Expo Coin-Op for Armory Radio

The great Ian Helliwell remains a relatively-undiscovered UK hero operating from his Brighton UK headquarters. Film-maker, visual artist, mad inventor and releaser of highly idiosyncratic bedroom electronic music, he must have been labelled a ‘boffin’ more times than he cares to admit. Mind you, his choice of letterhead image (bespectacled scientist in white coat) isn’t doing much to curb or deny such appellations. I’ve gotten a lovely CDR of Expo 67: A Radiophonic Collage from him last week, which is a dazzling 27-minute tapework assemblage that exactly captures the optimism and futurism of those heady days in Canada – an event known only to me from a certain image featuring on a Skyray ice-lolly wallchart which I happened to own at the time. On this work, Helliwell uses voice fragments from the media talking up the Expo, combined with musical samples from such greats as Xenakis, Tremblay and Tristram Cary, who produced special compositions for the Expo. Listeners who own a copy of Man In Space with Sounds by Attilio Mineo will certainly need this witty and colourful pop-art artefact to prop up alongside it.

Always a pleasure to hear from Blake Edwards (no relation), who performs as Vertonen and runs the variety-time label C.I.P. out of Chicago. Just released is the latest weirdie from bran(…)pos, called Coin-Op Khepri (cipcd021). This is nine tracks of what promises to be truly eyebrow-twisting electronic and sample-based layering malarkey, executed with more than the usual heavy dose of imagination and strange humour that you normally get from certain other jokers armed with a beatbox and a cheap sampler device. This is the solo work of one Jake Rodriguez, who’s been unspooling works under said monicker since 1995…the sleeve of this CD posits the missing links between ancient Egypt and casino gambling with black and gold visual panache, thus generating images no doubt familiar to long-standing fans of certain pinball machines and arcade computer games. I recommend getting your nickels into this man’s slot!

Been meaning for weeks to maketh mention of a lovely generous package of sonic fruits from the arms of the splendid Geoff Mullen, that ace guitar musician of Providence RI who’s currently garnering positive critical acclaim from all the “right” quarters. One such fruit plucked from the tree is a spiffy comp CD called Innature (BRG001 on the Barge Recordings label, released some two years ago). Mullen is scraping and plucking his steel strings and distorting amplifier output in his familiar alienating way on ‘Gold Eyes’, but there’s much enriched aural goodness from The Fun Years, Bird Show, Polmo Polpo, Animal Hospital and Loren Connors on here too, all wrapped up in a masterpiece of drugged-out illustrative bliss painted by Pali Kashi. A broken down shack in orange field never looked so hallucinatory…further Mullen guitar artistry is available on A Rip In The Fabric (RY 003), a seven-incher of somewhat more bleak dimensions released on his own Rare Youth label. He also sent some cassettes imprinted on said label, of which I can only find Aberich‘s Heat Death at the moment, and I’m currently contemplating how best to remove the seal holding the box lid in place so that I too can experience a blast of that flaming finality. However, all these are just tasters for the main event, a staggering double LP called Armory Radio (Barge Recordings BRG003). All solo Mullen, and a beautifully ‘full’ mixture of stringed and percussive instruments layered with tape loops and radio signals of all stripe, wrapped in a gorgeous collage (by Cindy Gay Howlett) made from blueprints of an old 19th-century fortification. This utterly absorbing and hypnotic swell-tide styled music gave an hour of uninterrupted bliss to this listener around Xmas-tide last year. Only 500 copies were pressed in 2007, so may I suggest you pursue a copy with all permissible speed and determination? Mullen also compiled the outstanding Rare Youth compilation double-CD, a survey of Rhode Island music which we noted in issue 16; he has an eye and an ear for unique marginal talent, besides possessing much of his own…

Further American out-there sumptuousness has been provided to me in hefty dollops by Release The Bats, a Swedish label who normally deal in small black flying rodents but make occasional forays into music too. Warmer Milks I well recall as providing an exceptionally weirded-up voodoo live cut on their side of a split LP with Florida’s Collection of the Late Howell Bend; on Let Your Friends In (RTB#33), the insane quartet of Kentucky-based young men turn in two inspired bursts of distorted rock screech and thumpery, spliced together with disjunctive voice cut-ups that are the very antithesis of narrative story-telling. Hearing ‘The Ripple Children / The Jaunting’ is not unlike being chased through midnight-lit New England woods while pursued by two red witches on horseback. The ink and wash drawing on the front cover shows some clear aspirations towards the private visual worlds of Henry Darger, everyone’s favourite Outsider artist. Shepherds (from Brooklyn), likewise a quartet, have recorded Loco Hills (RTB#29) last year at somewhere called “Rear House”. Perhaps not the most strikingly original record we’ve heard this year, since it wears its Krautrock influences on its sleeve, around its neck, and on big orange badges while standing under a life-sized cardboard cutout of The Can with Malcolm Mooney. But this music is executed with such gusto, energy and conviction that few can resist succumbing to its rock-steady beats, its semi-chaotic layers and its cosmically spiralling grooves. The edgy recording quality is just right too. The ‘loconess’ of the Loco Hills clearly extends to strange rural operations involving rattlesnake poison, gutting knives and makeshift dental treatment, if the cover is anything to go by.