Sunday, June 14, 2009

the birthday post

EDITORIAL NOTE: This month marks the fifteenth anniversary of TOTDA. I'd say more, but words fail me at the moment. I certainly have a hard time believing things have gone this far for this long; I originally expected the zine (which started out as a paper entity before moving to the internet) to last maybe three issues. I have no idea how much longer it will continue to run, either, but it's certainly been an interesting and informative ride so far....

Corephallism -- "Speaking in Tongues" 3-inch cd [Apop Records / Lascivious Aesthetics]

This is what Shane Broderick does when he's not brutalizing the ears of audiences in his main vehicle for sonic terrorism, Twodeadsluts Onegoodfuck. The sound is a mix of industrial, death metal, and power electronics, and it's every bit as rude as the band's name (if you don't know what it means, look it up and you'll see). The idea here is to generate metallic white noise through the use of analog synths and tape / record player abuse; the subject matter is the usual catalog of unhealthy neuroses (mental illness, sex addiction, depression, and other bleak areas of failed human existence). The title track opens with dreamy, creamy synths that are soon overriden by roaring waves of heavily-reverbed power electronics, and the sound that results -- boasting far more thickness and midrange than the usual power-violence offering -- is an interesting take on the genre's usual rules of sonic intimidation. "These Scars Will Last A Lifetime," the other track, opens with brooding, doodling synth and rhythmic noise in the background, then abruptly shifts into incredibly LOUD synth noise and buzzing electronics. Neither track is terribly long -- the entire disc lasts seven and a half minutes -- but both tracks are exceptionally intense, with a baritone sound that's unusual for the genre. Excellent, punishing stuff. Mastered by James Plotkin and limited to 300 copies.

Apop Records
Lascivious Aesthetics

Khanate -- CLEAN HANDS GO FOUL [Hydra Head]

The final document of the traumatic psychodrama that was Khanate opens with earth-shuddering bass drone and hideous shrieking from vocalist Alan Dubin, and things only grow more desperate from there. The four freely improvised pieces here -- ranging in length from over six minutes to nearly thirty-three -- were recorded during the sessions for CAPTURE & RELEASE, the last album to see the light before the band broke up, and is similar in terms of sound and execution. This is even less "metal" than that album, often sounding more like downtuned free jazz slowed down to half speed and accented with increasing levels of terror and anxiety by Dubin's crazed vocal spew. The inherent psychodrama of Dubin's painful shrieking and psychopathic lyrical stance is very much front and center here, with the band's drawn-out anti-music flowing around his disjointed narrative like an audio counterpoint to his lung-bursting angst. This album continues the growing level of sonic experimentation in evidence on the previous one, with bassist and electronics expert Plotkin leavening the sound with all sorts of eerie effects, clanking noises, and gritty background textures; for a band whose sound is firmly rooted in draining minimalism, there's a surprising level of detail to the flow of sound seeping through the backgrounds of these songs, and the textures are a perfect match for the dissonant death-spiral of Stephen O'Malley's nearly invisible guitar and drummer Tim Wiskyda's unpredictable and intermittent tub-thumping. As with everything the band has done from their second album onward, the most notable feature of their sound is the near-absence of rhythm and tempo; sure, there's drumming, but it's so slow and varied that it rarely commits to anything like a regular beat, and the bass and guitar sounds are so slow and droning, or so steeped in noise and wayward feedback, that even when there's a vaguely discernable rhythmic feel at work, it's at tempos so stunted as to be nearly nonexistent. This is music that flows like lava, or perhaps like an explosion captured in extreme slow motion, with a feel that's about as far removed from traditional metal (or traditional music, period) as you can get without descending totally into chaotic noise hell. This is especially true of the final track, "Every God Damn Thing," with is nearly thirty-three minutes of Dubin screaming about madness while the band sounds like it's tuning up (sort of like the first Beme Seed record, only far, far scarier). As usual, the artwork is impeccable and for a band that's already (tragically) ceased to exist, this makes a nice posthumous coda.

Hydra Head

Mount Vicious -- DON'T BE A BABY, COME AND GET IT [Seismic Wave Entertainment]

Imagine the Gang of Four (the band or the political posse) and AC/DC crashing a Situationist cabaret party where everybody speaks in double-entendres -- that should give you a hint of the post-rock / post-irony absurdity level at work here. The hot poop on the band usually revolves around the "indie superstar" thing (the members have all been in well-regarded bands from Oakland and the Bay area, including Replicator, City Volume, Holy Kiss, Long Thaw, and Stay Gold Pony Boy, among others), but it's probably more accurate to say this is a bunch of indie post-rock players embracing their inner love of classic rock and reassembling the pop-rock machine to form new and perverse shapes. More than anything else, the band really embraces the classic rock ethos of bigness and boldness with a gusto that hasn't been seen in years outside of bloated arena-metal circles -- only they're far more intelligent (and way funnier, or at least intentionally so) than any of those bands, plus they not only have the requisite stellar chops, but some real eccentric ideas about putting those chops together. This is one of the strangest-sounding bands I've ever heard that still manages to be phenomenally catchy, no small feat.

They're not the first (and won't be the last) band ambitious enough to try importing alt-rock ideals and sounds into the Big Rock Sound, but they have two major things working in their favor: first, a collection of stellar players where everyone carries an equal amount of weight and mesh together well (a miracle in itself, given that there three guitar players, not that you can tell); second, they write excellent songs and execute them with bombastic abandon. I can't remember the last time I heard this many great songs on one album -- out of the ten songs, not one of them is filler material, and the songs are all well-arranged (which is a good thing, given how easily this could have turned out to be a bunch of really different players going off in five different directions at once with disastrous results). Despite the Big Rock sound and aesthetic, their arrangements are actually more of a throwback to the original new wave movement, where tight, concise songs were driven more by tasteful stylistic choices and tonal coloring than cliched verse-chorus-verse arrangements and endless solo doodling. If bands like Grand Funk Railroad, Black Sabbath, and Led Zeppelin had been in the habit of writing songs like those of Blondie, Gang of Four, and the Cars, they might have turned out like this. Titles like "Princess of the Brodeo," "What's My Emotivation?," and "Martyr Party" provide evidence that they're nowhere near as uptight as any of their classic rock forebears, though, and the lyrics are consistently great, equal parts cryptic obfuscation and sarcastic absurdity (see here for evidence). They get bonus points for the cd's swank design and what is one of my favorite album covers ever (catfights are go, dude). The scary part is that as good as this album is (and it is, believe me), it probably pales in comparison to the band's live act.

Mount Vicious
Seismic Wave Entertainment

Rusted Shut -- DEAD [Load Records]

Houston's reigning noise punks have been around forever (since 1986, to be exact), but like a lot of underground Texas bands far more legendary for their live shows than recordings, have not exactly been diligent about coughing up albums: this is only the band's second full-length release (along with a 12" EP and a handful of compilation appearances). What have they been doing all that time, then? Perfecting their hate-rock vibe, one suspects. This is powerful shit, lyrically reminiscent of the early Butthole Surfers, musically more like the early Pain Teens channeling Whitehouse and Einsturzende Neubauten -- we're talking mondo heaviness here, addled Tejas psycho-rock drowning in primal noise hell. The ten songs on this album are a series of heavy jams, equal parts Tejas roots rock gone metal and slashing noise guitar, that rapidly devolve into hypnotic repetition regardless of how they actually begin. The primitive but tremendously exciting guitar sound is one of the biggest attractions here, a sound simultaneously grandiose and ugly, the audio equivalent of watching a huge homeless drunk projectile vomit over and over in a filth-encrusted alley. Rusted Shut is the kind of band that should have been a mainstay on labels like Trance Syndicate and Amphetamine Reptile in the 90s (and why they weren't remains a mystery), with a sound that deliberately and gloriously wallows in sheer, monolithic ugliness. The songs here are noise-laden and swaddled in a drug-addled vibe of confused incoherence; the blown-out sound and excessive volume makes for a rude listening experience, akin to seeing the band live in a small concrete box while tripping on bad drugs. Everything is turned up way too loud, run through too much fuzz, and played with intense abandon; there's nothing subtle about any of this, that's for sure. Most of the time they settle into a riff and just grind away like mad until it occurs to them to stop, and part of what makes them so unsettling is that there's no way to even guess when they're going to give up and bringing the whole lumbering bulldozer to a lurching halt. Their noise credentials are enhanced by the fact that the album sounds like it was either recorded in their basement on a cheap microcassette recorder they bought for twenty bucks at a pawn store, or perhaps live with somebody holding the same cheap recorder right next to the stage. This, my friends and neighbors, is a very good thing. If you're down with the sound of bands like Unsane, Cherubs, early Butthole Surfers, Distorted Pony, Harry Pussy, and other equally obnoxious bands, you'll love this, one of most truly loud and fucked-up albums I've heard in a long time. There is absolutely no redeeming social value to this album. This is prime-meat noise rock, and twice as good as everything else just because it's made by Texans. HAH!

Rusted Shut
Load Records

Six Finger Satellite -- HALF CONTROL [Load Records]

I'm going to come clean here: despite the fact that the band was a big deal in underground noise-rock circles during the 90s, this is the first time I've ever heard them. How they slipped under my radar is a good question (the answer probably lies in the sheer number of bands out there and the fact that even I can only listen to so many of them), but if this album is any indication, I definitely should have picked up on them a long time ago. This album actually occupies an interesting position in the band's history, as it was recorded around the time the band broke up and thus was never released; now that the band has reformed and is touring again, Load has brought it out in an updated version (the original tapes from 2001 were remixed last year). The lineup features original singer / keyboard player J. Ryan and original drummer Rick Pelletier along with the rhythm section from Landed (guitarist Joel Kyack and bassist Shawn Greenlee), and given the presence of the Landed dudes, it's not surprising that this bears some resemblance to the Landed release I reviewed here a while back -- it definitely features the same kind of hypnotic rhythms, but the sound is not so aggressively noise-laden and there's more of a prog-rock influence happening. There are eight songs on the album, and they all feature progged-out aesthetics, driving rhythms anchored in heavy repetition, and rich-sounding synths. At times they sound like a heavier, druggier Slint jamming over endless, near-static riffs; despite the heavy repetition, there's plenty of nuance and energy to keep them moving forward, especially with Pelletier's aggressive drumming laying down some seriously heavy grooves. It's the groove thing, in fact, that separates them from similar bands in the prog-rock / noise spectrum -- there's some heavy industrial funk moves on this disc, in a way that's more reminiscent of Gang of Four than (fill in the blank with the irritating funk-metal band of your ire). Supposedly the couple of albums recorded prior to this were more of a Krautrock affair, but this is way more rocking than that, trust me. This is excellent stuff, and if it's in line with their early stuff, I can see how they served as the template for a lot of other bands that followed in their wake.

Six Finger Satellite
Load Records

Skullflower -- LA NOCHE DE WALPURGIS [self-released]

Recorded and issued by the band on cdr (and probably limited to some absurdly small number), this was intended for sale on tour, and is almost certainly a live recording, although it's hard to tell from the complete lack of liner notes. As with most of the recent limited and low-profile releases, this is a scourging noisefest; I don't know if it's just Bower or if Lee Stokoe was involved as well, but the guitar sound is loud, corrosive, and tilted enthusiastically toward white noise. There's some kind of minimal rhythm happening on tracks like "Black flame" that could be a drum machine, or a loop, or something else entirely, a rhythm that's barely audible over the sound of guitars catching on fire. The sound throughout the six tracks is more of the post-reformation white noise Bower's grown to love so much, and it sounds good (and piercing). "Devourer" is one of the harshest songs the band has ever offered up, with a melting black-metal guitar at the core, buried under vast clouds of white noise. The last track, "Serene and terrible noontide abyss," is the only track to prominently feature a serious rhythm track, a plodding uberbeat over which guitars like whirling knives steadily grow in volume until the whole thing ends abruptly. Nothing much has changed, true, but the face-peeling continues. Definitely recommended for those favoring the new, improved blast-o-noise approach. Good luck finding a copy, though.


Skullflower -- MALEDICTION [Second Layer Records]

The latest official release (as opposed to the growing slew of limited-pressing tour cdrs) from Skullflower features an unexpected but entirely welcome development, the return of original drummer Stuart Dennison (credited here with percussion and voice). Don't get too excited, though; despite his return, the band's sound (and it is indeed a band this time around, with Bower on guitar / voice / feedback and joined by Lee Stokoe on guitar and Samantha Davies on cello, violin, and cymbal) is more in line with the recent, noisier post-reformation sound than with the band's original noise-rock dynamic. Actually, it's kind of a mix of the two, a sound that leans heavily toward the chaotic, unstructured noise 'n feedback approach of the more recent albums, but with drumming and a general feel that's a throwback to the original lineup's more non-linear albums like CARVED INTO ROSES (one of their more obscure and underrated releases). Anyway, here we get three lengthy tracks that are closer to full-on improv jams than actual songs, full of shredded-wheat guitar noise, feedback, exotic sounds from the abuse of acoustic instruments and cymbals, and plodding, minimalistic percussion. It's not the band's greatest work, but it's not bad, either, and certainly features an extremely high noise quotient. The final track, "Drenched in Moonsblood (waxing gibbous)," is more drone-oriented, with wailing feedback that's more about the oddly beautiful celestial sounds than face-scrubbing noise. It's a respectable piece of work that's very much in line with the last few releases, especially the box set (which is well worth tracking down itself).

Second Layer

Suishou no Fune -- PHANTOM OF THE ETERNAL NIGHT [There]

The one constant in the sound of Suishou no Fune is that they consistently make beautiful, deeply emotional albums, and their latest is no exception, although it may be their best yet, and certainly one of their most focused. This one is the work of a full band, not just the core duo of Pirako and Kageo -- they're joined this time around by Nishamura Takuya on bass and Kikukawa Takahisa on drums, making their eternally spacy sound a bit more grounded, especially on the opener "Let the Flowers Bloom," where the constantly churning bass and minimalist drumming (buried so far in the background as to be nearly subliminal at times) lend a persistent rhythmic pulse to the song's lovely psychedelic vapor. The group's dedication to minimalism really shines through in "Spring Night Butterfly," where a handful of repeated notes (and lots of reverb) over a rhythm section that sounds more like dust motes moving in the air than actual rock music form the cosmic backdrop over which Pirako's mournful voice and endlessly bent guitar notes rise and fall like piercing spears of pure radiant emotion. One of the band's most remarkable assets is their ability to call up deep levels of emotion and pathos through the most minimal playing, a profound and mysterious talent made obvious by this song more so than anything else on the album. "Endless Descent" is a moderately heavier (or perhaps a bit less ethereal) song that reminds me a lot of Kadura, with a sound that grows denser and more complex as the song evolves, while "Everlasting Journey" returns to the strummed guitar and spaced-out sound of the opening track. As with everything else the band has done, these are slow-moving tracks that take their time getting to their eventual destinations -- this is cosmic rock, after all, and one should hardly expect a spaceship's journey to be a short one -- and this is a good thing, because it gives you plenty of time to absorb the hypnotic rhythms and spiritual vibes. This is on a Japanese label and I have no idea how easy it will be to find outside of that country, but it's well worth seeking out, especially if you're already a fan of the band (or of excellent psychedelic music in general).

Suishou no Fune

Sunday, June 7, 2009

still alive

I'm still alive, just behind and distracted by bad personal juju and other hassles. I am working on reviews and should have a new post up within a week or two. My apologies for the delay -- life sometimes has a hideous way of interfering with big plans and all that....