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.