Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Sub Pop, 1995; available
8 tracks, 55:04
Completing the trilogy of early Earth releases, PHASE 3: THRONES AND DOMINIONS was widely ignored or trashed upon its release. This is definitely the least heavy of their early works; there's no bass, and most tracks are Dylan Carlson solo with his guitar. Still, being Earth, there's a lot of guitar power and distortion here! Opener "Harvey" is under three minutes, a massive change from the equally massive EARTH 2. It's a nice little number, coming across like a drumless Melvins outtake. Actually, half of these tracks are under four minutes, and the longest is just under fifteen. Quite a change from the three-song seventy-plus-minute leviathan that was EARTH 2! Tommy Hansen contributes additional guitar to "Harvey" and "Song 4"; the latter is honestly pretty, with its acoustic guitar touches and repetitive electric riff. "Tibetan Quaaludes" and "Site Specific Carnivorous Occurrence" (featuring Rick Cambern on drums) definitely prove this is the same band, with their heavy guitar sludge and droning amplifier buzz. The real surprises are the two epics. "Phase 3: Agni Detonating Over The Thar Desert..." is the sounds of a desolate and wind-blasted landscape for twelve and a half minutes, while "Thrones And Dominions" is a truly beautiful piece of heavy ambient music (and the longest track on here). The other two tracks, "Lullaby (Take 2: How Dry I Am)" and "Song 6 (Chime)", are pleasant little songs; "Song 6 (Chime)" is particularly pretty in a music box-esque way. The best way to approach PHASE 3 is as a transitional album; the following PENTASTAR: IN THE STYLE OF DEMONS mostly deserves its bad reputation, since it took the blueprints of PHASE 3 and made Earth more accessible than they should have tried to be. I'd think of PHASE 3 as Earth's true ambient album.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Kuckuck, 1971; available
5 tracks, 41:00
Kuckuck, 1972; available
12 tracks, 43:39
The enigmatic Georg Deuter has been previously mentioned here as a member of Maschine Nr. 9. Before joining that odd collective, he released two extraordinarily singular solo albums. Let's review them, shall we?
The first Deuter album, D, is also one of his most varied. Literally no two tracks sound much alike, and it's all the more impressive for that! The opening multi-part "Babylon" established Deuter as a true krautrock innovator. Over nearly fifteen minutes, he combines acid guitar, atmospheric organ, wordless vocals, and other sonic bits to create a true masterpiece. It's probably worth noting that every instrument was performed by Deuter; ah, the miracles of overdubbing! "Der Turm/Fluchtpunkt" is even better, being four and a half minutes of odd guitar sounds with steady drumming. This sounds almost like an Ash Ra Tempel outtake! Surprises abound, and "Krishna Eating Fish And Chips" is the first of these. Beginning with a droning organ, this becomes a ten-minute duet for said sound plus an honest-to-goodness sitar. What could be awfully cheesy in lesser hands is nothing less than a meditative piece of genius here. Next up is "Atlantis", which has Deuter's wordless "AHHHhhhhhhh"s accompanying hand percussion and a recording of the seashore. It's one of those pieces that truly transports you elsewhere, and it's another highlight on an album chock full of them. Finally, "Gammastrahlen-Lamm" ends things with a decidedly ambient and spaced-out synth. For sheer variety alone, D is incredible; luckily, the music itself bears this out.
Deuter's next album, AUM, took a decidedly different approach. Gone are the epic tracks, to be replaced by a series of mostly short pieces. AUM is also less varied, focusing mostly on sitar and hand percussion. The tracks were orignally arranged into three suites on vinyl; for the CD, they have been indexed seperately. The epic "Susani" (longest track here at eight minutes) is an exception to the rule, being a stunning piece of echo guitar soundscapes and wordless chants that would make Achim Reichel jealous. Other highlights include the trancey "Soham", the frenzied "Offener Himmel I/Gleichzeitig", and the atmospheric "The Key", but the whole album really should be heard in one go for the full effect. While this is much more in raga mode than rock, it's still an incredible listen. It also beats the hell out of a lot of later New Age, which it does resemble at times (though Deuter managed to avoid the schmaltziness that is usually associated with the genre).
Sadly, after this double knockout, Deuter would retreat into New Age music of a (in my opinion) cheesy nature. He did this for spiritual reasons, which I do respect and understand. Certain later albums, such as SILENCE IS THE ANSWER and SAN, definitely have their moments, but most krautrock fans won't find much to like with the rest of his catalog. That's really a shame, since he showed such promise.
Friday, December 17, 2010
Mute, 2004; available
13 tracks, 54:10
Previously reviewed here, most readers of this blog know Neubauten quite well. This album is a compilation of singles, EPs, and unreleased material covering the years 1980 to 1982. What's interesting is how much more accessible they were at the start! "Fuer Den Untergang", their first single, is minimal as all hell: pounding drums, a Korg MS-20, bass, and slide guitar form the basis of this early industrial treasure. The apparently unreleased remix, "Tan-Ze-Dub", is also included, and it is indeed a dub reconstruction. "Zuckendes Fleisch" is surprisingly accessible post-punk (even with an amplified metal spring), while "13 Loecher (Leben ist illegal)" is the beginning of Neubauten as we know them. This brief track features guitar, metal spring, and an electric drill tearing up a wood board! These tracks* were solely made by blixa Bargeld and Andrew Chudy (as is the creepy "Tagesschau-Dub"); the rest of the album features Alexander Hacke and F.M. Einheit, though not usually at the same time. "Kalte Sterne" (from the eponymous EP, included in its entirety) is the biggest shock. With its pretty tinkling keyboard and restrained vocals, this very well could have received radio play. All bets are off by the final two tracks, taken from the THIRSTY ANIMAL single. "Thirsty Animal" itself is an absolutely disturbing piece of noise bliss. Featuring guests Roland S. Howard (of the Birthday Party, guitar) and Lydia Lunch, it begins as a slow drone. It proceeds to become a creepy repetitive mass of pounding percussion, bizarre electronics, and Lunch's howling agonized vocals ("We'll bring out the leeches to suck the bloodless, bring out the leechessss"). The B-side, "Durstiges Tier" (which means "Thirsty Animal" in German!) is essentially a dub reworking. Allegedly, Bargeld had his body covered with contact mics, while F.M Einheit pounded out the rhythm ON BARGELD'S BODY. It's not quite as disturbing as "Thirsty Animal", but it's still not the sort of thing to listen to if you're paranoid. KALTE STERNE comes highly recommended to listeners interested in where it all began, and the more open-minded post-punk and industrial fans out there would probably find a lot to like here as well.
*Apparently, tracks two through six are the previously unreleased material.
Monday, December 13, 2010
Drag City, 1990; available
15 tracks (but see the review for details), 68:41
Emerging out of the notorious Pussy Galore, Royal Trux was essentially Jennifer Herrema and Neil Hagerty. At this point, their addictions (mostly to heroin, but I'm fairly sure pot and psychedelics were involved as well) had gotten the best of them. Not that I'm complaining; the sort of music contained on TWIN INFINITIVES probably couldn't have been made otherwise. Where their first album sounded like zoned-out junkies trying to rock, TWIN INFINITIVES is an absolute monster of noise rock. Tape loops, shards of primitive synth, overdriven drum machines, and scratchy guitars form the basis of most of these tracks. The results are far closer to a mix of early industrial and dub than any sort of indie rock. Opening number "Solid Gold Tooth" is two minutes of Flash Gordon-esque ray gun sounds accompanying what could be another synth or a severely distorted guitar and the atonal howls of Hagerty and Herrema. "Jet Pet" is all squelchy machine beats, echoed noise guitar, and Herrema's anguished indecipherable drawl. The absolutely disturbing "Osiris" has an almost incongruously pretty flute buried behind more of Herrema's glossolalia* and more bizarrely processed sounds. The epic quarter-hour "(Edge Of The) Ape Oven"** starts almost normal, and never gets quite as druggy as the rest of the album, but it's still VERY far from radio fare. Closer "New York Avenue Bridge" features pretty atonal piano and a relatively restrained Herrema vocal, resulting in what might be the album's calmest moment (despite some fairly nasty lyrics). Other tracks have titles like "Yin Jim Versus The Vomit Creature", "Lick My Boots", and "Ratcreeps". If you can imagine what the songs DESCRIBED sound like, you have a good idea what you're in for with the rest of the album. Curiously, since this was originally a double LP, the CD is divided into four tracks. Thus, songs one through five are track one, six through eight are track two, "(Edge Of The) Ape Oven" occupies track three, and ten to fifteen take up track four. This is actually for the best; once you start this album, you can't skip tracks if you want the full effect. I consider this an unintentional masterpiece, but you definitely want to sample it before investing. Nothing else (bar HAND OF GLORY) truly compares to it. After TWIN INFINITIVES, Royal Trux would become steadily more accessible, ending their career as a fairly straightforward hard rock band. Out of the three experimental albums, TWIN INFINITIVES should be the starting point; the debut is much more structured, and HAND OF GLORY is another kind of monster altogether.
*As a side-note, I'm 100% convinced Courtney Love copped her vocal style from Jennifer Herrema. At times they're nearly indistinguishable.
**The now-out-of-print HAND OF GLORY was a delayed reissue of what was supposed to be Royal Trux's second album. The first track, "Domo Des Burros (Two Sticks)" has the same beat as the first half of "(Edge Of The) Ape Oven"; the multi-part "The Boxing Story" is somewhat close to Merzbow meets musique concrete. Believe it or not, TWIN INFINITIVES truly IS more accessible, but HAND OF GLORY is recommended to braver listeners.
Saturday, December 4, 2010
Mohini, 1985; reissued by Triple X; availability uncertain, but easy enough to find
5 tracks, 29:56
Psi Com was a minor blip on music's radar, but the involvement of Perry Farrell ensured them some sort of posthumous recognition. Farrell provided vocals and percussion, mostly resorting to junk percussives such as engine blocks. The lineup was completed by guitarist Vince Duran, bassist Kelly Wheeler, and drummer Aaron Sherer. If you're expecting a dry run for Jane's Addiction and Porno For Pyros, think again! Psi Com finds Farrell and company making dark goth rock with arty touches. Perry's voice in particular is absolutely indebted to Peter Murphy; only on "Xiola" can you tell what he'd go on to. As for the music, it truly is goth rock, and perhaps not overly notable, but these guys certainly had a way with a tune! Opener "Ho Ka Hey" is the most upbeat track here, rushing along with force and attitude. "Human Condition" and "Xiola" are much more atmospheric, while "City Of 9 Gates" (my personal favorite) goes from dirgey crawl to rave-up at the drop of a hat. Closer "Winds" is perhaps too long, but it's a nice slice of droning gloom nonetheless. You'll probably be able to find this cheap, and I suggest you do. Psi Com may not have been overly original, but they're a perfectly nice listen anyway. This was also their only official release; some bootlegs exist, but I'd approach those with caution.
Friday, December 3, 2010
Southern Lord, 2010; available
7 tracks, 55:05
Earth's masterpiece, EARTH 2, was one of my earliest reviews on this blog. This handy Southern Lord release collects Earth's out-of-print debut EP EXTRA-CAPSULAR EXTRACTION and also includes the other four tracks recorded during that session (these four tracks have been on various legit and bootleg releases over the years). For these tunes, Earth was guitarist/main member Dylan Carlson, bassist Dave Harwell (who was also Carlson's sideman on EARTH 2), and bassist/drum machine operator Joe Preston (later of Melvins and Thrones). Guest vocalists Kurt Cobain (!) and Kelly Canary appear on two tracks, but otherwise it's all instrumental. The session occurred in October of 1990; a year later, Sub Pop released the first three tracks as the debut EP. Clocking in at just under thirty-three minutes, these songs were extremely unique for the time. Taking the Melvins/Black Sabbath/Saint Vitus slow-and-heavy vibe to the next level, Earth did away with hooks and instead focused on the sheer power of amplifiers being pushed to the limit. Only Godflesh was working in truly similar territory, and they were nowhere near as minimal (or compelling) as Earth! "A Bureaucratic Desire For Revenge" was split into two parts. The first is a crushing instrumental, while the second features Carlson and Cobain's drone vocals and some truly frightening shrieks from Canary. "Ouroboros Is Broken", at eighteen minutes, was the first real indication of where Earth would end up. The chugging riff is reduced to one repeated phrase; when the drum machine leaves the mix, all that remains is buzz, hum, and that "riff". The remaining four tracks are no less impressive; the lurching "Geometry Of Murder" finds Earth at their most Godflesh-esque, while "German Dental Work" is amplifier noise and the drum machine. Final track "Dissolution 1" (yes, there were other "Dissolutions" down the line) is in similar territory, and all three should have been released at the time. The standout, surprisingly, is the compartively brief "Divine And Bright". This song is the most traditional, featuring Cobain's stoned vocals and Canary's painful screams (I wonder if she ever had to have corrective surgery; her work with Dickless was even HARSHER than this!). Being Earth, it makes sense that this was, in Carlson's words, "a love song written to the H-bomb"! While it's perhaps not as singular as EARTH 2, the material contained on this disc is every bit as vital to understanding how drone metal became so inspirational. It only makes sense that Southern Lord reissued this material, as most of their acts are in debt to Earth's innovations (which doesn't mean you should ignore those artists; most of them are amazing!). The songs have been remastered, so upgrading from EXTRA-CAPSULAR EXTRACTION to this wouldn't be a bad investment. After this, Preston would leave for Melvins, and Carlson would ditch the percussion as well. EARTH 2 is definitely the best place to start, but the timid may want to begin their exploration of Earth and drone metal here.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Ralph, 1978; reissued several times, most recently by Mute; available
14 tracks, 35:07
Let's face it, if you've kept up with me thus far, there's a 99.9% chance you know who these guys are. Which is funny, since the general public literally doesn't know who the members are! Anyways, the first seven tracks on this album were originally released as a 7" EP; later the same year, DUCK STAB was paired with the aborted BUSTER & GLEN EP to make a fourteen-track LP. Initially called DUCK STAB/BUSTER & GLEN, most reissues since have simply used DUCK STAB (and I hope this is the last time I write that title in this review!). This is from the stage in the Residents' early years when they primarily used synths for instrumentation. Musically, these tracks were the catchiest material the group had ever unleashed. This particular album shares a lot with minimal synth and electro-no wave artists such as Fad Gadget and Dark Day. Tracks such as "Weight-Lifting Lulu" and "Blue Rosebuds" are based around two or so synths at a time, accompanied by the singing Resident's unmistakable vocals. Guest vocalist Ruby turns in an inspired performance on "The Electrocutioner", and usual collaborator Snakefinger adds his inimitable guitar throughout, but otherwise it's just four guys and their synths creating a unique blend of avant-garde and pop on their own terms. If you're new to the Residents, this is probably the most accessible entry point to their vast catalog, but it does pale slightly in comparison to their other early work.
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Industrial Records, 1979; reissued by Mute/The Grey Area; available
9 tracks, 43:20
Scottish musicians Robert Rental (born Robert Donnachie) and Thomas Leer had each released an important indie single a year before this collaboration. Leer's offering was the poppy lo-fi "Private Plane"/"International", and Rental's was the weird industrial "Paralysis"/"A.C.C.". Having relocated to England, the two mavericks were lent 8-tracks by Throbbing Gristle so they could record this album. As the liner notes point out, this was recorded in a two week span (June 18th to July 2nd) in one of their homes; interestingly, the back cover notes "all blips & unseemly noises were generated by refrigerators & other domestic appliances & are intrinsic to the music"! Both musicians take turns on guitar, synths, "synth percussion" (more on that later), bass, and other noises. THE BRIDGE is divided into two distinct halves; the A-side features vocal work, while the B-side has four tracks of pure ambience. The vocal songs are definitely in a post-punk/synthpop mode. Leer sings lead on four tracks; the fuzzy "Connotations" and the bizarrely catchy "Monochrome Day's" are definite highlights. Rental takes the lead on "Day Breaks, Night Heals", and this creepy gem is the absolute standout. What's interesting about the percussion is that Leer and Rental didn't use a drum machine. Instead, they pounded out rhythms on synth and made tape loops of the results. While primitive, this technique lends a unique touch to these tracks. The flipside is a completely different story. Rental is credited with tapes, loops, and voice for this side, while Leer takes on synths, tapes, and voice (that's voice, not vocals). Long drones and loops, accompanied by TV sounds and those other "unseemly noises", flow effortlessly towards dark chillout bliss. The lengthy "Interferon" is the standout here, but the other three are amazing as well. Both sides add up to what is one of the best releases from Industrial Records; thank goodness Mute reissued it! Around this time, Rental released an extremely rare demo called MENTAL DETENTIONS; this completely instrumental gem of early industrial heaven also features Leer on a few tracks and DEFINITELY deserves a reissue. Leer still has a synthpop career, and for a while was in Act; some is worth investigating, some isn't. Rental would collaborate with the Normal (Daniel Miller, Mute head honcho) on a single-sided live album (rare but worth the hunt); his last output was the excellent "Double Heart"/On Location" single on Mute, featuring DAF's Robert Görl on drums and Leer on piano (also recommended). After this, he retired from music to raise a family, sadly passing away in 2000. The fact that so little of Rental's output exists is reason enough to buy THE BRIDGE, but the music more than justifies adding it to your collection.
Friday, October 1, 2010
Trident, 1974; reissued by Artis and Arcangelo; available
Artis CD; 11 tracks, 46:07
The long-running Opus Avantra sought to combine the avant-garde with the traditional (hence AvanTra). Alfredo Tisocco is both the pianist/keyboardist and the musical mastermind; divine singer Donella Del Monaco* is the lyrical genius. Flautist Luciano Tavella, violinists Enrico Professione and Pieregidio Spiller, cellist Riccardo Perraro, drummer Pierdino Tisato, and percussionist/effects man Tony Esposito round out the group on this, their debut outing. While definitely within the classically influenced realm of most of their Italian contemporaries, Opus Avantra bring more than a bit of avant tweaking to their sound. The two-minute title track** opens the album; it's a bizarre bit of musique concrete, leading directly into the next song. Track two, "Les Plaisirs Sont Doux", features Del Monaco's gorgeous vocals singing French against a purely classical backdrop, accompanied by a spoken word double-tracking. From here highlights are hard to pick out, as the music veers from beautiful folk to ominous dark prog, always peppered with bits of odd production and sound effects. The drumming throughout is definitely jazz-rock inspired, which makes for an interesting accompaniment to what is otherwise a mostly classical lineup. The closing "Rituale" brings everything to a furiously rocking end, with proto-breakbeat percission and the most frenzied performance by Del Monaco. As a bonus, the Artis CD contains "Introspezione (Integrale)", which is the full six-minute version of the title track. In this form, it's an even more stunning bit of concrete experimentation. While all their albums are worth a listen, this debut outing is simultaneously Opus Avantra's most daring and enjoyable work. I love it, even if I don't understand any of the (mostly Italian) lyrics!
*Donella Del Monaco would be absent on Opus Avantra's next outing, but she's on most of their other albums. She also has a solo career that might be worth investigating.
**"Introspezione" (and by extension, "Introspezione (Integrale)") is credited to Tisocco, Esposito, Giorgio Bisotto, and Mireno Tisato.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Linda's Strange Vacation, 1996; out of print
5 tracks, 48:38
After literally searching for it for twelve years, I FINALLY got this at a good price! This is both the second 3EF release and the hardest to find (I've actually seen/heard the rare singles, but I'd never seen a physical copy of this until I purchased it). It finds Matt Elliott and Deb Parsons severely deconstructing tracks by Amp, Crescent, Hood, and Flying Saucer Attack (all of whom had connections to 3EF). Each of these remixes was made especially for this album. While the idea might seem strange, Elliott and Parsons have completely made these tracks their own, justifying its release as a 3EF album. Amp's two tracks are remixes from SIRÈNES; namely, "Eternity" and "Matilda's Shorts Wave" are recreated as "Eternity (I and I and Eye and Eye and Eye Version)" and "Short Wave Dub". I have yet to hear the source tracks, but based on what I know of Amp I'm pretty sure the original "Eternity" didn't feature drastically sliced-up vocals laid over absolutely savage drum'n'bass beats. Not that I'm complaining; this is a jarring and wondrous track that is over far too soon. On the opposite end, "Short Wave Dub" truly sounds dubby, with its wordless vocal trills layered over odd drones and blips. It's a very nice relief after the opening onslaught. Crescent's "Superconstellation" is up next. For this mix, Matt isolated a vocal sample from the end of the original song and plays with it over a looped drum kit-and-bass segment. That simplistic tweaking ends up working wonders. While the original "Superconstellation" is a fine track, Third Eye Foundation's version is even MORE powerful and gloomy, and fully deserving of its thirteen-plus minutes. According to Matt, Deb did the honors on Hood's "Eyes". This is the most intimidating remix, with samples from Hood* obscured by terrifying bursts of noise and ominous clanking. When a vocal refrain that sounds like "Where my eyes guide/Insiiiiiide" breaks to the surface towards the end, the effect is quite stunning. This track wouldn't be out of place at all on a Foehn album proper! Finally, at nearly eighteen minutes, Flying Saucer Attack's "Way Out Like David Bowman" closes the album. Truth be told, calling this an FSA remix is a little misleading. "Way Out...." consists solely of sounds that Matt recorded for FSA when he was still working with them. Dave Pearce rejected a lot of the material, so for this album Matt drastically processed his sources into a maelstrom of sound. Singing bowls, eerie trumpets/horns, unidentifiable drones and whorls of sound..... David Bowman was the main character of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, and if you can imagine 2001 ending with him dying in a black hole, this would be the soundtrack. Why Pearce didn't want to use this material is beyond me, but thank goodness Matt ended up recycling it into a true masterpiece! Pearce wasn't amused and briefly threatened legal action, which probably explains why FSA is missing from the thanks list (Amp, Hood, and Crescent are all present; curiously, so is Deb!). The diverse styles of the mixes shouldn't work as a whole, but they do. I can't recommend this enough, but be aware it's going to take some looking to find an affordable copy. Elliott would release a similar album called I POO POO ON YOUR JUJU, remixing acts such as Tarwater and Yann Tiersen. While this IS enjoyable, it's much more representative of the later 3EF sound, whereas IN VERSION fits perfectly in between SEMTEX and GHOST. That being said, anything and everything with Matt Elliott's name on it is worth checking out. Happy hunting!
*I absolutely cannot figure out what song/songs were used here. When I asked him, Matt himself wasn't sure either!
Monday, August 30, 2010
Pogus, 1997; available
8 tracks, 73:54
The late Rune Lindblad (1923-1991) was a true pioneer, yet he's all but unknown to the majority of music fans and scholars. Actually, none of the pieces collected here were released in any form until 1988! This is a true shame, for this disc contains some incredible examples of mixed electronic music. By "mixed" I mean Lindblad used both pure electronic and concrete sources. True, contemporaries like Dockstader and (earlier) Stockhausen did the same thing; however, at the time most composers favored one technique or the other, and they tended to be outspoken against the other. Audiences and critics hated his music at the time, but now it stands as a truly astounding body of work. As the title makes clear, DEATH OF THE MOON covers 1953 to 1960. The sound quality can be murky at times, but better than expected given the age of the source material. The pieces are presented in chronological order, and they definitely do plot a progression in technique and resources. My absolute favorite of the bunch is the incredible "Evening (Op. 7)"* from 1956. It's truly difficult to describe, but suffice to say it has some startling no wave-esque guitar alongside Lindblad's unidentifiable concrete sounds. The lengthy "Optica 1 (Op. 16)", composed from 1959 to 1960, also deserves mention. Apparently using actual video tape (as sound source or recording medium, I'm not sure), this squelchy sequence of bursts and blips sounds oddly like much-later glitch! From a technical standpoint, "Party (Op. 1)" from 1953 is the most primitive track, sounding like little more than bits of conversation fading in and out of a bed of feedback; rest assured, it's still a great listen! Early industrial music is the best possible comparison, and considering the age and obscurity of these pieces, it's sadly not shocking that Lindblad wasn't hailed as a VERY early pioneer of that genre. Now that his catalog is more available, everyone with even a passing interest in early electronic music can experience true masterpieces of the genre. Pogus' companion volume OBJEKT 2 covers 1962 to 1988, while the Swedish lable Elektron put out a two-disc eponymous compilation collecting unreleased pieces from 1960 to 1980. Both of these are as highly recommended as DEATH OF THE MOON. While harder to find, the 1975 LP PREDESTINATION is also worth hearing, but be aware it favors electronics over concrete sounds.
*With rare exceptions, most Lindblad compositions end in "(Op. #)".
Saturday, August 28, 2010
Ultra Eczema, 2009; possibly available still, but this was limited edition vinyl, so expect to search
5 tracks, 35:59
Alright, folks, we're into strange territory here. Coomans is a long-time player in the Antwerp jazz scene. Not much had been released up until this compilation, but what was available showed Coomans as an adventurous sax player. This comp, however, shows that he had a secret career, making music that bears extremely little relation to jazz in his own basement. Take "Aerosol", for instance. You see that thing on the cover? That's an aerosol machine which Leo used to treat his asthma. It's also what he sings into on "Aerosol", and it's STUNNING. It starts off with the ambient buzzing of the machine, but as the track progresses, Coomans' mouth movements and singing alter the sound. Voice and buzz combine into what sounds for all the world like a biomechanical Tuvan singer. "Watermuziek" is the other A-side track, and this one is fairly out there too! For this extended piece, Coomans plays "tubes", saxophones (baritone and soprano), and his own voice..... into a bathtub full of water!!!! What's shocking about this track is how much it sounds like musique concrete or even glitch at times; actually, parts of it even sound like a muffled version of Jac Berrocal's "Bric-A-Brac". The B-side starts off with "Het Geraas En Het Gebral", another extended piece. This one really must be heard to be believed, but if you can imagine Riley's "Poppy Nogood" in lo-fi devolving into a free jazz maelstrom with vacuum cleaner accompaniment, you're close to the mark (and yes, there literally IS a vacuum cleaner in there). "Zonder Titel" is a brief harmonica-and-overtone piece, strangely pretty in its own way while completely covered in fuzz and distortion. Finally, Coomans treats us to his cover of "Louie Louie", which is perfomed on vacuum cleaner, alto sax, "tubes" again, and a "tape recorder with accessories" (and of course Coomans' voice as well). You've never heard a version of "Louie Louie" like THIS before, especially since it doesn't even vaguely resemble that standard until the track's almost over! Full of outsider creativity and jarring sounds, this compilation really should be more widely available, and hopefully it will be. Good luck finding this one, kids, but if you love avant-garde music as much as I do, you NEED it.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Japan Overseas, 1997 (see review for original release details); available
14 tracks, 70:06
Well, it's about time I got around to reviewing Smegma! This handy CD compiles their first two releases, GLAMOUR GIRL 1941 (1979, LAFMS) and PIGFACE CHANT (also 1979 but recorded in '74, Pigface Records) plus four bonus tracks. I'm not gong to type out everyone involved on these releases, but suffice to say Smegma has always had a fairly large and constantly fluctuating lineup and this is no different. PIGFACE CHANT takes up the last four tracks*. These are group vocal improvisations with very little (if any) musical accompaniment. Somewhat along the lines of certain tracks by Cromagnon, they're entertaining but VERY much an acquired taste. The lengthy "The End" (the bonus track) features improvised music along with the chanting, making it probably the most accessible PIGFACE track. The GLAMOUR GIRL material is mostly instrumental and covers a wide musical canvas. The opening "Difference" is fairly straight jazz improv, while lengthy closer "Half A Billion" is a fascinating organ-drenched song(!) that wouldn't sound out of place on a Can album. The brief "Die Wo-Wo" predicts Ju Suk Reet Meate's solo album (reviewed here previously), with its tape manipulations and surreal atmosphere, while "I Am Not Artist" has deranged vocals driving the title home to the accompaniment of another superb krauty jam. The other three tracks are no less intriguing, and they add up to a much more diverse experience than one would expect from a group like this. GLAMOUR GIRL's bonus tracks** are two pieces of plunderphonic/improv fusion (which, not surprisingly, use many of the same samples that Meate's solo album employed) and the epic live blurt "Flashback 79". Smegma are still making music and inspiring countless improvisational and noise bands***, but these two releases show that they were great from the start. Not just a tuneless noisefest, but nowhere near mainstream accessibility, this is the perfect introduction to one of the American avant-garde's true stalwarts. Even though this is a Japanese import, you can find it fairly easily and inexpensively. I heartily recommend that you do (even if most people won't be able to read the thick booklet, since it's entirely in Japanese).
*Well, technically, three tracks off the original single and a bonus track end the CD, but honestly, if Smegma felt the other two tracks were superfluous, I'm not going to argue.
**For the reocrd, tracks 1 through 7 are GLAMOUR GIRL 1941, and tracks 11 to 13 are PIGFACE CHANT. I'm sure you can figure out which ones are the bonus tracks! ;)
***Wolf Eyes in particular have both collaborated with Smegma members and named an album after one (BURNED MIND).
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
d'Avantage, 1977; reissued by Alga Marghen; available
Alga Marghen edition: 10 tracks, 61:14
Jacques (he wasn't Jac just yet!) Berrocal has been reviewed here before. This, his second album, is probably the single best-known thing he ever did. The reason for that is the avant classic "Rock'n'Roll Station", which Nurse With Wound later covered*. Here, it is scored for the powerful voice of Vince Taylor, Roger Ferlet's repetitive double bass, and Berrocal's bicycle improvisation(!). It's admittedly a great track, but it almost pales in comparison to the others. "Parallèles" itself is an improvisation by Berrocal and Ferlet, who trade off runs on valve trombone and regular trombone respectively for eight and a half minutes. Similarly, "Galimatias" is three minutes of Berrocal on solo cornet. It says a lot about Berrocal that these two tracks are endlessly fascinating despite their limited instrumentation. By contrast, "Post-card" has trombonist Berrocal and pocket trumpeter Ferlet accompanied by Michel Potage on guitar and voice. What's unusual is that this was recorded in a pigsty (yes, you can hear the pigs), and Potage recites the back of a random postcard. These four tracks made up the original A-side. "Bric-à-Brac" takes the honors of occupying the B-side, and it's a doozy for sure! In addition to Berrocal, Ferlet, and Potage (who play about fourteen instruments between the three of them), five other players are involved: cellist Philippe Pochan, double bassist Pierre Bastien, pianist Richard Marachin, and multi-instrumentalists Claude Bernard and Bernard Vitet**. True to its name, "Bric-à-Brac" is an epic noisy improvisation, never sitting in one place yet never really overdoing it either. It's subtitled "To Russolo", and that should tell you everything you need to know about how it sounds. Towards the end of the track, a version of "Rock'n'Roll Station" shows up. The album proper finishes on this delightfully unexpected note, but Alga Marghen has generously added five bonus tracks spanning '72 to '79. These range from the sound collage of "Villa Povera Naturale" to the electronic experimentations of "Cryptea IV" and "Lisylis Pavillion". The best, however, is "Occupé", a six minute gem from an unreleased Michel Potage LP featuring most of the players from "Bric-à-Brac". While this is a varied and unusual album, it's definitely a great representation of several sides of Berrocal. It's also my absolute favorite Berrocal album.
*Berrocal and Stapleton have worked together many times, going back to the second NWW album.
**Vitet, you may recall, was in the excellent Un Drame Musical Instantané.
***You may recall her from Jean Guérin's TACET; she also appears on Vitet's LA GUÊPE.
New Alliance, 1991; out of print
12 tracks, 40:14
This is one of those gems I find that wasn't truly released until years after it was recorded. Sproton Layer was a group of Ann Arbor teens (all between 15 and 17 when the project started in '68) deeply under the influence of Barrett-era Pink Floyd, free jazz, Beefheart, the Stooges, etc. Why should you care? Well, it just so happens that the brothers Miller comprised 3/4 of this group. Bassist/lead vocalist Roger went on to Mission Of Burma et al eight years later (after relocating to Boston), while drummer Larry and guitarist/vocalist Ben joined Destroy All Monsters for the seminal "Bored" single. The brothers had previously performed together as Freak Trio, which was apparently a mostly improvisational project. The remaining Sproton member was trumpeter Harold Kirchen, who brought an unusual yet completely wonderful touch to the band. As for the music itself, these guys put some "professional" groups to shame! Having performed live several times in the previous two years, Sproton Layer recorded this album in 1970. Simultaneously ahead of their time yet perfectly suited to it, Sproton Layer created songs that can be noisy and heavy or pretty and dreamy, often within the same short composition. Larry's unusual jazz-influenced drumming combines perfectly with Roger's chugging bass, while Ben has absolutely no problem either following along or going off on noisy tangents; he even delves into proto-noise rock and surf modes at times. Secret weapon Harold punctuates all the right moments with expert trumpeting, and while his presence is a little startling at first, after a few listens you notice just how much that damn trumpet adds. To their credit, there's also not a drop of filler on this album*. The lyrics can be pretty goofy in a psychedelic way (sample: "I know where there's a bush!/O-VER THERRRRRRRE!"), but given the heavy Barrett influence that's perfectly understandable. A Barrett-influenced Mission Of Burma is probably the best description I can give this, but it really should be judged on its own merits as a remarkable recording by a young band who never got their due. While this IS out of print, you should be able to get a good used copy for less than $5 (I did!). This was the last thing Sproton Layer ever did; New Alliance released a three-song single at the same time that shows off their improvisational side on a track or two, and this is also worth hearing. Once you hear Sproton Layer, you'll be glad ANYTHING by them survived to be issued at all! Music this good shouldn't go unheard; why is it out of print now?!?!?!?!?! It's probably worth noting that the Miller boys get together periodically as M3, so if you like this that should be your next stop.
*Sadly, though, none of the songs on WITH MAGNETIC FIELDS DISRUPTED shows off their improvisational side all that much, but oh well, that's what the single's for.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
Cobra, 1978; reissued by Spalax, Cuneiform, and Captain Trip; Cuneiform edition available
9 tracks, 52:56
First and foremost: Happy 100th entry to my humble lil' blog! Hooray and all that! Okay, on to the review.
Pinhas' group Heldon has already been reviewed here (and most of you probably knew about'em already!). This was Pinhas' second solo album to be released*. However, it was actually recorded in 1976 somewhere between Heldon's IV and V**; it just wasn't released until two years later. Truth be told, it's not really even a solo album per se. Side one had "Variations I-VII Sur Le Theme De Bene Gesserit" and "Duncan Idaho". These feature Pinhas and his Moog, truly solo. The "Variations" are exactly that, most being quite short (with the exception of "Variation VII") and all featuring the same basic set of sequences. Don't let that deter you, as they all form into a mesmerizing and literally trance-inducing mini-suite of minimalist analog bliss. "Duncan Idaho" is similar, but features its own unique set of sequenced eletronic sounds. It's also much longer than any of the individual "Variations" at just over six minutes. So far this sounds like a true solo effort, but then the massive side-long "Paul Atreides" comes along. This thirty-plus minute behemoth is essentially a Heldon track, with longtime Heldon drummer François Auger and sometime bassist Didier Batard joining Pinhas. Richard himself tackles guitar, Mellotron, and ARP synths. "Paul Atreides" opens with eerie drones and what could be classic sci-fi sound effects, slowly progressing for several minutes before Pinhas unleashes his soaring Frippian guitar and Auger starts to provide a suitably motorik-style beat, with Batard completing a solid rhythm section. After a stretch of true space rock, the song comes full circle back to the space drone of the beginning. It's a truly intimidating listen, and it just may be the single greatest track in Pinhas' entire catalog. The rest of the album is great, too, making this one of the most important and enjoyable Pinhas-related releases. Oh, and if the track names seem familiar, Pinhas got them all from Frank Herbert's DUNE; he also "dedicated (this album) to all S(ci).F(i). freaks", for what that's worth!
*His first, RHIZOSPHERE, has its moments but is mostly inferior to CHRONOLYSE in my opinion.
**Yes, the titles are much longer, but for the sake of space and time I'm referring to them by number only.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Mute, 1980; available
19 tracks, 38:40
Wow, this certainly took me long enough! DAF's debut album, PRODUKT DER..., was the very first album to be reviewed here. Now, almost 100 entries (the next review gets THAT honor) and three years into it, I'm finally getting around to their sophomore release! Kurt Dahlke and bassist Michael Kemner had departed (Dahlke for Der Plan and the solo project Pyrolator), while singer Gabi Delgado-Lopez was back in. Along with drummer Robert Görl and guitarist Wolfgang Spelmanns, the lineup featured synth whiz Chrislo Haas, who was on Der Plan's debut single and later co-founded Liaisons Dangereuses. Legendary producer Conny Plank was behind the controls for this release, which is ironic since he produced many krautrock classics; the slight krautrock elements of PRODUKT had completely dissipated by this point. The seven songss on the A-side were produced in the studio, while the B-side featured a brief studio piece and eleven tracks from an absolutely unhinged live show. The latter was supposedly recorded by accident; the technician wanted to record Wire, who DAF was opening for. What a fortunate mistake! These chaotic bursts of noisy synthpunk are an absolute treat. Delgado-Lopez is at his most aggressive, very rarely singing in the deep voice he became known for. Most of the time he's screaming, howling, or blasting out the words at a rapid pace. The band is at the top of its game, with Görl providing furious punk drumming while Spelmanns and Haas create a frenzied mass of guitar noise and early synth squelching. For variety, the title track is a brief synth solo by Görl, while the closing "Y La Gracia" is performed by Haas and Delgado-Lopez alone. These two tracks, along with the brief and goofy "Volkstanz", provide some relief from the onslaught of the remaining live gems. A particular B-side standout is "Die Lustigen Stiefel", which has Delgado-Lopez singing about how "the funny little boots are marching over Poland" to the tune of "nanny-nanny-boo-boo" while the others provide a NY No Wave-style herky-jerky groove. The studio track, "Gewalt", is a nice bit of noise that's far too brief; a track of the same name appeared as the B-side to "Kebabträume", but they're different songs. The A-side of DIE KLEINEN is rather good as well; "Essen Denn Schlafen", "Co Co Pino", and "Nacht Arbeit" are early synthpunk bliss, and the lengthy atmospheric "Osten Währt Am Längsten" is both a great introduction and a nice bit of calm on what is otherwise one hell of a ride. After this, DAF would release two more punky singles (both with EXCELLENT B-sides as well!) before Spelmanns and Haas departed. Görl and Delgado-Lopez continued as a duo, releasing a couple albums of decent early EBM. They've reunited and had side projects and whatnot many times since, but PRODUKT and DIE KLEINEN are their most experimental and daring works. As a nifty bonus, the lyrics are provided in German, Spanish, and English!
Friday, May 14, 2010
Folkways, 1961; reissued by Locust; available
8 untitled tracks (of course!), 36:45
With this album, Tod Dockstader's unique brand of electronics was introduced to the world. Using both purely electronic and concrete sources, Dockstader brought his expertise at editing (picked up while working for cartoon companies!) to his music. It's impossible to tell what sounds are what. Different elements weave in and out, always giving way to fresh noises. It's not as random as this sounds; these are definitely electronic PIECES with a set structure and detectable progression. "Organized Sound" (the title of a later Dockstader LP) sums it up nicely. The lengthy seventh and eighth pieces are definite highlights, but there's not a single wasted moment on this whole collection. Even the monophonic recording doesn't blunt the impact of this disc! Folkways sure was bold to release this, but kudos to them. Dockstader would make more records, retiring for a long time after the stressful sessions for OMNIPHONY 1 (a story to be told in later reviews*). He's recently been active again and creative as ever. This is a pretty brief review, but know this: If you like early electronic music and you're unfamiliar with Dockstader, GET THIS NOW! For that matter, anything by Dockstader is guaranteed to please, so pick it up on sight.
*I have yet to acquire OMNIPHONY 1 or the compilations QUATERMASS and APOCALYPSE, but once I do they'll receive reviews as well.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
Island, 1969; available
7 tracks, 36:22
What do you get when you combine an expat American double bassist (with an interest in electronics) and two audio wizards from the BBC? Answer: This gem of an album! While future White Noise albums were mostly David Vorhaus (the expat) alone, this album also featured the legendary Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson. Derbyshire is most famous for her electronic DOCTOR WHO theme, while Hodgson created the enduring sound effects associated with the Daleks and the TARDIS. Those sci-fi credentials give you a hint of what this album is about, but nothing more. Painstakingly assembled the old-fashioned way from tape snippets, this is a masterpiece of pop concrete. For the first five tracks (the A-side, or "Phase-In" as they put it), the group delivers grade-A psychedelic pop. Maybe "pop" isn't quite right; there's no way they could have expected the cheeky "My Game Of Loving" to get any airplay with its combination of densely arranged blips and bleeps, Beach Boy-esque vocals, and apparently authentic orgy sounds! That lapse of taste aside*, the other tracks are just catchy enough to be better known while being just too bizarre for the mainstream. The vocals (courtesy John Whitman, Annie Bird, and Val Shaw) aren't always great, but they serve their purpose well enough. "Love Without Sound" predicts future trends like illbient and trip-hop with its slow smoky atmosphere and rolling drum track, while "Here Come The Fleas" is a short novelty track that thankfully stops just before it gets irritating (even if it does have a nifty distorted guitar in the mix). Side two ("Phase-Out"), on the other hand, is another story! The obvious highlight is the eleven-plus minute "The Visitation", a goofy-but-eerie epic with plenty of creepy whirring noises and a gloomy plot involving a deceased biker trying to talk to his grieving girlfriend.... and failing. It's somewhat like listening to an EC comic story as performed by Kraftwerk! It just so happened that this track took a while to make, and Island started to get impatient. After a year, the label demanded the finished album; under threat of a lawsuit, the band produced the final track in one night, with assistance from jazz drummer Paul Lytton (you might remember that name from my review of Area's EVENT '76). The resulting jam was called "Black Mass: An Electric Storm In Hell", a fitting title if there ever was one! It begins with ominous (though hokey) group chanting, leading right into Lytton's furious and free drumming. Lytton is accompanied by a droning tape loop, punctuated with random screams and bursts of noise. "Black Mass" is VERY out of place, but surprisingly it's one of the highlights and a worthy conclusion. The whole collection is an early electronic masterpiece that still sounds remarkably fresh. Derbyshire and Hodgson left White Noise after AN ELECTRIC STORM, while Vorhaus sporadically revives the name. Subeqent White Noise albums have their moments, but AN ELECTRIC STORM will always be the crowning achievement under that name. All other works by Derbyshire** and Hodgson are absolutely recommended, but unfortunately their works aren't easy to find outside of DOCTOR WHO-related compilations.
*While I'm not a prude by any stretch, this is one of THE goofiest attempts at sexiness I have ever heard. No kidding!
**The extremely rare ELECTRO-SONIC is one of Derbyshire's best works; if you can find it, it makes a great companion to AN ELECTRIC STORM.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Thermidor, 1982; reissued by Mute; available
14 tracks, 43:18
While I'm not the first to review it (see http://thetintinnabularium.blogspot.com/2009/02/spk-leichenschrei-1984.html , for example), I feel the need to assure everyone that this is indeed one of the finest early industrial releases.
Australia's SPK* were one of the first industrial bands. For this nightmare of an LP, SPK were Oblivion (a.k.a. main instigator Graeme Revell; various instruments), NE/H/IL (Neil Hill; electronics), and (James) Pinker (percussion). LEICHENSCHREI was their second LP, following some intense singles** and the primitive INFORMATION OVERLOAD UNIT album. Members allegedly worked in the mental health field, a theme that carries over to the music. A heavily percussive mass of sound is the result, with disturbing soundbites and samples weaving in and out of the mix. It's all very structured and rhythmic compared to most contemporaries, but that's the ONLY concession to accessibility. This is every bit as disturbing and grotesque as Throbbing Gristle, with the prominent rhythms doing little to blunt the impact of the other sounds and noises. Well, pehaps it's not COMPLETELY devastating; things calm down slghtly towards the end of the album. Highlights are hard to pick out, and the initial LP release was divided into two sides with no distinct tracks (one side ended in a lock groove). With that in mind, while it's harrowing, this is best experienced from start to finish. Be warned it's still every bit as paranoia-inducing as it ever was, and definitely be sure you're in the right frame of mind before playing this. I'd hate to see what could happen otherwise.
It's worth mentioning SPK's DESPAIR video here. This is essentially concert footage mixed with some truly nightmarish imagery. The parts with Revell tearing chunks off a skinned horse's head and chewing them onstage is one of the less disturbing images on DESPAIR, and while it's not grosser than many FACES OF DEATH-type collections, the atmosphere is absolutely nerve wracking and I've never been able to stomach the whole thing. If you think you can handle it, watch it, but be absolutely sure you know what you're getting into.
Revell would continue SPK with a revolving cast (plus his wife Sinan), eventually lapsing into fairly unexciting synthpop*** before disbanding. He currently does soundtrack works for major motion pictures, which isn't as surprising as it might seem. Hill took his own life two years later. Pinker appeared with a few other bands (most notably Dead Can Dance) and is apparently still active in music.
*For what it's worth, SPK stood for Sozialistisches Patienten Kollektiv for this album; the "Socialistiches" on the reissue is a misspelling. On other releases it's spelled out as Surgical Penis Klinik, SoliPsiK, SePpuKu, and System Planning Korporation.
**The compilation AUTO DA FE collects most of these tracks (including the particularly vicious "Slogun") along with some of the better synthpop-era tunes.
***With the exception of the excellent ZAMIA LEHMANNI: SONGS OF BYZANTINE FLOWERS, which shows Revell and company succeeding at ambient music.
Monday, May 3, 2010
Virgin, 1973; available, and the 2007 remaster comes with a bonus disc (see review)
Disc 1 (or the album itself): 7 tracks, 44:19. Disc 2: 9 tracks, 57:04.
Faust surely need no introduction here, so let's get to the facts! For this reissue, Virgin have put FAUST IV proper on the first disc while loading the second with outtakes, alternate versions, and a Peel session. FAUST IV never really got the same degree of admiration that FAUST, SO FAR, and THE FAUST TAPES received; hopefully this set will change that! Containing such grade-A pieces as the noisy epic "Krautrock" and the moody VU-esque "Jennifer", this isn't Faust selling out or going for mainstream acceptance, no matter what reviews at the time claimed. Certainly "It's A Bit Of Pain" (which is a perfectly sweet folky tune interrupted by loud atonal synth buzzing), the folky "Läuft... Heisst Das Es Läuft Oder Es Kommt Bald... Läuft", and the bizarre proto-new wave/ska hybrid "The Sad Skinhead" are more listenable than anything off the first album or THE FAUST TAPES, but that's overlooking the fairly accessible SO FAR. In fact, not a single one of these seven tracks is unremarkable, and any of them COULD have been on an earlier album. That alone makes FAUST IV worth revisting, but the bonus disc REALLY seals the deal. The first three tracks are a Peel session from 1973, featuring a version of "Krautrock" along with the jazzy "The Lurcher" and a delightful piece of avant-pop called "Do So". While this IS available elsewhere, it's nice to have it with other period rarities. Those rarities include a previously unreleased "Piano Piece" which by itself would have made a truly lovely bonus with its swirling percussions and abstract vocal touches (plus the gorgeous piano, of course!). The rest of the disc consists of alternate versions, some of which are radically different from the released versions. For example, the extended version of "Just A Second (Starts Like That!)" stretches the two-minute original to ten and a half minutes of burning psychedelia. The other really notable alternate is "Jennifer:, with emphasis on the guitar instead of the bass and the ending trimmed. It's arguably better than the version that ended up on FAUST IV. If you already have the first three and weren't sure about this one, trust me, it's every bit as essential. If you're new to Faust, this might even be a good place to start. Oh, and once again: DEFINITELY go for the double-disc edition and not the single-disc!
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Cobra, 1978; reissued by Spalax and Cuneiform; available
CD: 8 tracks, 51:28
It was only a matter of time before Heldon got reviewed here. Essentially the brainchild of guitar/synth wizard Richard Pinhas, Heldon was one of many French acts that were oddly similar to krautrock. Named after a town in Paul Spinrad's THE IRON DREAM, the project is definitely Fripp worship of the highest quality; in other words, the influence is there, but Pinhas remains VERY distinctive in his approach. INTERFACE is Heldon's sixth album (in three years of existence!), and it was recorded with a core trio of Pinhas, long-term drummer/multi-instrumentalist François Auger, and keyboardist Patrick Gauthier. This is usually considered Heldon's strongest configuration, and with good reason. Long-term bassist Didier Batard shows up on a track as well. Song-wise, this finds Heldon at the peak of their creativity. The three short, almost disco-esque "Soucoupes Volantes" tracks on the original A-side are still astonishing electronic pieces that haven't aged one jot. The two longer A-side pieces, "Jet Girl" and "Bal-A-Fou", are equally impressive. The two-part "Jet Girl" sounds particularly grand, slowing down and changing slightly about halfway through while maintaining an evil pulse midway between motorik and space rock. The original B-side was occupied by the nineteen-minute title track, and what a track! Starting with minimal drum and synth atmospheres, Pinhas' piercing guitar eventually swoops in for the kill. Not a minute is wasted, even if the final bluesy notes are a little out of place. For the Cuneiform CD, two extracts of a live performance of "Interface" are sandwiched between the original sides. These snippets isolate particularly ferocious live takes on the piece, and they don't disrupt the flow whatsoever. While most Pinhas and Heldon releases are worthwhile, INTERFACE is a personal favorite and an excellent entry point.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Father Yod/Ecstatic Peace!, 1994; reissued by Compound Annex; available but limited
Three discs, each with its own title. Disc 1 ("Gospel Crusade"): 25 tracks, 71:19; disc 2 ("Crying In Bed"): 27 tracks, 69:11; disc 3 ("To The Throne Of Chaos Where The Thin Flutes Pipe Mindlessly"): 24 tracks, 66:54
When mentioned at all, Destroy All Monsters are generally considered a post-Stooges Ron Asheton project. With all respect due to the late Mr. Asheton, DAM were actually past their innovative prime by the time he joined! The original quartet of Mike Kelley, Cary Loren, Niagara, and Jim Shaw assembled in winter of '74 with the intent of deconstructing rock music. Inspired in equal parts by European experimentation, proto-punk a la Stooges and MC5, and the outer realms of jazz, they created a truly unique sound that can't readily be assigned to a specific era. That being said, ths box does indeed cover the years 1974 to 1976; there's no indication as to whether the material is presented chronologically, but that's okay. Sure, there's a few fairly straightforward proto-punkers featuring Niagara's sultry vocals like "Vampire", "T.H. Queen" and "You Can't Kill Kill"; also, the apparently live version of "Shakin' All Over" is surprisingly faithful to the original. Don't be fooled, though; these concessions to accessibility are few and far between. The majority of these tracks are pure experiments in sound, whether it's the nightmarish tape manipulations of "Mom's and Dad's Pussy" or the self-explanatory "Drone" and "Crunch Drone". There's also room for dubby sound explorations and primitive drum machine exercises, along with nearly every other experimental style you can think of. It's almost impossible to pick standouts, since there is a LOT of material to pick through and even the lesser tracks are impressive with enough repeat listens. Keeping in mind that this predated punk and industrial as genres (to say nothing of later developments such as no wave), this is incredibly ahead of its time, and it's even more amazing to think none of this got released until 1994! About the only comparable contemporaries were Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle; there are definite similarities, but honestly all three were highly original outfits that started around the same time and were unaware of the others until later. In DAM's case, hardly anyone outside of the group itself was aware of their innovations until years later. Needless to say this comes highly recommended. While the reissue isn't as fancy as the original box, the music is all intact and it IS available again, and shouldn't that matter the most? Around '76 most of the members left except for Niagara, who continued Destroy All Monsters with new members (most notably Asheton and ex-MC5 bassist Michael Davis). This period of DAM is enjoyable, but don't expect it to sound a jot like the box. The original lineup has basically reformed and tours/records semi-regularly in their original proto-noise style.
Read the liner notes for this set (written by Mike Kelley himself) here: http://www.mikekelley.com/DAMthrone.html . http://www.mikekelley.com/compound.html has 74 76 for sale along with other DAM/Kelley-related products.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
Vanguard, 1967; available
8 track, 44:46
The late John Fahey has always been one of my favorite musical enigmas. Mostly kown for redefining folk (and hating hippies and New Age!), he had a surprisingly adventurous side. REQUIA (subtitled AND OTHER COMPOSITIONS FOR GUITAR SOLO, which isn't entirely accurate) is one of his best early forays into experimental turf. The A-side is typical Fahey: raga/blues/folk fusion guitar excursions played with flair and that distinct Fahey touch. The long "Requiem For Rusell Blaine Cooper" and "When The Catfish Is In Bloom" are particularly delightful, and "Requiem For John Hurt" is pretty good too! The B-side is where it gets weird. The four-part "Requiem For Molly" dominates this side, and it calls Fahey's distaste for psychedelia into question. This epic finds Fahey accompanied by "special effects", IE, musique concrete! Bits and pieces of old blues records, lions roaring, seals barking, public speeches, and other found sounds float under Fahey's irresistible guitar. Oddly enough, the melody for "Part Three" is actually "California Dreaming"! The Mamas and the Papas aren't credited, but there's no mistaking it; in the end that's okay since it actually adds to the collage effect. The effects never really match up with the playing, and Fahey would complain later that he was drunk at the session and the tapes weren't properly cued. However, Fahey was also his own harshest critic, and the piece still sounds remarkable today despite its flaws. The album closes with the brief yet delightful "Fight On Christians, Fight On", leaving the listener wanting more. Luckily, there is a lot more! GUITAR VOL. 4, THE YELLOW PRINCESS, and THE LEGEND OF BLIND JOE DEATH are especially good early works that mix brave experimentation and gorgeous acoustic playing, while the late-period CITY OF REFUGE, THE MILL-POND, and WOMBLIFE would appeal to far more adventurous listeners with their severely dark and abstract nature (the former has particularly aggressive notes by Fahey; I repeat, he REALLY didn't like hippies!). The one-off collaboration with Cul De Sac, THE EPIPHAY OF GLENN JONES, is also quite listenable and interesting. There really isn't a bad Fahey album, but REQUIA is definitely a nice cross section of the man's many sides and is probably the best introduction to his marvelous catalog.
Monday, March 1, 2010
Originally self-released with no label name, 1979; reissued by Dexter's Cigar; available but act quick
4 tracks, 11:35
Index, 1983; reissued by Blue Chopsticks; available
6 tracks, 35:57
These two releases were recorded within two years of each other by the exact same lineup; both were also reissued on sublabels of Drag City owned by David Grubbs. That's where the similarities end. Circle X (originally, the symbol on the EP WAS their name) have a fairly complicated history. They originated in Louisville, moved to New York, moved again to Dijon, and then relocated back to New York! Loosely associated with no wave, they really were always in a universe of their own. For these two early releases, Circle X was David Letendre, Rik Letendre, Tony Pinotti, and Bruce Witsiepe.
The debut EP originally was completely unnamed except for the cover symbol. It was recorded in Dijon while the band members were living there. The Letendre brothers are credited with guitar and "drum", while Pinotti does vocals and Witsiepe plays guitar. You hardly notice the lack of bass at first; the guitars are gnarled and nasty, and one guitarist tends to play twisted noise rock riffs while the other provides either storms of distortion or feedback drones. The drumming is fairly varied, with each song having a different style. Pinotti brings a different vocal idea to each song as well. The original A-side consisted of the almost-straightforward "Tender" and the hardcore-with-an-arty-twist "Albeit Living". The former sounds uncannily like the FAR later Laughing Hyenas with its sludgy groove and hoarse screaming/shouting, while the latter begins with multiple voices speaking the lyrics before launching into a ferocious little rocker. The other side was even further out there: "Onward, Christian Soldiers" predicts the kind of slow and heavy noise rock that Swans et al would soon explore, and "Underworld" features a bagpipe-esque drone, Pinotti's alternately spoken and shouted vocals, and a wonderfully processed guitar that sounds like a malfunctioning amplifier playing itself. It's all at least a few years ahead of its time, and it's also the most no wave thing they ever did. An auspicious debut, to be sure, and very much worthwhile.
Two years later, the band was back in New York. The lineup was intact, but the sound sure wasn't! The newly rechristened Circle X Internationale had gone from noise rock to industrial. They expanded to using tapes, further percussion, and even a bass on the opening "Current". The sound is much spacier and loop-based than aggressive; the guitars weave in and out of the mix, with atmospheric percussion providing most of what little structure there is. Actually, the production is very close to the spectral qualities of dub, with heavy usage of reverb and delay. Pinotti has also changed his vocal style, mostly going for a much more pained and haunting tone midway between a sigh and a moan. With these musical surroundings, his voice is a perfect fit. While all six songs are amazing, the definite standout is a remake of "Underworld". Retaining the basic structure of the original while more than doubling its length, this version features Pinotti's vocals getting basically the same treatment as the guitar on the original to great effect, and guest Jason Huang's eerie organ helps to make it much more atmospheric and incredible than the already impressive first version. The spooky bass-driven "Current" and oddly catchy "Prehistory Part II" are particularly great as well, but this is definitely a completely solid album. Curiously, this wasn't released until '83, two years after it was recorded; maybe no label was ready for it yet. If you can only get one Circle X release, this should be it.
Both of these are available at Drag City's webstore, http://www.dragcity.com/store . Please be advised that most Dexter's Cigar titles are long out of print, and the Circle X EP may follow suit soon. PREHISTORY should be easily acquired. Either way, these are ten EXCELLENT songs without a drop of filler, so maybe just grab both and sleep easier!
Circle X took an extended hiatus until the early '90s, when they reformed minus David Letendre. They proceeded to make music with a revolving cast of drummers until 1995, when Bruce Witsiepe passed away. The out-of-print CELESTIAL from '94 is pretty interesting. Even better are the 10" on Fractal and the "33/Puerto Rican Ghost" single. The former features a live show from '79, a previously unreleased outtake from the same year, and two unreleased '94 tunes, while the latter single has them tackling a Mars medley.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Frammis, 1977; reissued by Cuneiform; available
9 tracks, 34:44
Steve Tibbetts is an acquired taste. Some of his work is incredible, while some is decent but unremarkable. This, his debut effort, falls squarely into the former category. Made when he was still a teenager (and originally released on his own label), this is a seamless piece of space rock bliss. Tibbetts claims he graduated while making this and had to sneak back onto his former campus to finish it (they had a Moog and a studio, after all!). The majority of the tracks are Tibbetts alone, but Tim Weinhold adds percussion on a few. Tibbetts is credited with "instruments", tape effects, vocals (VERY sparingly used), and engineering. While there are distinct songs, they seamlessly blend into each other to make two loose suites. Some tracks, like the folky "Sunrise" and "Interlude", focus on Tibbett's acoustic guitar with slight electronic coloration. On the opposite end, tracks like the trippy "Alvin Goes To Tibet" and "Gong" are entirely electronic, and fine examples of the genre at that! "Desert" and "How Do You Like My Buddha?" combine synths, tape effects and guitars in nearly equal measures to stunning effect. This is the place to start with Tibbetts; all of his albums have something to offer, but he was never quite this consistently incredible again. Who says a debut has to be rough? Kudos as always to Cuneiform for their continued dedication to keeping amazing obscurities like this in print!
Friday, February 19, 2010
Hyrax, 1980; reissued by Atavistic; available
14 tracks, 32:10
This would be the infamous "no wave operetta". I'm not sure who to credit this to; most sources list it as either Mars and DNA, Mars alone, or Sumner Crane. Some even list the band name itself as John Gavanti! Anyways, this bizarre concept album features a whole slew of New York no wave's finest. Sumner Crane of Mars does most of the singing; he also wrote the (included) libretto and contributes 3-string guitar(!), piano, and percussion. Also from Mars are Don Burg (see the Mars review for her other stage names; bass clarinet, abstract vocals) and Mark Cunningham (horns). Ikue Mori from DNA contributes strings and, on two tracks, percussion; on one of these tracks, DNA's Arto Lindsay and his brother Duncan also contribute percussion. The music itself is in a universe all its own. For the most part the tracks don't rely on guitar noise for their distinctive atmosphere, focusing instead on the assorted horns, bass clarinet, and string sounds. This actually is one of the closest things to free jazz in the no wave archives, since most of the arrangements are improvised around Crane's demented vocal performance, but it also veers towards avant-garde theatre. About Crane: His vocals are absolutely jarring on first listen, but they do grow on you. His style is best explained as a cartoonish monster/fake ethnic hybrid, coming somewhere close to a slightly more intelligible Joseph Spence. Given that the surprisingly coherent plot is a deranged remake of the classic opera DON GIOVANNI, his vocals are a perfect fit. However, I don't recall Don Juan seducing lionesses and grandmothers "in the beautiful autumn of life", but hey, artistic license. You really have to love an operetta with the classic lines "Oh Ancient Ocean!/You are nothing!/Vast you may be!/Next to me what are you?/I am beautiful pink and you are stinky green!" Did I mention the first thing John does, upon waking up in his volcano, is drink a glass of lava? Yep, you read that correctly. From that point on, Gavanti brags, boasts, travels the world, seduces literally EVERY female that catches his attention, is reunited with his long-lost assistant John Yellow, has his arm torn off by a white statue (but he has a spare at home, so it's alright!), and finally rides off into the sunset with the grandmother. Naturally, it's not quite as simple as that, but that's the general plot anyway. Burg contributes surprisingly tender lead vocals to "Mirror Mirror", and the track with the Lindsay brothers is a fairly straightforward samba piece, but the rest is pure avant-garde heaven for any experimental rock fan. It's worth noting that ths was recorded at Sear Sound studios, an all-vacuum-tube-equipment studio (most famous for being where Sonic Youth later recorded SISTER). You should definitely get the Mars and DNA retrospectives first before diving into this, but it certainly belongs in any good no wave/experimental collection.
Please visit the following link for Mark Cunningham's insight on the album, as well as some tidbits about the fan video (!): http://www.convolution7.ws/mark/bands/john.htm
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Pôle, 1975; out of print
3 tracks, 37:16
It's been a while since I reviewed something from Pôle Records! Fluence is essentially Pascal Comelade, assisted by different folks on different tracks. Side one consists mostly of the wonderfully titled "A Few Reasons To Stay - A Few Reasons To Split". Featuring a guest appearence from none other than Heldon's Richard Pinhas, this starts with a melodic and soft synth pattern that is soon accompanied by Fripp-esque guitar and what may be a treated guitar loop or a droning organ. It's a classic example of French-style '70s electronic rock, easily ranking with the best of Heldon, Ilitch, and Pôle's other artists. Finishing side one is "Barcelona Tango", featuring Ben Soussan and Ph. Besseme (unfortunately, only Pinhas is credited with any specific instrument; even Comelade's contributions are left unspecified). This is a short jazzy number, certainly enjoyable enough but very much out of place. "Schizo" occupies all of the second side, and it's every bit as cosmic as "A Few Reasons...". Comelade is assisted here by G. Ibanez and J.P. Barreda. Starting off with an electronic drone and several inventive synth vamps, it drifts along blissfully, soon accompanied by some truly soaring guitar. About midway, it gets a bit more chaotic, with the synth and guitar sounds battling it out over the drone to the very end. This too is a great song, and the obscurity of this release is a true shame. As with most things Pôle, a reissue is long overdue. Comelade continued to make interesting music and is still quite active today. His other work is very much worth checking out, but most of it is fairly hard to find. There IS a compilation called BACK TO SCHIZO (1975-1983) which has a five-minute excerpt from FLUENCE, but it's hard to recommend due to its haphazard edits and poor sound.
Zapple, 1969; reissued by Ryko with bonus tracks; available
Ryko: 7 tracks, 61:32
Apple, 1970; reissued by Ryko with bonus tracks; available
Ryko: 9 tracks, 65:36
I'm pretty sure you know who Yoko Ono is if you're here, so let's go straight to the reviews!
First up is the second of her three experimental albums with John Lennon. Coming at a time when Ono was a pariah, LIFE WITH THE LIONS didn't help her public image one bit. This album has the honor of being one of the most genuinely unlistenable albums I own, while also being one of the most conceptually interesting. "Cambridge 1969" is a bold opener: twenty-six and a half minutes of Ono freely vocalising over feedback, with slight sax and percussion by Johns Tchicai and Stevens towards the end. It also occupied all of side one. Side two is no more accessible. The sweet acoustic "No Bed For Beatle John" is up next to the self-explanatory "Baby's Heartbeat" and "Two Minutes Silence"; all were recorded in the hospital during Ono's troubled pregnancy. It's rather touching and sad to know that the baby didn't make it, which gives both the heartbeat and the silence that much more impact. The LP proper ends with "Radio Play", which is Lennon and Ono conversing while changing radio stations, even flipping around with "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" at one point. Bonus tracks "Song For John" and "Mulberry" are returns to the sweetness of "No Bed For Beatle John". It's not something you put on every day, but as a work of art, this album merits investigation.
PLASTIC ONO BAND (not to be confused with Lennon's identically named album) is much more enjoyable overall. Five of the tracks feature a lineup of Lennon, bassist Klaus Voormann, and Ringo Starr; the other, "AOS", is a rehearsal recording from '68 featuring Ornette Coleman's quartet. "AOS" is the most out-there track here, with Coleman's trumpet coaxing Ono into a frenzy. Bassists Charlie Haden and David Izenzon team up with drummer Eddie Blackwell to maintain the wild feeling. The rest of the tracks are very ahead of their time, predicting all manner of post-punk mutations down the line. Starr and Lennon sound like they're having the time of their lives NOT sounding a jot like the Beatles! Lennon skronks and skrees to his heart's content while still finding time for trancier modes of expression, while Starr surprises with consistently innovative drumming, be it fast-paced rock pounding or motorik-esque pulsing. "Greenfield Morning I Pushed An Empty Baby Carriage All Over The City" and "Paper Shoes" both feature Ono's use of processed vocals over nearly krautrock soundscapes, while "Touch Me" and "Why" rival ANY '90s noise rock act for ferocity. The long "Why Not" is about equally divided between these extremes. Ryko put three bonus tracks on here. "Open Your Box" is a funky little number, originally intended for a single. "Something More Abstract" is a short snippet, and "The South Wind" finds Lennon and Ono improvising with acoustic guitar and vocals. This is the truly essential Ono purchase.
Check back for a review of UNFINISHED MUSIC NO. 1: TWO VIRGINS soon. This little gem is a collage piece that, while savaged at the time, is the better of the two UNFINISHED MUSIC albums. There's also THE WEDDING ALBUM, which didn't impress me very much, and the wild live albums LIVE PEACE IN TORONTO 1969 and SOME TIME IN NEW YORK CITY*. Anything else credited to Ono and Lennon (though not necessarily to Ono solo) is FAR more mainstream. Ono's massive FLY deserves special attention as well.
*This double LP features a side of Lennon/Ono/Mothers of Invention jams!
Pass, 1980; reissued at least twice, most recently by Pass; available
10 tracks, 40:40
Friction was formed circa 1978 as a sort of Japanese answer to no wave. Bassist/singer/occasional guitarist Reck was in an early Teenage Jesus & the Jerks lineup and drummer/saxophonist Chiko Hige performed with the Contortions, so they definitely knew what they were doing! On their debut LP (which means "friction" in Japanese) Reck and Hige are joined by guitarist Tsunematsu Masatoshi. Sounding closer to Theoretical Girls or the Contortions, this is the more accessible side of no wave. That being said, this is a great listen and a unique take on the no wave aesthetic, with hints of Captain Beefheart and European post-punk. Every song offers something unique so the album never gets boring. It's also neat how the drumming sounds influenced by the motorik beat; Friction can lock into a groove and not let go, while at the same time adding plenty of skronk. The vocals are a mix of Japanese and English. Standouts include the manic "Cycle Dance" (with excellent drumming and sax; Hige must have double-tracked), noir-ish instrumental "No Thrill", and the epic (almost seven minutes!) closer "Out", which sounds like a collision between Soft Machine circa THIRD and Sonic Youth's first EP. The sound is perfect, thanks to producer Ryuichi Sakamoto(!). Good luck finding this, but snag it on sight! Friction is still going strong, with Reck and Hige stil on board. All of their material is consistently good, but the early material is best. A few equally intriguing live shows from '78 and '79 are out there, featuring rawer versions of ATSUREKI's tracks.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
CBS, 1973; reissued by Cuneiform; available
Cuneiform CD: 7 tracks, 48:04
The late (and greatly missed) Hugh Hopper's first solo release, 1984 is in many ways one of his boldest and most fascinating works. This was a period when Soft Machine was devolving into basic jazz-rock; Robert Wyatt had already departed, and Hopper would depart himself the same year 1984 was released. According to Hopper's liner notes, CBS was enthusiastic about his solo album until they heard the music, forcing Hugh to take out a bank loan to produce it. Then again, a loose instrumental concept album about the Orwell novel does seem like a strange commercial prospect. Truth be told, calling it a solo album is slightly misleading; on most tracks Hopper is accompanied by a truly great choice of players, ranging from Pye Hastings and Gary Windo to Lol Coxhill and John Marshall. All of the tracks take their names from the ministries in the novel. The four shorter pieces are fairly accessible, with "Minipax I" being the most traditional-sounding thing on here. "Minipax II" has backwards and sped-up trombones in the mix, along with Hopper playing comb and paper, while both "Minitrue" and "Minitrue Reprise" are atmospheric miniatures. The two long tracks are probably what made the label nervous. "Miniluv" finds Hopper truly solo for nearly fifteen minutes. Obviously influenced by Terry Riley (he admits it in the liners), this is a moody loop-based piece for bass, percussion, and mellophone. Constantly shifting and twisting over its length, this is a natural progression from Hopper's experimental Soft Machine contributions. Good luck figuring out what instrument is making which sound! "Miniplenty" is just over seventeen minutes long, and it finds Hopper and Marshall exploring similar experimental terrain. This time, Hopper's heavily modified voice and what sounds like bells accompany his bass playing, which truly sounds not a jot like a bass for the majority of both extended tracks. They're excellent examples of dark ambient, and while they contrast with the shorter pieces for the most part, this is a delightfully different experience taken as a whole. The domestic CD reissue has "Miniluv Reprise" as a bonus, which is a shorter and more rock-oriented version of said track featuring an extended lineup. The Japanese CD features further bonus demo material, which I haven't heard.
Friday, January 29, 2010
(Also referred to as SOLO 1978/79 and SOLO 1978-1979, but it says SOLO 78/79 on the digipak so I'm going with that. The liner notes provide "aka do unseen hands make you dumb?", which may very well be a real alternate title.)
Pigface, 1980; reissued with bonus tracks by De Stijl; available
CD: 4 tracks, 44:57
Most readers of this blog are probably familiar with Smegma (and if you're not, fix that quick!). For his solo outing, long-time member Ju Suk Reet Meate (pronounced "you secrete meat" just for the record) filled two vinyl sides with an intriguing mix of spare noise rock and Reichian tape manipulation. The sides each have a bunch of tracks, but they ebb and flow into each other and are mastered by side on the CD. Side one, subtitled "1978", features a nice contrabass solo and some nifty looped guitars in addition to the rather restrained (and thus highly listenable) sound collages. "1979" seems to be all collages, and it's by far the more experimental and twisted side. That being said, other reviews have pointed out how refreshing it is that Meate doesn't feel the need to go in the red with his noise, and that really is a nice change. Surprisingly enough it all sounds a lot like contemporary turntablist efforts! The De Stijl reissue comes with great liner notes (or "NOISE CLIFFSNOTES" as he calls them) by Wolf Eyes' John Olson, along with two bonus tracks. Both of these date from '79, and both have very descriptive titles, namely "Guitar & Loops" and "Short Wave". They're fairly good but not especially enlightening, considering both are under five minutes. That being said, this is a solid listen and definitely worth acquiring.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Compilation released by Acute(see review for individual dates), 2006; available
18 tracks, 78:50
Being the first band to be signed to Factory Records' American division, you'd have to be fairly special. Ike Yard doesn't fail in that department one bit! Ike Yard* was a quartet of Stuart Argabright (ex-Futants), Kenneth Compton (who was Madonna's boyfriend for a bit and appears in her "Burnin' Up" video!), Michael Diekmann, and Fred Szymanski. Their arsenal of instruments included the standard guitar, bass, and drum kit, but those are the ONLY traditional instruments used. Each member is credited with synthesizers (Compton specifically with bass synth), and other instruments include drum machines, found percussion, syndrum, and who knows what else. Both Argabright and Compton handled vocal duties, with Argabright getting the lion's share. Sometimes considered a no wave group, and having some common ground with that scene, Ike Yard was really in a category of their own. The first six tracks here are from the NIGHT AFTER NIGHT EP, released in 1981 on Les Disques Du Crépuscule; the exception is "The Whistler", which is a session outtake. These tracks find Ike Yard in full-on post-punk mode. The bass and percussion lock into powerful grooves, aided by synth pulses and colored by swooping guitar accents. It actually comes across as an American PiL or a punkier This Heat. "Night After Night" and "Cherish" would be dark club classics in a just world, and the whole EP is impressive. Fast-forward to 1982: Ike Yard have caught Factory's attention and have the honor of becoming Factory America's first signing. Tracks 7 through 12 made up the self-titled LP (often erroneously referred to as A FACT A SECOND, which is actually the catalog number). While still a decidedly American take on post-punk, these six tracks are far more influenced by classic dub and krautrock than by any contemporary groups (except maybe the early industrial and EBM scenes). The synths have a much more pronounced role; I was fairly certain there's no guitar or bass guitar on these tracks until Stuart Argabright assured me there is. "Loss", with its insistent bass pulses and steady electronic drones, is a standout; as the track progresses, random short-wave transmissions and Argabright's monotone vocals combine for a simultaneously disturbing and catchy tune. The remaining five tracks follow a similar path, with little quirks and kinks along the way to give each tune its own identity. As a bonus, this compilation features six previously unreleased outtakes from 1980 to 1982. None of these tracks would have been out of place on the proper releases; in fact, the eerie instrumental "Wolfen" is one of their best songs! I can't recommend this enough to fans of krautrock, post-punk, no wave, etc. You shouldn't have too hard a time finding it. Argabright would go on to Black Rain, Dominatrix, and Death Comet Crew (all worth investigating), and Szymanski made some recordings as Laminar. Diekmann also ended up in Death Comet Crew. Ike Yard made a recent comeback, and now consists of Argabright, Compton, and Diekmann. To hear some of the new tracks, please visit http://www.myspace.com/ikeyard. Their MySpace also has "Loss" and "Cherish", a demo called "Sweep" and an untitled live track from '81. The latter two are not on this compilation (possibly due to time limitations?), but both are very worthwhile. The Argabright-curated NEW YORK NOISE 3 features the otherwise unreleased "A Dull Life", as well as a Dominatrix track, alongside other no wave/industrial/art funk bands from '80s New York.
*The name comes from A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, in case you didn't know.
UPDATE: Check the comments for Ike Yard news and links straight from Stuart Argabright!
Thursday, January 7, 2010
ugEXPLODE, 2008; available
25 tracks, 67:36
Toy Killers was the percussionist duo of Mark E. Miller and Charles K. Noyes. When not providing dual percussion for artists such as John Zorn (on POOL) and Elliott Sharp (on ISM and CARBON), they created some of the most intense and deranged music from the no wave era. This CD compiles the only properly released Toy Killers track ("Victimless Crime", which appeared in '83 on the SPEED TRIALS compilation) alongside more than an hour of rare and unreleased studio and live tracks. Six of these WERE released as a cassette called HUMDRUM, but even Noyes and Miller are unsure when, and it's rare enough that ugEXPLODE's Weasel Walter has never seen a physical copy of it! The first eighteen tracks are a mix of short-to-average-length studio and live works, while the last seven are crazed improvisations. Everything was recorded between 1980 and 1983 (interestingly, some of the tracks aren't dated, but it's a good thing they were saved at all). Naturally, being limited to percussion would get stale after a while; luckily, Noyes and Miller had some great connections! Zorn, Sharp, Arto Lindsay, Nicky Skopelitis, Bill Laswell, and Wayne Horvitz are just some of the names that pop up on these tracks, each adding their identifiable mark while never overshadowing the core duo. One of the improvisations supposedly features Derek Bailey playing a bit and then walking off in disgust, but I can't tell which one. The liner notes by Weasel Walter and Anton Fier provide some great insight, Fier's being about a particularly spectacular glass-smashing incident. It's probably important to note here that "incendiaries", cocktail shakers, and saw are three of the instruments credited, and it's also worth noting that they occasionally set their drums on fire. The music is every bit as potent as that sounds, ranging from short bursts of DNA-esque skronk (Lindsay's vocals especially make the comparison apt) and rhythmic noise rock to such surprises as the sound collage of "24 Handkerchiefs For Roger Trilling" and a short but delightful collaboration between Miller and the Pe de Boi Samba Group (from HUMDRUM). Then there's the improvisations. At times they sound like early AMM jamming with the Blue Humans, and then some are even looser than that. Some reviews have expressed disappointment with the improvs; I think they're actually quite stunning for the most part. The sound quality is superb, and even the live tracks sound remarkably good. This disc would be a great addition to any no wave/Downtown scene fan's collection, and fans of the likes of Captain Beefheart might just like this as well. Look for new Toy Killers recordings soon, featuring Weasel Walter and Henry Kaiser amongst others!
Please visit http://www.myspace.com/toykillers; there are three tracks from this release up to preview alongside newer works, as well as a five-part commentary by Weasel Walter on this compilation's genesis. To purchase this for $10 (postage included!), go to http://nowave.pair.com/ugexplode/
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Two albums on one disc (see review for individual release dates); this compilation issued by New World Records in 1999; available
6 tracks, 66:48
It's an odd pairing, but this compilation works! Consisting of the late Richard Maxfield's ELECTRONIC MUSIC (issued by Advance in 1967 or '69; sources differ) and Harold Budd's THE OAK OF THE GOLDEN DREAMS (also issued by Advance, but in 1972), this is an hour plus of important and little-known music. Maxfield has been previously discussed on this blog (see the review for NEW SOUNDS IN ELECTRONIC MUSIC). ELECTRONIC MUSIC compiled four of his pieces for a short but delightful trip through pre-synthesizer machine music. "Bacchanale" (created in 1963)is essentially musique concrete, with Edward Fields reading a poem over a strange tape collage. Meanwhile, fellow artists Nicholas Roussakis, Terry Jennings, Fahrad Machkat, and Robert Block provide instrumentation (respectively: underwater clarinet, saxophone, violin, and prepared violin). The liner notes claim no sounds are of electronic origin, but there definitely is some sort of mucking done to the tapes. It's a fascinating piece, but the material surrounding it is even better! "Piano Concert for David Tudor" dates from 1961 and finds Mr. Tudor playing a prepared (I think) piano to the accompaniment of tapes featuring Maxfield manipulating the strings of said piano. "Amazing Grace" and "Pastoral Symphony" (both from 1960) are full-on electronic explorations, sounding light years ahead of their time. "Amazing Grace" even uses a tape of a preacher before Steve Reich's "It's Gonna Rain"; the results are at least Reich's equal! Maxfield's works occupy just under half an hour of this disc, while Budd's massive "The Oak Of The Golden Dreams" and "Couer D'Orr" (from 1969 and 1970, respectively) fill up the rest of the space. These are much more drone-based than the work Budd is best known for, and that actually works in their favor. Budd appears to be heavily under the influence of Terry Riley on these pieces while still managing to establish a distinct identity of his own. "Oak" is performed solely on a Buchla synth played with both hands (one providing a rich drone, the other beautifully improvising), while "Couer" features two tape loops of different notes (D-flat major and B major) played endlessly while Charles Oreña provides a saxophone improvisation; towards the end, one of the loops stops to interesting effect. Both of these tracks are peaceful yet never boring, and they provide a welcome counterpoint to Maxfield's considerably more abrasive pieces. The Budd pieces are also an excellent example of minimalism's influence on later developments such as ambient. Every serious fan of electronic music, ambient, minimalism, and related genres needs to find this disc; you won't be disappointed.