Saturday, May 14, 2005

More music blab...

Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice is another name to keep an eye on in the "new folk happenings." "Xiao" was issued on CD recently by Troubleman, long gone vinyl version some time earlier on De Stijl. Tower Recordings come to mind, and other destroyed folkies of the late 60s/early 70s, but this runs on its own delirium as heard on the slow melting opener, which features echo drenched spoken word on morality/Christ over archaic bells and droning harmonium. Throw in stumbling acid guitar from the stone age, fem siren songs and other charming effects, all informed by a preternatural beauty that never really relents, you've pretty much stumbled onto the archetype for stoned enlightenment. No idea why Troubleman issued this, aside from cashing in on the "stoner folk" revival. Whatevs...

Where's da pop? Somewhere within Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti. This fucked up freak porridge isn't going to take over the charts. Most folk'll give ya sharp crack to the cheek if you throw "Worn Copy" (Paw Tracks) on the changer. It sounds like it was recorded on third generation tape. The guitar tone is straight out of the Fisher Price catalog. And the songs...well they're a bit iffy on first listen. It's hard to tell whether Ariel means to whisk us away to a swirling sonic wonderland or just make us giggle in a plume of pink smoke. Maybe both? Can't help but listen to these rinky dink recordings of prog/psych/funk/hiphop and wonder what they'd sound like in a real studio. If Ariel wanted to he could probably be the next Death in Vegas 0r Beck, but for now I will happily settle for his lunatic, ramshackle madness in the bedroom. If read as negative criticism, you miss my point. It's a simple fact that this guy can take such seemingly disparate elements as early 90s lo-fi fuzz like Guided By Voices, Kraftwerk, Prince, Beach Boys, a borrowed 8-track and meld uniquely musical results. Get past the hiss and mud and you just might discover the first viable collection of original psychedelic muzawk of the new millennium.

Samara Lubelski can be heard cooing like a stoned cherub with the Hall of Fame; the haunted "Waves of Stations" is a sad little gem that I return to often in my more romantically detatched mixtape moments. She's also played with and/or recorded the Tower Recordings, Sightings, but who knew she was such an incredible songwriter in her own right? "Fleeting Skies" (Social Registry) offers 10 delicate strokes of vaguely psychedelic folk pop that's heavily inspired by Nick Drake (and Vashti!) and comes wrapped in a warm, austere production that would make Joe Boyd blush with envy. BUT it's all sung in Samara's blissfully enchanting register, which is about the most hypnotic voice in the world. Tasteful string swells on a few tracks, but mostly stripped down and direct. This Foxy Digitalis review goes into more detail. And looky here...a feature! One of the debuts of 04.

Birchville Cat Motel's latest is arguably his greatest. "Chi Vampires" (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon) builds from a murmur to a wail like the cosmic foreplay that eventually sparked the Big Spooge (though I realize that's a theoretically inept metaphor). BCM does seem to somehow chronicle the sonic trajectories of the heaviest, oldest elements in the universe with great skill. The results alternate between blissful layered minimal tones, harsh alien dreamscapes and tidal flows of distorted metallic screech. Definitely something for everyone here, and the final track (a mass of tinkling piano, feedback swells and power chord thunder) is one of the most perfect BCM numbers in history. Few will ever reach such heights, unless maybe they're hanging off of the wings of this beauty. Fookin' A.

Earth is surely one of the bands that Mr. Kneale of BCM spun regularly in his developmental phase. BCM's music sometimes sounds like a more ethereal counterpart to this legendary Seattle group's turgid subharmonics. Earth basically invented "ambient doom" back in 92 with the release of "Earth2" (Sub Pop), and then kind of faded from the scene as other groups like Boris and Sunn0))) emerged to fill the void, literally, with rumbling waves of hellish sludge that often sounded like Earth2 on 'roids. On board here to offer retoolings of various Earth originals are Mogwai, Sunn0))), Jim O'Rourke, Russell Haswell, Justin Broadrick and more unleashing long spindly deep drone scapes that go from gastrointestinal ooze to Fripp-trippy ambient dreams.

Lau Nau is another stunning arrival on the avant scene as far as I'm concerned. She plays/has played with many familiar Finn noise/folk ensembles at this point, but her solo work on "Kuutarha" (Locust) is probably most comparable to that of her friend Islaja. It's dainty, fractured folk with layered vox that somehow sort of instantly burrow their way into the heart and mind. All sung in her native language, I can't help but listen and think it wouldn't really be possible without the earlier voice/guitar workouts of the Charalambides, yet Lau Nau takes it further out on the ethnodrone ledge and weaves some incredibly alluring aural hypnosis that is entirely of her own making. Moments of this record are about as blissful and raw as anything I've come across in my heady trips through the musical hinterlands.

Finally got something by the Weird Weeds, a self released CD-R called "Hold Me" (Edition Manifold), and I'm happy to report that this is an utterly entrancing work. I think Digitalis will reissue it at some point, so hopefully more people will get a chance to soak up what I can't really put a name on. I can think of bands that come to mind across the expanse of these 10 charming art pop ditties, though--Maher Shalal Hash Baz, the Curtains, Gastr Del Sol and few others. Such comparisons are not made lightly, either. Warmly recorded, vocals often quite upfront (boy and girl) with a delicate--almost psych light at times--lead guitar sound, rougher rhythm strums, plaintive bass and percussion that goes from free jazz airiness to booming rhythms and back again. Addictive and haunting every step of the way. Great expectations, indeed.

Could we be saving the best for last? It's possible. Long Live Death's "Bound to the Wheel" is one extremely enchanting serving of modern psychedelic folk. It sounds very much like the quintessential Secret Eye release: The loud percussion, the rampant acoustic instrumentation, bowed saws, old world pagan folk structures, haunted vocals, stoned to the bone production--it's all here. And thankfully the actual songs are stunners, too. This will appeal to fans of the Angels of Light and the Iditarod equally, and it's far too unique for such lazy comparisons. But it's late and I'm tired, so that'll do, pig. That'll do.

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