Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Mini Reviews Pt. 2

Earth Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I (Southern Lord) 2LP - The first of two proposed Earth albums in '11 offers dusted gnostic space blues from Dylan Carlson and company, and is likely the deepest, most hypnotic Earth record to date. It's a literary trip through the dark spaces where every drum strike, cello trill (courtesy of the same player that backed Nirvana during their Unplugged performance) and carefully placed guitar note bleeds with a foreboding resonance across the ages. The 180 g vinyl version (mine was pressed on red and features an awesome etching on side D) is a sheer delight on every level.

The Body Anthology (Corleone) CD - Over the last 8 years this Providence duo has released a handful of CD-Rs, splits and such -- all compiled here. More lo-fi and gnarled than the exultant/wretched All the Waters of the Earth Shall Turn to Blood, Anthology is 16 tracks of destroyed apocalypse doom, hardcore sludge and power electronics with shrieking witch howl vokills. Includes five covers by the likes of Danzig, Crass, Judas Priest and Sinead O'Connor(?).

Aaron Dilloway Lip Syncing To Verme (Hundebiss) LP - Excellent package from this Italian label of what's easily the most satisfying Dilloway solo platter I've heard to date (not that I've heard many); the weird tape music and found sound post industrial collages displayed across these five tracks are simultaneously spine tingling, hallucinogenic, mind bending, never boring. A triumph of experimental sound sculpture top to bottom.

Umberto Prophecy of the Black Widow (Not Not Fun) LP - Amazing record of scifi synth splay and soundtrack music by a fellow named Matt Hill aka Umberto. It's safe to say he's obsessed over the music of Goblin and Fabio Frizzi with endless fascination while throwing in a few German progressive moves to keep it stoned to the bone. One of the finest synthscape soundtrack records I've heard all year.

The Oh Sees Castlemania (In The Red) CD - Probably should'a got the vinyl on this one as it also comes with a wicked etching on the 4th side, but can't have 'em all. This is a KILLER slice of psych punk folk what's-it that delivers hit after hit of garage fuzz plop delights with amazing titles like "I Need Seed", "Pleasure Blimps", "Spider Cider" and so on.

Puffy Areolas / Purling Hiss "My Hell" / "Walking Down the Street" (Permanent Records) 12" Single - This is one of them hot-shit Record Store Day releases. Ty Segal's Ty.Rex was another, and of course Big Star's infamous Third, etc and so on. So while the wax may be impossible to find, that in no way diminishes the fact that it features two of my favorite modern psych slop groops, each offering up two ripping epics to the old gods that kick ass and melt face. Got to give the Golden Gloves to Purling Hiss, though, with the righteous Stooges worship of "Walking Down the Street".

TV Ghost Mass Dream (In The Red) LP - Another excellent splatter from ITR. Mass Dream is equal parts art punk slop and no wave surf. Warbling Pere Ubu vox and lashing through the smokey darkness distortion are the order of the day across ten unhinged ragers that run the gamut from the deathly dirge of the destroyed squall of "The Inheritors" to the angular garage surf riffage of "The Degredation of Film". The mood throughout is fucked and caustic, but I still can't help but shimmy my ass off through every second of its 35 mins.

The Flaming Lips with Prefuse 73 The Flaming Lips with Prefuse 73 (Warner Bros./Lovely Sorts of Death) 12" EP - Heavy wax on many colored vinyl. No two are the same. Limited to 2000, so it's already gone. I was shocked by how much I liked the 'Lips' collaboration with Neon Indian, and this is even better as Wayne and Steve's synthonic art pop gets dosed in Prefuse 73's electro noise hop to conjure drill 'n' bass Suicide homages, acid muzakscapes and spaced out glam folk oddities. Mighty weird Oklahoma disco right here.

Religious Knives Smokescreen (Sacred Bones) LP - So nice to see this quartet back in action. New drummer, but not much else has changed (thankfully). The vibe is still about simple, repetitious trance riffs built around guitar and organ and hammered into your brain with slamming percussion and bass beneath echo drenched vocals that invoke a hostile dread in the classic New York watch-your-back vein. Zoned fuzz smokestacks from the paranoid basement.

Rene Hell The Terminal Symphony (Type) CD - Seemingly scattered electronic sound sculpture is actually a careful assemblage of quasi-symphonic rhythms, noise and strings across ten compact journeys through glitchtronic psychedelia. Top picks: the bubbling Kraftwerkian "E.S. Des Grauens In Fifths", the synthedelic chamber bleeping "Baroque Ensemble Coda", the fragile crystal chandeliers of "Juliard Op. 66". More fun than Switched-On Bach, and a whole lot more stoned.

Various Artists Pacific Support (Draft) CS - Another excellent comp to benefit the victims of the tsunami in Japan that rivals Thrill Jockey's Benefit for the Recovery in Japan in terms of quality (if not quantity). Some of the same names on said comp appear here (Greg Davis, Keith Fullerton Whitman) along with Rene Hell, The North Sea, Carl Calm, Flower Man (CC and FM are solo projects related to Caboladies), Golden Retriever, Make a New Memory and so on across what amounts to a more electrocentric journey through bubbling ambient space, minimal drone wormholes and quantum sonic mechanics.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Mini Reviews Pt. 1

Tim Hecker Ravedeath, 1972 (Kranky) CD - Translucent clouds of minimal shimmer and electronics conjured from computer, piano, guitar feedback, pipe organ and synthesizer. Glowing portals to an imagined nostalgia for the time right before the analog world became a digital nightmare. Here's an excellent video for opening track, "The Piano Drop".

Mind Over Mirrors The Voice Rolling (Digitalis) LP - 7 tracks comprised of Indian Harmonium and effects by Jaime Fennelly (of Peeesseye) that totally destroy any notions of what a meditative harmonium/noise record should sound like. The Voice Rolling is a highly visceral, hypnotic ride that feels like something of a landmark with its mixture of the most zoned out Komische synth drones and third eye tapping minimalism. Get a taste at Soundcloud. And a companion tape just dropped on Gift Tapes.

Twells & Christenson Coasts (Digitalis) LP - John Twells of Xela/Type Records and Matt Christensen (Zelionople) get together in a room and play a host of instruments, captured to vintage 8 track before Twells takes his sweet time mixing and tweaking it all down into two mammoth side long epics. The mood is dark and hypnogogic with dense clouds of feedback and murky distorted electronics, with enough texture and buried melodies to reward repeated deep listenings. Check out the wunderbar second side here.

Eternal Tapestry Beyond the Fourth Day (Thrill Jockey) LP - Latest levitated vinyl release from these trance inducing cosmonauts offers steady growing space mantras indebted to Amon Düül II, Träd Gräs och Stenar and early Pink Floyd. Quite fine for those enamored of late night lavalamped bong sessions and the mighty Bardo Pond. Review of their collaboration with Sun Araw forthcoming.

The Spits Kill the Kool (In The Red) LP - This odds and sods collection from these fuzz punk veterans came in an issue of 600 and sold out in a matter of weeks, but it can still be heard via other means. Rip roaring scifi garage punk for weirdos and spazz freaks alike, and one of the most addictive long players I've heard all Summer. Highly recommended!

Apache Dropout Apache Dropout (Family Vineyard) LP - Awesome minimal garage boogie trio from Bloomington, IN arose from the ashes of Hot Fighter #1 and John Wilkes Booze (remember them?) to deliver a balls out masterpiece in their self-titled debut. Sounds like the Velvets gone off the Bo Diddley deep end, occasionally blasting everything apart with frenzied walls of white noise distortion, but still compact and boogielicious every second. Easily the debut of the year.

BJ Nilsen & Stilluppsteypa Big Shadow Montana (Helen Scarsdale) LP - This drone noise trio's seventh (!) studio album is just what you'd expect from the revered Helen Scarsdale Agency -- a cryptic mass of analog drones, indecipherable source material and other found sounds sculpted into two side long journeys through the pscychedelic void. It's all very hazy and disorienting, though halfway through the second side a lovely carnival melody appears that one hopes will never end and elevates this strange beast into the higher realms of post industrial psychedelic brilliance.

Greg Davis States (2) (Goldtimers) , States (1) (Cassauna), Eyebright (Agents of Chaos) all CS 40 (or so) - Man alive, third eye voyager Greg Davis has been one busy tape recording psych noise explorer in 2011. I found no less than three 40 min tapes bearing his name in my mailbox over the last few weeks, all reproduced on hi-bias chrome cassettes. These suckers sound as good as vinyl. States (2) (though released first, the second part of the series) introduces us to Davis's recent sojourns into the modular synth multiverse, which means it's not far from Keith Fullerton Whitman's recent output: playful, discombobulated computer music that covers a wide variety of moods and topographies (from full on power electronics to deep space minimal surges and all points in between) with only hints of melody rising from the synapse-frying sonic melee.

States (1), via Important's in-house tape label, offers basically the same in a slightly more subdued form and is probably my pick of the two, though both are quite similar in tone and execution. It's a bit less schizophrenic but no less disconcerting with jarring erratic tones giving way to minimal skittering/bleeping soundscapes that sound like the inner workings of some primitive mainframe piped in from an alternate dimension. Throw in a few bliss-inducing arpeggios and an all around air of unpredictability, and you've got yourself a tape of delightful computer music.

Eyebright collects two live recordings from last year, "The Identity of Relative & Absolute" being more in line with the above two releases, though Davis incorporates some mind-bending spoken word into things and does it all in real time with no overdubs. The flip, "Full Spectrum (Part IV)" is a live continuation of the two gorgeous minimal/New Age pieces found on his Digitalis tape of the same name, which is easily one of Davis's finest meditative bliss-outs, and this piece follows suit nicely. Absolute and beautiful.

* I use the term "computer music" above more in a descriptive sense for a particular sound as I hear it, and not in the sense that any actual computers were used in the production of these recordings.

Imaginary Softwoods Imaginary Softwoods (Digitalis) 2LP - Definitive version of this modern classic (not to mention the one you can still find). Imaginary Softwoods is one of John Elliot's (Emeralds) most revered solo projects, and it's not hard to see why based on these 12 tracks. Simple repeated synth lines buried in fuzz and grime, warped via pitch shifting and other effects to reveal the dark machine hum of the deepest stellar regions. Mastered by James Plotkin. Call it deep space garage ambient.

Outer Space Outer Space (Arbor) LP - It would appear Elliot has a thing for, erm, space. If Imaginary Softwoods is the darker side of his synthedelic wormhole trips, then Outer Space is an altogether cleaner and more pristine journey through the fabric of existence with its glass houses of intricately assembled melodies and driving electro harmonies riding waves of phase shifted distortion and motorik grooves. I'd be lying if I said this wasn't highly indebted to the late 70s/early 80s synth explorations of Manuel Göttsching, Wolfgang Reichman and of course Kraftwerk, but make no mistake Elliot is owning the genre here and even taking it to bold new regions in the process. Glorious.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sagas Between Worlds (Greenup Industries) LP

Sagas is the most recent solo incarnation of Matt McDowell (Dire Wolves, Arco Flute Foundation, etc), and Between Worlds is his debut foray into the vinyl format. So far I've heard a couple of McDowell's tapes under the Sagas name, and everything I've heard by Dire Wolves has delivered the goods via lumbering smokestacks risen up from the most zoned cosmic depths.
Between Worlds is an old school acid rock freakout -- vintage to its core, trancedelic one minute, head charging into the Dead C void the next -- with a few oud-inistic ethnic detours along the way.

The first side features three fresh-from-the-primordial-aether jams. "The Hidden Variable" is a levitated organ/acid guitar soaked chant that wastes no time invoking a sense of otherness and sacred devotion, while "Scrapyard" offers collapsing free jazz deconstruction. The real standout though is "Bad Karma Blues" with melting Blue Cheer acid leads and a rampaging space punk climax. Fans of the most destroyed Komische rawk (Amon Düül II/Ash Ra Tempel included) and PSF Records will eat it up. On the flip, off kilter banjo raga is dispersed with subtle percussion and effects on "Hope Springs Vernal" and "In The Hall of Mandos". The harsh distorted oblivion of "Better Times" invokes the spirit of McDowell's earlier solo guitar rippers (such as the Headlong Into The Fire EP on Mike Tamburo's New American Folk Hero imprint). It's surely a good thing McDowell hasn't abandoned this more abrasive side of his sonic persona, as the resulting contrast only further heightens the drama of what's happening here. This makes plaintive closer "Soon A-Comin" that much more of a sweet come down with solo acoustic in the country blues vein, though the whole record's primitive and homespun every second with McDowell playing all instruments in his home studio. The under water sonar-infused cover art is by Brad Rose of Digitalis Records/The North Sea fame. Between Worlds is the real deal, out of space/time holy psych for those who like to dig deeper and roam off the beaten paths.

* Check out Inez Lightfoot's video for "Bad Karma Boogie" here.

Monday, July 04, 2011

The Return of Indie Pop (Just in Time for Summer)!

Ducktails III Arcade Dynamics (Woodsist) LP - Dreamy post shoegaze from this one man band is more song-based than past releases; ideal for a day by the pool or laying under your favorite shady tree in the cool afternoon breeze. 11 tracks that alternate between barely there instrumental sketches and actual strummy songs that drift by like mossy landscapes seen on riverbanks from inside an inner-tube on a daylong glide down your favorite lazy winding river. Plus there's a song called "Art Vandelay". Possibly the ideal Woodsist release.

Jerusalem and the Starbaskets Dost (De Stijl) LP - This is the second official LP by this awesome duo from Columbus, Missouri and first that's widely available. I actually still have a CD-R that came out on Digitalis's Foxglove series back in '05? '04? Must say they've come a good long way since then, as this fucking ROCKS! Stoned to the bone fuzz anthems one minute ("Pretty Patty"), lost in the West Coast summer heat Byrds worship the next ("First Cigarette In The Morning") and plenty of distorted melodic strange bits and wild eyed jams crammed in the spaces in between. The lazy fuzz groove of "Chinese Rifles", which erupts into an awesome mid-tempo blast off halfway through, is fuzz pop at its finest, but the whole record is a joy to behold every second of its 31 minutes. Highly recommended, in fact!

Low C'mon (Sub Pop) CD - So good to see these veterans back doing what they do best (and sounding more like Galaxie 500 than ever). If you haven't seen the video for "Try To Sleep" by now, then you officially live in a cave somewhere sans wifi. The rest of C'mon may not match that level of narcotic shimmer, but as the title suggests, Low is actually lookin' to have some fun these days. This is almost their Summer record with something like "Witches" (complete with banjo pickin') and the aforementioned gem kicking up to a nice shuffle. Elsewhere they unspool the classic Low formula of simple guitar melodies beneath timeless harmonies. "Done" features syrupy pedal steel. The 8 minute "Nothing But Heart" is Neil Young gone shoegaze and builds to a hair-raising crescendo that you hope will never end. Closer "Something's Turning Over" is just as good. C'mon is Low renewed, at their brightest, and occasionally ready to rock.

Times New Viking Dancer Equired (Merge) CD - A kinder, gentler Times New Viking is still worth my time. The GBV influence is felt more strongly than ever on many of these scruffy pop gems, which just means you might think of Wire or The Clean as well as past TNV anthems when cycling through these 14 tracks. One thing that you wont really find is any annoying feedback or skree to derail the sweet pop parade of gems like "Try Harder", "California Roll", "Fuck Her Tears", or "No Room To Live". Not bad at all.

Woods Sun and Shade (Woodsist) CS - The followup to Woods' awesome At Echo Lake is another sweet groover of hippie psych/indie pop that has enough tuneful moments crammed into its hazy veneer to make it appeal to the Matador crowd just as easily as it does the mushroom brigade. What that means are fuzzy slices of folky pop with hooks galore that nod to West Coast country psych (then and now), The Kinks, Krautrock and even 80s Creation Records (Felt and Jacobites) all wrapped up in a warm, vintage production and doled out at a nice easy pace. Nothing here is revolutionary, but then who really wants to blow anything up? Sit back, relax and enjoy the Sun and Shade.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Cross-Legged Hippie Mystics and Subterranean Astral Goddesses

Theo Angell Tenebrae (Amish) CD - I meant to scribble a few words about this one ages ago, but that's okay since this is a one man operation. Angell of Hall of Fame and whose Aeraplinth album for Digitalis made such a striking impression a few years back, here weaves a more mystical spell of wandering acoustic apparitions lead through the dark spaces via his eerie naked vocal and understated minor key strumming, at times accented by percussion and Samara Lubelski's abstract violin, as well as the Hillside Tabarnackle Singers (this time including Matt Valentine, P.G. Six, Tom Greenwood and Lubelski). Elusive lyrics as inspired by mountain song, religion/theology and outside folk songwriting as they are avant-garde cinema and Dadaist worldplay coalesce into roving journeys through the backwoods of the mind. At once deeply esoteric and all too accessible -- welcome to the strange and wonderful world of Tenebrae. Stand outs to this listener, the gorgeous meander of "Never Heard That Baby Cry" and the sinister title track.

Arborea Red Planet (Strange Attractors) LP - The fourth album from the husband wife duo or Buck and Shanti Curran is a meditative slice of introspective astral folk as inspired by the great woods as the old troubadours (Patty Waters and Tim Buckley are given nods) and the new weird folkies that I've championed here over the years. I'm not really sure what to say about Red Planet other that it's a minimal soul-stirring knockout, with languid beauty anchored on Buck Curran's steady string work (guitars and many stringed things) and Shanti's ethereal vocals as exemplified on their stunning rendition of "Black Was the Color" and Buckley's "Phantasmagoria in Two" and Shanti's plaintive banjo picking. "Spain" (featuring Helen Espvall of Espers on cello) and "Careless Love" are soft, simple lullabies for the brokenhearted, while tracks like "Arms and Horses" and the hidden final, "Torchbearer" -- written in response to the loss of Shanti Curran's father -- offer more instrumental and emotional resonance to wander through. A record for letting go and accepting whatever's next.

Current 93 Honeysuckle Aeons (Coptic Cat) CD - How strange Honeysuckle Aeons sounds at first, even by Current 93's standards. Compositionally, it's something of a return to the stripped down piano ballads of Soft Black Stars and Sleep Has His House, but with new accents in the form of a ghostly theremin whir that haunts half the tracks and droning organ the creaks through the rest. It's a sensible enough progression from the hazier passages of last year's Baalstorm, Sing Omega, but I like this more. It's more stripped down and focused at the same time, and David Tibet hems in his vocals a good bit over more memorable melodies. In its own quiet, understated way this just may just be the best C93 album since Black Ships Ate the Sky, and the most softly haunted since Soft Black Stars. Listen to it late at night by candlelight.

Metal Mountains Golden Trees (Amish) CD - Helen Rush was one of the main contributors to the legendary Tower Recordings, but then so were PG Six and Samara Lubelski at different times. They comprise the trio of Metal Mountains, which makes this half a Tower Recordings reunion, or at the very least a psych supergroup of some note. To say Golden Trees is minimal hypnofolk masterpiece is no exaggeration. Its mix of ethereal fem vocals, acoustic/electric guitars doused in vintage reverb and fuzz, all rendered in immaculate yet vintage hi-fi production, is destined to send chills down the spine and elliptical spirals through the gray matter. At least that's the case with opener, "Structures Inside the Sun", a knockout of acid folk splay that's as good as anything along these lines I've heard recently. The rest of of the album follows suit and honors the Tower Recordings/Hall of Fame (Sabelski's other avant-folk trio, also featuring Theo Angell) tradition to admirable, eloquent effect.

Marissa Nadler Marissa Nadler (Box of Cedar) CD - Nadler's fifth album, first for her own label, is getting recognition all over the place, though I have to wonder what all those NPR worshiping coffee sippers in their adirondacks would've thought of her contributions to last year's Xasthur album, Portal of Sorrow. This is much more, hmm, digestible. Stronger influences from 50s country crooners and 60s pop chanteuses are felt, along with a heavy dose of the dark shoegaze drone glaze that's been seeping in since her third album. This is easily Nadler's most produced and sonically accomplished record yet (and that's really saying something), but she still manages to sound like something dug up from many decades past, her velvety mezzo-soprano lost in sad wonder of what could've been, eternally unsatisfied and looking to the horizon of come what may. Surely not for everyone but I'm still buying it. A solid mix of fingerpicking old world folk craft and modern soft pop for sad eyed dreamers.

Six Organs of Admittance Asleep on the Floodplain (Drag City) LP - Asleep on the Floodplains is Ben Chasny's follow-up to the masterful Luminous Night, and it's once more a fine mix of stellar songcraft and textured primitive raga jams. It could be said there's nothing really new here, but then there's nothing really new under the sun. The way Chasny manages to continue to matter is via his rich sound palette (every instrument is played by him this time 'round) and memorable melodies -- "Hold But Let Go" is yet another keeper in his considerable catalog of keepers -- while "S/Word and Leviathan" delves more deeply into mindless devotion with a droning wash of blazing raga picking, organ and vocal chant, the kind of dark mystery Chasny's been exploring since the beginning. It's dedicated to Process Theologian Catherine Keller, which doesn't surprise me in the least. She's the kind of thinker we could use more of during these uncertain times. Yet another gemstone in the Six Organs psych folk crown.

Jesse Sparhawk & Eric Carbonara 60 Strings (VHF) CD - Jesse Sparhawk plays 38 string lever harp. Eric Carbonara plays 22 string upright Chaturangui guitar. Together they weave a delicate spell of meandering raga that stretches out across two epic duets that maintain a constant, evolving balance of plucked straight from the aether harmonies across 35 minutes of vibrant string meditations landing somewhere between new American psych folk and a more Eastern tinged Popol Vuh. 60 Strings is another minimal beauty from VHF that manages to stand out from the psych folk heap, and I hope merely the first of many fruitful collaborations from this promising new duo.