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.