Tagged: avant-rock

Columbarium

Another curio from those crazy Canadians who call themselves Tetrix. Not unlike their previous release Tetrix 11, Tetrix 12: The Time Travellers is a species of radio play with musical interludes – every other track is a short snippet of an unfolding drama, alternating with the songs and tunes. In the story, the band Tetrix meet up with their future selves who vouchsafe to them an enigmatic riddle or paradox, and the present-day Tetrix spend the rest of the album attempting to get safely home across a bewildering array of cartoon-like events, each more preposterous than the last, unfolding in a dayglo urban landscape replete with vivid sound effects and jaunty explicatory dialogue. It’s all amiable stuff and the band present themselves as a slightly more streetwise, post-modern and cynical version of The Monkees, acting in an extended fantasy episode of their own TV show. Will the band survive this adventure and make it home safely? Buy the CD and find out! As to the time travel motifs, the story-tellers borrow heavily from recent-ish Hollywood movies on the subject, including the Back to the Future “trilogy”, and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, whence they copied the device of the phone booth as a time travel unit. Musically, some of the songs are clearly Tetrix’s warped attempts to do old-skool hip-hop, a trick which they pull off with their characteristic mix of effortless technical skill and tongue-in-cheek parody; other songs are unclassifiable, freely match-’n’-mixing around genres and styles such as psychedelia, heavy metal and electropop, such that the listener will soon feel themselves caught up in a vortex of musical time-travelling. Whatever mask or disguise they slip into though, the band’s gift for melodic invention always shines through, despite the cluttered and eccentric production. I realise not everyone likes this band – it seems they come across as a little too clever for their own good, and their overall sound is extremely artificial, processed with many studio effects – and their sense of humour may not always travel. But I enjoy and admire the way they manage to produce such dense and layered conceits in their work, creating puzzles in sound which are fun to solve, and which repay multiple further listens. I sometimes wonder if history will adjudge these tricksters as the Canadian equivalent to Sudden Sway; they have the same elusiveness, the same quirky pop-charm, and this album could almost be their Spacemate 1. As usual, the release is packaged in an attractive and elaborate sleeve, with a psychedelic illustration of a dinosaur printed on card; you have to lift the die-cut upper jaw of the beast to get to the record. From 30 May 2013.

An absolutely first-class record is Helgoland (GRUENREKORDER GRUEN 109) by Lasse-Marc Riek, and one of the finest field recording items to have reached us for a long time. I’d go so far as to say it sets a benchmark in the genre, both for the clarity of its intent, and the excellence of its realisation. Helgoland is Germany’s only ocean island, an archipelago in the North Sea which has, against all odds, developed into a haven and breeding ground for all manner of seabirds. The area is well-loved and visited by ornithologists, naturally, but Lasse-Marc is one of the few sound artists who has made it out to the island to capture a collection of recordings, apparently at some personal discomfort to himself (it involves crawling into caves and other tight corners), and he devoted two years of his life to this project. The results are beautiful; cries of birds such as the kittiwake, the guillemot and the gull are presented here in vivid detail, along with the bracing sounds of the wind and the ocean surf. Each recording has an honesty and raw vitality; there are no edits, no processes, no tricks. Additionally, there are a few recordings of grey seals near the end of the album, which may reassure those of you who find the strange voice of the seabird too reptilian and alien. Many have remarked how the voice of the seal can resemble the human voice, and tracks 13-14 here do indeed inspire remarkable empathy; they should make you sit up and pay attention like a March hare. The release is published with a high-quality booklet with sumptuous full-colour photographs of animals and landscape, and there are illuminating written notes from Stefan Militzer, Cheryl Tipp from the British Library 2, and Tobias Fischer. Aurally, visually, intellectually – this release satisfies on many levels, and these superb recordings are a tremendous testament to the power of life, the beauty of creation. Essential. From 20 May 2013.

No Compass: Solter resets Friedlander (SKIPSTONE RECORDS SR104) is a short set of remixes derived by Scott Solter from the music of Erik Friedlander. We’ve enjoyed the music of the gifted cellist for many years now, last digging him with the excellent Bonebridge album in 2011. The music here has been reprocessed using the Broken Arm Trio album as a starting point, where Erik played with the drummer Michael Sarin and the bassist Trevor Dunn. Solter’s approach to the art of the remix is radical; he slices the music open like a cadaver, pulls out all the bones and reconstructs everything from the ground up, using as a guidebook the works of Andreas Vesalius combined with the writings of Timothy Leary. ‘Full Chroma’ refashions the all-acoustic trio as a semi-functioning beatbox, left abandoned to sputter away in a deserted Chicago meat-packing warehouse, while ‘Columbarium’ extends stray and overlooked notes into an intense reverbed drone-distort marathon. ‘Assault by St. Wolfli’ is a manic piece, two minutes of mayhem almost as deranged as the mind of its namesake Adolf Wölfli, the famous Outsider artist with his private language and unplayable music scores; here Solter performs his surgery with deep cuts of the knife and unexpected sutures, and the end result is like being dragged through a briar patch. Only ‘Steppe Dub’ is mildly disappointing, for the way it drifts into more familiar territory with its over-processed ambient sounds, but even so it’s blessed with a tricky internal pulse that will baffle the dancing feet of many a dance-floor rhinoceros. The title No Compass suggests that Solter was working in an intuitive manner, setting his sights by the stars as he navigated these strange waters; at the same time, it’s a deliciously perplexing “off-the-map” listen for us, with many inscrutable and baffling moments to savour. It’s as though Solter has created a “secret identity” for Friedlander; now all he has to do is live up to that alter ego. From May 2013.

  1. Blanco Y Negro BYN8B, 1986.
  2. She contributes to the excellent Sound and Vision blog.

Inside Outside: a soaring ethereal voice above psych-folk electronica and abstract improv

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Source: http://sygilrecords.bandcamp.com/

Aurora Dorey Alice, Inside Outside, Sygil Records, cassette 013 (2013)

A gorgeous if sometimes slightly sinister and deranged psych-folk offering with a split personality  is to be found on this release from the increasingly eclectic Sygil Records which among other things has proffered black and doom metal recordings and industrial drone art. The first half of the album, the “Inside” part partakes heavily of glitch and fuzz electronica and woozy, zonked-out wash effects; the second “Outside” half drinks in found nature sounds and sparse abstract improv. Whether you like your music to be outdoors or indoors, one thing you’ll surely fall in love with is Aurora Dorey Alice’s voice which at times is floaty and ethereal, and at other times assertive and soaring above the often intangible and dreamy music.

I have to confess I’m more of an “indoors” gal here: the electronic soundtrack is gentle and slightly fizzy in sound and texture, dreamy in mood, and very other-worldly and shimmery overall. “Master / Apprentice” is a strong opening track that sets the tone for the rest of “Inside” to follow; indeed, it might just be the strongest piece on the whole album. The rest of the cassette is no bunch of slouching footnotes though. “Rain” is as close to country-western as ADA comes with its fast chugging-train rhythm and ADA’s own enraptured faux-Nashville vocal.

On the “Outside” half, the music is more acoustic and does not showcase ADA’s singing at all which is a bit disappointing because it’s her voice that really stands out on this recording. Here, the music could almost be one of many hundreds of live instrumental improv releases with flutes, found sounds and a not-too clear idea of where all the musicians are supposed to be going. It’s as if having found themselves out in the warm sunshine, the musicians decided to have a party and a snooze as well but not necessarily in strict alphabetical order of making music, partying and snoozing.

Nevertheless what we do get from ADA is to be treasured indeed: in range her singing straddles the divide between reality and the universe beyond, which already is far, far more than can be said for the current crop of mainstream female pop singers. I’m going to risk lying my head on the guillotine block and say ADA will be a significant influence on future female singers to come, even if her career does not turn out the way it should.

Womb C: a wide range of genres searching for communion with dark sinister cosmos

Womb C, self-titled, Bestial Burst, CD BeBu-059 (2013)

Dark space ambience, post-industrial percussion, sinister electronics, black metal and trance psychedelia combine to form this quartet of instrumental pieces that trace an individual journey into communion with the cosmos. The musicians responsible for this unique if weird and wonderful set of soundscapes include members of Finnish BM bands Dead Reptile Shrine and Ride for Revenge as well as musicians from bands I don’t know: Blutleuchte, Cloama (who share members with DRS) and Will Over Matter (the brainchild of the man behind Ride for Revenge). This looks like a Finnish-Russian affair which might mean (in a good way of course!) plenty of sparks flying here.

We begin with “Satan Universe Moloch”, a long sprawling track that takes in glitchy electronics, noise-lite textures, trance guitar work and atmospheric soundtrack music effects among other things. At times you fear the music might travel down some very dangerous paths menaced by black devils itching for a chance to ride the sounds and drones out of the loudspeakers or headphones and into your ears and head. Second track “Bug Humanity” is no less adventurous, daring to tread through some very low-key sections of darkness where a heavy atmosphere reigns or inhuman distorted voices make pronouncements in the far distance. A monster percussion rhythm, its edges fuzzed over with acid noise, thumps through the track. Later moments include some very odd and deranged robot voices in an apparent emptiness and some bombastic industrial metal knees-up bashing.

The music enters underground metal territory proper with “She Male Vegetation” which is dominated by a repeating series of harsh textured drone guitar riffs over a shambolic drum pattern. As the album continues into the fourth track, we enter a strange universe of beings that are partly organic and partly mechanical living among environments that are at once beautifully space ambient and terrifyingly machine-like in their natural rhythms. Increasingly the record acquires a more interior and precious feel, as if it were retreating into some hallowed space where only a privileged few may be allowed to enter: it could be a shrine to unseen gods or it could be the cell of a deranged prisoner. A kind of tinny chainsaw black metal whine forms the backbone of the music over which drills whine, a melodic country-western guitar melody plays and a sorrowful clarinet-like sound follows the chaos that gradually develops. The album’s conclusion is rather ambiguous: unity with the universe is achieved in a way that suggests a return to the cosmic womb and therefore death promises a slim chance of rebirth, leading perhaps to another tortuous journey back to the darkness of the womb, risking one’s identity and sanity again. (The CD sleeve offers a prose piece which listeners can follow to make sense of the music and what it’s aiming at – but I can’t promise that the prose makes any more sense than the music does.)

The recording does feature a dry atmosphere typical of those Ride for Revenge albums I’ve heard which is no surprise as the fellow behind RfR and WoM plays a big role in creating and assembling together such a wide disparity of musical elements and genres. For all its musical expanses, the album is actually well ordered rather than full-on blatant and intense. Though it can be heavy-going in parts due to a heavy black atmosphere, the music is often very minimal and every bit of sound, no matter how far back in the distance it seems to be, can be discerned. Quite a lot of polish and care must have been applied here even though the music has its demented moments.

For fans of the bands whose members participated in creating this work of dark twisted soundscapes with a mystical message, this album is a must-have that showcases a more varied and experimental side of their heroes.

Supermax

Retro 2038 (EDITIONS MEGO 172) from COH is Ivan Pavlov’s immaculate album of futuristic disco-tech minimalism from the later 21st-century or some such…he probably did it using time-travel methods, while also harking back with a fond eye to retro and vintage modes of pulsation and boundage techno music, about which I am ill-informed…one would have to imagine a blueprint or schematic form of graphical score for a super-imaginary work that balances perfectly astride the entire Kraftwerk-Moroder axis, albeit reduced and stripped down so that only small, atomic-sized particles remain for digestion by the hungry biscuit-muncher. I was on safer ground with 2010’s IIRON from this guy, as that was more of a noisy guitar album in the area of intellectual heavy metal. But I can see this well-produced and finely polished set insinuating its way into my system, by dint of its smooth surfaces and inhumanly clean sounds, propelled by crisp and crunchy mini-beats. “Contains no instrument samples, patches or other additives”, is the proud boast of Pavlov as he brands his work “100% home-made computer sound”, almost as if it were a product from the supermarket. From May 2013.

Minimetal are a rum duo of Swiss guys who perform on stage as a guitar-and-drum duo, apparently wearing top hats and tuxedos while doing so. They’ve gotten into music from a background in the visual arts – design, sculpture and painting, so right away one can’t help but wonder if there’s a performance-art slant to their act. Apparently they formed in 1994, and were fans of Kyuss and other stoner / rock bands of that period…they only wrote 11 songs, and their entire act consists of repeating this slightly limited repertoire to anyone who will listen. On one level they might be accused of starting off as a parody and have now evolved to the point where they’re parodying themselves, but I think there’s likely to be more going on under the surface. The songs on this record are genuinely strong examples of mesmerising and compelling rock, but they’re also performed with a precision and attention to detail which you won’t find in the music of 90% of sloppy west coast slacker bands of the 1990s. Even the vocals are a spot-on impersonation of that throaty American grunty style of singing; you might have to pause to remind yourself that they’re actually European musicians. At no time though is there any sense that Minimetal are mocking the genre, its musicians, fans, or audiences, and Never Hang Around (SPEZIAL MATERIAL SM043CD023) is a thoroughly enjoyable listen of ultra-steady rock rhythms, precision-tooled riffing and relentless syncopation. I suppose the anomalous factor is that they perform this set in art galleries rather than rock venues, but there’s nothing especially odd about that – after all how many New Wave and noise bands have performed at London’s ICA? The top hat and tuxedo gimmick might be read as a nod in the direction of The Residents, but I think it’s more likely to be another carefully-planned gesture of irony; choosing costumes that are uncomfortable and well-groomed in order to position themselves as the diametric opposite of the grunge and stoner “style”, with its comfortable leisure wear, trainers and denims, and loose sweatshirts worn over t-shirts. From 7th May 2013.

Drums and guitar are utilised in a quite different mode by Glockenspiel on their Dupleix (BABEL LABEL BVOR12108) album. The duo of Adrian Dollemore and Steve d’Enton emerge from a background in UK improvisation, and are now cocooning out of that shell into a species of ambient beat-driven jazz drone, played with Dollemore’s diffused and effects-laden guitar and d’Enton’s rather languid beats. Not unpleasant, but much of the music is a bit too smooth and cosy for me, with the exception of ‘Bellville’ which has a lot more in the way of ragged edges, discordant notes, and fire in the guts; moments of ‘Fentanyl’ work in this way too, disrupting the otherwise rather polite tone of the album. One slight reservation one might express is how dated this approach to making music seems now; Dupleix could have been made in 1996, and its aspirations towards Sonic Youth, Krautrock, and ambient music feel a bit tired and unengaging. From 13 May 2013.

Mutatis Mobilis (ATTENUATION CIRCUIT ACR 1028) is a fine item by the great Freiband (i.e. Frans de Waard), sent to us in May 2013 from this Germal label who do package their droney output in some fine tactile plastic lunchboxes for our delectation. I suppose there are two main characteristics to note with Mutatis Mobilis – its interactiveness, and its extremely recycled nature. As to the interactive dimension, Frans has timed and edited these two suites of ultra-processed drone so that they last precisely the same length; the listener is invited to open both tracks on the computer, using a suitable audio program, so that they can be played back and listened to simultaneously. And even remixed in real time, if the user entertains such proclivities. I haven’t yet tried it myself, but I expect Audacity would do the job effectively, and it’s an open source program which I recommend. However, with this release De Waard is trying to move away from strictly “digital” methods and is harking back to the 1980s when TEAC four-track machines enabled the bold experimenter to do amazing things on cassette tapes with overdubs, mixage, and bouncing-down. Matter of fact the label also released this album as a cassette (15 copies only, though) in hopes that owners of original Portastudios could get stuck in. As to the recycling element, Mutatis Mobilis uses source material created by Freiband blended with other source material from the album Mutatis Mutandis by Aalfang mit Pferdekopf, which itself was created out of sound samples provided by Freiband. This collaborative “reprocess my stuff, dude” spirit seems to be one of the mainstays of 1980s experimentation (I was just mentioning it the other day in reference to P16.D4), and Freiband are clearly steeped in that work ethic. With the multiple configurations and reconfigurations of material that are taking place here, further compounded by the possibilities that we might introduce if we open up this CD in Audacity, Mutatis Mobilis is clearly a work that is never actually “completed” in the ordinary sense of the term. From 20 May 2013.

Vast Chains: a mighty mammoth microtonal missive of intense derangement and moments of silent terror

JuteGyte

Jute Gyte, Vast Chains, Jeshimoth Entertainment, CD-R JEO65 (2014)

Holy heck, here comes another mighty microtonal music missive from the one and only Jute Gyte, the one-man avantgarde black metal wrecking-ball who smashes apart all the stereotypes and constraints that keep metal in a conceptual straitjacket and reveals the boundless potential of the genre for original, intense and batshit music. Miley Cyrus don’t know nothin’ about real wrecking-ball music, that’s for sure! JG man Adam Kalmbach recorded this 2014 release at about the same time as he did “Discontinuities” and if you listen to both albums casually, you’ll be hard put to discern much in the way of progress, musically anyway, from “Discontinuities” to “Vast Chains”. On closer listen to both, the earlier album is a smoother ride and sounds comparatively sane.

Repeated hearings are necessary for albums like “Vast Chains” and “Discontinuities” because their textures are incredibly dense, the jangly chords have a weird, almost malign glitter tone, and the soundscapes created seem to shift constantly even as the riffs and melodies lurch about their business. There is nothing familiar for listeners to latch onto and use as a guide to explore this music. All 24 microtones of the scale Kalmbach uses are treated as tones in their own right and all the guitar chords and other sounds utilise the microtones fully with very few exceptions (and mostly ambient exceptions at that). You really have to go along with JG on the project’s terms. Guitar chords slide about or launch abruptly into something quite unexpected. The music usually has a suffocating and demented air. Yet each song does have its own structure and riffing patterns and eventually after going a few rounds with the recording, you realise Jute Gyte’s albums are very ordered.

The startlingly memorable intro “Semen Dried into the Silence of Rock and Mineral” – we can always rely on Kalmbach for head-scratching titles – is a lumbering beast of discordant chugging death metal with awkward and angular riffs, made more so by the microtonal scales used. Jarring riff and melody loops, gruff bass grunts and a vocal that simply tears your endurance apart cover over a reality of black emptiness – “the silence of rock and mineral” – that is revealed in brief interludes during which raindrops of guitar might sometimes be the only thing present. By contrast, “Endless Moths Swarming” is a speedy number that imitates the frenzy of the eponymous insects as they hover over unspeakable sights. Every so often, Kalmbach pulls away the curtain of music to show what really lies beneath: the desolation and deep solitude, too dark and deep for words to express, of a universe indifferent to the presence of humans.

We never get much rest between tracks: as soon as one ends, we’re thrust straight into another as if even Kalmbach himself is afraid of the closeness and finality of death. Even the title “The Inexpressible Loneliness of Thinking” suggests that for all our attempts to thwart the inevitable with elaborate mental and social ruses and technology, we will ultimately fail due to our nature and feeble genetic inheritance. “Flux and Permanence” is a seesawing lurch of nauseous riffs and rhythms with choppy low end and disorienting mood. As it continues, the guitars become ever more shrill (as if they weren’t already bonkers) and bring you close to the edge of insanity. The same could be said of the entire album overall actually.

Each track has its distinctive riffs and melodies and thus its own identity yet they are all united not just by the particular style of demented music with its stress on jagged bass lines and the most awkward and uncoordinated riffs – there are also those quiet moments within each track that peel away the apparent cacophony and show you the real chaos of unending darkness and the silence of non-life. One odd thing about this album is that for all the dense delirium of the music, it’s all surprisingly steady and even, and no one track is head and shoulders above the others: as a result, there’s no real stand-out track to point to as typifying the album. Also for all the music’s apparent “heavy” quality, the percussion on the album is surprisingly light; the heaviness comes from the bass and the extreme range of the guitars in tone, volume and riff / melody structures. All tracks represent the entire album in microcosm, in slightly different ways.

This album is definitely for the fans; those unfamiliar with Jute Gyte are best directed to hear out earlier recordings before tackling this one.

Action Vision

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You may recall we reviewed the lovely music of Neil Luck in October 2012, the London composer who gave us Last Wane Days, a truly unique operetta baroque-pop chamber piece – a real surprise for many a powdered wig. He also appeared with one cut on the GoldDust compilation for Slightly Off Kilter records. Luck it was who sent us Songs From Badly-Lit Rooms (SQUIB-BOX NO NUMBER), received here 13 March 2013, and another uniquely somehow very English piece of wailery and squealation it doe bee. As you can tell I am already lapsing into a Jacobean-era style of writing and speaking, a transformation I considereth most appte when hearing these sodden wood-panelled pieces of musicke, as I sitte beside the fire and peepe dartingly out of a small latch window. These airres fitte for the eares of our right royalle King were played by Tom Jackson the clarinettist, with the viola player Benedict Taylor ever by his side. Both are improvisers and performers well respected about the towne, and indeed have likewise found success beyond the seas. For many pieces the players doe buzz and humme at a frantic rate, as though pursued by two tigers from Oriental parts, or else find themselves besette with unwanted small insects crawling about in their nether garments. My advice would be to wear an iron codpiece and so preserve themselves from The Enemy. Also of interest are the different timbres and acoustic qualities, which vary from track to track; perhaps the titles indeed reflect the real-world locations for their performances. If so, most sensitive to the space of a chamber they have proven themselves. No man can listen and remain unmoved at such delicious sounds; barking, crying, hooting and issuing many a plaintive mew, both raising dreadfull clamours to the skies. The duo perform roped together like two sailors on board a shipload of tobacco, and communicate by unseen means that inform their every thought and move. In fine, most high recommendation for this moving and delightful recording. Now I must needs return to gutting my fish from Cheapside market, ere I expire from hunger.

ReverseAge

From 11 March 2013 we received a glorious eccentric and fiery recording of avant-rock solo antics by GR (i.e. Gregory Raimo from France). What an axeman he’s proving himself on these solid high-volume grooves. I’d like to meet his tailor. His A Reverse Age (MEXICAN SUMMER MEX140) is a glorious blast of psychedelic rockabilly noise, the musical fabric cut to shreds by his nasal poison vocalising which mows down eight beds of precious flowers and causes entire trees to wither and die with just one billow from Raimo’s diabolical breath. With his ‘Hymn to Pan’ and his ‘The Primitive Hoodoo’ he owns himself a willing convert to the anti-religion of The Cramps, while his thudding drumming style and raw recording approach fuel the excitement to boiling pitch. The highlight though is his rich and juicy guitar style, often-times heavily psychedelic and reminiscent of Gary Ramon of Modern Art / Sun Dial (or the glorious obscurity Jesse Harper). Fans of Alan Vega and The Fall from circa 1980-1981 should devour this flaming nugget at tremendous speed, using crocodile jaws to chew the slabs of meat. Excessive and flailing adjectives abound on the press release, describing this wild trip as an “argument between myth and reality”, but such unhinged language and frothing praise is quite justifiable in the face of this rockin’ gemuloid.

009

Here’s the scrapey improviser Tim Olive with another release on the 845 Audio label sent to us from Kobe in Japan on 21 March 2013. He was carrying a metal pail full of old rusty bolts at the time. On Various Histories (845 AUDIO 845-2) he teams up with Katsura Mouri, a fabulously talented sound artist who works with turntables which are doctored with “prepared records”, percussive objects and pieces of metal. She’s been a member of BusRatch, DOOG, and herviviennestrap, but also performs solo and in 2009 she toured with other contemporary turntable manipulators eRikm, Martin Tetreault and Ignaz Schick; and has assembled a cunning multiple turntable set-up, like Philip Jeck used. This is the first I ever heard of Mouri, but I love her delicate approach; there’s none of the heavy-handedness, violence or sarcasm one sometimes finds with your basic turntabling types – present company excepted, of course – who seem intent on smashing the device, breaking records, or trying to single-handedly destroy the history of recorded music through the symbolic annihilation of this culturally-loaded (as they would see it) machine. Instead she works most sympathetically here with Tim, who plays pieces of metal amplified with guitar pickups, to create five intense pieces of heavily abstracted grey rumbly sound, rich with plenty of low bass grumbles and growls, most of the music hovering gracefully on the twilight zone where it might erupt into vicious anti-social table noise at the turn of a feathered cable. However, it never actually does that, and instead suffuses all emotions into this slowly-bubbling green soup of seething restraint. One listen to this shimmery-abraso beauty and I’m head over heels with Katsura Mouri’s playing style, now tempted to seek out her 2000 and 2002 BusRatch records for PARA discs.

Death Zoo

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The Invisible Hands (ABDUCTION ABDT050) made a fine self-titled album of songs from Alan Bishop of Sun City Girls; he goes under his Alvarius B. alias for this Egyptian project, which took about two years to complete and features various sidemen from Cairo, where it was recorded. Bishop wrote and sings all songs and plays most of the instruments (guitars, keyboards, percussion) backed by Cherif El Masri, Magued Nagasti, Aya Hemeda and Sam Shalabi. Bishop is also responsible for the no-nonsense production of the album – mostly acoustic, dry and crisp sound, no frills, no pedal effects. This spare framework gives us a bare stage, the better to showcase the bang-on precision of the players, and also to bring home the full impact of his songs’ content. When Alvarius B. recorded with Cerberus Shoal in 2002, no maiden’s blush was spared as he dredged up gory, nightmarish images from the deepest buckets of his Id. Well, not especially wackoid surreal lyrics on this occasion, but as ever the content is tinged with dark horrors flapping at the edges like vile bats on periphery of vision. It’s hard to pinpoint any specific nastiness in the words, yet by the end of three minutes you’re walking away unnerved and jumpy. His “patented sinister style” is most evident in the singing; at best, he sounds impatient and twitchy, as if spoiling for a fight. At worst, ready to flare up into unexpected violence at the drop of a flick-knife. His lips curl sardonically around each tune and supply this undercurrent of menace, even when the melody and chords can be quite sweet; the song ‘Dream Machine’ might as well be sung by the dark brother of Frank Sinatra crooning an inverted Perry Como song in a Hellish cocktail bar dive. The clean production puts all of this implied malevolence in clear focus, and leaves the listener very little room to hide; you feel like Alvarius B. has his beady eye fixed on you throughout. All sung in English here, though apparently there’s also a version of the entire release with all the lyrics sung in Arabic, exclusively available to the Middle East market. Sumptuous cover art from the graffiti of Alaa Awad. From 11 March 2013.

004

In same package we received a Sun City Girls compilation called Eye Mohini (ABDUCTION RECORDS ABDT049), volume three in a series which rounds up assorted seven-inches and rarities by this unique and unclassifiable band. Recorded between 1986 and 1993, here are 14 glimpses into an overheated hashish world of scaryifing Eastern unfamiliarity. Most of these were originally released on their own Majora Records label, around the time of the amazing Torch of the Mystics and Dawn of the Devi LPs, and represent a time when the band were playing around with “Arabic guitar instrumentals” and “pseudo-Asian vocal folk styles”; 1993’s ‘Kickin’ The Dragon’ is one such, a rendition so accurate that you’d easily mistake it as a refugee from one of their Sublime Frequencies compilations. As such, the comp is mostly acoustic rather than “rock music”, although a few tracks such as ‘It’s Ours’ or the long live track ‘Soar / The Flower’ will satisfy your thirst for the crazed and unpredictable “Death to Jerry Garcia” styled guitar jamming this trio could execute while spinning sideways on their whirling Sufi asses 1. Like the Alan Bishop record above, it’s also got its vaguely threatening undercurrents (I always feel if I fail to listen to their music “correctly”, then I’ll invoke the wrath of Kali upon my head), but it also possesses a lot of the Sun City Girls’ dark humour and sense of the absurd, an aspect which I think they always undertook with perfect seriousness; they played their pranks for keeps. I wasn’t even aware of this reissue project (the other two volumes came out in 2008 and 2009) but then I never had any realistic hopes of being a “completist” when it comes to hoovering up every last scree of this band’s considerable output. Given rarity and high prices of original Majoras these days, this CD is most welcome.

  1. This gag adapted from a catalogue entry by Stefan Jaworzyn.

Great Invisible Crashing

We’ve got this six-CD set Passagen (MONOTYPE RECORDS mono58) which is a “career-spanning” box of the undefinable work of the German combo P16.D4. It’s been lurking in the cannisters for many a month, but today I’m just going to try and look at the first CD. It’s called Kühe in 1/2 Trauer and was (sort of) the first proper LP put out by the team of Ralf Wehowsky, Roger Schönauer and Ewald Weber. This album wasn’t released until 1984, but the band was started in 1980 and had been steadily recording all that time. Even then Ralf (or RLW) was terrifyingly prolific, as his solo career will demonstrate. In fact this album contains a jumble of live and studio recordings mostly made between 1982 and 1983, and often we’ll find two recordings from different dates or actions, spliced together to make an unholy lump of gnarled noise. Before the release of Kühe in 1/2 Trauer the band put out various single tracks as contributions to cassette compilations. Did I mention the band were originally called P.D.? Their Inweglos LP from 1980 under that name is a real gem. I haven’t got an original LP of course but the later CD reissue on Absurd Records. Real tasty minimal electronic rhythms and analogue blattery. I seem to recall it as somewhat more tuneful than the hateful, depressing noise I am enduring today. Which isn’t to say I’m not enjoying it or appreciating it. This music is staggeringly original and innovative, and while it’s possible to locate it in a chain of circumstance that links it to “industrial” music, P16.D4 indulged in none of the empty cliches associated with the genre, worked incredibly hard, and seem to have been aiming at a form of sound art that was much more profound, varied, subversive, and potentially dangerous.

You can be impressed just by reading the printed credits for each track, which indicate their radical approach to making music: lots of improvisation, lots of live electronics, extensive use of tape loops, some conventional instrumentation, and much that isn’t – like the milk churn on ‘Paris, Morgue’ or the use of baking tray and washing machine elsewhere. Even when guitars, drums or keyboards are used, they’re played very weirdly. It’s not even made clear who was doing what; the main credit is “Concept”, which I assume means that one of the three devised the framework in which the noise would operate itself, and while RLW gets the lion’s share of these credits, a lot of the cuts are evenly divided among the team and (without reading the history in the booklet) I have no doubt that the group operated in a very democratic or libertarian manner. None of this prepares you for the insane and troubling sounds that reach your ears, composed with scant regard for conventional logic and following an exciting, absurdist path, especially in the matter of tape edits and juxtapositions of recordings. Take a simple three-minute song like ‘Rückplötzlich (Scheitze)’ – it clashes a group improvisation played with organ, drums and guitar with some unsettling tapes of screams, voices, laughing and radio noise; in less than three minutes presenting an unhinged and distorted view of society’s follies that George Grosz would’ve applauded mightily. The musical instruments are played with a ferocious amateurish attack, making a nonsense of “musicianship”, yet producing the correct degree of angry, hideous malevolence and seething discontent. At this juncture it’s hard to escape making comparisons between P16.D4 and This Heat, but P16.D4 seemed to have gone even further; it’s as though the whole band were at the level of Gareth Williams, the musically-untrained trickster in the This Heat pack. P16.D4 may also share some of Charles Hayward’s troubling ideas about the impossibility of communication; at one point in his life, Hayward despaired of human beings ever communicating anything, and it informed just about every song he wrote for that band. P16.D4 seem to take this state of affairs as a given, and are constantly striving to find expression in the most desolate and God-forsaken zones possible. They speak in desperate, blocked growls and fowl buzzing tones, defying anyone to make their way past this palpable membrane of alienation. Powerful!

Another abiding impression I have from today’s spin is one of broken-ness, a deliberate attempt to realise a broken and fragmented music; the music itself is shapeless, abrasive and lumpy. That milk churn image just won’t go away for me; the music itself might as well have been made by a churning process, and that’s reflected in the semi-mechanical churn of the sound. And it usually produces a sour coagulated whey, music that is virtually indigestible by the human system. Tracks are contrived to begin and end in the middle of nowhere, resisting conventional form, often breaking off just at the point where you think you might want to hear more of it. It’s hard to fathom the sensations of “beautiful ugliness” which this music induces. We’re left stranded in a world governed by absurd and incomprehensible rules; not much fun to listen to the unholy noise they make, but it’s even worse when it stops. “Funny, the more you eat the worse it gets,” said Estragon in Waiting for Godot. “With me it’s the opposite…I get used to the muck as I go along,” replied Vladimir in Beckett’s play.

Besides the entire Kühe in 1/2 Trauer album, this CD also contains the three Masse Mensch tracks from 1982; these were released on a Selektion LP of this title that year. I think it was the first vinyl release on this label, which Ralf operated with Achim Wollscheid. These items are no less chilling than the preceding work, but they also have a starkness in their realisation, often comprising not much more than a ghastly bass guitar riff with a layer of angst-ridden guitar noise growling on top. On one track, tapes of crowds shouting are manipulated to nightmarish proportions. On another, a saxophone and piano are added to the minimal set-up, but no sense of joy is imparted by this quasi-jazz instrumentation, and a very forlorn conversation ensues. The sound of the saxophone alone – a ghostly inhuman and echoing wail – will induce an instant melancholy, which can only be cured by the suicide’s noose. Most grotesque of all is the five-minute ‘Halbmensch’ where the treated voice stutters, moans and wails over a fragmented backdrop of tapes produced from kitchen utensils, along with the desultory minimal bass-guitar murmurations. The voice is struggling to make itself understood through a mouthful of dough. This stunning aural portrait of a “half man” is for me a particular highlight of the set, a penetrating observation on the human condition that imparts many uncomfortable truths.

I’m looking forward to digging into the other five CDs, and reading more from the booklet with its history, photographs and critical essays; a fitting showcase for this massively significant band.

People in the Ceiling

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A delightful item is Tales Of The Expected (MOMENTAL RECORDS MR CD1), an assemblage concocted with joyful glee and meticulous care by the composer Thierry Vaudor. This Canadian-born composer comes to us from a musicological background, and after his studies in jazz composition at Montreal he played his bass in local jazz and rock bands before picking up the virtual editing knife under the guise of Total Normal. All the cuts on this album he classifies under the “acousmatic” term, which is what composers say when they intend the music to be used exclusively for playback over speakers. It’s all done by building layers of sampling and editing, a task over which Vaudor labours with love and dedication, and you might hear anything up to 150 separate instruments on a single track. Some of them are quite brief in duration, but the listener certainly won’t feel short-changed after digesting each intense and chunky spread of music which smears like goose liver pate over hot buttered toast. I want to emphasise that Vaudor is not one of those sampling types who wallows in irony, post-modernism, sarcasm or all the other tricks perpetrated by some dozy samplerdelic types following in the wake of John Oswald, and we are not invited to play “spot the source” nor break into a knowing smirk at each witty juxtaposition. Instead, Vaudor works entirely with his ears; he chooses the “intrinsic qualities” of a “found sound”, not for what he calls its “anecdotal or referential value”. In this way he delivers quietly impossible music: brilliant melodic poppy-jazzy rhythms sprinkled with elements of easy listening, techno-lite beats, souled-up vocals, and multiple layers of extremely odd confections of constructed sound. Lots of good humour in these seamlessly-assembled bright tunes, and intellectually satisfying too. From 1st February 2013.

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Late notice for the Untitled (SMERALDINA-RIMA S-R-015) album by Spirit Of The Positive Wind, a lumpy clunkeroo of rugged performo-noise from four Americans which was released in October 2011, received here in April 2012, and is only now surfacing to the rim of the cauldron. On this vinyl item we’ve got members of Mouthus Brian Sullivan and Nate Nelson (who also did the cover painting), plus Pete Nolan of Magik Markers and Karl Bauer from Axolotl. I’ve enjoyed the crazy noise music of all of these underground Yanks, although it’s been impossible to keep up with all of their prodigious output, and to this day I still feel unable to assess the value of what they’ve achieved over the last ten years or so. Releases like this one, while extremely enjoyable, aren’t helping me make up my mind. Their combined work has been collaged together into two suites of about 20 minutes apiece, and the process has involved a fair amount of smearing and rendering-down, at times producing extremely bizarre and unfamiliar sounds, and at other times creating a rather wearisome and unnatural bubbling drone effect. I certainly admire whatever rough-hewn techniques were employed to achieve these strange-tasting effects and exotic aural moments, but somewhere the force of the original performances has been drained away. There may be about five or ten good minutes in amongst this meandery mudbath full of purple eels and gulping carps, but there doesn’t seem to be any convenient way to extract these nuggets.

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La Géographie Sans Regret (SPECTROPOL RECORDS SpecT 15) is a fairly uncanny record, one of those wild collaborative affairs that make you wonder in amazement at the results. The young Brazilian guitarist George Christian clashes his steely howler-mode strings with the Japanese act Mehata Sentimental Legend, who is the visual artist and experimenter Mehata Hiroshi and one who describes their work as “ritual futurism”. It’s a shocking listen; within seconds you’re presented with far too much musical information to digest, as though watching a cine film with double exposures, or even triple exposures. This impression persists for the first two tracks and, apart from a lull into a slightly quieter passage on track 3, doesn’t get much easier after that point; indeed it’s these very raw and discordant qualities that make the work live and breathe for me, and keep it fresh and vital for each new spin. For just about every second of listening, you truly feel like this is a matter of life or death, that something very serious is at stake. Both musicians recorded their parts at their respective homelands, separated by significant distances, and I wonder if the totality was assembled after the fact from disparate parts, a method that is proven to work well, and if that’s what they did it adds considerably to the deliciously jarring experience of the album. Plus there’s the claustrophobic and eccentric mix, which piles all the sounds together as signs of equal value, and obliges the listener to sort it all out in the head. Both of them sing or add voice parts, but as the lyrics are printed in Portuguese I assume that’s George’s voice that dominates on such juddering haunters as ‘Abismo de Cravos’; he admits he is attempting to “test the limits of his singing voice”, and his notes also disclose the very personal exploratory nature of this work, a reconciliation of his own musical history with his interest in contemporary art. As to Mehata Hiroshi, this person is a cryptical mystic type, uttering compelling phrases such as ‘Stem and root emits life to two sides of the same coin’ and ‘Soul, such as magma deep underground that is wriggling’. Right on! The total effect of this slow-raging hailstorm of shrill and metallic sound swirling together with these plaintive howly vocals is palpable, producing a coppery taste in the mouth and inducing an apocalyptic headache of the soul. Not an easy listen and few will work their way past its forbidding surface, but once you’re deep within this tunnel / maelstrom of music you’ll find it hard to slip loose from its intestinal bonds. Besides the wild voices, you should find the guitar playing of George Christian is truly remarkable (when it occasionally climbs its way to the surface of the cluttered mix, that is) and it’s not far-fetched to predict that one day soon he’ll be held in as high esteem as Haino, Akiyama, or Li Jianhong. From 5th March 2013, and highly recommended.

Beyond This Vessel: a dark and demonic sermon of swamp folk psychedelia

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Geist & the Sacred Ensemble, Beyond This Vessel, Moon Glyph, cassette MG68 (2013)

It’s time for some dark and demonic ritualistic psychedelic folk from way down in the fetid, humid swamplands of … uh, Seattle, courtesy of a bunch a-callin’ their selves Geist & the Sacred Ensemble. Lazy drawling half-singing / half-declaiming vocals from Geist himself lead the way and what a trail is blazed by these musical gypsy travellers: a lackadaisical rhythm, simple tribal percussion, stark and sometimes massive guitars, and a generally heavy kind of atmosphere.

The guys swagger through “On the Next Full Moon”, simmering up some Southern Gothic rock dirge drudge drone for the monthly sacrificial lynching ritual to appease an angry Old Testament spirit. The music becomes a bit more urgent and apocalyptic on “Seeker”, Geist almost in supplication to the personal demons and angels locked in eternal battle in his heart for his soul. The guitars change from insistently heraldic and emphatic to soft woozy wash. This becomes “Terraformer” and as the title suggests, the music has indeed metamorphosed from structures based on simple beats, repetition and riff loops to soft desultory, dreamy ambience with rippling guitar notes out front and reverbed guitar wash out over the skies above. Geist’s singing sleepwalk barely holds the track together. Black misty shadows rise from the still green waters beneath the tangle of mangrove and tree roots, a giant reptilian shadow glides through the muddy depths, a deep alien machine starts to rumble  - perhaps there is a UFO down deep within the marshes?

“Bird Passage” is a peculiar name for the lethargic ritual conducted by Geist in deadened preacher mode, leading an equally enervated congregation in prayer to their unholy chthonic spiritual masters. Woozy wobbly effects and a solemn acoustic guitar accompany Geist on his journey to whatever passes for spiritual enlightenment and union.

It’s a surprisingly short album for its cassette format – the album repeats over on the B-side (this must be the new trend in recording albums to cassette tape) – and with the songs sort of joined up, listeners could be forgiven for wondering what happened to the second half of the album, unaware that it in fact has sailed right past them. The music is brooding and haunted yet not very absorbing; the vocals tend to be exaggeratedly twangy and drawling and need some real sulphurous fire-and-brimstone passion to capture that full-on prophet-in-the-wilderness apocalyptic quality. There probably should be more thumping hypnotic psychedelic music with the guitars soaring at wild and swerving tangents to create an intense rallying mood in which it should be possible for listeners to fall to the floor shaking uncontrollably, foaming at the mouth, perspiring by the bucket-loads and uttering pathetic little cries that appeal to their dark pitiless god for mercy or delivering warnings of global doom in guttural demon tones.