CJA/Smokehouse - Whisky & Freedom / Nonhorse - Xol Mic (Abandon Ship Records CSs)
I'm behind enough that I can't call these hot off the press, let's just say lukewarm off the press perhaps. At least Abandon Ship were kind enough to hold off on any new releases until I reviewed these final pieces from their last package (see last month-ish for mention of the Futurians and Buck Paco 3"s), so thanks to them for that. The rest ain't for long though, as they've got a whole slew more in the werks: 6majik9, Thousands, Stoneburner, David Newlyn, Fantastic Magic, Nessmuk, Crow Feathers, Capricorn Wings, and Starving Weirdos (a 7", first vinyl for the label!). Sheesh, what ever happened to sleep? It's not like these two monsters won't tide you over for the rest of your days either - the collaborative tape between CJA (Clayton Noone of the Futurians) and Smokehouse (Kaaterama Morehucan) is a healthy c30 deserving of multiple/endless plays while Nonhorse (G. Lucas Crane of Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice) spreads out over a c90 (!). Like I said, these could be the last two tapes I ever buy and I wouldn't kill myself, least not for a little while.
I had a hard time grappling the CJA/Smokehouse tape because if you're like me, you've come to believe that a forward slash seperating two artists' names on one release implies a split, but it ain't so - this is a real meeting of the minds (and bodies, none of that snail mail collab shit). Smokehouse is a new name to me but I knew CJA's brand of skewed apocalyptic folk/singer-songwriter/what the fuck am I hearing from PseudoArana's "Pink Metal" 2xCD-R issue. On "Whisky & Freedom" they gang thegither on vocals, guitars, organs, and drums each, and produce a selection of ten tracks split five aside. The first side is filled with hazy afternoon loner blues/jam ramble, with a the dissonant, guitar-led numbers sandwiched in between lengthy hangs of tape hiss and general silence, adding still more to the off-the-cuff air that already imbues most of these lazily strummed numbers. All the songs bleed pretty well in together like the cigarette smoke that filled the New Zealand basement where these tracks were laid down so it's pointless for me to try and break em up for you. Think a stripped-down form of early 90's Dead C. dirges like "Helen Said This", replete with Michael Morley's bored, languid vocals and Bruce Russell seemingly aimless strums. Mix that up with a touch of Syd, Skip Spence, Sky Saxon (insert S-initialed acid casualty here), and some varnish-stained floorboard shuffling blooz and you're all set. The second side doesn't play it quite so straight, the first couple of tracks ("Sunshine Stream", "In Bed") being instrumental guitar pieces and owing more to the trembling psychedelics of, say, Keiji Haino. There's a couple more pieces that seem to meet between the solo acoustic and experimental guitar flavors, using repetitive chord rhythms, stuttering organs, and wordless incantations to achieve maximal stoned psychfolk ecstasy. The record closes off with a so-called "traditional arrangement" of the cassette's namesake, sounding like a busted, semi-sober take on a poppy, Fahey-ish bluegrass ditty that deserves to be, like, a side and a half longer than it actually is. Overall "Whisky & Freedom" (the tape, not the song; okay maybe both) is a total masterwork and I wish I had the right words to do it justice. In part it's because these cats know what the hell they're doing and in part because it's just the perfect August record and hit at the right time. Seriously, you need to own this and if Abandon Ship's reputation for quality release after quality release was ever in jeopardy, well this tape slams all doubts. They could stick to putting out strictly Nickelback tapes after this one and I wouldn't lose an iota of respect. They've earned the right to do whatever they want.
Gabriel Lucas Crane has done a bit of work now under the Nonhorse name, but I've only heard "Haraam, Circle of Flame" from Release the Bats last year (this year?) and it was quite good. A weird mess of noisy blats, skronks, whirrs cut up and reassembled, nine untitled pieces each lasting exactly three minutes and fourteen seconds. "Xol Mic" contains two enormous tracks, "Torquqe Binder" on the first side and "Tony's Room" on the second, both somewhere around 30-40 minutes each. There's a detailing story from Crane behind both of these tracks, which you can read on the Abandon Ship site and then explain back to me since I have no idea what to make of em. Nevertheless. "Torquqe Binder", Crane's "ode" to Xol Mic (I told you, go read it), is pretty much the perfect Nonhorse track and exactly where I hoped things would go after I heard "Haraam". Some 40 minutes of total imnmersion in the briny depths of Crane's bottomless soundpool. Through the use of (I'm assuming) turntables, field recordings, tape manipulations, reel-to-reels, and likely a host of homespun gadgets and other instruments, Crane conjures up a continuous stream of slowly shifting sounds coming together in blurred swirls of nearly-identifiable waves. When you listen to "Torquqe", it's like trying to find something to grab onto while floating in outer space - reach your arms out all you want 'cause you're not finding anything. What you hear on "Torquqe" hardly resembles music, but don't misconstrue that as "oh this is a noise record" because it's anything but (well, this side at least). You hear plenty of sounds, but they're mashed together in such a totally abnormal fashion, it's literally unlike anything you've heard before - imagine picking up on an alien satellite whereby music is made using methods never before heard by the human ear. Maybe it's a slight exaggeration but it's also an apt way to describe the total alienation and disorientation brought on by the way Crane strings his sounds together. Imagine some crazed combination of AMM, Christian Marclay, Philip Jeck, "Revolution No. 9", Boyd Rice, John Oswald, Le Forte Four, Vodka Soap...I dunno, help me out here. Whatever, that's the easy way out, hearing it for yourself is the only way and I strongly recommend it.
The second side "Tony's Room" (this being a tribute to a guy named Tony whose room Crane moved into) was recorded with Foxy Pink Gloves (?) on bass clarinet, and it doesn't quite live up to the expectations set by "Torquqe Binder", but that's a tough gig to follow up. It's a side of scratchy, stretched-out drone hollowings and synth rumblings, bordering on a less straight/more fucked version of John Olson's Waves project by way of Putrefier, heavier on head-emptying drones broken up by Richter scale squiggles and disruptions than the all-out noize assaults though. It ain't harsh or anything, just not particularly fascinating...maybe it should've come first? Apparently Crane had to put out a fire in his sock drawer as this piece was being played. Intense!
I think I said plenty at this point, anything else is gonna be overkill. The CJA/Smokehouse tape is a necessity and the first half of Nonhorse's is absolute top shelf. $6 U.S., $7 Canada, $9 world for each and both are still available. Don't be a dang fool - stick that landing. Oooh yeah!