Monday, March 29, 2010

Harvester-Hemat (1970)

"Perhaps you read about or bought the Terry Riley-influenced Parson Sound double cd we've raved so much about? Well, Harvester (after releasing another LP under the full name of International Harvester -- reviewed elsewhere on our site) was a future development of the Parson Sound band. And after Harvester, they became the semi-legendary Trad Gras Och Stenar (Trees, Grass and Stones). Though we think the absolute best stuff we've heard from these guys dates from their Parson Sound incarnation, this disc is pretty darn cool too. Hemat ("Homeward") has been described by someone in the know as "mastodon waltz-drone / acid soaked free jam psychedelia." Which is not only a pretty accurate description, but also a cool phrase to quote. The disc starts with a lovely mellow hippy-folk tune that matches the dreamy landscape painting on the album's cover. Then with track two things get heavier and more Parson Sound-like. The mastodon waltz has begun, as flutes trill and Swedish freaks chant. The disc progresses into ethnic-tinged free rock/jazz ("Nepal Boogie") and even an unrecognizably drugged-out downer version of "Everybody (Needs Somebody to Love)". Loose and stoned this disc most certainly is, forty-one minutes of almost-lost music drifting through the haze of time to trip you out today. Recommended -- and get International Harvester and all the other related albums too!"-aQ

I don't know about you, but I cannot get enough of this early Swedish psych, especially from the Parson Sound family tree. This one drones and saunters all over the damn place and there's something about the way they do it that gives it an absolutely mystical quality. Highly recommended.

Nepal Boogie

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Afflicted Man-The Complete Recordings (2007)

"Set out for obscurity and, without much need for luck, you’ll get there. Afflicted (later Afflicted Man) was the recorded moniker for one Steve Hall, who bashed his way through the ‘70s and early ‘80s with a series of self-released records that would touch on barmy punk, excessive high-power guitar psychedelia, and hometaper lunacy, never settling in one area for too long. Having discarded punk rock’s brevity and entry-level skill barrier by his second release, there wasn’t anywhere for him to go but in, and then right back out.

Even if they weren’t, Afflicted’s records come across as very personal affairs that erect a barrier of historical understanding between the listener and the performer. At one point or another, they’ve got plenty in common with late ‘70s ingénues like Vic Godard or Mark Perry, though the heart of these records lean back to an earlier brand of British rock musician, one caught between the coal mine and the pubs. Of course I’m talking about harsh, proto-punk outfits like the Hammersmith Gorilla and Third World War; the meandering liner notes to this fairly slapped together double-disc reissue mention them, the Deviants, Stack Waddy and Coloured Balls guitarist Lobby Loyde by name, and do so in every instance where it’s attempted to describe the music therein. Which is all fine and good, as there is a progression here from their works, but to figure him out, you have to unpack about a decade or two’s worth of outsider music that led up to Afflicted’s recorded output. The troll is at the foot of the bridge, no doubt, and it’s daunting to a casual observer, but by doing this work, you start to see connections where there couldn’t possibly be any. To say that his I’m Off Me ‘Ead LP has a lot in common with a visionary freak like Michael Yonkers is not so ridiculous, especially when you try to draw sonic comparisons between the two instead of geographical ones. But think of the rigors of obtaining obscure music in the early ‘70s, as opposed to the miracle of blogs full of whole albums ready for download, P2P networks, and the like. Today, influence often means a Frankenstein-style layering of ideas; musicians cherry-picking parts they like and throwing away the rest – more skill than soul. Back then, the effort and the smaller pool of stimulus to wade in asserts that influence was most likely absorbed rather than copped. Listening to Afflicted Man bears this notion out. There are ideas here that had to marinate for a while, and there are others that probably shouldn’t have gotten out at all, but despite the mod cons of an indexed double CD, you can’t understand the entire story if you choose to be selective about the music or its roots.

His songs’ reliance on repetition have as much to do with the limits of one man’s taste and abilities, along with the studio capabilities of the times, as any sort of applied aesthetics. A bare light bulb, a stack of mind-melting vinyl, a guitar and amp, a mattress, and a paint-splattered wooden floor are all the imagery his music affords. From a nearby window, nobody seemed to be looking out for our Steve, and he replies in kind, tape looped bass and unsteady drum tracks starkly bearing down on his effects-heavy, tin-shack blues. The resulting music is left with a miniaturized presence, like there’s no way to listen to it without feeling somewhat isolated from and towering over the product itself. Even when things start to sound a bit familiar, they carry a particular trail of individualism, usually involving a lengthy, substantial guitar solo loaded down with reverb and fuzz.

The Complete Recordings collects three singles and three albums, chronologically sequenced to showcase an exponential distancing from the rigors of ’77 punk rock. General malaise anthem “I’m Afflicted” and skinhead watch track “Be Aware” don’t have much in common with what’s to follow, but they kick up a moderate cloud of street-pounding intensity that will factor in as a crucial component of later works. By the second Bonk single, the lean production values of punk rock are all that connect Afflicted to their era. By the time of the first album, 1979’s The Afflicted Man’s Musical Bag, the songs had mutated into Edge City ruminations on single chords, sonorous vocalisms, a marked dub influence and restless effects abuse remove even the shorter songs’ temporal space, distending each into its own monolith. Most cuts share qualities with the then-current output of the Fall or Alternative TV. But at its strangest – the eight-minute “Musically Insane” – structure is an afterthought, as plunking bass, droning piano, acoustic guitar and a mad tambourine presence place things closer to the crazed horror-folk of Comus than any punker contemporaries. Album closer “Love One” has more to do with Pink Floyd’s heady pop of the day than what you might have found in the Rough Trade shop in that calendar year. However, “142” doublebacks to fit perfectly on those hallowed racks, hoisting the Sex Pistols up on their own petard. The track and its flip, “Senseless Whale Slaughter,” come across as more of a mockery than anything else, snotty and callous, treating pointless lyrics and social politicking for punk’s wasted vigor like some sort of mantra.

By the second album, 1981’s I’m Off Me ‘Ead, Hall had changed the outfit’s name to Afflicted Man; he’d also fashioned his most difficult and engaging record. Released on the Human label, this one had grabbed hold of the vinegar and swigged brazenly, blasting holes in the wide palette of ideas previously documented. Possibly realizing he’d hit a wall with his sound, the record consists of seven raucous blues-punk dirges, restless with anger and dirtier than ever before, a righteous and indignant irritant in the same way that Billy Childish or Dan Melchior would later conjure. Even the master volume fader gets a workout. The final Afflicted release, 1982’s Get Stoned Ezy, makes off like a product of mid-day substance abuse and its attendant mental shredding. Credited to High Speed and the Afflicted Man, its three extended tracks blot up a bucket of severe lysergic noise damage, bringing Hall’s career and inspiration full circle (back to the elevated excess of Hawkwind, or forward to the Butthole Surfers, particularly on “Sun Sun.”) Sheets of thick, wah-infected guitar crush and confound the listener. Maximalist in every way, the tracks play out like some sort of last ditch, fluorescent effort to be noticed.

And then, after all this effort, it was over. Up until now, it remains that way, and even this release raises more questions than it can respond to. Hall’s collected history makes up a few lines of text; little if any mention of his deeds before or since appear in any catalogued Web or zine content. Following Get Stoned Ezy, Hall joined punk outfit The Accursed, an embattled British band with alleged National Front ties. A shady past behind him, he’s been playing music in prisons and hospitals under the name Called, but there’s no further information on that project, either. So let’s focus on what we have here: music too difficult to digest in a single sitting, but a strong and rewarding experience for those of us who insist on reading between the lines."

Quite mandatory indeed. Psyched out punk blues. Wacked out. Link in comments.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

King Tubby-The Roots of Dub (1974)

"If you want to know where hip-hop came from, you can't ignore dub. If you want to check out early rap, you better be aware of toasting. All of those genres are products of the ghetto, inseparably tagged to the African diaspora. (Like most inventions of American popular music, as this blues/jazz/funk/hip-hop lover can readily attest.)

If you want to properly dig this music, go for the roots. A large number of those tentacles lie in the largest English-speaking island in the Caribbean, the celebrated home of the fruit called ackee, the world's epicenter of ganja (no excuses, Morocco), the source of Appleton Estate Rum (established 1655). Funny enough, King Tubby (né Osbourne Ruddock) was wearing some downright silly crowns back in 1974 (a Burger King indeed, if you look closely). I guess he hadn't yet established his reputation, which at this point is fundamental, monumental, and utterly essential. Those are the straight-up facts, and I dare you to disagree.

So dig back into the roots, before the Aggrovators collection Foundation of Dub, another '70s Bunny Lee production. Dub was created by subtracting vocals from popular reggae mixes and tweaking all the other instruments in the studio with little black boxes. Dubs started out as the "B" sides of singles.

King Tubby was the Dub Master, the Dub Organizer, the Dub Teacher, and the King. Personally tweaked tools, canny intuition, and divine inspiration all seem to come into play with his music, which is distinct from all the rest because of the utterly forward position of the bass and drums in the mix. You play dub, you play it loud, you want your chest to resonate with the music... it's a no-duh. Who knows how he hooked it all together in the studio, but maybe that's a secret better left untold.

When you take off on The Roots of Dub, you float gently along on reverberant waves of guitar, organ, and bass; reverb, delay, and echo always. All that sonic manipulation sounds restless and detailed, despite its utterly relaxed facade. The three-minute tunes ("compositions") might not be the most interesting at times—it's pop music, you have to remember—but there's no denying that King Tubby took each part of his starting material and melded them all into a dark, distorted shell of a song. Every time, always relying on texture, turning the purpose of the music into re-inventing the music.

That's King Tubby's story. If you already know him, you'll drown in ecstasy at this reissue of his first two records. (Please excuse the well-deserved hyperbole. Again, I beg you to disagree.) If you don't already know him, well, check The Roots out.

This music is deep to the core. Its kind of heavy meditation comes from deep Africa, like all the music of the diaspora, including flavors from closer to home. Fancy the two coming together to give birth to a new American music. Hip-hoppers everywhere, bow deeply and exhale."

Need I say more? Some of the finest Dub I've ever heard, perfect for this beautiful spring weather we've been receiving. Cheers.

A first class dub

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Flying Lotus-Los Angeles (2008)

"Okay, we might as well get this out of the way, because every review of Los Angeles mentions one key reference point: Flying Lotus––née Steven Ellison––is the grandnephew of Alice Coltrane. It's a convenient and eye-catching association that will follow Ellison's career each step of the way. In fact, it was the extraordinary jazz musician's gentle nudging that pushed Ellison's career ambitions from filmmaking into music. And for that matter, Ellison shares Coltrane’s use of pulsing, breathy textures. His materials may be those of the Nintendo generation rather than the acoustic-based instrumentation of the 60s, but the importance of atmosphere and resonance––so crucial to Coltrane's blend of spiritual free jazz and cerebral modal music––are certainly not lost on Ellison.

But just how does one recreate the sense of room and tonal development in a world of digital samplers and sequencers? In this aspect, Ellison learns from his contemporary peers. His Warp full-length debut contains sonic elements akin to many like-minded Los Angeles musicians––Madlib, Ammoncontact, Daedelus, Sa-Ra Creative Partners, Nobody, Dntel, Koushik and Exile––and it’s also clear that Ellison has been influenced by the cream of the left-field instrumental hip-hop crowd––Jay Dee, Prefuse 73, Dabrye and Jnerio Jarel. All of these musicians/producers have mastered the process of stringing samples together fluidly in a haze of noise byproduct (static, fuzz, pops, crackle, etc). Likewise, Ellison’s work features few discernable loop breaks, while acoustic drums and live synthesizers work to disguise rigidity with layers of lapping sound. Somewhere along the way, Pete Rock's stiff but soulful rap productions crossed paths with Aphex Twin's avant-garde electronica and Rob Mazurek's 21st century psychedelic fusion to birth Flying Lotus, a headphone producer who bridges the world of beat, blip and bop.

Thankfully, Ellison doesn't stray too far from the framework he established on 1983, his Plug Research debut. There is a coherent sound throughout the album––psychedelic electro-hop perhaps––while each song develops fruitfully without ever being dragged out. In fact, about sixty percent of the tracks on Los Angeles fall in the two-and-a-half to four-minute range––just enough time to establish a groove and expound upon it without a sense of redundancy setting in. It's less jerkingly sporadic than Donuts (however brilliant), but more varied than a Sa-Ra produced record. And in that sense, Ellison––much like his great-aunt––has the ability to entrance. Trippy synth chords progress subtly; sparse boom-bap backdrops pronounce the meat of each song; jazz, funk, psych and worldly samples weave colorful melodies; and 8-bit video game sound effects keep each track continuously textured.

In a recent interview with XLR8R TV, Ellison divulged his love for the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, a series he helped to score early in his career. The episodes of schizophrenic late-night comedy are relatively short in comparison to television's typical half-hour fare––the humor may be beyond ridiculous, but it rarely takes a toll on your patience because it's finished in a third of the usual time. Ellison's productions may not have the severity of Adult Swim, but he certainly takes a few cues from their structural patterns. Los Angeles doesn't rely on elaborate set-ups or complicated narratives: A beat drops, the mood's established, a groove sets in, and Ellison tweaks it into a climax before quickly moving onto the next.

Thanks to the deeply saturated production, just minutes into Los Angeles you are already lost among the ebb and flow of the mercurial synths and adroit beats. A headphone listen is like sticking your head in a fish tank of blunted haze and aural psychedelics. The music may not be quite as spiritual as that of Ellison’s great-aunt, but it is no less ethereal, atmospheric and hypnotic––impressive for what is essentially an instrumental hip-hop record."

Wow. There are a few Hip-Hop luminaries that really blow my mind (Cannibal Ox, Dilla, Madlib, MF Doom, El-P, Dalek...etc) and Flying Lotus joined the club. I didn't really know what to make of it at first but multiple listens reveals a deep appreciation for Dub, House/Techno, Breakbeat, and all that other shit that I'm really not that familiar with. Point is, this album effortlessly blends it all together into a very spaced out enjoyable whole. High recommendation for this little ditty.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Kemialliset Ystävät-Kemialliset Ystävät (2007)

"The English-speaking world can’t quite figure out whether Kemialliset Ystävät is a proper band or the brainchild of a single man. Dodgy video clips show a group of crouching figures obscured by lit candles on a Spanish floor, but written statements center around Jan Anderzén, a Fonal co-conspirator and definite sole member of Tomutonttu. The album boasts a longhouse full of players, but Wikipedia further muddies the picture, relegating them to the background. The frightening opacity of Finnish doesn’t help much either, battering us poor Indo-Europeans with blasts of Ugric doubled consonants, vowels, and endless diacritics.

The answer—true to the gleeful, pranksterish nature of KY—is neither. The whole enterprise is more of an art concept than a music group, and standard rules of membership are the least of the musical conventions flaunted by Kemialliset Ystävät. The question is more symbolic than real, as it points to a common confusion KY produces in listeners. Is this done on purpose, or is it an off-the-cuff product of an entirely-too-high crowd of strangers? The group’s music bristles with unhinged alien energy, breeding monstrous hybrids that would be born sterile in most settings. Gamelan and Nintendo soundtracks? Abstract sound poetry and acoustic folk? Tape loops and hand drums? Hell yeah, and on the same track to boot.

But there’s more to this than the latest Sunburned session run amok. There’s a strange order, a deliberation, a dawning sense that every element is placed as it is for an irrational reason. Therein lies the greatness of the band: its painstaking intricacy sums to dada spontaneity. This musical paradox creates a compelling game for the listener: try to deduce the illogic beneath the music, peel back the layers searching for a foundation (if there is one), discover the rule that is the exception to itself.

Luckily, this KY album is a bit more accessible to listeners than most, featuring even a few straight-up songs. “Nakymattoman Hipasiour” teams a fuzzy piano line with swallowed microphone mathematics and nervous electro-squeaks for a swaying, shanty-like bounce. “Superhimmel” pits loping guitar lines over a martial bass beat before bridging into a spastic neon breakdown that sounds like Dan Deacon minus the annoying shit. Both tracks show the exhilarating straight path that Kemialliset Ystävät can follow. And both tracks are exceptions, tips of the hat to structures they usually avoid.

More often, KY wobbles around its pet sounds, creating tracks from planned chaotic collisions. Melodies and rhythms flow and communicate, but the crowd of sound prevents any set from locking to song. A push from one is met by a push in the opposite direction by another. The effect is one of dynamic unity, of a bustling conversation within a bubble, about nothing and everything.

We speak often of an artists’ vision, as if musicians present the audience an image that one can mentally trace back through an aesthetic lens to an ideal representation in that artist’s head, an index of influences, inputs, and insights. The clearer and sharper this vision, the better. But in this case, Anderzén’s vision arrives at the end of a kaleidoscope, and its geometric precision only adds to the beautiful confusion."

This is some wacked out music. I dunno what's running through the water out there in Finland but those guys are crazy. I don't really have the words for it right now, but that's cause I'm knee deep in some shit which explains my lack of comments lately. Hopefully the quality has been speaking for itself. But I shall return to full normal formatting soon. But until then...


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Om-Conference of the Birds (2006)

"Hinduism, “om” is the single most important syllable of existence, representing the confluence of deep sleep, dreams, and consciousness, and their mystic separation from the idea of the absolute which is beyond everyday human comprehension. There are also connections with the life cycle - the sound “om” being made of “a” which represents creation and Brahma, “u” which is Vishnu or the middle period of life, and “m” represents Shiva, whose meditation frees us from the concrete world. Om is a trinity, the exact components of which depend on which interpretation you’re using. I won’t pretend to be an expert in Hindu myth or meaning, but these basic tidbits are enough on their own to at least partially explain the sounds contained on Conference of the Birds. And while it may be mere coincidence that Om formed out of two thirds of Sleep (you could probably debate which two parts of the “om” Al Cisneros and Chris Hakius represent, but it would only make any sense if you were either a huge metalhead, a giant stoner, a Hindu scholar, or some combination of the three), the symbolic connection between the two in this context is too much to ignore. To get perhaps a bit too literal here, om is the step beyond sleep towards some kind of transcendence. Which isn’t to say that music of Om is any “deeper” or “more advanced” than that of Sleep, just that it operates on a different level with a different set of tools.

Conference of the Birds is structurally and sonically similar to its predecessor, Variations on a Theme – repeated bass licks and drum patterns that gradually evolve over the course of about 15 minutes. The second song (each song spans about 20 tracks, presumably to thwart piracy), “Flight of the Eagle,” could very easily be the fourth track on Variations both in character and in sound. Cisneros’ bass sound is dense and fuzzy and his vocals are an imposing chant musing on some mythic journey or battle occurring in ancient Egypt, while Hakius keeps a solid beat centered around his bell-like cymbal.

“At Giza,” on the other hand, represents a very different side of the group, one much closer to the concept of om than anything else they’ve done. Simply put, the music is much tauter than before, with less overall weight. The bass tone is clean, devoid of any distracting distortion, the drums are slower, more hypnotic, the vocals more an incantation than a chant, returning to words like “sentient,” “aperture,” and other archaic multisyllabics. And while the imagery is more an opium-den vision than a meditative dream, the words are there more as sounds and rhythm and quickly lose their meaning.

Whether you view it as stoner wisdom, opium hallucination, or mystic journey, this album is about transcendence. The Conference of the Birds is, amongst other things, a 12th century Sufi metaphysical parable on discovering the true nature of God, mimicking the journey of the avatar protagonist of both of Om’s songs. Farid ud-Din Attar’s poem comes to the conclusion that God is not to be found in a single place but all around, in every aspect of life and the world. So despite the fact that Om comes from the Hindu, references the Sufi, and uses the language of the Egyptian, they draw from each the same idea: that the world beyond the tactile is not that far away."-Dusted

Highly recommended. On the run. More posts soon.

At Giza

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Cindytalk-Camoflage Heart (1984)

Longtime regular aQ customer Joshua Maremont commented that Cindytalk's Camoflage Heart is a record which was only really meant for about 30 people. Not that only 30 copies of this record were released, or that it is so terminally obscure and willfully difficult that it by design has a marketing ceiling of an elite few. What he's on about is that Camoflage Heart is such a personal document of self-realized torment, pain, and sorrow that when Cindytalk embarked on the project, it's hard to imagine that they had any delusions about the intensity of this album and the potential for these songs to alienate beyond a limited few.
At the helm of Cindytalk is transgendered vocalist Gordon Sharp, who to this day is probably still best known as one of the multitude of vocalists who appeared in This Mortal Coil. In many ways, Sharp is the masculine equal to the Cocteau Twins' Liz Fraser in delivering expressionist falsettos, trills, and banshee wails in an eerie, yet heavenly fashion. He's one of those few vocalists who can make the lyrics embody their content by shaping the words into emotionally charged sound. In fact, Sharp and Fraser had come together for a duet back during the Cocteau Twins' Peel Sessions of 1983. In his 4AD lineage, Gordon Sharp's first band was the criminally overlooked punk-glam ensemble The Freeze, where his Marc Bolan strut matched the nightmarish lyrics on top of some truly fantastic Bowie / Buzzcocks sparkplug riffs. Sharp, alongside fellow Freeze band members John Byrne and David Clancey, found shortcomings in the glam punk agenda, and sought a wholly new direction that became Cindytalk.
While undeniably dark and theatrical, Cindytalk cannot be pigeonholed as an '80s goth band, even in comparison to such off-kilter groups like The Virgin Prunes, Princess Tinymeat, or Sex Gang Children. Camoflage Heart was Cindytalk's first album and originally came out in 1984; and it's an album like those This Heat albums which is quite unique in terms of production and aesthetic. The album opens with the militant drum machine of "It's Luxury" setting the stage for an explosion from a monotone guitar riff, coated in amplifier grit, distortion, and detuned heaviness that comes across as a mix between late-'80s Skullflower and The Cure's Pornography. At this moment, Sharp's voice also erupts into the mix crooning with a downtrod beauty to this industrial dirge, spitting and swooning at the same time. The next track "Instinct (Back To Sense)" is more of an ambient interlude with distant heartbeat rhythms, haunted with impressionist piano trickles and Sharp's siren song buried between an atmosphere of smoke and mirror. Two more explosive tracks -- "Under Glass" (featuring Mick Harvey from the Birthday Party for a disjointed stutter of abject rock) and "Memories of Skin and Snow" -- are examples of loud / quiet / loud dynamics, later embraced by the likes of Slint and Mogwai to equally profound effect. "Everybody Is Christ" is often viewed as the pinnacle of Camoflage Heart with its harsh arppegiation of electronics cast against Sharp's heavenly voice. Soon after, the album disintegrates in a cascade of delicate piano, voice, and grim drones.
As Cindytalk had suffered through the fate of several record companies going out of business (first Midnight Records then World Serpent), their work might have been forgotten had it not been for this reissue. Thankfully, that oversight can now be remedies with this long overdue reissue."-aQ

Music for those dog days of winter. Sorry for the lack of posts lately. Life moves fast, ya dig?

Memories of skin and snow