Sunday, February 19, 2017

DRUNKEN SUFIS “Pala Pala” (Bad Friend Records)

I get it. It’s a joke! Drunken Sufis, that is, the band’s name. I needed to double check the definition of “Sufi,” and the fabulous Google search engine (which you guys should all be using for all your web-related needs) returned “a Muslim ascetic and mystic,” which, if you know anything about anything, is an oxymoronic concept when paired with the idea of being drunk. Sufis don’t get drunk. Or drink, for that matter. It’s a chuckle, for sure, and when it’s at the expense of everybody who doesn’t get it, it’s even better. I get it, because, hey, I looked it up.

In Finnish, “pala pala” means “a piece of a piece of,” and that’s the exact sort of linguistic calisthenics a band such as Drunken Sufis should be practicing. (“Pala” means other things in other languages too, mainly “shovel” or “spade,” but I like the openendedness that the Finns have ascribed to the term, so I’m going with that.) It implies a nimbleness, a worldview in which the answers are much less interesting than the questions, and as musicians, Drunken Sufis are all about exploration: of their sound, of their skill, of their own minds. The five-piece begins in rock territory, make that “math rock” territory for those of you who need a little extra prodding and think “rock” is too elusive or boring a term, and expand their repertoire from there, fiddling with funky time signatures à la the old Southern Records roster, the fun ones like Dianogah, 90 Day Men, or Geoff Farina. From there they mix their lithe compositions with electronics, resulting in a Tortoise/Tangents mash-up that, for cynical old ears like mine, positively beams with joyous refreshment. Take opener “Datura Love Diet,” for example, which manages to cram in everything Drunken Sufis do best into four too-short minutes: nerd guitar/drums for a bit, fakeout record skip in the middle, tie in fakeout record skip to lurching new pattern, devolve into electronic ambient texture, close with face-blistering reintroduction of original theme, this time less nerdy. It reminds me why I was an indie rock kid for so many years in the first place.

And that’s just the first track. There are also warm delights like “Echo Lake” and “Saturnalia,” freeform passages like “Neon Kills Everything,” and bursts of,  yeah, Drive Like Jehu-esque atonal guitar crunch like “Pronoia.” In fact, let’s bring Drive Like Jehu back into the conversation – let’s pretend that those San Diego shred monkeys decided to incorporate Radiohead-like experimentation into their music, and you’ve got another comparison to hang Drunken Sufis to. How many is that now? Who knows. It’s just pretty clear that the DNA embedded in the Sufis’ music is as important as the way the band twists it and evolves because of it. And yeah, this is one of the most satisfying and enjoyable tapes I’ve heard this year. I didn’t do a year-end list for 2016, and I’ll be damned if I do one for 2017, but Pala Pala would be on it. And it’s only January (when you’ll read this…)! That’s no joke. At all. (Heh, “Drunken Sufis,” heh heh.)

--Ryan Masteller

Saturday, February 18, 2017

“Midst” C77 (Orb Tapes)

No one ever said a ride along the bardo’d be just swell. No, sir. This wild-eyed slow-burner of a journey is about as unpleasant as it gets without becoming downright painful, and the opportunities for enlightenment swim throughout the magnetic coils of kelp like furiously misplaced Coy Fish in a far-too-small-tank, frantically bashing themselves against abused piezo pickups, disembodied cinema soundbites, blown out tape loops, (almost) melodic, ghost-in-the-thrift-town-answering-machine warbles, midnight ETI drone visitations, and glorious, disorienting feedback.

If you’re looking for a HarshNoise answer to the NewNewAge sound-guided meditation, Orb Tapes has got all the dark crystals you’ll ever need…


-- Jacob An Kittenplan

Friday, February 17, 2017

PARALYCYST / SUN RAD “Split” (Property Tapes)

It’s with a heavy heart that I write this “review” today, as it’s not really a review. Or even whatever it is I happen to be writing on this platform at any given time. See, I was introduced to Paralycyst with this release, and the man who went by that pseudonym, Micah Danemayer, perished in the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland. I had written a completely different reflection on this tape, and then I scrapped it once I realized who Paraycyst was. In the end I just want to send my heartfelt condolences to Danemayer’s friends and family, and to anyone who has been touched by his music. I cannot imagine the pain that you feel. I hope you all can heal in some way and come together to honor Danemayer’s memory. My condolences also go out to the families and friends of others whose lives were claimed in the fire. The tragedy is unimaginable.

I wonder if we can rally with some music? I hope so. I always feel this great sense of camaraderie through music, and even though I don’t get out to shows or anything anymore, it’s still such an important part of my life and I know it’s a hugely important part of yours too. Paralycyst made some really intense, gritty techno, and I had a lot of fun getting through his half of the split. Sun Rad, from Boston, does a similar trick on side B, albeit with thicker synthesizers. Both are equally engaging. I wish I had more Paralycyst music to sift through. But even if you can get your hands on this tape, you’ll be able to listen on repeat to some really excellent dance tunes, and maybe that will help you ditch some of the pain for a while. It won’t be gone, surely, but if we can’t celebrate life when we can, what’s the point? That’s the great thing about music – its celebratory nature. I have hope for us. I also have hope that tragedies like this can be minimized in the future. This is my tribute to hope, and if it makes you feel better in some way, or if it points you to music that makes you feel better, then I think I’ve succeeded, just a little bit.

--Ryan Masteller

Thursday, February 16, 2017

“A Face In the Static” C20
(Orb Tapes)

Install one shoddy piezo pick-up to your life. Plug it into a blown-out walkman. Drag it into infinity. Don’t die just yet.

Mathematically speaking, a face may exhibit infinite poses within a twenty minute recorded space. The charm is in the minutiae. Patience. Subtlety.  

This document is either the most forgettable 20 minutes you’ll ever pretend to endure, or an incredibly intimate, perspective inspiring series of unmemorizable gestures in two-dimensional, blown out static.

You get out only what you put in.

Install one shoddy piezo pick-up to your life. Plug it into a blown-out walkman. Drag it into infinity.

Don’t die just yet.

-- Jacob An Kittenplan

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

JOHNNY BAXTER "@ LA" (Tingo Tongo Tapes)

Characteristic of Tingo Tongo releases Johnny Baxter combines dirty recordings of opera with clanging dance loops made from drum machine, toy piano, recorder, and atmospheric sounds that can only be captured from inside a solar-powered dumpster.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

OTRON “Doze On” C25 (Self-Released)

Hailing from the UK, Otron’s “Doze On” is an even keeled mix of 80’s modular synth pastiche & the chillest of the chill 90’s downtempo & trap beats, with a healthy dose of treated soundbites, solid funk bass lines, tonal ambient textures…and pretty much all the reverb one could ask for.

In a genre where artists try & fill every nook & cranny with drum machine filler, this album stands out as tastefully restrained, making for some pretty dependable study music; it’ll keep you calmly nodding your noggin without ever demanding your full attention as the layers subtly shift in & out of focus. Pretty pleasant stuff.

-- Jacob An Kittenplan