Saturday, January 17, 2009

This is My Music: Vol 2 (A Rainbow in Curved Air)

The Dead C The Secret Earth (Ba Da Bing) CD - The Dead C will always be. Long after the great rivers have run dry and the stars have faded, The Dead C will still be right there in the heart of so much pain. For over 20 years this New Zealand trio has unleashed its broken rock for a broken world. Music that rides the boundaries between so many genres -- art punk, noise, garage rock, minimalism, drone, psych and Krautrock (but never prog), indie pop, nowave, lo-fi drek, even folk and blues. They have their predecessors -- early Sonic Youth comes to mind -- and all sorts of bands have emerged since attempting to unravel the mysteries of deconstructed rhythmic catharsis, but none has really gotten the mixture quite so perfectly (im)balanced as Bruce Russell, Michael Morley and Robbie Yeats. The Secret Earth comes close on the heels of last year's darn good Future Artists, but I'd say this is a more solid release all the way around and will likely come to be known as one of the strongest releases in their already considerable catalog.

Cut to the chase: The Secret Earth rocks pretty damn hard. Opener "Mansions" sets the tone with groaning guitars beneath a pummeling percussive backdrop, Michael Morley's keening vocals blending equal parts devastated pathos and moaning rage into one signature howl. It seems more like The Dead C doesn't compose songs at all; instead it open doors to scenes fraught with torment, despair and even the occasional cautious beauty. The trio paints these images in sound, so we see the decadence of "Mansions," hear the confused clatter of "Stations," ride over the endless jagged spikes of "Plains" and bathe in the cleansing warmth of "Waves." This entire album comes in waves. The Secret Earth is classic Dead C. It's a hard album to get through in one sitting, but then so are the rest. A force of nature at any volume.

Merzbow Rainbow Electronics 2 (Dextar's Cigar) CD - Life Rule # 237: When Jim O'Rourke reissues an album in his Dextar Cigar's label, ya'll best pay attention! Masami Akita aka Merzbow is a towering enigma in the modern Japanese noise/power electronics scene, and his recordings are as vast and mind-frying as your Sun Ra and Nurse With Wound catalogs times ten. I've not heard much myself, but my Good Lord, Rainbow Electronics 2 surely represents some of the most purely psychedelic analog tone generations I have ever wrapped my feeble mind around. Brilliant tone bursts and muted hazes all impeccably arranged to tell a story beyond words. 65 mins of maximal minimalism that's filthy and transcendent in the same stroke. A must. This was originally reissued in the late 90s and supposedly went OOP, but it appears to be back in the racks again. I found this copy at my local record emporium last month.

Aural Fit II (PSF Records) - While exploring the realm of the difficult and the Japanese I should mention Aural Fit, a largely unknown psych noise unit till now, but, none the less, I have concluded that these lads released the most discordantly abrasive and true rock record in '08 with II. Four long tracks in the classic PSF raveup garage vein landing somewhere between the pummeling onslaught of Kousokuya and the redlined power shredding of High Rise, proving that the new wave of Japanese psych/noise continues to grind on as an ever growing wall of sludgeoid fury. Been listening to early volumes of Tokyo Flashback lately, and Aural Fit honors the tradition brilliantly while actually offering something new and completely in the now at the same time. II feels as visceral as White Light/White Heat sans the banal necessity of any pop concessions. This is what Sister Ray said.

Zanzibar Snails Brown Dwarf / D & N D & N (both Mayyrh Records) CD-R & 3" CD-R / Zanzibar Snails Vanadium Dream (Phantom Limb) CD-R - '08 must be the year of the snail in some exotic land somewhere, maybe Tanzania or Morrocco... or even the USA. It's clearly the year of Dallas improvised drone cracklers Zanzibar Snails (no longer employing the 'the'), with three quality CD-Rs hitting the racks, each showcasing a different facet of their hands-on revolving ensemble approach. Brown Dwarf preserves a live set that was performed as an opening act sharing the stage with Rahdunes, ST-37 and Suishou No Fune. This this was basically the show of 2007 as far as I'm concerned, though I didn't actually arrive at the venue till right after the Snails' set. So I was pleasantly surprised to find electronics guru/Snails member Michael Chamy's claims of spontaneous aural perfection not too terribly exaggerated when I finally threw Brown Dwarf into the changer: 35 mins of minimal bass hum separated into five segments that build from a bottomless one note subharmonic trudge to full nuclear devastation before it's over.

D & N is the duo of Nevada Hill and David Price, whose initial recordings eventually flowered into Zanzibar Snails. This self titled 20 min 3" CD was recorded in a postal exchange that resulted in 8 short tracks of hallucinogenic aural transport. These pieces have a more compositional quality than any ZS related release I've heard so far but come off as no less spontaneous or challenging via shifting tonal landscapes that suggest Spacemen 3 one moment, minimal composition the next, music concrete the next, etc. It's never less than completely consuming and richly detailed, plus one of my favorite ephemeral type spins in '08. Recorded live at home, Vanadium Dream compounds some of the heaviest cosmic elements with three extended workouts that continue the more serene moods of Brown Dwarf while upping the difficulty a few notches to conjure some truly challenging celestial voids. This is the first Snails session to involve contributions from Mike Maxwell of Subkommander/SDS, proving a solid fit with the Snails philosophy of less is more as the quartet combines oblique string vibrations, breathing electronic textures and pulsing bass hums into deeply transportive, continuous drone chasms. Not for the faint of heart but not too harsh either. These three releases ultimately come closest to the fractured improve noise of classic NZ combos like Flies Inside the Sun and Surface of the Earth than any previous ZS releases.

* ZS related live action note: Caught a trio set last Thursday of Chamey, Maxwell and Mark Church (current merch dude at Good Records, formerly of Bay Area weird rockers Flat Tire), performing as 'Snails offshoot The Watchers, a power electronics trio that conjures an almost devotional quality at times instead of the more trad ambient/electronic skree textures. 'Least that's the vibe I got when I arrived to a room saturating distorted Buddhist chant accompanying the alchemist scene from The Holy Mountain, which was being projected on the wall at the front of the store. Like walking into a dream. It was Church's birthday too. Good cupcakes, good tunes, good friends...yum. Next was the post industrial/apocalypse folk of Awen, a trio that brings that classic late '80s World Serpent sound (think Current 93, Death in June, Non) to the DFW area with conviction. Takes balls to make this kind of doom folk racket round these parts, but ultimately I gotta respect these folks' for the quality of their performance (Stone Breath gone militant?) over their stage presence which invoked images of Boyd Rice and fascist salutes. Still I think I can dig where they're coming from. Brings me too....

Steel Hook Prostheses Atrocetizer (Malignant) CD - ...This DFW area headliner of said show specializes in so-called death ambient, or death industrial, power electronics, whatever. They make me think of Bastard Noise and Nordvargr and all those dark drone behemoths that just can't get over how fucking grim everything is. They sound amazing live with HUGE surging bass fuzz swells that fog the mind without necessarily clawing the face, as their name might suggest they would. On this CD SHP conjures a crackling compositional morass inspired by how creepy vivisection and surgical procedures can be along with an overriding paranoia of the techno/industrial revolution unfolding before our very eyes. Ultimately a lot more texture than what you'd expect from a duo calling itself Steel Hook Prosthsteses, and despite it's gruesome title and darker predilections, Atrocetizer provides more solace than pain.

La Otracina The Risk of Gravitation (Colour Sounds) CD-R / La Otracina Gardens of Blackness cassette (Digitalis) - La Otracina made quite the splash in '07 with the Tonal Ellipsis of the One CD on Holy Mountain and has since been clearing out the vaults with multiple CD-Rs of gooey psychedelic goodness for the head-music-elite. Hard to believe though that The Risk of Gravitation is just a limited to 100 CD-R release, but it appears a vinyl issue is in the works. It's a monster platter that combines the free form psych of the first album with proto biker metal fuzz assaults (think early Blue Oyster Cult and Pink Fairies), doom sludge cauldrons and more ethereal blissouts into a flaming fireball of distorted delight. Fantastico. Released soon after: the equally mind blowing Gardness of Blackness tape via the always dependable Digitalis Records. This one features really beautiful bombed out psych folk, massive Hawkwindian distorted squalls and grooved out West Coast bong boogie with optimum cosmic transport capacity via its magnetic aural environs. And it's probably my favorite tape of '08. These boys have figured out the secret psychedelic formula, alright.

Smegma Live 2004! (Resipiscent) CD-R - Let's give it up for the aural approximation of ball sweat that is Smegma. This ectoplasmic blob of sonic goo has been working its cryptic magic for over 30 years now. That would put them loosely in the same orbital ellipses as similar sound soup collagists like Negativland and Nurse With Wound both in terms of amorphous style and mind-bending musical longevity, but, sonically, Smegma has burrowed itself into a particularly compelling/unique niche of subterranean improvised groan. It's no secret Wolf Eyes are big fans and even joined forces with Smegma for a split release on the Di Stijl label five years ago, and after having had my mind melted a few times over by this dark acid I can see why. I've heard little of Smegma's actual releases over the years, but this miasmic noise fest goes a good way in filling that void with post industrial gunk that alternates between a kind of melodic minimal trance and the most destroyed and singular nowave death lurch ever approximated by humankind. Guest appearances by Jello Biafra, Johnathan Coleclaugh and Steve Mackaye (the guy that blew sax on The Stooges' Funhouse).

Concord Ballet Orchestra Players Flying Together (Froyen Foods/Insect Fields) CD-R - Now here is the business: a large (7-9 members) ensemble from Somerville, Mass that started life as a onetime tribute to my favorite Krautrock band (Faust, of course) and quickly blossomed into a full time concern exploring elements of improvised psych, fusion, and all manner of phased distortion and sending the groove train straight into orbit. The results are modern improvised psych performed with some chops and should appeal to fans of any kind of jazz infused komische space from The Orginasation to '70s era Miles and well beyond. Very groovy.

Beehatch Beehatch (Lens Records) CD - Probably the coolest new thing I heard in '08 was this duo project of Mark Spybey and Phil Weston, who both met when they worked together in Download. I never really got into Download, but I can dig on pretty much anything Spybey related, and this self-titled dish is a brilliant merging of glitchtronica, minimal drone, industrial, techno, dub and good old fashioned noise into an epic slice of aural lysergia that works just fine whether cranked up to 11 or played at lower background volumes. It also features the best song title of '08 in "God is So Good, God is So Dub." I'm hooked and quite curious to hear the recently released followup, Brood.

Religious Knives The Door (Ecstatic Peace) CD - What a band we have here. Of the two most excellent RK long players released in '08, I think The Door takes top prize. It's hard to believe that two members of this trio used to make freaked out noise murk in the Double Leopards. The Door (possibly a reference to The Doors?) is their first album for Ecstatic Peace, and it's probably their most accessible platter so far. I've decided that RK offers up a more destroyed post Dead C response to what Providence, RI's Urdog did so well: moody organ/guitar/drum jams that alternate between a strange melodicism and corrosive prog space. Tracks like "Basement Watch" and "The Storm" have an off kilter charm that's both unsettling and deeply hypnotic at the same time. Currently my favorite Brooklyn band.

And a bonus, originally reissued in '99 that I only just heard a few weeks ago. One can never get enough of Mr. TR:

Terry Riley Reed Streams (Nonesuch) - Yet Another brilliant dispatch from the master of minimalism. Riley's solo compositions, with John Cale, and in a variety of other sonic constellations via a far reaching network of live performers the world over have continued to define the sweetest fruits of what happens when minimalism goes psychedelic and repetition breaks free and flies right in to the ethereal plane. The first two tracks on Reed Streams are dazzling eruptions of electric organ and rain-patter-like percussion that evolves and grows more complex across 20 minutes of musical phase-shifting before 15 mins of layered cycling saxophone blurts that are so masterfully layered and mixed together that it's pretty easy to confuse the source instrumentation with an electric organ, among other things. All this is very cool, but it just might be the live rendition of "In C (Mantra)," performed here by a fairly large and diverse ensemble that pushes things over the edge into the highest realms of psychedelic ecstasy and makes this yet another essential Riley release. Heaven is a song.

P.S. RIP Ron Asheton: Master of the Whiplash Fuzz Onslaught. You will be missed, old friend.

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