A Death Cinematic / Obscuritan Design -- VEINS LIKE TRENCHES... DUG DEEPEST WITH DRIED BLOOD [Winepress Records]
This fabulous (and, at 20 copies, ultra-limited) DVDR release on Winepress Records, in a package designed by Simple Box Construction, is a collaboration in which A Death Cinematic provides sixteen minutes of eerie, disembodied ambient drone soundscapes that are matched by an equally eerie form of animation from Obscuritan Design. The sound is classic ADC, featuring ambient spaghetti-western guitar mutated into something far more sinister and assorted sounds of an ambiguous nature, all in the service of haunted soundscapes that drift and billow for sixteen minutes while slow-motion scenes of nature unencumbered by the presence of filthy humans slowly segue from one location to the next. The total effect is one of sinister, unsettling beauty; the lonesome and unpopulated scenery of the video segment looks suitable for a Khanate video, while the soundtrack is every bit as unnerving and steeped in isolationism. Tragically, the DVDR is already out of print -- not surprising, given its limited release -- but you can see portions of it on the ADR Myspace page, along with other interesting bits 'n pieces to see and hear. Check it out.
A Death Cinematic
Robert Anbian -- I NOT I [Edgetone Records]
Anbian is a major figure in the underground poetry scene of San Francisco, and this double-disc release covers a lot of ground -- subjects like race, war, poverty, music, and urban life turn up again and again, along with numerous other aspects of modern life and the more timeless concerns of the human condition. The first disc compiles 24 short spoken-word pieces, most of them short and to the point, more poetry than prose. Most of these pieces have been published in books and magazines, and a few are the words-only versions of pieces that appeared on a previous disc with jazz instrumentation, while a few are apparently new, appearing here for the first time. The subject matter of the pieces cover a wide spectrum of subjects, taken mainly from life on the margins of the big city, rendered vivid with trenchant observation and occasionally inspired phrasing. The second disc contains two lengthy stories that take up over an hour. The first piece, "The Day I Became White," revolves around the story of a young Anbian's introduction to a black classmate in grade school; the specific incident at the core of the story provides the opportunity to broach other subjects, mainly the broader subject of race and society's response to such, and his own family's difficulties with prejudice, all of which circle around the actual story, with the story serving as a touchstone for these other, wider concerns. "War" uses the subject of war as a stepping stone to riff on music, the politics of ridicule, why people feel compelled to serve, why wars occur, and war's impact on culture, from obvious to more subtle and insidious examples. Morbid black humor is a constant thread through the poems and stories; his delivery is sharp enough, and his observations compelling enough, to make the entire release interesting (and from time to time even mesmerizing) even to those not already hot for the spoken-word thing. What initially appears highly intimidating -- two discs worth, eek! -- turns out to be not just accessible, but far more entertaining than one might expect.
Ballroom Dance Is Dead -- s/t EP [self-released]
The band was started by Grant Curry (bass, effects) and Lynn Wright (guitar, piano, effects), inspired in equal parts by the work of Brian Eno, minimalism, trance music, and the spirit of Sonny Sharrock. On this EP they've added Tony Nozero (drums, percussion, electronics) and Mike Dillon (percussion, tabla) to the mix, and the five tracks on this short release live up to the original concept. Dub and ambient are big influences on the sound here, especially on the spacious opener "Damascus," and the bass-driven "Carnival Dirge" sounds like it could have emerged whole and intact from any one of Bill Laswell's numerous ambient-dub projects. Despite the tranced-out ambient dub vibe to most of the material here, there are plenty of post-rock skronk moments as well, although they appear in relatively subdued fashion and subservient to the trance feel. "Goodbye to All This" is one major exception, with its uptempo rhythm and bright guitar sound, although it somehow still manages to work with the other tracks despite its obvious differences. The final track, a dub-heavy rock version of Coltrane's "India," feels perfectly appropriate to the concept at hand and sounds pretty swell in its own right. The dub action never quite descends into the hellish feel of Public Image Ltd., Scorn, or Painkiller, but the overall feel is in that general ballpark, only more subdued and more conventially listenable. Eerie, tranced-out stuff that's worth hearing.
Ballroom Dance Is Dead
Blackwinds -- FLESH INFERNO [Regain Records]
I don't know anything at all about this band, and the endless stream of dissonant black metal bands sucking at the tit of eternal fucking evil makes it hard to tell everybody apart now without a scorecard, but one thing's for sure: this is a really evil-sounding recording. This is a guitar-heavy band, one whose sound and attack fall somewhere between Gorgoroth and Watain; they're not so terribly interested in the technical aspect of things (although they aren't exactly sloppy, either), but rather more concerned with conjuring an atmosphere of hopeless nihilism and true blackened evil. In this venture they are successful. When they pour on the speed they creep into the territory of bands like Marduk, but while they definitely like to keep things basic, they're not quite that simple (or monochromatic). This is the true essence of old-school black metal, delivered with a thick, distorted sound that's only occasionally broken by the appearance of minimal keyboard washes. Even better, while none of this is terribly original (and frankly, given how overcrowded the genre has become over the past decade, originality would be difficult to achieve for any black metal band at this point), all of it is excellent -- there's enormous power behind the band's attack regardless of the tempo. I actually prefer the slower tracks, where the melodicism of their lead guitar playing becomes considerably more evident, but the fast moments are exciting in their own right. There are ten tracks on the album, all ranging in quality from extremely good to excellent. Let's hope they don't disintegrate or anything, because with only one other album and an EP to their name, they obviously hold plenty of promise for the future.
Business Lady -- TORTURE FOOTAGE [Load Records]
California's answer to Lightning Bolt -- well, sorta -- makes their recorded debut with this forceful collection of hyperkinetic sonic mantras. Occupying a sonic territory somewhere between Duchesses (or maybe Silver Daggers) and Lightning Bolt, their songs are driven by insistent, pounding drums, percolating bass churn, squealing guitar bleat, and a fondness for tempos derived from an excessive worship of coffee machines. The sonic anarchy on display here is very much in keeping with the general Load aesthetic; this is well-rehearsed noise rock made all the more vivid through flawless and frenzied execution. Wigged-out psychedelic no-wave by way of California dreaming, in other words. So vigorously wound up that it's kind of exhausting to hear, which only makes me wonder how much energy it must take to play this stuff, and just where they're getting all that energy from in the first place. Espresso? Big bags of sugar? Fat lines of cocaine? I dunno, but whatever it is, the result is the sonic equivalent of exploding gas molecules bouncing off way too many walls. Weird and overly enthusiastic, this is definitely recommended listening for the young (or at least the young at heart).
Circles -- WEIGHS A TON [Wooden Man Records]
The ten songs on this album, the band's second, are a little less country and a lot more jazz-rock this time around. The catchiest and poppiest track is the first one, "Steal for the Lord," about a young man who learns to do just that, and the most "out there" moment is probably the free-jazz heaviosity of "Learn to Swim." Between the two extremes are a lot of songs equally informed by new country and swingtime jazz, with a jaunty sound that strikes a nice balance between two genres you don't see welded together very often (despite the fact that acts like Willie Nelson made the possibilities of such a merger clear early on in their careers). Indie rock straddling the fence between two wildly different genres rarely succeeds because the task is so difficult to do without appearing to be hip and ironic, but these guys know what they're doing; this is good stuff, well-played and executed with considerable verve. It's also far more accessible than the bizarre, genre-melding pedigree might suggest, too. The more excitable moments that border on freejazz might scare off some of the more timid listeners, but those moments are rare; most of this is well within the bounds of the conventionally accessible. Weird, yes, but accessible.
Wooden Man Records
Day Creeper / Night of Pleasure -- 7" [self-released]
Day Creeper and Night of Pleasure are both from Columbus; the former are new to the scene, while the latter have been out a while, with a single on Columbus Discount Records. On the Day Creeper side, "And How!" is driven by simple but insistent drums, vague nods to pop sound, and guitars delving into clever progressions and occasionally laying back to accomodate a relatively (for punk, anyway) sophisticated arrangement that comes to an abrupt end when you least expect it. "My Blue Screen" derives a lot of its power from snarling, fizzy guitars and a blunt (but tight) simplicity that plays out quickly and wastes absolutely no time in delivering its message. NOP's two tracks find them just as racuous and pleasantly lo-fi as always; "Spasm Chasm" opens with insistent galloping bass and is soon augmented by lots of crashing and bashing; "Hipster Downgrade" is a more frantic burst of energy, drowning in treble and the charming no-fi sound greatly in evidence on their earlier single. Why they had to put this out themselves is beyond me; I'm kind of surprised CDR didn't pick it up (although to be fair, they put out so much stuff that budget considerations become an unpleasant consideration sooner or later, I'm sure). Cool stuff, especially on the Day Creeper side, although you'll probably have to acquire it directly from one of these swell bands.
Night of Pleasure
Dikeman / Barrios / Makihara -- WE NEED YOU [Eh?]
Featuring John Dikeman on tenor sax, Jon Barrios on bass, and Toshi Makihara on percussion, the three tracks on this release -- a total of approximately forty minutes -- are a perplexing assortment of squeaks and creaks, esoteric free jams that as often as not degenerate into stretches of near-silence before climbing back up into agitated explosions of barbaric sax bleat and cranky clattering. The "rhythm section" has less to do with traditional rhythm than with making eccentric ripples of noise while Dikeman wrings tortured, shaking notes from his sax. The energy level ebbs and flows in a genuinely unpredictable fashion; even taking into account the unexpected nature of free improv, these guys are so cryptic that it's nearly impossible to guess where they're headed at any given moment. There's plenty of space evident, especially during the quieter moments; occasionally Dikeman will have the chance to bleat and squeak without too much accompaniment (or accompaniment that is very much in the background, and not terribly intrusive). One of the more interesting things about the trio is Makihara's idiosyncrastic approach to percussion; there's no information on what kind of kit (if any) he's using, but it certainly doesn't sound like a traditional one, and his percussion style is rooted in an eccentric approach to beats, one in which he is less interested in "keeping time" and more concerned with providing texture and counterpoint to the bass and sax lines. Not that either of those guys are behaving in any kind of traditional fashion, either. This is not totally out in left field, and when they're cooking it's fairly busy (and quite energetic), but it's certainly not traditional jazz by any means. Puzzling, often deliberately so, but still most intriguing.
Electric Bunnies -- "Fantastic Metal Eye" 7" [Columbus Discount Records]
Who can resist the diabolical lure of cute bunnies with instruments? These are some weird-ass bunnies, though -- "Fantastic Metal Eye" is all amp hum for ambience and bouncy punk thumping with vocalists who sound like they're on helium -- at first listen it sounds almost like a deviant version of electronica, but no, it's just punked-out effervescence with peculiar production values. "Beautiful Pants" loses the amp hum but throws everything into doubletime, with rampaging military drums revved up to double-speed and squeaky chipmunk bleating. It's over before you can even begin to truly appreciate how deranged it is, too. The flip side, "Bubble Bath," is lo-fi punk funk, a jumpy instrumental with a great, catchy rhythm and squiggly guitars waffling away in cryptic fashion over a bouncy bass line. Cute, fun, not at all boring. I'm pretty sure it's a girly-girl thing, which may have a lot to do with the hyped-up fun quotient and lack of post-ironic postmodern bullshit angst.
Columbus Discount Records
Gorgoroth -- LIVE IN GRIEGHALLEN [Regan Records]
As anybody who's been following the fallout from the Gorgoroth split knows by now, there are two versions of the band -- one fronted by Gaahl, the other by Infernus -- and lawyers are involved as everybody argues over who owns the name and who has the right to put out what, etc., etc. As a result, this live album, released in June, is currently in limbo, as the Norwegian copyright court declared in August that Regain can't distribute it until everybody gets their shit together and all that hoohah. Which is too bad, because this is a pretty fearsome live document -- not very long, true, with only eight tracks, but those eight tracks are extremely intense and well-recorded. Gaahl in particular sounds genuinely possessed, and the drumming also stands out in terms of sheer energetic ferocity. They get a good bass and guitar sound as well, something particularly evident on tracks like "Forces of Satan Storms," "Possessed (by Satan)," and "Revelation of Doom." I'm kind of confused as to the real nature of the album -- if I understand correctly, it was recorded live in the studio, which means it's really a studio album rather than a stage performance document -- but either way, it's most punishing. Too bad almost nobody will get to hear it anytime soon thanks to all the irritating legal wrangling, but the music biz is frequently full of unpleasant hassles, eh?
Holy Roman Empire -- EGRESS [Slanty Shanty Records]
The solo project of Lucas Williams, Holy Roman Empire has a unique and distinct sound rooted in shoegaze, but it's a different brand of shoegaze -- the hugeness of reverb worship and the emotional feel is there, but it's all the work of one guy, stripped down and sparse rather than the kind of oceanic sound popularized by bands like Lush and My Bloody Valentine, and the guitar work is acoustic more often than not. In fact, the unplugged instruments and general approach remind me a bit of the band Tinsel, although that band was inspired more by Leonard Cohen than shoegaze. At any rate, there's a lonesome, not-quite-alienated emotional feel to the songs that's offset by the often gorgeous playing and eccentric background sounds. For a while back in the 90s there was a whole burgeoning movement of bands like this, solo bedroom practicioners armed with just a handful of instruments, a four-track, and a sheltered attitude -- a whole young generation looking for both a new way to express themselves and to connect with others. This is a throwback to that movement, one defined by naked emotion, delicate songs, and a certain level of pure fearlessness matched by an equal level of ambivalence. It's not exactly heavy, but it's real and heartfelt, emotional in a way that's more honest and direct than the average modern band. Fans of emotion-drenched bedroom rock like early Liz Phair, Sebadoh, and Guided by Voices should definitely check this out.
Holy Roman Empire
Slanty Shanty Records
Impiety -- DOMINATOR ep [Pulverised Records]
Hailing from Singapore, of all places, and obviously influenced by the likes of Hellhammer, Bathory, and Morbid Angel, the band has come a long way since its initial primitive demo offering in 1991. Seventeen years and almost as many releases later, their most recent release features five relentless songs of exceptional aggression played at maximum velocity. There's no subtlety whatsoever to any of this, and it's not exactly a monument to originality either, but it's certainly ferocious and punishing, especially where the drums are concerned; this is some of the most frantic drumming you're likely to hear anytime soon outside of an Impaled Nazarene album, and the guitar work is equally raging as well, with million-note-per-second solos spurting forth at regular intervals. The result is a high-paced form of barely controlled chaos designed to give the metal faithful plenty of reasons to bounce around the room thrashing like they're on fire and to horrify and irritate the rest of the world. What they lack in originality or distinctive songwriting, they more than make up for in unstoppable persistence and sheer speed-addled heaviness.
The KBD Sonic Cooperative -- FOUR PLUS ONE [Eh?]
The cooperative in question is Michael Kincaid (drums and percussion), Gabe Beam (horns and electronics), and Ryan Dohm (trumpet, cello, and no-input mixer), and the five tracks presented here -- four of the recorded in the studio, one recorded live -- are all classic examples of free improv on the fly, using mostly traditional instruments to achieve unusual sounds in a decidedly untraditional context. This is improvisation that favors subtlety, minimalism (for the most part), and the extensive use of space along with creeping dynamic shifts. Much of the time there's not much happening at all -- quiet phrases emerge at low volume, an instrument makes some noise, then it all settles back into silence broken only by the ambience of their surroundings -- although when they start to work their mojo, there are times when things get relatively busy, although never to the point of resembling anarchy. The four studio recordings offer different opportunities for the various players to take the lead, and to explore different strategies and sounds in their improvised assault on minimalism. The live piece is not particularly different in concept from the studio pieces, although the change in location does give it a mildly different feel from the other tracks. It's an interesting collective with a measured approach, and the disc provides evidence of the ability to approach improvised sound from several different angles, all with intriguing results.
The KDB Sonic Cooperative
Los Angeles Electric 8 -- s/t [self-released]
Hey now, this is some interesting mojo: eight guitarists acting as an electric chamber octet, playing compositions by Nathaniel Braddock, Dmitri Shostakovich, Randall Kohl, Felix Mendelssohn, and Wyane Siegel -- obscure composers to be sure, but the results are mighty interesting. Working in the same kind of context as the Kronos Quartet or Rhys Chatham, these eight guitarists reinterpret music designed for other instruments (piano and organ, mainly) and transform them into eclectic post-modern works of guitar art. Fans of Tone, Savage Republic, and Godspeed You Black Emperor will like the sound of these extended set pieces; for that matter, anybody with a hankering to hear the possibilities of well-executed compositions for multiple guitars should find this worth investigating. Best of all, this sounds like the collective was having a lot of fun while recording these tracks -- the concept sounds ambitious and has the potential to be overly academic, but somebody apparently forgot to tell the band this, because they keep things hopping in lively fashion throughout the entire disc. One of the best tracks is the long, slow, hypnotic dirge "Dominio Figures," the final track on the album... but really, all of the album is great. A great idea with great execution, and ideally there's more to come in the future.
Los Angeles Electric 8
Netherbird -- THE GHOST COLLECTOR [Pulverised Records]
This is the band's first full-length release after a couple of singles and EPs, and it definitely benefits from the band taking its time to get to this point. Despite coming from Stockholm, Sweden, a metal scene noted for a distinct and particular sound, they manage to reach beyond that stock sound to present thirteen tracks diverse enough to incorporate elements of black metal, doom, and folk-metal into the more familiar melodic Swedish metal attack. Surging guitars and melodic solos ride over a framework of relentless beats and minimally hypnotic structures that have more to do with black metal than anything else. Elements of symphonic metal (including the occasional female vocal) creep in as well, mostly to offer a contrast to the more blazing parts. This is definitely progressive metal with gothic touches, but still plenty heavy, and while it combines features of several different subgenres of metal, it fuses them together in an organic way that doesn't feel contrived. The band has a real flair for the dramatic and an excellent sense of timing in terms of how they move from one motif to the next. Right now the band is strictly a duo, but they are in the process of acquiring other full-time members, fully intent on performing live, and it should be interesting to see how the drama and intensity of these songs translate to the stage.
Ophibre -- HERB AS GIFT [Heavy Nature Tapes]
This disc consists of two long, untitled drone / noise tracks -- just under thirty minutes total -- and is limited to 50 copies. The first track opens with glitch-like screeching and tweaked noises that are soon joined by ambient static and a sonorous drone that rises and falls with hypnotic regularity to form a subtle oceanic rhythm over which strange noises happen, a drone that grows for around fifteen minutes, at which point it abruptly segues into the second one, which is dominated more by odd noises and static that rumble along, periodically jumping in volume but mostly low and relatively understated. Around the four-minute mark the dynamic shifts to a louder, denser quality and a growing level of crustiness to the static-laden sound. This is excellent stuff, and I wish there had been more of it.
Heavy Nature Tapes
Rent Romus' Jazz on the Line Quartet -- FILMTRAX: ROBOT (RATS AND OTHER MEMOS) [Edgetone Records]
Sax and percussion guru Rent Romus originally formed the quartet in question back in 1986 while attending the University of California in Santa Cruz, then abandoned it in 1994 to move into other avenues of sonic exploration. He has now brought the quartet (rounded out by Scott Looney on keyboards, Ray Schaeffer on six-string electric bass, Philip Everett on drums and percussion, and in addition to these players, special guest Andre Custodio on electronics and congas) back to life for this release, seven tracks composed for a film by Steven Marshall. The seven tracks on this disc may have been intended as soundtrack music, but they work equally well divorced from the film; there's plenty of verve and energy to the performances, Romus is out front much of the time, wailing away on his sax while the rest of the ensemble a serene rhythmic mojo behind him, and the performances are spirited and melodic without straying too far from the traditional sound of jazz. This is probably the closest Romus has come to a conventional jazz sound in years, and while it may not be as exotic as some of his more challenging material, it sure sounds mighty fine.
Romance of Young Tigers -- MARIE ep [Quilt]
Now this is cryptic stuff: the two-track cd-r comes in a black and white sleeve featuring a mysterious young boy on the cover, which in turn is packed inside a handmade sleeve fashioned from a map of New England, all of which is squirreled away in a green burlap sleeve with the band's name and release title stamped across the front. I had to resort to the magic of Google to confirm which was the band name and which was the EP title. It turns out the two tracks are parts one and two of a track called "Marie," and the first one opens up with slowly rising peals of drone, the volume starting out inaudible and taking its sweet time (over a minute) to become seriously noticeable. Over a period of several minutes, that drone -- a seesawing sound that rises and falls with hypnotic regularity -- grows louder and more intense; eventually gritty noise and static seeps into the wavelike sound as well, cutting off abruptly. After a while, other sounds begin to creep in as well, even as the seesaw drone bobs slowly up and down like waves in the ocean. As time passes, the cathedral-like sound in the background grows in volume and intensity until it becomes the foreground, only to recede again. Eventually the cavalcade of sounds floats away, leaving only the wavelike drone, which itself finally dies away, receding steadily into the distance as the piece comes to an end. The second track is... a continuation? a variation? a remix? It's hard to say, but it unfolds in similar fashion, anchored by drone and leavened with strange sounds and ambient frippery. This variant does appear to get louder and darker, but is otherwise much the same kind of sonic beast. Thirty minutes, then, of epic drone goodness. This release is available in various configurations, all of them limited, as well as a 12-inch vinyl EP (itself limited to 250 copies) that comes with a free digital download of both tracks and a poster.
Romance of Young Tigers
Jess Rowland -- THE SHAPE OF POISON [Edgetone Records]
Oh, I like this. Working with a piano and laptop computer, Rowland creates near-ambient pieces grounded in minimalist piano lines swaddled in reverb and subjected to heavy, near-endless delay, a ghostlike sound augmented by loops, glitch electronics, and actual snatches of melody. The three lengthy pieces on this disc were recorded live at the ODC Theater in San Francisco in February of 2007, as part of a performance commissioned by choreographer Manuelito Biag. It's not hard to see how these exotic-sounding pieces could work in the context of a dance troupe, but it would certainly have to be an exotic one, composed of dancers used to performing in the context of avant-garde work. The beautiful-sounding piano parts are offset by glitch sounds, stuttering piano motifs that sound like samples of a skipping cd, and other unnatural overlaid sounds that provide interesting textural counterpoints to the minimal piano playing, but have the potential to be most distracting to all but the most intensely focused dancers. Minimalism and repetition are constant motifs through all three pieces, forming the backbone of a sound that is often laced with unexpected sounds and bursts of glitch electronica as well as intermittent snatches of melodic piano that appear without warning, only to fade away in great washes of reverb and delay. Rowland has some highly creative ideas about the use of the piano, both in terms of actual musical content and in the unusual shape of sound, and a fresh ability to see the use of one of music's oldest and most traditional instruments in a new and startling way. Her ability to compose such fractured pieces with a surprising level of emotional resonance, and her talent for integrating modern electronica textures into these pieces, says much about her skills as a conceptualist and a composer. This is an excellent release, and I sincerely hope she continues to explore this direction in future performances.
Scissor Shock -- SYNONYM FOR THE WORD DECAY [Lazer Seizure Records]
I have no idea what "genre" the band belongs in (there's a big debate on the subject in progress on their Myspace page, if you care about these things), but one thing's for sure -- they're definitely products of the ADD generation. This twelve-track EP is approximately thirty minutes long, and no motif in the constantly-shifting cornucopia of sound ever hangs around for more than a few seconds. Everything I've heard from them so far sounds pretty much like a cd being played on fast-forward, and this is no exception, although there are a couple of unexpected deviations from the hopalong splattersound like "fahey ghost," an obvious tribute to the cranky (and dead) guitar god that's my favorite track, if only because I'm a Fahey fanatic. (There's also a sequel, "ghost fahey," that's almost certainly the same track played in reverse.) Elements of just about every form of music you can imagine -- but mainly jazz, electronica, and the more disquieting edge of ambient -- show up in the songs here, usually in short bursts and juxtaposed in bizarre fashion. They're definitely one of the more listenable bands in this frantic cut 'n paste audio electroshock arena, and their "what the fuck?" mission of pure sonic chaos is helped considerably by swell song titles like "psychic vision of a strangulated woman who is missing her shoe" and "johnny merzbow is dead." If you've heard their previous work (of which there is seriously a lot -- the band is nothing if not excessively prolific) and liked it, you'll like this one too; if you haven't, well, this is a good a place to start as any.
E. Doctor Smith and Seth Elgart -- K2 [Edgetone Records]
Smith and Elgart, who have been collaborating together for nearly thirty years, have come together now (with the help of a few friends) to create a tribute of sorts to the early giants of ambient and new age. Employing laptops, Moog keyboards, synths, Ebow, and more traditional jazz instruments, the two men lead a series of session players through ten airy tracks that are part jazz, part ambient, and part new age, light-sounding but compelling instrumental pieces that have as much in common with elevator music as with experimental free jazz. That might not sound so complimentary, but the fact is that the music here is highly listenable, and not boring at all; the sound is not threatening or abrasive, but the rhythms are pleasantly hypnotic and the melodies pleasing to the ear without being unduly aggressive. This may be new age music, but if so, it's new age for a more sophisticated listener, comparable in sound and intent to the early work of Brian Eno and Tangerine Dream. The only real difference is the use of considerably more modern technology, although how much difference that really makes in the final sound is a matter for debate (other than making the process simpler and easier, especially in comparison to the trial and struggle Tangerine Dream used to endure on a daily basis while trying to tame the then-new equipment at their disposal, which often behaved unpredictably and had a tendency to drift out of tune). This just serves as an excellent reminder that new age instrumentals are not always the equivalent of sonic wallpaper.
E. Doctor Smith
Sujo -- "Arak" 3-inch cdr [Inam Records]
More swank (and limited) coolness from Sujo and Inam Records. Their latest salvo of churning drone clocks in at just under 21 minutes and features more of the ominous, shimmering drone prevalent on its previous releases. As before, the sound is vast and tidal, one that segues from one distinct movement to the next without being radically obvious in the process; the sound flows seamlessly, in organic fashion, sometimes with beats, sometimes without, but always swaddled in clouds of drone. At times ethereal like vapor and at some points dense and harmonic, the sound Sujo generates often manages to be incredibly sinister yet supremely gorgeous. Like a symphony that builds to climactic moments only to recede into more brooding passages, the track offers plenty of dynamics and fleeting moments of resolution. Swell, swell listening, and like everything else on Inam, sporting simple but nifty art (lovely line art drawings on the inner insert and outer vellum sleeve) and limited availibility (in this case, 100 copies). Get it while you can.
Tenth to the Moon -- s/t [ISP Music]
If the band's debut studio album (which fully delivers on the promise of their live EP from a while back) bears the occasional eerie resemblance to now-defunct purveyors of nightmare rock Pineal Ventana, that's probably because Mitchell Foy is at the center of both bands. The lineup has since expanded from two members (Foy and Doug Hughes) to three (Tim Shea on bass), moving from pure electronics and drums to something a bit closer to a traditional band configuration (if not necessarily a more traditional sound); the sound on individual songs is further rounded out by the contribution of a fair number of extra players, including two guitarists on a few different songs, several vocalists (lead and backing, including former Pineal Ventana shrieker Clara Clamp on "Kadaver Dogs"), and Sean Moore on drums for two tracks. The result of all the extra personnel is a widely varied sound that makes the band's aesthetic hard to pin down. Their sound is still heavily based in electronics, but the addition of drums and guitars again brings them back into the realm of industrial rock, but the fact that so many people come and go means that the songs -- while built around a similar sound courtesy of the trio of Foy, Hughes, and Shea -- are all fairly different, with some far more layered and textured than others. Comparisons to Pineal Ventana are probably unavoidable to some degree, especially since several of his former bandmates popl up on this album from time to time, but where that band was more about tribal sonic violence and themes of horror and uncontrolled chaos, this band's attack is far more varied and controlled, built more around themes of paranoia than psychosis. This band's sound is also far more centered around the buzz, rattle and hum of diseased electronic gadgets, with the stringed instruments just rounding out the sound. Featuring twelve songs built on the sounds of vaguely sci-fi psychodrama, this is potent, pulsing stuff.
Tenth to the Moon
Those Who Bring the Torture -- TANK GASMASK AMMO [Pulverised Records]
Another Swedish band, this one apparently weaned on a heavy diet of war metal in general and Impaled Nazarene in particular, featuring former members of Ribspreader, Paganizer, and Knife In Christ, so you know they're dedicated to all that is rude and heavy. This grinding collection of serrated riffs and remorseless beats is the band's second album, and it's unquestionably heavy, with thirteen frantic skull-rattling tunes celebrating war, violent death, and goats (which is what makes me think they must be down with Impaled Nazarene, who also share their other lyrical fixations). The drumming at times is straight out of the grindcore school of sheer relentlessness, and there's plenty of straight-up death metal riffing all over the place. The one major drawback is that there's not a tremendous amount of variety in the songs, although some of them are festooned with circling melodic guitar solos; outside of that, the songs are pretty consistent in their bone-crushing heaviness, with regular bursts of galloping drums and frenzied guitar energy. It may not be the most original sound ever developed, but it's played with enough pure blind ferocity and executed with enough speed-obsessed precision to make it worth checking out.
Those Who Bring the Torture
TL0741 -- BACK TO MINUS [HC3 Music]
No telling what the band's name means (if anything), but the sound is a tad more classifiable -- experimental electronica, heavy on the drone theology and peppered with cryptic machine noises, repetitive noise rhythms, and laced with sheets of ambient sound that's equal parts noise and drone. There's a deeply mysterious feel to a lot of the material, but especially the title track, with its whirlygig noises and fractured electronic chattering. Of the five pieces here, three of them are relatively long (between ten and fifteen minutes each), extended sonic landscapes with plenty of room for the exploration of different sounds and structures that evolve like the shifting of tectonic plates. The remaining two tracks are considerably shorter -- just under six and five minutes each -- and, befitting their truncated length, more persistent in their focus. It's fitting, too, that the final track is the dreamiest, a subdued collection of drones and chittering noises that ends the album in a pleasant and low-key fashion. A fine collection of drone / noise soundscapes, packaged in an oversized plastic digipak with suitably cryptic artwork.
Uke of Spaces Corners County -- SO FAR ON THE WAY [Corleone Records]
The demented offering of former Impractical Cockpit member Dan Beckman (surrounded by a rotating cast of players) comes across sort of like a post-rock answer to Leonard Cohen fixated on visions of Sun Ra, or something equally ridiculous and cosmic. Those perking up at the mention of Impractical Cockpit, incidentally, should note that this band sounds nothing like that one. The core of the album resembles the work of guitar primitives run amok, with extra textures courtesy of cheap keyboards, singing saws, and miscellaneous forms of impromptu percussion. It's a sound that fuses the appeal of old-school campfire folk singalongs with the whacked-out approach of noise rock, a surreal approach that yields intriguing (and often psychedelic) results. The cover of Sun Ra's "Outer Spaceways" only proves that the band is coming from a much different headspace than their folk-rock forebears, and the rest of the album is just about equally "out there a minute." Not quite folk rock, not quite jazz, not quite noise, but surely somewhere in the vast wasteland between the three idioms, this one will definitely provoke a lot of head-scratching in the average unprepared listener. It's worth hearing, though, if only to hear how such disparate themes can come together with pleasing (if sometimes perplexing) results.
Uke of Spaces Corners County
The Unholy Two -- "Kutter" 7" [Columbus Discount Records]
Dunno much about this band -- they're from Columbus, which tells you nothing, I know -- but they bring on the caffienated clatter with noisy authority. "Kutter" opens with grotesque squealing and drums that can't decide whether or not they want to do anything before finally settling into fast-paced rocking with murky sound, buzzing bass, and a most agitated singer. Before it all ends there's a plodding, tortured breakdown that eventually disintegrates into more amp squealing and minor chaos. Chaos is a pretty good term for the song's entire aesthetic, actually; it's channeling the ghost of the original Stooges in more ways than one. "Porkys" is not quite so murky and wrapped in enigmatic chaos; in fact, it's a straight-ahead burner, classic old-school punk rock that verges on the shambolic and sports a "troubled" mix that propels the vocalist right in your face. It's intense, aggressive, obnoxious, and best of all, it doesn't last long -- just long enough to make its point by stepping on your face a few times. Bonus points for misappropriating the Freemason logo; extra bonus points for the rude naked cover. This is sold out, as it happens, but the label's promising a repress in the (near?) future, so keep your eyes open.
The Unholy Two
Columbus Discount Records
Unleashed -- HAMMER BATTALION [SPV]
Rising from the ashes of Nihilist in 1989, Unleashed has since become one of the standard bearers for Swedish death metal, focusing mainly on themes of Viking culture, paganism, and war. Heavy stuff, in other words, and the band's sound is appropriately punishing. This is their ninth studio album, and it's a good one, with thirteen tracks of possessed thrashing anchored by chugging riffs, highly melodic solos like musical explosions of shrapnel, and song structures that are defined more by esoteric movements and tempo changes than routine chord progressions. This is fierce, aggressive music with no ambivalence whatsoever, even during the brief interludes of neo-folk prettiness that often presage furious descents into heaviness. Their roots in old-school death metal can be heard primarily in the slower-paced breakdowns and some of the more intensely thrashing moments, but even when their connections to the past are fairly obvious, they retain a fearsome, bludgeoning sound that is uniquely their own. I'm generally lukewarm on Swedish death metal bands because they have a tendency to get too wrapped up in melodicism at the expense of riff-laden brutality, but Unleashed strike just the right balance between the two concerns. There's plenty of melodic content here, sure, but it's generally delivered at lightning speed, with solos roaring past like notes wavering in a hurricane, and they rhythm section is so intensely punishing that even without the melodicism they would be an exceptional band. Fans of Swedish death metal -- or pure unadulterated heaviness in general -- will not be disappointed by this album, which is remarkably filler-free, no small feat these days.