Tagged: krautrock

Kinder in der Wildnis: a cosmic blast from the past that should be reverberating around the world

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Günter Schickert, Kinder in der Wildnis, Bureau-B, CD BB151 (2013)

What have we here? It’s a blast from the past courtesy of one Günter Schickert who was active in the 1970s and early years of the 1980s but whose work since then has been obscure. His output apparently was small and this reissue of work first released on cassette in 1983 and later subject to another cassette release in the 1990s consists of material from Schickert’s own archives. The songs are not related to one another and there are two bonus tracks tacked onto the end of the album which were recorded in the 1980s and which show influences from the Deutsche Neue Welle movement , analogous to New Wave in the UK of the same period, that hit the German rock scene.

Schickert’s signature is repetitive looping rhythm guitar riffs which appear on nearly every track on this compilation. The entire album sounds like early Amon Duul II at their most shambolic and eccentric; the music sounds as if it’s about to full apart any moment and only fraying string and old sticky-tape are holding it together. Environmental field recordings, chanting vocals with slight reverb, psychedelic guitar and mesmeric tribal rhythms are some of the elements that make this music very idiosyncratic in a scene known for a lot of wacky and way-out experimentation. The throbbing, thumping rhythm patterns of “Rabe in der Nacht” have such a hypnotic vibe that even Schickert himself might be in thrall to it: it reappears in slightly changed and sped-up form in the title track that comes much later on this collection.

The music is dark dark dark and very trippy in a very heavy way, with lots of strange put-on voices and bird noises (which include Schickert’s own attempts at imitating crows), swirling synthesisers, bedazzling effects and a thick atmosphere that alone could make your head spin. Each track seems weirder and more unsettled than the one before it. Tracks 3 and 4 are highly immersive and repetitive pieces of musical mesmerism while “Suleika” seems a bit more settled and structured. Even then that track shows signs of falling off the straight and narrow path into a wild world of trance psychedelia. Schickert’s vocal delivery here suggests a knowing psychopomps beckoning us to follow him into the underworld of spirits, from which we may never return.

The original album’s highlight is the title track which features Schickert’s then four-year-old daughter going head to head with dad on vocals at full tilt. (Ah, it must be fun being a little kid when your dad is an experimental musician who plays by his own rules; you can count on being drafted in as session musician and singer, and if your dad is named Campbell Kneale, you even gain credits as a fully fledged artist and presumably earn the same amount in ice cream currency as adult musicians do in real money.) The little girl goes for her life with reverbed voice against Schickert’s flubby trumpet and while the rest of the music stays steady throughout, there’s an air of slight craziness as a result of the singing.

The bonus tracks have a clean sound and the music seems much tighter and a bit subdued. Schickert’s voice comes over as curiously flat and a bit disembodied. The overall clinical effect may be intended but after the glorious messiness of what has gone before, the extra songs might seem a bit disappointing to some listeners. Now I’m not insinuating that the Deutsche Neue Welle movement was not a good influence on German pop and rock; indeed that particular music trend from the late 1970s seems to have disappeared from most discourse on German contemporary music and rarely gets a mention elsewhere. Probably the closest most people come to referring to DNW is when the names of bands associated with that scene (Malaria!, Deutsche-Amerikanische Freundschaft to take the best-known examples) are dropped into conversation. It’s just that Schickert, in trying to accommodate and adapt some of its influences, comes off second-best while updating his sound and the result ends up the musical equivalent of a caged bird, severely restricted in its movements and unable to fly.

Nonetheless this is a mesmerising recording from the history vaults of Seventies German rock which deserves to be much more widely known.

We Free Kings

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Reines of the Stone Age

Reines D’Angleterre is Ghédalia Tazartès with Jo [Tanz] and Elg. This Globe Et Dynastie thing (BO’WEAVIL RECORDINGS WEAVIL 50) is probably a one-off affair realised in Berlin with help of Daniel Lowenbruck and recorded by Rashad Becker. Tazartès is doing his unearthly singing, vocalising and whispering in the midst of a whirlpool of bizarre electronic music, with some occasional filtered and repeated vocal interpolations, perhaps supplied by the other members of the threesome. I think this shows that wherever he goes and whatever he does, Tazartès helps everyone else realise their potential for exotic, hashish trance visions in sound, sometimes whether they know it or not. I expect anyone who has fallen within the orbit of this unusual character will never forget the experience. This isn’t to denigrate Jo and El-G though; we have come across their splendid work before when they worked as a duo called Opéra Mort, on one side of a single for Spleen Coffin. They have a fierce and uninhibited approach to electronics that allows them to lift up the top of the brain and observe what scurries within. In 30 minutes and five tracks, a surreal and nightmarish avant-Techno trip unfolds, dripping corrosively into your mind like a powerful drug. The deep-bass grunts of Uncle Ghédalia, murmuring away like a benign bullfrog, make it the perfect antidote to a bedtime story. From 13 August 2012.

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Ivar The Engine

The Norwegian label Hubro has built up a very fine catalogue of excellent instrumental music, much of it crossing genres in unusual ways. Bathymetric Modes (HUBRO CD2519) is a gorgeous item intended mostly as a solo showcase for musician Ivar Grydeland, an exceptionally able guitarist – and he also plays banjo, zither, ukulele and mandolin. I really enjoy the long track ‘Roll’ which is melodic, lively, spirited and comes with a danceable 4/4 beat courtesy of Jonas Howden Sjøvaag and his snare drum. The layers of string playing, especially the understated pedal steel guitar, are just sumptuous. Supple-fingered Ivar plays like a one-man Grateful Dead, and he’s arguably more technically advanced than eight full-size replicas of Jerry Garcia. ‘Roll’ turns out to be uncharacteristic of the rest of the album though, since the four instrumentals that follow are more about “abstract composition”, and Grydeland creates the basic platforms using his graphic synthesizer called the Terri-on. Wistful and melancholic tunes result, some of them embellished with tasty string work, but it’s getting a bit easy-listening and aimless by this point. Even so, ‘Roll’ flies like a seabird for eight glorious minutes of poignant yearning.

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Danger Man

Oren Ambarchi’s Audience Of One on Touch was an exceptional release from 2012, but we mustn’t overlook Sagittarian Domain (EDITIONS MEGO 144CD); at 33 minutes, we might think this piece is almost cut from the same cloth as ‘Knots’ from the Touch album, which as it happens was also a collaboration with string players. But instead of exploring rich fields of tonality like ‘Knots’, Domain is a single-minded night drive along a lonely road, the soundtrack to a spy thriller where the payoff to the story never comes. Oren plays most of it himself – guitar, drums, percussion and using a Moog for the bass, while three string players add cello, violin and viola drones around the halfway mark, although their contributions are heavily treated and at times seemed to have strayed in from a Middle Eastern recording or an Alice Coltrane out-take. Oren opts for a remorseless, minimal, clipped guitar riff (non-riff) that pares away at the soft fruit of your mind like a sharp knife, and he propels it on its deadly path with equally stern and no-frills drumming. The basic framework is like a stripped-down version of La Düsseldorf meeting up with Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit, almost mechanical in the execution, and it’s as though Oren is playing out a connection between krautrock and drum and bass by recreating these genres on his own terms. There isn’t much of a melody here, but the “topline” – for want of any other description – occasionally modulates into phased effects or droney guitar solos, just to break up the monotony. I seem to recall that David Bowie’s band tried all this around the time of the Lodger album, and the musicians found themselves in the same cul-de-sac as Klaus Dinger in short order. The difference is that Bowie played his wild card by overdubbing Adrian Belew guitar solos in a weird manner (Belew wasn’t allowed to hear the backing track), and Tony Visconti made several judicious edits to the sprawl to boil it all down into song form. Ambarchi by contrast seems intent on piling on the content to the max, and stretching our nerves beyond the point of endurance. The lack of any “resolution” to these taut 33 minutes is pretty heavy going on one level, but then Editions Mego have been edging their electronic minimalism into the zones of the cruel and vicious for some years now (e.g. Life – It Eats You Up, Guts, and The Iron Soul Of Nothing). However, I’d have little hesitation in pointing out that Oren is as much a studio whizz as Bowie; he recorded this whole thing in a single studio session, and it’s an utterly watertight, steel-belted production with not a single flaw in sight.

People Go into the Stratosphere

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The Martin Archer all-you-can-eat buffet is open for business…better bring a big plate and an extra fork…we received the self-titled double CD set by Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere (DISCUS40CD) on 19 November 2012, and it’s a real grand bouffe 1. This is another grand scaled project organised by Martin Archer in Sheffield and released on his own Discus label. Archer, highly conversant with saxophone and electronics, has been a past master of small and intimate group situations involving those instruments, but increasingly these days he is thinking big; there’s a large number of gifted people involved in this ambitious project, and while the core Orchestra itself – mostly keyboards, electronics, synths and percussion – comprises just five players, there are also performances from La Garotte String Quartet, The Divine Winds (a saxophone and woodwind group), and Juxtavoices, the unique singing choir whose work is also represented on this label on the record Juxtanother Antichoir From Sheffield released this year. With this small army of musicians, this lengthy album presents a cosmic sprawl of massed organ drones and electronic doodlings, enhanced with jazzy brass blasts and free-style vocal episodes from the choir. Think of Tangerine Dream to the power of ten, joined by an early incarnation of the Mike Westbrook Band and the Scratch Orchestra – an early 1970s music fan’s dream come true!

On ‘Seen From Above Parts 1 and 2’, the Orchestra create a truly enormous and cavernous sound, occupied by detailed passages of free playing; it’s a remarkably sustained effort to keep the space as nebulous as possible, without allowing the work to collapse into a sludgy mess. Philip Glass saxophone arpeggios leak into this open-ended gaseous billow of Gong-esque organ and synth drone. ‘The Opposition Effect’ should appeal to anyone who enjoys the work of the John Aldiss choir on side one of Atom Heart Mother (and I know not many Pink Floyd fans do), with Juxtavoices chanting their clipped syllables in a strident manner to the backing of a lumbering rock beat, solid organ chords and flipped-out sax squawkings. “It’s a 25-voice choir that works on the premise that any 25 note chord is probably going to be OK,” is how Archer described the choir to me in 2011, reflecting on the mixed abilities of the singers in the group. “It’s more about text and performance and maybe experimental poetry.” That side of the choir is also to the fore on ‘An Open Vista Is Revealed’, an excellent short piece on the second CD, with the voices whistling and whispering in mysterious manner against a very restrained and open-ended instrumental backdrop. There’s more of their free-form poetry chants on ‘Star Procession’, which when combined with the dissonant string sections and electronic drones produces a heavy-duty dose of out-there weirdness.

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Archer has stressed that he isn’t out to experiment with variety just for the sake of novelty; rather he regards his multiple approaches as different ways of solving the same problem. This double CD set abounds with experiment and innovation, exploring ways to make these group combinations work. On ‘Almost Unrecognisable But For Its Surface Markings’, the string quartet wander an alien landscape in amazement, while percussion clatters around them in tiny explosions. In that case, the keynote is uncertainty and doubt, but not so on ‘Duty Music’, a big-band escapade with the strings and brass creating a very forthright and upbeat mood. ‘The Umbral Length of Shadows’ is an extremely bold attempt to use most if not all of the musicians in one collective blast; a somewhat lumbering beast results, which misfires in places and gives us almost too much to listen to as it tramps along its path propelled by a faux-funky beat; but you’ve rarely heard such remarkable combinations of unusual sounds, timbres and pitches. And at 20 minutes, ‘Nimbus’ is another major showcase for noodling keyboards, heavy drone and errant string solos creating unearthly effects, only slightly let down by the rhythm section providing an unimaginative drum and bass beat which somehow falls short of the best moments of Can. That said, Can never used strings and brass to such powerful effect on their records.

With titles such as ‘Anti-Crepuscular Rays’, ‘Rainforest Tension’, and other titles quoted above you’ll have noticed the meteorological and sky-gazing themes of this release 2. It’s a promise that is borne out by the very airy and open sound the Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere are capable of generating with their competing frequencies and strange juxtapositions, at their best achieving the ethereality of the air itself. As to the music, which incidentally has taken three years to complete, the press notes make explicit aspirations in the direction of Terry Riley, Stockhausen, Alice Coltrane and Krautrock – which should give you sufficient orientation. I think this is an exceptional work, which testifies to Archer’s very sociable and outgoing approach to making music; he simply likes people and likes to gather them around him so he can perform music with them, and I would estimate that a significant percentage of this album is performed live or in real time. Certainly the electronic effects are kept to a minimum, with only a few audible foot-pedals to tweak the organ drone, and acoustic instruments abound, holding their own against the amplified section of the Orchestra. And the sheer length is mightily impressive. In duration alone this would have occupied a four-LP box set in the old days, a generosity that pays off even when the music does sag in places (‘Coherent Backscattering’, a rather formless and laboured piece, is one notable failure) and the work overall might have benefited from a little editing or a more selective production strategy. The major disappoint to me is the utterly unprepossessing cover art, a grainy image of hideous browns and blacks which eventually resolves itself into a murky treated photograph of the band playing a concert in a venue. The cosmic Theta on the back cover is a good notion 3, but this powerful sign has had its energy somehow sapped by digital imaging, and it floats vaguely against a bitty background of artefacts when instead it should pulsate with all the mystical power of the black monolith object on Presence 4. The cloud photos printed on the discs are slightly better and fit the concept of the record. But overall I believe the strength of the music is seriously under-communicated by these poor visuals. This plaint aside, Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere makes good its printed claim to “propose an alternative reality”, and is warmly recommended.

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  1. I refer to the film of this title directed by Marco Ferreri and released in 1973.
  2. For perfect conceptual unity, the record really ought to have been pressed at Nimbus, who manufactured most of the releases for Recommended Records.
  3. Theta is used in meteorology to represent potential temperature.
  4. i.e. the Led Zeppelin LP. The puzzling cover art is one of Hipgnosis’s best, in my view. Storm Thorgerson appeared on a recent TV documentary about the making of Wish You Were Here, and neatly summed up Hipgnosis’s cultural achievement; he was simply fed up of rock album covers that were no more than photographs of old geezers.
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Hippogriffs


We heard from Sula Bassana in February when he contributed to the monstrous Electric Moon LP The Doomsday Machine…we first gained the impression that Dark Days (SULATRON RECORDS ST1204-2) might, in title at least, be following from that depressive slab in a similar vein of blackened, thundering, ultra-heavy psychedelic space-rock…on the contrary it turns out to be a generally uplifting and sometimes mystical album of mighty guitar riffs, supremely steady drumbeats, and cosmic flurries of synth-winds howling around every corner. Apart from percussion assist on a couple of tracks by Pablo Carneval and vocals by David Henrikkson, this is totally a solo album by Bassana (i.e. Dave Schmidt), also assisted to some degree by Komet Lulu who did the sleeve paintings of orange, brown and green mosspit-shapes crawling from the belly of the universe, said images being used in turn by the musician to influence and shape his playing as he scoped these impasto swabs of lurid smearage. Another strong album from this retroid genius, a man so besotted with Krautrock he is capable of dipping the genre in gold, while condensing all his favourite Pink Floyd moments into intense hits of overamped smokiness…this outing contains the memorable 20-minute ‘Surrealistic Journey’ which sends the listener on a “far-out trip” in line with the aspirations of any given album by Gong or Hawkwind, while for those who prefer something punchier we have the very strong opening cuts ‘Underground’ and ‘Departure’…only place where the mood sags a little is on ‘Bright Nights’, a meandering odyssey into brain cells best left unturned, resulting in shapeless noodly guitar lines and, ultimately, dollops of rather pointless noise…and I’m not so keen on the frenetic beat-loops of ‘Arriving Nowhere’ which sometimes seems to be turning its ageing grey hippy head in the direction of Techno music and misunderstanding what it sees. From 20 June 2012, also available as a double LP.

Got a large bundle of curios from the Spectropol Records label in Bellingham (Washington State)…first picked out from the envelope was Elle Avait Raison Hathor (SPECT 11) by Vincent Berger Rond. He is an electro-acoustic composer based in Quebec, and presumably appears on the back cover in his winter garb standing besides an ice sculpture of a female head and shoulders. The winter wear is our first clue that this is difficult and inhospitable music for seasoned hardy outdoors-types only, on which more shortly. Meanwhile any attempt to stare fixedly at the image of the woman in order to decipher her features will simply result in even less definition, as it gradually recedes from your intelligence evasively. The whole album, you see, is a conceptual composition addressing “notions of womanhood” and doing so by filtering its music through an understanding of mythological treatments…Japanese, Greek, Inuit and Egyptian texts are found within the booklet, dropping hints that are somewhat less than lucid, yet strangely illuminating. Circe is the well-known enchantress from The Odyssey, but in a few lines you learn more about her meaning and symbolic resonance than you could have wished for. We’ve got a female vocalist Laura Kilty on the first track, where she intones her own settings for the poetry of Rond, but after that the remainder of the album is instrumental. It features strings and piano as you might expect from classical chamber music, but also synthesisers in a couple of places, electric organ, and the multi-dubbed electric guitars of Fred Szymanski. But none of this knowledge prepares you for the sheer weirdness of the distorted soundscape – the whole record just sounds completely bizarre. Vincent Berger Rond’s technique involves a lot of cutting up, editing, reshaping, modification and recomposing, such that Szymanski’s improvised guitar lines, for example, are completely recast into incredible, impossible shapes. The notes also refer to the composer’s “spasmacousmatic” method, which is a highly evocative term suggestive of a deeply radical and idiosyncratic approach to this contemporary form of composition. Not easy to listen to, but he plays fair; the work has clearly been assembled with great care and commitment to the form, and each piece, though at first bewildering, clearly adheres to an internal logic. The womanhood theme is not really explained in detail, which is a relief to any readers who are doubtful about long-winded explanations of an artist’s intentions, but Rond provides terse informational notes about this and would probably be very pleased if we did some research into the area for ourselves. From 13 June 2012.

We noted eRikm‘s Austral in November 2012 – at any rate, the audio dimension of it, which was released by Room40 as part of the Transfall album. Now here it is again as a DVD (DAC2031) from D’Autres Cordes Records, reminding us that the composition is a mixed-media work, combining electronic music with video. The visual side to the work was also created by the composer, and shows him weaving electronically-generated abstract shapes across the screen in shades of gray, green, and red, which multiply and germinate in jerky animated fashion. These images used photographs of cities as their starting point, taken from his journeys to South America. The music is played by the Laborintus Ensemble and remains a sharp snappy piece of atonal chamber music, sounding even better in this DVD presentation. But the visuals are rather banal, very process-heavy, not much more adventurous than a first year art student exercise. From 15 June 2012.

Fractures (DEBACLE DBL076) is a perfectly pleasant record of electronica / beats music by Rainbow Lorikeet. I like the “dubby” construction of the music that emphasises the heavy beats and the spaces in between, reminding me in places of Techno Animal – which I’ll admit is one of the few points of reference I have for this musical genre. Lorikeet’s electric sounds are not very distinctive or inventive though, and I find my attention wavering very quickly after only a few moments of this over-familiar crunch-and-squelch morass.

Anita‘s Hippocamping (WILDRFID RECORDS WLDRFD006) is more successful as an example of inventive and personalised electronica. We’re not given much reliable information on her technique, but I have the impression she’s something of a mosaicist, piecing together musical fugues out of very small fragments of sounds, tones, and whatever shapes she can find lying around the floor of the workshop to pick up and add to the collage. Resultant album is a highly textured listen – you can feel your ears being dragged over a thousand different rugs, textiles, vinyl floors, coconut matting, and assorted soft (and hard) furnishings. While she doesn’t abandon form completely, Anita has very little interest in composing a tune, and would prefer to leave you spinning in an unfamiliar micro-landscape for three or four minutes at a time, while she makes a cup of coffee (small black espresso, natch) and admires the results of her labours with a wicked smirk. What’s also impressive is the very firm and muscular core to these steel-belted monstrinos; Anita is never content to settle for a comforting decaffeinated drone when she can tie you up with eighteen yards of fencing wire. Track 11 is titled ‘L’Ultimo Yogurt’, which is precisely the sort of dessert I’d expect to be served if I was invited to a dinner party by this mysterious woman. This exists as a limited LP with a screenprinted cover and insert provided by visual artist Sofy Maladie.

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German Oak: claustrophobic bunker music is a trip into deep black inner space and time


German Oak, self-titled, Flash Back, FBCD1001 

Originally released in 1972 and only selling eleven copies at the time (according to the Aquarius Records website) due to its meditation on Nazi German rule and World War II, this self-titled album by a German five-piece band has a very cold, strange and dark echoing sound: all the music had been recorded in a bunker. The album consists of extended rock-jazz instrumental jams with weird and very abstract rhythms dominated by blunted guitars, ghost drums and percussion, and other wailing instruments, some of which are identified as simply “noise”.

The atmosphere is very claustrophobic and the musicians play as though for their lives before the encroaching darkness crawls over their heads and shoulders, covering their eyes, mouths and ears, rendering them helpless and immobile and permanently entombed in the black bunker. There is quite a lot of tension especially in the suitably named “Down in the Bunker” where the very air, cold as it is, could be cut with a knife and the knife shudders briefly and freezes rock-solid.

The CD release consists of four tracks lasting just under 40 minutes and an extra three tracks including “Swastika Rising”. Of the four original tracks, “Raid over Dusseldorf” sounds the most psychedelic and trance-like, no doubt due to its driving rhythm loop and the dreamy, wobbly guitar tones that set up a swirling, spiralling ambience in which lead guitar melodies, tapping cymbals and a drumming groove take listeners on an extended trip through a time-tunnel vortex. This is a very delirious and mesmerising piece in spite of the underground conditions; come to think of it, the bunker studio setting enhances the music as each tone, riff or melody appears on the track as if emerging from unseen rabbit holes, to disappear back there once done, and so an element of surprise always seems to be hovering over the musicians’ jam.

“Swastika Rising” is notable for its creepy organ drone, electric guitar meanderings and its unfortunate ending (the tape cuts out) which lands us straight into a sample of a Nazi rally at which Adolf Hitler rants at the microphone, followed by a mellow-toned lead guitar solo over a surging yet choppy rhythm accompaniment. Contrary to its name, “The Third Reich” is a trippy, funky, mesmerising wander through inner space: probably not the kind of track folks on the Stormfront.org website will be discussing and dissecting any time soon. “Shadows of War” is a very muted track of organ drone followed by fragments of found sound, flotsam and jetsam effects: this piece lands the band close to the outright experimental and early industrial music territory inhabited by Throbbing Gristle, Monte Cazazza and SPK.

A very intriguing and remarkable album of dark, sinister ambience and moods, this deeply underground recording is worth finding and holding onto as much for its historical  context and place in German ’70s rock / pop music as for the music itself. The LP version apparently doesn’t contain the bonus tracks so the CD version is preferred.

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Wolf vs Bird

Wolfize

Brutal and sinister creep-noise from Daniel Menche and Anla Courtis on their Yaguá Ovy (MIE MUSIC #007) LP. It’s two side-long pieces which combine their respective methodologies, Courtis going down the path of “let’s keep exploring and repeating this one thing, and see how far we can take it”, with Menche thinking of how he can apply his themes of manifest destiny and self-determination through layered studio noise. Both of them use percussion created from non-musical objects, be it Anla with his old Pizza tins, or Menche making noise with snow and rocks, and thus continuing his explorations into the use of the natural world to make his darkened noise-melds 1. Used to be, he was all about overdubbed percussion and was not afraid to be dubbed the “mad drummer” of the Western states. There is some guitar on the record from Anla, but I’ve seen what he calls a guitar and I’ve seen how he plays it, so that credit line may not indicate what you’d normally expect. Mostly the record seems to me to be about overdubbing and processing, and using a lot of studio reverb to bring the inert sounds around to some kind of half-pulsating sickly artificial life. On ‘El Relincho’, the process follows the path of ever-increasing intensity, arriving at near-insufferable sounds that rattle, crunch and grind in ways that can actually cause physical and mental pain to the listener. ‘Runa-Uturunco’ is relatively easier to endure, but still has the feeling of rather disconnected piles of rubble strewn about on the ground where we might expect a house to be standing. The fierce atmosphere of the B-side passes on the hoped-for sense of danger and imminent mauling suggested by the nocturnal wolf painting (by Eric Stotik) on the cover, and even allows for sounds resembling musical notes. But I think the latter effect is just a by-product of the reverb and echo. A grim listen.

Max Ernst’s Krautrock LP

Blue Sausage Infant is no stranger to sinister music either, but he also favours a more rounded and generous approach to the production of his electronic music. Unlike the raw and uncompromising brutality of Yaguá Ovy, BSI’s LP Negative Space (ZEROMOON ZERO013) is rich and melodic, with no space left unfilled with musical and sonic detail by its chief creator Chester Hawkins. There are only three tracks on the whole album, and could be accurately summarised by the terms found on the front cover sticker – “kosmische electronics, soaring kraut/space rock, and deep analog drones”. There’s more to it, of course. ‘Motion Parallax’ occupies all of side one, and on one level is indeed an inspired re-weaving of the “kosmische electronics” of, say, Tangerine Dream. Blue Sausage Infant restricts himself to one basic keyboard figure repeated almost like a locked-groove, but fed through variations, filters and other ingenious dynamics. A vocal element appears at the beginning and in the middle, a lost voice neither singing nor speaking its incomprehensible lament. This track paints a desolate picture, but not as outright bleak as any given industrial synth music cassette release from the 1980s, and the dense fabric is enriched by Hawkins with his overdubs, his sumptuous keyboard sounds, the lush production, and careful attention to the details of timing and dynamics. If all this rubs your fur in the right way, then all you hip kitty-kats need to investigate BSI’s back catalogue; ‘Motion Parallax’ feels like a more “epic” version of the kind of material he has previously felt compelled to compress into six or eight-minute tracks. You’ll also enjoy the final track ‘Subferal’ on side two, a smothering menace-drone that is like a powerful dose of knockout-juice that intoxicates the victim as it sends him into a week-long sleep.

The title track is different again. Chester is joined by a band – drummer Michael Shanahan, guitarist Jeff Barsky and Jason Mullinax, who supplies additional percussion-electronics. Together they turn in an exemplary rendition of “soaring kraut/space rock”, where the Neu!, Can and La Dusseldorf references are freely owned and milked for maximum enjoyment factor. But even here BSI cannot help but darken and occlude the overall tone; if the track is a space-rocket joyously flying towards a New Eden styled planet, Hawkins is the renegade captain who constantly veers the ship off-course in the direction of a black hole, meteor shower, or other outer-space disaster. The track bristles with live-band energy, the drummer in particular really blasting out. I personally enjoy the claustrophobic vibe we get from a lot of BSI’s studio-bound work – it’s as though the layers of overdubbing had sealed the music in a plastic container – but this track has a vital feel, like a whoosh of fresh air entering the room. If the Zeromoon conglomerate ever went bust, this quartet could have a grand future ahead of them turning in topnotch retro 70s prog-kraut music for the Sulatron label, if they were so inclined. To my chagrin I must admit I’ve had this one in the rack since July 2011 (it arrived just a tad too late for inclusion in TSP20). Chester writes that he “decided to go all-out for this with the vinyl + packaging and such…with luck, the audio is worthy of such fetish-worship etc!”. He’s not kidding. It’s the first-ever vinyl production for the Zeromoon label, and it’s a treat. Full-colour cover, printed inner sleeve, poster insert and mottled vinyl pressing, the transparent disk clouded up with streaks of black, perhaps what we would see if we could snap an X-Ray image of the creator’s misanthropic brain. Caitlin Hackett drew the cover illustration – Max Ernst drawn in the style of Arthur Rackham, with colours apparently supplied by a consumptive Victorian child in conditions of extreme air pollution. Matter of fact, if we could open the hatch to see the pilot of this particular craft from Budgie’s Squawk LP, the chances are he would look like this winged creature. Excellent item!

  1. Kataract, for one, which processes the sounds of a waterfall.

Dead Occasions

Under Japanese Influence

Expo 70 are Justin Wright and Matt Hill. On Blackout (DEBACLE RECORDS DBL054) they play a couple of half-hour cosmic improvisations using guitar, moog, Korg, drum machine and bass guitar, doing it live in parts of New York while they sat on the floor wreathed in a crepuscular haze. Pretty good mind-numbing drone and proggy sludge pours out of their set-up, resplendent with the characteristically “thick” sound of many experimental rock and prog LPs from the 1970s, and you can almost imagine the band travelling in time to the Osaka World’s Fair from which they take their name, only to be greeted with bewildered looks and numerous Polaroid flashes. Especially effective is the layering of insane synth curlicues on top of Stooges-like guitar riffs that chunter away insistently until dawn breaks. The first track is the fugged-up rockin’ beast, the second one drifts more towards the New Agey and ambient side of their krautrock collections with its languid echoplexed guitar licks on top of melodic keyboard inventions. One of three releases from the ever-productive Seattle label which arrived here 14 February 2011.

Misty Roses

More missives flying out from the contemporary American synth-playing retro-scene that’s spreading across the continent like the silver flying glove of Klaus Dinger. Mist have an entire double LP called House (SPECTRUM SPOOLS SP004) on which John Elliott and Sam Goldberg play their Moog Voyager, Korg, Roland and Prophet synths, while Dave Smith adds something called “instruments morpho” which may be a form of post-production which equates to what Dr Moreau is to surgery. Nothing unpleasant about this rich and melodic instrumental music, which is almost indistinguishable from any given record released on the Sky Records label between 1977 and 1987. The sound of Mist is ultra-clean and the players clearly relish the possibilities afforded by their filters and sequencers, filling every available moment with incident and flourish.

Inverted Liturgies

I’ve kind of lost track of which point we have reached in the MZ.412 reissue programme from Cold Spring records, but presumably a lot of lovers of extreme occult-metal horrendousness have been made very happy in the last 12 months. Domine Rex Inferum (COLD SPRING RECORDS CSR145CD) is another one in the set of works masterminded by Kremator, and was originally issued in 2001 on Cold Meat Industry in Sweden. This one isn’t so heavy on the sheer sonic violence as others I’ve heard, and it stresses the ritualistic and curse-spinning side of this bleak noise project, most of the music amounting to a set of very ominous low-rumble synth growling and equally ominous percussion rolls. Even the titles, with their combination of strange made-up words in unusual languages with numbers and punctuation lined up in a very particular order, are as precise and deathly as a warlock’s spell or witch’s receipt. Governed by strange and unpredictable dynamics, this music has a terrifying weight and authority, and is not afraid to keep the listener waiting for hours in the corner of a cold marble temple set in a grisly wind-swept plain while we wait for the next fearful event to pass before us. Sheer desolation and abandonment will descend and sit heavily on your soul. As such, all these MZ.412 records make most “Ambient Black Metal” releases look pretty ineffectual.

Autumn Cannibalism

Cock E.S.P. is one of the “big names” of the underground American noise scene, a force of nature set into trundling motion in 1993 in Minneapolis and currently involving Emil Hagstrom, Elyse Perez, Matt Bacon and a host of imaginary members with absurd pseudonyms. It’s thought they took their name from part of a Hanatarash release, and to this day they’re doing everything possible to keep alive the flame of chaotic Japanese theatrical noise, in a way that even Boredoms have long since abandoned. In May 2011 Emil kindly sent us a copy of Historia De La Musica Cock: A Tribute to Experimental Music 1910-2010 (SUNSHIP SUN56 / LITTLE MAFIA LM078 / BREATHMINT BM330), a powerful tour de force that at once sends up, mocks, mutilates and celebrates the history of free music as it’s been manifested in the 20th century Western world, and as such it contains insane pastiches and parodies of (for instance) free jazz, punk rock, psychedelic rock, krautrock, avant-garde composition, cut-ups and sampledelica, and even noise music itself. The resultant splintered and mosaicified record, realised with the help of a significant number of guest noiseicians, is an unparalleled act of auto-cannibalism, the sort of thing you’d expect from people who have incredible record collections of insane and iconoclastic music, yet who are often seized with a mad impulse to throw all that rare and important vinyl onto a bonfire and dance around the crackling flames as they watch plumes of acrid black smoke rise into the air. There are 99 very short tracks of intense energy and hysteria, they’re divided into eleven episodes arranged as a grotesque parody of the history of music, and the titles are packed with knowing, snide citations and clever détournements; you could use this insert as a baseball scorecard or personal IQ test as you listen your way through the sizzling racket. To put it another way, it’s your map across the sonic minefield where every sniggering aside is another grenade in the face. These titles also revel in puerile humour with their incessant pornography, sodomy, fellatio, scatology, onanism, and of course much phallocentricity and anal-fixated references. I’m not quite sure why I’m using all these two-dollar words to describe this joyful and playful inanity, but you get the idea. An exciting and violent (and hilarious) record and one that ought to reinvigorate your love of music, because only by smashing and destroying the things we love in a bonfire of the vanities can we renew ourselves and return to music with a fresh pair of cleansed ears. Rest assured, Cock E.S.P. will also be thoroughly cleaning out all your other body cavities in ways you can’t begin to imagine. Arrived here 05 May 2011.

Loop Di Love

For a more respectful, one might even say reverent, approach to the modernist composers of the last century, we might turn to Loops4ever (MAZAGRAN MZ001) by Manuel Zurria. Here, following on from what he did on Repeat! in 2008, the Italian flute player offers 12 performances of compositions by Alvin Lucier, Pauline Oliveros, Terry Riley, Alvin Curran and Frederic Rzweski; pays homage to more recent contemporary maestros such as John Duncan and Jacob TV; and to remain loyal to his home country, the double-disc set leads off with a version of a work by the great Giacinto Scelsi, one of the most severe and problematic of the modernists. A flawless selection, even if the music doesn’t always excite or challenge us as much as I feel it should; quite often Zurria gives the impression he’s lost in his cloudy world of digital recording, loops, electronics and multi-tracked overdubs, simply enjoying the waves of minimal sound for their own sensual pleasures. But his seventeen minute rendition of ‘The Carnival’ by John Duncan is strong, a piercing work featuring the high-pitched whines of a piccolo flute enhanced with loops, electronics, and the laptop of Duncan himself; it’s got a good feel for the mesmerising and immersive terror that I associate with Duncan. Elsewhere, Zurria’s take on Lucier is slow and minimal, and yet not yet minimal enough; for me there’s just a little too much body and volume in the combined flutes and oscillators of ‘Almost New York’. As to Oliveros and Curran, they come out a shade too sentimental and melodic, as though Zurria were reading a bit too much meaning into the musical text. That romanticism does come in handy on the second disc though, when he applies his flutes and temple bells to performing ‘A Movement in Chrome Primitive’ by William Basinski, the New York composer who is an unabashed Pre-Raphaelite of modern composition. By this point I wondered if Zurria would have made a good addition to the Zeitkratzer Ensemble, but I think he’s just too interpretative for that. The enclosed booklet is overflowing with contextual interpolations, with detailed notes on each piece and sometimes short interviews with the collaborating composer.

My Enslavement


The Undersea World of Phlebas the Phoenician

I’ve recently found the “September” bag of CDs, although there’s still a sizeable bunch of releases from the summer of 2011 not yet fully unwrapped. First today is a fine art piece of business from two Italian composers, Fabio Selvafiorita and Valerio Tricoli. For Death By Water (DIE SCHACHTEL ZEIT C07) they worked with a tremendous quantity of field recordings made in Italy, and then performed a kind of four-handed live mix on the tapes as if they were two concert pianists, playing the editing suite and mixing desk with their supple digits. As it happens, they managed to compress many hours of sound into a single 41-minute piece this way, but the main thrust of the work is to convey an incredible sense of space, distance and impossibly enormous vistas. “The space for me is the main topic of the composition”, confirms Fabio, in between mouthfuls of brushcetta. “A new imaginary space perception should always be the result”. This concern is clearly echoed in the striking cover art produced by dinamo milano, a landscaped vista which requires three panels of the digipak to express its complete latitude. While I was at first reminded of the sleeve art to the first two Blue Öyster Cult LPs drawn by Bill Gawlik, the artwork and music here both portray a near-desolate dimension of profound and static minimalism, only tangentially connected with the watery sources that fed into it. The canal or lake of the front cover is nought but a block of solid blackness; the waters on the disc, transmogrified and re-digitised like so much strained soup, have evolved into a murky blob of mysterious proportions. The listener will soon find themselves rather lost in the midst of this abstracted ocean, lacking compass or sextant to set their course. The reference to T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land was added at the eleventh hour as the finishing touch to their labours. Tricoli had at least one release on the Italian Bowindo label whose abiding aesthetic was, I recall, one of supreme bafflement. This one is less of a “question-mark special”, has plenty of fascinating incident layered into the minimal spaciness, and pound for pound it would made a nifty soundtrack for any tourist walking over the Bridge of Sighs.

There’s Orangey

Sulatron-Records from Hunfeld in Germany has sent quite a few groovnik items this year. To hand I have Electric Orange‘s Netto (SULATRON ST 1102) which arrived 5th September. This four-piece of players make an unashamed effort to emulate the glory years of Krautrock and Kosmische music from the 1970s and immerse themselves fully in that world with 100% commitment, using authentic period instruments – the shopping list of keyboard player Dirk Jan Müller includes mellotron, Farfisa organ, mini-moog, Hammond organ, Fender Rhodes piano and a Leslie speaker, the sort of equipment line-up that reduces many musical instrument fetishists to a quivering bowl of jelly. They’re also skilled players and know how to combine rock-energy with cosmic noodling with ease. We’ve heard from them before, enjoyed ‘em, and this release doesn’t disappoint; it may not be especially inventive music, but if you like Krautrock and European prog from the 1970s, you will be in gatefold-sleeve incense-stick heaven within a matter of moments with these nine instrumental noodlers.

Me Myself an Eye

Ahh, here’s a nice lively jumping bean from Claude Spenlehauer of Myself who personally sent us a copy of Haro! (WHOSBRAIN RECORDS WHB-34) from his home in Strasbourg. It arrived 5th September but was released in May this year. Myself are a European three piece using drums, guitars, synths, bass, and live electronics to create a solid, thunking form of noise rock which is extremely exciting, especially with its chanted and shouty gruntoid-vocals that punctuate the loopy squeals and thuds. Myself play as though their very whiskers are on fire and they also seem to have a severe case of split personality which works in their favour, on the one hand trying for the sort of Neanderthal primal electric noise that might endear them to Sister Iodine, yet also keeping one ear firmly trained on their French 1970s art-rock legacy that includes Lard Free, Etron Fou Leloublanc, and even Magma at a stretch. Wild noise blended with tricky time signatures, in short. Result: a delicious spicy sizzling dish of unkempt free-jazz saxophone whoopness, souped-up stoner rock bass guitar, Math-rock throat-shredding vocals, and a leaden drum sound you could use as the foundation for a ten-storey building. Such energy. As cover art clearly shows, listening to this beasticle is like sweating it out for ten rounds with an angry bull.

Doesn’t Lose Suction

After that churning heat-blast, Deison‘s Night Sessions (SILENTES MINIMAL EDITIONS SME 1149) record of ambient electronics is positively glacial and soothing, a big dab of Valderma for my scalded buttocks. For this, 1990s electro-veteran Deison collaborated with a cabal of international Secret Men including Franck Vigroux, Teho Teardo, Philippe Petit, Scanner, Testing Vault, and others. The studio was an obscure rendezvous, everyone wore a cape and slouch hat to get there, and messages were transmitted by code. Track titles like ‘Hidden Orchestra’, ‘Sleepless Train’, ‘Insomnia’ and ‘Black Light’ are not only quite evocative, but are redolent of this album’s themes – the listener is plunged, almost instantly, into a dimly-lit nocturnal environment and starts to hallucinate in a sleep-deprived state, assisted by pulsating lights and the general air of uncertainty. Deison’s sounds may not be 100% inventive throughout, but he never sinks into default-keyboard-setting cliches, and this record does hew very closely to its declared themes and its chosen aesthetic blueprint. A true nightowl, Deison has his best ideas after dark and most of this record was made during the night hours, when he is at his most creative. Verily, a Cesare for our times. This arrived from Italy on 9th September.

Deliver No Evil, Live On Reviled

Received a couple of really great CDs by The Pitchshifters on 360° Records in Japan. Clearly the pair of them belong together – Palindromes (360R41) spelled backwards is Semordnilap (360R42), and the artwork of one is nearly a colour inverse of the other. Once you’ve figured out the abstruse track titling system, and understood that the minimal text printed underneath “resonance chambers” is about as much information as you’re ever going to learn about the band, then prepare for a treat with these delicious miniatures of gritty electropop tunes and instrumentals. Electronic keyboards with lush organ sounds and piping high tones play impossibly beautiful meandering melodies, set to the rhythms of simple pop beats (live drumming, not programmed). The overall sound is filtered through a slightly distorted veil that makes all the music seem nostalgic and distant, like watching a Japanese TV commercial from the 1960s on a tiny TV screen from 50 feet away, advertising a supremely elaborate and gorgeous toy plastic robot which you only ever owned in the childhood of your dreams. This odd music manages to be both upbeat and slightly sad at the same time, often within the same tune, which is a very fair accomplishment, and I do like the way its creators remain at one step removed from us, even to the extent of appearing to be half-absent from the making of the record. The Pitchshifters may or may not be one person, Hideto Aso. This is pop music that’s almost a force of nature, like crystals forming in a secret cave. Lovely packaging, too. The producer of the label, Taro Nijikame, apparently likes The Sound Projector very much and admires my world. Now I admire his.

800 Speakers

Always Prepared for Action

Few have worked as hard as German composer and musician Reinhold Friedl to re-energise and update 20th century avant-garde music, most notably with his exciting Zeitrkratzer ensemble pieces. Here he is doing it solo on Inside Piano (ZEITKRATZER RECORDINGS ZKR 0013), an abundant double-disc set of his own piano compositions using his own robust and lusty approach to the prepared piano, amply illustrated with mouth-watering colour images giving us plenty of close-ups of the action – springs, cymbals, screws, glass tumbler, stone and bells on full display in the exposed interior of his Steinway D-274. The long set includes his 40-minute piece ‘L’Horizon Des Ballons’ on disc one and a number of relatively shorter thrusts on the second disc, but there is enough complex musical information here to keep your academic brow furrowed for months and slake your thirst for dissonant timbres as surely as eight glasses of Rhenish wine spiked with certain juices by a cabal of Stockhausen, Boulez, and the janitor who worked in the Darmstadt building. “The piano is a strange hybrid of a percussion and string instrument”, Friedl begins in his accompanying essay, proceeding with an assured scholarly sweep of the klavier’s history that takes in Liszt, Chopin, Debussy, Hindemith, Rubenstein, Henry Cowell, John Cage, Mario Bertoncini, Franco Evangelisti, and Michael Konig – and that’s just on the first page! Musically, he explores a large range of cutting-edge practices and methodologies to bring forth plaintive singing voices from the wired frame, including the breathy caress of the e-bow, the sadistic scraping and scratching attack, the hideous wail of “noise piano” hammerings, wobbly objects laid on the strings, piping, vibrators…a very full panoply of possible effects are extracted, in what he calls “orchestral music out of the piano”. This also exists as a vinyl collection from Hrönir, a release which contains additional music not on the CD. Simultaneously mesmerising and nerve-jangling music, these electrifying compositions verge on the transgressive and commit amazing acts of sonic violence, yet do so very quietly and unexpectedly.

Obsessive Fins

For Fin De Siècle (KORM PLASTICS KP 3040), Daniel Burke (Illusion of Safety) and Kurt Griesch were invited to revisit their 1995 LP tour release of this name, which had originally been heavily edited for the vinyl format. Now here it is as a 66-minute disc, where the exact nature of their interventions and restorations remain rather unclear (“our straight lines eventually formed perfect circles” is all Kurt can tell us), but it ends with an Epilogue and begins with a Prologue, suggesting the creators have found a way to make their own music perform some sort of reversal of the laws of time. Burke has been known to immerse parts of his musical brain in the darker side of the aural whirlpools that separate a man from his spectral counterpart, but ‘Part One’ is a gentle mysterious drone that includes a little birdsong (or digital facsimile thereof) and is almost pastoral in its small-scaled, sweetly-tempered throbs pulsing in the ground like little seeds in springtime. ‘Part Three’ includes urban field recordings which mutate into a vaguely airless machine-like drone, much like riding an endless elevator to the highest floor of an impossibly high building, where all the other passengers in the car just stand and stare silently from under the brims of their hats. Enigmatic, minimal, compelling.

Torsten Klank

Fine set of guitar and percussion instrumental music from Rant, which is the team of drummer Merle Bennett and guitarist Torsten Papenheim. At first spin, some of the tracks on Land (SCHRAUM 13) create an impression that we’re in for a set of avant-rock lite-grunge and post-punk angularity, but in fact Rant display a fine precision and deliberation in their crisp work which is extremely engaging – stark shapes, minimalism, mystery, weight. The guitarist never leans on loud amplification, distortion or mindless riffing to fill three minutes of time; instead every note is considered and weighed in his mind before emerging with the clarity of Kenny Burrell’s Gibson as recorded by Rudy Van Gelder. The drummer may appear to be marking time occasionally, but I dig his imaginative approaches to beat-provision (one track uses an old-fashioned typewriter), and he knows exactly when to leave yawning gaps in the continuum for purposes of dynamism and tension. So what may have first appeared as a strain of rock music (as slow and stately as Earth, for example) clearly owes more to cool jazz of the 1950s and (in places) even a little bit of dub-influenced drumming. The only slight drawback is that this mannered approach can become slightly stilted, and you sometimes wish the duo would just pull off their socks and swing a little more. Even so, investigate these compacted miniatures and unpack their statements as best ye may. Recorded in Berlin by Dave Bennett.

O Supermum

Californian flautist Anne La Berge spent some time in Holland as a performer and improviser in the 1990s, until about 2000 she grew more interested in using electronics, computers and texts to realise her own compositions. Some of these recent text-based works are showcased on Speak (NEW WORLD RECORDS 80717-2), including my personal favourite the 25-minute ‘Drive’ which starts with the strange story of a woman in Alabama who invented the windscreen wiper (emerging in the form of an imaginary interview invented by La Berge) and ends with a medical lecture about the uterus, read out by two English voices and cut up by computer methods. Their voices, that is, not the uterus. In between, gorgeous tracts of flute playing, improvisation and unusual electronic music are laid out like road signs on this episodic, avant-garde electro-acoustic road trip. An eccentric and wonderful work, a bit like Laurie Anderson but with less information and not as confusing. There’s also ‘Brokenheart’ from 2007, where La Berge reads out a medical text with the mannered distance of all good conceptual performers, along with computer-controlled music interacting with the piano of Cor Fuhler and the percussion of Steve Heather. Gently and insistently, she persuades her computer systems to generate gentle and fascinating half-random triggered samples that keep your listening body as buoyant as a cork in the Pacific. ‘ur_DU’ combines some heavy-duty breathy flute playing which verges on the sound of gargling, with a lecture on uranium and radium. ‘Away’ is more of a systems-piece, written for Stephen Altoft and his 19-tone trumpet, and demonstrates the way La Berge’s computer patches approaches the familiar minimalist’s task of carving up microtonal scales in an ordered way. However, I get the impression this imaginative and passionate composer/player is not very much indebted to the New York school, with her drones as generous and inclusive as those of Pauline Oliveros and her humanistic approach to fracturing narratives to reveal deeper truths about mankind, rather than to set up alienating devices. You will warm to this record very quickly and soon yearn to hear more of her work.

Formic Acid

Forma (SPECTRUM SPOOLS SP 003) by Forma exists as a vinyl LP, the debut release by three electronicists from Brooklyn – Mark Dwinell, Sophie Lam and drumbox man George Bennett, all playing the finest equipment on offer from the synthesizing houses of Roland, Moog, Yamaha, Oberheim and Alessis. Delicious and highly melodic kosmische-influenced music where not a space is left unfilled with colourful sweeps, mechanical beats and processed sounds. This is the third release on Spectrum Spools, a label run by John Elliott and managed through the Editions Mego imprint. Elliott is a member of Emeralds, another American combo who have earned many namechecks and cross-references to German electronic music of the 1970s; Forma in particular are described here as part of the “NYC minimal synth scene”. An uplifting and entertaining record with its head in the clouds and its feet on the surface of the sun, it oozes warmth and untroubled good vibes.

What about cat rights?


The Krautrock Sensation EP (CRUSTACEAN 07) by Vibravoid is in fact a 7″ vinyl item, although my promo CD just contains two tracks from its generous contents. Vibravoid are a Düsseldorf band who turn in an enthused and near-perfect copy of Can’s ‘Mother Sky’ on one side, and a raucous rocked-up version of ‘Eye Shaking King’ by Amon Düül II on the other. In fine, they are pretty much a Krautrock tribute band along the lines of The Cosmic Charlies (a UK band who play a superb Grateful Dead set) and are snugly at home on the Fruits De Mer label which offers a range of colourful singles by like-minded cover bands playing versions drawn from the high-spots of music’s psychedelic history. The item by Cranium Pie, with covers of Dantalian’s Chariot and late Beatles, seems highly intriguing. Vibravoid have a righteous, full-on sound and don’t skimp on the guitars, and even though they can’t escape the crunched and compacted sound of modern digital processing, they make a damned good effort. The cover art seems odd, and perhaps more suited to a set of Serge Gainsbourg covers, but in some ways it comes close to emulating the final scene from Deep End, the 1970 movie by Skolimowksi in which ‘Mother Sky’ appears as source music.

Got a couple of songs by the Goteborg duo Trapped In A Loop on another promo item. The first one ‘Echo’ is quite delicious, an odd combination of a basic drum-machine beat, jangly 1986-shambling rock styled guitars, heavenly stacked female vocals, and a trombone. For over six minutes the team wisely decide stay in the same place and offer little variation on this thrummingly upbeat and narcotic oddity, apart from the loopy scat vocals fed through a telephone receiver which appear in the middle of the song. That same distortion device appears on the second song ‘Joinus’, where the singer transmits odd details from her private snow-bound world with much more grace and charm than I’ve ever heard on a Bjork record. Here, the layered trombones are just magnificent – a strange mix of triumphant brass-band parping with doodly, improvised scrabbling. It’s a real charmer. Go to their site to see footage of the female half of the act blowing her notes and watch the cover come to life – what with the brass instruments and the cows in a field, it’s all but an update on the Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother LP. These two toons appear as a 10″ record (TRAPPED IN A LOOP MUSIC 001) which may be available from Surplus Recordings.

From Norway, Meiningslaust Oppgulp (RUNE GRAMMOFON RACD106) is an irresistible compilation of rare singles, 10-inchers and lathe cuts by MoHa!, the lovely noise-rock team of Anders Hana and Morten Olsen. This CD mostly flings out short 3-4 minute splurges of instrumental brutality where the duo use a drumkit as though it were a demolition ball and wield live electronics like flamethrowers. Twenty minutes in the company of this beast and you’ll be rubbing your sweaty forehead looking for the six inch copper nails driven into your brain. Aside from the “poppy” short noise gazingas, there is the 11-minute ‘Eg Blei Sogen Av Ein Atterganger’ of which the opening salvoes see them vaguely collaborating with Idan Hayosh and And Vahtra for about two minutes, then settling into an aggressive stop-start punchup thereafter. This is like a bout with a vicious bottle of vodka which keeps on kicking in when you least expect it, between cautious sips. Also there is the uncharacteristically experimental ‘Untitled (8 Tommer B)’, which uses odd cut-up methods and baffling tracts of silence, before ending in a robust avant-rock mode. Good to see our old friend Jeff Carey of Zeromoon mentioned in dispatches here too – prescient as ever, he released a single for them in 2008. A scorcher of a package which given the relative rarity of the originals is most welcome. Only Kim Hiorthøy’s uncertain and arty sleeve work disappoints.

Peter Rehberg and Marcus Schmickler toured the USA performing as R/S in 2009. Chicago and New York were two towns to bear the full brunt of their electronic music assault, and as forensic evidence we now have the weighty LP USA (PAN 18) from Bill Kouligas’s Pan label. Extremely exciting, dense and eventful work from these two players, building up a near-relentless wall of frequencies that is as vast and impenetrable as a six-foot tall block of solid platinum. Plenty of brooding darkness, implied violence, and many other unhealthy emotions to be mined from these earthy chunks of abstract noise. The strong cover design is especially compelling; it uses the / character of R/S as a means of cancelling out the Statue of Liberty, while around her two cybernetic patterns float in the yellow sky in rather menacing manner. These two European supremos of electronicism are doing all they can to cast doubts on traditional American values, unfurling a pallor of ambiguous digital gloom wherever they go. As such, this LP makes a perfect soundtrack to the current mood of economic unease and USA-European tensions about Italy, Greece and the proposed bank bailout.

Hobocombo are an ad-hoc trio of Italians, including the drummer Andrea Belfi who has sent us one or two records in the past. On Now That It’s The Opposite, It’s Twice Upon A Time (TROVAROBATO PARADE TRB P 04) they perform seven cover versions of compositions and songs by the great Moondog, using stripped-down instrumentation – the double bass of Francesca Baccolini, the guitars and Korg synth of Rocco Marchi, and Belfi’s percussion; all three of them sing, making a decent fist of the round-songs like ‘Be A Hobo’ and ‘All Is Loneliness’. I was prepared to greet this with the stern purist frown of disapproval, but in fact it’s a delicate, charming and very engaging set of pieces, played with real compassion, gentleness, and attention to detail. ‘Stamping Ground’ for example is transformed from the slightly strident and awkward piece of marching-band jazz that appeared on the 1969 Columbia LP, into a version that truly swings in a way that Louis Hardin would surely have approved of, and without any fuss or ado it quietly emphasises the Bach-inspired qualities of the main melody. To this song Hobocombo add restrained flourishes of electronic music, a vocal refrain to state the theme, and even recite one of Moondog’s famous street-riddles such as you would have heard on his 1950s Prestige LPs. On ‘Be A Hobo’, Belfi uses his percussion to perfectly emulate the sound of the trimba, and the forlorn distant singing voices of the trio here really do inculcate the sort of wanderlust that the song reaches for. The electric guitar really comes into its own on their version of the ‘Witch Of Endor’ ballet piece, played in a suitably astringent and minimalist style, and their ambition in tackling this complex (though short) piece is admirable. Plus, they even cover ‘Enough About Human Rights’, my favourite song from the 1978 H’art Songs LP. If you’re a fan of Moondog, I recommend immediate investigation.