Last heard from French unit Melmac in 2011 with their album Le Désert Avance, a quite unsettling example of blanked-out dark ambient dronery which came equipped with added creepiness from Ogrob’s treated vocals. Luc and Nicolas Reverter, who also happen to run the Ronda label, have remorphed into a rock trio of sorts for their LP Un Chien Vivant Vaut Mieux qu’un Lion Mort / Un Lion Mort Vaut Mieux qu’un Chien Vivant (RONDA rnd.18), a title which sounds like an old Parisian saying of the street and confirms the band’s return to something more earthy, more fauvist. The “machines are set aside and replaced by live recordings” is a description of their new strategy, meaning no synthesizers allowed, and instead they set forth a very juicy, heavy and compelling avant-rock squall with lots of powerful guitars, amplifiers, and remorseless drumming. Even without the ambient drones, Melmac still manage to give off this rather nasty vibe, with a snarling tone and cruel leer lurking behind every stroke of the axe, as if they were up to something dark, dirty and unwholesome. One song on Side A translates as ‘Death is no Excuse’. Sheesh! Can you imagine if this phrase had been adopted as the motto of the US Marine Corps?! It just goes to show the very severe code of honour they live by in the Melmac private army. Most of the uptempo “rockers” are on the A side, but you may also enjoy the draggy ‘Retour A Castletownbere’ which is a truly visceral “downer”, and a shining example of how music from the stoner / doom / mathrock camps has infected the esprit Gaulois. Don’t be fooled by the festive colours of the front cover; this tormented long-player is full of angry and fierce energies. Arrived 27 November 2013.
Tetuzi Akiyama is such a characterful guitar player, as well as being frighteningly versatile – it’s as though he can channel endless numbers of dead guitarists through his small but wiry frame. I observed him briefly this year outside Cafe Oto, clad in a notable tight suit and odd hat, when he was carrying a pint of Guinness outside and nearly tripped over the pavement when rushing forward to greet a friend or fellow musician. The poise with which he recovered his stance, without spilling a drop of his pint, was a fleeting moment of pure bodily poetry which I would rank alongside a Buster Keaton clip. Well, here he is on a terrific long-player called The Darkened Mirror (MONOTYPE RECORDS monolp12 / CAT SUN cat12) with the American players Tom Carter from Badgerlore, Charalambides et al, plus Christian Kiefer (he and Carter played together on a 2008 collection From The Great American Songbook, which I never heard, but the tracklist alone confirms their deep love of American Folk). On these nine cuts, the trio join up to play electric and acoustic guitars, with some additional textures from Kiefer’s banjo or accordion, and additional support from Chip Conrad and Scott Lefridge on two tracks. It’s a shining example of three-way guitar interplay, and what’s more the trio seem to blend and mix genres as naturally as breathing, without any sense of contrivance or forcing the plectrum of chance. It’s like hearing a Mike Rutherford ripple-picking melody from 1973 shaking hands with compressed heavy metal solos, while taking in a turn around the bluegrass garden to meet Hank Williams digging his turnips. A track could start out sweet and melodic and turn into dissonant avant chromatics in a matter of seconds, before easily finding its way back to the path. The recording quality does right by all this intricate stringwork, with every note out ringing crisp and clear, which suggests that Mr Carter’s home studio in Austin (where some of the album was laid down) is a welcome haven for many finger-blistered nomads to lay down their resonators and dobroes. In all, a tremendous amount of personality, flavour, innovation and warmth to be hoed from these grooves. The highly dynamic changes are executed with a much poise as Tetuzi Akiyama recovering his balance with that pint of Guinness. Arrived 9th October 2013.