Skeletons and Snails

Zanzibar Snails, noted in issue 16, are back again with a new CD in a hand-made screenprinted digipack. The delirious Brown Dwarf (MAYYRH RECORDS MYH05) features this Texan improvising collective as a four-piece incarnation, including Michael Chamy who works with live electronics and tape loops and also produced the record. Effectively one long piece divided for ease of handling into five named suites, Brown Dwarf delivers a mightily twisted and incredibly dense lump of sonic dough. Given the slightly suffocating atmosphere they brew, it’s impressive how some of the key instruments – the sharply-angsted viola of Josh McWhirter for example – manage to float to the surface of this rolling planet of rich electro-acoustic swampery. The Snails’ electric guitarist Nevada Hill also appears on the 3-incher D&N (MYH03) with David Lee Price, to forge a collection of eight introspective guitar-scapes that gradually suck you into mesmerising fields of ambiguity. Which isn’t a bad psychological sensation for this time of year, but if you want something guaranteed to make you feel decidedly ill (in a good way, I must stress), then it’s the Snails CD for you.

From Cincinnati in Ohio, the label Students Of Decay have winged three new releases. Skeletons Out perform In Remembrance of Me (SOD-49), a piece of sonic densery-constructo japery by the Boston-based musicians Howard Stelzer and Jay Sullivan; their sophisticated brand of layered noise is realised using turntables and cassette tapes, and for 36 minutes you can breathe into your lung-bags the very urban-polluted yet compelling atmosphere which they summon up. The Snowbringer Cult (SOD-60-61) is a double CD credited to the unlikely team of Isengrind, Twinsistermoon, Natural Snow Buildings, an elaborate naming scheme which conceals a French duo of studio experimenters working in various collaborative set-ups. This collection of their tunes appears to owe as much to contemporary Finnish folk-psych as to droning Ambient music of the 1990s; not unpleasant music, but as yet I can’t find enough content to engage my mind or ears here. The sleeve drawings and track titles suggest the pair wish to align themselves with aspects of Inuit or Eskimo life and mythology. The Nether Dawn is NZ-droner Antony Milton, and his Long Shadow of a Dream (SOD-48) is six tracks of very slow and heavily processed guitar music, intended to have a ‘narcotic’ effect on the listener.

Zufall (RND10) is a nifty and lively little CD of live improv recordings on the Ronda Label in France; eRikm applies his turntabling and sample-heavy mischief to accompany the puffing and percussive work of Akosh S. – with sexy results! On the opening track alone, Akosh plays as though his right foot is on fire as he gasps for help through the bells of his clarinets and saxes, whilst erik is lost in contemplation and creation of his obsessive loops and complex patterns. The whole picture suggests something about the general indifference of the modern world in the face of catastrophe and human suffering. While the two bendy lines on the cover don’t tell us much, the two penguins facing each other on the inside are quite another kettle of bones.

Couple of new Dans on the label, both in their amazing fold-out packages which are more like mini-dioramas than conventional CD sleeves. The Australians Anthony Pateras, David Brown and Sean Baxter recorded Interference ( 008) in a Melbourne studio, using prepared piano, prepared guitar and drums to make a very percussive (and, I fear, extremely dull) record of rattling improvisations, and the use of ‘wacky’ titles such as ‘You Can Do it Pimp Lucius’ fail to inject any humour into these worthy sessions of ‘art’ music. Photographs of Greg Kingston’s rusted sculptures appear on the cover. The one by Zbigniew Karkowski and Lin Zhiying is somewhat more in my line; Switch ( 007) comprises two long tracks of relentless, perilous and harshly uncompromising electronic doom-hell, and the accompanying sleeve art includes collaged fragments from a colourful target that, along with the music, give the impression you’re sitting at the centre of a dartboard while an enormous (probably poison-tipped) steel dart is launched towards you at tremendous speed. Apparently derived from a jam session recorded in China, Switch is evidence of Karkowski’s ruthless precision in arranging and deploying his sounds like lethal assault weapons.