Milanese - Extend (Planet Mu 2xLP)

I'll probably be forever catching up on 2006 albums I missed until, like, September so sit tight till then if you're looking for new jams (besides, has anybody important released anything yet? Deerhoof and the Shins don't count). I downloaded Milanese's "Extend" when it came out in November I think and then only got around to hearing it around the beginning of January, then I had to actually buy it which involved online ordering and shipping, and then I only had actually owned the physical product as of today. So there's the backstory. But I've been making up for lost time because, if I can allow myself to sound like the biggest 21st century cliché/tool on the planet, it has been a total iPod mainstay since the first second I heard it. And the best part about it is that I couldn't even remember where I'd been recommended the album or why I downloaded it, so it was like this gift from the heavens delivered unto me! I love serendipity! Of course I later re-traced it to the Aquarius Records records of the week list, which is pretty much where most things I download and don't later recognize come from. I'm not at all attuned to the electronica/IDM/dubstep/whatever it's called these days scene, in fact most of my encounters with the genre come from skimming past the Electronic section in the Wire's Soundcheck on my way to read more Wolf Eyes reviews (ha ha!). Or sometimes I pick up the XLR8R magazine when there's nothing else to read in Chapters before putting it down in favor of Body Building Weekly (ha ha ha!). But, like I always tell myself before my head hits the pillow at night, I know what I like. And I like "Extend".
My first reaction upon listening to the whole thing was "wow it's like everything I was promised when I heard about the Burial album", but then I decided that wasn't really fair since I only heard like three of the Burial tracks and plus I wasn't doing homework or housecleaning at the time which everybody says is the ideal thing to be doing when you're listening to Burial because It's A Background Album, You Know. So instead I thought about Milanese in conjecture to Burial and dubstep and all that and I changed my line of thinking to "wow it's like everything I was promised when I heard about grime/dubstep/trip hop/music being made by human beings". Well, for at least the first half of the album anyway. The first LP contains some of the best music I heard out of anything else from 2006. "Mr. Bad News" is a head-spinning stomper with some of the fattest, sludgiest beats this side of Electric Wizard colliding with cut siren loops and some marble-mouthed English individual speaking in tongues I can't quite understand. But it's the beats that take center-stage, exploding and splattering against eachother as they force their way through the speaker, all rough and mangled and sinewy. The approach is remarkably simple (and sure to remain in your head for the rest of the week), but the result is strikingly effective. "Dead Man Walking" features U.K. grime upstarts Virus Syndicate who spit garbled ham-radio transmissions across Milanese's Orson Welles/apocalypse landscape, and would easily be the best song on any album housing it except for the fact that the next song, "Caramel Cognac", an absolute stunner and surefire candidate for song of the year if only more people heard it. Milanese does a tremendous job stacking a series of crunchy, wobbly, DnB un-rhythms but renders the song that much more unforgettable with the addition of equally-disorienting female vocals, seemingly chopped up syllables and not exactly words per se (I've heard the song like fifty times and I still can't pick out anything exact). The triumphant horns at track's conclusion don't come across nearly as kitsch as they should, especially with a song that really is this grandiose, for all its subtleness. You want to talk pocket symphonies? Get back under the covers, Brian Wilson. I'm not even sure who's rapping on "Peggy Flynn III" but Milanese juxtaposes/tarnishes it with a disjointed, electro meltdown to produce one of the finest grime tracks I've come to know. "Mr. Ion" is back to the simple, face-slapping beats brought on previously by the album's opener, conjuring up an atmosphere like walking through a train yard at four in the morning listening to µ-Ziq on a Walkman whose batteries are all but dead. "Barry" is none more reassuring, built around a sample citing "I did not murder him" and sounding like a Mr. Hyde version of Aphex Twin's "We are the Music Makers" only eschewing the smarmy irony of the former and going for all out suffocating bleakness - suffocating bleakness that could still move a dancefloor! Unfortunately it's around here that "Extend" stops being "classic album" quality and really more not much more than a collection of a few incredible songs - the groove on "Sight Beyond Sight" is all too simple and not for the better. Especially at six minutes, it sounds more like filler than a genuinely good idea. And for whatever reason the last three tracks all sound like they could've been album closers - the longest is two and a half minutes and none contains more than a brief smattering of sound. Although the near-Merzbowian static rush of "Boss Eye" is impressive, "One Eye" is just a few dark synthy tones and "Tony Sombrero" features a gentle piano, ominous violin, and Milanese's trademark symbiote samples like dark swamp much creeping up your leg. - something that would've worked fine as an outro track if the two preceding it had been spread out elsewhere on the album, but barely registers as it is.
It's a slightly disappointing finish to an otherwise astonishingly great album, made that much more impressive by the fact that it's Milanese's first full-length. With any luck he'll have learned from his mistakes the next time around and puts out a non-stop slammer from start to finish, but for now we'll have to "settle" for the unbalancedness of "Extend" - pretty good for an album we'll probably be hearing about for a long time to come. And one I'd recommend in an instant - just so we have my position down on record.


Idris Ackamoor - Music of Idris Ackamoor 1971-2004 (EM Records 2xCD)

EM Records basically came outta nowhere in the past couple of years to unleash a torrent of previously unavailable recordings from all over the map, quickly establishing themselves as one of the premiere reissue labels in the game for all things left field. All that despite being based in Japan and charging primo bucks for a simple CD reissue ($21-$28 U.S. for a single disc effort!). But at least they make sure you get a heckuva lot of bang for your dollar - not only is the music often excellent but the accompanying liner notes are usually chock full of info (sometimes penned by the artists themselves and sometimes, frustratingly, entirely in Japanese) and rare photos, all wrapped up in a beautyfull-looking jool case. To date they've been responsible for unearthing recordings by the likes of Roland P. Young ("Isophonic Boogie Woogie" - Afro spiritual minimal electronic space music), David Weiss ("Virtuoso Saw" - musical saw recordings), David Rosenboom ("Brainwave Music"), Sam Moore ("Mooohieee!: Musical Saw and Hawaiian Guitar Soli Recorded in Early 1920s"), Moolah ("Woe Ye Demon Possessed" - '74 weirdo out-psych classic) and, in 2005, a record by the Pyramids called "Birth/Speed/Merging". Intrigued by this supposed blend of exotic 70's African/Egypt free jazz, I quickly set about trying to download the album because I'm a 21st century record buyer and I'll be damned if I'm going to spend my hard-earned $21 on an album if I haven't heard it first. Can you imagine (please, note the sarcasm)? So eventually I did obtain it and it was everything I hoped it to be but I waited on ordering it and time passed by and my unintentional patience was rewarded with the news that EM Records were putting together two-disc set devoted to Idris Ackamoor, the brains behind the Pyramids as well as other groups of past and present! I couldn't say no, and within the week I had it ordered and sent off to my house post-haste. I still haven't bought the actual "Birth/Speed/Merging" album for various reasons (more on that later) but it seems to have gone out of print over at EM, probably due in large part to the emergence of this compilation...which doesn't reproduce the entire LP, but enough of it to help you get the gist.
First disc opens with a previously-unreleased 1971 track from Ackamoor's pre-Pyramids group the Collective, featuring Ackamoor on soprano sax, as well as various players on flute, piano, drums and french horn. "The Sheperd's Tune" is an excellent 17-minute excercise in restrained joy with a jubilant piano melody rolled along endlessly, often doubled up by Margaux Simmons (Ackamoor's wife)'s flute. Closest connections would be to Sun Ra's Arkestra obviously but also Don Cherry's ensemble work and also Miles' "Sketches of Spain" and "Bitches Brew", Alan Silva, Pharaoh Sanders and even Albert Ayler. Total trip and an unheralded classic of freEastern gobstopperism, but things get even more out-there with the Pyramids' material that occupies the remainder of the disc. There are two live jam sessions here, both around 11 minutes in length, that showcase the true talent breadth of the musicians down to the wildly energetic solos that, Ackamoor says, would characterize virtually all of the Pyramids' recorded output. The first of those two is "Land of Eternal Song Suite, Part 3", spearheaded by Kimathi Asante's propulsive basslines and Donald Robinson's drumming, speckled entirely throughout by Ackamoor's sax which can get downright furious indeed. The track falls off into a pretty wild percussion/whistle/shouting freak-out the sounds of which the Belgian label Crammed Discs are currently pushing via Konono No. 1, Kasai All-Stars, et al. The recording quality of 1973's "The River Ganges" is a bit poorer but it adds to the subtle otherworld jungle feel of the track, a bit more patient and a bit more Egyptian sounding than "Land" but no less great. "River" is probably the best early demonstration of Ackamoor's horn dominance, particularly during mid-section where he unloads a Brotzmann-caliber assault before jumping just as quickly back to the soothing earth rhythms the rest of the track highlights. The three songs showcased here from 1973's "Lalibela" all possess a strong African slant, particularly the conga/flute lull of the title track. The best of the lot has to be "Ya A Ya A", in which those very syllables are chanted over an ass-shaking Funkadelic-like romp. The final two "Mohgo Naba" and "Queen of the Spirits, Part 3" are both taken from the 1974 album "King of Kings" and are cut from the same cloth, althoug the latter track is most notable for Ackamoor switching to the one-stringed goge in lieu of the saxophone and some heavy ritualistic chanting courtesy Bradie Speller aka Hekaptah. Hypnotic and invigorating.
Nothing, however, compares to the first three tracks of disc two, the first couple of which come from the 1976 opus "Birth/Speed/Merging". The first is the colossal Eastern haze thump of "Aomawa (Birth/Speed Merging Suite Part 1)", the title word which Ackamoor invented, formed a rhythm around, chanted on the album, and then promptly named his daughter after. No matter how it came about, "Aomawa" is practically worth the price of admission alone. The mystical "Birth/Speed/Merging (Birth/Speed/Merging Suite Part 2)" follows, with Ackamoor's shakuhachi and ku chen and Simmons' flute coming together as the centrifugal force holding the entire piece in place. "Black Man of the Nile" is a slightly extended live take from '72 of a track that would eventually find place on the "Birth/Speed/Merging" album itself, under the name "Black Man and Woman of the Nile". The two tracks are quite different though, with the version here taking lots of time and space to stretch and lead into a firestorm of brass hail from Ackamoor, although it also shows off his "bamboophone" skills, an instrument Ackamoor created as a cross between, well, a long stick of bamboo and the mouthpiece of a saxophone. I have to say I prefer the later version to this one, as it just sounds much more tighter and better composed in comparison. Another song from the Pyramids era is included, although it is simply Idris Ackamoor on alto sax, Margaux Simmons on flute, and the Kings Drummers on talking drums and bass drums - nice and still more Konono than the other pieces, but not much more than a curious throw-in. The Idris Ackamoor Quartet song "Spiritual Rebirth" from 1978 is a turning point in Ackamoor's career, where he made a conscious decision to learn more of the traditional jazz repertoire, and also where I slightly lose interest - "Spiritual Rebirth" as well as the 1997 track "Topanga" are both excellent, smooth, and soulful jazz compositions reminiscent (to me) of Dizzy and Bird bebop but lack the raw sense of adventure embedded in his 70's work (I guess we all gotta grow up sometime right?). Same can be said for the two tracks from Ackamoor's current Ensemble, taken from 2000 and 2004 albums respectively. Astutely performed, but not entirely my bag (or, at least, not as much my bag as his early works).
All told, Ackamoor is a brilliant composer, bandleader and musician and deserves to be thrust into the spotlight and not relegated to outsider/obscurity jazz status. Praise be to both this album and EM Records for putting it out there in lavish manner, from the 36-page booklet down to the unusual oversized CD case the discs come packaged in. $29 is still a lot of money but I personally guarantee you'll get every penny's worth and more from this collection. I've heard that this year promises a Pyramids box set on the Locust imprint Ikef, probably compiling the three Pyramids albums, so maybe it's worth holding onto your dough until we see what that's all about...although I highly doubt it'll have the alternate Pyramids recordings as well as Ackamoor pre- and post-Pyramids outfits featured, which still makes this one a worthy investment and an absolute treasure to own.


Brekekekexkoaxkoax - We Used to be Such Good Friends (Hushroom Recordings CD-R)

Been a long time that I ain't never heard no name as weird as Austin, Texas' Brekekekexkoaxkoax but weird is the name of the game these days innit. I'm not even sure how to pronounce it but I think "Breakfast Coax" is close enough. Brekekekexkoaxkoax define themself as "an open-ended art music collective, focusing on improvisational, indeterminate performances using sound, visuals and movement" which is pretty much how every band I wind up reviewing defines themselves anyway. But it's cool though, Brekekekexkoaxkoax actually have some pretty neat credits to their name: they appeared on the illustrious RRRecords 500 locked grooves compilation where thousands of other bands were turned away and they seem to be studious followers of the Fluxus movement given how often their tracks show up on Fluxus-related tributes and compilations (okay it probably only happened like twice). As I understand it, "We Used to be Such Good Friends" is their debut long player for the sometimes-quartet of headmaster Josh Ronsen and compadres Jacob Green, Glen Nuckolls and Genevieve Walsh. On "Friends" however there are guest appearances from like-minded souls Vanessa Arn (electronics) and Bill Thompson (computer). What's interesting about "Friends" is that the quartet only play together on the first track and again in splintered form on the third - the other two are Josh Ronsen going it solo. I guess at the end of the day, after all, it is still his Brekekekexkoaxkoax.
I may have made a subtle allusion to the notion that Brekekekexkoaxkoax are another run-of-the-mill campfire squatting tambourine-shaking troupe but they're really not, they're like the version of that troupe that actually went to university and majored in things like Computer Graphics & Design or something with the word Vector in the name. Or they're just adept at adopting a slight air of academia. Or that's just me misinterpreting things as usual. Well the amount of instruments used on the half-hour opener "Haifa Hi-Fi" is as staggering as you'd expect: oboe, organ, acoustic and electric guitar, banjo, violin, flute, snare drum, electronics, and more...basically everything with a string from tennis rackets down on to your mother's sewing machine is put to good use, and I may or may not be exaggerating. The resulting jam though is almost surprisingly restrained for the most part, as the four players take the time to actually pay attention to what the other is playing and meditate on it good n' long until they decide to sneak in with their own contribution. I guess the comparison that kept coming to me was an updated take on AMM (kind of ironic since AMM never really went away), or at least re-imagined by a pack of young'uns affected by/afflicted with the post-Altamont world scenario. The 20-minte accompanying jam piece "Tuesday on Sunday" is a lot less jerky and more fluid, approaching the more down-tempo moments of Labradford or Brokeback. The song is held together at its nexus courtesy Ronsen's on-going electric guitar rhythms, not at all unlike Josetxo Grieta's "European Son" interpretation we visited yester's day. By the time the track starts thinking of a conclusion, Green's oboe is already doing quiet battle with Arn and Thompson's gizmodgery and it flows as smoothly as any Milky Way I've come to know. Real long, and patience is most definitely a pre-requisite, but real nice. Ronsen's first solo track "Figure or Failure II" is a four-minute bridge between the two epics and a rather inhumanely tranquil sound sculpture plundered from turntable, voice, electronics and computer. Mostly it comes out like a black ocean rumble, as soothing as it is disconcerting and as E.A.I. as any of that - hard to hear anything other than what I suppose to be the computer in it though. Ronsen's other piece is "For I.D. II", a slothful goliath if there ever was one. It's another twenty minute jaunt but this one's a solo bowed bass performance and a rather exquisite one at that. It begins as light and airy as you can get while playing a bass guitar and slowly but certainly bleeding into more sinister territories until the sound forms around your ears as thick as an on-rushing tornado, maintaining just the right amount of pressure long enough to splinter into rubbery strands of pure dark matter. Sunn O))) by way of Scodanibbio?
Ronsen's solo takes are just as nice and fully-formed as the group tracks, which sound like Rowe, Ambarchi, Muller, Nakamura et al. getting lost on the way to ErstQuake and playing the Terrastock festival instead. "We Used to be Such Good Friends" is no revelation, but the group of musicians working here under the Brekekekexkoaxkoax banner are too talented to not pull off a work of undeniable competency. And the quotes on and about improvising music in the booklet are at least a helpful indicator that these folks aren't slobs either.


Josetxo Grieta - Euskal Semea (w.m.o/recordings CD)

Last of the recordings Mattin sent my way is from the Josetxo Grieta trio, which features Mattin as well as Josetxo Anitua and Inigo Eguillor. The premise for "Euskal Semea" is that the group were invited to do a reinterpretation of the Velvet Underground's "European Son" in tribute to the VU's legendary self-titled album on which the song in question can be found. The title of Grieta's version is derived by translating "European Son" into the Basque language Euskera and the literal translation then turns back into "Basque Son", thus giving the new piece a decidedly personal ramification for all musicians involved.
Presented here are two different versions of "€peear Semea", one for (supposedly) 20 guitars, three watering cans and voice and the other for drums, voice, radio and guitar. In the first version, seven different takes on the song are edited together to form a deliriously swirling din that only really resembles "European Son" in terms of anarchistic aesthetic. Apparently the original bassline is retained and worked around but even that is a challenge to dig out (although it really is there throughout all 22 minutes). I can't confirm for you if that many guitars and watering cans were actually used but with all the overdubbing taking place here, who knows for sure. What does come across is a slow-lurching blackened sun drone, akin to taking a bath in an oil can during a thunderstorm. Digital-sounding blips and whirrs are puked out every so often and quickly re-ingested like a hurricane simultaneously sucking in and tossing out everything it comes into contact with. The result is impressive, if not overly long, and maybe even something that Lou Reed himself could've come to grips with, though I doubt it. Also noteworthy is the fact that all guitars were tuned to La Monte Young's "just intonation" technique. Hmmmmm... "€peear Semea II" is described in the booklet as "a Basque [asking] another Basque if being hit and hitting back is the only way to learn in this mousetrap that is carefully prepared for us". I'm of no qualification to answer that so I'll just stick to the music (which I'm still of no qualification to talk about but hey, you've gotten this far, you might as well finish reading!). This 28-minute piece is largely percussion oriented, with Eguillor delivering thundering, hypnotic, and downright lively rhythms from the drum kit, an impressive feat of stamina in that he's able to keep the energy level up for a good 20 minutes. Other sounds accompanying him are Mattin and Anitua's treated guitars and voices, both shouting lyrics in Spanish and churning out malevolent bolts from their strings. The last nine minutes are a sort of post-apocalyptic coda to the proceedings, all three sounding down and out and letting out final gasps from their instruments and/or throats before the sounds finally collapse on themselves. I probably liked "II" better but that's also because it was better at immediately holding my attention. With more listenings I'm sure I'll be able to appreciate the intricate workings of the first version just as well.
I don't know if it bears repeating anymore but like all Mattin/w.m.o/r product, you can obtain the tracks here for free on Mattin's website, along with all pertinent liner note information. A lot of people say a lot of things about Mattin but what strikes me most is the attention to detail given to each one of the releases, despite the fact that anybody can go grab them off his website at will. They all come with (or in) thick, glossy booklets or fold-outs with text and photos and various epherma. I encourage you to at least investigate his website and send some cash his way if you like what you hear. I can think of less deserving parties!


Tim Hecker - Radio Amor (Alien8 Recordings CD)

"Radio Amor" is not exactly a new album (it was released in 2002 to be precise) but it's been out of print for some time now and Alien8 have taken it upon themselves to reissue it, surely not an accidental choice considering Tim Hecker's recent surge in popularity. I'm under the impression that the label who originally released it, Mille Plateaux, has since gone under, so it only makes sense for Alien8 to step up to the plate and resurrect "Amor" especially considering they've been responsible for a huge portion of his back catalogue. The Alien8 reissued is released on this very day, and I believe features little to no changes from the original version (which I don't have so I can't compare). Also judging from the song titles and the little blurb on the Alien8 website, "Amor" is a pretty loose-definition concept album based around a seaside journey the composer may or may not have had. Although one listen to "Radio Amor" indicates to me that this kind of glacially orchestrated oceanic soundtrack could only be acheived by someone who not only lived it but felt it...man.
I don't want to exaggerate and say something along the lines of "much of the foundation for what Tim Hecker's currently producing can be found on this album" because in reality this album is only (only!) five years old and doesn't sound that far removed from what's been heard on recent albums "Mirages" (2004) and "Harmony in Ultraviolet" (2006). It is, in a sense, a bit choppier and less formed than those albums but there's still a more than few doozies on here well worth your time. The looped-keyboard clarion call of "Song of the Highwire Shrimper" sounds more like Terry Riley pounding out a rhythm in duo with Machinefabriek and "(They Call Me) Jimmy" remains easily one of Hecker's finest slices at five minutes in length, not to mention the fact that it predated the repeated ambient warmth raved about on the Buddha Machine by at least a few years. "I'm Transmitting Tonight" is the sound of falling in love aboard a vessel under the stars while "Careless Whispers" is the hot steam sound of the boat's boiler room. Hecker occasionally lets a mind-rifting drone escape unto the open like on the coarse shimmer of "7000 Miles" and eventual roar of the epic "Azure Azure". "The Star Compass" is like trying to play a crumbling 45 rescued from the depths of a sunken ship, recorded by a never-before-heard mermaid houseband on keyboards and laptops and the closing "Trade Winds, White Heat", like much of Hecker's sound, is imbued with a dual feeling of aching sorrow and enough hope to make you want to turn around and do the voyage all over again. If all the nautical references in here are setting bells off, then it's only appropriate, especially considering the backstory of the album. I wouldn't yet venture the opinion that "Radio Amor" is essential - newcomers would be advised to begin with "Haunt Me, Haunt Me, Do it Again" and then jump right into "Harmony in Ultraviolet", but it sure isn't too far behind those either. On the other hand, if you recently discovered Tim Hecker via "Harmony" and don't know where to go next, Alien8 just helped make your choice easier.


Michel Henritzi - Keith Rowe Serves Imperialism (w.m.o/recordings CD-R)

Michel Henritzi is a multi instrumentalist from France best known for his work in the Dustbreeders as well as running the (defunct?) A Bruit Secret label. Now in 2007, he seems to have devised at least a clever way to generate some additional publicty by releasing the "Keith Rowe Serves Imperialism" CD-R on Mattin's w.m.o/r label, also available for a free download via Mattin's website. The title is an implicit reference to Cornelius Cardew's 1974 book "Stockhausen Serves Imperialism", and is also the name of the 4-panel essay Henritzi penned to accompany the release. The essay has been subject to much criticism for a wide array of reasons, from quote attribution to flawed logic to lousy grammar (the text reads like it was written in English, translated to French, and finally back again to English using an online translating service). Are the criticisms valid? To a degree, yes. When you write something as flagrantly attention-seeking as Henritzi has, you've got to expect backlash in copious quantities. But on the other hand, do I really think Henritzi meant the essay to serve as the be-all end-all word on improvisation as we've come to know it? No. Maybe it's just me but I find it hard to look at "Imperialism" and not think it was written with tongue planted firmly in cheek and that maybe some of us are getting too hot and bothered over nothing. But I guess that's besides the point. Like I said, Henritzi's made some points of contention and allegations in the essay that people were obviously not going to agree with from the get-go, so let the battle commence I spose. I myself thought it was going downhill from the Gavin Bryars quote on, but check out the essay yourself here and see what you think. I also encourage you to read the topic on the I Hate Music board to garner some additional insight.
Aside from that, I understand "Keith Rowe Serves Imperialism" also comes with some music too. Four tracks, in fact, with Henritzi collaborating with a different artist on each one. "Improvisation" sees him working with Hibari Music's Shin'ichi Isohata, "Feedback" pairs him with the Dead C's Bruce Russell, "Independance" is with Mattin and "Action Directe" features Tokyo improvisor Taku Unami. The catch is that the collaborations all occur seperate from one another, with the artists recording their pieces and sending them off to Henritzi, who had already recorded four pieces of his own. Then he paired four of them together with each one playing in a different headphone/speaker channel, cut them off around the 10-minute mark, and that was that. I guess this has to do with Henritzi's search for a "true" improvised collaboration, being that it's pretty hard to get a feel for what the other guy's playing if he's playing it on another continent. That said though, the tracks manage to hang together pretty well. The rockiest of all is probably "Improvisation", with Isohata's acoustic Gibson Johnny Smith 1965 (!) scampering rounds across the song's terrain and only the occasional arm-bending static and sound snatch rising up from Henritzi's turntable. I'd actually pay good money to hear Isohata playing solo though. In terms of ear-burning intensity, "Feedback" with Bruce Russell takes the cake as both men turn to the guitar to sculpt a veritable tundra of eye-watering noise and, well, feedback. I have to believe that Russell was given some instruction as to what to record, or else there's some kind of mind-meld taking place the likes of which the World Weekly News should be notified. I believe it's Henritzi playing a very hypnotic, droning hum that would be quite pleasing on its own but Russell refuses to relinquish the stranglehold he's got on his amplifier and wrenches out shrill, wavering tones that are strong enough to pull the fluid offa your brain. The album's strongest track is definitely "Independance" with Mattin - Henritzi mans the hammer, electric saw and acoustic guitar on end his to diabolical means while Mattin roasts a guitar over on his end. The track is amazingly brutal, not in the ultra-harsh way that "Feedback" was but just in terms of aggressive panache. Sounds like Maurizio Bianchi jamming with Merzbow of all things. I can't figure out how the sounds produced came from the few instruments I named, but that's what the booklet says. Who am I to question? "Action Directe" with Taku Unami is most certainly an homage to Masayuki Takayanagi (well the entire album is dedicated to him and Derek Bailey) but plays out more like one of the Japanese guitarist's "gradually projection" pieces instead. Henritzi fiddles with the input jack to an amplifier (I assume) while Unami spits out the occasional digital droplet with his laptop until midway through when an ominous droning ripple joins the fray. Sounds to me more like something you'd hear at the ErstQuake festival, which isn't the first thing I think of when I hear "directe" but still an enjoyable listen nonetheless.
Similar to Mattin's "Proletarian of Noise", I'm sure "Keith Rowe Serves Imperialism" won't get its fair shake from listeners who feel like the title and essay alone have done enough damage, or who feel that it's just a desperate publicity stunt for an album that wouldn't have been worth listening to if it went by any other name. Personally I prefer to keep the two seperate, as I may not have cared much for the essay but the music within at least was interesting enough to me. I encourage you to hear the music first, read the essay second, and form your own conclusions last.


Mattin - Proletarian of Noise (Hibari Music CD)

Mattin's stayed off my radar for the longest of times no matter how often his name pops up on Bagatellen/I Hate Music or in the Wire (through no actual intention of my own - I just never got around to hearing anything), but he's getting pretty hard to ignore lately. I think it was either last year or the year before where he decided to go full-on anti-copyright, making all of his music available online, a practice still in place to this day. In fact you can head on over to Mattin.org right now and download this very album, no charge. Of course this raised lots of questions (did all of the other artists featured on those recordings agree to having work they participated in made available for free?) and ire (what about the stores stuck with Mattin titles in their inventory that nobody really has anymore incentive to purchase?) and discussion. And just this year he participated in Michel Henritzi's "Keith Rowe Serves Imperialism" album which seems to have succeeded in annoying just about everybody, although that's more Henritzi's heat and not Mattin's (but I got that one too - tune in next week!). Somewhere in between those came "Proletarian of Noise", not quite as talked-about but still curious enough to warrant a couple of double-takes. First of those curiosities would have to be the use of the cover image from Hijokaidan's 1985 pasting "King of Noise", only with a dollar sign in the baby's eye and Mattin's title emblazoned across. Fold out the oversized glossy sleeve to reveal the lyrics to the tracks "Attitude Fetishist", "You Are Stuck as a Free Human Being" and "Thesis on Noise". The words are as crucial (you could argue more so in fact) as the music that appears on the album because they convey the questions about "noise" that Mattin has made it his business to investigate. A sampling of the questions raised: "Can you get your ears fucked? Can you get mentally raped? Can you become someone else? Fucking consumer / you are a fucking passive endless consumer / just to feel a little bit above average" and "You gracious creature full of talent / your careful listening is fully appreciated / thanks to you I feel like the best whore in this brothel / I get so much pleasure out of your attention / a transaction that only you and me know is only cultural prostitution". You can read the rest on Mattin's website. The conclusions one can draw from those lyrics alone are pretty self-evident and it's safe to say Mattin does have a point (at least I myself enjoy and bask the irony of the flagrant materialistic/consumerist nature of those who listen to a so-called non-genre of music like noise - a point seemingly backed up by the dollar sign in the baby's eye, e.g. the fact that an album full of trashy noise is now a revered classic and, essentially, a "brand"). So before you really even drop "Proletarian" into the CD player it's already hitting pretty hard, and the first track "Computer Music/Post-Fordism" piles on the sarcasm even further - the "computer music" here is nothing more than the sound of somebody hitting the keys of a laptop for five minutes - the commentary there isn't exactly cutting edge, but I did enjoy the relaxing sounds of a keyboard sprinkling. That is until "Attitude Fetishist" cuts through and blitzes your ears with an acid rain of computer-generated static and noise, over which Mattin says/shouts his manifestos with an incessant snare hit keeping time for no real reason. "You Are Stuck as a Free Human Being" follows and the inclusion of lyrics was all but essential because Mattin's voice is so wholly mangled that it's impossible to make anything out. The backing noise (again, all computer generated - using Linux no less!) varies quite a bit more than the previous track with virtual knobs twisted and tweaked and wrenched to alternating degrees of intensity. An all-too-easy sonic reference point would be Whitehouse, especially their most recent works, and even Jojo Hiroshige's solo work outside Hijokaidan bears similarities. "Desecration of Silence" is an instrumental, despite the absence of actual instruments, and is cut from the same cloth as the previous two tracks in terms of abrasive attack, and the final 30 minutes of the disc are dedicated to Mattin's "Thesis on Noise" which doesn't actually feature Mattin at all but instead one Lisa Rosendahl reading the "Thesis of Noise" itself in a pleasing English monotone. To say it's drawn out would be a colossal understatement, as you could probably blow through the "Thesis" in about a minute reading aloud, so strap yourself in for a lot of Cageian silence.
I think anybody listening to "Proletarian" will eventually have to ask themselves if the words are serving the music (no pun intended) or if the noise is just a backdrop for Mattin to expound his current views on the "state of noise" if you will. I also think those questions are justified, because musically (again, no pun intended) there isn't a whole lot of meat to be found here. But then on the other hand I wonder if that was even the point in the first place? Or what the point even was? I suppose at the end of the day if Mattin has stirred the pot or started some conversation he can consider his album to be a success, although a lot of people will undeniably dismiss it as someone looking for another angle and just using controversy as a means to further their own agendas - but we can talk about that at greater length when I listen to the Henritzi album. It may not be his greatest aural feat to date and it may not contain bulletproof notions and musings, but a lot of what's written and spoken on "Proletarian" is worthy of being given a second thought...even if you don't want to give the album a second playthrough.


Living Breathing Music - Happiness is Fabulous (Weird Forest CD-R)

I've been involved in debates recently regarding the pros and cons of artists releasing everything they record. I'm for it and my argument is, who really gives a shit? It doesn't bust my stones any if groups out there strive for that kind of documentation, and besides, you pretty much know what you're getting yourself into if you buy a Wolf Eyes or a Sunburned Hand of the Man ltd. 30 CD-R. After awhile you realize you can't exactly expect too many (any) hidden gems or anything of that sort, so who cares if it sucks? Besides, it's a CD-R. You could make your own CD-R too even if you're totally inept music-wise and it would hardly be a penny out of your pockets. But there's a difference between releasing everything and peppering the discrography with a steady strem of solid releases and just releasing bullshit because releasing a CD-R won't hardly cost you a penny out of your pockets (see?). I suppose over-documentation and the information overload era we currently live in can be a hang-up, but what hangs me up even more is when new groups come around and make no visible attempt to distinguish themselves from the worst remnants of a prolific group's output.
Living Breathing Music are Kevin, Amy, Chris, Nick, Troy, Loren and Chad and they recorded this one, hour-long track dubbed "Happiness is Fabulous" on September 2nd, 2004 for the vaunted KDVS radio station in California. I've never heard of the band before nor any of their affiliated groups - Klondike & York, Antennas Erupt, My Whole Hand Was Wet, Tally Bland and Black Bottles, although I think the second one rings a faint bell now that I type it out. I don't even know if LBM have recorded together before, but I sure hope not. Across these 56 minutes, LBM lay out some of the most lame and contrived moves in the short history of New Weird whatever, all in the name of stoned hippie-dom. Don't get me wrong, I'm a firm advocate of stoned hippie-dom in some of the worst and cheesiest senses of the term, but this one grates even on me. The only thing this disc has pulling for it is that somebody brought a sax to the gig which I'm always a sucker for, but other than that this is like a checklist/accompanyment to the August 2003 issue of the Wire (you know the one): aimlessly strummed guitar? Check. Limp-wristed percussion? Check. Unintelligible vocals? Check. Chimes and bells? Check. Synth and keyboard drones? Check. Drop the proverbial needle anywhere and you're liable to hit on any/all of the above going through the motions as one. And don't get me wrong - I think anybody's who's read through these pages with a degree of regularity knows that I can get down with some of the most predictable stuff on earth if it's at least executed well. But this? I can't even find the words. The label blurb speaks to the effect that "Happiness" is "definitely for fans of Avarus and No-Neck Blues Band" and that's precisely where they've gone wrong. Why in the world would anybody pick this up over, say, just about anything released by the aforementioned groups? Or even something by Sunburned, whose discography can vary so wildly in quality that it'll irritate you to no end but man at least that's a reaction. "Happiness" is just in a permanent state of catatonia from beginning to end.
It's weird how Weird Forest stuck me with what are (in my opinion at least) a couple of duds because they've also released some classics in their day: Yellow Swans' "Psychic Secession", Hair Police's "Drawn Dead", Eikenskaden, Dead Raven Choir, Wooden Wand & the Vanishing Voice...classics all much more worth your time and money then this, in any event. But I digress.


WRNLRD/BUER - Avulsion (Brise-Cul 3" CD-R) & Pump Kinn - Aunte Donne (Weird Forest 3" CD)

I love a good duality, hence the decidedly opposite pairings of 3" CD(-R)s for today's review showcase. Honestly, what's NOT to like? You have the stark Lovecraftian ugliness of WRNLRD/BUER's "Avulsed" and the sentimental, folky, uh, pumpkinness of Pump Kinn's "Aunte Donne". My god it's so perfect it's like it was meant to be! And I still have a couple of full-lengths to check out from these two labels so maybe we're in store for another unlikely twin tower match-up between them! Awesome...I love a good beauty and the beast or slovenly liberal/fastidious conservative tale. Anyway Brise-Cul is a label you know and love since we discussed them a few days ago but Weird Forest are making their big-time Blogspot debut with me, and like seemingly every other label responsible for fresh n' young "weird" sounds, they're from California. Honestly, what the fuck is going on down there? How many basement/DIY labels are there per capita in that state? Is it the water? Is it the Governator's influence (I understand that reference never gets tired)? Did you know there are 853,000 Google results for the word "Governator"? What the fuck indeed, man.
Brise-Cul bats first because I'm going alphabetically by label. WRNLRD/BUER is actually two seperate units, that of WRNLRD and that of BUER. I'm not sure if they're always supposed to be shouted like that, but so what. I found WRNLRD's MySpace page listing all the necessary black metal/punk rock influences (esp. Miles Davis, none more black...literally?) and putting forth the solo black metal operative manifesto that usually comes alongside any current USBM acts' press kit. Tougher to find info on BUER, actually I didn't find any at all, but I have to assume he's also a warlock with time invested in the dark arts. "Avulsion" is a live team-up between the two but I couldn't say exactly who does what. The first track "Invocation" moves gloomily through shadows, stretching out darkness and amp feedback until they're just fleshy strings of black dissonance with the odd starting scraping and howling from somebody's electronic box. It actually does sound like the intro to a Bathory record played slooooowwed down into a mess of nothingness but "Rites" does a serviceable job on bringing forth the promised black metal, although the rigidity of the drum machine comes off more cheese than chalice. The title track is a nice bit of swamp-fog drude hangover eventually disrupted by either WRNLRD or BUER shouting something and throwing down a mic. Defnitely a curious listen to say the least and I'm somewhat intrigued to hear the two operate indepedently, although they are in the midst of recording a collaborative full-length which is pretty boss too.
Somewhere closer to the opposite end of the spectrum lies Pump Kinn's "Aunte Donne", which comes packaged in a most remarkable six-panel fold-out sleeve, each panel showing the photo on the cover getting blurrier and blurrier until you get to the blurriest of all which of course winds up being the CD itself. Rad-looking. But how's the sound, Dr. Z? Not so good, Al. Pump Kinn is one Michelle Cheney who apparently was armed with a microphone, echo and delay pedals, and not much else when she recorded the 9 tracks found here, each averaging one to two minutes in length. The last three tracks on here are keepers: "Birthing Bonnie Parker" is three minutes of Cheney's breath and nothing else looped on top of itself and actually builds an enjoyably creepy atmosphere. "Come Wander With Me" is what she should've aimed for on all tracks, reciting near-words and letting the delay effects congeal and form a Tim Heckerish glacial barrier around her voice. "Preying Mantis" is either a feat of backmasking or just more effects at work but either way it's a pretty nice romp like an even-less effect-ed Grouper, which is a plus. Unfortunately on the rest of the songs Cheney prefers to use her voice like a siren, the attempted heir apparent to Junko's throne perhaps. Maybe I wasn't in the mood for it but hearing shrill syllables bounced continually around my head like on "Equestrian Deathmarch Mountain", "Kitty Kiss", "Colbetta/Yoko" and "Raine Dae" just isn't my cup of tea. And "Date Reepar" just sounds like that scene in Stephen King's Carrie where everybody is throwing tampons at the protagonist and chanting "plug it up". Oh I'll plug it up all right. Plug up my ears maybe! Maybe the exquisite packaging was Pump Kinn's undoing but I found my feelings turning from disappointment to general annoyance the more I played "Aunte Donne". Well, you win some and you lose some I guess.


Ste-Sophie - Le Vent des Amplis Souffle Mille Bougies (Pink Triforce Tapes 2xCS)

Probably one of the heppest local sweaty jamz I picked up some time last year and I never even got a chance to review it, much less give it a proper listen. So I rectified that situation tonight. Unfortunately in that span of time between now and when I picked up this tape, it looks like the label that released it folded/mutated and the band when on a kind of hiatus (although they never were a 100% regular unit in the first place). If you held your knuckles to my temples I would tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that Ste-Sophie are one of the absolute best unfamous acts going (I don't count celebrities like the Arcade Fire and Godspeed) and deserve their time to shine in Spin magazine just like all the rest. Seeing as how you might not know them I feel like I should do the introducing but I don't really know em either, only in passing. I think the three dudes involved are named Jacob, Francis and Olivier although I have a pretty terrible memory so maybe one's named Gordon or Ebeneezer and I'm just flaking. But I remember the faces and I can tell you for certain that they are three very likeable gentlemen and very much worthy of being on the receiving end of your finances, if you can find a way to get it to them. This double-decker is limited to 50 copies and I've got no clue where you can secure a copy. That goes for the two (I think?) CD-Rs they released before this, which may or may not have had names. But the good news is that I hear there's some sort of vinyl long-player, or split, in the works so I'll be sure to tell you all about that when the day comes.
While we're waiting for said day, I'll take the opportunity to tell you about "Le Vent des Amplies Souffle Mille Bougies" which pretty much translates to "the wind of the amplifiers blows out thousands of candles"...generally. It loses something. Apt title indeed, especially if you've seen Ste-Sophie play which I've been un/fortunate enough to on a couple of different occasions. In fact the best gig I saw was when they opened for GHQ and the Magik Markers, some time last year I guess. The set up is, the three dudes lay their gear out on the floor in front of them and play from their knees, but this time they were sourcing all their sounds (or most of them anyways) from eachothers screams. It ruled. Three dudes screaming like banshees, at first you think "this is the most obnoxious shit ever and Fluxus ain't coming back brothers" but they're really onto something, especially the way they take those screams and turn em into something horribly beautiful. The chowderskull in front of me took a more reserved response, telling his friend something to the effect of "this is fucking gay" in between plugged and unplugging his ears. Yes, we had a gay time indeed. Even Pete Nolan was digging! Or pretending to. Anyway I tell the tale because it kinda helps lay the groundwork for what you find on "Le Vent", albeit in more subdued form. The voices are very much the basis for a lot of what you hear in the trio's sexily sculpted droning landscapes, but it isn't all full-force and nipples-nailed-to-the-table. Best I can come up with is the sound of babies being born underwater mixed with whatever operas Bob Ashley's performing for you while you take an around-the-globe tour searching for Planet X. Or early Hototogisu sides melted down in a steel kettle on the stove with a pinch of Schnitzler and th' Dream or Hermann Nitsch's "Harmoniumwerk" series, and then pouring out the solution for use as contact lens fluid. All four sides sound pretty well equal (in fact sometimes I think the second side is just a repeat of the first side but who's to say): delicate ribbons of vocal meowing and crying congealing and expanding around a suspended sphere or two of hot, waxy, found-sound gloop. The proverbial musical lava lamp. Later sides seem to diminish the emphasis on vocals somewhat and a howling wind vibe takes over like living in a snow globe or surviving crystallization first-hand. Or the soundtrack of abandoned carnivals' haunted houses coming to "life" post-midnight. Or just a really rad set of tapes that makes a whole lot of something out of nothing in particular. Although I will concede that it works better live at full volume and I could've been down with this material on a CD(-R) for maximum blissin', no side-changing required. Ah well, it's time for "hang on, lemme switch sides" to re-enter the lexicon anyway, it's been far too long. Why just recently I was talking to a professor who was borderline shocked that I was still buying tapes, much less vinyl records! Perseffer, have you heard of a band called Ste-Sophie? They play Journey covers. They're a Journey cover band. Oh, they're a Journey all right...!


Terry Riley - Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band: All Night Flight (SUNY Buffalo, New York, 22 March 1968) (Organ of Corti/Elision Fields CD)

Time for some revisionism! Can't say I understand too well why this disc was reissued last year...but I think I've got it straight now. "Poppy Nogood" was originally available on Terry Riley's "A Rainbow in Curved Air" disc in 1990, then issued as a standalone on the Organ of Corti's Terry Riley archive series in 1996 (which eventually went out of print) and now finally repressed here by Elision Fields (with new packaging although for an Elision Fields issue it displays the words "The Organ of Corti Archive Series" across the front pretty prominently) despite the fact that it's still available on Sony's "Rainbow" CD. So why would anybody buy this one by itself and not just "Rainbow" where you actually get the seminal "Rainbow" piece alongside "Poppy"? I'm not sure. Why did I buy this one? Chalk it up to not knowing any better, although I couldn't really tell you if the version of "Poppy" here is the exact same one found on "Rainbow". Maybe some touch ups here or there, who knows. They were both most definitely culled from the same recording, on March 22nd, 1968 in New York. And, all issues/reissues aside, I had a serious lack in my CD collection of Terry Riley discs and this one's nice and cheap. Why not eh?
"Poppy Nogood" is one of Terry Riley's (solo) all night flights, whereby he jams econo for a good bit of time. Like this one, apparently an excerpt from a longer session beginning at 10pm and lasting all the way until 6am. Goddamn do we need those now, more than ever. Who's doing the all night flights these days, huh? And I'm not talking new year's. Come on people, for serious. Anyway like I said, Riley plays solo here using soprano saxophone, organ and his own time-lag accumulator, which is to say "a pair of tape recorders connected in series and perpetually regenerating the sounds played into the first machine". Basically if you can fathom gently swirling sax swathes and oceanic organ sunbathing, you're in the right place both mentally and spiritually. Across these 40 minutes (and five untitled pieces), Riley spools out a woozy, delirious, droning resonance that almost sounds like it's constantly falling over itself as it's regurgitated from machine to mouth to hand and back to machine. It's both beautiful and hypnotic when "Poppy" locks you in its gaze and refuses to relinquish for the the entire duration of the piece...not that you'd ever want to break free anyway. Hard to believe how ahead of his time Riley was when he composed this mother all the way back in '68...to me the heaviest influence I can detect from "Poppy"'s churning, symphonic oomph is La Monte Young's "Dorian Blues" though I don't think it takes a rocket scientist (or even a music major) to deduce the obvious influence Young's piece may have had on Terry Riley. And from here it's almost impossible to count how many people "Poppy Nogood" may have influenced along the way: Eno and Fripp, the Velvet Underground, Arvo Part, William Basinski, Glenn Branca, Faust, Tim Hecker, Spiritualized, you-fucking-name-it dude. And not without good reason - "Poppy Nogood" is an absolute stunner and required reading if you're into anything the likes of which Riley and co. have been involved with, although I might recommend picking up "A Rainbow in Curved Air" instead of this one, and getting two for the price of one instead. But nevertheless, good ons to Elision Fields, whomever they may be, for keeping Terry Riley's music available in all forms.


Anakrid - Rapture of the Deep (Stereonucleosis Records LP)

Pardon my absence yesterday, things came up as they tend to do! But I've come back twice strong and with the final installment of the Anakrid records couplet I received some time ago. Note the album art falling in line with the last one - the back cover does the same too but you can't tell from that picture. And apparently Chris Bickel's got other records released in the same sort of "series" format. And I read he'll keep doing it till he runs out of cash. Which is admirable and all the more reason for you to investigate his recordings. Foolishly I forgot to mention last time around that both these babies are 180 gram vinyl so not only can the child in you appreciate it but so too can the audiophilic adult! I was warned by M. Bickel that the second record was quite a different monster than the first ("Father") although I can't remember if he suggested that it was better, I might've imagined it. But whether he said it or not it's the truth - I liked "Father" a whole lot but "Rapture of the Deep" is even greater, and while I suggest getting both, this one would be the unmissable one of the set.
The first side of "Rapture" is comprised of three phases, titled "Air into Water", "Wilt" and "Electrik Leviathan Rising". I have a hard time remembering where things begin and end but I'm able to report that there's a couple (if not three!) of shiny, shimmering, superbly-erected towers of chromus dronus, blisteringly white-hot as well as being as frigid as the air bubbles inside ice cubes. It filters out through the speakers like Brita water-cum-Eliane Radigue's terse laptop compositions. The jams Bickel put together (without his usual Anakrid colleagues I'm assuming because their names don't appear) practically glow with a synthy, syrupy radiance fully removed from the ear canal eruption banked on by current new-noise drone practicioners like John Olson's Waves project. The flip side runs even smoother, with three more tracks named "The Behemoth Awakens After 2000 Years Satisfying Sleep", "Memories of Submersion" and "Electrik Leviathan: The Rapture". Starts out gently like the opening notes from Ariel Kalma's classic field recording/instrument synthesis "Osmose" (particularly the first track "Saxo Planetariel") and then gently slides into a liquid landslide of dream-woven, hazy robotic gloss and gleam. Delicately ominous but never disturbing, it's a perfect cloud-drifting soundtrack and sounds exactly like the decidedly non-sound that rings in your head when you hold your breath under water for an extended period of time. Only without the added bonus of death! Quite a great record indeed and definitely a worth successor to STRNU 101 (that is, "Father"). If you see em in a distro somewhere and you're looking to fill out an order, you can do no worse than these two slabs from Anakrid. I'll have to be keeping the name on my mental too because I have one of those funny feelings (no not THOSE funny feelings) that the best is still to come from this particular unit.


Anakrid - Father (Stereonucleosis Records LP)

With apologies in advance to Anakrid's Chris Bickel, I was only able to review one of the two records he sent because I, uh, fell asleep for a large part of the evening. So you'll have to come back soon/tomorrow for part two. For now I'll talk a bit about "Father", an album put out last year by Bickel's noise project, also featuring Rob Cherry and C. Neil Scott. I actually did a degree of research this time around (you may recall I reviewed a tape by Anakrid on Black Horizons a couple months back) and did you know that the Chris Bickel behind this group is the very same one behind hardcore/power violence (and smashism!) luminaries In/Humanity and the Guyana Punch Line? Huh! So this is where he spends his time now. You learn a new thing every day. Not sure what happened specifically to cause Bickel to eschew the punk scene in lieu of the noise one, but "Father" (just like the aforementioned "Live July 4th" tape)reassures that the switch was not in vain. Bickel also runs the label that put this out, Stereonucleosis Records, and he seems to be in the midst of issuing as many of these stylistically-similar-looking LPs as he can afford to, each boasting a painting of his on the cover and a collage of curious looking art and photos on the back corresponding to each track. They're also limited to 350 copies per, and they're hand numbered too.
I initially played "Father" without really looking at the backside of the sleeve and thought they were just two side-long pieces. But then it hit that there are indeed track divisions on the record, although they're still incredibly subtle and everything flows together pretty well seamlessly. I didn't even associate song titles with specific parts of the record, so I ain't goin' out like that. The record does have some bizarre sounding song titles that only make a touch more sense (if that) when put into context with the sounds they sync up with: "Nympholepsy in Theory Not Practice", "House Band for the Grand Guignol Ritual Floggings Seminar", "Bloody Kneecapse", "Trio for Piano, Saxophone and LP Record", "The Stumphole Nights" and so on. As for the music? Well not at all what you'd expect from a post-hardcore (as in POST-hardcore, not post-hardcore...nevermind) dude. At least I was expecting maybe some kind of ragged, Wolf Eyes basement beer can jam, although I don't know why exactly since "Live July 4th" wasn't anything like that but "Father" is quite the opposite indeed, quite the academic record if I may say so! As soon as the needle hits you're dropped down into the middle of an installation-in-progress-like post-industrial industrial orchestral construction, veering to and fro from sonics influenced by the likes of Einsturzende Neubauten to Non to Nurse with Wound to Karlheinz Stockhausen to Atrax Morgue and all the way back. Apparently the sounds found here were recorded both at Anakrid Studio and indeed at a Cherrydome Sound Installation, so it sounds like Bickel is rummaging through and putting together choice cuts of the tapes from these outings and putting them together rather well. "Father" is almost obsessively composed and coherant...there are surprisingly rhythmic sessions featuring fully-formed loops of musique concrete brain-scaling or catchy synth gulps of bashed electronica. There's a whole platter of unidentifiable sounds swooping in and out of the mix but two of my favorites occur on the first side, an interjected sample of converted seated gallery types going nutso and ribbons of sax gargling at the heart of a mechanical implosion about halfway in. I liked the first side better than the other which was even more subtle, rhythmic and hynotizing and was definitely part of the reason why I was conked out so early in the evening. There are more than a couple moments that also hint at somebody manning turntables throughout the record but I really couldn't tell you for sure - alls I know is that there's a clutch of wholly organic sounds churned up here by wholly unorganic minds. Definitely an interesting, surprising, baffling, impressive LP and has me looking forward to finally getting to laying down the other wax sent my way. I love a record that leaves me scratching both my chin AND my groi- wait, nevermind.
I understand 2007 will see this album and the other (called "Rapture of the Deep") get CD reissues through the excellent Beta-Lactam Ring label, alongside a whole new Anakrid disc for said label. Very interesting. Bickel and his project are certainly worth keeping an eye on and you may want to hurry up and score one of these limited to 350 jobs before it's too late and you're kicking yourself for not buying the originals when you had a chance. Don't say I didn't warn you!


Moon - Sun/Earth/Sky & Women in Tragedy - Tragic Life (Brise-Cul CD-Rs)

First two of a quartet of new Brise-Cul releases that landed into my lap, courtesy label boss Martin Sasseville, also of Quebec's premiere hypothermic drone unit Wapstan and a host of other projects I can't even begin to remember. These are a couple of his newest editions and both look especially slick - heavy color-printed inserts and CD-Rs with resplendent paint jobs housed inside slim plastic sleeves. Simple and tasteful! Well maybe not tasteful, there's no excusing the brain-rending art on the Women in Tragedy sleeve but just don't let your mom find out. A little background info on the artists in question, neither of which I knew prior to hearing the discs. Moon (not to be confused with Poland's Moonn, formerly Moonn D)))!) is a duo from France featuring a Chandra Murray on vocals and delay while DDN takes up analogue synth, MC-303 and computer. "Carefully crafted at home" sez the sleeve. Say word son. Brise-Cul's description tells that Moon's biggest influence is the conception of the future the past had. Dig? Women in Tragedy is not in fact a woman in tragedy but a guy named Bob, Bob McCully, from Toronto. And that's about all I know.
Moon's disc is pretty good and certainly reflective of the misty shoreline the image on the sleeve suggests. There's three "main" pieces here called (you guessed it) "Sun", "Earth" and "Sky" as well as parts one and two of "Interlude in Space" stuck between the songs for altogether about a half-hour's worth of doom and gloom. Moon's "Sun" reminds a lot of something you'd hear from Sunn O))), or maybe even Moonn, but certainly not Stars. It's a harshly-tinted, mildly aggressive synthesizer drone kinda like a pared down version of the all-synth track "Akuma No Kuma" from the recent Sunn/Boris collaboration. "Earth" doesn't sound that much like Earth but cobbles up a nice, floaty drone of chime-like sounds and glitchy, fuzzy electronica with Chandra Murray's vocals falling to the aural canvas like from wide-sweeping brushstrokes. "Sky" doesn't sound like Explosions in the Sky or Wooden Wand & the Sky High Band (is the shtick tired yet?) but it's the best cut on the disc. A sonically overwhelming and decidedly-celestial tattered-edge drone, it's the kind of near-song you'd expect to hear on a Kompakt compilation or on a Tim Hecker release. Total beaut, I wish more of the album was like it. In fact I wish they had extended the three main pieces rather than include the two "Interlude in Space" interrupters, the looped ambience and general non-direction of both can get tedious and the time would have been better invested fleshing out the other tracks. Nevertheless, a nice and satisfying soundtrack to yr latest experiments in time travel with the glass elevator.
Bob McCully/Women in Tragedy represent, here at least, the other spectrum of Brise-Cul releases because it couldn't be more different from the Moon album. In fact it's quite a bit more along the lines of what you'd expect from Brise-Cul - harsh, brutal noise. It sounds to me like McCulley's operating with guitars, synths, lots of effect pedals and his heavily-altered vocals, putting especially the first two into use on opening "The Criminal" which sounds like a digitized remake of a track from Justin Broadrick's Jesu project serenading a crumbling mountain and the ensuing avalanche of boulders. The 18-minute "You're Not Level Headed" is a roller coaster ride, starting out slow and ominous before gradually moving into earth-shaking skin-stripping territories, the kind of balls to the wall fist-pumping electric fury doled out by the likes of Government Alpha or Richard Ramirez. "Cutting Moments" is a more drawn-out delirium largely characterised by a pained, unintelligible narrative and the closing "Strangers are Pointy" (?) is a furious ride through parts unknown, moving quickly through three different phases until permanent brain damage is risked vis-a-vis the shuddering mechanical eviscerations taking place. Total blasterpiece and totally the right ying to Moon's yang. I'd highly recommend picking em both up as a pair as I was pleasantly surprised by both. You can check out samples from both on the Brise-Cul MySpace which you can get to from the official site as found on the right side (the MySpace is much more up to date than the website). Low prices, savvy packages, grungy underground-planet noise attack...lemme get my swimming trunks on for this one!


Hop-Frog's Drum Jester Devotional - Bets Ov Volume 1 (URCKarm Recordings CD)

No idea why the album art (that I got from the label's website) sez "Volume 1 and Volume 2", because I took it right off their page, being too lazy to scan in my own. Another emission from a very weird subterranean Californian sect, the Hop-Frog Collective. Maybe you'll recall some time ago I reviewed a summer slammer from the group operating under their Refrigerator Mothers configuration. If not, run a search then come back to this one because I'm not about to explain the whole deal all over again. Hop-Frog's Drum Jester Devotional is comprised of three members from the Hop-Frog Kollectiv, those being E.loi, Carl F. Off and Hermit the Flog. Yeah I don't know either. I'm not really sure if this is a compilation of previously recorded tracks (there are a few songs boasting titles that hint at alternate mixes of other songs) or an actual LP or what but if there's one thing I've come to know by now, it's how tough it is to get a read on what's going on with these dudes.
"Bets Ov Volume 1" is a strange amalgam of instrumental songs heavily attuned to vibes emanating from the Eastern world, or at least the non-Western one because sometimes they get a little extra-terrestrial too. Moreso than the Refrigerator Mothers (whose approach I felt to be considerably more out-rock), the Drum Jester Devotional seem dedicated to making music truer to mid-Eastern form but without the tongue-in-cheek goofiness of, say, the Sun City Girls. Case in point: the squealing pungi/flutes and incredibly propulsive 4/4 drumming on "Eastern Spleen 3 (DonkeyBeat Mix)", "Love in a Minefield (Valmara Version Version)"'s marriage of whining flutes and a slithery industrial computerized squelch rhythm and the awesome yodel/tabla/flute funk of the 13-minute opus "Germ of Sorrow 2". Other tracks feature stronger Western input, typically in the form of electronica beats or near-IDM touches, like "L'amour du Nil (PoppyLove Mix)" and its cinematic marching-band scope, "ElephantsAgony (Tranquiliser Dart Mix)"'s syrupy execution and injected samples, and especially "You Can't Do That to Me, I'm an American (Nonsense Mix)" and "Cherries of War (Epic Banana Mix)" which could both pass as Squarepusher b-sides or undiscovered tracks from a jungle compilation.
There's obviously a lot of sampling going on here, but I'll be damned if I can guess where it's coming from. The main approach for almost all the tracks here is to flesh out a rhythmic hook and then ride it out until wherever the song should end - and like a lot of the material here, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. At almost 70 minutes, "Bets Ov" could benefit greatly from some editing, not to mention better art direction: the MS Paint collages and colors remind me of a DVD bootleg you'd purchase while you're actually in a place like Morroco or Beijing, but since the only time I ever hear about these guys is when their packages show up in my mailbox, I can't exactly imagine them rolling in money either...so I can't be too harsh on that front. I should also make clear that the actual colors on the cover don't look nearly as horrific as they do in the picture up there, but it's still not winning any prizes. I'm still pretty baffled by the Hop-Frog Kollectiv's general course of action but "Bets Ov" is helping to convince me that maybe these guys are nothing more from putting together a true mind-splitter of an album if the planets align just right. There's some samples on their website you'd do well to check out...I think it'll give you a better idea of what they sound like than any of my words ever could.


No-Neck Blues Band - Nine for Victor (Les Disques Victo CD)

Second in the "I Was There" edition of recordings issued by the Les Disques Victo label for FIMAV concerts I actually attended, the first being the Wolf Eyes & Anthony Braxton "Black Vomit" disc some time ago. I promise not to pick up the two other releases from the 2005 festival (Anthony Braxton & Fred Frith - amazing! Anthony Braxton Sextet - not my bag!) so as to keep the trips down memory lane to a bare minimum. But I couldn't resist the No-Neck Blues Band's "Nine for Victor" first and foremost because the show itself was downright incredible, certainly challenging the Wolf Eyes/Braxton and Braxton/Frith gigs for best set of the fest in my eyes. Secondly because of the badass cover, graced with a grody-looking photo of festival boss/humble host Michel Levasseur. Shit yeah, what's not to love?
I first played "Nine for Victor" when I was lying in bed watching TV one afternoon after work, so I was pretty much fading in and out the whole time. But through my sleepy-eyed semi-consciousness I noticed how dissimilar the recording was to the actual performance that took place at the Victo fest in May. And then of course I started telling myself, "maybe this is how it really was and you just remember it being totally different". Luckily a Serious Researcher like myself takes these things into account beforehand and I remembered just now actually that I had the bootleg of the No-Neck Blue Band show (but don't tell anyone, Victo security cops will probably still crack skulls two years after the fact) so I could do some fact-checking! Lo and behold I was bang on, the show itself was an entirely different affair. Well not entirely different because the music on "Nine" is definitely sourced from the gig, it just plays out completely out-of-sequence and chopped down (from 70-ish minutes to 45), not to mention chopped up - there were no real divisions in the performance but, as you might glean from the title, the concert is split into nine tracks. And, for the most part, it pales brutally in comparison to the show. I've tried listening to the album approaching it as an entirely different beast wholly independent of the show, but I still can't find much good to say about it (and it baffles me even more why'd they'd butcher it so). Much of the 45 minutes is dominated by pointless noodling that sounds flimsy regardless of the content: "Lady Vengeance" is a blurry mess bells, guitars and piano that does nothing to demonstrate the absolute magic that can occur when all seven members are on the same page, "Dosed Cremant" is a microtone strings-n-squelch filler and "Julius: Tainted by Ore" dubs in (at least I don't remember ever hearing them) guttural nonsensical vocals that only serve to disrupt the chiming siren-like ambience in the background. The best tracks are the first and the second-to-last: opening "The Cacao Grinder" combines woozy electronics, a harmonica and gentle cymbal coaxing to form a bright sheen under which Jason Meagher (if I've not got my No-Neckians mixed up, which I probably have)'s funky, insistant drumming risks moving mountains. The penultimate "Brain Soaked Hide" is an absolute tour de force of equal parts restraint and release, with the group building up a massive psych/blues stomp to ride into the sunset for the next ten minutes, helped along by sometimes-member Michiko giving her vocal chords a full on workout for the initial proceedings. It sounds like an impossible combination of Hawkwind, Parson Sound, the Boredoms and Zodiac Mountain and it would've pleased me wholly if they made the whole album sound exactly like it. Unfortunately the band gollow "Brain Soaked Hide" up with the unnecessary and mood-ruining "Tonsillar" a two-minute torrent of feedback that's more Japanoise than New Weird America.
If you've got the necessary means (as in a filesharing program), I recommend you save your money and download the entire unediting original No-Neck Victo performance rather than listen to this mutilated version of it. And while you've got that program open you might as well look for the two songs I recommended above because they're a couple of the best No-Neck "singles" I've ever heard. A few days back I discussed this album with a friend who went to the original show as well and he agreed that it was nothing at all like he recalled it to be, but then he reminded me of the "Collective Imaginings of Quantarenius, Cook & Co" album NNCK (ironically enough) launched at Victoriaville. It too was culled from a live performance but split into tracks and probably didn't sound a whole lot like what audience members might've remembered or expected to hear on the second go-around. If that's their M.O. then so be it, but all things considered I can't fathom why they would've chosen to disfigure such a transcendant set in exchange for the quick cuts presented here.


Nonhorse - Haraam, Circle of Flame (Release the Bats CD)

Matthias Andersson must be a glutton for punishment, because why else would he send me this new disc from his Release the Bats publishing house? He had to know I'd be talking about it, and no one wants that. But heck, I won't say no. If you don't know Nonhorse - and that's to be expected because this is the maiden Nonhorse voyage - it's the moniker used by Wooden Wand & the Vanishing Voice member Gabriel Lucas Crane. And if that name doesn't tell you anything, well here's a hint - he's the scruffy one. Ahahaha get it? Because they're all pretty scruffy you see. Anyway the story to "Haraam, Circle of Flame" is that it's apparently composed entirely from from "mysterious old cassette tapes", although I'm not 100% sure exactly what that entails...if Crane is using old recordings he himself made, or found-sound tapes, or some kind of plunderphonic method or what. I can say that there's nary an identifiable sound to be heard here, so don't expect "Night Ripper" for the Luc Ferrari set.
I've played "Haraam" about five or six times through now and I'm just barely beginning to get a grasp of things although it's still a pretty flummoxing album. There's thirteen individual tracks all almost exactly 3:14 in length with something on the insert that looks like a tracklist but is way too jumbled to possibly make any sense out of, so we'll say they're all untitled for simplicity's sake. Every song is like an excerpt of a larger composition, and each one sounds indeed like old, mysterious sounds hitherto unheard by the world at large being welded together, into and on top of eachother. It really is more like a series of sounds more than samples or anything like that, but the choice of sounds is what's most intriguing. I'd hazard a stab that most of what's heard on "Haraam" comes from effect pedals, synthesizers, keyboards and drum machines with the rest being indistinguishable blurs of aural gloop from flea market tapes and badly-damaged archival spools. Snatches of human voices crop up every now and again but disappear too quickly for your ear to hook onto anything and it's anybody's guess where they're coming from or what they're saying. Crane's work on this CD makes me think especially of Spencer Clark's "Un Chand Pyramdelier" CD-R under the Vodka Soap moniker, albeit less drone/ritual hazed and more frequently-shifting moods and sonics. Or maybe like he's mixing together badly-recorded Double Leopards bootlegs with dubs of the Sublime Frequencies catalogue and the more esoteric and wordless jolts from the Sun City Girls and calling it an ode to "Revolution No. 9". What about McCartney and Ringo covering pieces by Philip Jeck? Yeaaah, now we're talking! And then Crane comes along and stomps all over the results with his proverbial personal touch. I think I've got it! Wait...no, I haven't. Which is the curious thing about "Haraam" in that no matter how many times I play it, nothing sticks. This is I guess a blessing and a curse - I'd be hard-pressed to call it a very memorable album but at the same time I want to keep coming back to it because it never gets old. It'd take you an infinite number of plays of each song (let alone the entire album) before the molasses-like stew dribbling out of the speakers begins to make some sense. So, as you can see, I'm just getting started on cracking it. Like a...Kinder Surprise! No, wait! Like Ringo and Marcia Bassett putting together Kinder Surprises while Jeck and the dudes from the Skaters listen to Sublime Frequencies tapes at Luc Ferrari's house with Matthias Andersson and Girl Talk jamming on Paul McCartney's keyboard while...bah, lost my train of thought.
Only thing more perplexing than the CD is the package it comes in. RtB usually do it up to the nines but Nonhorse's disc comes surprisingly dressed-down (well, for them) in a simple cardboard sleeve with a single-sheet insert, albeit it just about everything is covered in insane psych/kindergarten designs from I'm assuming Mr. G.L.C. himself. It is limited to 500 however, but you've got time.


Sandy Bull - Still Valentine's Day 1969 (Water CD)

What better way to start 2007 than by catching up with all the hot releases I missed in 2006? Well you can't really fault me for this one. It came out late enough in the year and plus, it was a Christmas gift! And what a gift at that. I'm not a scholar of a lot of things, and I'm certainly no Sandy Bull scholar, but I have heard his Vanguard albums "Inventions" (1965) and "E Pluribus Unum" (1969) and I do know he was a major rager of the four/six/twelve/non-stringed motherfucker, so I couldn't pass up a chance at hearing Bull performing live as released for the very first time anywhere. The tracks on "Still Valentine's Day 1969" are culled from a couple of '69 shows, one on February 14th and the other on April 5th, both at the Matrix in San Francisco although the liner notes don't exactly clarify which song is pulled from where. Bull shared the bill with this Fahey guy, and you can hear the fruits from his set on the "Great Santa Barbara Oil Slick" LP, also released by Water.
If you know Sandy Bull already, then you know he was influenced by a wide variety of musics - rock, blues, classical, raga, jazz and Indian - and had an arsenal of instruments to match. Bull plays not only acoustic and electric guitars but also oud and banjo, all four of which all make appearances somewhere along the terrain of his live shows. As if that wasn't enough, Bull often accompanied himself when playing live, setting his rolling guitar rhythms to prerecorded tapes...and he also gets some help from Ornette Coleman drummer Billy Higgins on a couple of pieces. Overall though the results on "Still Valentine's Day" are somewhat scattershot (keeping in mind that Bull himself was a kind of a scattershot-type dude). That is to say they'll never achieve the free-flowing completeness of "E Pluribus Unum"'s two side-long jams, but obviously they're not supposed to. They're rough cuts from a performance where Bull admittedly wasn't on top of his game: he's playing with entirely new gear due to lost equipment or some such mix-up. But that only adds to the charm of the set. Who wants a polished Sandy Bull anyway? Man I want to hear him as ragged as the beard that sits on his face while he's (s)laying out these tunes. The highlights of the disc are the three cover versions he interprets with a mastery of the original song that borders on pure wizardry. Case in point: the haunting melody of Bach's "Bouree" (you'll know it when you hear it), Luiz Bonfa's "Manha de Carnival" (an incredible pre-bossa nova hammock twister stretched out to ten glorious minutos) and Chuck Berry's "Memphis, TN" that Bull had to stop playing for awhile because he lost the backing track for it. "The quality's not too good, but at least it's a background" sez he. Ay-men! If I'm not mistaken there is a more expanded rendition available on his "Pluribus" LP but this'll do just fine in a pinch. Among his originals are "No Deposit, No Return Blues" which is an echo-y dustbowl that is probably due to be given the once-over into 45-minute form via Matt Valentine, Erika Elder and their like-minded troupe, all surely devotees to the altar of the Bull. Rounding out the album are two sets of improvisations, the first two being "Improvisation for Oud" numbers one and two and "Electric Blend" parts one and two. Both oud improvs are short, the first one featuring Bull solo doling out naked refrains and the second in accompaniment of Billy Higgins' sublime drumming. Higgins also appears on the "Electric Blend" couplet but I found these to be somewhat less interesting, especially when the two combined total more than twenty minutes worth of electric reverb stabbing that bounces against my eardrums a few too many times for my liking. The tracks do have their share of inspired brilliance though, as does much of the rest of the set. I wouldn't necessarily recommend "Still Valentine's Day" to a total newcomer but at the end of the day it's still an invaluable document of a desperately under-recorded artist.
The Water label really did a top-notch job packaging this thing up, as it comes in one of those cardboard fold-out sleeves that seem to have become all the rage these days (I forget their actual name) with lovely pictures to match, not to mention an essay from Byron Coley (which alone should be enough to tell you how essential this album probably is...right?).