Brazzaville -- EAST L.A. BREEZE [Vendlus Records]
Led by saxophonist David Brown, who wrote most of the songs for this album on guitar while touring in Beck's band in 1997, this band plays an ornate brand of sophisticated pop in the vein of Steely Dan, Tom Waits, Ute Lemper, Leonard Cohen, David Baerwald, and Spain, with smart, near-jazzy songs about beautiful losers and other doomed types performed by an exceptionally versatile and talented band. The songs are baroque and detailed, filled with lush orchestration that never goes overboard, and like the work of Steely Dan (but without the arch, inside-joke attitude) or David and David (but songs that are nowhere near as sparse), the focus is on drifters, grifters, and tragically romantic characters who populate mythic stories. The feel of most of this material ranges from playful to reflective, but always relatively restrained -- this is not a band that jumps around to bring the rock, if you know what I mean -- but just as often beautiful in a melancholy way, with melodies that are sweet and memorable without turning saccharine and playing that is both tasteful and evocative while remaining understated. This is jazz-tinged pop for sophisticates, and with fifteen songs (the final three are bonus tracks), there's plenty here to appreciate.
Darsombra -- DELIRIUMS & DEATH 3-inch cdr [Public Guilt]
Darsombra is actually former Meatjack guitarist Brian Daniloski using mutant guitar, drone, and loops to create forbidding dark-ambient quasi-metal soundscapes, and the two long tracks on this 3-inch cdr (the second in a series of limited three-inch releases on Public Guilt) are seriously ominous slices of experimental doom-rock. On "Periphery," enormous-sounding detuned guitar and drone loops form the bedrock over which lots of other stuff is piled on in gradual increments, including rhythmic loops and a schizophrenic's nightmare of processed voices in increasing layers. That track segues seamlessly into 'eyes in eyes," where the growing death-drone eventually culminates in some seriously scary screaming and thumping. This is what Neurosis would sound like if they were less obsessed with being magnificent artistes and more interested in making you pee in your pants. Essential stuff, hear me? Limited to 100 copies, so you should probably act fast.... Bonus points for the nifty-looking three-panel letterpress booklet and mylar insert -- this is nice packaging.
Daymares -- CAN'T GET US ALL [Selfmadegod]
Poland's Daymares offer up a serious (and often frantic) mix of hardcore, punk, and metal on this album, their first full-length release. For a band that's only been in existence for a little over a year, they certainly have their act together -- this is heavy, intense stuff. Metallic riffing, hoarse hardcore vocals, and busy drumming make them sound extremely scary indeed, like a forbidding cross between Entombed and the Cro-Mags, maybe; the guitar sound is straight-up death metal, but the song structures and drum patterns are closer to hardcore and punk much of the time, which makes them much heavier than your average hardcore band, but more rhythmically varied than a lot of metal bands, and as a result the songs frequently sound like barely-controlled explosions of pure misanthropic anger. The sound is raw and vicious without being underproduced, and a serious commitment to melodic playing and catchy riffs keeps the punishing wall of sound accessible even when the vocalist sounds like he's trying to heave up his spleen. The attack is relentless, the fury uncompromising, and the cumulative result of all eleven tracks played back to back is something akin to being run over by a steamroller. Not for the first time, I'm compelled to wonder what it is about Poland that breeds such heavy, savage-sounding rock bands....
Destructo Swarmbots -- CLEAR LIGHT [Public Guilt]
Better make yourself comfortable before throwing this on -- the four tracks here take fifty minutes to play out, and they're in no hurry to get where they're going. In fact, the opening track takes up a good three-fourths of the album. As the cover art suggests, this is the sound of stars exploding in slow motion, radiating intense light that takes years to reach the Earth. The "band" is actually one guy (Mike Mare) from NY, although for live performances other players are sometimes involved, meaning that a live action could be a solo work or feature an actual band. Either way, Mare is definitely the head visionary in charge. "Banta" is a long, drawn-out (forty minutes!) exercise in spaced-out psychedelic ambient noise, a droning, drifting soundscape for journeys through the far, frozen reaches of outer space, or perhaps a journey to the center of your mind; either way, this is truly excellent music for zoning out. The three remaining tracks are considerably shorter and a bit grittier, while still plenty enamored of the almighty drone and psychedelic shimmering. This is probably as close as you'll ever get to outer space without ingesting lots of acid. The man's droning psych pimp hand is strong...!
Eddie the Rat -- ONCE AROUND THE BUTTERFLY BUSH [Edgetone Records]
This is hallucinatory stuff -- the members of this quartet (at least on this disc; the group started out with just one member and has at times included as many as 15 musicians) play an odd mix of unusual instruments (cajon, Balinese gansa, lobro), traditional instruments (bass, piano, recorder, glockenspiel, bass drum), and homemade gadgets, and often they play different tempos simultaneously. It should be a hideous mess, but it isn't; for one thing, the compositions are slow and spacious enough to leave everybody plenty of room to move, and while the members frequently use different tempos at once, those different times work well together. Incorporating elements of jazz, classical, folk, and gamelan music, the resulting tunes are strange and disorienting yet highly listenable, built on solid rhythmic foundations despite the bizarre instrument choices and eccentric compositions. Two vocalists (male and female), each with a highly individual approach, just add to the complex layers of peculiarity. Think of it all as avant-garde music for waltzing, perhaps, or art-damaged folk music by way of hallucinogenic drugs. The lock-step rhythmic interplay is what makes it work; the unusual vocal harmonies and unexpected dynamic shifts are what keep it interesting. For such an out-there ensemble, you'd be surprised how accessible it all is. Sun Ra would approve.
Eddie the Rat
Hans Fjellestad -- SNAILS R SEXY [Accretions]
Armed with a Moog, theremin, and vacuum tube processing equipment, Hans F. returns for his fourth Accretions disc with drone on his mind. The material on this disc was developed over the past year or so while playing live dates on tour around the world, giving him plenty of opportunity to experiment and shape the sound of nine tracks here before going into the studio. The results are extremely drone-oriented, with plenty of textural noise thrown in as well -- this is prog-rock by way of Merzbow, drone with distortion, synthesized tonal mayhem. The sound is far more organic than the instrumentation would imply -- some tracks like "crush goddess" sound more like blown-out amplifier worship than anything you would expect from a synthesizer or theremin -- and there's a haunting dimension to the tonal quality not normally found in electronic music. Noise and glitch sounds play an important role in many of the tracks as well (especially on "calle calla"), but the main focus throughout the entire album is on pure-tone drone, with a sound frequently swaddled in warm fuzz. The drone worship is offset by more experimental tracks like "ex vivo," in which notes from a Steinway piano are sampled, processed, and mutilated via synthesizer to bizarre effect, and "french door bird," which is filled with sounds like mechanical birds and peculiar, stutterting synth rhythms. Mostly, though, it's about the sounds you can only get through Moog hardware and theremins (and the joy of perverted experiments in noise). Interesting stuff from a guy who appears to be full of surprises at every new turn.
David Galas -- THE CATACLYSM [Vendlus Records]
If this is highly reminiscent of Lycia, that's hardly an accident: Galas was once a member of said band, and began writing this album when Lycia broke up in 2000. (As it happens, shortly after the album was finished in 2005, Lycia reformed and Galas has begun playing with them again, although he fully intends to pursue a solo career as well.) Inspired by the photography of Elena Filatova, the Ukranian motorcyclist who started her website to document her travels through the area surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear plant nearly twenty years after the disaster there, the album has a suitably apocalyptic feel that probably owes as much to Neurosis as to Lycia. Neo-folk guitars and prominent darkwave keyboard washes compete with thunderous guitars and plodding metal beats, with occasional snippets of field recordings and other incidental sound, with so many layers of sound that his deep, ponderous vocals are often buried back in the mix. The orchestration is lush and the sound epic, vast, and heavily layered; there's a lot going on here at any given time, but the mix and production are clear and intense, keeping the individual parts distinguishable despite a serious dedication to sonic overkill. At 19 songs, the album is a lot to process, but not all of the songs are actually songs in the traditional sense; many of the tracks are more like bridges between songs, often instrumental and filled with exotic-sounding samples and effects; as a result, the density of sound and severity of attack ebbs and flows in an organic fashion, preventing the album from becoming unbearable in its intensity. The album is certainly festooned with plenty of unusual effects and peculiar sound bites, but at the core it's classic darkwave, and at its more upbeat moments bears a striking resemblace to FLOODLAND-era Sisters of Mercy, not a bad thing at all. Between the harder-rocking, more metallic moments, though, there's plenty of goth-tinged brooding and dark-ambient backgrounds, giving the album plenty of texture and pure old-fashioned spookiness. Given how much is going on here and the obvious work that went into making it spool out in seamless fashion, it's not hard to imagine how it took Galas five years to finish the album. The resulting piece of work is definitely better for the lengthy gestation, and more bands should work this hard at getting things right before presenting their work before the public.
Harm Stryker -- S/T 3-inch cdr [Public Guilt]
A duo from Richmond, VA, Harm Stryker kicks off a new limited-edition cdr series on Public Guilt with this intriguing slice of audio collage art. The single untitled track opens with a brooding, buzzing drone eventually gives way to a growing cyclone of layered noises, screeching, and glitch sounds, with cut-up sound and sweeping sonic violence that builds to a frenzy before abruptly quieting again, at which point they begin to build new sound collages from an initial hiccuping drone. Textured noises and a cut-up approach to sonic architecture are the cornerstones of the duo's aesthetic -- they eschew overly harsh noises, for the most part, in favor of urban sound bites and glitch-laden noises, assembling the pieces in layers that flow freely in terms of texture and density. Over the full length of the piece (just under 17 minutes), they incorporate a number of extremely different and interesting sounds, including screechy tape manipulation, found sound, and processed electronics -- it all adds up in a striking way, with an evolution of sound that remains vital and interesting right up to the unexpected ending. Limited to 100 copies.
Hell Within -- SHADOWS OF VANITY [Lifeforce]
Thrash metal lives, as this Massachusetts group forcefully proves with their third album. The nine songs here are filled with relentless, absurdly fast double-bass drumming and speedy melodic guitar, with a sound that manages to be modern and still unquestionably rooted in old-school thrash. Singer Matthew McChesney sounds to me like he was weaned on the first couple of Metallica and Megadeth albums, but he's a better singer than Hetfield or Mustaine ever were (even if he does occasionally have to work at keeping up with the ridiculously fast rhythm section); the rest of the band appears to worship just as equally at the altar of 80s thrash, but incorporate some more modern touches into their highly precise cyclone of sound. That they're tight is without question -- the drummer is not only incredibly fast but busy, sounding like he has four arms, and the other players have no problem keeping up with him despite the breakneck pace (they must all be eating their Wheaties every day for breakfast). While their chops are impressive, they could stand to work on their songwriting a bit; the album's one big drawback is that there isn't exactly a tremendous amount of variation between the songs, a problem that's compounded by their tendency to play at full-throttle all the time. After a while it all turns into a thrashing blur of constantly pounding drums and machine-gun guitar with McChesney howling over the top, to the point where the songs all bleed together. (Of course, the same can be said of a lot of classic thrash albums, so I'm not sure how much difference that makes to hardcore rattleheads.) Despite the lack of variety from one track to the next, they're definitely worth checking out for those in search of a relentless audio beating.
Nihil Communication -- WE ARE VIOLENT [Edgetone Records]
This is minimalist, droning dark-ambient music, with a sound anchored in simple but tonally unnerving drones that are leavened with jarring noises and inexplicably mysterious sounds -- much of it conjures up the sound of boats lost at sea in an impenetrable fog, sending out distress signals that are swallowed by emptiness and go unheeded. Despite the album's title, the violence here is mostly implied; while there are plenty of odd sounds happening in the sonic swamp, this is mostly about the power of dark drone and sustained hum, and while the erratic extraneous sounds hint at a violence that could come at any moment, that violence never actually happens. Waves of dissonant sound gather and break, sometimes taking on the character of sweeping wind and churning waves crashing against a faraway shore, but the sound never becomes truly explosive enough to qualify as violent. The main attraction here for true ambient enthusiasts is the pure minimalism of the proceedings; there's very little actually happening here, but what is at work is completely captivating, enshrouded in mystery a brooding sense of alienation amid vast, empty spaces open to the inexorable forces of nature and not much else. This is a cold, dark, droning sound almost completely devoid of human intervention -- it's not hard to imagine this being the tape recording of a hostile alien environment being slowly consumed by the elements. It doesn't exactly "rock," but it's not even remotely new-age, either. Haunting, provocative soundscapes built on mystery and the maxim that less is more.
Silver Daggers -- NEW HIGH & ORD [Load Records]
They rumble out of the starting gate sounding like a freejazz band channeling both Pineal Ventana and the Coughs, but it soon becomes apparent that they have their own ideas about postmodern deconstructionism or whatever the hip kids call this stuff these days. With a severely hyperactive drummer, alto sax and trumpet, and plenty of frantic shouting, the upbeat (very upbeat!) songs sounds like a tribal fusion meltdown in progress, but when they slow the pace and stretch out, they turn out to be on the drone trip as well -- this is the first time I've heard sax and trumpet used as drone devices, which makes for a mighty interesting sound. They don't slow down very often, though; most of their time on this album is spent is the throes of hopped-up rhythmic possession (maybe it's an L.A. thing, or maybe they just drink an awful lot of coffee -- like a lot of Load bands, they sound like their tours should be sponsored by Folgers). This is a mind-melting fusion of jazz, tribal music, spidery no-wave bass flapping, and pure hallucinogenic freakout, a rabid frenzy of sound probably capable of inducing seizures in the meek. Wild and weird; the audio equivalent of recording while jumping around on pogo sticks. Like a party in your pants, only far more frantic and high-pitched.
Twentyagon -- LUIGI [Worldeater]
Twentyagon return with more bouncy, cryptic music for hallucinating robots and kazoo waltzes for wind-up dolls. Imagine techno-laden electronica rooted in surf guitar rhythms with instrumentation that includes flute, bass, harmonica, accordion, and broken drums in addition to instruments more suited to conventional rock, then factor in lots of dark-ambient background snippets and incidental noises behind the rocking robot sounds, and you still have no idea how genuinely weird this band is. This is the sound of giggling musicians turned loose in a studio full of wildly disparate sonic toys after smoking blunts laced with angel dust. Which is not to say it's unlistenable -- on the contrary, the preponderance of bouncy rhythms and a genuinely demented musical vision make this lots of fun to hear. (They're also smart enough to keep the songs brief, which prevents them from wearing out their welcome.) A lot of it sounds like old-fashioned waltzes transformed in bizarre fashion for the electronica generation, with plenty of fuzzy basslines and efx-laden sounds (not to mention background noises that at one point includes a barking dog) to lend an air of the unexpected to the proceedings. I don't know if they're still doing music for ADULT SWIM, but this is certainly surreal and perky enough to be appropriate for that show. More proof that you can be unspeakably weird and catchy at the same time.
Udo -- MASTORCUTOR [Candlelight USA]
Yes, it's that Udo, the former singer of Accept, and this album -- the band's fourteenth since he left that band for a solo career in the early 80s -- is pretty much what you might justifiably expect given his pedigree. This is pure old-school power metal (it sounds an awful lot like mid-eighties Judas Priest, in fact) with lots of heavy riffing and blinding solos, plus Udo's highly recognizable vocals. The band he's assembled has the metal madness down to a science, especially the rhythm section, and while the lyrics are every bit as ridiculous as the ones he used to write for Accept, Udo sure does sound good singing them, especially if you worship Rob Halford (and I do; so does Udo, from the sound of it). It's true that they are not exactly original (did I mention that they sound a lot like Judas Priest?), but they are dead serious about bringing the rock; it helps that they have a really punishing drummer, and that their guitarist favors massive metal riffs. They do have a couple of soppy ballads that don't work as well as the more rocking cuts, but fortunately those moments are heavily outweighed by the more seriously crushing metal madness. They sound like their "musical development" ended around 1982, but given some of the more horrible excesses of nu-metal and the splintering of metal into about a million subgenres, few of which actually rock consistently in a classic metal sense, this is not necessarily a bad thing. If you miss the glory days of power metal, when women wore lots of Lycra and men kept their balls to the wall and every album was pretty much required to have "midnight" in at least one song title, then this album was recorded just for you.