost always associated with prog metal and we all know the kind of negative connotations that can conjure up. Silentist is probably the only group I can think of who comes close to a jazz/metal fusion but they're too far out to be pinned down as one or the other or both. What the world needs is a band raised equally on obscurist black metal and classic ESP-era recordings...what the world needs is a band to combine these two loves into an unholy cacophonious union...what the world needs is a band who have Rashied Ali and Abruptum listed side-by-side in the "influences" part of their MySpace page...what the world needs...is Ettrick! (insert sound of gong being smashed)
Now, don't get me wrong, "Sudden Arrhythmic Death" is a monster. A 15-minute-long monster at that. But it's not exactly the perfect jazz/metal band as I've envisioned it, although they come pretty damn close. Basically the deal is that the Ettrick duo - San Francisco's Jacob Felix Heule and Jay Korber - both double up on drums while one mans the alto saxophone (Jacob) and the other mans the tenor saxophone (Jay). Sometimes, as on the opening few minutes of first and only track "Feeders of Ravens", they play together like bulls locking horns. Sometimes one mans the sax while the other takes the kit. Sometimes they switch. And then of course other times still they lock into the fourth combination, which is both guys playing drums. So right there you've got quite a lot of sound potential floating around but it's safe to say it doesn't convey too strong a feeling of black metal per se. More like grindcore, since the drumming here is seriously frantic. And the sax is heavy too...the opening sax duet is unbelievably harsh and sure to take a few years off your life if you listen to it turned up too loud. But then the drums kick in at such a furiously blazing pace you'd have to think they were machine-made if it wasn't for the fact that this cut was recorded live (on April 29th of this year in fact). But holy shit when the duo truly get going, they can outpace any current jazz duo like of couple of impalas sprinting towards the horizon. Of course they don't have any of the intricacies of those other groups since it's basically playing almost full blast as often as possible, but you don't need fucking intricacies when your album is called "Sudden Arrhythmic Death". Both J.'s are hell bandits on the kits, frequently choosing to play the sides/rims instead of the actual skins and when they both get on at the same time it makes for a vertigo-inducing psyche-pummelling soup, no shit. At their most aggressive I'd put Ettrick on equal terms with grindcore overlords like Fear of God, World, Arsedestroyer and so on. I guess they've got definite ties to Abruptum though in that both bands utilize improvisation (Ettrick moreso out of necessity since there's no way you could chart and plot the kind of polyrhythms being thrown down here). Gather Bennink, Corsano, Pearson, Graves, Mounier, Blair, Portnoy, Chippendale, even the dude from the Berzerker on their own kits in a one and a half flat, stick a coupla brass throats in the middle and have them play along to Napalm Death and Pig Destroyer records and that's the kind of intensity Ettrick are bringing to the table, with just two men on the job!
I knew a blind buy like this couldn't do me wrong, and boy was I ever right..."Sudden Arrhythmic Death" is straight up one of the best new anythings I've heard from anyone in the last anytime. Full marks and a highest recommendation, especially if you're an adventurous metal fan or the kind of jazz head who wondered if there was life beyond Last Exit that didn't involve shitty no-wave acts. Here's hoping the LP lives up to my already-lofty expectations, but how could it not? All they have to do is show up and it's guaranteed gold.


Changeling - Deep Reflections / Anakrid - Live July 4th (Black Horizons CSs)

Black Horizons is just four releases young, and these are the two latest. It's super refreshing to see a new label not relying on the tried-and-true CD-R format, which can produce great results but inevitably grows tedious for the buyer...how many slimline jewel cases and spraypainted discs can a household carry? My point exactly. BH's first two releases were 7"s (from A Sleeping Irony and Oscillating Innards) and these two are on the choice format of cassette, replete with excellent packaging. And I quote the Black Horizons website: "3-panel J-card on gray cardstock with smoky green interior marbling. Edition of 66 hand stamp #'ed copies on hi-bias chrome tapes." (for the Changeling one) and "Packaged in marbled cream art paper, with a color transparency, riveted together in three places, each looks unique, and color labels. Edition of 80 hand stamp #'ed copies on hi-bias chrome tapes" (for the Anakrid one). As if that wasn't all nice and good they've got some sweet treats in their distro too...hard to find documents of weirdo new noise from the likes of Bastard Noise, 16 Bitch Pile-Up, Death Chants, Thames, My Cat is an Alien, Skullflower, Roxanne Jean Polise and others. I'm gonna get myself a spoonful myself before you guys have at it!
Information is desperately scant re: Changeling, Google searches turn up nothing and the Changeling website (found through the Black Horizons website) is decidedly minimal to say the least. I have to figure that it's a one man project but don't hold me to that, it could be two. Or three. Or...you get the picture. But I think it's one. Or two. Or three. Or...again, you get the picture. But regardless of who/what he/she/they is/are, "Deep Reflections" is a real stunner of a tape despite its semi-comical title which conjures up memories of Saturday Night Live and Jack Handey delivering his "Deep Thoughts". Anyway you know with a title like "Deep Reflections" it can only be about the everlasting drone and Changeling nails it ten different ways from Sunday. Both sides contain a floaty ritualistic/secret-society drone vibe like playing the innards of a vacant cathedral and channeling the spirits of all those who have prayed and have been prayed for. No shit! I myself was cowering in the confessional booth. But really now. This is a ludicrously great slab of post-Theatre of Eternal Music (minus the percussion) contemplation as well as an exquisite investigation into the realms where recent drone heavyweights dwell such as the Double Leopards, Kolumkilli, Drunjus, My Cat is an Alien, even Spacemen 3. Certainly more on the celestial end of the spectrum than most drone music lands, and delivers the kind of levitation rites previously only attained in dreams. My best guess is solo spectral vox and guitar (with loads of syrupy effects) but I'm no pro, I just play one on the internet.
Anakrid (that's Dirkana spelled backwards for the record) are considerably more visible than Changeling and are from the unlikely stomping ground of South Carolina, according to their MySpace. They've got a couple LPs out already on Stereonucleosis (theirs, I believe) by the names "Father" and "Rapture of the Deep", both on 180 gram wax so you know these dudes are serious. And, by the way, "these dudes" are named Chris Bickel, Rob Cherry and C. Neil Scott who is preparing to duke it out in court with C. Spencer Yeh over the use of the coveted "C." prefix in a noise artist's name). I haven't heard any of their other albums and their names don't ring any bells to me so I was going into "Live July 4th" colder than a witch's tit but sometimes there's just no other way. After listening to it I'm still not entirely sure what to make of it, but it is nice. And very well put together; despite this being an electronic/noise release (although it isn't at all harsh), it sounds coherant and composed like all the best stuff does. The tape opens with some weird electronic/organic brain-trawling, lots of dry ice heavings, junkyard rattle and synthy/UFOish rhythm n' bloops, although like I said it never sounds too disorganized or haphazard. If I had to get all blendery on you I'd say it's equal parts Coil, Sunburned Hand of the Man and Sun Ra minus All That Jazz, which is a pretty tantalizing mix indeed. All instrumental though, no Balance/Maloney/Blount hooting and/or hollering to be found here, although maybe the human vocal chords do show up some place and I just can't tell. The electronics are a little too "chintzy" for me at times but it's all good. The flip picks up exactly where the other side left off although the electro clanking is more like a beat than anything else...or at least kind of like the unintentional beat or rhythm you hear in clockwork, heavy machinery in motion, moving trains, and the like. Vibrant, cold and kinetic, dosed with equal parts feedback and squirrely dissonance. The rest of the tracks moves away from the quasi-quirk and into more sinister turfs but it's no less groovy. Book it!
Black Horizons reminds me of another one of my favorite new labels Twonicorn: relatively new, lovely packaging, and lovely sounds to match said lovely packaging. The tapes are $6 a piece and you can nary afford to miss out. Plus the message on the label's website reads "Please buy some records, I could use the money". If that doesn't melt your heart, you're some kind of stone-golem beast. Start giving, Scrooge. After all, tis the season!