Sunday, July 19, 2009

smooth listening for a heatwave month

Dimmer -- REMISSIONS (2 x lp) [Isounderscore]

Dimmer is the collaborative project of Thomas DiMuzio and Joseph Hammer, and this brooding double-lp is their second release (the first, THE SHINING PATH, was released in 2007 on Melon Expander). What you get here are four side-long pieces, ranging from approximately thirteen to fifteen minutes each, all recorded live in various locations from 2006 to 2007. DiMuzio handles the live sampling, processing, feedback, and looping; Hammer provides tape manipulation and more processing. "Sky Wire" is up first, recorded at Norcal Noisefest in Sacramento on October 15, 2006; buoyed by vaporous drone and mild, burbling electronics, it's a beautiful exercise in gradually expanding drones that slowly but surely increase in volume and intensity. Driven mainly by feedback, at its most intense the tone has a sinister edge, but mostly it sounds very much like the wire music of Alan Lamb or Alvin Lucier -- mellow and carried by the wind, otherworldly without being oppressive. After reaching a peak of loudness and intensity, it ends in a muted swirl of electronics and mild hovering drone that rises and falls before fading away entirely. "Sun Dog," recorded at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco on March 30, 2006, offers drones in a more mechanical vein, with a sound whose droning, muted feedback is augmented by minimal, hissing electronics. At some points the electronic element rises to the forefront with brief bursts of grinding, cheeping hiss, occasionally with enough violence to nearly overwhelm the omnipresent drone. About halfway through the piece the drone and the hiss converge in a nice harmonic sound, only to drift away again into separate audio components. Over the rest of the piece, the electronic element becomes more subdued and the drone more pronounced, slowly decreasing in volume until there's nothing left... at which a buzzing hum fades up briefly, only to recede again as the almighty drone takes hold one more time over a muted sample, with everything ending in a wash of broken noise and washed-out squealing noises that fade slowly into the background before dying out altogether. "Gases That Emit Light," recorded at The Smell in Los Angeles on August 26, 2006, opens with shrill feedback and rumbling noises that grow louder and thicker, until the sound resembles a mildly distorted pipe organ or analog synthesizer accompanied by subsonic rumbling. This titanic sound eventually segues into a field of deep floating drones and a noise akin to a foghorn or sonic beacon. The tail end of this piece, which sounds at times more like a processed field recording of waves lapping in the ocean amid the slow movement of ships, is one of the strongest examples of the duo's ability to create processed sound with an organic core. The cathedral-like vibe returns at the end, along with drones that sound like violins. The final piece, "Giant Eagle," is the longest one at 15:29, and the most sonically varied. Recorded at Noise Pancakes in San Francisco on April 8, 2007, it opens with chopped-up electronic noises in addition to peals of wavering drone, and drifts through several movements of different directions in electronic sound. The segues from one movement to the next are natural, not forced, with an effect like oscilloscopes drifting into different ranges of tonal variety over time as the powerful drone action surges forward and recedes; the sound is not violent, but far less static than some of the other pieces, with new sound patterns and tones being introduced on a regular basis. Here the drone is subservient to the electronic experimentation. The drone never completely disappears, but it is far less important than the ever-changing wheel of sound provided by the electronic gadgets and processing. The muted, low-key ending -- a near-imperceptible and wavelike drone seasoned with a sprinkling of electronic noise -- is one of the most subtle moments of the entire double-album, and a fitting conclusion. As with everything else on Isounderscore, this is a high-quality avant listening experience, and comes on heavy-grade vinyl with sharp packaging. It's also limited to 500 copies.

Thomas DiMuzio
Joseph Hammer

Random Touch -- TURBULENT FLESH lp [Token Boy Records]

The eleventh album from Random Touch is interesting for two primary reasons: one, it's their first vinyl release (limited to 300 copies on heavy virgin vinyl); two, it's their first album recorded without the use of conventional instruments. Recorded in 2007 and 2008 in a barn (with the doors open, one assumes) using only a digital recorder and condenser microphones, with no dubs, edits, or studio fiddling beyond the simple act of mixing and mastering, this is the sound of Random Touch interacting -- in a most intimate fashion -- with nature and their immediate environment. No mention is made in the liner notes of what they used to make the sounds on this album, but there's no shortage of percussive activity -- given the absence of guitars, percussion plays a far more pivotal role in these songs than ever before. In fact, the opening track -- "Who's Name Is That?" -- is an absolute orgy of wild-sounding percussion gleaned from many sources; starting with near-random bursts of sound that eventually culminate in a cluttered cacaphony of beating, pounding, and striking of all manner of objects, they make an energetic noise that gets everything off to an eye-opening start. "Finding the Sun Rise" is not quite so percussion-heavy, filled with odd scraping noises and twangy sounds, but when the percussion does appear, it tends to be loud and abrupt; during the quieter parts, sounds from outside the barn seep in now and then, lending a naturalistic ambience to the clatter. "Just Around the Bend" hews to the same aesthetic, differing only in the details. On the flip side of the record, there's more violent percussion on "Sudden Intuition," although the din doesn't last long since it's the shortest song on the album at under two minutes. "By Hand By Foot" is dominated by scraping sounds that lurch along to almost form an actual rhythm and more percussion that, while not as intense and pervasive as some of the earlier tracks, is every bit as unpredictable and mysterious. "Traversing the Now" opens with what could be the sound of sawing amid ambient noises that might be sound leakage from outside, along with the occasional bit of percussion that eventually turns into something approaching an actual rhythm, and "No More Than a Taste" is a throwback to the jumble of sound approach typified by most of the album's early tracks until it becomes dominated by rolling oil-drum percussion. The final track, "Change Coming Through," ends things on a more subdued note, with its minimalist approach to sound and cryptic sonic textures. This is a fairly significant departure for the band, but an interesting one nonetheless, and those listeners hep to the exotic vagaries of abstract sound should check this out.

Random Touch
Token Boy Records

Rep and the Quotas -- SONGS THE GRACKLES LIKED lp [Columbus Discount Records]

I know nothing about Mike Rep and the Quotas, save that this is their first new recording since the 2005 release BLACK HOLE ROCK, and that the band features Mike "Rep" Hummel along with Tommy Jay, Nudge Squidfish, and Jonny Furnace. My total lack of punk / garage-rock cred shows, doesn't it? This is good stuff, though -- straight-up garage rock with big, bright chords and rocking rhythms, especially on "I Was There" (a remake of the same song from Tommy Jay's TALES OF TRAUMA, about a Confederate soldier's death at the Battle of Fredericksburg), which sounds like a song the New Romantics would have been happy to write, although their singer was never as much of a racuous, howling beast as the one here. The big rock sound continues with "Time On My Hands" (written by singer-songwriter T.A. Lafferty), a highly engaging pure-pop tuen which also sports some nifty single-note riffs over the brassy chords and steady but minimalist percussion. The loopy epic "Lemuria" is yet another swell throwback to sound of sixties garage rock, with chiming lead guitar over a fuzzy rhythm section. "I'm Goin' Down" closes the EP with a swinging rave-up that just solidifies the group's retro-garage credentials. It's a short (less than twenty minutes total) but potent blast of no-frills rock 'n roll, the way they used to make it before everybody started making everything way too complicated. Highly recommended.

Columbus Discount Records

To Blacken the Pages -- CROW'S NEST lp [Colony Records]

The latest offering from Australian sculptor and noisemaker Paul McAree is a bit of a deviation from his earlier work, and the first to appear on vinyl (with a cd thrown in for those without a working turntable). On the A-side, "Crow's Nest" -- recorded live at an exhibition in Dublin -- features his trademark feeback drone in the background while all sorts of primeval thumping and bumping happens upfront; as the feedback, swaddled in miles of echo, grows shriller and more insistent, the physical noisemaking and brief, abrupt bursts of guitar screech give the piece an interesting and unpredictable texture. In addition to the feedback drones and manipulated guitar, there are moments in the latter half of the song featuring gritty noise that sounds like efx pedals operating in a brownout. Toward the end the sound descends into complete chaos, the din growing more noisy and eccentric, without actually turning into atonal white noise. It all ends in a brief burst of spaced-out effects soaked in delay lines that rapidly fade away as the noise fades out altogether. On the B-side, "Crow Sun" is even more abstract and just as chaotic, with guitar that often sounds backward and lots of bird-like noises along with the drone element. The result sounds like a fusion of drone-metal and freejazz unemcumbered by tempo or percussion, or perhaps a freejazz ensemble detuning their instruments in a hovercraft filled with birds. Either way, it's a very different vibe from the previous releases. The version of this track on the cd is different, incidentally; approximately three minutes of the beginning, featuring a springy, fuzzed-out rhythmic drone, were trimmed off for the vinyl version, while the track appears in full on the disc. The disc version is also mastered differently (meaning it's considerably louder and a bit more treble-heavy, but otherwise not significantly different). It's pressed on heavy-grade vinyl, limited (to how many copies, I don't know, but probably no more than 500), and available from Rough Trade in the UK and Aquarius Records in the US.

To Blacken The Pages
Colony Records

Twodeadsluts Onegoodfuck -- "champagne and biological women" 7" single [Bloodlust!]

Punishment time has arrived again, with four more short bursts of audio hate across one seven-inch single. With an aesthetic that combines harsh electronics, intermittent and unexpected shifts in volume, and a depraved sense of humor, TDSOGF is consistently responsible for some of the most genuinely obnoxious and harrowing noise around today, and this single is no exception. There are some surprises this time around, though; after the initial screech-driven attack of "covered in shit," the second track -- "down in the dirt" -- consists of squealing electronics over an analog-synth rhythm that could have been lifted straight from a doom metal record, forming a unique and interesting mind-meld of two wildly disparate genres. On the b-side, "still erect (... and definitely not leaving)" opens with scratchy noises and more of the brooding analog synth rhythms before exploding into grating white noise and sounds like concrete blocks being hurled through plate glass windows, while the amusingly-titled "mark solotroff built my hotrod" (a not-so-subtle nod to the Bloodust! label head) combines a groaning subsonic rumble with ear-raping feedback and ends with a droll sample about the perils of success over a static loop of monochromatic ugliness. As usual, the only bad part is how fast it all goes by -- the entire single takes less than ten minutes to play out, including the time it takes to flip the vinyl. Mastered by James Plotkin (who's everywhere these days, it seems) and limited to 200 copies in a rude full-color sleeve.

Twodeadsluts Onegoodfuck