Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Plastic Crimewave Sound-No Wonderland (2006)

"The more I dig into this newest Plastic Crimewave Sound double LP, Steve Krakow’s second proper album in this guise, the more I hesitate to describe it using that popular appellation with the silent P. Oh yeah, it can be pretty loud, much of the music submerged in shockwaves of feedback and delay, but how organized and lucid it all is. Levels of timbral, even orchestral, detail emerge in ways only glimpsed in earlier releases. The brutally chilling “Into the Future” deposits layers of the most transparent guitar mud, twangy and fuzzed out, over some sort of punchy post-punk bass groove, soaked with the clear-and-present danger of distantly shrill synth jittering. Vocoded mantras, most contoured to end on the same droning pitch, add to the tune’s cliché but effective gestalt of mechanized fear. It works similarly to Gary Numan’s “Down in the Park” until the end, where a brilliantly obscure flash of vaguely Latin percussion infringes, ala Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice.” (Or was it really always there?)

It’s a strangely iconic historical vision; PCS doesn’t go for pure studio experimentation in a pop frame; you won’t find anything here like Tomorrow’s “My White Bicycle,” with its tape flips and ahead-of-their-time manufactured beats. The drums are usually wet but hot, almost early 1980s in presentation. There’s plenty of scree on tracks like “Far In/Out,” but the album is equally full of beautiful Eastern waftiness – acoustic guitars, miasmic stretches of tabla and sitar, even orchestral strings! It’s as if Krakow has constructed a loosely defined musical in honor of the ’60s and what followed, each side of the album prefaced by some spoken poetry courtesy of high-powered guests like Tara Burke and Devendra Banhart. The effect is enhanced by bits of musique concrete, like the hugely disproportionate and industrial door-slamming and footsteps, manipulated almost out of recognition, that usher in the first instrumental track. The whole thing is really fantastic, best absorbed in one sitting, as PCS fosters his uniquely inclusive take on rock’s recent history."

I'm not sure any band has made such an incredible and vicious first impression on me. I walked in from the frigid cold to the warmness of huge fucking tube amps melting my face off. Like MC5 jamming with Parson Sound and Acid Mother's Temple in some dingy bathroom with Klaus Dinger (Neu!) drumming. I don't know how else to describe it. Reverb drenched vocals etching itself into my very sub-conciouss. Plastic Crimewave/Steve Krakow (the man, the myth the legend) wailing away with that guitar. I know this is all personal experience and seeing this band live is definitely recommended over the album but if you're looking for bands carrying on the psychedelic spirits of yore, here comes your band. Fucking. Awesome.

Shake your dying cowboy mind

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Estradasphere-Palace of Mirrors (2007)

"This bizarre-o sextet from Santa Cruz, Calif., has the stones to make two claims: One, the instrumental outfit says it introduces new styles of music on Palace of Mirrors, Estradasphere's fourth album, including "Romanian Gypsy Death Metal," "Spaghetti Eastern" and "Bulgarian Surf." Two, the band also boasts that it appeals to fans of artists as diverse as The Beach Boys, Metallica and John Coltrane. Both claims are justified. Probably. Actually, it's hard to tell what the hell Estradasphere does besides suck you in with a cruel charm and enchanting song titles like "The Unfolding Pause on the Threshold," "Six Hands" and "Flower Garden of an Evil Man." But with such instruments as accordion, violin and the Japanese Shamisen (a lute instrument with three strings) commingling with more traditional rock 'n' roll instruments, those statements tend to make a little more sense. The chaos of "A Corporate Merger" reflects its title, "Colossal Risk" could be part of the soundtrack to a crazy James Bond spoof and "Smuggled Mutation" is a twisted hoedown likely spawned by a nightmare one of the band members experienced. It all sorta fits together to create a semi-cohesive listening experience unlike any other."

Bungle fans, please take note. This band shifts genres and ethnic stylings flawlessly and is a worthy listen if the words Romanian Gypsy Death Metal put a big shit eating grin on your face. Definitely not for everyone but I guess that speaks for everyone, doesn't it?

The terrible beauty power of meow

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Fennesz-Endless Summer (2003)

"In 1944 art critic Clement Greenberg wrote, "Yet it seems to me - and the conclusion is forced by observation not by preference - that the most ambitious and effective pictorial art of these times is abstract or goes in that direction." In the IDM genre of music, this also seems to be the truth. While you can't discount solid efforts from various artists that follow the melodic, poppier side of IDM, the truly most ambitious and effective work that is being produced is more abstract. On Fennesz's Plus Forty Seven Degrees 56' 37" Minus Sixteen Degrees 51' 08," Christian Fennesz, a guitarist based out of Vienna, released one of the most abstract and aurally challenging albums of the year 2000 on January 4th of that year. Digital washes of sound enveloped the listener on each track, as Fennesz seemed to disregard his guitar in favor of his laptop and its sound generative abilities. On some tracks it seemed as though the guitar might have been used, but one could never be sure, as each part was cut up and manipulated past recognition. While the CD was extremely challenging to get through, as most noise and abstract releases admittedly are, it was ultimately fascinating and illuminating.

On this CD, released by the experimental Mego label, the cover art is the first clue to the subtle changes in Fennesz's sound. An obvious homage to the Beach Boys already in the title of the record, the cover art features beaches and rolling waves onto the shoreline of an unidentified coast. When confronted with this CD, the listener is first struck with how melodic it is. Of course, this is melodic in the sense that a Viennese avant garde composer who digitally distorts every tiny piece of information that is included in his compositions can be melodic. The melodic sense is indebted largely to a post rock sensibility of repeating phrases with little to no alteration whatsoever during the length of the song once the main theme has been presented. Once the melodic theme has been fleshed out during the song, the listener can only concentrate on the digital mastery that Fennesz has created. Only at key points do melodic phrases appear to the listener unscathed by digital processed bed of sound.

On "Endless Summer," the title track of the album, the guitar line that runs throughout the length of the eight-minute song underneath a sheen of processed sound and another melodic synth line emerges from out of the murky depths of the surrounding noises at the end to crystallize the song in the dying seconds. Similarly, on "Caecilia" marimba notes float in and out of the hazy distortion in a manner that belies a certain yearning which is followed up by a simple guitar chord structure that reinforces the feeling evoked in the bell section. While all songs are worthy of mention, "Before I Leave" stands with the previous two as the highlights of the album. "Before I Leave" uses a simple repeating effect to hypnotic ends for its four-minute duration, but upon repeated listens has a startling complexity to its repetition. A melody appears underneath the surface - almost imperceptible, almost making the listener believe that they aren't hearing it and making it up in counterpoint to the simple melody line that is used.

The only complaint that can be found with this album is the track order. If given the chance I would change it a small bit, to reflect a better flow from one track to the next. Overall the album seems to break up the songs that use the same techniques of digital manipulation which would be better heard against one another.

The abstract quality of this release is going to be the ultimate turn off to most listeners. Because of his reputation as a noise and experimental artist, Fennesz will not have the fan base that is attainable by most electronic acts and even most IDM acts. This is unfortunate because Fennesz has, once again, crafted an album of shimmering beauty that demands to be listened to with your full concentration. This is a demand that only important art can make. This is a demand that only the most ambitious and effective art can make. This is a demand that Fennesz creates in this work."

One of the best, if not the very best ambient works ever. Turn on, tune in, drop out? Yes, please.

Happy audio

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Swell Maps-Jane From Occupied Europe (1980)

"Death in the computer age has beget the Internet wake: teary, funeral parlor eulogies splayed across message boards, long-time chums and one-time companions expressing their perfectly formatted grief with a quick “submit.”

When Nikki Sudden passed away unexpectedly in March of 2006, I found myself perusing various fan sites, Sudden’s infinite number of collaborators and cohorts—most of whom had never met in person—comforting one another with disjointed, yet earnest, epistles honoring the singer-songwriter’s solo years, as well as his work with Swell Maps and the Jacobites. My favorite came from Phil Shoenfelt, member of the post-punk outfit Southern Cross. Shoenfelt wrote of an unusual recording session with Sudden (born Adrian Nicholas Godfrey) atop a Moravian mountain, the secluded studio located in the back room of a pub. Shoenfelt’s green Skoda conked out a kilometer short of the studio, forcing folks to lug gear the rest of the distance—merely adding to the sense of lunacy that typically harried any recording session involving Sudden.

Shoenfelt’s memory remains with me because it could have detailed the recording of Jane from Occupied Europe, an album by Sudden’s Swell Maps. Bandmates cloistered atop a mountain peak, battling one another and the itchy agitation that comes with cabin fever, dabbling in the practice of bricolage to both survive and work (gathering whatever one finds for fuel and food, taping whatever one hears to four-track), writing bustling pop-punk tracks by day, claustrophobic lunacy by night—it’s imagery that gambols through my mind whenever I give this work of sonic bedlam a listen.

Sudden and his brother, Epic Soundtracks (born Kevin Paul Godfrey), founded Swell Maps in 1972. Its primary function? To conquer West Midlands boredom with titillating noise. As Sudden sang in “Green Shield Stamps” years later, “Dave [Barrington], Epic, and I got together a band or two / Recorded in our bedrooms / What else were we gonna do?”

Swell Maps were DIY disciples from the onset, kicking at the chins of bravura by employing anything (books) and everything (boxes) as percussion. Little changed when the band became more purposeful. The first single, “Read About Seymour,” was self-produced and self-released in January of 1978 on the band’s Rather Records. Checking in at 86 seconds short, the crunchy punk track exhibited true amateur panache. Naturally, it caused Rough Trade shop owner Geoff Travis to come sniffing; the group’s ensuing three singles and two albums would be issued on the label.

Jane from Occupied Europe was the last of these releases (hitting racks in August of 1980), an exhausting, bipolar, and voluminous swan song for a blink-and-it’s-gone pop career. It’s chaos committed to tape, when quite honestly, it’s the band that should have been committed. One imagines Sudden, Soundtracks, and crew expelling an enormous, chest-sinking sigh when production was finished; the listener is compelled to do the same.

Years later, teenagers named Stephen Malkmus and Scott Kannberg were two such listeners, falling under the sway of Swell Maps’ half-caste sound, which slovenly combined the alien hypnotism of Can with the snarly, animalistic rock of T. Rex. Later, as members of Pavement, the pair released the EP Slay Tracks (1933-1969) and paid tribute to their fractured, lo-fi heroes by adopting their own pseudonyms: Malkmus as S.M., Kannberg as Spiral Stairs.

Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore was also an ardent fan, once claiming, “Swell Maps had a lot to do with my upbringing.” The band’s incendiary pop-noise blend was later crafted into something more dynamic in his hands. Dinosaur Jr., R.E.M., and Evan Dando (who later struck up a working relationship and friendship with Epic Soundtracks) were on board, as well.

Honestly, it’s remarkable Jane from Occupied Europe inspired anyone. Anarchic records always implement some form of pop conscription, giving a band its own army of committed grunts. Swell Maps were anarchic, sure—they were also abrasive, invading, and panoptic, ever shifting and transforming. Listeners typically came away with a warm sense of accomplishment rather than prickly tingles of inspiration.

The album’s first side features a string of punk and post-punk numbers: the No-Wave inspired “Let’s Buy a Bridge,” where Sudden sounds simply Dylanesque; “Border Country” and its saloon piano; the three-chord rocker “Cake Shop” with its brilliant, out-of-place synth melody; and “The Helicopter Spies,” which shows Swell Maps could spit out great punk ditties when it wanted. Of course, doing so meant being toe-tagged with a genre, a very notion the band disliked. Thus, we have the music that follows.

“Big Maz in the Desert” flirts with industrial; Swell Maps were interested in the urban brutality (they did grow up outside Birmingham, after all) often depicted in this music, but were never willing to fully cross over to the world of tape loops and processing. Tracks such as “Big Empty Field” and the opener, “Robot Factory,” meanwhile, can be classified as mechanized ambient—music Brian Eno would have crafted had he been kidnapped and forced to toil in a Ward End automobile plant, grease staining his pastel feather boa.

The album wraps up with the minimalist “Raining in the Room,” a reverb-drenched number replete with nostalgia-inducing piano. It’s an ode to Sudden and Soundtrack’s pre-Swell Maps days: writing originals because they couldn’t play anything by anyone else, recording in their bedroom on reel-to-reel, thinking a pop career was impossible on account of their lack of quid for studio time and lack of general music acumen.

Swell Maps yearned to be different, but in neither a calculated nor pretentious way. Being grandiloquent meant you were full of shit. As a result, Swell Maps produced music both ahead and outside of its time."

Whooooaaaaaa. This band is insane. Just when you think they're about to go off on some poppy, Damned-esque punk tune then BLAM! Let's do something weird with it. This has been dominating my soul lately which is good cause it's cold and bleak outside and this keeps some pep in my step. Blah blah blah. Get yer kicks.

Boy, that's a swell map

Monday, January 11, 2010

Laddio Bolocko-The Life and Times of Laddio Bolocko (2005)

"NYC's Laddio Bolocko were borne of the ashes of classic early 90s post-rock. Formed in 1996 by members of Dazzling Killmen, Mars Volta, Panicsville, Craw and Chalk, they began as the next logical step for hardcore bands wanting just a bit more to chew on than shards of metallic noise and haphazard speed-beat. However, where most musicians with the cumulative pedigree of this quartet would either be playing straight jazz or make a nice livings as mercenary session men, LB channeled their muso energies into a tightly wound ball of steel rods.

As a group, they effortlessly converged at the service of drive and trance, occasionally jutting out unpredictably into harsher realms. Live, they were a powerhouse (perhaps drummer Blake Fleming learned a few things during his tenure with Zeni Geva), and though their recorded history is brief, it demonstrates a remarkable range of expression, precision and raw power. I've read comparisons to This Heat, Can and Albert Ayler, and while dropping names is usually a quick, cheap way to avoid describing music, in this case I think it really does pay tribute to the quality of their stuff. In short, Laddio Bolocko were fucking awesome.

And now, they're gone. Sorry, you missed them. The guys are still playing (Fleming and Marcus DeGrazia in Electric Turn to Me; Drew St. Ivany and Ben Armstrong in The Psychic Paramount), but if you want to see LB now, you'll have to check out the video clip for "As If By Remote" on Life & Times of Laddio Bolocko. This two-disc set collects the entire recorded legacy of a band that might very well have become the premiere representatives of the noise/prog/kraut/jazz legacy as put forth by the aforementioned legends, and host of others currently receiving mega props (Flying Luttenbachers, Lightning Bolt, Ruins).

The first disc of Life & Times contains 1997's Strange Warmings of Laddio Bolocko, and is the more rambunctious of the two. "Goat Lips" opens on a pseudo-fanfare of guitar and drums, sun-beaming riffs reaching toward the sky like a bizarro universe prog band that didn't realize they were supposed to insert a keyboard solo in the middle of all that commotion. Before things get too stagnant-- and they never do; one of LB's strengths was they were able to play repetitive music that didn't seem redundant-- they launch a kinetic, jackhammer groove that might fit well on a new Boredoms CD if it was just a tad less funky. They change again, playing an emergency-siren guitar riff while Fleming slams anything in sight. It's a beautiful sound, and they're just getting started.

"Call Me Jesus" and "Nurser" emphasize the pure noise aspects of LB's sound, though still with enough a sense of pulse as to grant them post-rock membership on a technicality. Again, though they tend to hit a beat and stick with it, the small details-- DeGrazia's horn interjections in the right speaker, or the vaguely King Crimson-esque "chorus" blasts-- make very little go a long way. This pays major dividends on the unthinkably massive "Y Toros", which finds a few hundred ways to play the same three notes during its 34-minute tour. In much the same way This Heat played with rhythm on "Repeat", LB very rarely let a phrase go by the same way twice. Furthermore, they take almost ten minutes to climax; that may sound gratuitous, and I'm sure some folks are going to run screaming from the room during parts of the second half of the piece, but if extended foreplay with a messy peak is your game, this band wants to love you.

The second disc collects 1998's In Real Time and 1999's As If By Remote, documenting the band's considerable growth over its short lifespan. "As If By Remote" is exotic drone, full of disparate sound-bites, jungle bounce and a Middle Eastern guitar riff that leaves a dreamy haze over the entire tune-- a state perfected on the practically untouchable "The Going Gong". "A Passing State of Well-Being" serves up the sunny organ chords, similar to the vibe of the first tune on the other disc, but adds flute and a metronomic funk beat to transform what would be run-of-the-mill Chicago post-rock into muscular psychedelia. Similarly, "Laddio's Money (Death of A Popsong)" takes two chords and half a riff to construct what should be the world's most inept attempt at a Ted Nugent song into avant-garage greatness.

Obviously, if instrumental freak-outs of any variety aren't your bag, Laddio Bolocko might induce migraines. Yet this is rarely "noisy" music: where their would-be peers are going for the loudest and fastest riffs imaginable, pushing boundaries of sound into thresholds of pain, LB seemed to have been heading in a more textured direction. It's too bad we won't get to hear where they might have ended up, because bands that can craft delicate stones as well as rocky rave-ups aren't terribly common. In any case, Life & Times comes very recommended for those in need of a jam."

Awesome album for certain. Kick these jamz homie geez.

Call me Jesus

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Boris & Michio Kurihara-Rainbow (2007)

"In general, there are two kinds of Boris records: 1) The fearless, focused, concept album that fully commits to a single idea (Absolutego, Feedbacker, Sun Baked Snow Cave, Altar) 2) The hybridized, genre-obliterating, “rock” record (Akuma No Uta, Pink). Rainbow is the latter; a record that crystallizes the band’s blissed-out moments into a glorious platter of epic guitar-anthems, psych-rockers, and hushed instrumentals.

2006’s Pink was a watershed moment for the band both commercially and musically. It introduced Boris to a new generation of western fans and distilled their Melvins-derived sludgecore into a concise, rock framework. Rainbow plays like a sequel to Pink in its further condensation of the Boris sound, but most of the swaggering cock-rock is gone and in its place are a mysterious batch of contemplative, moody, art songs.

“Shine” and “Rafflesia” are the epic focal points of the record and their histrionic swells recall the psych-tinged shoegaze of Slowdive and Ride—minus the latter band’s Brit-pop posturing. Wata and Kurihara’s guitars ascend wildly while Takeshi and Atsuo ground the rhythm section in a steady pulse of bass and drums. Boris’s interpretation of shoegaze is grander and more dissonant than most of the bands typically associated with the genre, reflecting their early drone-rock explorations and doom-metal tendencies.

The Japanese underground has a very distinct way of manufacturing western rock ‘n’ roll forms, often emphasizing the music’s mystical and spiritual elements instead of its sleek, outward accessibility. Bands like Ghost and Nagisa Ni Te have spent their careers exploring a more hallucinatory version of stoner rock and their influence is tangible throughout Rainbow. “Fuzzy Reactor” builds its groove upon a layered foundation of feedback and spliced, backwards guitar. Its pulse and drone are quintessential ’60s psychedelia and the buried vocal chants take from traditional Indian forms.

“You Laughed Like a Water Mark” is Rainbow’s definitive pop song. Its sleepy groove and listless vocal delivery evoke the late night subway rides and beer-soaked barrooms of downtown Tokyo. Kurihara plays the role of Neil Young, foiling Boris’s Crazy Horse simplicity and injecting the song with a heroin-shot of distortion and icy dissonance. “You Laughed” is the most effortless and instantly rewarding composition in the Boris canon and it is evidence of their rapid maturation as traditional songwriters.

Or is it simply the addition of Michio Kurihara? His influence on the overall sound and execution of Rainbow is enormous. His years of experience in the Japanese underground have made him a venerated elder statesman of the scene, and Boris seems to be soaking in all of his wisdom and worldly knowledge. The influence of Kurihara’s wonderful and frustratingly overlooked 2005 solo album Sunset Notes, manifests itself in Rainbow’s contemplative title track and chiming instrumentals (“My Rain” “…And. I Want”). There is a focus to this album that is clearly born of the collaboration between a disciplined veteran and a wildly experimental younger band."

Ah, this album holds a special place in my heart. By the time "Rafflesia" blasts into your face, you know it's one of THOSE albums. Great for sitting down and relaxing and stunning in its dynamic heaviness.

...And I Want

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Mayo Thompson-Corky's Debt to His Father (1969)

"Although this, to put it mildly, is not a record for mainstream tastes, it nevertheless may be more palatable to pop ears than any of Thompson's numerous Red Krayola records. With a folkier bent than his group projects, Thompson projects himself as a lovable oddball of sorts, stringing together free-associative, non-sequitur lyrics against chord progressions and time signatures that, as is his wont, refuse to adhere to accepted norms. Much of it's rather catchy (if not hummable), though, with a whimsical sense of fun that makes it impossible to dismiss as pretentious artsiness."

Whoa. Folksy, off-kilter, quirky psychedelic blues. Take Red Krayola's awkwardness, Beefheart's weirdness, a real love for John Fahey with some very Jack Bruce-like vocals and you get this incredible concoction. Not to be missed.

Venus in the morning

Shit and Shine-Jealous of Shit and Shine (2006)

"Return of the mighty Shit And Shine, a massive sprawling noise rock collective from the UK. Multiple drummers, LOTS of guitars, even some lawnmowers and other noisemakers. This new disc takes their caustic freaked out psych-noise in a whole new direction, channeling their energy into blissed out sort-of krautrocky grooves, albeit still drenched in thick grinding crumbling grit with the needle ALL the way in the red. In fact -most- of the tracks here are some sort of hypnotic stripped down rhythm, just completely damaged and dinged up and pelted with thick slabs of hissy fuzz. Vocals struggly desperately to be heard, even the drums keep getting sucked under the massive swells of acidic sound, swirls of buzzing glitch and super blown out melodies are all draped over the endlessly propulsive rhythms, as they struggle to keep moving forward with layer after layer after layer of dense prickly buzz and drone piled atop them. A gloriously cacophonous caterwaul of rhythmic chaos.
Imagine the Psychic Paramount filtered through a Merzbow production and mastered by Masonna, pressed onto a lathe cut, then played a thousand times until the grooves all began to run together, then play it on a turntable made from an old microwave using a rusty nail as a stylus, and broadcast it through the blown out speakers in that junked car that's been sitting in your neighbor's yard for the last ten years. The record THAT sound, and broadcast it through a HUGE tuba shaped loud speaker with your head stuck all the way into the horn. Kinda like that. Imagine some Aufgehoben No Process, some Laddio Bolocko, some Wolf Eyes, some Butthole Surfers, even some Whitehouse and eighties no wave, but mix in a serious dose of Can and Faust and then douse it in thick swaths of noise, freeze it and shatter it into a million pieces. It all comes together on the album's 30 minute centerpiece "Practicing To Be A Doctor", a simple rock and roll drum beat, a million pounds of grinding low end, some grungy sludgy garage rock riffing, some buried mumbled vocals, and set the whole thing to just sort of lazily unfurl over the course of a lurching, druggy, damaged half hour. Suddenly we're also hearing some Brainbombs, some Terminal Cheesecake, even a bit of the Melvins, all wrapped up into endlessly motorik spaced out tribal sludge rock nirvana."

This is some seriously caustic music. If you like a total assault on the senses, I would highly recommend letting this album skullfuck your consciousness. Great distorted grooves as well. Grab it.

When extreme dogs go wrong