Sunday, March 15, 2009

a cornucopia of auditory delights.

Aemae / Arastoo -- OSKATRON lp [Isounderscore]

A long time coming, this collaboration between Aemae and Arastoo Darakhshan is centered around the manipulation of sound inherent to Arastoo's live piano compositions. A bit of a departure for both artists, the two tracks on this album -- one just over eleven minutes, the other just under twelve -- begin with the resonant sound of Arastoo's piano and are augmented by artificial, otherworldly sounds contributed by Aemae. The title track is largely dominated by the piano sound, but as the track progresses, Aemae's unorthodox sound contributions -- noises, rumbling, and other strange effects -- grow increasingly prominent and more frequent in the mix, acting as both counterpoint and texture to Arastoo's gorgeous, spiky piano melodies. On the flip side, Aemae's ambient sound and textured sonic treatments are the dominating factor; what little remains of Arastoo's piano sound has been fragmented, pulverized, and completely transformed in service of the track's rumbling cinematic ambience. The two tracks are so totally different that it's hard to imagine them springing from the same sound sources, and their moods are different as well, with the flip side being far more eerie and sinister than the first side. Both sides are recorded with painstaking fidelity, however, and both offer plenty of opportunity to get lost in the detailed architecture of sound. Limited to 320 copies.


Caethua -- VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED [Bluesanct]

Clare Hubbard is the woman behind Caethua, a lo-fi bedroom recording project from upstate New York (portions of the album were recorded in North Carolina as well), and this nine-track reissue (remastered and limited to 300 copies) is a naturalistic, sometimes surreal collection of low-key tracks employing acoustic guitar, cheap keyboards, and ethereal vocals. The sound is a throwback to the nineties era of simple, homegrown recordings, although this is considerably more technically accomplished than most such efforts; it may be lo-fi, but the songs are interesting and complex without being fussy or overly complicated, with all sorts of surprising moments (the treated vocals on "Meditation," for instance) and, as the album progresses, an increasing fondness for drone. There's a rustic, pagan feel to much of this, and the album feels like it was recorded in a rural environment, far removed from the creeping artificiality of urban blight. The best track on the album is probably "Burning Yarrow," a long (over nine minutes) and ghostly epic filled with obscure noises resembling outdoor field recordings and dreamy yet ominous keyboard drones; it's haunting and mysterious, the sound of someone lost in a dense and billowing field of fog. The songs that are actual songs are simple by design and almost primitive in sound, but still highly engaging, and frequently leavened with unusual sounds and effects in the background; the entire album, in fact, most resembles an experimental folk album of sorts, like a more benign version of early Current 93, perhaps. Strange and remarkable stuff.


Croatan Ensemble -- WITHOUT [eh?]

This is brilliant -- two guys fiddling around with strings, laptops, effects, and various gadgets, creating deep-drone live improvisations littered with strange noises and highly repetitive cyclotron rhythms. Outer-space sounds abound; this is the music of spinning satellites and space stations, droning expanses of sound and noise designed to fill up the inner or outer spaces, with or without the aid of chemicals. Tracks come and go with a spaced-out flow, appearing to be the work of interstellar drone machines set on repeat -- circling rhythms meet sonorous drones and the result is akin to the soundtrack to an obscure science fiction film. Minimalist electronics help with the sci-fi sound, as bleeps and bloops enliven the sound and buzzing, twitching sounds derived from glitch electronica add bite and texture to the swirling cosmonaut space drift. These are generally lengthy pieces, which allows the drone-o-rific drama to slowly build and expand; you can lose yourself in these pieces, if you allow yourself to be carried away on the cosmic slipstream as the sound coming from the speakers slowly but surely engulfs you. The transformative power of the unending drone is a constant presence throughout the album, and its cosmic debt to krautrock is aided and abetted by the equally constant collection of blips and other futuristic noises. Did I mention this is brilliant?

Croatan Ensemble

Deceiver -- THRASHING HEAVY METAL [Pulverised Records]

Now this is what I call obnoxious -- they burst out of the gate thrashing like maniacs and rarely let up. Sure, the sound is unspeakably retro, harking back to a time when old-school thrash bands like Dark Angel, Sodom, and Destruction were making fast 'n furious albums designed to rip your face off and feed it to you... but that's not such a bad thing, especially with a band this tight and deliriously dedicated to thrashing their dicks off. Tracks like "Graveyard Lover" reveal a distinct black metal influence as well, too, especially in the excoriating yet harmonically rich guitar sound. None of this is terribly original, mind you, but it's done so well and with so ridiculous ferocity that this is a trivial issue. It doesn't hurt that Pete Flesh gets an absolutely amazing guitar sound, or that Magnus Flink beats his drums like he wants to kill them. The slower songs are grinding blasts of hate creeping into black metal territory, while the fast songs are built on the backbone of classic thrash, and all of it possesses abnornal amounts of attitude. Seriously, they sound absolutely homicidal most of the time, and they aren't kidding at all about the title. This is manly metal, to be sure, even if it is highly retro.

Pulverised Records

El Jesus de Magico -- SCALPING THE GURU lp [Columbus Discount Records]

Well, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that this obscure but magical band has coughed up another brilliant release, a tripped-out mindmeld of pyschedelic punk (or punk psych, depending on how you look at it). The bad news is that it's limited to 300 copies and already sold out. If you're lucky, someone will talk CDR into reissuing this sooner or later, because this is the sound of greatness -- tranced-out rhythms, burbling keyboards, and hysterical vocals make for a most compelling sound, and it's a sound that ebbs and flows in its intensity, hovering and wobbling like a UFO piloted by aliens smoking crack. This is psychedelia as made by punks on a budget in a basement while intoxicated. On the first side, hypnotic sheets of sound unfold as strange noises and vocal emanations float in and out of the mix, with three songs (the last one being exceptionally short) flowing into each other until the side comes to an end when you least expect it. The flip side is even more peculiar and mysterious, opening with "Skin This Cat Another Way," a track that is nothing more than a series of humming, buzzing noises, rhythmic in nature but not much else; this eventually turns into actual music with the murky, drugged-out sound of "Summer of Luhv." The rest of the side is filled with more circular basslines, squalling guitars, acid-rock keyboards, and warbling vocals drenched in reverb, sounding (still, and beautifully so) like the work of inveterate dope fiends. Perhaps if you're lucky you can turn up a copy on Ebay.

El Jesus de Magico
Columbus Discount Records

Guinea Worms -- "Lost and Found / Jeans and Heels" 7" [Savage Records]

Strange but catchy punk stuff, with hook-laden guitar parts and a big yet murky sound. Both songs are hard to describe but delightfully weird and catchy, driven by squealy treble guitar and lurching basslines. This band reminds me of somebody from the first wave of punk / new wave, but exactly who escapes me. In a way they sound sort of like a catchier, more accessible version of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, kind of, only with actual talent and a sense of humor. This is strange but meaty stuff, no question. Are all the punk bands in Columbus this weird yet listenable?

Guinea Worms
Savage Records

Josh Hydeman -- "Brainsickness / Phantasmagoria" 7" [Entropic Tarot Records]

Nasty, nasty stuff from one of the members of Twodeadsluts Onegoodfuck, and every bit as obnoxious as that band, too. Hydeman manages to squeeze five bursts of misanthropic noise and feedback in less than ten minutes across the two sides of this single, covering such heartwarming topics as self-mutilation, steroid abuse, domestic violence, and death -- not bad for less than ten minutes of airtime, huh? The sound is harsh but minimal, usually high-pitched wailing and vaguely textured noise bleat accompanied by grotesque, processed vocals, sort of like a poor man's Prurient. Rude without being monolithic, this is noise that is centered more on distortion and vile processing rather than a wall of sound blasting concept, more sinister and uneasy than face-peeling. Some of the frequencies in the mix will make your ears itch, too. Unsettling stuff, made even more unnerving by relevant visuals on the cover and the insert. Mastered by James Plotkin for maximum sonic evil; limited to 300 copies.

Josh Hydeman
Entropic Tarot Records

Locrian -- DRENCHED LANDS [Small Doses / At War With False Noise]

The latest exercise in audio darkness from Locrian is an interesting one, marking a shift away from pure improv noise to something closer to the territory of ambient black metal. The opening track, "Obsolete Elegy in Effluvia and Dross," opens with a simple strummed guitar pattern accompanied by menacing background drones and melodic, chiming guitar melodies, in a manner reminiscent of the first Silencer album; this unexpected burst of melodicism abruptly cuts out around a minute or so, leaving only a seething, fogbound swirl of sinister-sounding drone action. This segues into the lengthy "Ghost Repeater," in which the ambient fog grows darker and the drones get deeper until, around seven minutes into the piece, hellish shrieking ensues, followed by grating squealy noises and rising peals of feedback. The black metal influence rises to the forefront in "Barren Temple Osbcured By Contaminated Fogs" (a black metal title if ever I heard one), which is dominated by more hellish shrieking and doom-laden keyboard drones that appear to hover in suspended animation. The chiming, bell-tone melodies that appeared in the opening track resurface here as well, adding another dimension to the track's intense creepiness. The mood shifts somewhat with "Epicedium," in which a rotating cabinet drone is augmented by repeating snippets of burbling, jazzy guitar, a hypnotic sound that is eventually smothered in buzzing sheets of drone. The final portion of the official album, "Obsolete Elegy In Cast Concrete," is a synapse-shattered mindmeld of black metal's dissonance and thundering blasts of noise; a Burzum-like riff winds its way through the track beneath more grotesque howling, for much of the track nearly buried in harsh noise. All this new material is augmented by a bonus track, the thirty-minute unbroken version of an early (and now hopelessly obscure) LP release called GREYFIELD SHRINES, which is similar in tone but more of an extended journey through sonic landscapes of bleak darkness shot through with unexpected moments of melodic beauty. As usual, a great release from this Chicago duo, which comes packaged in a well-designed arigato pack that also includes a four-panel booklet.

Small Doses
At War With False Noise

Dan Melchior and das Menace -- "Mr. Oblivian / Piledriver Nightmare # 2" 7" [Columbus Discount Records]

More weirdness from CDR, this time in the form of two overmodulated tracks bathed in weird reverb and clanging, treble-happy guitar. The flip-side is also mad for ill-sounding drums. Both tracks sound like they were deliberately recorded with the VU meters bouncing in the red, then fed through some really tinny-sounding plate reverb. The result is that the band sounds like it's being heard through an air-conditioning duct, and while the band is good, that certainly lends it a certain character of sound that some might find grating. Noise-friendly listeners will dig it, though. Peppy performances and reasonably accessible material help. Make no mistake, though, this is strange-sounding stuff. I don't know anything about Mr. Melchior, but he sure has an ear for the sweetly grotesque.

Dan Melchior and das Menace
Columbus Discount Records

Outer Spacist -- "The Mind Is As Outer Space / I Talk With Telepathy Baby" 7" [Columbus Discount Records]

Between the revealing band name, trenchant song titles, and mind-bending op-art cover visuals, you would be right to expect some seriously spaced-out madness in the grooves of this single. It's pretty whacked, all right -- jumping, skittering mutant surfpunk guitar and warbling interstellar groove keyboards are accompanied by yelping vocals on the a-side, while the flip-side is up to its eyeballs in endless reverb (especially on the vocals) and twangy surf guitar stylings. The insect-like guitar solo on the latter is a miraculous thing to behold, too. I'm still trying to decide if it's really possible to sound like this without the help of serious drugs. This is great stuff -- reverb abuse is always a sign of genius, if you ask me -- albeit completely and totally psychotronic in nature.

Outer Spacist
Columbus Discount Records

Perfekt Teeth -- BEASTCRAFT I (3-inch cdr) [Public Guilt]

This is great shit -- three guys weaned on equal parts metal, trance, and drone chugging their way through one long, twenty-minute track that sounds like an art-damaged outtake from Burzum's FILOSOFEM. Repetitive, wavering black-metal tremelo guitar action blends with muted, lo-fi drums and edgy, minimalist electronics to create an endless death jam comparable to Hawkwind gone black metal. The track goes through several distinct movements, speeding up and slowing down, ebbing and flowing in its sonic density, but the monolithic riffing never quite comes to a complete halt and the entire enterprise is deliriously intoxicated with the fumes of heavy repetition and aggressive minimalism. No vocals, no interludes, and no subtlety = a burning desire to rock your face off by stepping on it again and again and again and again and again until your dentist begins dreaming of the new Porsche he's going to buy after fixing what's left of your not-so-perfect teeth. Limited to 100 copies.

Perfekt Teeth
Public Guilt

Pillow Talk -- "Downtown Unga Wunga" 7" [Columbus Discount Records]

This is actually a side project of Deathly Fighter, who have an album coming out soonish on CDR; I have no idea what that band sounds like, but this resembles an extremely overmodulated punk answer to death disco. Thumping, repetitive drum beats and weird, exotica-themed keyboards are joined by what could be an extremely fuzzy guitar or blown-out bass, creating a sound sort of like the early Butthole Surfers gone disco. The six songs (and one "skit" -- actually a few seconds of a rude telephone conversation bathed in ridiculous amounts of reverb) are short and possessed of a deliberately irritating sound that's still enormously catchy, assuming the twee keys and demented vocals don't make you want to tear the single off the turntable and use it for a frisbee. You really have to hear this to fully grasp its incredible annoyance potential. Bonus points for the lockgroove on the first side (in which the vocalist's belching "AAAH!" is repeated infinitely -- this could be a deadly weapon in the wrong hands, believe me) and "Methamphetamine Blues," credited to Chuck Berry even though I'm pretty sure this is an outright lie.

Columbus Discount Records

Quttinirpaaq -- DRAGGED THROUGH THE STREETS [Blackest Rainbow]

I have no idea how you're supposed to say the name of the band (actually one guy, Matt Turner, who is the bass player for Rubble, the band led by former Butthole Surfers drummer King Koffee that may or may not still exist), but I'm definitely impressed by the sound on this disc. The first track is straight-up doom, heavy as hell and slow as molasses, but also drenched in weird noise that may or may not be electronic in nature, a sound that eventually turns into great whirling slices of feedback competing with the slo-mo bass drone. The rest of the twenty-minute track is a swirling, seething cornucopia of bass hell, drone-fu, and strange, sinister noises. The rest of the tracks are shorter, but even noisier; some include pokey drums and some don't, but they're all quite noise-laden and prone to gruesome bursts of dissonance, feedback, and a healthy tendency toward the purely obnoxious. A phenomenally druggy sound and a visceral commitment to loudness just make things that much better. This is strong stuff, too; rarely has free-form noise rock been so deliriously entrancing. Highly recommended, if you can find it (which isn't likely, since it was released at least a year ago in a limited run of 50).

Blackest Rainbow

Quttinirpaaq -- S/T [Faunasabbatha]

This is (I think) the most recent release by Matt Turner's band with the unfathomable name, and while it's every bit as noisy and drone-o-rific as the earlier album on Blackest Rainbow, the sonic violence manifests itself in a different, somewhat more accessible (well, kinda) form on this album. There's plenty of howling feedback and squealy dissonance, but it's not quite as savage and out of control this time; there's also a bit more emphasis on beats this time around, and said beats are not as consistently drowned out by the raging tsunami of bloated skronk riding over the top. Some of the tracks are reminiscent of early Skullflower, especially on "Black Moses," where it sounds like he's channeling the ghost of XAMAN-era Stefan Jaworzyn. There's a bit more of a dreamlike and hallucinatory vibe to some of the tracks as well, like the droning "No Response." There's a fair amount of variety to the album's nine tracks, but they are all unified by a fondness for droning, howling ambient noise and steady beats. Swell stuff, limited to 81 copies. Seek yours out now, especially if you're fond of droning, dissonant skronk in the vein of Skullflower.



What we get here are three long tracks of improvised playing from a band with an unusual lineup -- three guitars, cello, bass, drums, synth, and trumpet. Unlike a lot of albums associated with eh? and its parent Public Eyesore, this is definitely not a free-jazz album, and it's not really aligned with drone all that much, either; rather, this is pure improv rock, something that would be compared to Phish or the Grateful Dead if it weren't so obviously removed from the common cliches of mainstream music. Beyond that, it's hard to describe what this music is, other than beautiful and transcendent -- the band's intention, it seems, is to create harmonically and melodically rich music without succumbing to standard notions of structure, space, and meaning. There's a psychedelic tinge to the interstellar overdrive guitar runs on "down at weirdo park," a motif vaguely reminiscent of the guitar sound of some early Pink Floyd albums, but otherwise the band occupies a sound and space of its own. While the interplay of sound occasionally builds to a frenzy, for the most part this is subdued music, more interested in the convergence of harmonious sound than tossing off sonic explosions aimed at rattling the psyche. This is what experimental rock is all about, using standard instruments in service of non-standard thinking to create new and compelling sounds.

Sad Sailor

Seance -- AWAKENING OF THE GODS [Pulverised Records]

Originally formed in 1990 as a merger of sorts between the Swedish metal bands Orchristed and Total Death, Seance recorded two albums before breaking up in 1998. Like a million other bands, metal or otherwise, they have since reunited (the reformation took place early last year), and this is their first release since resuming the metal life. I'm ambivalent about this release, to be honest -- I'm not a huge fan of Swedish death metal to begin with, and while there's no question the current lineup has plenty of energy and some eyeball-slicing riffs, most of the songs here are kind of generic and hard to tell apart, and frequently the songs seem to be more like disparate riffs strung together in vaguely haphazard fashion than actual songs. A lot of this strikes me as a paint-by-numbers approach to Swedish death metal, which is too bad, because the production is good and the playing is tight and sharp. There are some unusual touches that, had they been expanded upon or more properly integrated into the framework of the songs, might have elevated the album into a higher realm -- the bizarre effects in the opening of "Invocation," for instance, or the highly unusual-sounding rhythm at the beginning of "Flight of the Wicked" -- and some of the songs are genuinely compelling and exciting, like "Choose Your Eternity" (which is filled with razor-like stop 'n start riffing) and "Burn Me" (which is a variation on the same concept with even more punishing drumming). Overall, though, the band would have benefited heavily from the help of an outside producer, especially where the song arrangements are concerned.

Pulverised Records

Strotter Inst. -- MINENHUND [Public Guilt / Hinterzimmer]

Turntable-abuser Christoph Hess returns with a full album of fourteen untitled tracks composed from terse and cryptic experiments in wonky turntable action. Hess uses old Lenco turntables, which he modifies in various ways to create exotic, repetitive rhythms which are then processed even further with effects pedals. The resulting sound is one of dense, machine-like rhythms and damaged beats, with an aesthetic that owes as much to Steve Reich as to Throbbing Gristle. Despite his extensive use of turntables, Hess is not so much a turntable artist in the accepted sense as an industrial sound sculptor who happens to employ turntables as the main "instrument" in his compositions. The compositions themselves are dark and ominous, and this time around many of them are also leavened with spoken-word bits (some sampled and looped, some left more or less intact) cribbed from cheap records scavenged from thrift stores, giving those tracks the sound of a ghost in the machine. As you might expect of an artist more closely aligned with industrial experimentation than anything else, many of the sounds on this album are harsh and grating, and even in relatively calmer moments, this is definitely not light listening. There's an energy and inventiveness to these tracks that hasn't been seen for a while in the industrial genre, however, and some of the rhythms are even -- dare I say it? -- kind of catchy. By incorporating the aesthetics of minimalism, sound installation artwork, and industrial music through the use of modified equipment used in a manner far different than its intended design, Hess achieves a new and interesting sound that's still rooted just enough in familiar elements to keep it from being totally alien. This is an album that's all about hypnotic rhythms and textured sound, and there are plenty of different textures and rhythms to keep the concept consistently interesting throughout the disc. The overall sound is also warm and clear, with plenty of deep, throbbing bass action. As with everything else on Public Guilt, the packaging is also outstanding; the cd comes in a gatefold digipak made from recycled chipboard and includes a swell fold-out poster.

Strotter Inst.
Public Guilt

Tribulation -- THE HORROR [Pulverised Records]

This is not what generally comes to my mind when I think of Swedish death metal -- this is far heavier and denser, more interested in corrosive, crushing heaviness than melodicism, and with a sound so action-packed and thick that it often borders on white noise. (Incidentally, this is the band's first album, and they are not to be confused with the Swedish thrash band of the same name that flourished in the nineties.) If anything, they most resemble Marduk in their intensity and mushy, buzzing sonic holocaust. They aren't quite as constantly over-the-top as that band, but they come pretty close, and they share that band's penchant for rampaging hyperspeed drumming and uncontrolled guitar mania. As the album's title indicates, they are more interested in standard horror themes (as typified by titles like "Beyond the Horror," "The Vampyre," and "Graveyard Ghouls") than anything else -- they may be cribbing heavily from Marduk musically, but they don't share that band's obsession with anti-religious imagery or weird sexual fetishes. The band may be new, but their interests appear to be strictly old-school. As for the album itself, it sounds pretty much like you would expect, given such a description -- lots of locomotive rhythms and psychotic guitar raving with some guy bleating in hateful fashion over it all. There are some obligatory pretty guitar moments, especially on "Beyond the Horror," but that's just so the album won't deteriorate into a nonstop hammerfest, I'm sure. This is violent, thrashing death metal with more attitude than originality, but it possesses a level of ferocity equal to Marduk at their peak, which is not a bad thing. Bonus points for the swell horror-themed cover art.

Pulverised Records

The Tunnel -- CARVER BROTHERS LULLABY [Glorious Alchemical Co.]

One half of this musical duo is Jeff Wagner, mastermind of the eccentric experimental pop band Tunnel of Love, but apart from sharing that distinctive singing voice, the two bands are quite different. Maybe it's the influence of the duo's other half, Patrick Crawford, but this sounds closer to a sparser and more focused version of The Black Heart Procession, only with twangier guitars and a bit more artistic focus. The music is somewhere between alt-country and simple (but not simplistic) rock, with persistent, insistent drums and twangy fuzz guitar over which Wagner sings about desperate-sounding vignettes; it's both entrancing and mysterious, at times resembling the sound of the first album by the Angels of Light, only with more spaciness and electronic effects in the background. It's a hard sound to pin down, but it's an attractive and inviting sound, too. Is it post-rock, an updated form of retro-rock, or something else entirely? I dunno, but it sure sounds good. The disc comes in a gatefold chipboard digipak with swell art that's every bit as good and eerie as the music on the disc.

The Tunnel
Glorious Alchemical Co.

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