6.29.2007

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

6.27.2007

Mayhem - Order Ad Chao (Season of Mist CD)


A few years ago when I was a lot more into metal I used to waste loads of time at HMV, because there was a guy there who knew his stuff and would stock the metal section rather admirably. I mean, we're not talking underground vinyl here because it is HMV after all, but I used to take loads of flyers on the various Relapse, Nuclear Blast, Season of Mist, Candlelight, Peaceville, etc. releases that'd come in. Having fallen out of nearly all forms of metal recently, it's safe to say I've been spending money in venues other than HMV, but I recently found myself back in there once more trying to kill some time. I paid a visit to the metal section wondering if anything good had come out lately, and apparently the new Mayhem had. I was never even much of a Mayhem fan, either. "De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas" is a classic, and I was into "Live in Leipzig" and "Deathcrush" as well. You know, the black metal rites of passage. I never heard 1997's "Wolf's Lair Abyss" which is apparently pretty good, but their late 90s/00s output was pretty much a shell of what the band used to be. 2000's "Grand Declaration of War" was abysmal and 2004's "Chimera" wasn't much better. What brought me back around on "Order Ad Chao"? Same reason that brought me back around with Cryptopsy's "Once Was Not" two years ago - old lead singers rejoining the fold, yeah! I'm talking about Attila Csihar replacing Maniac, of course. Not that I really had a problem with Maniac. It certainly wasn't his presence alone that was ruining the later-day Mayhem records he performed on, that was a group effort. But really, how could I say no? Attila was great with Aborym but to hear him back again with Necrobutcher, Blasphemer, and Hellhammer...I'm game.
Nobody really needs a Mayhem history lesson at this point (you should read "Lords of Chaos" if you do, it's not perfect but I think it's the best out there) so I'll just cut to the chase: "Order Ad Chao" is a great record. It's not a classic record and "De Mysteriis" is in no danger of being dethroned, but compared to the two full-lengths that came before it, "Order" is a borderline revelation. The production is slick, but not to the point of overkill - the record retains a sludgy, somber atmosphere that remains heavy on the low-end throughout. It's a switch from all the lo-fi black metal cassettes I've been buying lately but I don't mean that in a bad way. Its density pretty much suits its dark subject matter. The music itself is quite varied: at times the band stampede through with razor-sharp riffs and bludgeoning percussion, as on the furious "Wall of Water" (possibly as close as the band get to their earlier sound) and "Great Work of Ages". "Deconsecrate" deserves special mention for not only moving with blazing speed bolstered by Hellhammer's thunderous percussion, but for showcasing Attila at the absolute height of his vocal abilities, ranging from dramatic bellowing to cord-shredding wails and back to his usual snarl. The second half of the album is a bit more spacious and seems to take cues from death and even doom metal. It starts with the near-10 minute "Illuminate Eliminate", slowly festering with atmospheric guitar noise and Attila delivering a drawn-out growled diatribe until the track's midway point eruption, capped off with more strained vocal theatrics and a slithering, near-industrial finale, not at all unlike the aforementioned Aborym. Similar in approach albeit shorter in running time, "Psychic Horns" and "Key to the Storms" sees Mayhem peppering their whirlwind attacks with more spacious and disparate digs (check out Attila puking all over the downtime in the latter track). "Anti" is the perfect closer, marrying the all-out attack with gut-wrenching tension only to break loose and wind up with a conclusion with the power to bring down buildings, or at least mine own jaw.
As much as Attila deserves all the praise he'll get for his awe-inspiring return (not to mention the fact that he delivers in every possibly manner on the record), Hellhammer's insane drumming is what keeps things constantly pulsing. Dude's played for so many bands it's almost easy to forget how great he is at what he does, and I don't know if I've ever heard him operating at a higher level either. Maybe that's what makes "Ordo Ad Chao" so good and so much better than prior attempts - for the first time in ages it sounds like Mayhem came together to make a record that absolutely kills from start to finish, agendas and drama and everything else aside. I urge anyone with a vague interest in black metal to check out "Order Ad Chao", even if you've never heard the band's older works. It may not be as essential or life-altering as some of their other records, but it'll hardly steer you wrong either.
Final word about the packaging - Season of Mist, are you kidding me? When I first grabbed the album in its plastic wrap I thought it came with a really thick booklet since it was so heavy. Only when I took it out did I discover the insane metal slipcase that houses the jewel case, which itself contains a booklet containing lyrics and the like. Totally over the top and beautifully rendered; a suitable way to celebrate both their 150th release and a new Mayhem record that really does rule.

Click here to listen to MP3 samples from the above album

(A power failureprevented me from posting this last night so it goes today, in case you were wondering about the 6/27 date)

6.26.2007

The Skaters - Dispersed Royalty Ornaments (Wabana LP) / Dripping Avenues (Self-released CS)


Sunday on the way to a show a friend played me a great tape by either James Ferraro or Spencer Clark. It was the ridiculous one with the photocopied mustachoied dude on the cover and had a ridiculous title that might've involved the word "Lamborghini". It was influenced by disco. It was also on Volcanic Tongue for a couple of shakes of the lamb's tail. I was glad to hear it because it was a great, spot-hitting set of summer jams, and I had only recently begun to re-integrate myself into Skaters mode, since I guess I go through phases of listening to them. When I got home I remembered that I had these two documents just waiting to drill me off to sleep, and thought they'd make good blog fodder in the meanwhile. Skaters LPs are a rare enough sight so I had to snatch up the beautiful-looking "Dispersed Royalty Ornaments" courtesy Wabana as soon as I learned of its existence and the "Dripping Avenues" tape was a throw in to a Fusetron order or something a while ago because you can never have too much Skaters and you can never have too many cassettes...and you can never have too many Skaters on too many cassettes, of course.
There's never too much back story behind anything these guys ever put out, but Wabana spins the yarn that Ferraro and Clark are out there (Berlin and beyond, I'd assume) working on their private imaginations as they call em, with no phone and no Internet service and no way to field all the major label offers they've been getting! Well anyway they made a pretty good statement to the A&Rs of the omniverse with "Dispersed Royalty Ornaments". It features four untitled pieces, two per side, both split pretty cleanly down the middle of each vinyl side. The pieces themselves aren't too different from another but each side seems to represent a different sound, idea, session, what have you. The first is pierced with a bit more clarity than I've come to expect from later day Skaters & related (particularly Clark's Vodka Soap)...usually they're so wrapped up in muddy fug it's tough to get a grip on anything, but this one cuts through. A knower compared it to electric Miles and on first needle touch I thought he was yanking me but then I thought about it for a while as the two fiddled with knobs and dials and field recordings and microphones and it really started to soak through. And speaking of soaking through, I can definitely smell these guys recording this side belly button-deep in steamy, fetid, decomposing mush, all kinds of jungle fever and hidden throat works. Parts of this side really remind me of the yowling sets/tapes from local psychnoise trio Ste-Sophie though I guess that's hardly a useful point to you, unless you heard em. The Second Side's two pieces are even more disparate and minimal, serieseses of alien fetus yelps and groans simmered in a hazy stew of drooling aural flake. The sound poured onto the black wax here seems to melt and leak right off the turntable, till it's all over the floor and seeping into your ears that way. That way. If the first side was electric Miles, then the second side is a mutant Townes Van Zandt, stretched to paper-thin consistency and sloppily wound back up again. You'll know it if you hear it. Maybe.

The "Dripping Avenues" tape has already seen the light in a couple of forms. First, its B-side is "Wind Drapeing Incense", which was their side to the "California" 10xLP box set. Secondly, the whole thing (incl. "Dripping Avenues) was released by Sick Head Tapes in an edition of 60, now way gone. I dunno about the Sick Head edition but the Skaters' version comes with an insert "explaining" both pieces, at which point I have to question if James and Spencer really believe these insane, impenetrable blurbs they sometimes have been known to pen (see: "Diminishing Shrine Recycles") or if they're just bullshitting us. Or if I'm just too much of a dunderhead to dig for any semblance of a meaning, which is altogether very possible. Anyway, I didn't come here to read, I came here to listen! "Dripping Avenues" is new to my ears and I was wondering how it could stack up to the already-great-in-my-books "Wind Drapeing Incense" and it does stack up, it stacks up excellently. It's classic Skaters for a near 20 minutes: supremely muddled hand drumming (recorded somewhere between the 5th and 6th stages of hell) is the anchoring point around which a swirl of blacks and greys implode and interlock, with the pair's vocal chords serving as the central node of all the turbulent activity. The slimy distortion and fug goes down like a black tar shooter and all the while Ferraro and Clark maintain the absolute peak point of their collaborative prowess, making it seem like a slice to control something so amorphous (not to mention having it sound so good). Back when I reviewed the "California" box I was effusive in my praise for "Wind Drapeing Incense", and I remember thinking at the time that it possibly represented a huge leap forward for them. None of that's changed. The track still resonates with its multiple acts, each one built around a unique (and nearly identifiable!) sound source - pulsing ritual drumming, skewed Bollywood keyboard melodies, ghostly gospel chanting, and others that float through and catch your ear for only a second. It's the closest the Skaters have ever come to making a pop record, and that should be all the reason you need to hear it. If you're into the Skaters, skipped the "California" box, and missed the original Sick Head issue, holy balls do you need this. Even if you own the "California" box it's worth owning again on cassette format. Maybe. High high high recommendations to both.

Click here to listen to MP3 samples from the above albums (iMeem is back in action...for now)

6.25.2007

Blues Control - Blues Control / The Shining Path - The Shining Path / La Otracina - Tonal Ellipse of the One (Holy Mountain CDs)


I spent my long weekend with three new CDs from the ever-reliable Holy Mountain label, because they just put out perfect soundtracks to fritter away summer daze. Blues Control don't need an introduction from me at this point, but in case you don't know it's the duo of guitarist/junk electrician Russ Waterhouse and keyboardist/er Lea Cho, and they were responsible for that great "Puff" LP on Woodsist of times past, not to mention a more recent smash single as part of the Not Not Fun Bored Fortress split 7" series. Can they do any wrong? We'll find out! Also on the show is the Shining Path, the "rock band" version of Californians Monosov/Swirnoff aka Ilya Monosov and Preston Swirnoff, augmented by drummer Brandon Relf. Last up is Brooklyn's La Otracina, featuring Adam Kriney (Owl Xounds) on drums, Ninni Morgia (Trauma Unit, Quivers) on electric guitar and Jordon Schranz (Quivers, Eastern Seaboard) on bass. As with most anything on the Holy Mountain roster, all worship at the altar and pay homage to the almighty riff in their own special way, which is more than all right by me.
Blues Control are probably the cagiest of recent acts to wear the "stoner rock" tag, and they eschew it for a good while on their self-titled full-length. To my surprise. I was actually expecting the album to be a lot more guitar-oriented than it was. Instead the main focal point is Lea's keyboards and Russ' electronics, which is a nice and unique touch. On tracks like the gorgeous "Migration", "The Blue Sheep", and "Hummum", they leave the rock behind almost entirely to focus on echo-y, reverberating tones and acid-cut, sun-bleached soundscapes. But then when they do touch down for the riff-lead excursions as in the fantastic guitar/Casio rhythm collision of "Boiled Peanuts", the vacant arena rock soloing on "Double Chin", or the repeated, snarling guitar lines of "Frankie's Problem" and the epic finale "No Sweat", it thocks you in the skull twice as hard than it would've if the whole record was dedicated to that kind of jamming. The album hits that poifect Blues Control balance of weightless electronic gob and slicing guitar notes all the way through in a way I wouldn't have thought possible, and when they get to adding the piano and the harmonica, well I just couldn't ask for anything else. After the first time I played it I thought I preferred the Woodsist LP, but now I realize this has definitely unseated it for top honors in the band's catalogue, and is definitely one of thee must own records of the year. I mean, really. Who else can you even compare these cats to? That's what I thought, a league of their own, baby. On your knees. Again.

I never heard the Shining Path as minimalist improv (?) duo Monosov/ Swirnoff, so unfortunately I can't provide any commentary as to how those experiments translate into their rock band with Brandon Relf. For that, I apologize. I heard someone compare one of their (Monosov/Swirnoff's) Eclipse records to a combination of Morricone, Satie and Pauline Oliveros, though I can assure you none of those influences are present here. The Shining Path sounds a lot like free jazz souls trapped in rock n' roll bodies, at least when it comes down to their colletive interplay and Monosov's free-wheeling, sax-mimicking solos. But make no mistake, they're a rock band through and through, boasting rapidfire power trio moves that would have any other group of amateurs busting at the seams or panting to keep up. These guys fire on high pretty much from start to finish, incorporating elements of jazz improv, prog rock and psychedelia, thrash metal and stoner rock, no-wave and noise rock, and just about anything else with a root squarely embedded in the "rock" form. Vocals only crop up once or twice on the record so for the most part all their focus is on the instruments, often bringing to mind like-minded spirits Don Caballero, albeit with a harder edge - maybe Psyopus or Orthrelm or Behold...the Arctopus without all the math-rock tendencies. I think the best comparison I can come up with for the Shining Path sound is the story of a young Masami Akita editing down the most guitar-smashing and amplifier-destroying moments of Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and the Who bootlegs to compile them all on one tape - the destruction of the rock song, as it were. This record is like all those moments penned on sheet music and executed both flawlessly and devastatingly. I wouldn't call it the most original thing ever played, but shit it's hard to say no when it's all done as well as what's heard here.

La Otracina are pretty similar to the Shining Path, at least on first glance - instrumental guitar/bass/drum trio on the Holy Mountain roster. But, unlike the Shining Path, La Ortracina are a lot more interested in space, and I'm not just talking about the final frontier. All five tracks on "Tonal Ellipse of the One" boast a looser, more open feel, and I'm guessing it's because the devotion these guys have to the trance of psychedelic rock throughout the ages. Hard not to be reminded of groups like Acid Mothers Temple, Kinski, Boredoms circa "Vision Creation Newsun", SubArachnoid Space, Comets on Fire, etc on tracks like the sprawling "Beyond the Dusty Hills (Cowboy in the Desert Part Two)" and "Ode to Amalthea". On the other hand, "Nine Times the Color Red Explodes Like Heated Blood" pays homage to the masters with a nasty, Blue Cheer groove that comes flying outta nowhere mid-song and the super-spaced monumental opener "Yellow Mellow Magic" a la Flower Travellin' Band or Gong. "Sailor of the Salvian Seas" even recalls High Rise, if they went on a bender with the dudes from Lightning Bolt and set it to tape. Despite all the name-dropping these guys incite, "Tonal Ellipse" is a sweet enough ride that you can fully immerse yourself in it without ever really thinking these guys are derivative, per se - they're just really, really up front about their influences. And it rocks hard enough that I, for one, don't give a shit who else they sound like. This is a monster record no matter how you slice it. If any of the aforementioned bands tickle your invisible orange/foot-on-monitor fantasies, you ain't gonna be none too let down. I can assure you that.


MP3:
Blues Control - Blues Control
Blues Control - Frankie's Problem

The Shining Path - Hadliku Ner

La Otracina - Nine Times the Color Red Explodes Like Heated Blood

iMeem was giving me all sorts of problems tonight so it's back to Sendspace, hopefully for the last time.

6.21.2007

Mega Happy Fun Time 3" CD-R Round-Up


It dawned on me lately that I was accumulating quite a collection of 3" CD-Rs, so rather than review them all seperately I decided to stick all six together in one big festive 3" bash. I dunno why but I'm not really a huge fan of 3"s, something about the compactness of it all just puts me off, even though I'll concede that they're pretty ideal for your noise, drone, what have you, releases. Maybe the format just reminds me of my own bedroom deficiencies...maybe that's why I prefer big meaty 12"s! Oh god I've said too much :( Penis jokes aside, if you sent me a 3" lately, it's probably in the batch below, so keep on a-reading.
First up is a mysterious one from one mister K.E. Revis called "5.5.2007" (Boxer Music). It's initially remarkable for its ridiculous and borderline dangerous packaging, which I'm a big fan of. The CD-R comes in a little cloth pouch stapled to the inside of two oversized wire mesh sheets tied together like a little book. The colour insert has some minimal information on the back, but it doesn't tell you anything I already haven't. And Revis' presence on the internet is pretty minimal too. He runs an eBay store through which you can buy his releases and other distributed items, and all that tells you is that Revis has been making music since the late 80's, with "5.5.2007" the first in a planned series of self-released 3"s. Anyway the single, 20-minute piece is definitely in the deep-end of dark ambient/drone maneuvers, I count account for anything Revis is using but I'm betting a lot of pedals, synths, and/or laptops are involved. "5.5.2007" is a slow-moving changeling, brooding along ominously until loud rushes of oceanic roar take over, only to recede as quickly as they arrived. The trick is repeated a couple times in the track but never grows stale, instead lending a welcome sort of ebb-and-flow touch. Elsewhere the shaking, bass-y tones bring a general post-apocalypse/nightmarish feel or something equivalent to being swallowed by a black hole. If you're feeling the Nurse with Wounds, Atrium Carceris, Lustmords, and Vidna Obmanas of the world, you'll enjoy Revis' equally bleak outlook. Check out his store as linked above for more (4 releases to date including this one, $6.99 a pop).

Far be it from me to dabble in cliché stereotypes, but the guy who moonlights as Cauchy-Riemann (sorry, couldn't find the name his mom gave him on the interwebs) could've been the kid sitting alone in math class who everybody wanted to secretly get to know but no one had the guts, and here's my evidence: first of all, the name means, according to Wikipedia: "In mathematics, the Cauchy-Riemann differential equations in complex analysis, named after Augustin Cauchy and Bernhard Riemann, are two partial differential equations which provide a necessary but not sufficient condition for a function to be holomorphic." Got all that? And on the first of two 3"s he sent my way, "Finite Sets" (Self-released), all the tracks are all given names like "{.8, 12, .2, .0002, .4, 5, .00009, .01, 2.3}". I would just like to say, what gives? Why would you make me try to learn with your noise? As if I listened to music to try and pick up math tips. The whole reason I have a blog is because any dummy can do it, you don't need any skills! The nerve! No but really now. I don't know how much of a role calculations play in Cauchy-Riemann's noise, but it's blunt and harsh and loud enough that any slack-jawed inbred kin get their ears punched out by it, and that's what I like. The twelve tracks on "Finite Sets" range from 34 seconds to just under 3 minutes and each one has its own destructive flavor to it. Sounds to me like this Ohioian dude's taking cues from the likes of Masonna, early amp-annihilating Prurient, Whitehouse, Pain Jerk, et al...almost everything here is in the extreme high end of the spectrum, bright and sharp and harsh enough to make your eyes water. It's been a while since I ain't heard a nice firing-on-high harsh noise wailer, and this one made me want to stick earplugs in under my headphones, so it's safe to say I enjoyed it. I regret not uploading track 11 specifically for you to partake in, the crashing what-the-fuck-is-that percussion going on under CR's blizzard of white-hot noise and static skree is the bee's knees, and I mean that.

Cauchy-Riemann's second 3", "Utah" (Self-released), is a good bit bassier and, uh, "experimental" than the previous one. By that I mean it sounds more like CR's making it up as he goes, sorta generating things in a haphazard-cum-intentional fashion. I don't really know how to describe it, but it ain't as singluar as "Finite Sets". I thought it was actually gonna be a quiet one after the opening coupla seconds of "Salt Lake City", with its field recorded ocean waves (real ones, this time), but it quickly veers into scattered electronic burning. The four other tracks ain't as harsh, all thicker and more gnarled and often engaging in lengthy (as lengthy as a 20 minute disc can get) bouts of sustained throb and tension. "Oeden" sounds like faulty wiring about to explode completely while "American Folk" is a teeth-rattling stretch of dense blows delivered with jackhammer-like force. Both discs come in 3" jewel cases with hand-rendered Xeroxed inserts and a stenciled paint job. "Finite Sets" is an edition of 50, "Utah" is limited to 30. I suggest buying em both, playing them together real loud, and stuffing your nose with Kleenex to stop the bleeding.

Harm Stryker is a great name for a project and I have no real idea why. I'm not even sure that it means anything. So I guess from the get-go I was inclined to like their self-titled (Public Guilt) 3". Harm Stryker is a Virginian duo featuring Kelly Norse and Kenneth Yates (Caustic Castle, Insects with Tits) and already have a clutch of releases on labels including 804noise, SocketsCDR, and the awesome Brise-Cul label outta Montreal...not to mention upcoming joints on Bloodties and Obscurica. According to the label, the 16-minute piece that occupies this disc is "part requiem for our architectural history, part vitriol-fueled sound in opposition to the box stores, condominiums, and gentrified, cookie cutter housing taking its place". I don't know how much of that I hear in the piece, although there is a general feeling of moroseness and lamentation that comes through. Apparently fluidity and grace is the duo's signature, which I thought was just a nice line from the label but it appears to be true here - this is a fully-realized, borderline epic piece comprising electronic drones, ambience, noise, and knob-twiddlling euphoria. Norse and Yates move deftly through expertly-crafted caverns of engulfing sound, striking the perfect balance between all the aforementioned buzzwords I just ran through. Never too over-the-top or understated, the duo function as close to a single mind as you could ever hope to achieve in this genre - the soundscapes one will lay out always compliment what the other is doing to perfection, weaving and melding together in sublime fashion. If you took the best portions of, say, My Cat is an Alien's extraterrestrial excursions and gave them a harsher bent, you wouldn't be too far off from Harm Stryker's sound, but whereas the Italian duo sometimes seem to get to caught up in their own orbit, Harm Stryker keep it all anchored to the earth and get it done with style. Hey, if you're thinking of ordering that insane "Untited" 3xCD noise compilation from Public Guilt, do yourself a favor and take this one too. It's four clams well spent, trust me. Only 100 pieces around, though.

The last two discs of the night come courtesy the ever-reliable Abandon Ship label (in addition to a couple of other quality tapes to be discussed at a later date). To date I've been pathetically ignorant re: New Zealand's the Futurians but I guess you're never too old to learn, and I'll start here with "Zenit" thank you very much. I at least had a general idea what they were like - Blastitude calls em "totally tranced-out sci-fi garage garbage rock" among other very positive things, and it's to my understanding that whereas they usually use vocals and drums, both those things are absent from "Zenit". In fact, this record sounds a lot like its cover looks: punk rockers into Moogs and synthesizers and drum machines and other decidedly non-punk rock instrumentation. That all filters through mighty well on the opening stomper "Genetic Futurian" - way crude high-pitched synth drones and general gizmo fuckery over a thick as hell, gut-busting percussive slosh. The other three tracks are a bit more restrained - "Laika" retains the crumbling percussion but a dizzying keyboard loop is lazily plastered atop, but "Black Gull" is an excercise in droning and blips that could be R2D2 contributing guest vocals to Sunn O)))'s "Bathory Erszebet". The near 10-minute "Nuclear Future" is the real ace in the hole though - supremely minimal near-dance beat that slowly trails off, leaving the listener with an almost rudimentary drum machine rhythm, surely as close to top 40 techno as these cats are ever gonna scrape. Totally weird and totally intriguing, I now wish to hear their more rockist pieces 'cause this must border on near-academia for them. Totally righteous, mind you.

Buck Paco seems to be a band named after its frontman Buckland Oswald Paco, though who knows if such a person even exists. Other folk contained in the "et al." portion of the title include Eric McDade, Wayne Ford, and Melody Kruczier. Never heard these guys before either though they once shared a 12" with fellow Philadelphians Bardo Pond, so maybe you know em. For a band with "over 100 songs" in their repertoire, they seem to release precious little, which is cool by me. Gives me a chance to catch up on a band, for once. By the artist/title alone I was sorta expecting some Alvarius B/Uncle Jim type strands and I guess there's a bit of that here, but considering this is a group and not one guy, there's more of a full band thing: Paco plays guitar and sings, McDade plays guitar and bass and sings, Ford handles guitar and bass and samples, and Kruczier does percussion, whistling, and cello. Though not everybody and everything is featured on each of "I've Wasted My Breath"'s five tracks. Though the communal aspects might suggest Wooden Wand & the Vanishing Voice, these guys seem to worship at the throne of Quicksilver, the Dead, Blue Cheer, Crazy Horse, etc. rather than, say, Comus or Vashti Bunyan. Which is to say they're imbuing most of their songs with a sublime sense of Americana crossed with the blues crossed with psych rock and an appreciation for the repetition and general low-slungness of the Dead C. Which is all good in my books. "48 Hours and No White Elephants", "Reciprocate" and "I'm Not Sure What It Meant, But I Know I Meant It" are all examples of taking one fried riff and driving it into the sun, being mindful of a high distortion level and not much else. "Don't Tell Me" approaches Kyuss' scorched-earth lanquid stoned isms, and "Lonely Man's Walk" buddies up Neil Young solo free-thinks with noisy static...kinda like trying to listen to Neil Young on the radio in a tunnel. I think I'd have to hear even more to make a safe judgement, but, like the Futurians disc before it, I'm certainly intrigued. Maybe time to make a few more of those 100 tunes available, what say?

Click here to listen to MP3 samples from the above albums

6.20.2007

Origami Replika - Kommerz (Segerhuva CD) / Bardoseneticcube & Igor V. Petrov / Necromondo (Mechanoise Labs CDs)


Had to exclude the titles of the Mechanoise Labs CDs because things were getting pretty hairy up in there, but I think the message is clear enough. One CD from the Segerhuva label, and two from Mechanoise Labs - a meeting of two European noise peddlers. Sweden's Segerhuva actually sent me a few discs but, in sticking to my vague attempt to review "mostly" new stuff, I had to exclude the two other great records - a reissue of Blood ov Thee Christ's amazing 1987 bomber "Master Control" and a great compilation of various noise artists called "Sweetness Will Overcome". So, apologies in that I'm unable to dedicate more space to these records, but know that I fully recommend both (and a newer release that they didn't send my way but still gets a thumbs up very much big time - Edwige's "The Inconsolable Widow Thanks All Those Who Consoled Her" LP). Meanwhile, I think Mechanoise Labs are from France, but I'm not 100% sure on that since info is pretty hard to come by, or I'm not looking in the right places. Either way, they've been in action since 1998, and have released records by folks like Aidan Baker, Stelladrine, Aluminium Noise, and more. These are a couple of their newest outings, though they've since put out a Concrete Belly 3" CD-R. Guess I'm falling behind. What else is new?
Starting off with the Segerhuva record, which comes courtesy a "now-defunct part of the ever changing cultural Origami collective/phenomenon", which is news to me but that's okay. Origami Replika brings together a trio of Norwegian noise ne'er-do-wells in Lasse Marhaug, Tore H. Boe, and Mads Staff Jensen. In 1997 they recorded this re-working of classic Merzbow material, and only last year did it finally manage to see the light of day. It lists all the original Merzbow records that were mutilated to form the source, and they're mostly all from the early 80's ("Metal Acoustic Music", "Sadomasochismo", "Vratya Southward") with a couple of then-recent CDs thrown in for good measure ("Akasha Gulva", "Oestered", "Loves" with Emil Beaulieau, "Rectal Anarchy" with Gore Beyond Necropsy), as well as the destruction of nine Merzbow cassette cases. Doesn't get much more immersive than that, does it? It would be easy remix Merzbow tapes and force them into sounding even more disorted, more harsh, more noisy, more fucked up than they already do, and where's the challenge in that? Luckily these three are too good to avoid such a pratfall. The 12 untitled tracks on "Kommerz" are, for the most part, thoroughly composed and downright mature, suggesting a tremendous amount of respect for the original recordings while simultaneously morphing them into something brand new and equally grand. Track three, for instance, is a mighty impressive statement of intent. Over the course of 12 minutes, Origami Replika reconstruct Merzbow's sound into a slow-building, dense electronic threat, before it sharply fizzles out...only to come back twice as fierce like the the final, unexpected drop on what was already an exhilerating rollercoaster ride. The trick is tweaked somewhat on track eight, where the sound grows progressively louder and angrier with each passing second until it hits an apex, plateaus, and vanishes again. Other tracks like one and four are so rhythmic-yet-noisy that they hit a stride between Masami Akita's initial Dadaist tape-mangling chaos and his 2000s-era "Merzbeat" et al. explorations into near-beat oriented noise tunes. And remember, this was done before the "Merz-" series even came about. It ain't all pedal to the metal though - I have no idea what was being sourced on tracks five and six but they're both, for the most part, lush space-vaccuum floats through the more pensive segments of the early Merzbow catalogue, while the last track is a similar hollowed siren-in-the-distance dream sequence that again inspires incredulity when considering the source. Overall, Origami Replika have done a fantastic job moulding Akita's work into whole new beasts - clearly retaining the original sonic properties of the source but assembled in such a way as to suggest new realms, dimensions, and hitherto-unimagined possibilities. Next time any mouthbreather tells you Merzbow's just a load of meaningless noise, show them this disc and ask em how three dudes manage to extract such magnificent new life from it. Good stuff indeed.

"The Perpetuum Mobile Space Vehicle" is a collaboration between three experimental Russian artists. Bardoseneticcube is the duo of Igor Potsukailo and Sergey Matveev on electronics, while Igor V. Petrov is a saxophonist who I know next to nothing about. This album was recorded over the course of five years and features six incredibly bizarre, spacious tracks. When you think electronics and saxophone, you might think heads-down pedal-pushing knob-twisting ear-bleeding mania and heavy horn skronking and throttling, but I guess they do things a little differently in Russia. Bardoseneticcube's portions consist of samples of speeches, slow-plodding drum machines, otherwordly ambience, found-sound industrial/darkwave snaking, and maybe that's even them on piano too. Petrov blows soulful sax lines that border on the romantic at times, totally not the ragged-breath heaving I was expecting in the slightest...and together these three synthesize beautiful, organic pieces that eclipse mere thickheaded experimentation and enter well into the domain of some kind of undiscovered alien jazz existing on a totally seperate plane. "Shkapina St." pulses with a techno/ambient flare all the while accompanied by a watery, distant, operatic vocal track and Petrov's patient, lonely, sorrow-filled sax. He really stands out on the too-short "Brownend", as close to ghostjazz as you'll ever hear (with apologies to Mr. Braxton). "One" is equally brief, but centered more on Bardoseneticcube's shimmering electronics and ominous, ritualistic thumps. The closing "Logosax" is the culmination of their collaboration, with Potsukailo and Matveev putting down a repetitive, crunchy beat and Petrov weaving gorgeous lines through and around the dripping sinew. If you liked the Ariel Kalma/Richard Tinti "Osmose" record I always come back to, you pretty much need to hear this, although it really doesn't sound like anything I can plot specifically. Which is a good thing.

Last is Necromondo, from the U.S.. All I know is that it's one guy, apparently by the name of Tirdad CK, and the only other work he seems to have to his name is a 3" CD-R called "Quarantined Quarters" that comes with the first 50 copies of this self-titled disc. If the cover wasn't enough of a tip-off, Necromondo is inspired by 70's cult horror movie classics, certainly not the first nor the last noise project to claim as much. I'd also take an educated stab (no pun intended) and venture mondo and giallo play as much of an influence in Tirdad's work. His first full-length harkens back to 80's Broken Flag/Iphar/Come Organisation actions in many ways, which is a blessing and a curse - not that anything on here is bad, it's just not very new ground either. Necromondo's at the top of his game when he engages in long-form pieces that have plenty of time to Sink Their Fangs Into the Listener (ha ha!) - ""No One Leaves This Island Alive" at eight minutes is a grind, creating a palpable feeling of tension and desolation juxtaposed against a rainy backdrop, and "Soaked in Blood III" at seven-plus boasts ominous, locust swarms of synth noise and suffocated gasps to greater effect. "Soaked in Blood I" is equally effective, setting a chainsaw-like whirr against psychedelic oscillations and the sharp gleam of "Theme for a Machete" is enough to literally make you jump if you play it loud enough. Unfortunately the rest of the tracks (especially the middle) pass by with relatively little to latch onto, although maybe I just need to give it a few more listens before it really sets in. Or maybe someone needs to make a movie around all these chilling sounds - it's really more of a soundtrack record than anything else. I guess I just don't have the imagination to mentally draw up my own murder scenes while I'm listening to it. I'll be keeping my eye out for anything else under the Necromondo moniker in the future, because the potential's definitely there.

I'm testing out a new method of posting MP3s, using iMeem's Flash playlists. You don't need to install anything to use em, just click the link below (it'll pop up in its own window) and stream away. Let me know what you think in the comments section, if you feel so inclined. Personally I think it's a lot easier than going to Sendspace and downloading each one seperately.

Click here to listen to MP3 samples from the above albums

Bardoseneticcube & Igor V. Petrov and Necromondo MP3s courtesy Mechanoise Labs

6.19.2007

Raccoo-oo-oon - Behold Secret Kingdom (Release the Bats CD)


This band is way too easy to hate. They got major league hype and then all sorts of backlash and it's kinda gone so far in reverse that I almost feel bad for them in a way (not that they need my sympathy or nothin'). And at the same time, I also hold them in contempt. First of all they remind me Animal Collective, a band whose name I'm even loathe to type because they inspire so many bad feelings in my guts. Then they have that dreadful band name which was probably invented by Panda Bear or Gentle Hawk or whoever from Animal Collective. Then their press photos typically rock that outdoorsy/in touch with nature/faux-hippie pastiche...oh dear. I was trying to come up with a term I could use to assess/slander these kinds of bands and "Wal-Mart psychedelia" was the best I could do, and pretty fitting I think. So why bother with the "Behold Secret Kingdom"? Did I merely listen to the album and write about them in my blog only to trash them? It may seem like that, but wait! It's not what you think!
Truth be told, I want to like Raccoo-oo-oon, in spite of just about everything about them. I listened to (and reviewed) their last CD on Release the Bats, "Is Night People", and it had some pretty inspired moments. Well, "Behold Secret Kingdom" is more of the same. This group is (was) billed as a psychedelic-punk-something-or-other band, but god knows they don't hit on those moments often enough. If they really were as psychedelic and as punk and as earth-lovin' as their press releases would have them to believe, they could be my favorite band. However, this record was recorded and produced with a sickeningly bright sheen to it, negating almost any supposed air of punk ethos, while most of the psychedelia is the kind of rehearsed looseness that drives me up the wall, like anybody is dumb enough to believe these tracks are as off-the-cuff as the band would have you believe. But as I said, there are moments. Moments when the shackles come off and my preconceived notions fly out the window and I ask "why can't they play like this the whole 50 minutes?" - "Mirror Blanket" is a pop song at its core and functions exactly the same way as "Fluff Up Your Fur" did prior, building an insanely catchy rock rhythm via swirling guitars and dedicated drumming, topped off with a buzzing free electronic buzz wailing over top. The cooing and yelling and moaning is a bit much, but what the hell, might as well take it all the way home now that we're here. The same naive vocal tricks taint the otherwise enjoyable "Invisible Sun", a colossal stoner rock riff-laden anthem, and "Visage of the Fox", which is a pretty lame xylophone/drum/etc jam until another it lands in the throes of more sludgy riffing and world-beating drums that Brian Chippendale could be proud of. "Fangs and Arrows" brings more heavyosity, again courtesy Ryan Garbes meaty percussion, far and away the best thing these guys have going for them. At times his thundering, apocalyptic crashes are the only things keeping the songs afloat, particularly when they get bogged down too much in kitschy campfire jams (see: almost every part of the album I didn't mention), which is my main sticking point with "Behold Secret Kingdom" and indeed the band as a whole. Ditch the grating "whoa we're just a coupla bros jammin' in the forest wearing dirty jeans and beads" shtick with the overdramatic vocals and jangling and zany instruments and stick to the balls-to-the-walls, fucked up, psychedelic, punk rock jams! Then we'll be buds! As for a recommendation...well if you think Animal Collective is the most avant-garde shit around and you bump it playing Wii Sports snacking down on Mountain Dew while wearing ankle socks...have I got a record for you!

MP3:
Visage of the Fox
Diamonds in the Dunes

6.18.2007

Adam Frank & Sam Shalabi - Overpass! A Melodrama / Alexandre St-Onge - Mon Animal Est Possible (Alien8 Recordings CDs)


After a relatively lengthy downtime, Alien8 seem to be hitting their stride again, with recent releases from Nadja and Lesbians on Ecstacy (Nadja plays feminist electro-pop/punk while LoE plays doom metal, FYI) and these two new curios rooted in Montreal's experimental music scene. The former comes courtesy Sam Shalabi (himself seemingly quieter lately, maybe holed up working on this) and Adam Frank, teacher of American literature at the University of British Columbia. As to why a university teacher's got top billing on an experimental music record, I'll touch on that in a sec. Meanwhile Alexandre St-Onge doesn't release a whole lot under his own name, but you've probably heard at least one record featuring his work. In addition to solo records on Alien8 and Squint Fucker Press, he's played and recorded with Fly Pan Am, Klaxon Gueule, Molasses, Et Sans, Feu Therese, Undo, and the Ambiences Magnetiques ensemble, not to mention a trio with David Kristian and Sam Shalabi himself.
When it comes to Frank and Shalabi's record, "Overpass! A Melodrama" ain't just a funny name - this really is a melodrama, and it's really about an overpass, in Vancouver. The backstory's pretty long to get into here, but it comes down to this: in 1971, a pedestrian overpass was constructed over a set of train tracks to facilitate school children crossing to the other side without having to crawl through/around/under the parked train they would habitually encounter every morning on their way to elementary. A group of mothers (the so-called "militant mothers"), fearful for their children's safety, took matters into their own hands and forced the city's hand by standing in front of and blocking an oncoming train and building a tent on the tracks in protest. Some court battles and a long story later, the mothers won and the city agreed to build the Keefer Street pedestrian overpass: a strange, slippery, turquoise-green chainlink enclosure that, according to Frank's liner notes (he also wrote the libretto), "[had] become a symbol of victorious political action" for the people who live near it (and make use of it). Sound like a weird thing to write a musical opera about? It is, and the word "weird" itself appears numerous times both in Frank's text and just about any other press I see regarding the album. Essentially, Frank and Shalabi's goal is to "[offer] an entertaining investigation into the consequences of incomplete modernization"...so says the label. "Overpass!" is written and performed in the style of an opera or a play, with Shalabi (accompanied by Josh Stevenson, Kate Lawrence, Jeff Allport, and Rob Sparks)'s music providing the backdrop for the actors' voices to spin their yarns over top. The basic plot outline is that the narrator Antonia arrives in Vancouver and tries to make her way around the confusing quasi-urban landscape, meeting Merv, an assistant to the city engineer, at a party. Later she happens upon the overpass and ponders its significance, before meeting Merv again to engage in a final conversation. It's a fairly loose narrative to say the least, often bordering on surreal. There's a synopsis included but it doesn't give away all the secrets either, so you'll have to listen to what's being said, and "Overpass!" really is largely about the spoken word. Although I found it happening frequently where a great chunk of music will seep into your brain previously undetected and sorta coalesce into a beautiful melody before your ears - Shalabi's guitar is almost staggering when its full weight hits on the pulsing "Bad Parties", while "Brut, or Freeways and Their Discontents" boasts gnarled near-metal riffing and synth squall totally unlike any Shalabi-related anything I've come to know. The music is far form being mere background noise and often serves to add another dimension to what the characters are talking about: "A Structure" features commentary from Antonia spoken from a perspective of being on the bridge itself, which the music conveys alarmingly well via a mix of groaning, uneasy ambience and chainlink jangle; "Back on the Tracks" combines interview snippets and archival quotes from the mothers involved in the court case with an ominous smattering of near-trip hop electronic collage, mirroring the pessimism and doubt expressed in the audio clips. The final track, "Jello Sunday (Nature Wins Again)" is the last dialogue between Antonia and Merv and is wholly unintelligible without following along with the libretto, and even then it doesn't seem to conclude a whole lot...but the lovely folk song featuring Shalabi's sparkling guitar and Antonia (Annice Kesler)'s charming voice that functions as a coda to the album speaks volumes in terms of musical power alone.
I'm sure all that was confusing to read, as it was confusing to decipher and type up. The only real way to get your ahead somewhat around the record is to buy it, read it, and hear it, though I don't know how hasty I'd be to recommend that. Sonically it's interesting enough, somewhat of a cross between Robert Ashley's "Perfect Lives" operas and Sam Shalabi's own "Osama" record, but never at any point did the significance of this overpass ever resonate with me...not from the music, not from the words, not from the back story or the synopsis or anything. Either I just don't get it or Frank and Shalabi didn't do a good enough job of making me get it, though that could've been their intentions all along. You may not have to be in love to be moved by a love song, but I think if I'd at least seen this overpass myself or lived with it, I could understand it's purported "weirdness" that made it worth writing about and dedicating a whole album to. An impressive and ambitious undertaking, regardless.

Switching gears now to talk about "Mon Animal Est Possible", Alexandre St-Onge's new solo record featuring partner Fanny. The story here is that these eight songs were written as a way for St-Onge to "communicate with monsters" and exorcise his own monstrosity through them, hence the title: making possible his own animal. It's a bit of a Franglo colloquialism, I guess. Well anyway, I've never really heard a St-Onge solo release (a friend played a record of his a few years ago for me but I can't say I remember it well), but these love songs seemingly go for the jugular in their own shadowy way - there's a healthy batch of ultra-minimal electronica-bred stasis to be found on "Animal", born out of the use of what sounds like Moog synthesizers, keyboard, laptop, theremin, probably guitar and bass, and Alexandre and Fanny's own voices. I gotta confess that Fanny's heavy breathing on "La Passion de la Transparence" sounds like what I was desperately hoping to hear from that miserable Air/Charlotte Gainsbourg collaboration that came out recently...I guess you could say Fanny's playing Charlotte (or Brigitte or Jane, really) to St-Onge's Air, but the glacial, glittery ambience that turns up here is far more interesting than anything I've ever heard from the former. I suppose a quick and easy reference point would be Alien8 pal Tim Hecker, though these pieces feature weirder, Aphexian bends and quirks, with haunting vocals brushed from corner to corner, at times sensitive and emotional and other times as distant and alien as an E.V.P. field recording. I also feel that I should bring up Popul Vuh as a strong reference point, but maybe that's because I'm a serious Popul Vuh kick lately. Really though, St-Onge's spectral floats and grainy meditations ain't too far removed from what Florian Fricke himself was hitting on in the seventies with all those Herzog soundtracks. St-Onge's bass seems to crop up briefly in "L'animal Chante Chou" and "Bébé" features glitchy laptop warble akin to Fennesz, but otherwise the tracks congeal together in an icy pool of sound that'll swallow you whole and threaten to suck your heart out of your chest and nothing could be nicer. Despite all the namedrops, it would be unfair for me to leave you with the impression that St-Onge is copping from the classics - every minute of "Animal" breathes with St-Onge's own breath and slowly unfurls to reveal an organic, mature, fully realized work on par with the likes of "Harmony in Ultr-" errr just trust me, it's a very good album and well worth your time and dollars.

MP3:
Adam Frank & Sam Shalabi - Brut, or Freeways and Their Discontents
Adam Frank & Sam Shalabi - A Letter of Invitation

Alexandre St-Onge - L'extase Spectrale
Alexandre St-Onge - L'animal Chante Chou

6.14.2007

Vibracathedral Orchestra - Wisdom Thunderbolt (VHF CD)


Is this the first new VHF release in a while, or have I just not been paying attention? Same for the VCO too - they went pretty quiet for a while after undergoing some serious personnel swaps, but they've come back mighty strong on this album (their first on VHF since 2004's triple CD-R set "Pontiac Lady). I was wondering if it was gonna be curtains for the group, after co-founder Neil Campbell left in 2006, shortly followed by Bridgette Hayden's departure. I'm still not 100% sure on the status now because the seven tracks on "Wisdom Thunderbolt" ain't exactly brand new themselves. Both Campbell and Hayden are here in addition to mainstays Mick Flower and Adam Davenport. Throwing their weight behind the quartet include heavy-hitters like Matthew Bower, Chris Corsano, Pete Nolan, and John Godbert. Woof.
For a record that could conceivably be the group's finale (though I doubt it will be), "Wisdom Thunderbolt" provides an excellent summary of almost all facets hitherto explored by the collective. In their decade-plus of activity, the VCO have touched on everything from krautrock and psychedelia to noise and punk rock to stoner rock and La Monte Young drone levitation, and they're all on display here, oftentimes in the same song. Most noteworthy is the sprawling 12-minute centerpiece "Rainbow Whirlwind", carving out strobing synthesizer shudder against an achoring near-beat more akin to a CD player skipping. The group splash generous helpings of cymbal, bell, and chime chatter over top, before the electricity of Flower's guitar lines drive the piece out into aforementioned psych/raga spaced-out territories akin to the drawn out, melted-sound symphonies that take place on "Pontiac Lady" or the "Live on WFMU" LP. The group visit this sound a couple more times on the album, particularly on "Ochre Dust" featuring a subdued Matt Bower or "A Natural Fact": a great piece of bluesy jamming akin to the Dead tag-teaming with Les Rallizes in an opium den somewhere. Unfortunately the quality of the recording is markedly poor, and phases out almost entire the usually devastating effect of Chris Corsano's robotic stomps.
The group also hint at the pseudo-"world" music references (particuarly African and Indian) they've previously checked on tracks like "Packhorse" in the past - dig the snakey tribal percussion and flutes infecting "Order of the Broad Eraser" (skewed by expanding electronic gulps) and the sidewalk celebration of closer "What!!!", at least before it drops off into a gnarled and eerie venture into dark woods with Hayden's moaning vocals working hard to conjure up visions of spectres and the like. On the title track, an 8-bit guitar (?) loop lends a vaguely-rockist air to the otherwise folkish, starry-eyed ecstacy that takes place, but the sound never fully manifests itself until "Sway-Sage", the best argument for VCO as rock n' roll heroes to date. Similar to "Baptism > Bar > Blues" from 2005's "Tuning to the Rooster", it begins with a brief clip of something clearly lifted from another artist. In this case it's an 8-second excerpt from a 70's classic rock anthem I can't identify, before the group go full throttle amidst cries of "woo!" (band or audience, I'm not sure which) and guest Pete Nolan's furious drumming that sounds almost exactly like John Bonham on "Rock and Roll" - how apropos.
While I'm sure some people have thought past VCO releases to be a chore to get through, I can't imagine anyone saying the same of "Wisdom Thunderbolt" - the album's diverse and colorful enough to keep anyone transfixed, and I wouldn't be afraid of saying this is their most accessible album yet (ever?). If, for whatever reason, you find the gravy to be in Vibracathedral's droning, longform, meditative excursions, this record probably isn't for you...but if you want to hear the group clearly at the peak of their creative abilities, putting any other imitators to shame in the process with their highly-attuned sense of interplay and exchange...well then welcome aboard.

MP3:
Ochre Dust
Sway-Sage

6.13.2007

Nordicwinter - Threnody (None More Black Records CD)


First off, I have to say how much I enjoy the irony (?) of a black metal label seemingly naming themselves after a Spinal Tap reference. Seriously! At least I hope that's where it comes from...we could all do with a little less over-the-top seriousness in the genre I should think. It is 2007, after all. Anyway, None More Black's fifth release is from a Quebec black metal act by the name of Nordicwinter, who is really masterminded by a one Evillair. The band does play live (what?! When?! How'd I miss it?!?), and in such instances expand to include members of Symphony of Blasphemy and Slain in Fire. But on Nordicwinter's debut release, all instruments, drum programming, and vocals are credited to Evillair.
It would seem only logical for any label to want to take a chance on Nordicwinter. First of all, one-man black metal bands are at the peak of their popularity, and Quebec black metal in general seems to be under the microscope moreso now than in a long time, due to Akitsa's continuing (underground) success. However, Nordicwinter depict two very stark deviations from both these stereotypes: you can't really classify them a typical bedroom black metal act since the songs can all be played live and don't feature any keyboards nor an overabundance of "suicidal" black metal lyrics, and although they're from Quebec, there is no evidence whatsoever of the theme of nationalism running through Evillair's lyrics (because he's obviously English - or else he's a francophone with a dazzling command of the English language). In fact, throughout "Threnody"'s 9 tracks, you could easily be coerced into thinking there was a full band playing instead of just one dude multitracking - heck I wasn't even sure if the drums were real or not until I read the liner notes. The sound Nordicwinter dabbles in is at the same time tough to pin down but not entirely original - Evillair makes no bones about paying homage to the masters like Bathory, Hellhammer, Darkthrone, and Burzum (and Mayhem for sure). Maybe a mid-tempo Darkthrone with heavy Bathory overtones would be a close approximation. And though the attack is simple (vocals, guitars, bass, drums; all tracks), Evillair ekes out a smattering of diversity from an obvious template, usually with songs averaging 4-5 minutes in length. "Enshrined in Ice" is thrash-y while "Echoes of Solitude" is a miniature epic that sees Evillair multi-tracking vocals and stirring up a frenzy from the drum machine in its grandiose finale. "Legions" and "Unto Dark Winds" come the closest sonically with Nordicwinter's USBM solo contemporaries, both displaying a razor-sharp guitar grind that's akin to what you might here on one of the more stripped down Leviathan tracks, but it (and Evillair's vocals) also make me think of Germany's Nargaroth, minus the absurd sense of humor/ludicrousness. The closing "A Blissful Twilight Death" evidences this best, boasting a similar knack for the kind of vengeful, plodding menace that the latter can be responsible full. The production on "Threnody" has a dirtiness to it that sounds deliberate, almost like listening to MP3s at 128 kbps - you know the song was recorded at a higher quality, but you just can't hear it. In terms of current black metal where it seems more and more bands are trying to plunder the depths of acceptable recording fidelty, "Threnody" seems pretty clean in comparison, though it's still no George Martin polish by any means. Also worth mentioning are Evillair's lyrics, nicely and clearly reproduced in the album notes. Generally dealing with death, sorrow, misanthropy, desolation, and the like, Evillair has a far better hand and mind for dealing with these topics compared with some of the pap heard elsewhere. They're never too dramatic and never too thin, and each one is of a highly individualistic, poetic nature. For this and for his musicianship, not to mention his ability to compose coherant, thoughtful songs, Evillair and his Nordicwinter project should be commended. However, "Threnody" never does much to stand out from the pack or make a case for itself as a must-hear record - it's simply a very good excecution of a pretty standard formula. I wouldn't go so far as to suggest a keyboard incorporation or anything, but I'd like to see Nordicwinter take a few more chances on their next record, or at least deviate from the framework they're occupying in "Threnody". But the potential is there, and it's all the more reason to keep your eye on em for the future. Heck even if from reading this they sound like your bag, go for it. You might not be blown away but I guarantee you won't be disappointed either.

MP3:
Enshrined in Ice
Ancient Prophecies

6.12.2007

Birds of Delay/Dreamcatcher - Bored Fortress Split / Heavy Winged/Blues Control - Bored Fortress Split (Not Not Fun 7"s)


Can it really be that time again? Seems like just the other day I was playing the first two installments in Not Not Fun's excellent Bored Fortress 7" split subscription series, that is to say Yellow Swans/the Goslings and GHQ/Ex-Cocaine. These came in not too long ago and it's hard to believe we're nearing the final two - Hototogisu/Hive Mind and Deep Jew/Mindflayer. For now though, let's live in the present. The U.K.'s Birds of Delay were flying (pardon the pun) low for a while but seem ready to annoy and overjoy on a larger scale, with recent releases coming on somewhat more visible labels like Troniks, Main & Disfigure, and A.A. Records. Here the duo (Luke Younger and Steve Warwick) present "Sun Pillars 2" - a pretty deelish slab of swirling electronics, reinterpreting mid-period Total splut and dosing it with a ghostly background wash a la Yellow Swans vs. Machinefabriek but far more ragged than what you're probably imagining. This one seems a bit more wilder n' other Birds of Delay I heard but maybe I'm just creating artifical memories at this point. Solid.
Dreamcatcher are another duo but they're on the other side of the Atlantic, though still not in Amer'ka. Blake Hargreaves and Katherine Kline are cooped up in Montreal, at least for the past long while, and I've had the chance to see and hear them on numerous occasions, not the least their fried LP debut "Nimbus". Their track, "A Team Come True", isn't leaps and bounds ahead of what they normally do - in fact it's almost a skeletal version of something you might here them cultivate in the live setting. Which is to say a nice-near-catchy batch of rhythmic, electro-tinged bloops and bleeps, seemingly as much influenced by 80's industrial as perhaps 80's hip hop - nobody raps here (well I don't think Blake's obscuro vocal drawls should count) but it ain't too far from what the scholars might call a "beat" either. Beats me, indeed. Towards the end there could be what sounds like turntables at work, or maybe it's just sampling, but either way it brings an alien or other-worldly (or -continently) vibe and I can get behind it, no question. Angle Records is doing a CD reissue of two of their finest hours ever put to cassette, "Eyes of Leatherface" and "Prom Night" (the latter originally on American Tapes! Oboy!) while an Bennifer Editions cassette is in the works. Whaaaaaa...!

The only non-duo being discussed today is Brooklyn's Heavy Winged, and I hope they're happy for totally ruining the insanely clever journalistic angle I had in mind for this whole post. They are in fact a trio, a power trio at that - Ryan Hebert on guitar, Brady Sansone on bass, and Jed Bindeman on drums. The first time I heard of these guyses' I was expecting some super bass-y drone based on the name alone, but the results, at least here on "Dark Spring", are rather the opposite. A real whacked out side of repeating strings/drums filth clashes that almost plays out the side till it slowly devolves into some kind of crazed proto-metal/psychedelic noise set. Definite Silbreezian tendencies on display here; I was thinking about Philip Glass leading Harry Pussy but then someone else came up with "just intonation with chainsaws" and I thought that was even better. Otherwise think of some freaked out hybrid of High Rise, Universal Indians, Lambsbread, Ex-Cocaine, Godflesh, and the Melvins. Yeah, somewhere in there oughtta do it.
Last but certainly not least is "Mashpotato", a recording from a WFMU session by Lea Cho and Russ Waterhouse, collectively known as Blues Control. The song evokes constant dreamy keyboard flutter crescending its way through the entire side, accompanied by what could be a toy piano marching tune and ever-flowing streams of guitar yawn. Everything works beautifully in time to lend that special epic feeling to what's really a simplistic track not even four minutes long - the first time I played it I thought I was going to cry or at least fall to my knees. The second, third, and fourth times, I knew it was love. Possibly the best Blues Control piece to date, and I didn't think there was nothing they could top on "Puff". Don't know if NNF are seljing these seperate like the last ones, but you should do whatever it takes to hear it.
The 7"s come housed in the usally snappy specially-designed sleeves with info inserts.

6.11.2007

Altar of Flies - Dead Air, Broken Wings / Gitwars - Live at Ideal Noise Fest / Worms - Melted (Hästen & Korset CSs)


Sweden's Mattias Gustafsson (not to be confused with that other Mats Gustafsson or that other other Mats Gustafsson) sent me these tapes from his relatively nouveau Hästen & Korset label, and they are sexy. Obviously for monetary reasons, young labels can't usually afford to go all-out on their early releases, but Mattias apparently doesn't subscribe to that rhetoric - pro-printed glossy colour sleeves (you should see the Gitwars one folded out, it's a real experience) and matching colour cassettes. All pretty limited to under a hundred copies per though, so you'll have to move if you want in on the action. My only gripe is a tiny one, and that's to say that there's hardly any information on the acts involved once you get to the inside. A little insert would've been handy to avoid any extraneous Googling, but maybe I'm just lazy, or that was the whole intent.
I did know from day one, however, that Altar of Flies is Mattias himself. Not that I'd ever heard his music, until now at least. As one might suspect from the title, there's a piece per side. I have to say that "Dead Air" isn't particularly memorable - a pretty faceless set of electronic scrawl and industrial throb that kinda knuckledrags its way on by in the 10 or so minutes it takes to get from point A to point B. So, you know, all right. But "Broken Wings", by contrast, borders on the revelatory. Mattias sets a low, intimidating drone over which occasional effects explode out of nowhere like fireworks into the night sky or detonations of a far more severe nature. The all-too-brief conclusion is the real money though, a downtrodden chord progression resonating like church bells sound and then trail off, leaving nothing but a lasting vibration inside your skull for at least the first few minutes from when it goes silent. This tape went from being a wash to being brilliant in a scant few minutes, which means I just have to investigate the rest of the Altar of Flies discography to find out which is the more accurate representation. With all the hullabaloo about the name lately, I have a hunch it's the latter.

Info would've come in handy right about here when I was trying to figure out what the deal was with this Gitwars band, and their "Live at Ideal Noise Fest" tape. Turns out it's a guitar duo featuring a couple of guys from Stockholm and whose members have performed in bands like the Skull Defekts and Trapdoor Fucking Exit, but that's all I got. No names. Anyway their tape is a trip - I had a hard time believing it was actually played live until I heard the burst of applause at the end...and even now I'm sure these cats can conjure up all sorts of clapping and hooting from their crazy hi-tech boxes so I'm gonna have to track someone from the audience down and do a one-on-one so I can confirm what really went down. In the meantime I'll tell you what's on the one and only playable side of this one - it opens with a buncha prickly guitar noodling that sounds like it was gonna erupt in a monster Big Black noise/riff fest with huge stomping drums, but it never happens - they just beat out this weird, carpal tunnel riff and wrangle it until it somehow dissolves into a super minimal chunk of crackling electronic noise...I'll go ahead and assume there's more than guitars at work here because this was a mega buzzing drone that would've tired me out of it lasted any longer than it does. But lo and behold right from there it gets downright melodic, dare I say elegiac. Later on the duo baffle with jutting, electronic-infused prog rock stabs (think the early notes to King Crimson's "Red") and a lengthy section where the same, noodling guitar sound from the opening attempts to reinterpret nursery rhymes as you might expect someone like Orthrelm's Mick Barr or Melt-Banana's Agata to...I told you it was a trip.

I had to do some digging for info on the Worms tape - turns out it's Mattias Gustafsson again. We're back at square one! I'm not sure exactly how he differentiates an Altar of Flies set from a Worms one though. Maybe he's using different gear in Worms or something, and it does sound even more minimalist than "Dead Air, Broken Wings". There's actually not a whole lot to say, but that shouldn't be taken as a bad thing. "Melted" is another one-sider - a virtually unchanging carved-out looping scythe, clearly electronically birthed, plodding on for the better part of 10 minutes until it's furrowed itself into the absolute dead center of your brain, before being accompanied by a distant, siren-like noise...très apocalypto and desolate. There's a couple of other pieces on the side and they're quite a bit harsher but still, I think, subscribing to a minimal philosophy - bubbly magma feedback and noise bile crashing together in a delicious stew of brightly burning embers and grinding gears. I still preferred "Broken Wings" but it's all going down smooth nevertheless.
Just checking up on recent label activity, it looks like Hästen & Korset have a split out between Altar of Flies and Canada's Fossils in addition to a few more AoF releases, a Herrarnas (found sound) tape and an Afric Simone bootleg that sounds pretty tantalizing. I also happen to know that Altar of Flies have a tape out on the inimitable Pasalymany Tapes which is surely essential given their penchant for quality, so plenty of starting points for Captain You.

6.08.2007

Nebris - Bleak Angels (Dystonia EK CD)


It seems like a lot of folk (band folk, artist folk, etc) have it in them to play their own improvised soundtrack to pre-existing movies, in a live setting or what have you. I like to switch it around from a listener's standpoint and play records in sync with movies I happen to find on TV (or baseball games, you know, whatever's on). Recently I had Nebris' "Bleak Angels" on headphones while I tuned into a supremely shitty horror movie called the Guardian and I can't even begin to tell you how much better the movie sounded with "Bleak Angels" as the soundtrack, no dialogue necessary. Of course, if "Bleak Angels" can turn a lousy movie into a watchable one, imagine what it could do in the company of a good one! Well I'm not much for imagining, so instead I'll tell you what it is I liked so much about the record, just as soon as I provide you with a little background information. Dystonia EK is a Montreal-based label that was founded in 1989 and released clutches of tapes and CD-Rs for the following decade until ceasing operations around the turn of the millenium. No real reason is given for the layoff, but Nebris is their first new release in a good seven years, and "the beginning of a new phase" for Dystonia. I tried looking up some of the label's old releases but all I could hit on was a CD-R from Annihilist, who also seems to be in league with an artist called Automata aka James Hamilton, who also plays in Column, which is what Nebris used to go by, and the name of the guy who runs Dystonia EK is James, so I'm led to believe that if this lineage is correct, then Dystonia = James and James = Column (now Nebris), ergo Dystonia = Nebris. All that to say that I think the guy who put this out also runs the label. Sheesh. I should've just skipped over the graduate-level thesis and gotten right to the music in the first place.
This "Bleak Angels" thing, first of all, comes packaged in a very swank three-panel digipak case featuring variations of the same apocalyptic cover art all over. Noise records just sound better when they're not packaged inside grandma's tube sock, you know? As the story goes, Nebris rely on amplified organic materials such as bone and gut strings and minerals (fossils, meteorite fragments, stones) to generate their (his?) sound sources, often pushed and stretched to the point of breaking by an array of effects and processing. I can't say I spent a lot of time picking up on the exact moment a rock was "played", which is good. There's three tracks here all three falling in between the 15-20 minute marks, and although they're very seperate tracks, they work together to create slow-building and eventually devastating work of industrial-bred noise and ambience. Opening piece "V" makes me think almost immediately of Maurizio Bianchi-type industrial bluster mixed with Daniel Menche's heavy metal noise thunder - and of course I'll have to draw parallels to the organic heartbeats found in the tones of Aube's singularly-sourced records. What all that amounts to is a feverish blizzard of wholly unplaceable, sinewy sounds chopped up and coughed back up like a woodchipper regurgitating its metal innards. I wouldn't say it's overtly aggressive or anything but it sure as heck ain't very subtle either - think of it like a dense, frost-riddled wind strong enough to permanently alter your facial features if you stand too long in its path.
"II" initially isn't worlds removed from Tim Hecker's grainy ambience, but it slowly takes a sinister dip back into shadier territory, akin to a late night back alley shortcut through the desolate (indeed) industrial sectors showcased on the album cover. Throughout the track, Nebris layers semi-frequent groans of white noise static over top of the spooky gloss already being served up, crossing the Conet Project's shortwave paranoia with Cold Meat Industries' trademark tundra tones.
Nothing, however, hits quite as hard as "IV", and I think I needed one after it was over. It appears to be the culmination of all the cold-blooded aggression coursing through the previous thirty minutes of the disc, because it explodes in a mess of acid rainfall and never looks back once. It's hard to hear any of the bones n' stones sourcing that supposedly gave birth to what plays out on "IV" - the chaos that rips through the speakers at a torrential rate is borderline impossible to keep up with, Nebris keeps the howling winter wind drones in effect but accompanies them with horrific death rattles, mind-wiping static shrieks, and a palatable sense of danger and urgency. Think Francisco Lopez's earthly soundscapes paired with the shock and damage induced by mid-90's Merzbow and, well, it's a head start. All these comparisons I've dropped don't really amount to a hill of beans in the end - Nebris has created an album unique and interesting enough that in years time we'll be talking about what artists sound like Nebris, not vice versa. Highly recommended and a great way to start off the rebirth of Dystonia EK. Upcoming projects for the label include a CD from Sweden's Niellerade Fallibilisthorstar and a new Nebris LP.

MP3:
V (excerpt)
II (excerpt)
IV (excerpt)
MP3s courtesy Dystonia EK