(VxPxCx) - Reticent to Manifest / Spectre Folk - Papa Smurf Smiles Down On Us From Heaven / Quetzolcoatl - Vast Eternity Bridges (Abandon Ship CSs)
Too long ago, Nate of the upstart Abandon Ship record label sent me his three inaugural releases. I only got down to listening to them today, despite the fact that not only do they look like sure winners but they've been recepients of major praise all across the lands. I guess you can toss my hat in with the other praisers, although I'll be the first to tell you I was pretty smitten as it was when I found out it was all tapes. But then when you take into consideration the artists, the packaging (the cassettes match the colors of the sleeve art! Sweet sassy molassy), and of course the sounds...well it's a recipe for lust and love where I come from. Recent - as in, two days ago - updates on the Abandon Ship website indicate even more sluggers around the bend: tapes on deck from Nonhorse (G. Lucas Crane of the Vanishing Voice) and CJA/Smokehouse with a 3" CD-R from the Futurians. But I'm getting ahead of myself. First and foremost, what about theez?
Well. I started with (VxPxC), a band I know absolutely dick about because I was always under the impression they were some sort of no-wave/hardcore outfit, and with a name like that can you really blame me (and if you haven't noticed by now, I basically stay away from anything that even hints at latter-day no-wave)? I'm sorry I didn't investigate earlier because "Reticent to Manifest" is pretty darn great. Side one's "Swooning" boasts a ragged, accordion-lead shirtless bloodfeast that goes down a lot smoother than you might expect from these crude dudes - as if you haven't had enough back woods/backwards harmony in your life and record collection yet. "Down to Nothing", the other half of that side, reps still more accordion (or maybe harmonica? I lost the plot somewhere in there) and syrupy guitar loll, but the addition of deeply-echoed vocal drawl beckons easy the ghost of Led Zep's "No Quarter" near throughout - and anything that brings me back to the finer minutes of "Houses" is thumbs up for me. I noticed on this whole side and moments of the second, an almost dub-like haze permeating every nook and cranny of this recording, make it even thicker and weightier than it really ought to be. Which is great. "Icy Spectral Fingers" on the flip is a brilliant out-rock piece with an arcing piano wail (electronically generated and/or mutilated, perchance) in line with mounting, choir-like death chants. It's beautifully structured, subtly majestic, and hits all the notes you never knew you wanted to hear so badly. I could throw out some kinda New Weird blender mix to give you an approximation but that really wouldn't be fair to (VxPxC), they're better than that. Like Alan Watts once said, "this is it!". The last of the four songs is "Hard to Stand", and it really isn't, as a voice-wrangled contortion like something the Skaters might attempt at their most lucid and listener-friendly...which still sounds super sloshed.
Spectre Folk is The One Pete Nolan, of the Magik Markers and GHQ and Valley of Ashes and other such ventures. Spectre Folk is the name usually given to his solo releases and "Papa Smurf Smiles Down On Us From Heaven" (the album is dedicated to a friend of Nolan's who passed away, so I'm assuming the title is somehow inspired by it in some way as well) does a tip-top job of demonstrating his diverse musical interests, to say the least. The first half of this 40-minute tape is a cover/ode/interpretation of a bootlegged appearance from Don Cherry on a 70's Italian television show (got all that? I don't) and it's a long side of dual acoustic/electric guitar noodlings matched with Pete's wasted, stretched vocals. The restrained psych guitar ramble here sounds almost like something you'd hear on an Edip Akbayram record, with Nolan holding it all in till it sounds like he's about to bust at the seams. Definitely a heavy Eastern slant here but the vocals make this one sound straight offa Planet X. I'm all the more curious to hear the source material, too. Elsewhere, "I Hate This Shit" (credited to No Fun Fest in the way that "Italian TV 1" and "2" were credited to Don Cherry) is a noise blowout of the highest degree, with Nolan generating amp feedback, laying guitar noise on top of that, and then programming drums to boot. All in all it's a searing, lo-fi riptide and the drumming is so below everything else it sounds like somebody's in your garage playing an empty gas can. All the harshness of that track is balanced out somewhat by a smokey cover of Gene Clark's "You Showed Me", which appeared in poorer form (Nolan's words, not mine) on the Three Lobed release of "Requiem for Ming Aralia". He doesn't have to do anything extreme with the song because listening to Pete's version reminds me just how haunting the original is. I think I prefer the "Requiem" version myself but it works in any form because it's such a great song and it's done all the justice in the world here.
Quetzolcoatl is another act new to my ears but I've learned it's Ireland's Tim Hurley behind the sounds, and at least half of "Vast Eternity Bridges" is a rolling stoned slayer. I'd tell you about the other side, but I fell asleep listening before I could get to it and had to dash off this review before it got too too late. The good thing is that the first side is so great that you don't even need to know about another side before I tell you that you need to own this if you're into any sort of weird, phantom hover like I know you are. Quetzolcoatl's music here is a brely-there sleepwalk through misty, dew-eyed dreamworlds: tribal drumming drops in like a brief rainstorm only to congeal back into the dense fog from which it came...lilting, druid-ed vocals float through and threaten to take you up by the seat of your pants all the way to the skies...the yawning, cavernous synthesizer/mini-disc/whatever-generated soundpool slowly incapacitates you from the ankles on up, like the opposite of a night terror where you can't move but everything's still blissful. The kinda thought going on here hits up Fennesz at his absolute dreamiest mixed in with the fuzzy, cinematic scope of Supersilent and the all-encompassing warmth of a band like the Vibracathedral Orchestra, or Ashtray Navigations. But it's way more, and way better than that. Tim Hurley, man. Remember the name now because you'll be mumbling it in your sleep later.
Even for an easy-to-please cowboy like me, I wasn't expecting Nate and Abandon Ship to go 3-for-3 in the first game of the season, but he's certainly exceeded my expectations with these three jewels. The good news is that the (VxPxC) and the Quetzolcoatl tapes are still available at a rock-bottom price direct from the label. They're out of Spectre Folk so you'll have to try your hand elsewhere for that one, although I'd consider the other two top priorities...not because Pete's was bad, but because the others were such nice surprises, at least to me. Gee, maybe if I can finally pull my head outta the sand I can stop being so darned shocked and be on the ball for once...naw.
(VxPxC) - Swooning (excerpt)
(VxPxC) - Icy Spectral Fingers (excerpt)
Spectre Folk - Italian TV 2 (Don Cherry) (excerpt)
Spectre Folk - I Hate This Shit (No Fun Fest) (excerpt)