Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Actually made it out to the Anjelika for the USA film fest last night and caught Metallica: Some Kind of Monster. It might be familiar to some of you: a chronicle about the last 3 or so years of THE BAND, their post Napster backlash, Newsted's departure, and most importantly the fallen metal masters' psychiatric rehabilitation (and James Hetfield's too). Yes, the boys actually hired a band shrink to help them come to terms with their failing "family."

After watching this endless monument to therapeutic excess and willful maturity (I mean really, THIS is Metallica? I imagine U2 would be more of a threat in a bar brawl, but then they're at least Irish), I was left with a bit of empathy and understanding and a more than a modicum of "aww, QUIT YR BITCHIN' ALREADY!" I suppose it's only fair, after their pathetic MTV-sanctioned ascendancy to THE TOP over the last decade, and of course the Napster backfire, to give the boys a chance to state their cases, to say "hey...we're *expletive* people too!" And it's true, they are. Lars seems fairly levelheaded in a weasely, manipulative way. Listening to him discuss his priceless collection of modern art is worth the price of admission. James is the bullhead--someone we all know--stubborn to the core, but that core is obviously bursting with sticky emotions and abandonment issues. And given his openness about himself and his past, it's possible to understand his tyrannical nature. In these 120 some-odd minutes, he comes off more like a stoic teddy bear, willing to discuss things on a trusting level, and to listen too *cue violin strings*. With Lars though, one gets the sense more of a guy waiting for his chance to speak when he should be listening...but he listens some too. Dr. Phil (not that one), their smarmy hired hand who earns 40k a month to be on call at all times, definitely has an impact. In fact before it's over, he's in the studio, making lyric suggestions and all else. And my God they're totally dependent on the little balding cockroach, who entertains his own dreams of relocating the fam to sunny San Fran and becoming Metallica's full time emotional broker--man what a freak!

Jason Newsted comes out relatively unscathed, and even says of the whole psychiatric intervention, "fuckin' lame." Good for you, J. I'm not saying I think it was a mistake on their part to bring the guy in, merely a fine example of the excesses we go to in this self-help modern age to just, like, make it all better. Let's see...what else: Kirk Hammett seems like a real awe shucks sweety (he traded in his dope for a surfboard) and rancher. Dave Mustaine is a hopeless sad sack dimwit stuck in the past. He's actually invited to the group session, so Lars can come to terms with old demons, and mannnn...I can't imagine someone who actually had some "success" at various times on pop radio and such to take this kind of self-loathing, grim perspective on himself and his apparent failure--*delivered in near sobs, "I mean...I'm known as the guy who ruined Metallica!"* What??? Didn't they get a lot FUCKIN' BETTER after you left, Dave? Sure, he missed out on Metallica's golden age in the late 80s, but he got to ride that wave all the same. Did he really wanna be around for the last 5-10 years? Did he really still think Metallica was number one? Maybe if success is measured in record sales...but here in the womb, it ain't.

Enjoyed the bass tryouts, loved Lars' father (who's apparently Gandalf), dug Bob Rock as 5th and then 4th member. Enjoyed the look on Rock's face when Hetfield basically writes him off as a business expense in a letter written from rehab. This is real stuff...but is this movie going to acquit our one time heroes of more recent infractions? Hardly...I suppose the fans will chew it up, gag on the more jagged morsels, and ultimately feel some kind of vindication at seeing their boys "lay it all on the line," because after all the mighty ST. ANGER is the end result, and apparently it's good or something. The rest of us will at least be entertained a lot of the way. If you're my age (roughly 30), and you're breathing, you probably went through a Metallica phase at some point in your life, and for good reason. Master of Puppets--just typing it gives me the goody good shivers--is definitely some kind of monster. Ultimately, this movie--this struggle--becomes less about the band, and more about these people, and how they've resolved the mighty M (the band) with the wee m (the family) and forged onward against all odds. It could be a metaphor for America, but I don't think that's really a good thing. After all, we're mostly a nation of whiners.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Here's a preview of an article I've slaved over for a long time now for the upcoming issue of the most excellent Dream Magazine, detailing 13 of my favorite scary/freaky nightmare rock records. Enjoy:

1. Current 93 Dog’s Blood Rising LP (Laylah) 1984. This charbroiled filet of aural pestilence is the crown jewel in the first half of Current 93’s existence, when some fairly cursed demons gnawed at the core of David Tibet and collaborators (including, as always, Steven Stapleton), leaving gaping wounds of black bile spraying at truly oblique angles. From the opening drone of “Christus Christus” we’re left sinking in a morass of cycling doom, heavily phased chants stolen from an lsd-fueled black mass repeating the same effected phrase against warped machine noise, but this is only the intro to this gate of hell. More effective, the extended spoken word/noise battle of “Falling Back in Fields of Rape,” as rabid vocals from Steve Ignorant spit out images of war, rape and pestilence in a cockney accent against a scabrous bed of distorted wind, damaged tape noise and metallic whip-cracks that all eventually melts into excoriating white noise. By the time Tibet breaks out his own twisted version of Simon and Garfunkle’s “Sounds of Silence,” our minds have officially left our skulls and hundreds of little baby spiders have moved in.

2. Godflesh Streetcleaner (Earache) CD, 1989. Here’s an album that plays like history unfolding before your ears. Streetcleaner remains a massive disk arriving at the industrial/drone crossroads where jerky bass grind, expansive guitar drones and crushing robotic percussion merge into one monolithic tidal wave of distortion. From start to finish, this is a masterpiece of carefully (de)constructed atonal resignation with pulverizing, often layered, vocals and a guitar sound that owes as much to UK drone rock innovators like Wire and Loop as American guitar-trance maestros Big Black and Sonic Youth. It’s a churning repetitive noise maelstrom that to my ears is probably the ultimate realization of the term industrial, and hugely influential in the larger world of extreme music—more than a few of Kurt Cobain’s heavier solos circa 92 bare a striking resemblance to what’s going on here. The combination of brilliantly sculpted feedback, pummeling rhythms and tape noise knocks you over the head like a pile of bricks from opener “Like Rats” and builds till we reach the three time punch of “Devastator/Mighty Trust Krusher,” “Life is Easy” and the incredible title track. Justin Broadrick probably wishes he’d recorded it in a decent studio now, but turned up to 11, there is not a more unholy, soul-crushing noise fury. Aside from Sabbath and the Swans, no one else explores such extreme hypnotic realms as perfectly.

3. Nurse With Wound Homotopy to Marie (United Dairies) CD, 1982. If you were looking for a bad-trip record, almost anything by Nurse With Wound would satisfy. Given the “band’s” tendency for dream imagery, I figured they’d end up on this list. But what is the ultimate NWW nightmare? The acid-fried psych of Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table? The industrial black magic of Thunder Perfect Mind? The ambient elegy of Salt Marie Celeste? Ultimately the music of Nurse With Wound is so varied and consistently weird that only a choice mix would give one a real inkling as to what this experiment in sound is all about. In terms of paranoid mood though, it doesn’t get any better than 1982’s Homotopy to Marie. Across five tracks, just over an hour, Stephen Stapleton makes the studio his own broken instrument as he explores practically every facet of patiently arranged sonic dementia. There’s something deathly unnerving going on here, but also compelling—that is if you actually enjoy hearing the things that go bump in the night. Low, mumbled voices moan beneath primitive metal gears cranked with a rusty knife lodged in the workings. An emaciated frame huddles in a corner chattering to no one in particular. Faceless masses groan as they shuffle across stone floors; a water faucet dripping somewhere gets swallowed by the blistering shriek of pain. And that’s just the first track. The title track is a stark chiller of phased gongs and cut up tape loops of the most innocent phrases repeated by a little girl, matched with the cold refrain from a stern mother’s voice, “don’t be naive, dahling,” slowly hinting at something more perverse with each repetition, creating a palpable sense of hypnotic menace. “Astral Dustbin Dirge” is a 15 minute voyage through phase-shifting deep headphone mind tripping, but it’s the looped drone madness of “The Shmurz” that pushes everything into a different kind of minimal hell where totalitarian war chants melt into ethereal choirs and sprawling musical collisions of drone, free jazz and show tunes, all spread out over 25 minutes.

4. Comus First Utterance (Get Back) 2LP, 1971. An aural incantation of the more ethereal variety, First Utterance is one of those albums that get name-dropped regularly in the same breath as the Incredible String Band’s Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter or Pentangle’s Basket of Light, experimental folkies who had a broad influence on all sorts of strange free and post industrial things today. This album is an enigma of ambiguous moods and ethereal presentation that suggests that the trees of some ancient forests have shaded more than their share of brutal atrocities and pagan rituals in a barrage of ethnic instrumentation, violin, flute and more trad prog folk flavors. The vocals might catch you off guard, as they do have the same reedy, high quality of Alvin and his rodentia brethren, but there’s a definite method and ominous appeal in tracks like the forlorn little-red-robin-hood-gets-raped epic “Diana” with its tribal percussive breakdown and infectious, forlorn violin work, where the more expansive “The Herald” paints a wispier, but somehow still sinister picture of hypnotic witchery and naked frolicking in the misting predawn.

5. Nico The End (Island) CD, 1974. This is proof that a disturbing album can move you to tears. You can hear the seeds of so many avant-pop singers here, and even though she’s backed by a dream lineup of art-rock Gods in corpus and spirit (Eno, Phil Manzanera, John Cale, Jim MojoRisin), this is entirely Nico’s show on vocals and harmonium from beginning to, yes, the end. By the time she lays into the title track, reaching the oedipal spoken word, all the guffaws and eye-rolling memories of the classic original swirl down a drainpipe of corroded despair. This is “The End” as it was meant to be performed, naked with bleak honesty. A stunning work that proves beyond any doubt that Nico easily held her on next to her more popular former band-mates in the 70s, and maintains an unparalleled hypnotic aura throughout.

6. The Renderers Dream of the Sea (Siltbreeze) CD, 1998. This album is included here, if for nothing else, its unflinching gaze towards the black hole of human relationships. The vivid and painfully obscure imagery of Brian and Maryrose Crook’s songs will stick with you long after you hear them, and given that repeated listening is a guaranteed must for anyone with a penchant for the dire and surreal, you may never view the phrase “noise pop” the same way again. This is a nightmare dreamt with a just enough hope and genuine emotion to have real meaning. A gritty realism captured in the raw production (the first three tracks were recorded live at a sound check before a show) merges with a dark noise/jazz surrealism pretty much unparalleled in the larger rock world. These are fatalistic rock journeymen and woman at their experimental best, with Crook’s consistently striking guitar work the perfect crackling foil to Maryrose’s haunting vocal performance. Though other Renderers albums bear a more obvious trad country flavor, Dream of the Sea is the husband/wife combo at their lysergic noise folk best. A reverb drenched beast flailing in an ocean populated with regret and primordial life.

7. 150 Murderous Passions The 150 Murderous Passions (United Dairies) CD, 1981. Whitehouse is always a fun band to throw in the mix. In a way similar to say, Mel Gibson’s The Passion or Pasolini’s Salo, William Bennett purposely pushes the boundaries of moral perception, exploring a wide spectrum of subjective reactions. As sick as they come humanely speaking, Bennett has made a name for himself over the last 25 years by exploring the extreme side of life, being a scholar on all things decadent and amoral and as the sculptor of ultra-distorted/discordant electro noise which often blurs the boundary between art and obscenity with albums like Cruise and Mummy and Daddy—the aural equivalents to an extended barbed-wire rack in the face—both on his Susan Lawly imprint. The 150 Murderous Passions is not a Whitehouse album though, yet it is, along with the collaborative help of none other than Steven Stapleton, who hopefully is no stranger to you by now. Both have since disowned the piece and blame the other for its seeming failure, but the reality is this aptly named cavern of macabre drone offers two tracks of mind-flaying discord that combines high pitched metallic noise with gongs, phased samples and other surreal ephemera into just over 30 minutes of primo distorted maximal minimalism that sounds awfully contemporary in this day and age (a beat-less Wolf Eyes comes to mind).

8. Khanate Khanate (Southern Lord) CD, 2001. Khanate is black doom noise born from a fissure at the bottom of the ocean that’s actually what Art Bell would call “the true gate to hell” complete with mass moans of a million doomed souls, but here we just get one mightily fucked up voice instead. This is music obsessed with death and the process of decay, delivered with a broken intensity that is suffered through more than enjoyed. But this is one of the most hypnotic death dirges I’ve ever come across anyway, and despite a malformed sensibility to the “songs,” it’s all surprisingly listenable. There are precursors (Sleep, Boris, Sunnn0))), Fushitsusha), but Khanate hits the mother lode here of creeping aural lurch, with a guitar howl that blankets the room in ash when it needs to but mostly contorts in deformed knots of past-the-breaking-point tension, gut churning bass rumbles that cause tectonic ripples, hell hammer percussion and some truly over the top vokills, courtesy of the voice responsible for the mad squiggles on those early 90s Old albums. Rarely does such an album have this much texture and meditative allure combined with an unyielding sense of eternal damnation—the kind that comes with the repetition of a slave’s life, always shrinking from the sun’s glare. This grim beast prefers the darkness, digging through the earth’s viscera, hoping to return to the tomb of its inborn demise.

9. Omit Interior Desolation (Corpus Hermeticum) CD, 1999. A journey through domestic claustrophobia. This is an album that captures that moment when the familiar becomes surreal and your backyard turns into a swirling vortex to the void. Interior Desolation is one of the most unsettling pieces of drone I’ve come across, but it’s also one of the most entrancing. It’s all drawn from recordings made in and around Clint Wilson’s home of various tape loops, guitars, moved furniture, broken stereo equipment, squealing pigs, etc—you get the idea. Virtually no stone is left unturned in this pervasive atmospheric haze, but I’m not sure I’d want to stay on Wilson’s farm longer than a weekend or so. Take too many wrong turns and you might end up slipping through an inter-dimensional wormhole.

10. Kato Hideki, Ikue Mori, Fred Frith Death Ambient (Tzadik) CD, 1999. An aptly titled mood masterpiece. I’m still not exactly sure what this trio is going for here, as a wide variety of post-jazz soundscapes are explored across fifteen tracks, but this a powerful journey through disturbing sonic textures all the same. From start to finish, these instrumentals walk the line between cohesive momentum and genuine hair-splitting noise terror, but this is achieved as much through what’s not revealed than what is. A disturbing since of restraint pervades. I guess that fulfills the latter promise of the title, but it’s the skeletal structure which occasionally grows mass and spits venom that qualifies this record for nightmare status. Mori’s lopsided drum programming (no live drums are used) barely supports Hideki’s chopped up bass tones of cavernous squelches and rumbles with Frith coaxing just about every sound possible from his guitar, and a few others too. A dense, expressionistic journey through anti-structure that covers a wide range of emotional possibility, yet maintains a constant state of handmade mechanical menace.

11. Simon Finn Pass the Distance (Mushroom-bootleg) CD, 197?. Somewhere between the prog-folk virtuosity of Mark Fry and the solitary terror of Jandek, the juxtaposition of the front and back cover pictures says it all. Pass the Distance is the return call from the other side. Plenty of albums come to mind that cover a similar post-personal-apocalypse terrain, but Finn’s song cycle of fractured love and Dylan meets Milton mordancy is one of the best and simultaneously least heard of the group. This is a surreal, magnetic feast of primitive folk strums and trilling electric leads, clattery percussion, haunting reverb-drenched/ cracked production and Finn’s alternately blissful, mournful and inflammatory delivery. It’s hard to imagine groups like the Tower Recordings or later Current 93 existing without it, but there’s a sense of cloistered beauty here entirely of Finn’s own making.

12. Boris AbsoluteGo (Southern Lord) CD, 1997. AbsoluteGo, Boris’s debut on the doom/drone scene, remains a crushing statement of purpose and one hell of way to make an entrance. Originally released as one hour long trek in the Earth/Sleep tradition of massed distortion and amp buzz, this reissue tacks on the equally enveloping “Drone Evil” as a minimal-noise bonus to the incredible title opus. The first 30 minutes is bass/guitar noise and demonic howls massed into one seething beast with random cymbal clatter that resembles a crawling loop of a steam locomotive slowly gaining momentum on its trip to hell, but it’s when the actual riffs come pounding to the fore, and the drummer starts smashing like an epileptic troglodyte who didn’t take his meds, and a growling voice starts exorcising old demons, that we’re confronted with an ultimate tidal wave of doom fury unlike anything ever before heard, though there are certainly precursors. The subtitle Special Low Frequency is a nod to one of them, but where Earth was usually more interested in time-killing trance states, Boris evinces a chaotic rumble that’s both darker and more hypnotic at the same time. One seriously cracked and indispensable slab of primordial ooze is the end result.

13. Swans Cop (Third Ear), 2CD 1984. With this album, originally released in a genuinely creepy year on K.422 (and currently available as part of a 2CD reissue along with the equally pummeling but more varied Greed and Holy Money LP’s and the Young God EP), Michael Gira and his band, then a quartet, unleashed an aural hell different from most of what was rumbling up from the lower depths at the time. Where so many extreme noise rockers and metallers were getting lost in satanic hokum and extreme velocity, Swans always respected the swelling majesty of the power riff and knew that reality was plenty hellish enough already. One merely needs to channel the collective hatred of a crumbling society, and nightmares are sure to flow like blood. Over a primitive, distorted guitar racket that’s equal parts early Sabbath doom and NYC no wave, and bone-crushing percussive crash, Gira bellows and howls the most punishing, repetitive lyrics ever vomited forth from the internal void, resulting in an musical conveyor belt of hate, despair and ultimate catharsis where everyone serves his time. Later Swans albums would cover much more varied ground with mostly stunning results, but Cop remains an all time high and the very rock bottom all crushed into the same imposing mass.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

It's interesting to compare the media coverage between different parts of the country. Dallas and surrounding areas are pretty damn conservative/ mainstream and maybe even downright stodgy in their political and artistic points of view. The one lib daily in the area, The Times Herald, folded years ago, leaving us with the bland predictability of The Morning News as our only print news constant. The most exciting things that happen around here (aside from fake drug scandals), are renegade gorilla attacks at the zoo and the occasional racial accusation.

D.C. is a world onto itself though, with world-shaking consequences. It's probably most comparable to Hollywood, with a sinewy network of double-dealings, secret agreements, old Frankensteins, endless rows of columns and complex city design (which actually makes sense), a shitload of Bush derision, and commentators at every turn. Bob Woodward's latest book, Plan of Attack, is sure to add more rocky waves to an already grim situation for the incumbent, though it doesn't look like it drops any real bombshells as much as just explains in detail what we already knew - Dick and George wanted some Saddam steak long before 911 and were doing their best to heat up the grill "behind closed doors". I still wonder though about these off-the-record remarks and whether Woody has more to offer than what mostly comes down to top level political tabloid journalism. Given this is in-detail historical speculating on some seriously fucked events that we're still trudging our way through, it's probably essential reading, whether you hate Bush or not.

While in DC, I:
--partook in a ceremony to honor my uncle at the Vietnam Memorial,
--saw George Stephanopoulos, said "hi, George,"
--was accosted by an unstable transvestite outside the Lincoln Memorial who declared "what? I don't want to turn into a rainbow right now - you turn into a rainbow!"
--saw the brilliant Espers live (s/t LP just issued on Time-Lag, CD on Locust), opening for the post Bardo Pond sludge mongrels, Long Live Death (young, sexy, Orange amps) at The Warehouse Next Door,
--tumbled down the Exorcist Stairs,
--bought a copy of the new Einsturzende Neubauten CD, Perpetuum Mobile,
--witnessed a man choking (and thusly Heimliched) one table over at a grill on M Street - he survived,
--saw the sights,
--got lost too many times,
--had a good time.

np: Sonic Youth "Karen Revisited"

Friday, April 16, 2004

I'm heading out of town to Wash/DC for a few days. Don Rumsfeld and I have a golf dispute to settle. So it's doubtful anything will happen here for a few days (not that anything's been happening anyway). I'll check back soon...hugs and kisses.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Montreal's The Unicorns are here to remind the world that the New Pornographers are not the only Canadian pop band that's actually worth hearing. This funky homemade psych glam pop is quite the treat across the span of their Alien8 debut, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone, with a semi-fractured whimsy that sounds visionary despite its meager origins. There are few bands who've hit me like this in recent years. Olivia Tremor Control is one. Guided By Voices is another before them, and Captain Beefheart before them. This album plays like a dime store carousel, freshly dusted, polished and retrofitted with new sparkly lights. There's vitality to burn on tracks like opener, "I Don't Want to Die," with its Zombies-like piano bounce, the slow-burning organ groove of "Tuff Ghost" and the Guided By Voices worthy pop crunch of "The Clap," but what pushes the whole affair up a notch, aside from the occasional Beefheart freakout, are the warm and silly sing-alongs like "Child Star" and the absurdly infectious "I Was Born (a Unicorn)" which offer a great deal of pop smarts, intelligence and a camaraderie worthy of your favorite tag-team freak pop ensembles while sounding kind of fresh and unique at the same time with a production that screams for volume. This CD quite simply makes me feel lucky to be alive. If you don't have enough records like that in your collection, Who Will Cut Our Hair might just fill the void.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Birchville Cat Motel has a pretty constant release schedule, some things more limited, others more available. There's a split album with Reynols on order, but the last thing I found myself spinning over and over bearing the BCM tag was the Screamformelongbeach 3" CD-R on Pseudoarcana, which saw a usually more minimal guitar scrape approaching the golden drone metal void. There's also Campbell Kneale's skull-splitting garage-acid noise abomination Sunship and a neverending stream of collaborative releases and peripheral performances, all of which are chronicled on his Celebrate Psi Phenomenon.

Beautiful Speck Triumph on the always fascinating Last Visible Dog finds Kneale and the various voices in his head exploring dense clouds of atmospheric haze and deep drone over two hours and 2 disks. The berth of instrumentation is crude but inspired: electric/ acoustic/ fake guitars, synth, cheap organ, recorder, clarinet, contact mics, wired turntables, violin, baby rattles, firecrackers, loops, get the idea. Anything and everything is fodder for Kneale's crude ambient sorcery. "White Ground Elder" opens with a melange of crackling hums and distorted vibrations before slowly, gracefully expanding across the span of the disk into a majestic, swelling beast of transcendence worthy of comparison to Discreet Music era Eno and Stars of the Lid. Disk 2 offers a more subdued trek through creaking drones and skittery clicks, overheard voices and cricket sounds all meeting in an expansive wall of industrial drone falling somewhere between the sliced and diced guitar distortions of Main and the acid noise pulse of early Kraftwerk. But it's the title of this massive opus, and the concluding title track, that ultimately reveals Campbell's ethereal aims, with an absorbing crescendo of electro-static space wind that's easily one of the most perfectly transportive Birchville pieces I've heard to date. Primitive and unquestionably handmade, but this is a very deliberately formed glimpse at the cosmic mind, and a perfect first step for fans of foggy minimal space sprawl such as Omit, Dead C, Main, Stars of the Lid, early Kraftwerk, etc.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Tinsel's first album, The Lead Shoes, was co-released by The Broken Face, a fine underground noise and pop zine out of Sweden. Stitches of Light (Keyhole), the followup to that ghostly collision of fractured folk scapes and subtle industrial harmonics, comes as a CD-R package limited to 125 copies, which begs the question, can we expect a reissue? More people probably need to hear it. Seven tracks of dusty bedroom psych that has an instantly familiar but distant allure get evenly distributed over 30 minutes of dark harmonic swirls. May be an even more enticing affair than The Lead Shoes--streamlined, a bit less fractured and alienating, memorable melodies, but still a dense, expressionist canvass gets explored with layers of cavernous noise loops and drone a constant presence.

Opener "When It Is Time" sounds like a lost lullaby overheard via an old factory drain pipe, gently wafting through the dense, rusty air. Electric piano, vibes, sweet harmonies and subtle samples and loops back a rumination about coming in from the dark with a lovely melody that softens the melanchony subject matter. It merely commences one of the more disturbingly surreal electronica/folk dream cycles I've come across in quite some time. Masterful tracks like "The Choirgirl," "Somnam (Sweet Light in a Dark Room)" and the aptly titled "Elegant Decay"--an extended trip through industrial creeps and crawls--should be heard if you've ever dreamt of a union between folkier Current 93 and later Third Eye Foundation, but that only really hints at the complexity of this tense journey. For music that's largely sample-driven, it's warm, approachable folk pop that's melodic enough to appeal to dream-pop types, but darker and scarier in an Eraserhead sort of way. Be prepared for narcoleptic lapses and spontaneous hallucinations when exploring such vivid dream portals.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Big hugs and a hearty "sköl!" to my old pal Mats G. from Sweden. He and his wife just welcomed a beautiful, healthy baby girl into the world a few days ago, and all are safe and sound. She's gonna be coolest little girl in Vagnhärad, mark my words.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Psychedelic folk, hypno-groove, space jazz, minimal noise, subharmonics--buzz words that could be used to describe bits and pieces of my idea of today's most visionary sonic abstractionists. I couldn't think of any finer examples of this all-as-one approach than three bands that have been a steady presence on the avant/jazz/psych whatever scene since they came onto it, or it came onto them: Ghost, Charalambides and The Lost Domain.

Ghost (click here for their live set from '02 at WFMU) is one of the most revered modern psych bands, but would your average Floyd freak or Deadhead be familiar? No sir. Good thing, too. These people aren't really tuned to receive such a sound. This is psychedelia in the Gnostic sense, with rhythms cast from a more primordial cloth.

From the beginning Ghost's music was as much about genuine Buddhist spirituality as songcraft--arguably more so, and just as they celebrate the life of the spirit, they mourn its death. Listening back now to their debut, and the more free form live display of Temple Stone, they had a feral intensity that felt more immediate and incantatory than any other "neo-psych rockers" of the time, and these days even sounds downright prophetic of the whole developing folk/improv scene. The first albums of Amon Düül I are a good reference point, and just as Chris Karrar and John Weinzierl grew more ambitious and technically adept, striking out on their own as Amon Düül II and achieving massive creative success, Ghost matured and coalesced into an arguably more conventional classic rock ensemble, but that is classic rock as the ultimate realization of such a loaded phrase. Albums like LamiRabiRabi and Snuffbox Immanence (both Drag City) define modern guitar psych excellence in the last 10 years, and feature one of the best axemen alive in Michio Kurihara, along with an always revolving, visionary cast of supporters. Those who've seen their live show can attest to their hypnotic power. The two times I've seen 'em, I felt the kind of awe that might've been reserved for Hendrix or Can on a really good night. No exaggeration.

Enter Hypnotic Underworld (Drag City), the first Ghost album in five years. I was almost caught offguard by the extended title suite that opens the first side. Its first part, "God Takes a Picture of His Illness on the Ground" plays like the murky psych/jazz soundtrack to post WWII Japanese devastation, or more recent atrocities. Alienation bleeds through the shadows for a good 13 minutes, but with each new part of the journey, the soul of the piece approaches some sort of metamorphosis. "Aramiac barbarous Dawn" captures this moment with surging defiance in just under three minutes of prime galloping prog/folk, before the manic snare blast of "Leave the World" renders the transformation complete. What's left are seven of Ghost's most literate psych folk/prog hybrids to date. "Hazy Paradise" sounds like a bit of mid period Tim Buckley and early Floyd, but mostly classic Ghost. "Piper" has more than a hint of Zeppelin's literary folk/psych grit, but this is decidedly more willowy--light as air but firmly planted. And there's the heart-pounding crescendo of acoustic guitars, sliding electric leads and piano of "Feed" and the two-part album closer of sad barrettes "Dominick - Celebration for the Gray Days"--climaxing with a striking wall of pipe organ that slowly fades on a near religious note. This is arguably Ghost's finest studio moment. The musicianship, especially key member Kazuo Ogino's keyboard work, is stunning and magical throughout. When I first heard this well over a month ago, I wasn't sure if it was good as some people were saying. Now, there can be no doubt. An early and worthy contender for the best of '04.

If Ghost has somehow managed to come closer to the center without losing any of their integrity in the process, Charalambides have only gotten further away from their somewhat more traditional origins. Experimentation has always driven the husband/wife duo, sometimes trio. Their earliest days (roughly 92-97) are possibly more accessible to the lo-fi noise pop enthusiast, but don't be expecting Guided By Voices. Skeletal fuzz folk structures--often just a guitar or two--some backwards effects, lots of grunge with a really beautiful, wounded but stirring, female voice at the center of it all. 95's Market Square (Siltbreeze), recorded with the a third member, is the pinnacle of this period of their avant folk/noise and remains my pick for one of the true great moments in the American underground of the 90s. Back then Charalambides explored the same general mood space as Ghost, probably one of the few bands around that they felt shared some common ground, but their ragged, meditative approach was drawn from the darker visions of Jandek and New Zealand's noise kings, The Dead C, as well as the more familiar acid folk pioneers (Incredible String Band, Fairport Convention, The Trees, etc). Again, this is not your father's psychedelia, but as modern as it all seems, for artistic parallels, I'd look to the abstract films of the distant past. The Dada images of a Man Ray film, where various light flashes and grainy specks flicker and swirl against a ghost screen, creating what could be the suggestion of a ballerina spinning or a surreal vortex to the void. Charalambides invoke a vast ocean of subjective reaction, but ultimately there's not any kind of definitive shape or theme in their music, aside from a lingering despair and a constant meditative quality. A-hole academic types could argue that they're hiding behind a wall of white noise and denying any real objectivism in the process, but they've since toned down the feedback and withdrawn into even more distant, seemingly relaxed realms, and proven that fuzz is not a necessity at all. Charalambides simply trust in the so-called harmony of the spheres (also the name of a compilation on Drunken Fish featuring the last recording of the Market Square lineup, the devastating "Naked in Our Deathskins").

Across quite a few self-released CD-R's and limited albums, marking a distressing jump in release volume which I've since lost track of, Charalambides have shied away from the song-aspects of their earlier work and focused more on pure moods and extended pieces. As with their hero Florian Fricke (memorials 9 years before his death on their Union LP--Silbtreeze) and cinematic long-take filmmaster, Andrei Tarkovsky, Charalambides stretch a note way beyond what's needed, and live to explore the universe of possibility between the 12 note tone scale. "Unknown Spin," originally released on their Wholly Other imprint, and the first of a series of releases for Chicago's Kranky, is a fine example of this later period of more overt experimentation. It's also probably the group at its minimal best. Four extended tracks of barely there steel-string slides and languid picking mark a great deal of the material, with the barely perceptible sound of fem voice dotting the distant horizon here and there with silence playing as much a role as sound does. Words are more imagined than understood here. They'd simply get in the way. Also of note is the inclusion of a new version of "Magnolia," a stand out track from the earlier phase of their existence, which gets revisited in a more abstract, minimal rendition, removing much of the grunge of the original but none of its ecstasy. A great jumping off point for their new label home, and a worthy intro into the ever-expanding and utterly unique sound world of Charalambides, though the Increase 2LP, first released on Eclipse and due for a reissue, might be their ultimate trek through such minimal time-lapsing drones.

The Lost Domain is another one of those avant-folk/jazz ensembles that sneaks up on you like an electric eel in shallow water. Probably the least folk sounding of these three bands, this Aussie freak quintet follows a similar personal trajectory to aural enlightenment all the same. The CD-R Something Is (Rhizome) features two extended tracks spanning 75 mins, each taken from shows recorded somewhere in Australia. I like the mystery of it all, have no idea who's involved, but I can tell that fans of the meditative folk-psych that can be traced from the above bands on down to your more propulsive improve rock types like Jackie-O Motherfucker and Sunburned Hand of the Man will want to get hold of this tender morsel asap. My only problem really comes in identifying just what it is exactly. Is it improv/psych? Abstract folk masquerading as stumbling free jazz, or something else altogether? Or is simply another way of looking at all of the above as the same shape-shifting aural entity? It's music that is expansive, for certain, but hardly boring or ponderous or any of those other negative 'p' words. You can come upon either of these tracks at any time, and find yourself wandering amid highly charged sonic debris that lulls and soothes as often as it sizzles and crackles. Grooves form naturally--some alien guitar pluckings, scattered percussion, rumbling subharmonics all slowly build towards a stately hypnotic jam the likes of which Jackie-O is well known for, but Amon Duul perfected long before on their last masterpiece, Paradieswärts, but here there are no vocals aside from some loud, God-like voice declaring "FADE OUT" a few times torwards the end, which is of course what the band does. Dark, ecstatic, reigned in and fiercely hypnotic, this Lost Domain is destined to be discovered by many a wayfaring stranger in days to come.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

OOIOO Kila Kila Kila (Thrill Jockey) - Is Yoshimi P-We a household name yet? Didn't I see that adorable smile shilling Revlon on FOX a few days ago? I'm just having a little fun with Ms. We since she recently turned in a sweet cameo on The Flaming Lips last opus. I've seriously been infatuated with the woman ever since catching her amazing band (this one, not the other one) live in Austin a couple years ago. Kila Kila Kila is the Boredoms drummer's 4th album with her ethereal space/art punk unit--she sings and plays guitar here--and it's a regular kaleidoscope of abstract sound designs.

As with every OOIOO album I've heard, (and I've not heard 'em all), there's a schizophrenic, jerky tendency from the opening title track. Some keyboards and bass flutter and skronk beneath whispered vocals for just over a minute before the more dynamic, and quite breathtaking "Ene Soda": Bells shake beneath vibes. A lone guitar is plucked romantically before a thunderclap of noise blows everything apart and slowly reforms again, following the same pattern with slight variations for a good 4 and a half minutes. Things really start to smoke though with ten minute "Sizuki Ring Neng," starting with a destructed intro of stumbling random crashes, drones and obfuscating yelps before slowly building into a stiff funk/post punk jam on par with the Slits or A Simple Ratio, only this is OOIOO, which gives the whole mess its own enchanting charm. "On Mano" posits bass/drums against dulcet cello, where the more extensive "Northern Lights" has a bubbling prog sheen with cycling guitar masses and trancy synth drones. But it's the 15 min drone/noise serenity of "Aster" that truly delivers the meditative goods and proves that these ladies have lost none of their gift for expansive progidelic workouts with a strong Eastern edge. File alongside the Slits, Boredoms, Beefheart and my trembling heart. Simply beautiful, if not slightly inaccessible to your best emo pal.

Friday, April 02, 2004

One day, Womblife will have a presentation that matches its content. Until then take umbrage in the mighty shadow of the


Yes that's right, yours truly found himself at a genuine pro b-ball whipdash where this big guy and a similarly polymorphic rubber horse were contorting and fidgeting like automated crackfiends, creating a surreal, jerky tension worthy of an aborted Svankmajer production. It was the highlight of my night, and I was surrounded by Drambuie sippin' pro football players and stripper cum trophy wives! Oh yeah, Mavs pummeled the Queens. RAWK!