Thursday, December 29, 2005

In an effort to "feel the love" and that all too elusive peace or stillness during this time of long days and bitter winds, and to acknowledge that there is such a thing as "beautiful noise," I give you seven albums that offer their own defined paths to the undefinable.

First up, yet another snapshot at the under-underground, as in the Australian/New Zealand noise/psych scene. It's a compilation that arrives with the same holy reverence that brought a few out of the region in the early/mid 90s--albums that offered harrowing glimpses at some of the most genuinely twisted, vibrant, bleak, raw, undeniably human pop/jazz/noise whatever the world has ever known. Going back to the early years of the Flying Nun label (The new "Where In The World Is Wendy Broccoli?" comp is an excellent introduction to those early daze) on down through the ages to the equally visionary likes of PseudoArcana, Celebrate Psi-Phenomenon and Metonymic, but what about NZ's much larger neighbor to the North? Oz is largely overlooked and ignored, at least around here, but 2005 has shown the likes of Rhizome, Kindling, MusicYourMindWillLoveYou and Spanish Magic to be every bit the spiritual, mind-warping equals of their kiwi predecessors. Only just scraped the top of the enormous MYMWLY discog, and the recordings on the Spanish Magic imprint are equally essential listening for those who favor the droning, squealing, dissonant blissout above all other methods of discourse. "It's Over, We Don't Care," the CD in question, is more firm proof that any so called golden age has far from subsided. "It's Over..." feels like a direct extension of that blessed era. This little comp (12 songs, just one CD) is chock full of trance inducing garage noise passages (see Hiss's "Burning Easter"--incredible!), and a track by the all too elusive, dearly loved Garbage and The Flowers (and it's a slow pop dream entitled "Elisabeth"). The always dependable Hi God People do the sort of space age minimal pulse that Stereolab and Jessamine perfected in the mid 90s. There's the roly poly Tortoise like post-jazz of ii, Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood's moody prog noise and Keith Mason's godhead guitar sorcery. Castings (the cats who run Spanish Magic) keep it short and stumbling with "Missive:Aside," and Anthony Guerra and Peter Blamey arouse a piercing fuzz scream of twin guitars that glares like the morning sun. Also on Spanish Magic comes the ubiquitous Robert Horton in his Egghatcher guise. The guy has probably released more limited CD-R's in 05 than any other artist, and be he conjuring screeching steel string meditations or unleashing a free jazz howl, his stuff manages to maintain a constant magnetic pull. On "Cat's Ear" Egghatcher bears some resemblance to Robert's solo material, only this is more of a sound sculpture thing, complete with some tasteful digital manipulation. Imagine Omit given a slightly more bubbly texture, which is shorthand for Horton has a lot of ideas up his sleeve that range from surrealist nightmare collage to fun with contact mics, field recordings, turntables, dulcimer, etc. It occasionally makes me think of the holy trinity of NWW/Coil/Current 93 at their most abstract. Praise be.

Next up an extended reissue of Fursaxa's "Amulet" (Last Visible Dog), without question a deeply spiritual journey. Tara Burke's vocal on opener "Rheine" takes on a somber, devotional aura, as a chant loop that could earn her another Popol Vuh comparison is slowly engulfed in shakers, percussion, flute and other harmonies. Definitely one of her most alluring, transportive trips, that commanding opera voice in full siren form. Other places we get the kind of strummy lo-fi pop I could copulate with ("Rodeo in the Sky"), organic chorals to the heavens ("Crimson," "Songs for the Cicada") and more mind cleansing, fuzz laden medieval arias, and guest contributions from the Brothers Gibbons of Bardo Pond. That explains things.

The brothers and lovers of Pelt bring us their own take on the holy holy with "Untitled" (VHF), which I'm going to go out on a limb here and say is among their top three or so albums to date. There is an air here, a noticeable tone shift towards the highest regions, that conveys some genuinely inspired chaplets of sound stretched out over 3 extended raga jams and 1 short dissonant drone. There's a noticeable influence (to my ears) of those wacky Euro improv/droners who seem to be on the constant sonic ascent, but Pelt maintains its patented trademark of growing, mutating, lysergic dream/nightmare music from the deepest spiritual realms. There is beauty and horror here, dark and light, ecstasy and despair. Acoustic guitars are often scaled back (save for the extended central second track) for sake of rippling, sawing, droning, bowing, buzzing tones that stretch infinitely across the heavens, earth and the heart/mind, all carefully and deliberately constructed. Extra bonus of ambient sounds (thunder, a dog barking, a cat's mew?) only furthers my admiration. For those longing for more Jack Rose, less drone, "Kensington Blues" (VHF) will satisfy with 8 impeccably performed finger-picking symphonies that range from bouncy ragtime ditties and toe-tapping blues jigs to bizarro pan-stylistic string trips and stupefyingly fast, intricate, jaw-dropping 12-string workouts that sound more like a small ensemble than just one guy. With KB (;P), Mr. Rose emerges as the true successor of the mantle of Fahey (whose "Sunflower River Blues" he covers with deep reverence here) and, at the same time, blows the whole mother wide open. Masterpiece.

Another young acoustic sorcerer who likely admires Jack as much or more than I do is James Blackshaw. His "Lost Prayers & Motionless Dances" snuck out at the end of 04 to relatively little hubbub, and knocked me over the head with its deft mastery of 12 string raga, arty drones and inspired fingerpicking. You can bet James has spent much of his life obsessing over, soaking up and exploring all manner of folk and world music, and I wouldn't be surprised if one day he and Jack toured the US together. It would make for an unforgettable double bill. "Sunshrine" (Digitalis) is officially his third album (it and "Lost Prayers..." were issued on vinyl this year by Bo'Weavil), two tracks--one very long, one fairly short. The title is the real draw here with a few warm strums building to some of the most liquid playing you will ever hear on a 12-string acoustic with rushes and lulls that make the heart rush and lie down on command. The guy is simply phenomenal, stretching notes out in endless spirals of dancing string tones, shifting to ornamental Brit-psych folk and well beyond, dropping to a drift of tinkling bells and bowed metal and closing things on a religious note with harmonium. "Skylark Herald's Dawn" is a gentle come down, a sweet little instrumental that arouses images of wind swept heather and hands interlocked. A slice of love, God, peace--take your pick.

Windy & Carl is a husband/wife duo that's come a long way since their modest beginnings in Detroit Shoegaze City. From their earliest recordings of the mid 90s on their music has maintained a dreamlike, narcotic quality that tugs at the heart/mind like a precious childhood memory or a particularly vivid dream that one hopes is never lost. The new "Dream House/Dedications to Flea" (Kranky) honors the tradition, but further abstracts and blurs the boundaries between dissonance and melody, waking life and dream, life and afterlife. This is an album of release and gentle glide, space time breaching, absorption, release. Four extended tracks of gorgeous harmonic wash comprised of guitar/feedback, e-bow, field recordings, Flea himself (their pooch who passed recently as explained by Windy in the sincere, touching liners) and more. Anyone who appreciates the subtler side of drone, gently shifting kaleidoscopes of sound and life in general should eventually be captivated by the deep listening possibilities residing here.
Merry Festivus, folks! And a Happy New Year to all. I'm having my own Festivus bash on New Years; if yr in DFW, let me know! We will be strobing to the greatest hits and near misses of 05, minus Kanye West (this is still Bush country!), though I can guarantee some marathon Curb Your Enthusiasm viewings. And all you haters out there--you know who--put it down, doggs. Feel the love.

In other news, some American Mothers are MAN! M.A.N. stands for Mothers Against Noise. They hate noise. And I must give these ladies props for at least studying up on their subject matter.
From the site:
1. Rebellion
2. Violence
3. Nihilism
4. Escapism
5. Drugs / Alcoholism
6. Perversion
7. Dissonant / Offensive Sound
8. Paranormal / Occult Activities
9. Anti-God / Anti-Authority
10. Cult-like Organization"
...all essentially true, but this list seems incomplete... No God? Doth not the noise embrace His Holiness as well? These ladies take a rather dim view, it's true, but then they seem to mostly get it right at the same time. I particularly like the suggested remedy for anyone who actually likes Whitehouse: "If your child has any Whitehouse CDs, stop everything and please think of getting them professional help (I suggest Military School over therapy)." On Merzbow: "Japanese noise uses a mix of technology, sex, nihilism, occult themes and violence to further their aims." Concise, but hardly spiritually probing. I thought noise was about catharsis, which is all about purging the body/mind of unholy spirits. Turn it up, sinners.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

I'm glad no one left me any hate comments regarding my recent theistic declaration or whatever that was (wink, wink). Jesus was a social radical who was into hallucinations and mysticism. Hippies, punks and art-junkies alike should appreciate the culture jamming possibilities. I wonder if anyone ever tore John Fahey a new one for releasing two Christmas albums? Great albums btw! Tis the season to be fingerpickin'.

Various Artists "Gold Leaf Branches" (Digitalis) 3CD

In a year that will surely be marked as the year of the wyrd compilation, one definitely takes the "freak folk" cake (pardon all hip-speak clich├ęs). Not to suggest that the other three or four documents that've surfaced recently on like-minded labels aren't entirely definitive albums; they are. And don't even get me started on this! "Gold Leaf Branches," Digitalis Industries' stab at the all encompassing underground world music hypno-log, is a 3CD summation of all that is Foxy Digitalis the e-zine, Digitalis the label, and by extension a larger world community of avant trippers and sonic soul mappers. The constant release schedule of Digitalis and its Foxglove subsidiary has yielded some of the most consistently fascinating music of the past two years. Without FD, artists like Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood, Terracid, The Lost Domain, Hush Arbors, Keijo, Stuart Busby and James Blackshaw (just to name a few) might still just be obscure blips on the underground radar. Not to suggest that people wouldn't have caught on, but thanks to Brad Rose, his wife Eden and their team of sonic excavators, a lot of diligent work and aural intuition has yielded sweet fruit for the select multitudes.

Oklahoma is like Texas, deceiving in its iconic imagery, boundless in its artistic integrity. It's even mystical, this rectangular box of lakes and prairies where cultures clash, wheat grows, wind blows and illegal drugs are processed/consumed daily--and it's also the home of the Flaming Lips! But this here is not "drug music." This is closer to spirit music or--to borrow a phrase--old magic. Other labels in the region, namely Anticlock and Maritime Fist Glee Club have offered their own glimpses into the Middle American sonic headspace, but none has covered what's happening in the musical underground today with such range and devotion. Digitalis's output is simply inspiring, not to mention overwhelming, and this is precisely why a compilation such as "Gold Leaf Branches" is so necessary. It somehow touches on all of these local aspects, while flying off and leaving borders behind at the same time. From conception to sequence, quality to quantity, this is a brilliantly executed compilation, and a perfect introduction to the sprawling, elusive sound world that FoxyD and so many others have come to exemplify in recent years.

Each of these three discs would make a fine introduction into what's variously termed psychedelia, free noise, acid folk, avant sound sculpture, ethnic drone, minimal noise, fractured pop. Whatever phrase you want to drop into the porridge, it's probably at least touched upon here. Six Organs of Admittance turn in a crisp live recording of "Thousand Birds," sure to whisk any tormented soul to the holy mountain. And Ben Chasny isn't dead, folks! Kuupuu unleashes a smatter of dancing spirits and percussive clatter on "Haava" before Stuart Busby plays a haunted looped trumpet on "First Steps," brilliantly grafting restraint with probing spiritual investigation. Hala Strana's "Fanfare" is equally inspired with its rush of haunted drones and jangly acoustic meditation--classic Jewelled Antler ecstasy. Alligator Crystal Moth's (Mr. Digitalis and one half of the Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood) "Epicenter Crystal" breaks down the elements into pure cosmic energy. The Gray Field Recordings combine minimal acoustic plucks and ethereal chants on "Rune of the Moon and Endymion." James Blackshaw's "No Ghosts" is a Basho incantation of fingerpicking raga guitar that's as powerful as anything I've heard from the man. "Friday Morning" features Timothy, Revelator's spectral banjo plucking and haunted baritone vocal. Pefkin summons the ghost of early 70s Nico with her eloquent "Blast Beach," and Silvester Anfang turns in crusty acoustic guitars and coursing feedback that any Dead C fan should appreciate. Then there's the devastating "Ruination of the Runaways" by Elephant Micah, which was recorded live in one take and drips with heart-aching humanism every step of the way. Haunted, inspired, sad folk pop at its finest, but the same could be said for Kulkija's "Hijaa Hiivin Pois Aurinkoon," though it is a tad more Finnish.

The second disc features a genuine highlight in Charalambides' "Voice Box," which sounds like a rawer Mirror with Tom Carter's slide meshing against Christina and Heather's vocals and organ, all coaxing minimal striations across a luminous space. The North Sea (Mr. Digitalis himself) combines ethereal acoustic guitars, effects, birdsong and vocal into an ethereal pop blessing called "Guiwenneth of the Green Wood." The Weird Weeds (The Laudable Pus) layers two songs, one on top of another; the gentle art pop "Soda Jerk" is beset with the primal lust of "(Sex With Strangers)," making for a truly disturbing juxtaposition. A moody electro psych swirl is rendered in the Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood's "Missing Peace." Leighton Craig & Eugene Carchesio combine angular guitar thwacks, horn squawks and bowed strings on "Here I Give Thanks No. 1." Rameses III employs delicate floating acoustic guitars on "The Tidal Draw." Snowfox explore a dreamy shoegaze wash on "Love Style One." And then there's the fantastic trad folk psych of Ireland's The Magickal Folk of the Faraway Tree's "Being Here Has Caused Me Sorrow," a show-stopping moment of gentle acoustic guitars, accordion and gorgeous harmonies. Wax Ghost conjures a minimal tone poem of harmonium, voice and bells on "Fall city." The Golden Oaks meld high pitched tones with meandering acoustic guitars on "Grower's Communion." And folk chanteuse Marissa Nadler turns in the haunted "Lilly, Henry and the Willow Trees," from her brilliant "Saga of Mayflower May" album.

Disc 3: Drekka invokes the spirit of Current 93 and old hymns with its live rendition of "Possibilities." Anvil Salute conjures a gentle folk drift with "Vines Through the Window." Hush Arbors weaves a tender psych folk spell of longing and devotion on "Far Away I have Been," which eventually snowballs into a haunting windstorm of distortion. It's one of the most affecting tracks I've heard from Keith Wood yet. The Lost Domain gives us the damaged chamber jazz of "Death Dances," which segues to the haunted fractured folk pop of Lau Nau's "Hidas Kuula," assured to make some neck hairs stand at attention with its layered siren vocals. "Death Dealer Blues" is another choice moment, coming to us from Wood & Wand (featuring the Rose), as in Wooden Wand, Keith Wood and Aaron Rosenblum playing live in a backyard in Knoxville, TN, and getting philosophically tribal. Agitated Radio Pilot fashions a minimal glide of dreamy surreal feedback on "Innumerable Night." Terracid (one half of the Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood, solo) combines bows, jaw's harp and guitars on the short and sweet "Sky Love This Day," and Dead Raven Choir (who to me personally is incredibly inconsistent, and about as likely to amaze as grate) strikes cryptic gold with the clanky acoustics, fuzz and spoken word of "We Will Not Whisper." "Unborn Child" sees Nick Castro teaming up with B'eirth (of In Gowan Ring) for a live number. "Lullaby," a gorgeous moody psych folk number from The Does, features effects and slide guitar beneath a tender fem vocal. Mike Tamburo plays looped harmonica to reveal a shimmering aural waterfall in "No More Dripping From the Windsor's Beard," and continuously surprises with his various stylistic approaches. Beautiful and transportive in the best way. Closer, Finland's Braspyreet returns things to the oblique with "Kuu Putoaa," a nightmare of fractured folk guitars, off-key vocals and ominous metallic drones. In a word: WEIRD!

So there you have it, damn near the longest review I've written in '05. Not everything on these 3 discs is up to par, it's true, but more often than not I find myself truly impressed and occasionally knocked out by these numbers. There is so much range here, a seemingly endless reserve of DIY possibility. Each artist is unified in that they are doing it themselves, for themselves, and the precious few who might care to listen. The packaging is minimally characteristic of other Digitalis/Foxglove releases, with just enough information to reveal who’s doing what.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

God is Love......and love is action. I've been fighting them wintry blues in the form of microscopic bacterial lung infestation these last few days, but I think I'm getting better. First off, must acknowledge--as has the rest of the world--the anniversary of John Lennon's death. I deeply value the musical and/or other contributions of the Beatles here at the Womb. They're probably the first non heavy metal band I ever loved (though "Helter Skelter" is fairly proto metal and right malevolent at that!), and John Lennon was the hippest, most cynical cultural lovemaking junkie the pop world will ever know. His face, his glasses, his speaking voice, that nasally acid splashed singing voice, and his words define more than just a generation or time. I always get a tinge of sadness when someone says they don't like the Beatles, or worse yet, dismiss them as "creepy carnival music." These folks seem to miss the point that the creepy carnival bits were entirely intentional, and that these lads could trade in a half dozen other musical genres with equal depth and aplomb while never missing a beat. Lennon was the spunk, the caustic wit and even the unconditional love of the Beatles. And what can I say? I dig love. I dig Christ. Yes, I am gentile. If you don't believe, don't know what to believe, don't know, don't care, makes no real difference to me. Just try and have a little tolerance for those who might? Not all Christianzzzz are gun-toting warmongers. In fact, no Christians are, are they? Granted, some "Christians" are fucking lunatics, but you should just learn to appreciate their zany antics and think up clever punchlines to preface their introductions.

To get to a point, I love and deeply respect the power of myth. My earliest memories of stories revolve around Sunday school and a fascination with Greek Mythology a few years later. I imagine most adolescent boys go through such a phase, especially those who had "Clash of the Titans" to spurn their limitless, nonjaded imaginations. But then we get older, "wiser," more cynical and independent. We realize we were essentially brainwashed as youths and we feel like fuckin' idiots. And that's fair. I mean we are 17 after all, and all those chemistry and biology classes are starting to leave their mark. Science and logic makes us feel like infinitesimal microorganisms in some labrynthian void where we essentially push the same button over and over, receive food pellets, shit and repeat. Fuck that H-bomb mentality, man. Fuck it right in the ear.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Folks, I'm sorry the blog is so boring/inactive these days. It's hard to pretend like you know what you're talking about on a regular basis. I have so much shit to review, so many things to consider, and so little time/desire to do it all, especially in the wake of other recent developments. I'm currently working on a feature on Current 93 for Dream Magazine that's drivin' me up the wall, and due inside of a week. I've received some amazing packages recently from 267 Lattajjaa and Digitalis but not sure I'll ever really get around to discussing them here, though rest assured a review of the "Gold Leaf Branches" compilation is coming. It's definitely an essential dish.

I'm going to be writing a column on more limited (mainly CD-R) releases soon for the musical visionaries over at Deep Water, hopefully by January. DW is run by Mr. Kevin Moist, a very informed, sweet and musically inclined fellow (he plays with Third Troll and The Clear Spots lately). The print version of his zine was extremely influential on how I view, approach and write about the rock. He also wrote the liner notes to the original "Harmony of the Spheres" boxset on Drunken Fish (featuring Bardo Pond, Charalambides, Loren Mazzacane Conners, Flying Saucer Attack, Roy Montgomery and Jessamine), which was recently name checked as a direct inspiration for the "Elegy Box" on Last Visible Dog, not to mention a spiritual precursor to the "By the Fruits You Shall Know the Roots" 3LP box on Time Lag/Eclipse.
I love Kitten War and watching "The Natural" with my Dad.

Monday, December 05, 2005

A random review...

Renato Rinaldi “Hoarse Frenzy” (Last Visible Dog) CD - Renato Rinaldi is an Italian sound artist/musician that fits in perfectly among Last Visible Dog’s diversified roster. “Hoarse Frenzy” is a single 40 min track broken up into various sections or movements, all seamlessly edited together, that run a gamut from the most homespun porch pop (complete with desolate stoned vocal) to heavenly distorted buzz tones and beyond. Rinaldi incorporates everything but the kitchen sink--harmonium, organ, acoustic/electric guitar, piano, dulcimer, field recordings, found objects, etc--into surging tone poems that never grow sterile or predictable. From gamelan swells and piercing minimal shrieks to the most sedated piano sonatas, “Hoarse Frenzy” maintains a constant magnetic pull. Maximum volume yields maximal results for this haunted little beauty.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

HOLY CHRIST! Lightning Bolt just got added to the Terrastock 6 lineup!

In other news: the new Corrupted album "El Mundo Frio" is a total blackened masterwork.

One love.