Night in a Graveyard: Recent Graveyards & Related Round-Up
Weeks ago I talked about Jeff Arnal & Dietrich Eichmann's incredible LP on Editions Brokenresearch that was purchased at a recent Graveyards show. Here's the remainder of the fruits from that excursion. Kudos to the Graveyards crew for keeping their prices way more than reasonable and allowing to maximize the return on my Canadian moneys. Can't remember if I mentioned it in the other review but Olson, H was on that evening and slayed me in suitable fashion.
Night in a Graveyard (Rococo One-Sided LP) came out last year as part of Rococo's "Me Gusta Me Gusta" subscription series, whatever that may be/may have been. I see now they've done "Night in a Graveyard Part 2", another one-sider on white vinyl, but I haven't gotten that far yet. The one side of this record is almost certainly an excerpt for a longer proceeding because there's no real beginning, middle, or end to anything. You're plunked down and yanked out of the set almost before you're able to get a grip on anything. Anyway, this record features the trio's now signature style of ultra spacious un-jazz explorations via sax, cello, and percussion (which is to say no electronics this round). It starts out with Ben Hall's slow, deliberate cymbal clangs and shuffles before Hans attacks his cello with scissorhands and Olson not too far behind blowing sinister trawls over and across the group's collective plane. Hall and Buetow each take center stage for lovely unaccompanied spots, then the trio reconvene; not with the blow-out one would expect but more a drifting, lackadaisical push that smokes out and leaves me thinking that there was plenty more to hear from this soiree of activity. It's nice if not outstanding, and doesn't amount to much more than a morsel, all told. Only real complaint is the quality - lots of popping to be heard on the vinyl which kind of detracts from the quieter moments. Or adds to it, if you want to look at it that way.
Mêlée's "Bare Those Excellent Teeth II" (Editions Brokenresearch LP) is presumably a sequel to Graveyards' Brokenresearch LP of the same title, though I'm not exactly sure how that criteria was met. Graveyards seem to have this thing going where they're adopting names of old Graveyards releases for use as new projects, and that's what happened here (and below if you keep reading). "Melees" was a Graveyards record, and now Mêlée is the name bestowed upon the trio of Buetow, Hall and trumpeter Nate Wooley. The first side features so many lengthy ravines of silence that when the music sounds in it sounds almost like a jump-cut collage and not a live action. The snatches that do crop up conjure up a wide range of influences: Buetow's tightly-wound cello skronks reminds very much of Tony Conrad's "Early Minimalism" violin work, Wooley's trumpet works in tense slasher flick creep-ups as well as lengthier huffs (which occasionally melt with Buetow's cello into Theatre of Eternal Music style dronings), and collective similarities to the worlds of onkyo and electro-acoustic improvisation. The latter half finds the trio closing in on dark ambient shades only scarcely keeping up the holy ghost of jazz throughout. The second side is split between segments of inaudible stirrings and all-out (funeral) parlour playing. Wooley's blank-note blowing is the perfect touch to send the set home as Buetow's Conrad-esque grimaces grind through in finale. Highly recommended, but limited to just 200 pieces. On sexy snow white vinyl, too. Act fast.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I decided on Graveyards' "Traum" (American Tapes 2xCS/CD-R) box but it was a good price and got a heavy recommendation from Hans (a bipartisan commentator, no doubt) so why not. Turns out it's limited to 17 pieces and I think I saw 16 other copies clutched in the hot little hands of other attendees that night, so ring up the Montreal area if you really want one, maybe someone'll part with it. Before I heard any of the music contained within the cardboard mailer I was almost regretting buying it since American Tapes tour releases like this are usually rather off-the-cuff and feature about 10 minutes of actual sound on whatever medium they may come on, but I couldn't have been more wrong. The two cassettes are c60's that are actually filled to the brim (or just about) with sound, and the CD-R goes for around 50 minutes, making this box three solid hours of Graveyards-induced fun and/or terror. Like I alluded to above, "Traum" has already become the name of a Graveyards offshoot (Hall, Buetow, and Lambsbread's guitarist Zac Davis), but I'm at least fairly certain that the lineup is still Olson/Hall/Buetow here, especially since the Traum (band) sample on the Brokenresearch website doesn't sound a thing like the "Traum" (box) I have here. In fact, I'm pretty sure "Traum" consists of really, really old Graveyards material. It's about a zillion times more noisy than anything they've approached in recent days, and features some of the ugliest, gnarliest fidelity I've ever heard on anything bearing the Graveyards mark, especially the cassettes. They're so bogged down with overbearing hiss and warble, it practically adds a whole 'nother dimension to the group's existing sound. Not only that, but the trio are also playing some of their ugliest, gnarliest music, so it's a real Mulligan stew set to tape. The first side of the first tape I put on bears so much in the way of strained synth noise it's a lot closer to Wolf Eyes operating with a jazz drummer than anything else, as Hall is about the only semblance of the Graveyards sound managing to beat his way through the hellish din. Maybe an even better comparison would be Brian Ramirez's Poor School project teaming up with John Olson's ear-mangling Waves excursions. A seperate session on side one does see them returning to a vaguely familiar form but it sounds like Olson's playing a toy flute and Hall is beating up on upside-down metal trash cans for all I can tell, and they close it off with an ugly circuit bending/rampant percussion duel. The first piece on side two boasts an endless string of sharp electronic bite and oddly-timed whumps that sound more like cello than drums. Olson blows dizzy lines from way underneath the rubble of a feedback-ravaged living room but otherwise this is totally alien. The other piece is again slightly more "traditional" with Olson swaying from drawn-out one-note blats to more fleshed-out harmonies and Hall's robotic limbs working themselves into an automated frenzy. Buetow's involvement seems minimal/non-existant but then again I never really was the observant type.
First side of tape two is more fluid and coherant, again with minimal electronic skrees and featuring some of the most dazzling drumming this side of Rashied Ali. Olson and Hall duets seem to occupy most of the space here too, but maybe Buetow's just too sublime for the lo-fi-ness to pick up properly. Side two is more focused on lengthy sax pitches locking horns with barren synth squeals, forcing the piece into Reynals/"Whistling Kettle Quartet" turf at times. Buetow (present, definitely) and Hall add in deft pinches of sound where they deem necessary, like spectators egging on Olson in his battle to the death with the perpetual gamma ray of noise coming for his head. It keeps the whole track semi-groundedand at least somewhat identifiable as a Graveyards jam.
The CD-R is the toughest nut to crack of all. It features five untitled tracks, with some retaining early dirty/jazzy/noisy properties as heard on, say, the "Cemetary Open" records (particularly tracks one and five) but also busts some of their most flagrantly abrasive moves to date. The 13-minute second track is a straight up noise burn that's almost too singular-minded to even be considered a Wolf Eyes track. It's just a harsh, loud, reaming with Olson playing along in poorly-recorded glory for almost the entire time; the 15-minute track three is more experimental in attack but still brutal, and the saxophone and off-kilter, prepared sounds are the only semblances of percussion to be found. Who knew the link between the Abe/Takayanagi duo sets and the demolishing jazz/rock-influenced noise of Hijokaidan and Incapacitants could be found in Michigan, of all places? This has to be - has to be - Graveyards at their most embryonic stages, both embracing and distancing themselves from the experimental noise scene they all became tied to at one point. I myself prefer what they're currently dabbling in, but some of this stuff is crucial listening to find out how the trio got from where they were to where they're at.
Which I spose brings us to Graveyards' "Can I Take Medications If I Am Straight Edge?/Tales from the Unhealer" (Audiobot CD-R). Couldn't find nary a mention of this beautifically-rendered disc on the information superhighway, even the Audiobot website is mum on the topic. In fact, only mention I could find was from this nice fellow's blog posting which, amusingly enough, bemoans the same lack-of-info issue I'm in the process of expounding to you. This is a two-track (obviously) CD-R culled from a couple of live performances, and has to be the absolute peak of the trio's obsession with slow-paced, vacant, tense, silence-driven sparring sessions to date. At least the first eight minutes of "Can I Take Medications If I Am Straight Edge?" are dedicated to near-nothingless, with Buetow's shrill bowing and Hall's cymbal shaving only occasionally cutting through the hiss of the recording device. Slowly but surely the gears start moving and all three move in step for brief glimmers, relaxing back into their chairs as soon as you think something's about to erupt. They played with this trick a few times when I saw them before giving in to the urge and playing it balls-to-the-wall fire music rampage style, but the payoff never really comes here. Instead they stick to quick sprints throughout the near 25-minutes, weaving tension and release in and out of the other too quickly to ever really feel one emotion over the other. "Tales from the Unhealer" is a sludgier sound and the trio sound more on edge, opting for louder, more rambunctious moves than the previous session allowed. In fact, they spend a good bunch of the minutes here firing on all cyllinders, with only brief pauses to regroup before charging headfirst once again. It's actually two pieces in one, as applause breaks the set up halfway through the 20-minute track and they have another go, with Olson spewing ear-splitting sax noise to Buetow's groans, only to be joined by Hall in a final send-off which sees the three approaching the ecstatic, brash, Last Exit vernacular they sometimes so conscienciously avoid. The impact would've been all the more greater if the quality was better, but what're you gonna do.
I would say for your money the Mêlée LP is nonmissable (and you better get the Arnal/Eichmann record at the same time) and the Audiobot CD-R is a worthy listen as well. I won't even bother recommending the box because as good as it may be, it's long gone by now. Besides, if you're interested in earlier Graveyards approach, why not wait for that rumoured "Endings" box set? The Rococo one-sider is good, but not an essential piece if you've already got a lot of other Graveyards in your record collection to spend time with. Anyway I'm a sucker for just about anything these guys come up with, so you can hardly go wrong whichever way you choose by my book. Which isn't a very picky book, to say the least.
Click here to listen to MP3 samples from the above albums
Mêlée MP3 courtesy Editions Brokenresearch