Tagged: psychedelic

Thought of Two: a successful launch of dark minimalist techno on a long journey

BlackHat

Black Hat, Thought of Two, Hausu Mountain, CD HAUSMO13 (2014)

I believe this is the first full-length recording from Black Hat, a dark electronica project by Seattle resident Nelson Bean. Seattle is famous in the music world for many, many reasons but so far minimalist darkened techno with a bit of psychedelia and industrial influence hasn’t been one of them. One day that may all change and Bean is to be commended for bringing that happy day closer. “Thought of Two” is a short effort with just three tracks but these are long ones with the third clocking close to 20 minutes.

“Imaginary Friends” sounds innocuous enough until you start spinning the disc and long groaning tones crawl out of the speakers and drift through the air with echo dragging behind and sinister feathery whisper percussion shifting and shuffling along. The track transforms constantly with drone, skittery effects, a hollow metal rattle and eerie high-pitched metal whine together giving the impression of a black claustrophobic worm-hole tunnel unravelling itself as we explore deeper inside. It’s at once creepy and ominous yet some of the rhythms offer reassurance and comfort on our journey. There are no big shocks or surprises and that in itself can be heartening for listeners.

“Portrait in Fluorescent Light” is an amorphous entity of shifting metallic wash and shimmer. This is a highly hypnotic and cosmic piece with a lush beauty and radiance. However Bean saves the best for “Memory Triptych”, a tapestry of very warm shining rhythm loops, muted industrial scrapings, dreamy drone and lots more besides, all bathed in a soft radiant ambience. This is a very dreamy trancey track, reminiscent sometimes of old Vladislav Delay recordings in their seductive quality though those VD releases had a much cleaner sound and were more emotionally neutral. Flotsam and jetsam from various musical genres seem to drift in and out – at one point, we seem to have a repeating jazz horn, calling perhaps for a lost brass instrument companion, intruding apologetically on proceedings – making the track difficult to describe: it encompasses ambient trance, industrial, techno, cosmic space and musique concrete among other genres but reaches far beyond any of them. Near the end, the track adopts a contemplative mood as if brooding on its telos and what it might mean.

It’s a bewitching recording, smooth and beguiling, at times a bit melancholy and wistful. In spite of the tracks’ formless nature, the music can be very accessible and almost poppy in orientation. The sounds are very absorbing and for once I don’t mind that they can be repetitive and monotonous in parts as the soundscapes never stop evolving. For a recording lasting no longer than 35 minutes, this album really does take its listeners on very long expansive journeys.

Contact: Hausu Mountain

ION (self-titled): awe-inspiring and soaring post-black metal psychedelic transcendence

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ION, self-titled, independent release on CD (2014)

At the time of writing this review, I knew very little about ION apart from the fact that this trio is based in San Francisco and that this self-titled album is the band’s debut recording. The musicians’ days of being obscure may soon end if this album becomes better known. With each passing day, that happy state becomes all the more likely as “ION” is a soaring example of post-black metal psychedelic transcendence.

That the music is intended to be a totally immersive experience is apparent from the way the five tracks are linked together to form one over-arching work that encompasses many contradictions, dualities and polarities in musical structure, atmosphere and sound. Bursts of blast-beat aggression chaos give way to wide expanses of space interrupted only by squiggles of tone and echo background wash. Starkly sorrowful melodic riffs ebb and flow like waves upon a beach before dissolving into seas of buzzing guitar noise and frantic percussion. In short, the ION musicians range far and wide exploring their musical territory – and what a vast and varied territory that is, taking in wide plains of ambience, hills of frenzied tremolo guitar chord squiggle, chunky melody and rhythm mountain ranges and blast-beat torrents.

As the music progresses, the contrasts become ever greater: the loudest, angriest hyper-blasting black metal can calm and reduce right down to the softest acoustic-guitar twang, at times inaudible save only for reverb effects. Tones and effects may be suspended in a murky space, their connection to one another uncertain and occurring randomly, until with effort a melody may form as if from spontaneous generation from sound fragments. On occasions the music can be very pretty and shapely but this is not shoegazer post-BM: its ambitions are much grander and the path it must take tends towards high and low extremes in emotion and atmosphere.

Interstellar space ambience (“Embers”) proves to be no barrier to ION’s musical quest and aspirations; listeners may be confronted with the immense nature of the sonic universe looming in their heads and their own place within it. The music is at its most psychedelic, abstract, improvised and disorienting in later parts of the album where we are thrust into deep inner (or outer) space. As the space trip nears its destination, the guys exert themselves heroically to deliver an exhilarating and dramatic summation of all that’s gone before. The one thing that’s a little bit lacking here is a very thunderous percussion back-up as the drums at this point are a bit thin and tinny, and the guys have to rely on chunky guitar barrage and UFO lift-off and landing effects to make their way through the climax.

Fittingly for such an awe-inspiring musical landscape, there are no fewer than two lots of vocals, one typically BM-raspy and the other a deeper guttural death metal vocal. At this point in the band’s history, I am not sure what the lyrics of three tracks are intended to refer to and listeners are at liberty to interpret them as they wish: they hint at some dissolution of an individual’s material state to reveal that which is most essential about that person and whether s/he ascends to a higher plane of existence or something much lower, darker and baser.

The band that most often comes to mind for me when I hear this music is the UK-based Fen, especially in ION’s sound when the guys are at their most melodic and melancholy. Other bands that might be referenced as points of comparison include Altar of Plagues (their White Tomb phase), Wolves in the Throne Room for passion and drama, and other North American BM bands like Ash Borer, Fell Voices, Panopticon and Skagos who deliver strong BM with ambient elements and mystical, shamanistic themes or social messages. A non-BM band that springs to mind is Samsara Blues Experiment which engages in similar psychedelic space metal head trips but ION far out-strips that band for risk-taking. Fans of all these bands should listen to ION’s debut if they can get copies. At this time of writing, the album was self-released but Aquarius Records in San Francisco may still have some copies.

Contact: Aquarius Records, ION

Wikkid’s The Intro: a movie-trailer to black metal psychedemonchaotica

Wikkid

Wikkid, The Intro, Soulthief Musick (2013)

This micro-album of five songs could be heard as one song of five parts that themselves might have been extracted from much longer tracks. Think of it as one continuous piece that could be equivalent to a movie trailer featuring the best scenes from an otherwise ordinary or mediocre flick. Even the album title suggests as much (err … not the “mediocre” aspect though). Of the five songs, only three can be said to be Wikkid songs, the other two coming from another project Blaksmoke which Wikkid main-man Wikkidiablo oversees with another musician.

Set to heavy pounding machine-gun rhythms, “Smokelessfire” is a strong opener with stuttery spider guitar noise-drone and wolf-like guttural vocals thrashing about in the background. This is followed by a slower and more tortured piece of howl and screech and bursts of squally guitar cloud in a song that may owe something to the infamous Swedish sadomasochistic duo Abruptum. “Torment” is another jerky stuttering attack-dog critter with echoing multi-voiced demonic gabbles and squealing high-pitched guitars. All three songs are fairly free-form (though the rhythms provide backbone for the guitar and vocal screams to hang from) and have a strong experimental feel. It’s a real pity that they’re extremely short and a couple of pieces could actually afford an extra couple of minutes each as they are to sound completely self-contained.

The second half of the demo is given over to tracks from Blaksmoke’s first album (which is shorter even than the recording under review) and these are more conventionally song-like, relative to the Wikkid tracks, in their structure. The drumming is dominant in both tracks and sets the pace for the guitars to follow. The vocals are not so prominent but exist as background menaces held on tight leashes.

Wikkid’s half of this recording is a varied and chaotic collection of very different though equally malevolent and barmy songs. The Blaksmoke tracks have a rock-out orientation with percussion going mushroom-cloud explosive and radioactive, powered by plenty of bashing of skins and cymbals. The production on all five tracks isn’t great but it does impart a raw quality. The atmosphere seems intimate as though we’re privy to a secret ritual, and dark at the same time.

Overall the recording promises heaps more of that enthusiastic and unpolished creative racket from where these songs came, though some listeners might feel a bit miffed that a couple of tracks from another project were snuck in to fill up the recording. Why not wait until there are more songs to bulk up a Wikkid and Wikkid-only album?

Contact: Wikkid, wikkidblackmetal@gmail.com

The Calling of Hell: where Hell exists in far realms of the universe

ALTURAZ

Alturaz, The Calling of Hell, Soulthief Musick, CDR (2014)

A most curious object this CDR from San Francisco act Alturaz has turned out to be: it’s inspired by black metal ideas and concepts but all instruments are either organ or other keyboards. The quartet of tracks runs to just under 18 minutes so listeners might expect there’s not much on offer. You would be wrong: this is creepy Gothick-sounding atmospheric music that nods in the direction of old horror movie soundtracks made for films about proper bloodsucking daemons and not pallid Robert Patterson parodies of current Twilight film franchise fame. Alturaz is a solo project by a musician who helms a perhaps more conventional (?) BM act called Wikkid.

The recording opens with a slow spooky droning organ piece based around a very simple chord sequence, against which a more sprightly organ melody may dance in short bursts. Picture yourselves entering a tall, grim and grey cathedral, the stone walls of which depict carved figures of sinners in hell writhing in silent screaming agony under sadistic punishments dealt by demented devils. We continue on to a deep darker-than-dark space atmosphere piece of low murmur, the odd synth splash and a blank wall of nothingness. As this amorphous piece progresses, it gains a more definite if very plastic shape and a brooding atmosphere. The music becomes a twitchy pulsing, silver-shimmery alien skeletal critter, all long fragile limbs with fine veins of rhythmically swishing ichor. It is a beautiful and delicate beast yet there’s something deeply sinister in its darting movements.

If you were expecting the CDR to depart on a triumphant though maniacally evil note, you’ll be disappointed: the outro track is short and barely there, a most understated and minimal drone mutter barely rising above the black formless plasma murk that births it. No better way to leave listeners stranded in deep space with no means of escape or survival than this coldly indifferent desertion can be conceived of.

In its own understated way, this recording poses a portrait of Hell as a place of dark brooding silences and overbearing dread. The use of simple repetitive drone, drawn out and relatively unembellished, creates an oppressive black atmosphere and a feeling of malevolence. Alturaz combines serenity and mesmeric sounds into a dark trance music. I only wish the whole thing had been longer for listeners to savour something of an unenviable experience of being plunged into this forbidding universe and left there forever.

Contact: Wikkid, wikkidblackmetal@gmail.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JuteGyte

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BlakesianWilliamness: a heady noise psychedelic journey of inner space

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Holism Gaea, BlakesianWilliamness, Heart & Crossbone, CDR-HCB042 (2013)

As its title suggests, this debut album by new duo Holism Gaea is inspired by the British poet / artist William Blake, in particular his early personal philosophy as expressed in his work “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”. I must admit I know very little about Blake and have not read that work but I hazard that some of its ideas on dualism in art and human existence prefigure Friedrich Nietzsche’s later concept of the development of art and culture in Western societies, revolving around two polarities of Apollonian order, structure and authoritarianism on the one hand, and Dionysian spontaneity, inspiration and creativity on the other. To be honest, I get very little sense of Blake’s early dualistic worldview from this recording and I think your enjoyment of the music need not depend on knowing any of the writer’s corpus.

The music is a mix of noise, tribal and space ambient, and post-industrial. “Antares Fall” leads off with a sinister beat against a weird spitting and hissing space-travel noise / electronica background. Cold sculptured tone effects form a repeating melodic motif while wubbly electronic sounds erupt and bubble continuously. The track develops into a lumbering majestic opus of mesmeric spooky voodoo rhythms and beats, runaway electronic thrills and flips, and echoes of a distant alien god looking over its cosmic creation and voicing more commands as galaxies and nebulae spring into being and fly out to the farthest reaches of the universe. Altogether this is a most strange and impressive opus that could well stand on its own as it draws in listeners and takes them on a trip through huge vistas of space at the speed of light. “But into the Wine Presses” is a more mysterious piece of spiralling noise and frothing texture over which sharp pin-prick tones dance lightly. “Ah! Sunflower” is a wonderful track of both early shuddering noise storm, eerie UFO lift-off effects and warm gentle cosmic-space tone ambience over which the Blake poem of the same name is recited.

More deliriously cosmic trance music, highly immersive to the point where it might be overwhelming and suffocating, follows: “The Argument” especially is a dark and sinister psychedelic mindfuck of wobbling rubber drone and abrasive texture crunch and shuffle. A robot voice detracts from the music which is forced to assume a more passive role while the vocals drone on but whenever the speaking stops, the noises and tones are able to fly as sky-high or as deep in the bowels of Sheol as they like. The album concludes with another epic space voyage that takes listeners deeper into realms and sub-realms of the extended universe as its branches stretch ever further into infinity. The sounds and textures quickly overflow the limits of restraint and boil into exaggerated clouds of noise chaos. The structure collapses and cannibalises itself, staving off final implosion where it can. But Dark Nemesis claims her own eventually.

This is quite heady music, highly absorbing especially when the singing or chanting ends and allows the instrumentals to launch themselves as far into the firmament of the heavens as they can. At times though some passages of music can become a bit comical possibly because the musicians let themselves go with the music and it flows or falls into excess. A lot of the music here is not exactly original; most parts will sound familiar to people already steeped in epic space-ambient psychedelia and it seems as if Blake’s early philosophy provides a convenient excuse for an all-embracing space-voyage soundtrack. But if you simply want music to transport you away into inner space, there are few recordings that can match this one for its consistency.

Cults Percussion Ensemble (self-titled): a mix of kitsch and sublimely dreamy music

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Cults Percussion Ensemble, self-titled, Trunk Records, JBH046CD (reissued 2012)

A very obscure release from 1979, copies of which were usually sold privately by the group itself, this is a charming set of mallet music made by a group of 14-year-old girls working on xylophones, glockenspiel, marimbas, vibraphones and timpani drums under the guidance of their percussion teacher and conductor. The group got its unusual name from the girls’ home suburb of Cults in the city of Aberdeen in northern Scotland. The only thing that may be a little sinister about these lasses is the hypnotic and sometimes dreamy music that pours forth from their hammers which the youngsters apply to their instruments with a light and skilful touch.

Although a lot of the music on this album can be very cartoony and kitsch, there are some very beguiling pieces worthy of a band with a name like Cults Percussion Ensemble. Early track “Baia” is a gorgeously languid glide through shimmering lush tropical forest and turquoise-blue waters gently lapping sandy crescent beaches hugging the edges of palm-fringed islands. The ambience enchants the senses with jewelled raindrops of sound. Diamond tones seduce the mind into floaty journeys over coral reefs in tropical waters. “Circles” is an urgent hyper-energetic spin through a twinkling kaleidoscope of fragile tones. Amazing that young teenage girls could play music with such a light airy touch and delicate feel that landscapes they would have little or no familiarity with could spring fully formed from their hands and mallets. “The Little Dancer” must surely be the last word in music describing the lonely and melancholy path taken by a lone unnamed protagonist in her life’s journey.

“Two Jubilee Pieces” comes close to abstract experimental darkness as the girls race up and down the bars or carefully trace the orbits of planets circling a lonely red dwarf star in an atmosphere of stark introspection. After the halfway point, the music goes down a cloyingly kitsch direction and this part of the album, emphasising technical virtuosity and playing to its audiences, is the least satisfying section for this listener. The album picks up and ends on a high note with “Polymers”, a soulful atmospheric piece that features singing.

For such an old recording, the sound quality is very good with very little hiss, and the instruments seem fairly soft in tone. While I wish that the selection of music in the album’s second half could have been better and could have demonstrated more of the girls’ feel for and sympathy with their material, as opposed to merely exploiting their technical skills and speed in playing popular sentimental tunes, I’m aware that the material chosen may be all that has survived of their work.

A tidbit of historical interest is that the ensemble includes the virtuoso percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie as a member.

Kwjaz (self-titled): lush soundscapes of Sixties / Seventies psychedelic nostalgia

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Kwjaz, self-titled, Not Not Fun Records, CD NNF 238 (2012)

Originally released on cassette, this self-titled debut from one-man project Kwjaz had to be issued on vinyl and CD due to the attention it garnered in the musical underground. Easy to see why too because even on first hearing I was instantly transported away into a hidden universe of strangely soft-glowing ambient colours and lush forests of shrill glittering sound and light textures. Kwjaz is the brain-child of San Francisco native Peter Berends so one presumes that this is the music project he was called upon by Kismet to direct; with his background steeped in the popular music and culture of that fair city, and that cornucopia of fine sounds Aquarius Records located not far from his neighbourhood, he really had no choice. The CD version of the album comes with the original two 20+ minute tracks plus two bonus pieces. (Dontcha just hate that when you’ve already bought the cassette?)

“Once in Babylon” ranges far and wide in musical inspiration and influence but the most interesting part comes about the 8th minute with a languorous beach-combing rhythm strolling by while space-lounge tone effects flutter about and a trumpet trills overhead. Our beach-comber soon reaches a discotheque and from there on it boogies sedately along the dance-floor. Little spaceship noise squiggles wobble high in the pulsating atmosphere and trumpet tones parp-parp by. Next think you know, you’re underwater in a funny sub trawling along the sea-floor while gloopy green currents of water slide past the port-hole. The track seemingly describes various experiences that inhabitants of a Golden Age of Mass Culture and Consumerism enjoyed over 40 years ago: there’s plenty of muzak and elevator music to pig out on.

Needless to say, “Frighteous Wane” is the flip-side to “Once in Babylon” in concept as well in the album’s original cassette format: it’s queasily psychedelic, a bit cold and clinical in parts – it’s the music that might delineate the hangover that comes from too much consumption of the most banal and mediocre experiences and material goods of the decades in which restraint, good sense and taste, and foresight were prominent by their absence. Nightmarish drones of a deliriously deranged kind are beguiling in their own way and even though you know you’re going to feel a bit sick, you can’t help but follow the music where it will. Withdrawing would give you anxiety attacks. You know you’ve made the right decision because the music does take you into some wondrous dimensions of jewelled sound and mood melody, all veiled with a slightly sinister atmospheric veil. The best moment comes about the 15th minute with a detour into an odd world of childhood tinkle toy jewellery box nostalgia and kitsch Oriental gardens of neat pagodas, little bridges over artificial streams of goldfish and carp, and cherry trees in perennial blossom. The whole vista is a little nauseating.

Of the bonus tracks, the unexpectedly short “A Certain Sprout” dallies in Sixties lounge nostalgia with analog synth melodies made a little creepy with touches of cold ambient space tone. “Elevation: Elation / Jah Wad” consists of a chain of various musical snapshots that might have come straight from an old-time late Seventies radio station playing songs straight through with no station announcements or commercial breaks. Overall though the bonus pieces don’t add anything new to the album that we don’t already know from the original pieces and some of the music on “Elevation …” echoes “Once in Babylon” with its mixture of beach-holiday ambience, lazy tropical rhythm and wistful nostalgia.

This album is the most intriguing of journeys into a realm that initially seems very familiar and nostalgic but threaded through with uneasy-listening elements that force you out of your comfort zone to confront perhaps some very uncomfortable truths about what the world you grew up in really was like. The best moments of the album are its most alien, the darkest and most ambivalent.