Psalm Alarm - Blk Paintings Vol. 1 / Poor School - Voor Niets in Zijn (Cut Hands CD-Rs)
I've given up on trying to catch up with Joris and his Cut Hands label, because he's spitting out CD-Rs faster than I can count em. These two are probably way old hat by now, he's got new drool (his words) already available for purchase by Jazzfinger, Women in Tragedy, Orphax, and many others...with still more on the way in the near future. Cheeez, talk about making up for lost time. You'll have to excuse me and my antiquity here. Both these discs have roots in the Wolf Eyes organization, even if they're none of the members are directly involved - Psalm Alam is John Olson's Graveyards colleagues Ben Hall and Hans Buetow with Zach Wallace on bass, while Poor School is a newish group featuring Bryan Ramirez who used to play in Universal Indians with Olson and Aaron Dilloway. How's that for six degrees of separation? Okay, it's really more like one degree, but you get the gist of my fist. Psalm Alarm comes sealed in a spraypainted envelope-style sleeve (sealed!) with insert, while Poor School is housed in a slimline DVD-style case with glossy oversize insert. Both are limited to under 100 copies and the former is already sold out at source.
I wasn't too sure how a cello/bass/percussion Graveyards formation was going to work, especially since the saxophone is sometimes the clarion call that keeps the whole thing afloat, at least to me. Don't get me wrong, Hall and Buetow are absolutely capable musicians in their own right, but I was already envisioning deeply silenced, microtonal morse codes more onkyo than anything else. And not that there's a problem with that either, I just thought it'd be easy to peg. I was quite wrong. Oh sure for the early goings of the record are spent feeling things out and establishing a creeped base of eerie dissonance and vibration, but it heads off in a very appealing direction very quickly. Hall's percussion hits are sparse enough to jolt and rattle your teeth every time they're smacked out and Buetow engages in the kind of fantastical cello play that seems to channel John Cale's "Sun Blindness Music" and spray it back out as solemn ritualism. Zach Wallace's contributions on the other hand are quite a bit more understated, to the point where it sounds like this could even be a Buetow/Hall duo set, until the second track where his low-slung string rolling loll and bounce around the collective skull of the group. When it's Buetow and Hall's turn to play supporting cast, they fill the role to a tee, churning up black bile horror movie soundtrack tension and thick, foreboding smog. By the end of "Blk Paintings", the trio somehow turn their individual scrapings into a lush, full sound that gets downright orchestral before giving way to Hall's shredding cymbals against a woozy, warm sunset backdrop courtesy Wallace and Buetow. These Graveyards cats seem to get better and better with every New Thing, regardless of the current formation. Now I see they've even got a new CD-R out under the Ex-Graveyards name, no idea what the difference is yet but I'll have to track it down and find out. One thing that bamboozles me is that I believe Graveyards released a tape last year called "Psalm Alarm" - so I guess these guys took their own prior title for a name, and released an album called "Blk Paintings Vol. 1". But, hold on, I just discovered that Graveyards have released "Blk Paintings Vol. 2" on Double Fantasy. Can I get a FAQ or something here?
Like Psalm Alarm, this Poor School record also has "roots" in "jazz", with Bryan Ramirez on guitar and Nathan Hoyme on saxophone and John Niekrasz on drums, but the outcome is so fucked and skewed that jazz winds up being little more than a backwards glance. If you know Ramirez from his work in Universal Indians and now in Ex-Cocaine, you know he likes to keep it grimy, and "Voor Niets in Zijn" is no exception. The recording is taken from beautifically muddled 2006 session and features two tracks totalling about half an hour between them, but it really goes by like *that* (imagine me snapping my fingers here). On the first cut, the trio lurch into stomping rhythms driven by Ramirez's tattered guitar licks and Niekrasz's stuttering drum rolls. Hoyme shadows the affair with various brass-screamed underlyings until the trio explodes into a scribbled mess of jazz/noise/free howl in which everybody seems to play as loud and as painful as possible. Rad. But part two is the real gravy - Hoyme rules this one with soulful blowing that's more Brotzmann-on-Ayler than Ayler himself (you could say Brotzmann's beer breath is all over this one), and Ramirez/Niekrasz do well to build up an incredible, exhilerating steel structure around Hoyme's efforts. It builds into a perfect meditation on head-nodding, testicle-clenching pure rock anticipation, before exploding slowly like human blood filling up a blue ocean. The three are so perfectly in sync on this number, you'd figure it's all stemming from the same multi-headed behemoth. Maybe it is. You ever played Maniac Mansion 2: Day of the Tentacle? You know at the end of the game when Bernard, Laverne and Hoagie "share" the same body? Fuckin' a, man. Hard to even nail these guys down anywhere close to the jazz spectrum when they get so guttural and frayed, I guess I could slot em alongside NYC's Tenor Rising, Drums Expanding with more muscle, but at other points I'm hitting on anything from the Brainbombs to Harry Pussy to Last Exit to Electric Wizard to Fushitsusha to Borbetomagus to Thurston Moore's Dream Aktion Units to...hey speaking of Thurston Moore, his Ecstatic Peace! label is supposed to be a doing a proper LP issue of an early Poor School LP, "The Holy Master". Sign me up for the intramurals, lunchlady.
If Cut Hands keep throwing out the heavy hitters like these, I'm almost going to have to buy some stock in the company. If yous ain't got these yet, it's time to diversify your portfolio. The Psalm Alarm might still be available from some stores out there in Internetland but the Poor School is still in stock at Joris' warehouse and should not be missed under any circumstances.
Psalm Alarm - Untitled (track 1) (excerpt)
Psalm Alarm - Untitled (track 2) (excerpt)
Poor School - Untitled (track 1) (excerpt)
Poor School - Untitled (track 2) (excerpt)