Tagged: guitar

Solo Dúo

chris_abrahams

Chris Abrahams
Fluid To The Influence
AUSTRALIA ROOM40 RM464 LP/CD (2016)

This recent solo release from Chris Abrahams – one third of the ever-prolific Necks trio – is bamboozling in its eclecticism; a seemingly semi-digested bag of oddball juxtapositions in which concrète sound art and sine wave stasis sit aside laconic, ring-tone piano meanderings like ingredients set by for a mystery stew. One might easily see such obfuscation as a playful raspberry directed at devotees of the Necks’ all-assimilating ambient jazz, though the aptly titled opener ‘One Liter Cold Laptop’ clarifies Abraham’s sincere interest in the oblique relations between distinct elements: an aimless churn of electric organ and barbed wire guitar brusquely interrupted at the halfway mark by a length of hair-raising radio screech; itself rejoindered by the nuanced, luxury spa piano lines of ‘Scale Upon The Land’.

A pianist by trade, Abrahams’ playing takes a range of leading roles: in ‘Trumpets Of Bindweed’ an electric organ of some description flickers and swells in a half-lit, metallic dissonance, while waves of pellucid piano dance softly in the more watery setting of ‘Clung, Eloquent’. The sense of ease and direction remain unknown quantities throughout. Just as his main group make a virtue of blending all manners of exotic into room-temperature air freshener, Abrahams is apparently more concerned with tweaking the tensions found at the border level, as per his recent geometry-threatening collaborations with sound artist Alessandro Bosetti. Yes, his purposes are ever puzzling, but they’re worth puzzling over all the same.

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Clara de Asís
Uno Todo Tres
FRANCE PIEDNU PN0116 CD (2016)

Clara De Asís is both a new name to me and a refreshing voice in the well-inhabited drone world, to which the Spanish-born / France-based guitar player brings a temperament informed by her interests in electroacoustic composition, collaborative improvisation and something of a psychoanalytic approach to sound construction. Proust’s home country is surely a suitable base of operations: her work often concerns the uncertain relationship between memory and experienced reality; her compositions tool for tapping the hidden potential of sparse sounds. Uno Todo Tres continues to plumb the the prepared guitar’s phenomenological depths, and is annotated by such ontological epithets such as ‘A sound that raises awareness of the profound silence and in extinguishing leads into the depths of this silence’. The piece consists of a tremulous, organ-sounding tone that materialises from and returns to nothing over forty-four minutes. Its meditative properties might help the listener to make sense of Asís’ binary-smashing rumination, but it leaves the listener in a sense of emotional completion with its deep examination of tonal extremes.

Broken and Incoherent Society

Three items from the LF Records label in Bristol landed 6th May 2016.

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Norwegian Sindre Bjerga wows crowds everywhere through his manipulation of cassette tapes. We heard him doing it for this label in 2014 with Black Paper Wings, a highly effective combination of warped speaking voices with twisted electronic spew. We also heard him as one half of Star Turbine, on the fabbo record Inner Space / Outer Space for Attenuation Circuit, and on Invisible Paths for Zoharum. Here on For The Automatic People (LF057), we’ve got 28 minutes of him mangling tapes and machines at a live set in Nijmegen. No doubt it offers a sensationally chilling experience, pushing the listener through the other side of a distorting mirror where the once-familiar world is transformed into ugly, threatening shapes. But for most of the time Bjerga is treading water, letting the tapes unspool in suitably ambiguous droney and crackly scapes but not doing much to exert himself as a performer; I prefer the brief moments when he gets his hands stuck right in, and does something to manually retard the rotation of his own capstans, to devastating effect. Even so, this growly beast fully lives up to label claim of “magnetic tape abuse, bleak drone and dungeon crawler electronics”.

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When it comes to “hands-on” performances, you could do worse than turning your spotlight on major loon Yol, the English performer whose ugly and slightly confrontational work has crossed our path on two unforgettable CDRs. Is It Acceptable (LF056) contains four instances of his voice-centric noise, and will likely sear its way into your life in just 30 mins with as much assurance as a truckload of spoiled food or garden debris tipped onto your front lawn. Yol spits and vomits out primitive poetry right there on the stage, mauling and mangling his own larynx into hideous forms while doing so; unpleasant imagery abounds in his texts, many of them vivid descriptions of life on a bleak on a housing estate, and it’s like meeting an urbanised Stig of the Dump crossed with a heroin addict clutching a can of Special Brew in his hairy paw. To accompany these caustic, abrasive voice attacks, Yol uses broken debris as percussion – could be chains, metal tins, broken glass…as if using the remains of industrial society to make his point. Can’t help but concur with label assessment: “Yol infests speech and sound with a plague-like bubonic mass that explodes spores into the atmosphere”.

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Both the above releases tend to confirm label owner Greg Godwin’s view of contemporary British society as broken and incoherent. The next record is slightly more “musical”, though that’s probably stretching the envelope a bit more than we should. It’s a split album (LF050) between Robin Foster and Henry Collins, with both cuts mysteriously timed at exactly 18:02. Foster turns in ‘Spill Lynch Corrosiveness’, a long and brooding episode of nasty guitar noise, which he executes with a coldness of purpose that borders on malevolence. He makes that feedback hum creep along the studio floor as though it’s a slowly-seeping pool of acid, soon to be lapping around our ankles. There’s also evidence of his skill with pedal manipulation; not a second goes by but a potentially “normal” sounding guitar lick is mutated into a hideous blob of ugliness by means of distortion or delay, pushed to wild extremes. If there’s a coherent statement to be extracted from this lengthy bout of waywardness, you’d be hard pressed to find it; Robin Foster is determined to short-circuit logic and common sense at all times, pushing back and forth between the modes of twangy free-form plucking and pure noise generation.

Henry Collins’ exploits are even more insufferable. His ‘Frostlike, Neighbourly Aversion’ makes it plain, in both title and sound, that he wishes to explore his own personal sensations of alienation. His assault on the guitar, if that is indeed the instrument in question, is violent and crude; for the first seven minutes the listener is repelled rather than engaged, forced aside by an ugly chattering of coarse metal-electric filth. Things progress from that point, into insane explorations of wayward feedback apparently taking place inside an industrial metal cannister, some 30 feet high with no possibility of escape. It’s genuinely alarming to hear; this noise perfectly evokes the maddened frustration and claustrophobia of the mentally ill, clawing helplessly at the walls of their self-made cage. One of the more impressive scabs to have been torn from the gangrenous knee of the LF Records label; for those with a thirst for more Foster and Collins, they also perform as a duo under the name of Tippex.

MacArthur’s Lark

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Here’s another reissue obscurity from Out-Sider Music, the Spanish offshoot of Guerssen, whose other offshoot Mental Experience brought us the reissues of Circles and Red Square. MacArthur (OSR044) was made by an American band in the late 1970s and described here as a “US basement psych-prog monster”. I understand why these reissue labels feel the need to hype everything they put out, but this is such a mediocre example of 1970s American rock that I find this hyperbole hard to swallow. Apart from some quite good flashes of accomplished lead guitar work, this whole album is an undistinguished piece of work, with lame songs, poor vocals, and a heavy-handed rhythm section.

MacArthur are sold to us as a form of progressive rock or psychedelic rock, but for the most part they resemble a third-rate version of Kansas, Boston, or Foghat. A charitable listener might find consonances between album opener ‘Light Up’ and the early work of Focus (it comes within an ace of turning into ‘Sylvia’), and ‘The Black Forest’ is a Flamenco-tinged instrumental that vaguely suggests sword-and-sorcery themes drawn from the well of Led Zeppelin IV. On ‘Prelude No 1 in C Major’, the guitarist indulges his skill for baroque classical guitar, and ‘The Shock Of The New’ is a showcase for ELP-styled pyrotechnics with speedy acoustic piano licks followed by Euro-prog moog solo excess. But MacArthur’s real passion is for playing power ballads, with unexceptional time signatures and unemotive vocals from the lead singer, and this material is what characterises most of the album. It’s quite some way from being “underground” as I would understand it; it seems more plausible that MacArthur had their sights set on finding their way into the AOR charts and FM radio play. Unfortunate timing for them, given that MTV was just about to dawn, resulting in significant changes to the market and audience they were seeking for their music.

The story of it is that MacArthur recorded the album at home in 1979, on a four-track machine. There are other, less credible, stories that say it was recorded in 1973 and released in 1974, but this is probably just wishful thinking. The creative nexus is songwriter Ben MacArthur and instrumentalist-arranger Bill Heffelfinger, who met in Saginaw in Michigan. Heffelfinger seems to be the main creative powerhouse; he arranged the songs and produced the album, the guitar and keyboard solos are all his, and so are what the press notes describe as “mini-moog analog synth attacks”.

The resulting album was a private-press release, comprising 200 copies (or 500; again, there are conflicting stories about this detail). It appeared in a very plain sleeve; the label is at pains to tell us the lengths they have gone to restore the “embossed letters” which appear on the LP version of this release, sparing no expense to represent the band’s original intention. Before this official release, there was a bootleg version circulating with a rather attractive collage cover, retitled The Black Forest, a release which may well have been the source of the wrong dates and other misinformation. Even that bootleg is rare, which persuades me that there are some vinyl collectors who will chase after anything provided it’s obscure enough, regardless of the quality of the music. Guerrsen and Out-Sider have been “reissuing rare and obscure psychedelic, progressive, folk and garage albums from the 60s to early 80s” now since 2010, arguably picking up the torch from other dubious labels who do likewise, such as Akarma, Radioactive Records, and Phoenix.

MacArthur is a very mixed bag and extremely uneven album which I can’t recommend, except as an odd period piece. From 16th April 2016.

Solar Darkness

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Aithein (KARL RECORDS KR023) is a fine record of guitar art-rock excess played by Oren Ambarchi with two Italian musicians joining in, namely Stefano Pilia and Massimo Pupillo. I see we noted guitarist Stefano Pilia in 2005 with his album for Last Visible Dog, Healing Memories… And Other Scattering Times, realised with the help of Valerio Tricoli. “Long-form instrumental…shapeless drones”, was how I recall it, but there was also warmth and sincerity to his work, plus he seems to have improved his technique considerably in 11 years, and his guitar work makes a good complement to Oren’s playing here. Pilio has also made some headway playing and touring with Andrea Belfi and David Grubbs in another art-music trio. Massimo Pupillo is the bass player in Zu, an Italian trio who blended jazz moves with math-rock in some way, and I don’t think we heard them since 2005 either, and the album The Way Of The Animal Powers on Public Guilt. Well, so much for the good old days.

Oren Ambarchi has over time been growing and developing his unique approach to playing extended instrumentals, a trend which could be seen on 2012’s Audience Of One and Sagittarian Domain from 2013. I’m not sure what it means, or how to characterise it. I can’t give it a name. It feels quite composed, because it’s structured to some degree; it allows for improvisation, like jazz; and yet there’s always a strong beat in it somewhere, so it never departs very far from rock music. You could say Oren is trying to have his triple-layer cake and eat it, with extra helpings of cream and sugar. Maybe it also reflects on his wide-ranging musical appetites; we all like so many types of music now, mainly because there’s so much of it available. But I’d like to think Oren is not only doing something quite original, he’s taking his time to evolve it thoroughly, and naturally; it’s a learning process, other collaborators are involved (even though he can produce similar results in a studio by playing all the instruments himself), and it’s not some novelty act or a flash in the pan that’s built on sand (insert other dreary cliché of your choice here; I’m looking for trite, commonplace phrases that suggest transience or impermanence).

However you might wonder what on earth I’m getting so excited about when you hear Aithein, captured at a live gig in Bologna in 2015 and comprising two long instrumentals. After all, the first half is mostly so desolate and empty that you lose the will to live as you listen, especially when you survey the grey empty skies and consider the awful future that awaits us all. And is your life enriched by the livelier antics on the second side, which if you sampled for just two minutes you’d say was nothing special, indistinguishable from any given Hawkwind “jam” of 1973 surviving from a Festival bootleg tape? (Incidentally I think that’s Oren drumming at the end of the record, and he ain’t no slouch behind the old tubs.) Well, Oren’s achievement I think has been to structure the whole piece over some 33 minutes, so that there’s a discernible trajectory from its sorrowful start and its cathartic release at the end; along the way, there are numerous changes in tone, mood, timbre and effect, where the subtleties of the guitar drones are far more varied and powerful than anything Sunn O))) (with whom he has played) have ever managed, riff in slow motion as they may. Aithein’s dynamics and developments never feel forced or strained; it’s a combination of good ideas, compositional / directional strengths, and good musicianship that leads to such a good result. From 19 April 2016.

Humble Beginnings

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Kevin Verwijmeren
Those Glorious Heights
BELGIUM ICARUS RECORDS i006 / VYNILLA VINYL vv029 LP (2016)

A recent favourite in this increasingly cold, crepuscular season is this lovely ambient LP; one of those ghostly, guitar-orchestra ones that moves the cotton-wrapped listener through the dawn’s half-light, leaving smoke trails hanging in the frozen air as we ascend towards an ever-distant, diurnal climax. The equally joyful second side presents a more ‘nocturnal’ aspect, with warm touches of keyboard reverb. Mastered by drone maestro Stephan Mathieu, whose name is like a Michelin star on many a product these days, this is the second LP from Kevin Verwijmeren, whose stated ‘aim is to make music in such a way that when certain melodies and patterns are combined, (they) create a landscape of sound(s)’ offers apt explanation (if affected in its naivete). Alongside inaccurate comparisons to Tim Hecker and Loscil, the notes inform us that Verwijmeren is a 24-year old science student, from which detail we might be expected to infer analytical rigour and a superior appreciation of nature’s patterns, but it’s clear from this debut that a music career could be a viable option if the science route doesn’t work out.

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Key
Pentimento
GERMANY EMPIRIC RECORDS emrec 9 CD (2016)

It’s OK Berlin, you have nothing to worry about: this immaculate set of ambient techno cuts won’t be reinventing the wheels of steel any time soon, though devoid as it is of clamour or danger it stands every chance of being top dog in the ‘domestic beats’ pecking order. Pentimento is the debut release from Japanese techno artisan Key (aka Maiko Okimoto) and displays the levels of flattering imitation/due-paying homage we might expect from this reverent culture. Ahead of any listening, giveaway titles like ‘Monad’, ‘Liber Abaci’ and ‘Dynamic Equilibrium’ evoke the shadowy likes of Black Dog, Rrose and Sandwell District, and even a casual listen erases any doubt that Key has paid attention to their craft. While primarily a downtempo matter, don’t expect to bask in Key’s initial daubings of Chain-Reactive dub techno, which over time become unsettled by slow, skull-crushing stomps (‘Vega’, ‘Microseism’) and more intricate, polyrhythmic patterns (‘Liber Abaci’). Nothing new to be sure, but Key’s balance of stylistic refinement and atmospheric density is not unwelcome in these parts.

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ozmotic
Liquid Times
GERMANY S/OBJECT SO002 CD / FOLK WISDOM FW005CD CD (2016)

Further eco-themed sandstorm ambience from Ozmotic – the Turin-based duo who brought us the jazz-infused atmos of AirEffect. Little has changed since that debut: Fennesz is apparently still on hand (perhaps left over from their first album) with guitar distortion at the ready for a couple of tracks, though their second release also sees Raster Noton heavies Frank Bretschneider and Senking climbing aboard for bonus remix duties, which means these two Italians are either excellent networkers or they have deep pockets from rewarding day jobs. Liquid Times supplies similar sound-scaping to FSOL’s Lifeforms; wibbly, naturalistic textures and the odd dash of traditional instrumentation as well as some humble sax playing (‘Techne’), bringing a very 1990s, Virgin Ambient sort of feel to bear: the plastic heterogeneity of how globalisation was expected to be once the Benetton colours had bled together in one, anodyne melting pot. Listening to this in 2016 therefore feels a bit anachronistic, a feeling not helped by the rather pedestrian remixes, which appear to have been turned in like hurriedly scrawled homework the morning after a late night.

Vinyl Seven Glom Part 8

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Romain Perrot is one of our personal TSP favourites. This French madman for years practised an extreme form of noise performance art which he called Harsh Noise Wall, whose main feature was an unvarying flat racket of insufferable feedback in front of which he would appear dressed in a black bin-bag. Despite what you may think, there was much humour and ingenuity behind these statements of pure unremitting nihilism. In recent years, he took an about-turn in his music – strumming an acoustic guitar monotonously instead of twiddling knobs. Then he was experimenting with vocals, beat boxes, and electric guitars. We noted one result in 2014 called ta bouche de fraise me rend si sauvage, credited to Roro Perrot et son héroroïne, and it was a primo example of how he was able to deconstruct the conventional song form and rebuild it in his own intense manner. “Deconstruct” is too clever a word in this context, though. Some might call it more of a savage mauling; it’s as though he was a lion or tiger, ripping apart a hundred Bob Dylan records as if they were so much raw meat.

We received Roro-Mantique (DECIMATION SOCIALE NO NUMBER) on 20 March 2014, and musically it’s pretty much in the same zone as described above. It’s a solo EP where he’s joined by two guest performers. There he is (presumably) on the cover, looking every inch the renegade biker gypsy who failed to get an audition with a Jimi Hendrix Experience covers band. On the inside there’s a family group photo that’s strongly reminiscent of the Grateful Dead’s Aoxomoxoa back cover. The EP itself is totally bonkers. On ‘La Cicatrice Blonde’, the manic acoustic guitar strumming creates an absurd background scratchy noise, while there’s also a semi-tasteful harmonium introduction to this parodic love song. The vocals are insane; guest singer Mogui keens out her random phrases in a form of song-speech, aided by an echo chamber which helps the atmosphere of the song. Roro Perrot just grunts and growls like a monster. No verse-chorus nonsense here, nor a tune; it’s totally formless spew that somehow works perfectly. If you’re seeking an underground riposte to Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, this blast of absurdity might just fit the bill. ‘Lettre D’Amour’ picks up the “romance” theme, and turns love into a nightmarish experience – two echo-enhanced voices screaming at each other. Totally reduces the idea of “love” to its most primal, basic form; the lovers here could be having a row, experiencing orgasm, or writhing in pain – or all of the above. If you enjoy records by Yoko Ono and Junko and want to hear something even more repellent, prepare for two minutes of vocal hell.

The B-side ‘Expectatives Libidineuses’ dispenses with Mogui’s contributions and we’re back to the basic set-up of Roro heaving out his foul grunts along with the worst guitar playing in the universe. He’s joined by percussionist Yoshihiro Kikuchi, and the song stops and starts for no reason, without once managing to generate an iota of positive energy. A perfect example of what the creator calls “ultra shit folk”, and issued under a title that you’d expect to find next to a Salvador Dali painting. Except that there is very little freedom for the libido in this nasty, constipated, song. Like much of Roro’s non-music, it’s trapped in this self-made circle where there is no possibility of release. I hope I’ve managed to sell you on this fantastic release; Roro Perrot is a true Outsider, and it’s very rare to find such examples of strong, raw music, pressed directly from his heart onto the wax.

The Carousel: a slow languid recording ruminating on times past

Tom James Scott, The Carousel, Skire, cassette SKR05 (2016)

Recorded during the northern hemisphere summer in 2015 through to winter in 2015/2016, this short cassette features 12 instrumental pieces composed and performed by Tom James Scott on piano, guitar and keyboard, with one track “Hiding Places” also including autoharp by Kristina Liulia. These slow little pieces – almost like fragments really, reaching out to connect somehow and almost succeeding – have a languid, sultry air and some of them are very solemn too, probably because of the soft organ-like instrument droning steadily in the background.

The feeling across this cassette seems to be one of longing or regret over fading memories or lost opportunities. Titles suggest an inward-looking, maybe even obsessive focus on objects that recall past childhood memories and feelings, objects recording the passage of time. On some tracks, background chatter has been left in, not just to emphasise the improvisational or ephemeral (or both) nature of the music perhaps but also to highlight the alienated quality of the solo instrument playing its lacklustre melody. On Side B, one track is taken up with creaking sounds suggestive of someone trying to wind up an old creaking wooden clock to get it to work and not succeeding too well.

As you can imagine, listening to this tape isn’t always a pleasant experience and it doesn’t lend itself to frequent replaying. But if one late summer’s day, when the sun is already starting to set behind the trees and hills, long shadows are stretching far in front of you, and your thoughts turn to pleasures and good times that are already fast becoming sketchy in your mind, soon to be unreachable in the recesses of your brain, you know someone else has already limned out the soundtrack for what you feel.

The album is limited to 175 copies and each comes in an attractively designed slipcase with a download code.

Vinyl Seven Glom Part 4

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Cavern Of Anti-Matter is the current project of Tim Gane from Stereolab, where he plays guitar and electronics supported by Stereolab drummer Joe Dilworth and Holger Zapf playing synths, drum machines, and electronic noises. Lawrence Conquest noted their 2103 album Blood-Drums here, as “highly melodic instrumental synth pop of a determinedly retro variety”. Total Availability And The Private Future (PERIPHERAL CONSERVE pH-24) is much in the same mode, two pieces of clever synth pop with added beats. Quite nice. I always feel a tad underwhelmed by this band’s work, perhaps because the name itself Cavern Of Anti-Matter is leading me to expect something with more intellectual heft, or at the very least a bit more cavernous dub echo in the production. Or maybe something from a science fiction fantasy where they produce music so powerful and strange that it can undo the fabric of matter itself. That would be worth hearing. I’m sure Tim Gane knows that story about Tony Visconti’s Eventide Harmonizer used on Low, and probably filed that nugget away in his mental cabinet as a piece of rock mythology. If only they could live up to it. At any rate this music is nowhere near as smarmy and knowing as Stereolab used to be, so that’s progress. The cover art is by Julian House. Some nice design and collage elements going on here, and it could have been as strong as a meeting between Eduardo Paolozzi and Peter Max, but somehow the image loses its nerve and is lost in a welter of bad design. From 31 October 2014.

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The duo of Loren Connors & Suzanne Langille appear on the 7-incher Strong & Foolish Heart / Blue Ghost Blues (TANUKI RECORDS #16), which was recorded at a festival in Glasgow in 2013. The alienated guitar music of Connors is something I feel I ought to know more about, and I’ve often bumped into it since there was a surge of interest in his music since the mid-1990s. There was an Ecstatic Yod box set of four CDs that compiled some of his early acoustic work that I’ve often wondered about. We have fared a little better in recent years with the Haunted House records, where Connors and Langille teamed up with others in a tenuous musical situation that could just about be described as a “band”. Their albums for Northern Spy were impressive, including a fairly rockin’ beast called Blue Ghost Blues…but I haven’t compared the 2011 version with the song on this single to confirm if it’s the same song in another form. Matter of fact “form” is never the word that really comes to mind when hearing this duo’s music, as it seemed determined never to materialise into any recognisable shape. Think instead of musical phantoms, ectoplasms, fogs; that might be a better way to consider its value. I will say that on her singing for ‘Strong & Foolish Heart’, Suzanne Langille does pay her respects to the blues idiom with her flattened fifths, but does so in slow motion, like a mannered, awkward and frozen-stiff version of Billie Holiday meeting Ida Cox at the side of some infernal glacier. Meanwhile Connors is producing effects that are more like shimmering, transient aerial phenomena (the Northern Lights, for instance) rather than concrete guitar chords, or anything that might translate back into a basic blues-box. The combination of odd shapes, FX pedals and perhaps the tremolo arm come into play in producing this ethereal sensation. Bleak and chilling material, but wait till you hear the near-apocalyptic wail of ‘Blue Ghost Blues’, where the guitar creeps into the noisier realms with extended, hollow-sounding riffs that induce lasting despair. Langille’s lyric is half-spoken, half-whispered, half-sung…the metaphor of ghosts and haunted houses clearly abides with her as a lasting “motif”, perhaps a way of dealing with ruined relationships, horrible memories, and impossible situations that can’t be resolved. Very good. 250 copies of the record were pressed, the visuals are by Loren and there are three different covers available. From 25th January 2016.

Vinyl Seven Glom Part 1

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Three singles from Andy Pyne’s Foolproof Projects label from 18 August 2014. We’ve heard full-length recordings by all these acts…Pyne drums on all of them. Map 71 is Lisa Jayne’s poetry rap set to Pyne’s drumming and synth performances. One of the more unusual offerings from this label. Lisa Jayne usually injects a thrill somewhere between repulsion and alienation with her vaguely alarmist tones, and her sharp voice brooks no nonsense. She always sounds like she’s about to be turfed out of a council flat by the bailiffs, and is set to give ‘em Hell in return. It’s often bothered me how, on their records, Map 71 can’t always get the voice and noise and beats to match up harmoniously, but on PRJ033 it’s not too bad. ‘Standing’ works quite well – if you hear it as a competition between the two fighting for air space in the studio. It’s a thick and heavy noise and the vocalist has to resort to the vocal equivalent of shoving and punching her way to the front. On ‘Specimen’, there’s something more secretive and fragile at stake, and she has to whisper it.

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Aeolipile is a jazz trio featuring the sax blurt of Jason Williams and impolite bass playing of Tom Roberts. We’ve had Mapping The Diaphragms Of Drowning Cats thrown at us in 2015, a quite good energy burst thing. Today it feels like the formula isn’t quite cohering, and the music they play is neither rock nor jazz, even as it flounders about trying to claim the liveliest chunks they can snarf from both genres for their own use. Williams doesn’t have the articulation or subtlety that would mark him out as a notable jazz player, but if you like abrasive sax textures and rude honking smeared on your morning rolls, then this is the cafe for you. Roberts’ bass is amplified, and he comes across as more of an aspiring Hendrix sideman than a performer on Bitches Brew. Two tunes ‘Glut’ and ‘Paused Pregnancy’ manage to roll forwards like a cart with irregular wheels on PRJ035, but the playing feels disorganised and muddled.

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Kellar is the duo of Pyne with guitarist Dan Cross, whose full-length The Even Keel we noted in 2015. Kellar always disappoint me. The combination of FX-ed guitar noise with drumming should be a noise-rock delight, but Dan Cross lacks the stamina and chops to produce anything of value. ‘Sunrise City Flux’ on PRJ034 is a weedy effort, where the FX pedals do nothing to conceal the timid and unadventurous guitar playing, and the duo tread water in a pointless four minutes of tentative dribbling. ‘Exit Via Ocean’ is more acceptable for its chaotic elements and Cross is making a bit more of an effort to push himself over to the wilder side, but they still run out of time before they manage to achieve a healthy ejaculation of noisy spunk. For the real thing, tune in to Rudolph Grey / The Blue Humans, or Ascension.

Tomorrow’s Stars

Tomorrow Outside Tomorrow

I’m amazed by the way contemporary guitar playing has evidently evolved to the point where we can get outstanding records like Tomorrow Outside Tomorrow (EDITIONS MEGO EMEGO 217) on our doorstep. A team-up between Tetuzi Akiyama and Alan Licht, joined by two guest players, where the sounds of the guitars are so heavily disguised and mutated that we might almost be listening to purely electronic music; and the strength of the improvised performances has evolved rapidly past all known attempts to categorise and pigeon-hole the work.

Tetuzi Akiyama has been associated with ultra-quiet “Onkyo” music, but this music is far from quiet. Licht’s recent efforts have not been sent to us, outside of the impressive Four Years Older (also on Mego and noted here). ‘Blues Deceiver’ is the first of two long pieces here, where the duo are joined by Oren Ambarchi, himself a foremost experimenter who is continuing to push the six-string electric guitar well past acceptable boundaries. I suppose we could describe this as a slow and torturous feedback dirge, filled with abstract groans and lengthy sustained notes, but then there’s strange detail lurking in some of the undefined corners of this nebulous bellow. Music and noise, distortion and clarity; the tension is sustained unfailingly for 20 minutes. There are at least two or even three conflicting moods at work; one of them is depressed and angry, another is trying to find some room for quiet contemplation. One voice negates the whole of man’s existence, another is attempting to piece together a philosophical argument in favour of the continuation of the human race. I seem to be describing a conversation among the Gods, a pretentious observation of the sort I was hoping to escape as I write these lines. Unhelpfully described as a “dank blues” piece by the press notes, ‘Blues Deceiver’ is really getting under my epidermis today, crawling like a living organism whose purpose may or may not be benign.

More of this metallic abrasiveness and strangulated feedback mangling can be thine on the title track, where for the first 6 mins of the piece Licht and Akiyama circle each other like ravenous lions sizing each other up. If the piercing stare of a hawk or hunting dog could be rendered as sound, chances are it would be a noise like this. It’s music that peels away your defences, strips the layers of safety, and does so in quite a painful fashion; at last you have no choice but to face up to the harsh truths that are presented here in guitar form. At this point the duo are joined by Rob Mazurek, the fab Chicago trumpet player who plays as one half of Chicago Underground Duo and whose Don Cherry fixations are very much in evidence on his contributions to ‘Tomorrow Outside Tomorrow’. His tone here is sweet and compassionate, and reminds us of Miles on ‘He Loved Him Madly’. Almost instantly, the two guitarists soften their approach, and to some degree even accompany the trumpeter’s exquisite figures, in so far as this open-ended and very abstract music will support such a conventional notion as “accompaniment”. This results in a deliciously astringent mix of sounds, temperaments and moods, the rough edges of still distorted and treated guitar noise rubbing up against the beautiful cloud-like tones of Mazurek. While this track doesn’t unsettle me as much as the first one, that’s probably a good thing, and contributes highly to the balance (the Yin and Yang) of this record. The work was recorded in Tokyo in 2014.

Yoko Naito did the cover art showing three human-like blobs of blue struggling to find common ground in a highly uncertain landscape, whose red background might indicate a sunset or more likely the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. A post modern visual update on Matisse, for sure, where the idyll of Luxe, Calme And Volupté is replaced by poverty, fear and discomfort. Essential purchase, highly recommended…from 10th March 2016.