Monday, May 18, 2009

Negativland, NEGATIVLAND

Each cover is handmade and unique, so a picture would be useless*

Seeland, 1980; out of print**, but a mass-produced version is supposedly on the way

20 untitled tracks, 36:47

Nowadays known for their masterful satire of mass media and pop culture, Negativland began as a much different prospect. For their debut album, Negativland was Mark Hosler, Richard Lyons (both of whom were 17 when this was recorded!), and David Wills; the liners inform you that "occasionally you will hear the talents of" Peter Dayton, W. Kennedy M., and Joan. The instruments range from synths, organs, viola, guitars, tape loops, and the mysterious "Booper". While definitely primitive compared to their later work, the debut album is quite incredible on its own merits. A majority of the tracks are bizarre sound collages, featuring everything from household appliances and electronic birdcalls to the ambient sounds of televisions and radios. A few tracks do break from the "norm": a mournful acoustic guitar ditty here, a relatively traditional new wave tune there, and then there's one track with jittery rhythms and blips accompanying such random observations as "Play.... Black seventy.... eight!". The sound collages, however, are the main draw, sounding like the bastard offspring of LUMPY GRAVY, THE FAUST TAPES, and early industrial a la Cabaret Voltaire or Nurse With Wound. It's not really musical by any stretch, but then does it need to be? Most fans tend to sell this album short; admittedly, it's an acquired taste, but give it a chance and it should grow on you. Their next two albums, POINTS and A BIG 10-8 PLACE, follow along a similar path, with fourth album ESCAPE FROM NOISE being considered the beginning of the satirical sound that Negativland is known for. I personally prefer the early work, since it's much less preachy and more about the genuine joy of having a twisted musical vision and the equipment to express said vision (but you should still hear their other albums if you haven't already; they truly are impressive). Negativland themselves are promising a reissue of the debut; while it won't have the unique covers, the "music" within still justifies the purchase.

*The packaging for this is truly great. The box itself is a thick cardboard box, like old reel-to-reel tapes came in. My copy's cover is a black and white photo of a guy brushing his teeth, pasted over a square of black construction paper. On the back is a piece of wallpaper, under which is a red sticker with the band's name, the catalog number,copyright information, and a hand-written "serial number" identifying which copy is yours (mine happens to be #1622). Inside, along with the CD, there are four inserts and a pin. One is simply a recipe for a coffee torte, another is a transcription of a bizarre food-oriented dialogue. The others have the credits for the album and a modified picture of a guy in pajamas whose arms reach nearly to the ground. Much like the album itself, the package is random but intriguing.

**Apparently limited to 9500 LPs and 4500 CDs

Monday, May 11, 2009

Third Eye Foundation, SOUND OF VIOLENCE

Domino/Merge, 1997; out of print, but two tracks are available on COLLECTED WORKS

4 tracks, 23:52

Following the extremely disturbing GHOST (reviewed previously here), Matt Elliott went further into the recesses of twisted electronics. SOUND OF VIOLENCE is perhaps the best non-LP 3EF release. Three of the tracks are over seven minutes long; the under-three-minute "Pain (Violence Version)" is the only track that feels like filler, but it's interesting filler nonetheless. The first two tracks, "Sound Of Violence" and "A Name For My Pain", are excellent progressions from GHOST. Frantic drum'n'bass beats are cloaked in whirlwinds of noise, from what sounds like the shrieks of the damned to jazzy bass and guitar accents. The sound is much cleaner than on GHOST; however, it takes a few listens to notice, so dense are the compositions. Little of Matt's SEMTEX-era sound remains (save for the amazing beats), and at times this sounds like what Stockhausen or Xenakis may have come up wuth had they dabbled in drum'n'bass. The final track is "Corpses (Version)". This is a skeletal remix of "Corpses As Bedmates", retaining the original's structure while massively reducing the noise and shaving off two minutes. It's much more effective than it should be, and its inclusion alone justifies this EP. Luckily, "Sound Of Violence" and "A Name For My Pain" are both well worth the price as well. This is an excellent transitional release, bidding farewell to 3EF's horrific and noisy early years while pointing forward to the less-frantic-but-still-jarring atmosphere of YOU GUYS KILL ME and LITTLE LOST SOUL. Unfortunately, this has gone out of print. "Sound Of Violence" and "A Name For My Pain" are included on disc one of COLLECTED WORKS along with GHOST and two tracks off the "Semtex" single, but you really should find the standalone release so you can hear "Corpses (Version)". A good used copy should be fairly inexpensive and easy to find.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


Elektra, 1968; reissued with two bonus tracks on CD, and with more bonus tracks as disc 1 of THE FROZEN BORDERLINE; available

Original LP: 8 tracks, 30:48; standalone CD reissue: 10 tracks, 37:48

Let me say it right now: I'm well aware I'm not the first person to review this album. Chances are if you're here, you've heard this and know whether you like it or not. If you have yet to hear this, be prepared. It's one of the most gorgeously depressing things I've ever heard. Most of the tracks are based on a minimalist framework of Nico's powerful vocals and spare harmonium arrangements, with ex-Velvet Undergound bandmate John Cale providing instrumentation as he sees fit. It's truly not related to rock of any sort; "No One Is There" is just Nico and Cale's viol work (not certain what sort of viol it is here), while "Lawns Of Dawns" finds her and the harmonium accompanied by distant crystalline sounds and atmospheric guitar noise. "Facing The Wind" has Nico's vocals electronically processed for a particularly disorienting effect. The last two tracks are the highlights for me. "Frozen Warnings" is an excellent piece of soothing drone-rock, Cale's multiple layers of viols building up to an excellent climax; "Evening Of Light", on the other hand, finds Nico's increasingly insistent vocals surrounded by a nightmarish mass of echoing strings and atonal guitar skronk, rumbling to a distinctly ominous end. Excellent, of course! The album was reissued on CD with two bonus tracks, neither of which is particularly essential; "Nibelungen", though, is an interesting example of how Nico sounded a capella. A much better way to hear this is THE FROZEN BORDERLINE; disc one is the remastered LP, plus alternate versions of several tracks (including "Nibelungen" with musical accompaniment, but excluding the a capella version) and some interesting outtakes. Disc two is Nico's DESERTSHORE remastered, plus demo versions of those songs. DESERTSHORE is almost as good as THE MARBLE INDEX, and the bonus material is mostly worthwhile, making THE FROZEN BORDERLINE the essential purchase.

Wolfgang Dauner, OUTPUT

ECM, 1970; out of print

6 tracks, 37:35

Ahhh, Wolfgang Dauner! From his early free jazz albums (FREE ACTION being the best) to his insane combo Et Cetera (and of course the psych-jazz classic THE OIMELS), the man never fails to amaze and confound. On this album, he is joined by his usual (and EXTREMELY talented) drummer Fred Braceful and frequent cohort Eberhard Weber on various string instruments. Braceful was also a member of the insanely creative Exmagma. Both would later be part of Et Cetera as well. Dauner himself handles piano, Clavinet, and ring modulator. The results are absolutely incredible. Braceful's drumming can go from steady to insanely free-form at the drop of a hat. Weber is no slocuh on his instruments either, capable of both tasteful cello atmospheres and near-Sharrock freakouts; Dauner uses the ring modulator to occasionally turn his guitar sounds into something else entirely. Dauner himself is fine playing the piano in a relatively straightforward fashion, or using the modulator to heavily process its notes for an unearthly effect. He treats the Clavinet pretty much the same way, and its distinct tones are made even more alien in the process. Reviewing individual tracks is pointless, as everything from the murky "Mudations" to the closing "Brazing The High Sky Full" (co-written by Braceful and featuring his eccentric vocals) needs to be heard in one go for the full effect. Every track holds its surprises; one particular highlight is "Nothing To Declare", which manages to come closest to jazz. It's also the longest track at ten and a half minutes, not a second of which is wasted. It's somewhat surprising this came out on ECM, as the wild experimentation present here is far removed from the usual ECM sound. Fans of electronic jazz should find plenty to love here, as will adventurous post-rock fans; rock fans may be slightly put off, as this is by no means a rock record, but give it a chance anyway. Somebody really needs to reissue this pronto!


Egg, 1976; out of print

9 tracks, 39:49

Six years after Red Noise's lone LP (reviewed previously on this very blog!), main weirdo Patrick Vian unleashed this electronic rock masterpiece. The son of musician/author/playwright/etc. Boris Vian*, Patrick decided to experiment heavily with Moogs and Arps, aided by a sequencer and some very talented sidemen. Georges Granier provides marimbas, scissors(!), "occult noises"(!!), and Fender Rhodes, while Bernard Lavialle contributes guitar and Mino Cinelu provides percussion. None of the other players shows up very often, with Cinelu contributing to a mere two tracks and Lavialle being easily discernible on just as many. While opening track "Sphère" implies this will be straightforward rock, with its introduction of a powerful riff and some frantic tinkling percussives, Vian soon enters on his synths to add some interesting coloration. This comes very close to sounding like a less Fripp-enthralled Heldon. "Grosse Nacht Musik", on the other hand, is all synth textures, comparing favorably to other electronic music of the time while remaining distinct. No two tracks really sound alike, going from the electro-exotica of "Oreknock" to the sleazy and bluesy "R&B Degenerit!" (this one REALLY sounds like its name!) and ending with the musique concrete of "Tricentennial Drag". Curiously, one of the all-synth numbers (and one of the highlights) is called "Tunnel 4 Red Noise"; it certainly doesn't sound like his former band, but the same sense of whimsy and wonder is present throughout. Every last note has aged gracefully, and there are some bands even now who would give anything to sound this amazing. It almost seems incredible that nobody has seen the need to reissue this; it certainly would give Stereolab, Pram, et al serious competition if it was a new release! This is truly unique electronic music from the period that defined the genre. For the record, the album's title means "similar places and times" in English.

*Do yourself a favor and listen to some Boris Vian. Tracks like the EXTREMELY dirty "Fais Moi Mal Johnny" certainly provide some insight to Patrick's bizarre sense of humor. They're also just plain fun, and catchy as hell!