15 Degrees Below Zero -- RESTING ON A [Edgetone Records]
Oooo, they bring the drone here, yes they do. Infatuated with droning noise but possessed of a compositional bent that separates them from the average art-noise band, the trio use laptops, samplers, keyboards, guitars, pedals, and a whole lot of sound processing equipment to create buzzing, minimalist soundscapes defined as much by texture as by structure. The eight tracks, all with impenetrable numeric titles like "3.4.4" (in which a buzzing synth lays down simple but penetrating drones as other sounds chitter in the background like insects, growing in volume and intensity as the track progresses), are masterful exercises in the use of space -- for all the gadgets at their disposal, there's not a lot actually happening here most of the time, although what is happening is both dreamlike and powerful. The album's centerpiece is "2.5," nearly 25 minutes of drift and drone that's as glacial and mysterious as it is oddly beautiful, with drawn-out ambient keyboard lines floating by as rhythmic noises burble up to the surface and fade away again. The sound on this album is heavily reminiscent of the original sound of the isolationist movement; the occasionally melodic keyboard flourishes and intermittent rhythms are unencumbered by any form of percussion, with a resulting sound akin to titanic icebergs coming unmoored and drifting through heavy fog in the darkest, loneliest reaches of the ocean. The other tracks, while nowhere near as long, are equally mesmerizing, their spacious-sounding structures embellished with a variety of odd sounds and intriguing textures (and, on "3.12.1," a vaguely disturbing recorded monologue). Mad props for both their intense drone-fu and homage to the glory days of isolationism.
15 Degrees Below Zero
Noertker's Moxie -- SKETCHES OF CATALONIA VOL. 3: SUITE FOR GAUDI [Edgetone Records]
The third in a series focused on Catalonia, the theme this time around is eccentric Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. Jazz composer BIll Noertker (here playing contrabass) leads a fairly large ensemble this time around that includes tenor and alto sax, drums, trumpet, piano, flute, and various forms of percussion. The ensemble makes an agreeable sound on the nine tracks offered here, with all the players having plenty of opportunities to step forward into the spotlight at one time or another. At the same time, the compositions remain firmly locked into the sound of a group, rather than a collection of soloists. For an avant jazz guy, Noertker sure seems to favor a more traditional jazz sound -- in a lot of ways, this is a throwback to the sound of the mellow jazz ensembles of the late sixties and early seventies, although his avant sensibility (and the combined talent of his players) keeps things from sounding like a mere exercise in retro-worship. The playing is energetic without being shrill or aggressive, and they get pleasant sounds both individually and as a combo (the piano playing is especially sublime). Those on the cutting edge of free jazz will probably find this a bit too restrained and old-school for their taste, but those who like their jazz more on the melodious side will appreciate this album.
The Spider Translator -- SPECTRASCOPOPARAUTOPHOBIA [self-released]
This is the kind of album that defies simple categorization or easy explication; we're talking a whole new level of weirdness here, okay? The brainchild of L. Erickson, former guitarist of Illinois goth band Pitch Black Manor (who toured with the likes of Legendary Pink Dots and Electric Hellfire Club, to give you an idea of where they were coming from), this is what it might sound like if Roky Erickson had cut his teeth in Coil or Psychic TV rather than the Thirteenth Floor Elevators. The ten exquitely whacked-out tracks on this album sound like pop songs that have been radically remixed and tweaked by vandals weaned on Throbbing Gristle -- while there's clearly a pop sensibility at work beneath the bizarre instrumentation, this is far too weird for the average consumer of disposable pop culture. Titles like "Abinisthine Express," "Three dead men," and "Dizzy, nauseated and flushed" make it clear that Erickson probably has no real aspiration toward wholesome pop acceptance anyway. What's most surprising is how diabolically catchy much of it is. Like Flaming Fire and Tunnel of Love, two other bands fond of twisting pop music into bizarre and unrecognizable shapes, he has a distinctly unique sound that remains highly accessible despite persistent attempts at sonic perversion. Elements of pop, psych, and first-wave industrial music (I wouldn't be surprised to learn he's down with Front 242 and Cabaret Voltaire) come together in a strange but oddly appealing fashion (at least if you have a propensity toward the surreal). It's definitely not your father's indie-rock, that's for sure.
The Spider Translator
v/a -- DRINKING THE GOAT'S BLOOD [Record Label Records]
This is strange stuff -- a series of experimental collages built around the architecture of sound and sonic textures more than actual songs -- but the cryptic nature of these tracks certainly makes for an interesting listening experience. The nineteen tracks (from eighteen artists including Wobbly, Fluorescent Grey, Ata Ebtekar, Nommo Ogo, Dalglish, Contagious Orgasm, Jacob Jarnigon, and 10-20) can be experienced as individual movements in a lengthy exercise in musique concrete using snippets of vocals, fractured beats, ambient sound, white noise, field recordings, piercing drones, sampled audio, and occasionally even passages of actual music. The arrangements in these tracks are often obscured by the strange sonic textures and collage activity, but the antimusic attitude makes everything all that more unpredictable, generating plenty of surprises along the way. The often intangible nature of these tracks and the context in which they are presented makes it easier to grasp if you consider the album as a whole to be one mighty work composed in segments by many artists; the individual tracks come together to form a gesalt image obsessed with the flow of sound in its many exotic permutations. Those not hep to experimental music or sound collages may find this inexplicable, but those transfixed by the shape of sound at its most bizarre will find this highly interesting.
Record Label Records
v/a -- ELECTRIC CARPETS [Record Label Records]
This is a companion to the aforementioned cd, with seventeen tracks by almost as many artists (Kossak appears twice) that are mainly electronica with strong hints of noise at times. Some of the tracks -- "Hello Zhomgmao" (Cubus), "Beautiful in Grey" (Terminal 11), "The Existential Bop" (Mike Dunkley, "Brookers Bible" (Kossak), Scuzi's "Matisse," Dr. Strangeloop's "World of Your Dreams" -- sail into the realm of psychedelia with their peculiar mix of cryptic beats, strange noises, and unconventional arrangements that deviate far from the standard notion of dance music. Others, like Brian E's "In the Jungle," BD1982's "Globos," Identity Theft's "By Folley," and Kcinsu's "Refraction" are a bit more conventional in their rhythms and almost pop-like in their catchiness. Between these two extremes, the compilation's definition of dance music is a varied one, encompassing glitch electronica (Fluorescent Grey's "Rag Doll Physics Prof," Kossak's "Mrs. Crabcake"), experimental sampler frippery (Future Image's "Music for Tones"), dubstep (Kush Arora's "the Hacker 2010"), and devolved techno (wAgAwAgA's "Nunwan"). Other tracks defy easy description -- William S. Braintree's "Kaitlin" features ambient keyboard washes over an eccentric beat with strange-sounding rhythms and melodic keyboard lines that multiply exponentially as the track progresses, while Not Breathing's "Tranny Smelter" is a bizarre collage of broken beats, quirky processed sounds, techno keyboards, and warped vocalizing that never quite turns into actual singing. It's strange and frequently disorienting, but the twisted musical ingenuity consistently on display here makes this an interesting compilation of sounds from the outer limits of dance music.
Record Label Records