Concrete and Clay
I quite like the Gobi Wow (NEVER COME ASHORE NCALP1) LP from FvRTvR, which turns out to be the duo of the American percussionist Fritz Welch with German loonoid Guido Henneböhl working a mysterious home-made electronic monstrosity. Together they conspire to leak out disjunctive additive-free homegrown noise comprising electronic bursts, mangled voices, and hammered metallism. This pair were very good together on the Demon Cycle 1-9 release as I recall, a fairly fatal mesmerising diabolic charmer from which grotesque ancient voices would ofttimes creak. Gobi Wow has the same undercurrents of nastery, but is a lot more bitty…the general debris of the sound feels like broken masonry pieces scattered about the studio floor which cannot be fitted together, not least to reconstruct a Greek ruin. Add to that the general inclination of the two players towards refusing musical convention wherever possible, in favour of twisted, slimy and spiky eruptions. These strategies cohere to result in a difficult surface listen, full of uglification and indigestibility. However, what we can admire is the stern determination of the two farming-fishermen to keep going no matter what, even if the weather be inhospitable for planting oats, and the pond yields no more bream to the bitter worms that are suspended on their two rods. We haven’t come across this degree of coarsened aesthetic anti-pleasure since Adam Bohman played with Damian Bisciglia. Rachel Lowther did the modelling clay cover. And it is a good choice of imagery for the music, which has the rough and lumpy quality of a half-worked statement of rawness, ripped from the carcass of a two-headed artist-creating golem type monster. Arrived 25th April 2012.
Lovely songs by Chris Weisman on his Fresh Sip (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR074) double LP. In fact the entire set is indeed like a “fresh sip” of fruit juice packed with goody vitamins. Chris did just about everything on the album, playing all the instruments and dubbing on tasty harmony vocals, and probably acting as his own producer between takes on what I assume were these home-made recordings originally produced in 2009 in his Battleboro home. There are two “suites”, and on Yen You, many of the songs could be said to start life built on a low-key electro-pop skeleton with a simple programmed beat to keep all elements working to order, but then again each song is also a springboard for rich harmonised vocal melodies, drones, guitar solos, and quite restrained supporting melodies played on nice keyboards. So far everything and everyone is doing flip-fops, lightweight acrobatics of poppy grace. There is a refreshing absence of freakery and psychotic weirdness from each of these sweet productions. Weisman has no interest in de-producing his own songs simply to demonstrate his studio know-how or to explode the mind of the listener, although this isn’t to deny his obvious recording skills. He just likes his art to conceal art. Another strong plus factor is quite simply the limpid beauty of the young man’s singing voice; The Association would have been proud to count him as a member any day. The lyrics seem quite poetic and personal too, with oblique and private messages that have a charm and a depth which you certainly won’t fathom with just one or two spins. Looks like this will be a grower. On I Don’t Care Again there are more songs in like vein, perhaps some of them weighted slightly more in favour of the acoustic guitar and the mysterious poetry and manufactured via a slightly more ramshackle production, but no doubt all four sides are cut from the same paisley cloth. The material was originally released on cassette in 2010 on Autumn Records, something I will never see, so this vinyl rescue is quite welcome. The sleeve design is understated to say the least, and may hint at something about the creator’s impish modesty. At a time when American underground music was in danger of losing its way in an ever-increasing spiral of eccentricity and insanity, it’s refreshing to find there are still some musicians who haven’t completely forsaken the craft of pop melody and concision in songwriting. The press notes make comparisons with Todd Rundgren, which are apt. From 31 May 2012.
Songwriting skill which soars and gallops on quite another plane can be found with the Happy Jawbone Family Band from Vermont, one of those wayward and very able combos which the USA seems to be breeding and exporting with considerable skill lately (Colin L. Orchestra, Trawler Bycatch, The Bird Names, King Kong Ding Dong). The songs on this hearty and extroverted freak-party album OK Midnight, You Win (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR063) are played with swagger and confidence, like a slightly tipsy form of country and western mixed with elements of raw psychedelia and played by mutant rockabilly guitarists, all of which would be welcome enough, but the real flavour of the album is to be savoured in the voice of the lead singer. He has a thick and clotted tone with vaguely nasal undercurrents, and he seems to be using a broad tongue which he wraps around each lyrical moment like it was a chunky golden nugget he’s about to chew. You never forget a distinctive singing voice. The effect is made yet more delicious with the additions of high-range female vocal harmonies and backing vocals, which have also signed up to the general agreement agreement to partake of the juice and rollick freely in a fun-loving balmy atmosphere. This may be as close as we’ll get in our time to a reincarnation of the great Kevin Ayers. But these crazed Yankees also have a slightly menacing side when they get warmed up, chanting and declaiming with emphatic mania like some militant hillbillies practising their war chants. Not every one of these melodies may be a memorable one, but when this group find the right couplet of dementia to savour, they’ll hammer it into your forehead with a six-inch nail. Beautifully recorded with a solid and punchy presence. I don’t really know who to credit with what in this loopy collective, although names are supplied on the insert, nor can I tell you what any of the songs mean. You don’t learn them with your brain, so much as feel them in the belly. All this issued under the wraps of cover art which proposes a mutant birth double-horse running every which way, and an insert textured with coarse animal hair.
From same label we also have Cold / Burn (FEEDING TUBE RECORDS FTR069), which is another kettle of bones and a return to the juddering noise-drone collective music thing we all love so well. It features Anla Courtis, Okkyung Lee, C. Spencer Yeh and Jon Wesseltoft, with Lasse Marhaug behind the controls – a major meeting of minds which I don’t expect will happen again any time soon. The album is two side-long improvisations made using violin, harmonium, cello and electric guitar, and oodles of instinctive inspiration. It’s one of those miracles of performed music where the finished product is full of paradox – a single wodge of monotonous sound, yet alive with teeming detail; staying firmly on one root note yet also allowing a million and one diversions to wriggle freely across wild scales and tonalities. What I also like is the slightly untidy quality of the playing, where no-one is paying attention to the strictures of performed improvisation, a genre which can have its own set of rigid rules. Nor do they hew to the self-imposed puritanism which can sometimes bedevil those who try to emulate the music of Terry Riley or La Monte Young. My hero on two legs is C. Spencer Yeh, the Bronze God from Brooklyn, who is supplying a good deal of the energy on these sides; when his bowing arm is coiled and unsprung he can piston back and forth continuously for as long as it take a dynasty in China to rise and fall. And any time Courtis steps into a studio or simply enters a room full of listeners, you can expect that room to become charged with his magical-realist visions as he spins his unlikely yarns of metaphysical heroism. Norwegian Wesseltoft, who also adds shruti box and organ to the droning churn, produced a memorable cassette called Singing Cobra Ecstasy for our ears in 2009, and here he just keeps up with a steady shimmering drone long beyond the point of normalcy or sanity would expect. Korean cellist Lee is that fragile genius who won us over with her understated work on the Anicca LP for Dancing Wayang. Besides gender balance in a group, it’s arguably important to get a good balance of acoustic and electric instruments, which may be which this session scores such a direct hit on certain nerval synapses and brainial cord-crakes. You gotta swallow the whole thing like a horse pill the size of a hockey puck to get full effect, and submerge both feet in the rich organic dronery which knows no boundaries, showing how the power of massed imaginative energy in a mutually respecting improv context can knock formal composition hollow, when the parameters are just right. Excellent. From 27th February 2012.