Alvarius B Baroque Primitiva (Abduction) CD - I sadly missed the boat on this beauty in its vinyl format for the legendary Poon Village label, but Abduction pulls no punches with the CD version which comes housed in a heavy, lush book styled package that's as fun to hold and flip through as it is to molest with your eyes. The 6th release from Alan Bishop's long running solo project is a stoned cold masterpiece of ethnic Middle Eastern weirdness meets other worldly (and World) folk blues. Tracks like "Humor Police" and "Well Known Stranger" are classic Alvarius B by any measure, though every thing found here is absolutely beautiful and ranks with Alan Bishop's finest. He tops things off with a gloriously deranged cover of "God Only Knows" appropriately retitled "God Only Be Without You" that builds to some finely fucked effects weirdness and tape trickery. A serious contender for top of the pops in 2011.
D. Charles Speer Arghiledes / D. Charles Speer & The Helix Leaving the Commonwealth (Thrill Jockey) both LP - David Charles Shuford's (of the No-Neck Blues Band and other mysterious subterranean ensembles like Eno's Slaughter and Egypt is the Magick #) inaugural TJ long players offer what are easily two of his finest works to date. Arghiledes is a weird trip to the Greek underworld, offering a his own unique take on roots music with Shuford on an arsenal of ethnic instrumentation (trichordo bouzouki, balamas, worry bead percussion on whiskey glass and more), acoustic/electric guitars along with a heavy dose of studio trickery and his at times treated vocals to conjure something quite unlike anything else I've heard from him. It's clear Alvarius B. doesn't have a monopoly on odd reinterpretations of Mediterranean folk music, though "Wildlife Preserve" actually does sound kind of like a D. Chares Speer song. Shuford plays and mixes everything himself, and surprise, surprise, this one gets the highest recommendation for fans of the weird. Extra bonus points for the most excellent song-by-song notations by Mr. Shuford himself.
Besides sporting the eeriest cover art of 2011, Leaving the Commonwealth gets my vote for the most rewarding album from The Helix so far. Shuford's vocals are crisp and upfront, and his band plays with a loose grooving cohesion that would make giants of the fusion enthralled '70s blush in envy. The Grateful Dead, Flying Burrito Brothers, even The Allman Brothers could be dropped in the influence pot, but I personally like this more than I ever liked the Allmans. What ya get is rollicking country rock mixed to fluid post boogie perfection. There's even a couple nods to Zeppelin and UK prog folk thrown into the mix, but deceptively so. You can tell these guys have been playing together for years and have just really cohered as a jamming unit. Of particular note is ivory tickler Hans Chew's work on the keys -- he dropped a beautiful solo record last year for Three Lobed which is long gone on vinyl but still available on MP3 -- but that in no way defers from the magnificence mustered here by the rest of The Helix.
Elklink Rise of Elklink (Kye) LP - Here is a truly fascinating document from the duo of Adris Hoyos (Harry Pussy) and Graham Lambkin (The Shadow Ring), originally issued for the Polyamory tape label almost 10 years ago. Utilizing nothing but the sounds of their voices and various effects, these two weave a concoction of unsettling surrealist rumbles and whispers that starts out like some perverse Dadaist spoken word dissertation on bodily corrosion -- "Tension Tec" -- before slowly dissolving into a blur of gastric groans and creeping, hissing tones that become all encompassing and completely entrance as the duo plays with volume and tonality, yielding all manner of textual sonic mayhem. Words can't really do it justice, but the results are highly recommended all the same, and it's actually a lot of fun once you get past the initial shock of the opening. Somewhere between field recordings of the jungle at night, a whistling tea kettle and the inner workings of the human digestive tract.
Alastair Galbraith Mass (Siltbreeze) LP - So nice to see Alastair Galbraith busy composing and releasing songs again, as he's one of the most compelling tunesmiths on the planet, offering up a strange stew of tonal abstraction and lonesome outsider folk gems that strike at the heart of human sadness with an authentic voice and a soulful piety that's all but absent in modern music today. Sure you hear something approximating Galbraith's heart in larger scale releases, but so much of it's for show and clearly designed to rake in the dough, while Galbraith continues to work his magic seemingly in a void down in Dunedin, New Zealand, indifferent to whether anyone is paying attention or not. He weaves spectral elegies for heroes fallen -- the brief hypnosis of "Poem for Moondog" -- and timeless anthems for a broken world -- "Money is So Sad" -- while the rest of the world keeps on barreling down the tracks, oblivious to the bridge out sign directly ahead.
Mark McGuire Living With Yourself (Mego Editions) CD - One half of Emeralds gets down to business on the solo tip with this haunted exercise in guitar and field recordings which alternates between vibrant guitar pieces, such as the exquisite opener, "The Vast Structure of Recollection", going from acoustic strums to massed distorted squalls before settling into a mantra of looping Riley-esque formations, and on to the bubbling post Frippian tone spheres of "Moving Apart". Mix in some field recordings (which appear to be taken from McGuire's own domestic space and family gatherings), actual melody, composition, and even crashing percussion on closer "Brothers (For Matt)" and you've got yourself an undeniably human slice of modern psychedelia for lovers of guitars, noise and nostalgia the world over.
Peaking Lights 936 (Not Not Fun) LP -- Aaron Coyes and his partner Indra Dunis -- who just welcomed their own little ball of light into the world -- have dropped their dub psych magnum opus with 936, the second official Peaking Lights album (third if you include Clearvoiant, more an odds and sods type collection), which continues the great illumination through electronic sounds, monolithic bass and beats. Dunis's vocals come more to the fore here as the duo marries their trademark minimalist electro song craft with dubbed out percussive thwacks and bumps with results that fall somewhere between mid '70s Eno and the Lee "Scratch" Perry if such a collaboration had actually dropped on Xpressway in the mid 90s. Ultimate dance party space groove for head-jammers and space-dwellers alike and destined to be thee party record of 2011.
Vincent Over The Sink Dust Studies (Kye) 7" - Another brilliant excavation from Graham Lambkin's Kye label, Vincent Over the Sink is an obscure Australian duo I know nothing about that specializes in a hazy minimal abstract dream music across the 4 tracks found on this 7", striking a delicate balance between detached melody and dissonant otherworldly visitations that land somewhere between early Dead C, Omit and Lambkin's own outer communiques with his brilliant Shadow Ring project, but somehow Vincent Over the Sink manages to be deeper, stranger and more lost than all of the above. How is this even possible, ye wonder? Buy this 7" and find out. Highly recommended indeed!
Volcano the Bear Hotbites Live At the Nightlight (Blastocoel Sound) LP - The latest live album from the always stellar Volcano the Bear is simply a stunner and easily rivals their recent studio output in range and execution, and performance wise it just may do the studio albums one better with its white hot spontaneity, which begs the question why, oh why was this fantastic package limited to just 100? Soooo glad I scored a copy as its many revelations have left my mind stretched, poked and kneaded like fine dough. A masterpiece, me thinks, and if you haven't procured your copy by now, better luck next time, although it looks like Time Lag may still have a few copies.