Monday, May 12, 2008

the first post of may

Ask Heroin Sally -- VEIN [Deadsix Communications]

The first full-length release from Ask Heroin Sally (a side-project of Murder by Static mainman C. Stepniewski) features nine tracks of sonic terrorism equally influenced by industrial music (especially the EBM variety), ambient soundtracks, and noise. The tracks are essentially an ongoing soundtrack to oblivion embedded with beats and periodic waves of harsh, grinding noise, a series of exercises in instrumental audio immolation that throw in sick noise, intimidating beats, cryptic horror samples, brief and infrequent snatches of melody, and washes of moody ambient sound to create different levels of textured sonic violence. There's some seriously crunchy noise hell riding over the ambient spookiness and fractured industrial beats, and plenty of machine clang for the post-Puppy devotees. You can't really dance to any of this, despite the obvious EBM influence, but the harsh parts will certainly clean out your sinuses. This is bleak, electro-ambient darkness with a surrealist bent and a penchant for unexpected explosions of sound amid the stuttering sonic chaos. Note, though, that the loose, untethered tendency toward near-random sonic violence will be either entirely off-putting or enticing, depending on your need for consistency vs. chaos. The beats also come and go -- when they're present they're insistent, but they have a tendency to disappear for long stretches, which some post-industrial enthusiasts may find annoying. Still, there's plenty of gruesome textures and sonic angst to keep things interesting.

Ask Heroin Sally
Deadsix Communications

C. J. Borosque / Robert M. + INSTAGON -- BEAUTIFUL [Edgetone Records]

Dark electronic noise meets the audio virus, as solo noise artist C. J. Borosque (aided by Robert M. on the title track) shares a disc with Instagon, the long-running Cali purveyors of weird, psychedelic improv noise. The title track, recorded at the San Diego Museum of Modern Art in 2005, features Borosque on electronics and Robert M. on desktop computer; together they create a glitch-laden, fried-noise soundscape that sounds like an army of insects coming and going in a wind tunnel, with plenty of electroscreech and exotic, unidentifiable sounds in the mix. The piece is not static by any means, running through a wide array of sounds and textures over the space of approximately 22 minutes. The second track, "The blackness of dark space spyder dances with wisdom," is a live solo set from Borosque recorded at the Norcal NoiseFest in 2006, and it's an eleven-minute exercise in howling power electronics and aggressive audio violence, full of clanging and banging and stomp boxes that sound like they're being set on fire, comparable in crunchiness to Prurient or Merzbow. The final track, "Luggage Lost in the Dissatisfied Machine," is the Instagon offering, and it's a strange and occasionally devolved stew of distant drone, strange noises, and antimusic created through the unorthodox use of bass, metal objects, keyboards, and the Haunted Califone Turntable, a magical instrument that apparently plays itself. The resulting sound is a murky, fogbound experience in audio abstraction, nowhere near as harsh or electronic as the Borosque offerings, and in many ways far stranger. At times they resemble the Sun City Girls at their most baroque and abstract, although this is (to my ears, anyway) considerably more accessible listening. It would have been interesting to hear Borosque collaborating with Instagon (which is what I originally thought was the setup on this disc); perhaps they can give that a whirl in the future. In the meantime, this is reasonably swell in its own right.

C. J. Borosque
Edgetone Records

Diamondhead -- DIRTY REALISM [eh?]

Talk about drones, this band's got 'em -- but they're weird drones, improv drones, drones standing in the back of the room smoking blunts while someone kicks things around the front of the room. The band doesn't make it easy to figure out where they're coming from; outside of some real sparse liner notes on the back of the sleeve, this disc offers little information about where they're from or what they're up to. Hell, they don't even bother listing titles for the twelve tracks here (which were recorded in Austin in the winter of 2007, probably live, not that they're willing to tell us). The bottom line here is that they're an improv band (like you thought they were going to be Korn clones on this label?) with an affinity for vaguely shambolic performances and endless drones over a rambling beat. It's a little too together to really qualify as complete improv freakout, but way too loose and eccentric to really be rock 'n roll; it may be drone-happy, but it's grounded in actual rhythmic action, and while the guitars (and other instruments, including flute) are definitely wandering through experimental / improv territory, they're nowhere near as "out there" as some of the groups on this label. Like the early Beme Seed, the entire album manages to sound like they're in the process of tuning up for a real gig that probably happened after someone turned off the tape recorder. Disconnected phantom psych blues, that's what this is. How much alcohol was involved is anybody's guess.


Dirac C -- s/t [Inam Records]

I have no idea what the name means, but it's the moniker for Austin guitar loop guru James Adkisson (Seven Percent Solution, A Five and Dime Ship), and the seven tracks on this disc are spacy, tripped-out slices of ambient psych mixed with hopping beats, exotic noises, and the occasional passage of melodic and harmonic loveliness. The tracks are relatively short, well-crafted, instrumental, and definitely part of the weird-drone aesthetic in Austin that seems to spawn wildly different bands that nevertheless share a bizarre and tripped-out quality such as Venison Whirled, Numbers on the Mast, Book of Shadows, and the Black Angels. The work here is mostly understated and low-key, but don't mistake a lack of stridency for impotency; this is quality listening, exotic and otherworldly, combining elements of trip-hop, psych, noise, and drone into a fine series of zone-out tracks. The disc comes in swank-looking packaging that's hand-stamped and numbered. Limited to 100 copies.

Dirac C
Inam Records

DJ Scotch Egg -- DRUMIZED [Load Records]

Even for Load, this is wacky shit -- one guy from the UK hyped-up on "cosmic energy" making "music" with four Nintendo Gameboys and a mixer. I don't even know how you can do such a thing, but obviously Mr. Egg is a genius, unlike me. (He's probably better at playing video games, too, but an arthritic seal on Quualudes is better at playing video games than I am.) The sixteen tracks on here are heavy on bleeping, blooping madness, with game sounds looped and enslaved for rhythmic purposes and in place of melodic content and solos. There's a bizarrely jaunty sound to all this electronic madness, and there are some surprisingly heavy rhythms at times in light of the sound source, but if you're thinking it's just a quirky novelty item, you should know that Mr. Egg's shit is surprisingly tight -- his vast array of bleeps and bloops and pounding loops are arranged in highly catchy arrangements. Those who dread the synthetic bleating and squeaking of video game sounds will want to avoid this like the plague, but if you aren't bothered by the game sounds, there's much in here that's aesthetically in the ballpark of Steve Reich and Stockhausen, among others. It's just the same game with a sense of humor and a different set of noises, that's all. But what I want to know is, what was his high score on SPACE INVADERS?

DJ Scotch Egg
Load Records

Eternal Descent -- LOSING FAITH [Incendium Records]

This is the audio portion of a multimedia work from London musician Llexi Leon, with tracks from the album keyed to issues of a comic book set in an urban environment with gothic and fantasy overtones and revolving around the main characters Lyra, Sirian and Loki. Ambitious enough to go beyond the idea of creating a soundtrack to the comic, the album actually includes narrative lyrics and quotes from the script, along with sound effects and ambient backgrounds related to the setting of the comic stories. All of this is intended to be augmented by music videos fusing the two sides of the multimedia format in another dimension entirely. As for the music, it's twelve tracks of industrial / EBM / goth with breathy female vocals (courtesy of Elysha West) divided into three distinct segments (Asticus, Incendium, and Cathartarium), with each segment represented by four songs. The music is squarely in industrial goth territory. None of this is exactly ground-breaking, but given the level of ambition involved, it's certainly a more than respectable effort. Find out more (and check out samples of art and music) at the web site, a complex work of art in its own right.

Eternal Descent


There's heaviness, and then there's HEAVINESS... and then there's Fistula, who sound like they'd really like to come over to your house, rip off your headphones, beat you down with their guitars, then smear your blood-soaked brain matter all over the walls. (Followed, probably, by drinking all your beer.) On INVERTED BLACK STAR and its companion, LESSONS IN LAMENTATION (each limited to 300 copies), they join forces with power-violence specialist Steve Makita (Apartment 213, Lockweld, Agoraphobic Nosebleed) to create one monolithic track on each disc. Intended as companion pieces, these offerings are a fair bit more experimental than the band's usual output, but every bit as spine-crushing; this is definitely not for the weak.

On LESSONS IN LAMENTATION, they push the concept of minimalism to absurd heights, scraping away at one or two simple riffs over and over and over amid a crackling bed of power electronics for a full hour. Makita and the rest of the band weave in layers of power-tool fury, bass-heavy drone madness, and lots of pure sonic ugliness behind the enormous riffola. Around the nine-minute mark, pounding drums and psychotic screeching enter the picture, just upping the malevolence factor; around the sixteen-minute mark, they start slowing the riff action down, diving right into the tar pit. At approximately twenty minutes, the riffs go away and are replaced by shrieking feedback; a few minutes later, another riff begins to unfold, this one far slower and heavier, as gruesome noises hover and grate in the background. A few minutes after that, indecipherable but entirely threatening vocals return, buried way behind the noise. Eventually the drums return, pounding into your skull a beat so simple even the Swans would have rejected it as too extreme, before picking up the pace again nearly forty minutes into the death dirge. All this pain and angst is later overtaken by more wailing, piercing feedback that segues into more seismic string action and screaming over plodding drums. The slow, grinding waves of fear continue for another fifteen minutes or so until, just a few moments before the end, the band picks up the pace again for another round of drum plod and angry shouting... all of which ends in about two minutes of ear-raping feedback.

INVERTED BLACK STAR isn't quite as hateful, although it's still plenty heavy. It begins with a burst of supremely loud amplifier hum, elephant-sized drones, and jagged wails of feedback that occasionally resolve into something that threatens to actually turn into a monstrously heavy riff; all this "waiting for something huge and unpleasant to happen" action is periodically punctuated by power-tool squealing and other equally violent sounds. As the work progresses, so does the noise content, until it resembles a pitched battle between amplifiers and gadgets. Eventually the noise is joined by a truly leviathan bass rumble, cryptic mumbling, and something approaching actual riffing (albeit in extreme slow motion). Around the forty-minute mark, they actually start to play their instruments as opposed to just making a fearsome racket, while the power tools and gadgets whine and squeak in the background. Over the next ten minutes or so they beat a riff completely into the ground while the power electronics continue to seed the atmosphere with soiled noises; the final ten minutes or so opens with massive feedback that crumbles into more epic waves of shuddering drone and an increasingly scathing level of noise before ending in a frenzy of amplifier hum, wailing feedback, and gritty gadget noise.

The genuinely beautiful art for both packages (each comes in the three-fold DVD-size sleeve that has become the signature packaging for Crucial Bliss) is subversive in its own right, disarming you completely by having no relation whatsoever to the incredibly brutal sonic immolation that awaits on the actual discs. If you're down with Fistula, you would be a fool not to scoop these up. If you've never heard Fistula before but appreciate intimidating slabs of abject heaviness, these are highly recommended. If you like happy music with actual melodic content and more than two or three riffs per disc, you should probably stay far, far away.

Crucial Blast

Fixture for Toxins -- NIGHT HOVERS OVER US AGAIN ep [self-released]

This twenty-minute EP was recorded live in the fall of 2007 and contains five tracks of lo-fi noise terror. It's not harsh-noise terror, mind you, but more along the lines of using relatively traditional instruments in an unorthodox manner, running them through noise boxes and reducing them to generators of simple but effective rhythms. There's plenty of freestyle yelling in the vein of Prurient as well, although this never becomes as genuinely ear-raping as that band; this is more about the joys of grotesque sound rather than walls of feedback hell. There's some really swell (and highly overmodulated) bass sound throughout this disc; granted, the minimalism may be too much for some, but it suits me just fine. Unlike a lot of noise, in which the sonic terrorism is dependent upon heavy layers of sonic filth, this is pretty open, sonically speaking; there's not a lot of different sounds happening at any given moment, but the sounds that do exist are subjected to heavy repetition, lots of distortion, and are extremely rhythmic in nature, with an effect like the sound of possessed machinery shaking itself apart while an angry laborer hurls invective over the top. It's not Merzbow, but it's plenty obnoxious enough in its own right.

Fixture for Toxins

Fixture for Toxins -- THRENODIES OF LABOR ep [self-released]

Recorded live in June, 2007, the second release from one-man band Fixture for Toxins is noise made from electronic percussion, synth, samplers, and a microphone; with seven tracks in approximately 25 minutes, the compositions here -- improvised on the fly, one assumes -- are not so much face-peeling harsh noise as something resembling old-school power electronics in the vein of Grey Wolves or Fire in the Head. Some of the tracks, like "Assimilated," have a serious rhythmic element happening apart from the percussion (which tends to be intermittent and more for emphasis than actual timekeeping). This is sinister, vaguely threatening stuff without being overbearing. "An Abundance of Perils" is a bit closer to traditional noise territory, with a distorted sound and gruesomely processed vocals, but "Xenophobe" actually comes closer to being a throwback to the crustier moments of Cabaret Voltaire or Front 242, albeit enshrouded in distortion and accompanied by pained bleating. The juxtaposition of catchy rhythms and noisy tone appear again on the final track, "Prayer for Collapse," which opens with processed guitar looping that segues into harsh fuzz-bass churn that could pass for Joy Division run through a distortion box and octave divider. It's certainly a surprising aesthetic for a noise band, but an interesting one.

Fixture for Toxins

Gnaw Their Tongues -- AN EPIPHANIC VOMITING OF BLOOD [Crucial Blast]

There needs to be a musical category called "frightening fucking shit," because that's where this belongs, not in metal, or drone, or ambient (although it's frequently all of these things and more). For a (one-man) band that's only been around a couple of years, the Tonguemaster is awfully prolific -- we're talking three full-length albums, at least seven EPs, a demo, and a couple of splits, most of it all on obscure labels in pitifully miniscule print runs. This particular release is a full-length reissue of an album put out last year by Burning World Records on cd-r (100 copies) and vinyl (500 copies). The reissue comes in new packaging, with all-new (and somewhat disturbing) artwork and a bonus track, "the urge to participate in butchery," exclusive to this release. The album itself is (like all the rest of the band's output to date) a scary descent into hell that begins with "my body is not a vessel, nor a temple, it's a repulsive pile of sickness." The disc's sound is one of atmospheric dread, with distorted sheets of ambient noise, droning black-metal riffs, and the occasional presence of dirge-like percussion disrupted by bouts of hysterical shrieking and unnerving samples about homicide and death -- much like previous efforts, in other words. But there are some new strategies at work here as well, including wailing, operatic vocals (probably sampled) and even a choir on "and there will be more of your children dead tomorrow." It sounds like the instrumentation is a bit more varied this time around, too, with mellow tones that wouldn't be out of place in a cathedral, percussion that is not limited to industrial clanging, and organ sounds contributing to the drone factor. The band's aesthetic is similar to that of Abruptum -- I'm willing to bet the guy behind this has, if not every album Abruptum ever made, then at least the first three -- but he's not limited to the disjointed, cacaphonous horrorshow tactics that always made Abruptum such a harrowing listening experience; there are relatively gentle moments throughout, which just makes the scary moments that much more terrifying when they burst from the speakers like a jack-in-the-box studded with knives. The free-floating black metal drone of death gambit seems to be a popular one these days (probably another thing we can blame on the increasingly overexposed Sunn O))) and their goofy robes of destiny), but there's far more method and structure to his attack here than on the work of most of today's practitioners of blackened drone. Those who already have the original version should note that the bonus track is hardly a throwaway; in fact, it's one of the best tracks on the disc, and ends the savagery on a most appropriate note. I'd really like to know where he's finding his incredibly creepy samples, too.

Gnaw Their Tongues
Crucial Blast

Gog -- NORIAH HILL ep [Sounds of Battle and Souvenir Collecting]

This is a pretty cryptic disc; the liner notes don't shed much on the band, and neither does the label's website (which has some Javascript issues, apparently), which is too bad -- this is an interesting disc. The two tracks here (one around six minutes, the other over twenty) are heavy on the drone quotient, with the first track ("Hovering Lake") being the more floaty and ambient of the two. The title track features frosty distorted guitar drone in the vein of To Blacken the Pages or Fear Falls Burning -- ominous waves of brooding guitar flow like shuddering lava, gradually shifting in terms of tone and texture; the glacial drone is eventually joined by minimal percussion that -- along with the guitar sound -- grows remarkably heavier about halfway through the piece. The guitar tone grows more high-pitched, shrill, and aggressive as time goes on before finally fading out in a dying wave of groaning strings. Bonus points for the tripped-out artwork.

Sounds of Battle and Souvenir Collecting

Hedorah -- s/t [Crucial Bliss]

If you're down with Godzilla (and who with any sense of class isn't, really?), then you're already hep to the origins of the band's name. It's a good choice, because their fogged-out noisemuzik sounds plenty polluted... but in a good way, mind you. Essentially the "doom" version of Wilt, this disc collects up the band's meager but potent output to date -- two tracks from a compilation and a split and five previously unreleased tracks -- and it's real messed-up, forbidding stuff. "From Beyond" (originally on a split with The Fortieth Day) is all monolithic, reverb-soaked death drone and dark interstallar chirping, calling up visions of Cthulhuoid monsters from space getting ready to eat the stars; "Electric Frost" (from the DR. WHO VS. THE NOISE compilation) is not quite so diabolically eerie, but every bit as cryptic, mired in shuddering, buzzing bass grunt. "Planet of Doom" marries droning, psychedlic doom and a plodding beat to unearthly howling and shredded metallic noise for a sound that's every bit as alien as it is heavy. "Crystal Smoke," with its vaguely Arabic-sounding guitar and breathy ambient drone, is a bit more soothing, anchored by a hypnotic riff and blown out with plenty of peculiar noise doodling; it sounds like it could have been a lost track from one of the later Skullflower albums. "Self-Medicated" oozes with cathedral-style drone as peculiar samples and looped vocals float over the floaty waves of sound; "Hyperbolean" kicks things up into a higher gear with pounding drums, severely fuzzed-out guitar dropping heavy riffs like a B-52 shedding its entire bomb load, and more reverb-heavy background yowling. I'd love to hear them do an entire album that sounded like this. The dark jewel of the collection, though, is the epic (nearly twenty minutes) "Black Walls," a groaning sewer of reverb abuse, noise frippery, and atmospheric darkness that sounds like the soundtrack to a collapsing dimension. This is seriously great stuff, and I sure hope they put out more of it, and soon.

Crucial Blast

Nevada Hill / David Price -- D & N 3" cdr [Mayyrh Records]

This 3-inch cdr contains five "N" tracks recorded from Nevada Hill's home in the D/FW area and three "D" tracks recorded from Price's home in Austin; in addition, additional instrumentation and tinkering took place after the fact by both artists, resulting in a homebrew recording that is both a split release and a remote collaboration. Nevada Hill provides guitar, oscillator, thuds, and room tapes; David Lee Price provides percussion, synths, and field recordings. The eight tracks are sequenced in mixed order on the disc, in a manner that makes it feel like one long piece divided into eight discrete sections, with a sound palette that grows wider and weirder as the disc progresses. The overall effect is a brief epic of shifting drones and cryptic noisemaking, an eerie trip through the cars of an audio ghost train -- similar, in fact, to the Zanzibar Snails (of which Hill is a member) disc reviewed elsewhere in this issue, only more sparse and possibly even creepier. The dialogue taking place between these musicians is a mysterious and jumbled one, a sound whose ambience is frequently overtaken by the random nature of field recordings. It's strange stuff, yes, but alluring in a haunted and disjointed sort of way.

Mayyrh Records

Hop-Frog's Drum Jester Devotional -- BETS OV, VOL. 1 [URCK Records]

Hey hey, this is like a groovier and less threatening version of Techno-Animal or God, or maybe one of the more mesmerizing snippets of a Belew-era King Crimson album stuck on repeat. Sci-fi electronics and snakelike psychedelia meet deep dub and hypno-drums lost somewhere in the land between techno and hip-hop. Some tracks are more laid back and hypnotic (like "L'amour du Nil"), while others are bolder and significantly more upfront ("Eastern Spleen 3," for instance), but they all share a common grounding in techno / hip-hop drums, mind-melting psych foolery, and rhythms designed to make you get up and move around the room. The band is actually around twenty members of the West Coast Post-Asiatic scene, under the benevolent guidance of Jeremy Morelock, and they bring a lot of truly different sounds and beats to the dance floor. Reverb-heavy dub sounds (especially where the vocals are concerned) are a big influence, especially on "Devotional Desert," and there's a strong Asian / Arabic bent to the guitars on "Another Intricate Gem of the Mouthfrothian Front" (which also features massed choir vocals and springy synth blurts along with the lilting beat and string sounds). World music beats and chants are a strong component of the sound as well (see "Elephant's Agony" and "Germ of Sorrow 2"), but don't let that scare you away; this is world beat for people who don't like the stuff, especially since it's drenched in echo and built on phat, exotic beats and music rooted as much in heavy psych as in funk and dub. Anyway you slice it, this is a pretty impressive collection of beats and reverb abuse.

URCK Records

Moonspell -- NIGHT ETERNAL [SPV]

The latest release from Portugese prog-metal band Moonspell is a good one, focused and well-produced. It doesn't offer up any real surprises, but it won't disappoint those who've heard their previous material, either. There's a nice balance throughout the album between the proggy keyboards and considerably more metallic guitar, and Fernando Ribeiro's vocals are nuanced and possess just enough snarl in them to cut through the progged-out atmosphere. They're not exactly breaking new ground here, but the songs are consistently good, if not innovative, and the playing, production, and mix are all excellent. I'm not generally a huge fan of marrying prog-rock and metal, which generally results in pompous and overblown epics of overweening technical virtuosity just for the sake of showing off (and, just as often, songs that are less actual songs than merely strings of overly complicated riffs in ridiculous time signatures), but Moonspell are good about not letting the prog-rock elements overshadow their basic metal roots. It helps that they write good songs and are highly skilled players. Note that the first-run, limited edition digipack version of the album contains two bonus tracks, one of them a completely new song unavailable anywhere else.


Thurston Moore -- SENSITIVE / LETHAL [No Fun Productions]

Sonic Youth mainstay Thurston Moore seems to be down with the solo gig more and more these days, hence this latest offering of three noisy tracks. Sonic Youth fans should note that this bears little resemblance to the man's regular band; this has less to do with kitsch and music than it does with the joys of drifting down an audio river of seismic noise churn. There are no "hit singles" here, dig? No kitsch, either, and no irony -- in fact, nothing but dense sonic toast. Regardless of what you think of Sonic Youth -- a band that, for one reason or another, carries a lot of baggage -- this is a totally separate entity, and if you like sprawling, free-form noise rock, you'll find this of immense interest. Sonic Youth has taken flak from detractors for various reasons over the years, but Moore's guitar playing generally isn't one of them, and he's in fine form here (not that you can recognize much of this as actual "playing.") The first track, "Sensitive," is approximately twenty minutes of droning ambient noise guitar crunch, with an acoustic guitar strum / drone buried deep under several layers of drone and grit and nasty feedback noises. It's the barely audible strum that keeps the piece from being just another loud homage to Merzbow, providing a sense of structure over which Moore shovels lots of sonic dirt in ever-changing textures. The short (under four minutes) middle piece, "Lonesome," is a vaguely metallic loop over which Moore bends and scrapes, sounding like a noise-encrusted pipefitter's waltz. The last track, "Lethal," is a 25-minute extravaganza of analog synth bleat and crusty layers of scummy guitar distortion with the sound of hoverbots slowly navigating through dense waves of fog. There's some truly violent sounds reaching out of the sonic murk, too, along with the occasional sheet of high-frequency tweeting. There's plenty of grinding freakout, making it a bit different than the average noise-epic tactic of just banging on things. Interstellar overdrive indeed.

Thurston Moore
No Fun Productions

Nadja -- DESIRE IN UNEASINESS [Crucial Blast]

This one is a bit different than previous Nadja releases; for one thing, it's the first batch of all-new material in a while after a slew of reissues and re-recordings, and for another, it's the first of their releases to feature a live drummer (unnamed in the promo thingy, which is too bad, because he's extremely good). Formed in 2003 by Canadian avant-drone guitarist Aidan Baker to explore the heavier side of his lumbering but luminous dronescapes and joined in 2005 on bass and vocals by Leah Buckareff, Nadja originally sounded like an even slower and more ambient answer to Godflesh (or perhaps the Canadian answer to Jesu), but as the band has matured, their sound has developed considerably. There's still plenty of traces of Godflesh-worship on hand, but the guitar sound has grown more psychedelic and effects-oriented, and the beats on this disc combine the punishing heaviness of Godflesh with considerably more limber rhythms, especially on "Sign-Expressions." The drone quotient is still high, but it's mixed with elements of electronica and strange, crunchy noises; things are not quite as static and endless as they were before. There are concrete (if somewhat abstract) melodies in "Affective Fields" (another track where the drums are much more active and far less robotic than before), and while tracks like "Disambiguation" and "Uneasy Desire" are a bit closer to the growing clouds of drone they used to kick up on earlier releases, even those have a new sound thanks to the live drumming. The final track, "Deterritorialization," bears the greatest resemblance to the Nadja of old, opening with several minutes of whining electro-drone and cloudlike ambience before the drums of doom make their appearance in hypnotic and highly repetitive fashion. There's a psychedelic element at work here that's a welcome development, pointing the band in a new direction without abandoning the framework of kinetic, droning guitar soundscapes. Where they'll go from here remains to be seen, but this is defnitely a turning point of sorts for the band, and one well worth hearing.

Crucial Blast

Replicator -- WHANGBAR PROVINCE ep [self-released]

It's too bad the band split up recently -- this is the final audio document of their decade-long (more or less) existence -- because they were just starting to seriously hit their stride, judging from the three intense tracks here. This is even better than MACHINES WILL ALWAYS LET YOU DOWN, and that was pretty goddamn good, so... like I say, it's too bad they've decided to call it quits. They open with the funky "Baby, I Want To Terraform Your Planet," which sounds very much like what hardcore would sound like if hardcore could swing and was played by guys who apparently grew up listening to the likes of Breadwinner. They earn numerous cool points with a repetitive, grinding cover of Babyland's "Arthur Jerymn," based on the Lovecraft story of the same name, a track that's marked mainly by a truly ominous, churning bass line and intense drumming. The third (and final) track, "Barely Regal," sports hilarious lyrics, moments of blinding sheet-metal guitar, and yet more abrupt tempo / dynamic shifts, including a middle section in which the bass and drums pound away, gradually growing louder and louder, as the guitar plays peekaboo with mutant stabs of noise, atonal chromatic juju, and other unsettling tactics before resolving into a runaway surge forward and heavy riffing, proving once again that they owe as much to AC/DC as to Shellac. As with past Repliproduct, their songs are filled with unexpected transitions, tempo changes, mutant rhythms, and wildly fluctuating dynamics, and lots of impassioned yelling courtesy of guitarist / vocalist Conan Neutron. This is the face of greatness; too bad you missed it. Said whole-grain goodness is available in disc form via the band's site for under five bucks, or (along with the rest of their catalog) on Itunes for something equally reasonable. The disc version comes with a swank full-color foldout poster with great pictures on one side and liner notes on the band's passing on the other. Needless to say, you probably should get the disc version, unless they've somehow figured out how to include this with your Itunes download.


Shit and Shine -- KUSS MICH, MEINE LIEBE [Load Records]

There are bands on this roach-infested earth whose sole purpose is to annoy the living hell out of you. This UK band is one of them. The word "obnoxious" was invented for bands like this. These guys aren't just noisy and repetitive, they're cheerfully too much of both, displaying the same kind of masochistic need to stir up shit found in bored teenagers getting their kicks by poking a dog with a stick until the dog jumps up and bites their faces off. Most of the album sounds like a bad hangover set on repeat for long, long periods of time; if you ever wanted to drive your housemates or neighors to homicide, this would be the ultimate weapon, especially if played at maximum volume. Slow, grinding, gross-sounding rhythms lurch back and forth for what seems like forever (and in the case of "Biggest Cock in Christendom," is actually about fifteen minutes); vocalists like drunken sailors waffle on unintelligbly; the robot rhythms are frequently augmented by crazed noises and fractured shards of melody. They get decidedly spastic on "Mr. and Mrs. Gingerbread Hawaii" (and spastic plus noisy, with everything fed through a mess o' distortion boxes and set on "puree," on "Toilet Door Tits"). The title track sounds like heavy metal as rendered by rusting disco ducks and recorded with lots of sonic mung clogging up the audio pipes. It takes a very special band to be so enormously catchy and yet so incredibly irritating at the same time. You will worship it like the porn stars you jerk off to late at night, or hate it like the jocks who always cut up in the back of the classroom when you were trying to pay attention so you wouldn't flunk that big final. There is no middle ground here, just boundless love (or at least amusement) or the desire to set these guys on fire.This is a great band, but I sure hope they have their insurance premiums paid up. Skronk + heavy reverb + the deliberate overuse of repetition = lots of Anacin in your future.

Shit and Shine
Load Records

Chris Strawn -- I LEFT MY HAT IN HADES [Drazzig Records]

Former Gizzard / current Brass Castle member Chris Strawn uncorks his first solo album, fourteen tracks rooted as much in bone-rattling classic rock and alt-country as in indie rock. It's a bit jarring to hear this on first listen, because it sounds like a throwback to a time before the whole noise / post-rock axis; this is closer to straight-up rock 'n roll seasoned with elements of alt-country, folk, funk, and cranky outsider attitude. At the same time, it's an album that could have been made at any time between the late 60s to right now (it was actually recorded in bits 'n pieces between 2000 and 2007). At times reminiscent of The Black Heart Procession, sometimes calling up visions of a moderately less uptight Jandek, at other times more like an unusually proficient take on outsider rock, the songs are all varied and unusual-sounding; there may be elements of things and bands you've heard before, but you've probably never heard it all assembled quite like this. Sharp and focused in some ways while casually loose and ramshackle in others, liberally strewn with idiosyncrastic guitar solos, cheerfully borrowing from cheesy electro-pop just as much as classic rock and metal, there's an element of sheer unpredictability at work here that you don't hear often these days. Peculiar and sometimes deliberately obscure, sometimes even just plain weird, but always unquestionably individualistic in nature, and worthy of your attention.

Chris Strawn

Trees -- LIGHTS BANE [Crucial Blast]

On one hand, I kind of feel bad for these guys because they're inevitably going to be called the second coming of Khanate; on the other hand, seeing as how I horribly miss Khanate, who hung it up too early for me, this is not such a bad thing. Hailing from Portland and featuring members of Tecumseh, the band debuts here with two insanely long tracks of imploding amplifier death and subterranean groan 'n drone, playing at the same "so slow it's moving backwards" pace Khanate used to favor. There are differences, however; sure, they favor the slo-mo bass wave heave, that gloriously grotesque sonic simulation of the slow ovals effect you get when you drink entirely too much, but they also like wallowing in screeching, high-pitched feedback, something Khanate was never so keen on, and while their vocalist shares Dubin's fondness for psychotic screaming, his agonizing screams of pathological torment seem far more abstract and less keyed to actual lyrics. They're also much fuzzier; Khanate may have been supremely heavy, but they were really more concerned with destroying your sense of time, while these guys want to destroy not only your sense of time, but your hearing and probably your entire physical shell. It's hard to measure a band like this in terms of riffs since the riffs that do exist are so impossibly slow as to make them nearly unrecognizable, but they get good sounds and they keep things moving despite the sonic crawl. It's not surprising that the drummer is good -- you kind of have to be to play at tempos this glacial -- but when he bears down and speeds up (relatively speaking) for the more dynamic parts, he imparts a serious heft to the proceedings that keeps things from deteriorating into formless waves of sludge. It's all nasty, bludgeoning stuff, to be sure, and fans of Khanate, Monarch, Corrupted, and other equally glacial / heavy bands should find this plenty impressive.

Crucial Blast

Zanzibar Snails -- BROWN DWARF [Mayyrh Records]

Denton, TX sure is a hotbed of psych-lovin' weirdness; Zanzibar Snails are the latest to drink the tainted water and start hallucinating. Recorded live in October, 2007, the five tracks here are all merely divisions in one long performance (approximately 35 minutes) featuring Josh McWhirler on viola and tapes, Michael Chamy on shortwave, loops, and generators, Seth Sherman (ex-Early Lines) on acoustic guitar, and Nevada Hill on electric guitar. Essentially ambient music peppered with a growing plethora of disembodied voices, strange electronic frippery, and other near-random effluvia, the disc starts off with low-key humming and droning and gradually -- so slowly that by the time you realize something new is happening, it dawns on you that it's been happening for a while now -- the ambient fog fills up with repetitive, dreamlike noises like sleepy voices chanting vague nonsense over and over, along with peculiar sounds and steady but minimal guitar strumming that after a while hardly even sounds like guitar anymore, and the infusion of sounds continues, with the sonic landscape growing steadily more dense and cluttered while somehow remaining light and airy sounding. The increasinly loud guitar clang does move the piece out of ambient territory after a while, along with the avalanche of sounds, but then everything but the guitars and a background hum dies away, and toward the end the sound is dominated mainly by low-level amp hum, plunking acoustic guitar, and incredibly slow guitar strumming. Eventually viola and other noises (shortwave, perhaps?) rise up as well, and the density of sound builds up again, but the sound never grows as quite as powerfully dense or wildly agitated as before, until the disc finally fades out in a whirl of audio chatter. Mesmerizing in a strange and alien way, like listening to hippies in the park after drinking acid-spiked punch. Bonus points for the cool handmade digipack sleeve in the cool earth-tone colors.

Zanzibar Snails
Mayyrh Records

Zepubicle -- SCIENTISTS LEVITATE SMALL ANMALS [Solponticello Records]

Here's an odd one -- five longish tracks of what sounds like neo-ambient doodling for a backdrop and a highly improvisational foreground using some pretty exotic instruments and technique. The work of a quartet of fairly disparate musicians (Killick -- stringed harpeggione; Marshall Marrotte -- traditional and baritone guitar; Jeff McLeod -- guitar, Chapman Stick; and guest performer Tatsuya Nakatani -- percussion) using traditional and non-traditional instruments in a fairly unorthodox manner, the results are a lot less noisy and chaotic than one might expect, with a frequently languid and low-key vibe, but it's still pretty unusual stuff. Droning, atmospheric backgrounds provide the depth for a wide variety of sound explorations featuring lots of plunking and tinkling, along with the occasional rumble of muted percussion. Almost nothing sounds like you would expect it to sound -- between crafty, unusual approaches to playing and possibly an interesting mixing strategy, it's almost impossible to tell what's making which noise, and how it's being done; the sound just flows, in a starkly improvised and experimental manner, carried across a fog of drone and ambient sound. Difficult to explain, impossible to accurately describe, and hard to assimilate even with your own ears, this comes close to resembling some of the more exotic free-jazz jams on Public Eyesore, but with a unique sound all its own. Weird, yes, but interesting.

Solponticello Records