Welcome back to all who traveled out to catch Foxy Digitalis's Bottled Smoke fest out there in LA. Sounds like it was special. Ah well. Sometimes real life just can't wait.
On to NAFH:
Big daddy first...
Mike Tamburo Language of the Birds and Other Fantasies (New American Folk Hero/Music Fellowship) 6 CD-R/1 DVD-R - There's been a flurry of pickers 'n' pluckers come down the line in recent moons. Names like Jack Rose, Glenn Jones and Richard Bishop rightfully get bandied about with hushed awe, but what about the next sub-wave of lesser-knowns? Guys like Evan Miller, James Blackshaw and even our man in New Kensington, PA, Mike Tamburo. Tamburo is not just a guitar player by any means. He's a multi-instrumentalist and filmmaker with as much of an understanding and appreciation for the possibilities of audio-visual mind-expansion as composition and live performance. Language of the Birds and Other Fantasies is a 7 disc boxset. Yessir, ya heard correctly. Tamburo's gone all Merzbow on our asses with this lovely limited (250 count) monument to psychedelic mind expansion and self indulgent drone excess. And, perhaps not surprisingly, it actually works really well, both as introduction to and even summation of the World of Tamburo up to this point.
First, a confession: I know Tamburo. He sends me big ol' packages stuffed to the gills with fantastic recordings of himself, friends and other fine musicians from as close as the Middle US and as far away as Hong Kong. I think Mike's a good feller and a genuine soul, but I can honestly say that this in no way effects how I approach listening to or examining his music. Anyway, after finally getting to hear him on record (via the very fine Beating of the Rewound Son on Music Fellowship), I realized that he was something of a custom fit for some of our darker sonic obsessions here at the Womb. So by all means read all of the following with a grain of salt if so compelled. Otherwise trust that some amount of objectivity has been inserted into these convoluted ramblings.
Back to the music: Language of Birds is 6 full length CD-Rs of music and 1 DVD-R of 11 of Tamburo's short films and even a couple live performances. Each disc has its own title--Jade Is the Color of My True Love's Fate, Of Faith and Joy and Happiness, In the Present the Past Keeps Haunting, Don't Leave Your Bones In My Backyard, Language of the Birds, A Fine Line On the Throne of Time, The Persistence of Vision. They're comprised of compositions recorded over the last few years, live for radio stations and while on tour across the US. Some pieces are alternate versions of what's surfaced on other limited CD-Rs of recent past, all recorded in a fine, low noise production style that easily mutates from a crisp raga stream to shoegaze-y shimmers and the most haunted deep-drone electronic chasms. There's not a finer example of all of the above than what's found on the masterful "Dance Enis Dance," a track that originally saw light of day as a CD-R for the esteemed Barl Fire CD-R label. This is Tamburo at his contemplative finest with over 35 mins of Fahey meets Terry Riley repetition slowly engulfed in shimmering electronic swells again and again, only to have the glowing mass fade out to just Tamburo and his blues slide work. Tamburo rivals the established masters of psych infused raga spells on this monster and does so with a dark voice that is somehow all his own. Add plenty more epics and far out drone/noise jams using traditional instrumentation like hammered dulcimer and harmonica alongside dark clusters of field recordings, contact mics and other odd looped strangeness, you've got a homemade drone noise dream that begs for repeat listens, revealing new layers of untapped sonic potential with each new revelation.
Tamburo simply has a gift for weaving dense, breathing compositions that waver between a kind of accessible folk base and something much more removed from tradition. A deep affinity for the drone--minimal composers like Steve Reich, Tony Conrad and Terry Riley right on up through first wave industrial strangeness of Throbbing Gristle and the blissed out fuzz wash of Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine--marks every sonic expedition. This was also the case with his former bands Meisha and The Arco Flute Foundation, but solo--and this collection is almost entirely a solo work with some contributions from friends and collaborators--Tamburo opens things up even more, goes deeper into sound and hones in on the most striking parts of his third eye expeditions. More than a few tracks clock in at over 20 mins, but, incredibly, they never feel too long. Tamburo doesn't like to get bored, and his audience is lucky in this respect. He's a sonic storyteller who doesn't let technique get in the way, although Tamburo definitely has some nimble fingers and memorable melodies. More impressive is how he can knock everything off kilter when he wants to and go into the kind of dark surrealist waters that wouldn't sound out of place on a Nurse With Wound record. There's not a dull moment to be found across this sprawling collection, though it's safe to say one probably shouldn't operate any heavy machinery while deep listening to this stuff.
The films: ...are mostly experimental compositions drawing inspiration from Stan Breakage and Brion Gysin (co-inventor of the dream machine) and a few others. Most of the shorts are studies of light refractions via micro-closeups of indeterminable materials, and others more kaleidoscopic images all designed to induce a certain detached trance state in the viewer via in camera effects that look decidedly non-digital for this day and age. Particularly interesting is "Behind Amber's Eye" a weird little transposition of a young woman using a dream machine. As the camera moves in tight on the dream machine, some fascinating visual tricks of light begin to appear.
The packaging: The whole thing comes in a silk-screened blue box (top shown above), with a wrap-around binder displaying the title. The CD-Rs and liner notes are all bound in lavish cardboard sleeves with spindles to hold the CDs in place to help prevent scratching. Each CD is stamped with an ornate stencil design, and there's some epic liner notes with prose and short stories by Tamburo about everything from mentors to the void and of course the post office.
Final verdict: One stop shopping for all things Tamburo. If you've missed a bulk of his limited releases over the last few years, this is the easiest way to catch up all at once. Highly recommended raga-drony goodness.
And even more from NAFH:
A few other items by folks that are mostly new to me...I gotta think that David Krejci and his Cleophone was just the sort of project that forced Tamburo to get off his duff and start New American Folk Hero in the first place. Krejci's invention, the cleophone, is a Frankenstein combination of piano and guitar with some effects and innovations thrown in for good measure. "Mercury" is a 33 min trek through crawling strikes and gongs that slowly gains momentum to sound like a souped-up grand piano maneuvering through and around cosmic debris on a deep space trek through raga minimalism.
On the Like Twilight Bleeding 3" CD-R, Andy Futreal delivers three tracks of measured acoustic guitar playing that touches on bits of blues and raga without necessarily blowing my mind, but it's hard to ignore closer "Ghost of Twilight" with its tremulous pendulum of fluttering vibrations and lucid raga picking suggesting more than a passing nod to Six Organs of Admittance.
Another NAFH noob (to me), Eric Carbonara gets in on similar action with the fantastic This May be the End 3" CD-R, two tracks of oblique measured picking in the case of "Long Hallway, Three Open Doors" and a shimmering Steve Reichian trip through uplifting repetition in the beautiful title track, which suggests that Carbonara may take this ringing acoustic guitar drone thing to bold new places in coming days. Truly inspiring.
Alexander Turnquist's Sleep Chamber works a more somnambulant magic with a 3" CD-R of gorgeous pulsing harmonics and field recordings of running water that easily earns favorable comparison to earlier Stars of the Lid classics. Just under 20 mins of high grade minimal drone dreaming.
And that brings us to frequent Tamburo collaborator and Arco Flute Foundation member, Matt McDowell, and his mindflaying Headlong Into the Fire 3". This is one 19 min track of screeching feedback blare and tumbling free jazz percussion that comes off like Flying Saucer Attack free-jamming with glitch noise maestro Pimmon plus special guest star free drummer Chris Corsano. I realize this sounds like a pathetic attempt at uberobscurant hipster name dropping to the lameth power, but that's what comes to my mind. High velocity atmospheric burning not for the faint of heart, and I totally approve.