Saturday, April 23, 2005

I've started to update this friggin thing multiple times in the last month, but something keeps coming up--diversions, technical failures--you name it. I even started to write a post about the constant barrage of distractions that befall all of us every day, but I got distracted before finishing. As a result I have a small mountain of recent acquisitions, many of which probably wont get mentioned that should, but one never knows with me and my "sense of organization." So I give you some brief (or not) sketches of recent albums that have my heart rate ascending:

The Soundtrack Our Lives "Origin Vol. 1" (Republic/Universal) - I love rock, dude. I think I always will no matter how cynical I may become. I'll also grow bored with it, turn my back on it, drunkenly denounce it as little more than the skittering drone of a hamster running on a treadwheel, but then something will happen. A darkness will fall, and I'll throw on Buffalo Springfield's "Bluebird" or what have you, and get that righteous fever all over again. Hasn't failed so far, anyway, and these Swedish superstars seem to understand it all in a way that few others can. A lazy listen to TSOOL could yield expected dismissals and accusations of shameless plagiarism, but read the name again. The Soundtrack of Our Lives are shameless "classic rock" raconteurs, celebrants of a bygone era when the music we loved, everybody seemed to love, was actually on the charts. The Soundtrack revels in rock's most worthy cliches while leaving most of the bullshit--AKA Axl Rose--behind. This is a well produced album (all of 'em are) with blatant nods to The Who, Buffalo Springfield and of course the Rolling Stones, YET it's still somehow fresh (enough) and worth my time. These guys toured with Oasis, and I'm not a big fan of those cocksuckers, but the pairing actually makes sense given that both bands have a similar appreciation for the so called golden age of rock. Oasis aint near as bad as indie rock dogma would suggest by they way. "Origin" may be the least rewarding work to date from these guys, but it's still worthy of the name.

Michio Kurihara "Sunset Notes" (Pedal) - One of the most explosive guitarists alive today. His performances with White Heaven, Ghost, Mainliner and Damon and Naomi (to name a few) all speak for themselves. This solo debut has nine disparate tracks, ranging from flambed spaghetti western rawk to shimmery guitar pop. Through it all that unmistakable tone guides the listener through fuzzbox eruptions, minimal guitar scapes, fried surf rock and mellow pop not at all far from Nagisa Ni Te. Not the shredding freakout expected, it's a subtler, more varied journey through some of Kurihara's favorite sounds and styles. To think one day rap-rock-country phenom Big and Rich will be inducted by the RNR Hall of Fame and this guy wont even get a lifetime achievement award.

The Stars "Will" (Pedal) - Not the swooning synth pop band from Montreal, but Japan's premier heavy psych punk behemoth. The Stars are a quartet that features half of the legendary White Heaven and once more includes Kurihara. The Sound? Pristine early 70s proto metal blues like Mc5, Led Zeppelin and Cream thrown into a crockpot and simmered to a boil. Singer/guitarist You Ishihara has been working for 20 years to cultivate the ultimate Japanese approximation of bad ass English rock god vocals, and he's about as close as he's gonna get on opener "Everlasting Daylight," a monster of booming, heavy grooves and soaring power chords. Pulverizing and blissful at the same time, the stadium sized melody approaches the most divine heights of garage psych, only to be outdone by the blistering soloing of Kurihara, on fire throughout. The slower, softer moments are just as good with intricate dual guitar interplay that brings to mind Television. Those digging on the new wave of Japanese guitar psych (Up-Tight, Miminikoto, LSD-March) are gonna be absolutely blown away.

Angels of Light "Sings Other People" (Young God) - Michael Gira got his latest signing the Akron Family to be his studio band on the Angels' 4th album, and it easily rivals their best (mainly the last two). "Sings" is pretty much Gira at hit most whimsical with some shimmery ethereal moments interspersed throughout. The centerpiece "Dawn" sums up his journey till now with his typical emotional intensity in well under 3 minutes, and it just happens to be a song of contentment, thank you very much. Its twangy blues melody under a warm rush of harmonies from the Akrons under Gira's easy going delivery is one his most seductive moments to date. It brought me to my knees last night about 1:30 as I played it over and over again in a dark room. It's not the only classic on here though. Gira's all about quality control. An album of "love with no sentiment," as he sings on "Dawn," that steps away from the somberness of the last record towards something closer to joyful release.

Akron/Family "S/t" (Young God) - Gira has done it yet again with the signing of this young combo. In 2001 is was Calla, 2002 Devendra and now he invites the wonderfully off kilter art pop of the Akron/Family into the stable. And I suppose I can say that Gira knows me well, because this is one of my favorite new discoveries so far in 2005. The balance between gentle, fractured songcraft and shimmery head-swimming minimal bliss is conjured as well as anyone out there today. The effect brings to mind The Band inhabited by the warped spirit of Daniel Johnston or a much more ambitious Grandaddy. Stoned folk pop with tape noise, field recordings, bizarre head-swimming sonic effects and grandiose arrangements that rarely open up to reveal a wall of sound, but when they do...Look out. Flaming Lips, Eno, later Swans, even the poppier aspects of the Jewelled Antler also come to mind. Su-weet.

Tower Recordings "Message From the Celestial Explosions" (Holoscanner Consciousness) - “Message From the Celestial Explosions” can basically be seen as a freer sister to the recently hatched and more widely available, “The Galaxies' Incredibly Sensual Transmission Field of the Tower Recordings.” The folk and blues shadings are less apparent this time out in favor of blurred dispatches from distant faded galaxies. These five pieces touch on later Sun Ra, Sandy Bull and spacey Incredible String Band, matter and antimatter, alternating between meandering improvised space jazz, primitive noise, free folk in a way that only the ‘Recordings can. It’s evident from the first track that they’ve grown dramatically as improvisers over the last decade, or maybe this 30 min voyage is just edited with maximum transport value over a very short period in mind. Either way, no wasted seconds to be found. They peak just over halfway in and don’t let up till the promise land is revealed in rippling cosmic waves of effected ethnic drones. Enveloping opium trances for those who long to flee this world on a regular basis.

Sun City Girls "Carnival Folklore Resurrection: Radio One and Two" (Abduction) - This 2CD was originally conceived and edited for transmission on WFMU freeform radio, and I'd say it ranks with the finest in this most splendifurous archival series. It pretty much touches on all aspects of the Girls' stupefyingly unique, and often absurdist, approach. First track is a mind blowing cutup of Buddhist funeral chanting morphing into random DJ dialogue and then into the daintiest Far East synth pop number you've ever heard, all sprawled out over 13 minutes. Glorious stuff, it also represents what's going on at Sublime Frequencies to the hilt. There's hilarious twangy pop, lo-fi noise, jazz skronk, answer machine messages, station ID's and much more, all stamped with the SCG's uniquely subversive/surrealist slant. Even dear old Uncle Jim gets in on the action with a stoned recital of historical metaphors and self aggrandizement that culminates in such lovelies as "That's right, there's me...and yer not" and "Just be careful. You wouldn't wanna get your dick cut off in public would ya?" spoke-sung in a voice that can only be described as familiar.

Digitalis Watch:

The Golden Oaks "Autumn Testament" (Digitalis) - They came, they saw, they took stringed instruments in hand and fell back on a bed of gold and green stroking and plucking the sound they heard. The title track is the forest awakening from a cool slumber with shakers and ambient chirps blossoming into trance inducing acoustic guitars and Keith Wood's high vocal over distant chants and cello. The much longer "Candles Dangling From Boxwood Branches" posits drifting acoustic strums against field recordings and shimmery guitar feedback before voice sings a hymn to the birthing dawn, then welcomed as a celebration that develops into a gorgeous piano/drone drift. Brian Eno AND Harold Budd combined couldn't do it any better. A more exultant air greets the noise folk of "Arisel Arisol" before deep space is further defined on the epic "Hushed By Bells" with strings and low humming feedback backing vocals wandering through the haze before it opens up to a mellow raga. "A Fog Has Lifted" closes with an ambient swell of strings and drones over animated clicks and scratches in an effect close to a meditative Birchville Cat Motel. Strong debut, hinting at greatness to come.

Braspyreet "Maamme Laulu" (Digitalis) - Clattery free/art rock from Fins who've been drinking the bad water. They kick up a stoned racket that falls somewhere between Beefheart and Throbbing Gristle on the opener and totally kick much caveman butt in the process. Elsewhere the spirit of the mighty Avarus looms large, and of course No-Neck Blues Band. These people turn up the insanity/intensity though, reaching the breaking point with blood curdling screams over white noise before they're through. I have a thing for such nonsense derived from free jazz, blues and tribal spells, and they know how to make the more atonal detours pay off well. Some parts are bound to click for those familiar with Braspyreet's contemporaries. The entirety is sure to scare and/or annoy most anyone else.

Matt Rosin and Dead Raven Choir "Fire Mouth" (Digitalis) - I wasn't sure how to take "Fire Mouth" at first, but after a few listens I'm starting to think I may never escape its clutches. This postal collaboration features Smolken on tenor banjo, troll cittern and double bass. Matt Rosin sings, plays piano, mbira, wine glasses and resonator jar. The tracks are mostly what we'd expect, skeletal folk dirges with Rosin's baritone vocal crooning over top. The voice takes some getting used to, but it's not a bad thing. I believe the word is character. His piano against Smolken's double base occasionally lends a slight broken jazz quality (Gastr Del Sol comes to mind), while other pieces alternate from meandering picking and plucking/ droning vocals to percussive clangfests and meditative torch songs. Say what you will about this stuff; it's unique, and "Fire Mouth" evinces some growth while maintaining the blackened soul quality of earlier releases. A few moments are even downright beautiful. Along with the brilliant "Sturmfuckinglieder" 3" CD-R, my favorite DRC release to date.

That's all for now. Expect a few more posts in the coming days, including a bundle of recent Foxglove CD-R's of varying note. Check out the latest update of Foxy Digitalis too. Featured this time are Hiroyuki Usai (the man behind the amazing "Holy Letter" album reissued last year on VHF), Baby Dee, Satwa, Pumice (Get "Raft" on Last Visible Dog NOW if you haven't), Lau Nau, Gayle Brogan, My Cat is an Alien, Brooklyn Noise (Black Dice, Sightings, Excepter, Double Leopards, etc.) Sublime Frequencies, and the Aanitarha fest in Turku.

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