Sunday, December 30, 2007

DIAMOND LEMONADE "Transmissions From The Past" (JK Tapes)

Without hearing the actual sounds on this c-20, the 70's Sci-Fi styled title may seem a little gauche. Fortunately, Diamond Lemonade are running the entire race with this music-from-the-future cliché and end up with completely enjoyable results. Too many noise tapes seem desperate in their attempts at having a theme solely through their use of a "meaningful" name. But Transmissions From The Past is an apt title for Diamond Lemonade's sounds that invoke the early-electronic/synth aesthetic that is associated with not the actual future, but the future as a dandified, fashionable utopia. That of course makes these sounds inescapably retro, but by being presented here in rough gem form of spray painted cassette, one has to wonder if this is the 70's sci-fi fantasy come to actualization. More likely made with a computer or some other DIY thrift store gear than an actual fancy modular synth, this is noodley oscillations and bell-manipulations being made from the layman's world rather than about it. Long before the Wright Brothers people dreamed of flying machines. Dreams that became real, but looked much different than the airliners of today. Well, the once dream of music's sci-fi future may have become real on this cassette. It may not be as fashionable as a Buchla dream, but we all love watching the National Geographic channel. Don't we?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

BLANK REALM “Blight Monument” (Barnacle Rodeo)

This Brisbane posse have been disseminating their strange strand of damaged jam/psych DNA for comin’ on a couple years now, but they’re still pretty sub-radar for most folks. This oughta change. “Blight Monument” is a new-ish missive, and it’s a monster. Sprawling, shifting explorations into indefinable architectures. Would be easy to lump ‘em into Donnelly’s down-under MYMWLY beard brood, but BR fashion a far more focused take on unclassifiable psych, it makes them very difficult to describe. The A side pieces together several long-form song fragments carved with ebowed guitar, cavernous voice, and fried percussion, and lets them overlap and sink into one another, creating endless spools of swirling ritual. The B is darker but also possibly deeper, weighted down by stasis-heavy drones and even slower arcs of instrumental mood-reading. A really amazing tape, and highly worthy of a wider audience than this edition-of-50 will likely reach.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

MENEGUAR “Tone Banks 1: Some Downs” (Fuck It Tapes)

Most message-boarders know Meneguar for their tireless touring and tightly honed indie anthems on TMU. But until now there was little to zero publicly available recorded expression of their looser moods. Which is where “Tone Banks” comes in. “Some Downs” is the first volume in what’s supposed to be an ongoing documentation of Meneguar’s practice space explorations and pre-song musical map-making. And it’s pretty fucking good. The A side starts off like a “Strangers In Our House” hit before unraveling into a propulsive instrumental engine room of cyclical guitars and driving drums. The second song, “Fields of Gaffney,” is a sparkling wasteland of chimes and psychic strings that could easily pass for a sweet Shepherds outtake. The whole B side of “Some Downs” is composed of an epicly bizarre jazzy reverb chamber come-down called “House That Home/Over and Over” that sounds nothing like Meneguar or anything else on FIT/Woodsist, and is all the better for it. Comes in a J-card with a typically sick Jeremy Earl collage cover. Probably sold out already, but maybe not.

HAMMER OF HATHOR “Field Recordings” (no label)

Off-the-cuff Portland pair who’s basic approach is to go somewhere specific (a creek in Idaho, a porch in Montana), press record on a Walkman, fiddle around with whatever instruments they’re holding, and then call it a day. The results are as casual as the methods. A couple jams clatter freely, some snare and horn hop-scotching in a field, while a few wander and ponder more folky-style, and a handful just scratch their nose and stare. The variety’s nice, but nothing sounds premeditated, and the laxity of execution keeps things pretty sleepy/sloppy. Also, for what it’s worth, the field recording aspect is pretty negligent. You can’t really discern that these pieces occur amongst scenic prairie winds, or wild bird calls, or running water – it’s just varying levels of tape hiss. Serves as a decent enough diary for the couple involved, but hopefully future statements step up the editing element.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

RUSSIAN TSARLAG "untitled" (Eager Mother Tapes)

Holy shit, this is the motherload. Of the half-a-dozen or so solo Carlos Gonzalez tapes we own, the A side of this C20 is easily the greatest and best recorded collection of his psycho soul songs I’ve ever heard. From the hypno-pop of “Keeper’s Back Glove” through to the languid madness of “Uncovering Many Diseases,” these are crucial Tsarlag gems from the inmost vaults of Carlos’ warped song reservoir. Strangled, ailing guitar notes, robotussin drumming, fucked child rhymes – the combination all hits home like never before. Warrants endless listens. The B side was actually recorded by me, though I had no idea this was even being released. Documenting one of the bleakest, emptiest Smell shows I’ve ever attended, Carlos painted a slime cross on his forehead, wore a cape but no shirt, and set up a cheap strobe light under his chair for the duration of his 8-minute performance. He busted out some classics (“Bleach Party,” “Beach Banquet”) but it was all recorded on a found tape of home-recorded family conversations so there’s this constant vocal babble masking the nuances and deadening the overall audio impact. Too bad. J-card is killer though, tons of Carlos’ beautiful scrawl-figures copied on thick tennis ball-colored neon green cardstock.

DRUIDS OF HUGE “Ergotism/Pure Hype” (Arbor)

Chi-town area crush trio drop two live sides on this cassingle-packaged tape with a wraparound photocopy of a generic landscape. Sounds like bass, drums, and electronics, but the proceedings are pretty fucking raw, so who knows. The drums definitely sit on top of the rest of the murk, kinda wish they were recorded heavier-sounding rather than so sharp (the snare especially), but maybe in the live setting things gel in the ear better. The noise element seems best when it soaks into the strings’ distortion rather than warping around in outer space sound FX mode or sampling radio voices (which it does occasionally). The B side gets a little speedy for my liking but then it winds down with some nice throbbing nothingness. Though this tape doesn’t really convince me, I still somehow feel like this band probably rules so hopefully a future tape/release (with a more visceral, balanced instrument mix) will drop soonish and seal the deal.

Friday, December 14, 2007

TREETOPS "When I Was Younger" (Arbor)

For a double C10 release on his own label, Mike Pollard's alter ego works with a grey palette of dry groans, shuddering low-stringed resonance and melancholy Casio brooding to create some of the eeriest grainy soundscapes heard in recent memory. Inspired by a lingering fall, the four sides of "When I Was Younger" are reminiscent of those November days that seem more dismal than the oncoming winter. They also share a distant feel; the second side of tape one, "Pure Grey" resembles a chanting chorus of Buddhist monks as heard echoing down a long stone corridor. During "Youth" and "Reconsider," one can imagine listening to an obscure Lynchian soundtrack off an old television set, struck by an uneasy combination of beauty and foreboding. The chilling effect is downright psychosomatic, although having no heat in mid December can help (or more appropriately, hurt). Pollard's artwork is thoughtfully considered, concentrating on nature imagery in a vein similar to Prurient releases from the past. The cover photograph bears an odd symbolism; trees in the background which haven't shed their leaves, a row of circles resembling metal plates suspended in air, a line of triangles which are either prayer flags or a long forgotten decoration from summer days. Snap this up by all means, but watch for the steam on your breath.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

TAIGA REMAINS “Glass Estuary” (Monorail Trespassing)

More stunning, stellar drone-weaving by Students of Decay CEO Alex Cobb. His two sides here are a bit more contained and to-the-point than usual (it’s a C20), but the brevity doesn’t detract from their flying, floating attack on the mind. The A side is a classic Taiga tidepool of tonal levitation and shimmering surfaces, but the B braves harsher terrain, welding together I-beams of radiant distortion at a construction site on the surface of the sun. The volume grows aggressively (which makes you appreciate what a killer dubbing job was done on these tapes, deafening and clear, with no hiss) before finally tailing off in a slow-motion fade to black. As satisfying a drone C20 as you’re likely to find anywhere.

HAUNTED CASTLE / THE DEAD WHITE (Cherried-Out Merch)

I think this tape is pretty old at this point but Dan finally sent us a copy so I’ve only now heard it. Two bands I love, obnoxiously multicolored collage-barf artwork, 31 minutes of droney voids – what’s not to love? The Castle side is a particularly fantastic voyage of percussive mud, event horizon overdrive, and indecipherable echo-filth hieroglyphics, all racing by the window in a holographic parade. Surprisingly well recorded for such a pair of basement lurkers, and full of enough sick twists and turns and tourniquets to keep you re-jamming this side for a number of nights. A real highlight. The Dead White’s side is way more “Noise” than the past few things I’ve heard by him, which is good or bad depending on yr proclivities. Lots of screeching mixer ear-bleed, sine-wave loops, machine rumblings and roars. Sounds like a guy grappling to dig into a deep zone but not breaking through…far removed from the sacred guitar transportation of his “Holy Deprivation” CDR. Hope he keeps recording though, always enjoy hearing new Dead White stabs in the dark.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

DAVID NEWLYN "A Nervous State of Mind" (Abandon Ship Records)

Not knowing much about the relatively new Abandon Ship label, I was thrown off guard by this one by David Newlyn, an artist from Durham, England. "A Nervous State of Mind" is a somewhat misleading title for this collection of decidedly easygoing ambient compositions. Ambient, as in the tradition of Brian Eno's multilayered soundscapes, rather than today's effects laden drones, although the glitches and pops of 1990s-era IDM are present as well. Of the variety of instruments employed throughout the album's nine tracks, guitar, synthesizers and miscellaneous software provide the main structure. However, the compositions flow so seamlessly and share so many similarities that it's difficult to distinguish where one ends and the next begins. Occasionally there are sharper high-pitched tones which cut briefly into the lulling keyboard patterns, less commonly an atonal guitar chord, but this material is focused on traditional harmony and seldom leaves that path. Fans of darker territories might overdose on Newlyn's blatantly optimistic sound, but amateurism isn't one of his faults, as the intricate constructions and flow of every track easily prove. Altogether an interesting release from a promising young label, this c32 comes with a full-color insert. Numbered edition of 100.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

ORPHAN FAIRYTALE “Big Bear” (Puik)

Another neon-silkscreened 1-sided recycled CS of plinky-plonky Casio ping-ponging from the lovely Ms. Fairytale on Jelle Crama’s label. “Big Bear” has been out for a while but it’s as relevant as ever because no Orphan stuff sounds dated cause it’s all spooned from the same bottomless bowl of fantasy porridge. This OF outing is as SK-heavy as ever, but instead of keys the primary audio source is muted drum sounds, which her sampling style transforms into near tribal-levels of polyrhythmic pitter-patter, like a million tennis courts of bouncing balls. Near the end of the A side she does a weird sound FX piece that sounds like someone playing a harp inside a helium balloon floating above a rush-hour freeway. Kinda reminds me of recent weird LPs on Ultra Eczema. Which of course is a good thing.

RATTLE “Drip Drip” (Eager Mother Tapes)

Spend ten minutes with Carlos Gonzalez and it’s no surprise that the dude’s an immediate archetypal perma-tour vagabond cultural underground hero, but it is a little stunning to imagine anyone attempting to mimic his invincibly inscrutable Russian Tsarlag musical persona/approach. Which is why Ryan from Dreamhouse’s Rattle project is kinda surprising, cause it’s pure Gonzalez in form, instrumentation, and mood (though maybe slightly more hyper). Nonsense lyrics rambled over minimalist anti-music – kindergarten drums, 2-dollar guitar, random tape-manipulation jokes/concepts. R Tsarlag regularly elicits a “what’s wrong with this guy?” audience reaction, and Ryan clearly wants the same thing. And he gets it. Pretty positive the A side was recorded at Echo
Curio last December and it sounds just as purposefully meaningless on tape as it did live. J-card looks good though, scrawled art on purple cardstock.

POD BLOTZ "Agents of Froth" (Hung Like a Horse?!)

To set an obvious bias out of the way, I could listen to Pod Blotz for years. If they never release anything else, Soozee and Loachfillet's slimy trails of sci-fi shenanigans will long be remembered as musically and visually unique, and an essential component of California's modern bizarro contingent. So when the new batch from HLAH?! arrived on my dilapidated doorstep I freaked out. Fans of the Blotz will be happy to know that this pre-"Swamp Command" stunner includes nearly an hour of live material from their Chicago and Oakland tenures spanning 2003-2005. At some points spacious and drifting, others anxiously claustrophobic, washes of gurgling synths and mangled cries wrestle with dirty bass frequencies and creeping static throughout the three sprawling performances. The band's hallmark use of echo manipulation for high-pitched squalor is as hallucinatory as ever, and effects box fanatics will find no shortage of indescribable wierdness to baffle over. While a Blotz record makes a perfect accompaniment for an evening of Something Wierd videos, I cannot stress how astounding this band is live, as these sets attest to. Consider it imperative to catch them now while they're ON TOUR. Originally issued in 2006, this second edition of 50 is probably going to disappear quickly, so head on over to the HLAH HQ and snap it up.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

PRURIENT & KEVIN DRUMM "All Are Guests In The House Of The Lord" (Hospital Productions)

Kevin Drumm has been laying low for, like, five years now. Compared to other artists of his age, talent and near-mythic stature, his music is vastly under-documented. In fact, the only truly satisfying, large-scale work he has released since 2002's Sheer Hellish Miasma was 2007's remastered rerelease of Sheer Hellish Miasma. Hopefully, his forthcoming cassette, Purge, on iDEAL can satiate the masses, because All Are Guests In The House Of The Lord does not. In 2007, Drumm release two high-profile collaboration albums with other A-List noise dudes-- this one with Prurient, and the disappointing Gauntlet with Daniel Menche. Both suffer from the same problem: the dominating aesthetic is that of his collaborators and not his own. There is almost nothing recognizable of Drumm on this tape. Presumably, he provided Prurient's Dominic Fernow with the creepy droney pads which sit under Fernow's embarrassingly histrionic vocals. But did he really need to? This sounds just like a Prurient tape-- a little doomier than some of his other stuff, but if I hadn't seen the cover to this tape before I listened to it, I'd have thought it was Fernow solo, no question. I don't mind artists I love playing second fiddle to artists I only kinda like, but if Drumm's going to keep doing collaboration tapes as favors to his friends, where all of his own input sounds completely usurped into the other's style, he needs to at least give his fans a new (solo!) masterpiece every once in a while.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

HORSE HAIR “II” (Hearing Aid)

‘Horse’ has sort of become the new go-to band name animal in recent months (‘wolf’ is finally phasing out it seems) and personally I’m fine with it. Animals are great. Horse Hair is a nebulous Manchester jam gang comprised of Barry Dean of Stuckometer/Hearing Aid plus four other dudes, and I heard something by them earlier in ’07 and I remember liking it but not nearly as much as this eloquent rager. Explosive dual (triple?) guitar kinetics wrapped around restless, compelling percussion propulsion and caked in bristling, atmospheric feedback that grows and thrashes until suddenly the bottom drops out and everything washes up on shore. Fucking great. The B’s a burner too, broken into two parts…overall they’re more drone-driven, with almost sitar-style guitar navigations pitted against warm humming and clattery, rhythmic drumming and lost, open air prayer singing. A really solid pile of psych styles that I’d dig hearing more of. In a classic Hearing Aid swank sewn cloth pocket with a typewritten fabric tag/label.

KITES “Drogue Chute” (Unskilled Labor)

CF’s private Kites tapes always explore a more roundabout/random terrain than his Load full-lengths, and “Drogue Chute” is no exception. Here he delves deep into two sides of overt sound FX worship – stereo-panned zoner drone tones, squiggly synthesizer bubbles, phased mixer blurts, and some tape-looped gong/bell sounds chiming in infinity. The combo is simultaneously goofy and great, like a classic 60s sci-fi soundtrack or something, a weird-haired cyberpunk in a sleeveless lab coat cooking up vials of extraterrestrial matter in an underground bunker. The vocals at the start of side B are hilarious/hardcore, total dying robot slave monologue against a coiling cacophony of blinking lights and operational spaceship technocracy. Very outer space via inner space. Overall, an appealing private trancer. Stellar CF art/layout too.

HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE "Oktoberfest" (Deception Island)

Prankster noise, particularly of the kind that references Top-40, is almost by definition not classy. If the movie Amadeus taught us anything though, it is that manners aren't always found at the heights of human accomplishment. In fact, a complete lack of manners and passion for the crude may be at the center of genius. Who has not heard of the asshole-genius before? And don't all American's love Andy Kaufman by this point? But when it comes to noise, anything with a sample of Paris Hilton turning into a harsh wall of fuck-you is typically chocked up to being some amateurish bedroom project by a 15 year old living in the middle of nowhere, a place that culture has obviously not reached. Well, perhaps Hot Air Balloon Ride will happen change this stereotype and bring noise up to the same wider expectations of American cinema. Beginning with a pitch-shifted baseball game announcement, Oktoberfest shows no signs of being more than dicking around for just long enough to be worrisome. It is at that point, when you start wondering if just how long this nonsense will go on, that a rich, high fidelity, curtain of digital sounds is dropped and a your eyes open wide. While the change from dumb sample to intense noise is nothing new, the complete lack of "fuck you" attitude on this tape makes the experience more than brand new. It makes it classy. So by the time that the Stone Temple Pilots samples begin, one doesn't find themselves listening to a dumb joke, but rather just accepting sound as sound. Only the quality of assembly matters, and here the energy remains at perfect pitch throughout its 30 min. This tape is refreshing and groundbreaking. Band and label having associations to the Emeralds/Beemask/newyoungOHIO camp means that something beyond accidentally hip sounds is happening out there. The future of noise and cassettes will largely be defined by these folks.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

TRASH DOG “Garbage Eater” (Virus)

Hideous new Iowa City “mongrol core” project from Jeff Witscher, Daren Ho, and Ryan Garbage that sounds like the logical next step in Jeff’s vision/masterplan of playing in an actual hardcore band that gets babes after their shows rather than just scum crew alley loitering. Of course, it’s not a total departure or anything, the songs are still piles of deafening filth but in TD everybody actually bothers playing their instrument (instead of just kicking it against the concrete in a frenzy of hate, Deep Jew-style). “Garbage Eater” has a whole lot of recognizable riffs with legitimate chords, real drum beats, vocals with lyrics (rather than just Alex’s vile primal screaming). Being a Witscher production, it’s still recorded like complete shit with feedback bleeding out of every sweaty pore, but where DJ were so violently punk they broke through the wall into harsh noise, Trash Dog is more of a middle ground rager’s aesthetic. Basically it’s a gross punk band playing gross punk songs with titles like “Punks and Cops” and “Pig Leash.” It’s only a C12 so it’s over pretty quick, but the J-card has plenty of hilarious Witscher slogans like “dreaming of far away/swamps with pizza and/candy” and “dedicated to deviant scrum.” Totally worth grabbing, and there’ll be more from this posse soon I’m sure.

BROMP TREB “Audio-Visual Cassette” (Yeay! Cassettes)

Predictably maddening brain-scrambled rectal messes from this resolutely incoherent Massachusetts weirdo squad. Farting, squiggly electronics (in the Crank Sturgeon mold), chopped/screwed patches of wacko drum programming, and inane/insane alien rap experiments (that sorta echo certain Need New Body tracks I’ve heard) all soldered together into a relentlessly goofy C26 chain letter of dangling randomness. Can say with all honesty I can’t ever foresee circumstances leading me to put this thing back in the deck for a second play, but I guess if yr feeling deprived of the sound of Smurfs being choked to death in a neon bouncy castle, then this’ll be your go-to jam. The art is a photocopy of a basic Maxell-style advertorial J-card with Bromp Treb info typed on top, kinda like those pop-punk bands that re-appropriate the Snickers or Pringles logo/font for their album art or Vans Warped Tour t-shirt.

Monday, November 26, 2007

BRUTUM FULMEN "1000 Suns" (Throne Heap)

"I had my back to the blast, my fists shoved into my eyes. At the moment of detonation there was a flash. At that instant I was able to see straight through my hands."

Brutum Fulmen's first above-ground effort appeared in 2002 with the full-length "Blood of the Moon" CD and more recently the band appeared on RRRecords' "New England" 5 LP box set. It looks as if the band was on hiatus for a while, but thankfully they're back with this gem on Throne Heap and an interesting departure from the group's usual style. A self-described "impressionist audio drama," "1000 Suns" resembles at first glance the kind of soundtrack which might have been played at Halloween parties a few decades ago, or the audio from a 1940s public safety announcement. Reading the list of "instruments" present on this release almost makes it sound like a regular special effects record: "rusty music box, spring night creatures, breaking lake ice, 'fiddle trees' rubbing," etc. I'm definitely missing that volume in the library, if anyone finds it. But as the grand tradition of tape manipulating cut-and-pasters has continuously shown (and BF isn't exactly a small fish in this area), how one ties these elements together makes all the difference. Brutum Fulmen's sound is as far from kitschy and random "weird for weirdness' sake" as you can get. Rather, "1000 Suns" is an intriguing construction of voiceovers, warm minimal tones and obscure sound sources that weaves a narrative of an ominous and paranoid reality. The binding element is a chain of World War II era eyewitness reports of nuclear testing, read by a monotone parade of scientists and soldiers. Most of these accounts are bizarrely horrific, like the quote above. Once these voices begin reporting, accompanied by deep rumbling and subliminally jarring creaks and moans, your attention stays captive until the side is over. What makes "1000 Suns" so haunting is its power in mirroring the spoken word with an emotional response in sound. When the speech is purely scientific, deep oscillations erupt like plumes of smoke from an industrial laboratory. During another segment describing parties being held to watch a rainbow-like nuclear aurora, the music takes on a cold and melancholy beauty. Whereas others might have interpreted this subject matter with blatant violence, Brutum Fulmen employs suggestion and subtlety. The second side of the release offers another methodology of construction, including about fifteen different types of tape degradation involving the original recording on side A. The contrasts are interesting, and it easily holds its own against similar examples of cassette abuse in this genre. But regardless of the insanely complex tape destruction it doesn't quite hold the attention in the same way the first version excels. I've found myself returning to side A about fifteen times now, and although it' s one of the weirdest (maybe uncharacteristic?) Throne Heap releases it's certainly one of the finest and accomplished. The case includes a sweet black silkscreen on brown craft paper that works swell with the "goverment issued" theme. I'm just sorry that it took me so long to write about, and I sincerely hope this one stays in print for a while. RECOMMENDED!

Brutum Fulmen's website: http://www.noisician.com/
Throne Heap's website: http://www.throneheap.com/

Sunday, November 25, 2007

JAMES FELLA "D888" (JK Tapes)

Tempe, AZ based artist James Fella has been releasing a steady output on his own Gilgongo Records imprint for a while. This time, the offering emerges from the eternally paint-gooped Illinois leviathan JK Tapes. The whole of "D888" only runs to 10 minutes, which means more temptation for multiple plays just to try and solve the puzzle of "what is it?" After meticulous research and consultation with Fella's generous liner notes, it makes sense on paper but is still hairy on the ears. The sound sources- guitars, loops, microphones- have little to do with the outcome here. Tape music, in the traditional sense, seldom has much to do with an original performance as much as the sequence of events which transform it into an entirely new work. The content of "D888" lies in this tradition of taking live material and through tape manipulation, processing and remixing, conceiving an entirely different sound which cannot be performed live. Not a new idea by any means, but it still sounds damn fine. The mix comes through chunky and loud, stuttering and hissing like a dying amplifier (fittingly, one track is described "broken speaker sounds") but racing through ideas and textures at a steady pace. Live mixing on some segments blurs the distinction between mixtape and musique concrete. It's rude, inconsistent and perfect. The painstakingly constructed but amorphous sound on "D888" sums up what I love about cassette music. The effort put into its packaging (two-tone spraypainted tape, gunked-up jewel case, confounding neon symbolism) is why I love cassette releases. No doubt this has been sold out since before it was made, so you might find more success in clamoring for whatever *is* available from these sources:
http://www.gilgongorecords.com/
http://www.jktapes.com/

Saturday, November 24, 2007

DROWNER YELLOW SWANS (Tape Room)

Fucking impressive. Yet another mesmerizing and masterful set of sprawling new songs from the boundless Pete/Gabe union. Most who’ve heard the latest Y Swans Load opus, "At All Ends," haven’t hesitated in declaring it perhaps the crown achievement of their already no-filler discographical career. But "Drowner" is easily up there with it, at the caliber/strata of poetic mood sculptures like "Deterioration" and "Descension," eloquent guitar mantras, shifting clouds of reverb tape loops, weighted drones levitating in a harmonic sphere. Some B side passages boil with the vein of blistering, blinding noise that used to more frequently be considered their forte, but the bulk of Drowner’s 62 minutes are given to rippling waves of charged communal ambience and pensive, psychedelic undertow. Phenomenal, and worthy of an instant reissue.

UNEVEN UNIVERSE “Weighted Ghost” (Excitebike Tapes)

Epic C20 of doomy sax-scapes by EXBX main man Dan “Dude” Dlugosielski’s new horn-blast beast project. Both sides are stripped, ripped, and tripped out. Enough echo and grey reverb to satisfy even the most red-eyed of psychic upsetters. Less loops than the “Privacy Vol. 1” CS but no less sprawling and hypnotic. Sick skull-on-vellum dual-layer J-cards, nice tape labels, and a quality dubbing job all work together to elevate this tape’s status to the “keep permanently out on the mantle next to the voodoo candle and “Don’t Mess With Texas” ashtray” tier of crucial objects perched in any great free-soul hound’s dimly lit apartment.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

SWANOX / SCRAPS OF DOGS "untitled" (Caligulan)

Never heard or even heard of either of these bands before so here goes: Swanox does slow-picked guitar against heavy stalker breathing and absently tapped tambourine, real miserable and disturbing. It probably wouldn’t work as well as it does if the guitar notes weren’t played with such hypnotic depression…but they really spiral into yr brain, and then this heavy bass rumble plummets on to the scene deep in the track, which seals the wasted alchemy for me at least. Points too for calling yr song “Forests of Pluto” like a real maniac. Scraps of Dogs puke in a different kennel, more indistinct and recorded down the hall and lapsing in and out of consciousness. Blurry, roiling noise with some occasional keyboardtones poking through the haze. Not bad, but not too memorable either. Tape looks killer though, Caligulan puts a lot of effort into every packaging detail and it makes a world of difference in this underground era of flimsy Photoshop J-cards and thoughtless spraypaint.

16 BITCH PILE-UP “Seeping Reaper” (Hung Like A Horse?!)

These ladies have been burying strangers and magnetic tape deep in their cavernous industrial lair for years now and their cathartic predatory improv mode still freewheels leagues above the limbs of lesser drone broods, so it was great news/fortune to have this hot pink C60 show up one day. HLAH?! has a habit of sitting on material for years before releasing it, which could be construed as frustrating for some but in this case the delay transformed a basic raw noise document into a semi-crucial historical artifact, as both sides here showcase the original and long-dead 16 BPU pentagrammic five-piece line-up in action. What’s strangest is that despite the extra players the sound is almost sparser than the current trio formation, with tape crawl and metallic creaks ringing inside basements of negative space. The A side is swampier, swelling with gross heat and green-eyed drone bog, recorded live in Columbus, OH in ’05, while the B was tracked at the Flywheel in West Mass the same year, though it’s far bleaker and emptier…sampled voices echo against numb banks of hiss and silence. Weird stuff, and comes with a classic killer cover of deranged faces getting knifed repeatedly. More freaky bloodletting from the Bitch Pile.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

DEEP JEW “Find a Way” (Callow God)

More classic end-of-the-world thrash filth from this undead cum screw. No matter how many buckets/C15s of this shit you fill up, it’s still potently wretched and hostile and not-for-you. The A side sounds like a homicidal harsh noise teenager, pure devouring screech, no flicker of deliberate motion or thought. This is the first Deep Jew recording I’ve heard that actually doesn’t sound like Deep Jew. Some might appreciate this fact. I like the B better, a miserable head-over-heels fall down concrete stairs into a cellar of dead rats. Drums and broken guitars pushed far past the breaking point. For a second you can catch a snippet of Alex say something about fixing cables but then the riot re-erupts. Good stuff. Endless, meaningless, merciless.

UNEVEN UNIVERSE “Privacy Vol. 1” (no label)

Dan from EXBX Tapes/Haunted Castle semi-recently scored a saxophone and shit’s not ever gonna be the same. While HC lays low for a bit, Uneven Universe floats up from the ratty basement in a cloud of looping sax blurts and claustrophobic horn noise, not unlike fellow Michigander brass-abusers Slither. But Uneven Universe’s creep-scapes are way less free jazzy and way more private tarpit meditations, bleeding into ragged sections and then diffusing back into separate saxo-tone groans. Long, hairy jams that don’t leave the house for weeks at a time and trace smoggy constellations on the asbestos ceiling rot. A new no man’s land for old ragers.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

OUT THERE DUDES “Black Spot On Jupiter” (no label)

Another stone thrown into the bottomless depths of a black hole by this fried Ohio twosome. Of the 2 Out There Dudes tapes I’ve had the privilege of investigating, this is the more “ambient” of the pair, almost verging on Son Of Earth-style glacial narcolepsy. Like a tape recorder left ON and then jettisoned into space on an orbit around the dark side of Pluto. Slow-motion isolation, lightless drift, cold as fuck. Bleak planetary free-wheeling for drug addicts and mummified astronauts. Great passages into the sound of passing out to the rhythm of yr own no-gravity heartbeat. Track this down and lie down for good.

CJA / SMOKEHOUSE “Whisky & Freedom” (Abandon Ship)

Another entry in prolific NZ strangeling Clayton Noone’s bottomless lexicon of side projects and sideways psych glances, this time from his CJA alias. Confessional guitar ballads, dead space, and gravedigger rock and roll minimalism collide in a slow-burn fashion that feels deceptively traditional until you allow it to seep in for a spell and work its odd charms on yr bones/brain. Basically he strums a couple chords over and over and louder and louder and weirder until you realize there’s sometimes even lyrics being mumbled in the din and so you look at the song title at it says “Let Her Go” and you go, “Whoa.” Serious shit. But then you look at another song title and it says “Vegemite Eggs on Toast” and you go, “Oh, what a Men At Work down under jokester!” The truth lies somewhere between the two. Pick your own path through this stuff. There’s a picture of a rusted truck on the cover if that helps explain anything.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

KNIFIGHT / BLACK SANTA "untitled" (no label)

Mysterious no-label split tape between two bands I’ve never even heard the names of. The Knifight side halfway reminds me of super early Yellow Swans CDRs, roiling in that purgatorial turf between industrial, noise, and ambient. The main difference is the violent, looping black metal growl-vocals careening back and forth in the speakers, which at first threaten to overshadow everything else but eventually back off until they’re just another instrument, pitching about in the negative energy along with the drum machine pulses and stuttering feedback blasts. Pretty cool overall (except for this one sample of some Hitlerian dictator orating that pops up in the middle), and would definitely appeal to a solid faction of Cassette Gods readers I bet. But it’s the Black Santa side that hits deeper for me for some reason. A real bedroom horror movie of stalker bass riffing, slaughtered shrieks, plodding doom grooves, metal brooding, bad vibes, etc, all executed in a really raw, DIY “heavy” way that’s sort of in the ballpark of Sasqrotch or something. The distortion vocals could be scaled back a bit, but that’s nitpicking. Both dudes/bands should definitely soldier on though, there’s promise here.

SUDDEN INFANT “Dark Sperm” (Teenage Whore Tapes)

Having seen the Sudden Infant name pop up on hundreds of harsh noise tours and proceedings amidst presumably like-minded artists with names like Filthy Turd and Bubblegum Shitface, I was fairly apprehensive about a C30 called "Dark Sperm" with a drawing of an ailing fetus on the cover. But hey, books, covers, the judging thereof…I learned that lesson a long time ago. Which is good, cause this tape is a solid spin. The opener, “Eye Box,” is almost like a punk/no-wave song, with really tight riff-blasts of noise punctuated by high pitch shriek-stabs. Totally focused and un-random and more overtly musical than a lot of noise stuff floating around MySpace. The other 2 A-side pieces move into a more trad “sputtering junk/walls of distortion” noise realm, but they still seem controlled and deliberate in a way I can dig. The B kicks off with “Varicose Vienna,” which lurches with Industrial clang and reverb wreckage in a cool Neubauten mode, before morphing into various other savaged landscapes. Despite the darkness of the sperm at hand, there’s a lot of shades and subtleties Sudden Infant’s world. It’s much appreciated.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

CHANGELING “Primeval Breath” (Twonicorn)

Chief Changer Tatum recorded these two sides right at the dawn of his project, mere months after “Light Cones” and the aborted Spiral Jetty venture. So naturally these outings sound slightly more tentative and abridged than his current forays into bummed bedroom headphone voids. But really that’s just splitting hairs, cause both tracks here carry the same fog-walking power and memory bloodletting of later statements like “The Truth of the Blossom” and “Five Hundred Nights.” The A is pure sleep paralysis echo, sweeping into a slow lonely comedown, while the B piece is even hazier, with less melody and more cloud tapestry latticework. Too bad it took Twonicorn 17 months to release this C20, but at least it’s finally available. An illuminating early stepping stone in the evolving Changeling saga.

OUT THERE DUDES "untitled" (no label)

Dudes from Ohio trek into some gonzo voids on this vague chunk of no-fi wanderlust. Recording has a really distant quality to it, like they set down a mic on the ground 40 yards away and then faced their amps in the other direction and just jammed. Reverbed drones mesh with blind bass chug and mossy machine movements. Lots of OM zones to wobble your head within. Kinda reminds me of Virgin Eye Blood Brothers in their unflinchingly numb (but literal) approach to sleepwalk psych-stumble. Even after 3 listens I’m useless to drop a more accurate description than “out there.” A fresh Midwest mystery. Hit up Tom Derwent if yr intrigued.

Monday, November 5, 2007

WIDENING HORIZON "S/T" (Arbor/ JK Tapes)

Widening Horizon is the brainchild of two Illinoisians Mike P. (of Arbor) and Peter F. (of JK Tapes), and since they both run labels it was bound to be a co-release. Icy torrents of feedback sludge, greasy cymbal clattering and alien voices emananting from subterranean tunnels are held together with an odd lack of progression as if frozen in time for scientific viewing. Even so, the sound seems bursting forth from the cassette, as if a simple plastic shell might not be strong enough to hold back such a chaotic expanse. This thing shrieks, and I hope at least one knowledgable ghoul had it on deck at Halloween this year. The stellar design packs full-color nature collages onto every surface, just to remind the unintuitive where these guys are coming from. The bad news: the edition of 40 has, of course, long sold out. The good news: there are (apparently) more on the way in this promising series. Another solid release from two great midwest labels.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

LOCRIAN / DALETH Split (No Label)

I wasn't sure what to expect of this split but was impressed with the packaging, which included a white letter-pressed wraparound cover and a cool as shit Locrian button. Buttons, if you didn't already know, are a surefire way to get on the good side of tape reviewers. Locrian is a Chi-town duo consisting of (Terence) Hannum and A. Foisy, and their offering "Visible/ Invisible" is a slowly drifting haze powered by e-bowed guitar and shimmering melodica (or harmonica?). The guitar takes precedence over the last half of the track but overall this stays a minimal affair, which works to its benefit. Daleth's "We Will Live Forever" starts out with dueling guitars plucking a somber reverb-drenched melody before drums pick up and plow the whole thing into a riffage fest. It ain't easy to assemble a one-man band on an 8-track and keep everything in sync, but J. Merrill is credited for everything on here and plays the part admirably. I'm no expert on this type of stuff, but if I were to say "Florida-style Hydra Head band sans vocals" you might get an approximation. No contact info on here other than emails, so here ya go:
Locrian- locriannoise@gmail.com
Daleth- asthmatics@hotmail.com

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

MARBLE SKY "The Sad Return" (Callow God)

Released in a private edition of 15 copies, this ambient tape by Jeff Witscher (Deep Jew/Impregnable/Secret Abuse) will never fall into any of your eager little hands. Nope. It's only for fancy pants people. That's why it's a private edition. It's so limited, in fact, that this review is the closest you'll ever get to this tape. I have it, which means that my cassette collection is better than all of yours, and therefore, I am a better collector than everyone reading this. I won't even tell you what it sounds like. That would ruin the mystery. But I will say that it is exquisite. Pure auditory bliss. Can you picture the self satisfied smile on my face as I sit in my bedroom listening to it over and over again, caressing the beautifully printed j-card, reading and rereading the poetic track titles to myself? It's so good that I hope it gets rereleased on vinyl, but that would make the whole thing so much less special.

Monday, October 29, 2007

AT JENNIE RITCHIE / VERTONEN "Time: Or Fractal Waves Of Increasing Novelty / Soilure" (BOC Sound Laboratories)

The Vertonen side sounds like Vertonen. It's fine. I grabbed this tape from the box of promos sent to Cassette Gods because I have enjoyed his work in the past and follow his record label, Crippled Intellect Productions. His piece is a three part suite of droney modular synth work. As usual, Vertonen uses nice sounds, but in this case, the tape sounds too typical, like he's just cruising through outer space on auto-pilot. The other side, though, blew me away completely. The A side is by At Jennie Ritchie, a project previously unfamiliar to me. It is a daring little tape for a noise artist to put out. Carefully placed in a sea of long silences, faint pops and cracles appear, sounding almost like noise from a bad cable or some other type of equipment malfunction. For fans of Radu Malfatti, Taku Sugimoto and the Wandelweiser composers who feel that contemporary music is far too active, too chatty. I will definitely be keeping my eyes peeled for further releases by this group/artist.

PRIVY SEALS "Means Nothing" (Ekhein)

This tape, released in a very limited quantity for his east coast tour with God Willing and Work/Death, is, in my opinion, the best work we have yet heard from Matt Sullivan's Privy Seals project. Except for perhaps, "Tacit," the infamous double c30, whose tapes were designed to be played at the same time on two different cassette decks, this best represents Sullivan's dedication to recording as a practice separate from playing live. Most noise producers churn out tape after tape of music that is, essentially, identical to what you might hear if you were to see them perform. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that, and there's a lot of skill required in producing live what one produces in their bedroom under "ideal" conditions. However, it takes a certain artistic seriousness to carefully examine what methods work in each context and what a person can expect from their audience at a show and from their audience at home in front of their stereo. "Means Nothing" is much more patient than a Privy Seals performance. It contains no screaming or choking or gear throwing. Each side is a long, slowly changing crumble. Far from harsh, yet it is not without its tense aggression. It sounds almost like a small avalanche that lasts forty minutes. A flat landscape, burnt black by some mysterious disaster-- the aftermath of Harsh Noise.

Friday, October 26, 2007

FOSSILS “Dug” (Middle James Co.)

More murky malarkey from these OCD Ontario ontologists. “Dug” captures five summer live sets, two recorded in Michigan and three in Canada. Live, Fossils exhume a dryer corpse…there’s more air, open drift zones, brittle amp crackling, even some recognizable horns float up outta the noise-crawl quicksand. For some reason the proceedings sound less stoned/disorienting than their home-tracked stuff, which is either good or bad, depending on what kinda freak you are. I dig “Dug” though. Especially when the MC goes “And now, please give a warm rock action welcome to…..FOSSILS!!!” and like four mellow friends clap their hands. A solid C60/documentary of ancient junk mud oozing on microphones.

Friday, October 19, 2007

CHURCHBURNERS / DBH / HAND ME DOWN SATELLITES / JOHN THILL (Green Tape)

Fat double cassette of bizarre folk outsiders on the headquarters of middle America insanity, Green Tape. Churchburners, like always, do whatever the hell they feel like, shunning all expectations of aesthetic continuity. Song titles range from “Sluts Fucking Suck” to “Fucking is for Fuckers” and song-styles range from kazoo beat-boxing to psych-ward acoustic sing-alongs. Only for the very, very brave. Next up is DBH which, unfortunately, is an acronym for Diameter at Breast Height. Musically this translates to raw group puke overloaded with horns, beer cans being popped open, no-fi percussive splatter, etc. The first track was recorded at the 2007 International Noise Conference, but the others were all laid down in
Bloomington, IN. Somehow the home-recorded songs are 90 million times worse-sounding, blown out to the degree that they sound like nothing...in-the-red anti-music or vague erratic clatter. Baffling in a way perhaps best described as “Textbook Green Tape Fuck You-isms.” Tape 2 starts with HMDS (Hand Me Down Satellites), who I’ve never heard of before and may never again. But I hope I do, cause this is my favorite side here. Intimate warm keyboard hieroglyphics (plus occasional guitar) weaving back and forth in pleasing melody patterns…pools of glowing drones offset by sharper tonal warblings and pitter-patter drum machine rhythms. Like K Records Kraftwerk or something. Unexpected! Ex-Quem Quaeritis-ite and full-time folk loon John Thill closes the collection with six simple folk songs driven by linear narratives, basic chords, and verse/chorus arrangements. Live he likes to strip and have nervous breakdowns but here it’s just singer/songwriter 101 stuff. As plain as day.

FOSSILS “Zombie Mystic” (Middle James Co.)

Brain-feeding mania from this tirelessly prolific Canuck weirdo duo/trio. Not even the most delusionally obsessive fan could map/fathom every permutation in the Fossils discography, there’s just way too much there. So, that said, don’t know where in the trajectory “Zombie Mystic” is situated, but it seems fairly representative of their overall no-mind, gonzo-fi, mixer-breathing marathon special FX generation. Nearly everything sounds pitch-shifted and tape-speed-manipulated, so essentially nothing’s identifiable as a human-world “instrument” as such, but that’s basically the point. Farting metal, resonant echoes, stretch-marked hallucinations…the Hamilton, Ontario retreat from reality continues, unabated, over the endless 90 minutes of this drool-quest. With trash art in a plastic bag.

ELEPHANT KISS "Introduce: Red Cat, Green" (JK Tapes)



So this is kind of the best avant-twee record since Weirdo/Begeirdo broke up. It’s cute and energetic, but with lots of random twiddles, gameboy blips and off-beat drum machine drops. Perhaps you’ll be overwhelmed by the preciousness of this release, but that’d be the wrong move dude. Haven’t you heard ADORABLE is the new “sociopathically ironic.” It’s all about cute pictures in the park and making out in ball pits now instead of pretending to like Hummers and all aspects of corporate infrastructure. Happy meals on the other hand are still in because they are both corporate and cute. So basically this is the coolest band around because they are so ahead of the game on friendship bracelets and being in love. Unfortunately no one knows this yet except for me and maybe the guy from JK Tapes…Um, yeah. So…I really do like this tape, it’s a good combination of random blips and saccharine pop – I mean that in a good way…somehow. Fun like the Special Olympics, but arty like uh...Art School?

THINKING FELLERS (UNION LOCAL #282) "Wormed By Leonard" (Thwart)



Ahem, remember me? Yeah, I write for this blog too. Where have I been? Drinking myself dumb, walking aimlessly around my neighborhood much to the chagrin of old women with small dogs who glare at me as I pass. So I decided maybe I should write some tape reviews tonight since I’ve become infinitely frustrated with a song I’ve now recorded upwards of thirty times. And no it wasn’t even the song I’m supposed to finish for the editor of said blog, Mr. Miller. And I probably should record that track, especially since he has been kind enough to offer his residence up for my record release show. By the way Brian, I am 95% sure that Charlie McAlister will be playing that night too. That’s pretty cool right? He moved to L.A. Maybe Peter Moran can give him a job…So why break my silence. I guess it has to do with a crazy tape, which I found at The Smell in downtown Los Angeles in the “mix tape trade” shelf. I was kind of a bastard and didn’t follow the instructions, i.e. I didn’t replace the tape I took with one of my own. (I will later, I swear). Anyway, so what I grabbed was a Thinking Fellers tape dating back to 1988. It’s a quintessential example of Bay Area black-light weirdness mixed up with some South East Asian percussion vibes. On previous listens to Thinking Fellers records I couldn’t quite see what the point was, but this record speaks in a language of garbled gobbledygook that I can understand. The closest thing to straightforward on this record is a stream of conscious free rock rant about walking dogs. In other places it seems like they proceed Amps for Christ in their patented game of melding slabs of noise with folk songs. It’s hard to not get sucked into the hazy guitar meanderings of “Oregon Trail” only to have all well-being dissolved by the jerky treble blasting “Misfits Park.” Each new direction and idea seems effortless and you end up desperately confused. I guess what all this means is that when I replace this tape with another on the mix tape rack at The Smell, it will be unlikely that the recompense will be half as intriguing.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

BODY COLLECTOR "Blood Worship" (ESR)

This Body Collector release has been sitting on my "to review" stack for a while, and I thought for sure that Epicene Sound would have sold out of it by now. Lo, according to the ESR catalog there are still copies to be had by a lucky few. Body Collector is the solo guise of Khristopher from Royal Oak, Michigan's own chain thrashers Villa Valley, and though "Blood Worship" isn't a far cry from the duo's work it will sate your average appetite for destruction. "Incessant Sciolism" is a satisfying mix of thunderous walls, hiss and furious scrap metal lashings. Oddly enough a snippet of a jazz recording barely forces its way into the mix, perhaps to add a layer of confusion or just to illustrate the vacuum-like power of noise, sucking in all other sound and all the light. The B-side "Dead Lord" takes a while to catch the same inertia, focusing solely on contact mics and metal before a dog barks and a low rumbling overwhelms the speakers. Then on back to that distorted, horrid mess you love (well, I do anyway). "Tempered in blood and tempered by lightning" as a dead Man once said. Nice cover design as per usual with this label, in color (red, naturally) on matte paper.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

NATARAJA "Venetian Blinds" (JK Tapes)

Nataraja is comprised of Travis Shelton (Warmer Milks) on guitar and electronics and Thad Watson on bass and percussion. "Venetian Blinds" runs the entire A side and it's a slow moving ambient cruiser chock full of rumbling low-string strums and sparse cymbals accompanying. Over the course of half this c30 the drums become slightly more prominent and the guitar builds in intensity and teeters on the verge of feedback, all the while maintaining a meditative feel. "Reservoir" kicks off the second half with more bass-heavy wistful psych strumming, but fast forward to the closer "Circadian Rhythm" which focuses on (presumably) Watson's percussion, still minimal but rhythmically free, dosed with reverb and delay and recorded loud enuff to be as thoroughly psychedelic as the guitar-fronted tracks. Most side projects are doomed to be left in half-explored adolescence, so I'll keep suggestions for the future brief: Nataraja offers some likeable material, but if the band could find a way to combine the two different modes offered on this platter the overall effect would increase tenfold. The color artwork (as showcased on many classy'n'trashy JK gems) reminds me of Maya Miller's illus' somewhat, difficult to describe other than psychologically inebriating.
http://www.jktapes.tk/
http://www.jktapes.com/

ALTAR OF FLIES "Kill the Lights" (ESR)

More from prolific Swedish artist Mattias Gustafsson. "Kill the Lights" has a little bit of everything in the Altar of Flies repertoire: minimal buzzing and drone, chaotic dark distortion and pulsating bass. The best section on side A, which unfortunately cuts off at the end of the reel, is a layered work with a spastic, screeching oscillator of some sort (I've been wrong about these things before) over a clouded bank of...something. Side B shows a fiercer side of what could be the same instrument with a liberal dose of mutilated distortion, then slows to a series of low-end waves contrasted with minimal high pitched circuit abuse, not entirely dissimilar to Hive Mind's recent output. The c30 format gives plenty of space for Gustafsson to experiment with a wide variety of techniques and styles, some harsh and some reserved, and it's obvious that he's learned ways to pace a recording by now. "Kill the Lights" is a well-produced recording and all of the individual elements are audible even if the overall volume is somewhat low. The insert is full-color on a nice glossy stock. Fans of synth-based noise would do well to check out this artist.

BURNT HILLS “Under the Weather” (Throne Heap)

urnt This is the first music missive I’ve heard from this upstate NY drum/freak-out army, and to my ears it functions a lot like a Gang Wizard or Big Nurse assault. Which is to say: if yr in the mood to hear too many drummers and guitarists all try to shred along to the same ragged sliver of a “song,” this will burn yr mind into molten brain. But if yr looking for some semblance of shape or coherence or purpose, this sounds like a pile of bearded slop. “Under the Weather” is a live recording from 2/07, and maybe that explains the total lack of group jam dynamics apparent in the audio (real-time shows are a bitch to capture properly). But I’m sure bearing to witness to this kinda mass frenzy is a blast, and would convert me far faster than a raw C22, and I’m definitely curious to hear something slightly more deliberate from the Hills (I think I read they have a Qbico LP en route?). Also worth mentioning: definitely another winner packaging-wise from the always immaculate Throne Heap factory – a fried abstract silver silkscreened J-card on thick textured dirt-brown paper.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

AJILVSGA “Thorazine to Infinity” (Peasant Magik)

Another spool of fried magnetic tape by the Rose/Young Oklahoma guitar-corral duo, and this one’s got a killer exterior – exquisite black-on-black silkscreened art-paper slipcover plus a graphically designed J-card. Sound-wise, this is probably the lightest I’ve heard Ajilvsga be, buoyed up by loopy FX, soft-stumbling percussion, and gently jittery tinkering. Drifts by in a dazed-out fashion, which is fine, though the label description of “Soundtrack to a Cretaceous Period Apocalypse” and song titles like “I Am Your Charred Remains” and “Asphixiation” (sic) don’t really jive with the chill, sparse, unhurried, non-ominous jams they’re referring to. A more apt CS title might’ve been “Mood-Stabilizer to Infinity.” But medication specificity notwithstanding, it’s a pleasant enough excursion off the Ajilvsga heavy beaten path.

SOCIAL JUNK / KRAKEN FURY (Husk Records)

Rough-and-tumble C40 by these two Southern death cult units that free-ranges from robotic lurch passages to banshee shriek electronics to cold computer numbness. Like a lot of Southern noise crews/projects of late, SJ and KF are both way too rambling and vibe-gambling to get pegged to any particular genre, and that’s obviously for the best. Social Junk’s side, in particular, is a totally puke-soaked rubik’s cube of outsider modes, morphing and brawling through radically different labyrinths of overdriven impulses, abused machines, and weird feelings. Aggressively unique with an intensity that’s either painful or the exact reason why they rule. Flip a coin. Kraken Fury I’ve never heard before, but their untitled piece of this puzzle is a pleasant enough practice space meditation with slow-walking bass lines, stutter drumming, guitar noodling, and some backwards-looping mist in the corners. Doesn’t seem too hell-bent on accomplishing anything, but that’s no crime. Kinda jazzy with a relaxed, “killing time” chill-out mood. Definitely no fury here, whether Kraken-esque or otherwise.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

COBRA BUBBLES "untitled" (Teenage Whore Tapes)

Further evidence that Robin Williams on Fire is as much Harry Pussy as they are XBXRX comes from this RWOF-related project. Dylan plays two things at once, but it is hard to say exactly what either of those are in this signal-cancellation heaven. It is likely that Mikey, the other half of this duo, also plays two things at once. The dense interplay of punkussion, rocker blurps, and tweeker queefs is usually ecstatic, often monumental, but never forgets to breath... although it hardly ever has to. Both sides begin at full speed. This is the natural pace for Cobra Bubbles. When the duo decides to take a whole note simultaneously, the breakneck speed is instantly recharged. While being sincerely wigged-out requires some sort of ramping/earning phase for most, here is one of those beautiful and youthful rarities that is all explosion and no fuse.

CRANK STURGEON "Bark King Haggard" (Barfing Dagger Recordings)

Crank Sturgeon answered a cry from us Cassette Gods, even if we didn't know that we had made it! With all the talk about the role of fidelity (especially my own obsession with lo-fidelity) Crank Sturgeon was inspired to send us what he implies is his own murky masterpiece. Do I consider it a masterpiece myself? Of course. What else would I think when someone makes it a point to appeal directly to my personal taste? Well, maybe I'm being a little facetious. Here is the deal though: these are sounds as insistent as a stubborn child trying to force a square peg through a round hole. An insistence that manifests from the signature Crank Sturgeon sense of pace and editing; constantly shifting viewpoints, but always focused on the same well chosen group of timbres. The vocal-heavy moments of this cassette are somewhere between Popeye ramblings and a terrible case of OCD. Lyrics that make it through seem to be something like, "You can't be friends with my girlfriend," and other magical insecurities. Don't be misled though, this is music about being a child or at least how terribly childish we all actually are; not childish music. Masterful for the reasons that matter (you know, musical ones), not because Crank Sturgeon flattered my childish ego. It is always a wonder when someone can make music about being a fool without becoming a complete comedy act. I believe it is ok to laugh when enjoying CS music though.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

AXOLOTL “Plane of Partials” (Fuck It Tapes)

Predictably mesmerizing and sublime patchwork of drifting vision fog from Karl Bauer’s faultless violin/electronics alias. Hard stuff to describe, and even harder stuff to stop listening to. The A side is perhaps a bit more erratic, with some sharper sonic/tectonic shifts and evolutions, but the composition is always exquisitely paced so as to never break the slithering drones’ bath-trance brain vice. But the B is the manna from heaven’s gate cascade…steam rising from a holy skull on an emerald mountaintop in the center of a sacred isle. Impossibly beautiful and endless. No wonder the edition of 100 sold out in six seconds flat.

GULLIVER “Every Good Path” (Folktales Records)

Folk yeah. Whitman’s Folktales label creeps along with another missive of acoustic lo-fi troubadour-ism, this time from Gulliver, who I believe is connected to the whole Wagon Tongues/Inland Empire teenage folk circle (but don’t quote me on that). “Every Good Path” is a big C60 of intimate, earnest, narrative-based acoustic guitar storytelling all centered around a romance-turned-broken-heart-turned-mended-heart. The tape comes with a big stack of lonely computer-printed photos and photocopied boarding passes and a U.S. map (which seems to indicate he was in California while she was in Missouri?) and some other emo-folk memorabilia. The good things about the tape: odd sonic collages between songs, warm lo-fi audio quality, field recordings peppering the background. Bummer things about the tape: non-stop wistful melancholy sadness lyrically, musically, and vibrationally. Girlfriends living far away is sad, but 60 minutes is a long time to listen to this consistent sentiment. I’d love to hear his next tape once his relationship isn’t on the rocks and he can write about new subjects, because he’s good at guitar (and scheming weird inserts).

Thursday, September 27, 2007

GALLOWS “The White Lodge” (Peasant Magik)

First off: props to Peasant Magik for so quickly achieving a fully recognizable packaging aesthetic. Sometimes it takes labels a lot longer to find their footing in this regard, but just one glance at this new Gallows tape and there’s no doubt it’s a PM product (vellum elements and floral wallpaper J-cards are the giveaways). Anyway. My guess is Gallows is one guy, cause this sounds like one-guy-alone music: slow-drones, minimal arrangements, dead serious. The first track is too sci-fi for my liking (lots of wacky tape-spooling echoes bouncing around), but the second one is stripped as hell, just two similar tones pulsing side by side in a way that makes it seem like there’s more going on than there really is. And the third piece is probably the most focused of all…ebowed drones gently hovering in space for 10-plus minutes. The restraint shown here occasionally borders on the narcoleptic, but I’m not really saying that as a bad thing. Not as essential as the Pillars of Heaven or Blown Doors tapes, but another cool piece of Peasant Magik lore nonetheless.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

SHITTY VIBE SMASHER "Bruised Fruit" (Throne Heap)

Shitty Vibe Smasher is the Portland, OR supergroup of Glamorous Pat (Cherried Out Merch label, Moms Who Chop, Alien Zoner Ape), Daryl Groetsch (Pulse Emitter) and Dan Rizer (Geyser, Person Under the Stairs, Yes, Collapse). From the outset, it's obvious the boys have a thing for making homemade synths and oscillators sound like gastrointestinal functions. At other points it's a Vietnam flashback, like trying to find your bearings in a jungle with hideous laughing birds, flying insects the size of your arm and airplanes far overhead offering no consolation. Word to Colonel Kurtz. Actually, "Bruised Fruit" is a lot of fun to listen to, and a few minutes into the first side even the band has some chuckles. One of the best aspects is the dynamic space between the musicians; one element will usually be in focus or sport less effects while another will reside more hazily in the background, then they switch up. I'm guilty of overusage of the word "intuitive," but there's definitely some mind-meld action afoot on this session. Fans of LAFMS and fellow Oregonians Smegma would definitely get a kick out of this release. If all that isn't enough of an incentive, Throne Heap knows how to make a tape look good. This one comes with nice printed labels on both sides (not something you always notice, but it is an anomaly!) and a stellar red-on-yellow silkscreen of hopeless melting faces on the cover. True Devotional Music.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

HEAD MOLT / SOCIAL JUNK (Teenage Whore Tapes)

Another whorish outing from the prolific haters at TWT. This one has a fat skeleton holding a cross on the cover and the Head Molt stuff is some of the grossest and least socially acceptable shit I’ve heard from them yet (which is saying something). Lots of repulsive noises and sputtering crap and then negative space zones littered with trash and echoes before the inevitable return to wretched white-faced screaming about hookers and the South Sandwich Islands. Social Junk, here, chase a slightly less aggro dragon. Their jam, “The New West,” is a fried, oddball junkyard of woozy feedback, jittery strings, and bizarre ESP percussion. There’s lots of stops, starts, and quiet parts, all steeped in tension and subliminal dread. Eventually they clatter things up into something like a climax, but it’s not nearly as straightforward-sounding as that. More great stuff from the Junk.

TEETH COLLECTION "Fire Mouth/Smoke Breather" (Longlongchaney)

The mistakes of lo-fidelity recording become the techniques of high fidelity composing on this hypnotizer. The pulsing that drives "Fire Mouth" moves back and forth between overly compressed lo end and peaking the red distortion that is neither loping nor repetitive. The compelling narrative of this interplay then moves into a world of over the top echoing, not to be unexpected from this prolific act that focuses on home-made reverb chambers. Thinking about the landfill of droney cassettes being made these days is one of my least favorite pass times. I absolutely love great drone, but with so much "just plug the delay pedal in and moan" shit going on, I am typically uninterested in checking new acts describing themselves this way. But an act like Teeth Collection is why I remain such a huge drone fan. Not that I expect Teeth Collection to be self-proclaimed drone. The hippy noise world I think has entrenched the word drone in such an aesthetic purity that music this interesting and aesthetically diverse is no longer a part of the club... both by art dogma and well needed politics. But now that I've dragged Teeth Collection well into my own agenda without their consent, I'll get back to why this particular tape rules hard. "Smoke Breather" succeeds in the same way as "Fire Mouth." While the masterful narrative of the piece moves from one world of timbre to an entirely different one (here from near-wall harshness to completely vacant bottom tones), the atmospheric function of the sounds remains similar the whole way through. Despite the great difference in sounds within each piece, the mood is kept uniform. It is in this way that a I argue a true DRONE is created; a hypnotizing of the listener that is just using the right amount of dynamics to keep your ears awake. It is there that so much drone fails, in that is just is beddy-bye music. Teeth Collection will put you under a spell, not just make you pass out completely.

Friday, September 21, 2007

BRI WHITE / JAMES FELLA "When Night Comes" (Gilgongo)

It is rare that a cassette captivates me with it's every moment. Yet here it is, a beautiful little c-10 out of PDX/PHX that succeeds in every way. Bri White's voice fills side A with sad thoughts about having to consider a friend too far gone to save, wanting people back, and other ways to hurt loved ones. The direct life lessons in her lyrics are akin to Edith Frost. Her guitar playing is so well arranged with her voice that they truly become one in the story telling process. If you have even a single folky bone in your body, then this is completely essential. James Fella then reveals himself as a true master of all that is sound, blending noise with ballad melodies in a way that is completely smooth. While the harsh/soothing dynamic is far from unknown in noise (see Pedestrian Deposit, Impregnable, etc) James Fella is a complete outsider to this approach which makes his results refreshing; unlike anything I've heard since Whitman's side of the Whitman / Watching Him Die split cassette. Unlike Whitman though, Fella roots his sounds in nostalgia rather than oddity. Confident layering of rhythms and crisp textures characterize both the harsh and melodic moments of this piece. Again, an essential side here making this tape and absolute must.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

LILYPAD "The Moon and Air Sparkle" (Tapeworm Tapes)

It is said that one teaspoon of sewage can ruin a barrel of wine, but a teaspoon of wine cannot do the opposite for a barrel of sewage. This unfair asymmetry applies also to music: one bad choice can seriously fuck up an otherwise great cassette. After a nice looping ditty, an unnecessary field recording of waves crashing against a shore, and a buzzy square-wavey drone, side A of "The Moon and Air Sparkle," the first release from the solo project of one member of Emeralds, ends with a snippet of Ernie from Sesame Street singing/instructing the listener to wash various parts of his/her body. For a moment I thought I could have been listening to some white rapper from 1998-- this is a total Anticon move. I mean, did Cut Chemist or Peanut Butter Wolf produce this tape? Why would somebody do this? What does it say, other than: "I probably smoke weed" and "I have a lot of records." It's really a shame because the following track, which takes up side B, is a particularly beautiful, shimmering drone, thick with layers of harmonics. The music lives up to the tapes ethereal title, but is dragged down by the Ernie sample into areas far too earthly. But definitely look for more Lilypad releases and any further brilliance from this dude's main project, Emeralds-- always awesome.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

ANAKRID "Crash Your Putrid Minds" (Black Horizons)

This was a real change of pace from the usual fare reviewed on these pages. The Black Horizons label is somewhat of an anomaly in noise. Their roster extends beyond the limits of the term "noise" itself, and they have a solid reputation for sound quality as well as a visible art style. That said, I hadn't heard this project before and no idea what to expect popping this thing in the deck. Some of "Crash Your Putrid Minds" has the kind of glitchy IDM ambience of the Medroxy Progesterone Acetate release (also on Black Horizons) that was reviewed here a while back. The dominating presence here, though, is the most ridiculous earth-shattering electro stomp that you haven't heard in years. It's a complex and layered monster of funhouse effects, slow rolling 808 snares, dubbed out synth and sweaty nightmares. Oh yeah, and bass. Imagine DJ Screw and Mannie Fresh tripping balls in a swirling electronic avalanche. It would be ideal if you had a jeep to play this in. The tape is a high-bias chrome affair, so apart from the fact that it's produced well, the sound quality is superb. The packaging is a delirious double-layered collage of psychedelic havoc. It looks as if a good chunk of the Black Horizons catalogue is gone, so best to nab this while you can. Recommended!

Monday, September 17, 2007

SWORD HEAVEN / JASON ZEH AND DAVID REED (Little Miracles/Sick Bliss)

Stark split tape co-released by Mark Van Fleet’s label and Antwerp noise outpost Sick Bliss. Right away: WOW. Exquisite, ecstatic savagery from the Sword Heaven camp that only further sledgehammers into the ground how outstandingly, mythically brutalizing they can be. Their side is a demo version of the song “Tongues,” recorded straight to boombox, and the raw immediacy of the audio only helps it cut into the flesh that much faster. Machines drag across concrete with the scraping rage of victims being hauled to the SAW room while war drums pound out blood rhythms and doomed SOS signals. This is what SH do, and they do it fucking perfectly. The Zeh/Reed piece a live-to-minidisc set recorded in Cleveland and it explores a radically different fringe of the electric musical wasteland. Stretched tones shimmer while phasing clouds of waveforms bleed back and forth across the space…subliminal pan-dimensional rumbling lurches up from below and everything chimes together in a synergistic mirage of zen wobble. Eventually ebowed Oms materialize and some higher notes sparkle in the stratosphere but no element overly rocks the boat…order is maintained and the set closes on a mood of pensive hypnosis. A really stunning showing from start to finish. Neither label has a website (I think) so write the parties involved if you want one (you should).

TREETOPS / CYGNUS (Arbor)

Oddly collaged strings/circuits/keys metamorphosis piece from King Tree of Arbor Enterprises, Mike Pollard. “Wild Beauty” pivots between a few channels of reverb guitar text-messaging, taped-down notes of distant tone, and looping amp growl in a way that reflects the vibe of dim bedroom doodling (if not beauty per se)…then it rolls over and curls into a quiet ball. Cygnus starts off a bit more sci-fi with theremin-y warblings and fried echo and guitar solitaire, then just stops. The second song is similarly up-close and impersonal, fractured guitar therapy manipulation that rambles on like a weird tripped-out anecdote with no beginning, middle, end. Overall, a strange C22 of solo sing-song psych mind games.

Friday, September 14, 2007

CLIMAX DENIAL "Bodies Broken By The Weight Of Time" (Ekhein)

I never really understood Climax Denial before. I thought the way he switched styles all over the same tape made it seem as if he was dabbling, so that none of his work (in any style) was at all convincing-- you know, kinda like Ween, or something. I figured that his popularity had something to do with people's interest in his extra-musical themes, his cassette art, web presence, track-titling schemes. Climax Denial has synthesized the early Merzbow/Haters sexual fetish aesthetic with the unforgivable misogyny of Power Electronics, and, somehow, the pathos and male-as-lonely-victim themes of Pedestrian Deposit, Impregnable, etc. And then there's the whole foot-fetish thing, right? Well I'm not going to say that all that isn't compelling, but until I heard this tape, I was pretty sure it didn't make for a compelling listen. However, "Bodies Broken By The Weight Of Time" is a very good release, especially considering the potential for disaster-- it's a c50! On side A, Climax Denial begins with a spooky horror-movie doom track. It's slow and cavernous and very satisfying. The second track (and normally I'm totally against multiple tracks per tape side) begins as a wall that eventually evolves (devolves?) into a pretty believable Power Electronics piece, complete with ridiculous vocals. Side B is an incredibly patient wall-ish track that creeps along through several different areas of sound. It's like watching the hour hand on a clock move for twenty-five minutes. Fucking awesome.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

HIVE MIND "Ashen Geometry" (Throne Heap)

You could probably release a Hive Mind recording wrapped in a plastic grocery bag and sell out of all copies. The work of Greh Holger is practically synonymous with rock: not as in ripped Maiden shirts and hair but igneous, sedimentary and volcanic. There might be more HM tapes this year than last, but since the runs dry up as quickly as they're filled it's a hard tally. "Ashen Geometry" is a bit more effects-saturated and disorienting than the recent tape on Hanson Records. It might have more in common with the "Bade Mecum" 3 inch CD on Holger's own Chondritic Sound imprint (I might be talking s**t since I haven't listened to it in a while). The textures have become more complex and dirtier at the same time, with a glacially slow movement that takes a few turns to really comprehend. While side A covers some familiar but enjoyable deep bass territory, side B introduces a high-pitched buzz that becomes embedded in the rotting sub-tones until it's all grit and silt. The last minute is about as harsh as a bass-driven track can get, as if Holger was going to segue into a Cleanse set. This one has a black cardstock insert with a killer silkscreen job in silver, a perfect accessory for misanthropic creeps running devious errands. Impressive veteran release from one of the best new labels.

WATERSPORTS W/ AARON ROSENBLUM “More” (Arbor)

Russ and Lea’s pre-Blues Control ambient outfit Watersports has always been a choice source for trickle-down electronic hum and non-human mystery purr but it’s been a while since they’ve slid something out into the public domain, and I’m glad they did. “More” is just a brief C20, but maybe they wanted to leave us wanting “more”? (That’s my theory). The A is actually without Rosenblum, just Russ/Lea playing live in Livermore Falls, Maine, and it’s all aquatic blur and gentle shapes and then Lea starts tickling the ivories with an eloquent ascending fugue of notes, real classical-style, and she does that for a while and then the scene fades to silence. Damn nice, but too short. The B is where Aaron gets into the mix and his presence is hard to detect, but that’s ok…the whole piece is just a far-away sounding lava lamp of melting halos and galaxy clusters dissolving into translucent narcotic blobs. Fantastic and, again, bummerly brief.

HEAD MOLT / DEPRAVED HEART CRIME VS. LOUIS L’AMOUR (Teenage Whore Tapes)

Got a few tapes in the mailbox from this Hampton, Virginia-based scuzz label, and you could probably guess by the name that their fetishes lie on the hostile/filth side of things (their Myspace website lists the label’s influences as: “People who still buy tapes, Noise, Sluts, Whores, The AIDS Pandemic, Primitive Analog Equipment.” What this love of paid sex and tragic incurable viruses (and not-so-subtle Hole allusions?) translates to on cassette is, of course, the sound of teens gargling fecal matter. Head Molt’s side is allegedly split into 4 “parts” but I didn’t notice a break in the electric puke bubbling outta the speakers. Heat Molt, here, is 4 folks, and people are credited with playing instruments such as “cell phone” and “game of life turn spinner” and “coffee cans” but good luck identifying anything as such. Lo-fi bile, squeezed out of a putrid hose, and put in a pie tin, and thrown in your face. Laugh and lick it up. The Depraved Heart Crime vs. Louis L’amour side is two dudes who record under those names jamming together and it’s way more noise than junk. Just a steady stream of sputtering circuits, unchanging and numb. Like sticking yr head in a waterfall of hot mud. If that sounds like yr idea of a good time, get on board the Teenage Whore train.

Monday, September 10, 2007

CHRIS COOPER BILL NACE DUO "I'm Fucking In A Sitting Room (For Nmperign)" (Night People)

Okay. So the title presumably refers to Alvin Lucier's composition, "I Am Sitting In A Room." And it's dedicated to the Boston EAI duo of Bhob Rainey and Greg Kelley, Nmperign. Listening to the sides of this tape, I cannot glean why either of these extra-musical references is present. The music does not have the space, subtlety or focus of Nmperign, nor does it have the purity of concept associated with Lucier's piece. And it certainly doesn't try to. These are not criticisms. In fact, I point them out only because I expected a much more literal tribute after reading the title. The tape is quite good, really. Bill Nace (of Vampire Belt) teams up with Chris Cooper (of Fat Worm of Error) for a blistering double guitar freakout. Imagine the moment-to-moment logic of a Spontaneous Music Ensemble improvisation with the aggressive guitar histrionics of a 1970's Glen Branca group. (For fellow Los Angeles dwellers, it's like a less prissy version of Open City.) The music is a little too dynamic, I fear, for the cassette medium. There's a lot of loud-then-quiet-then-loud stuff where the changes are too drastic. It goes from way-too-distorted to eclipsed-by-tape-hiss all throughout. (A CD or fancy vinyl reissue would be phenomenal). Also, there's a lot of fun play with the stereo spectrum-- towards the end of side A, there's a section where percussive sounds conjure images of a cartoon construction site, ping ponging back and forth from speaker to speaker. And how can you not be charmed-- the B side is dominated by hilarious laser sounds.

LOOSERS “Sidelights” (Fuck It Tapes)

Fantastic. “Sidelights” is a beautiful, revelatory shuffle into the psychic periphery from this long-running Portuguese triad, and it’s a step into the ether away from their past audio documents. The A track was apparently recorded live on a radio show, and it unfurls with a hazy grace and soft touch not often seen/heard in previous Loosers albums. Sidewinder percussion spirals around fluttering rhythmic electronics while chimes jingle on ropes…free spiritualism soaks the microphone in Sun Ra gauze until all hard sounds cease and only the echoes of outer space resonate and pan and morph in the studio air. Things veer damn close to so-psych-it’s-goofy at a certain point, but then they pull back, and coax the majesty into quiet. “Banyan Fig,” the flip, is more easily recognizable as a Loosers chemistry, with restless “world” drumming weaving webs into ringing island steel, communal voice exercises, and dub fragments. Deep in the zone they pivot and drop the beat, replacing it with fried, wild cymbal shimmer and joyously mangled saxophone that escalates into a epiphanic frenzy before suddenly dying. Then the song’s afterlife drifts on with an odd palette of loops, murk warble, and buried pulse, like a dreaming corpse. A quiet masterpiece in the Loosers discography, no question.

BLOWN DOORS (Peasant Magik)

Heavy objects crash slowly in an endless underground corridor. A black storm rains and thunders on the earth above. Gradually the lights dim and hateful wraiths float up from the concrete and start battling with axes and morning stars. This is the basic gist of what the A side of this Blown Doors tape sounds like. Mythic/mystic undead violence. No idea on the who/what/where/why of Blown Doors but it’s on the consistent Peasant Magik label and definitely fits in with their dark age drone/noise aesthetic. The B side is shockingly good too, building from some plain resonating tones into an orgy of pulsing, crushing rapture. Focused and to the point. With a typically vellum-heavy wallpaper-inspired PM J-card. Oh wait, just saw it’s from an edition of 25…you’ll probably need to download this one online. You know how to do that, right? (Post-script: SICK dubbing job on this guy…the audio is BLASTING out of my speakers. Nearly zero tape hiss, impressive!).

WEAK SISTERS "Untitled" (Abhorrent A. D.)

Weak Sisters is the new project of Will van Goern, former member of the legendary teen heartthrob outfit, Other People's Children. Side A of this tape, titled "Freckles," is a cut-up, and is pretty all over the place. It is brutally harsh and covers a lot of territory, mostly rhythmic pedal noise/feedback with occasional screamed vocals. What makes the piece work so well is van Goern's truly mature sense of composition. Every choice is very deliberate and logical. The listener gets the sense that one movement follows another for a very specific reason, and that reason, while not translatable into an intriguing written description of the sound, is communicated clearly nonetheless. In other words: this stuff is serious and well thought out; it's not lazy or wanky. Side B is a very satisfying Wall Noise track. It sounds pretty much like two giant pieces of velcro splitting apart for five minutes. One of the best Harsh Noise tapes I've heard in a long time. And it totally comes with a bonus business card CDr in the cassette case, but since that's not a tape, I'm not sure I'm allowed to talk about it here. No props, though, to the label for the hideous pixilated artwork.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

WARMTH "Death As A Young Child" (Arbor)

So this was the first promo tape I picked up from the CG editor almost four months ago. It was a selfish act. I knew I wanted the tape because Warmth is a project whose music I really enjoy. It seemed serendipitous that it was sent to us for review because earlier that week I had considered buying it from the label myself. But then there was a problem. I listened to it, and loved it, but didn't really have anything to say about it. It's beautiful, perfect. Twenty minutes of exquisite glassy tones, swelling and weaving and churning... But how interesting is that to write? It's so much easier to write a negative review. There are so many funny ways to say that something sucks. I explained this to our editor, Brian, and he just laughed at me. For months, whenever we'd talk about the site, he'd bring up the review I couldn't write because the tape was "too good." Anytime I'd slack off and not write anything for extended periods (which was/is often) he'd ask if all the music I'd heard recently was, like the Warmth tape, "too good." Eventually, I decided that explaining all this was as good a recommendation as anything could be. The tape is flawless, inspiring, though perhaps not to write.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

"Despairing Summer / American Ulterior" (Iatrogenesis)

Though not credited to any artist, this cassette is a collage of field recordings assembled by Iatrogenesis label head, Gordon Ashworth (Oscillating Innards, Caen). The source material is collected from tape recordings made by Ashworth and Jon Borges (Pedestrian Deposit, Emaciator) on their last US tour together. Almost anything recognizable from the original tapes, however, has been obscured by layers of processing, most noticeably a heavy, smeary reverb unit. Side A opens with a melancholy looping melody over a distant hiss and muted conversations. The whole tape has a very dreamlike feel, a half-remembered travelogue. Despite the relatively calm feel throughout, the music moves rather quickly through different areas of sound. And while it could be described as "ambient," the music is not without teeth. In fact, at times it gets rather hairy and there's enough crackle and crunch to disrupt any meditative vibe. The inside of the j-card depicts a loving tribute to the scene-- cut up photographs of friends and noise dudes from all over the country, presumably taken during the tour. It warms the heart, truly.

Friday, September 7, 2007

NORTHAMPTON WOOLS (Bonescraper)

Northampton Wools (shouldn't there be another "H" in there?) is the furious double electric guitar project of Bill Nace (from the always magnificent Vampire Belt) and Thurston Moore. Even before listening to this, I have to appreciate it soley on principle. Plenty of people in the underground resent Moore for being (easily) the wold's most famous fan of noise/experimental/weirdo music, and therefore theee major tastemaker in the culture. It's him and The Wire, really, and even that magazine mostly cows to Moore's taste when it covers music made by Americans. However: I believe this should be viewed as a positive thing. The system may seem a bit hegemonic, and no, that's not really healthy, but at least the weirdos have some representation in (what could be considered) mainstream music. How many noise artists have played for the largest crowds they've ever seen because Moore invited them to play one of the All Tomorrow's Parties Festivals he curated? How many total freaks have been allowed to open for Sonic Youth over the years? And nobody supports DIY music as consistently as Moore. Label heads will tell you: he's often the first person to order a new batch of tapes; his cassette collection must be fucking epic. Having said that, Moore should be appreciated also, not just as a consumer of weird music, but as a producer of it. The dude is on Geffen. His basement vanity label is distributed by Universal. And yet he still puts out tapes on labels that nobody's ever heard of to help them get a leg up. Such would seem to be the case with this double c24 of free skronk firemusic. It sounds pretty much like you would imagine: not much subtlety here. Both tapes have the structure of Dynamic Harsh Noise with the sound palette of Psych Rock. Lots of string scraping and feedback, not much interaction or variation. Not sure why they needed to put out two whole tapes of this stuff, but it's nice enough-- certainly serves its purpose. Plus the packaging is totally sweet-- one of those compact double cassette cases like from the old days, with cool drawings of hair on it.

HARD DRUGS "Borrowed Means" (Cavelife)

Debut tape from Los Angeles newcomer (er... new to harsh noise, at least) Hard Drugs is a wretched little chunk of pessimism. The tape is simply filthy, a c16 of rancorous disappointment. The first track on the A side is a noodley oscillator jam in a tornado of fuzz and static. The second track begins with a highly questionable sample of what sounds like a Nico song, quickly overtaken by sheets of distortion and squealing mic feedback-- I'm not quite sure what's being said there. The second side is slightly more aggressive but less distinct. There's a roundness, a softness, perhaps, to the character of the sound; the music was clearly recorded live by a microphone in the room. The issue I have with this, though, is that it ends up sounding like absolutely ANYTHING would if recorded onto a cheap tape player. Actually, for all I know, this could be a walkman recording of traffic, a wood shop or of a basement punk show. Which is not to say that that's unpleasant. In fact, the tape's blurry anonymity is rather charming. It's definitely worth checking out if any of the thirty copies in existence are still available. The artwork is super solid, too. The front cover bears a creepy line drawing of some squiggly beast by the Haircut Mountain Transit and Deep Jew lead vocalist, Alex Twomey, and printed in large elegant type on the back is the evocative phrase: "You can't win; game is rigged." Heh. Die young and poor, homey.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

AIR CONDITIONING “The Ocean” (Callow God)

Unbelievable/unsane. Callow God only rarely lifts its gaze from the local table-of-pedals pond, but Pennsylvania wrecking crew Air Conditioning are one of the few non-noise “bands” sonically hostile enough to warrant temporary inclusion in CG’s honorary scum crew. And “The Ocean” wastes no time in proving AC’s belief in the old Witscher truism: “Savagery’s No Vice.” The A side bleeds into sight with a misleadingly restrained spell of guitar feedback and amp hiss…the tape spools by and you wonder if anything’s going to happen. It does. A few minutes in the drums drop out of the sky and crash out a Sword Heavenly death march and vocals scream from the speakers in a smear of cold hate…total Deep Jew misery but without the street/scum obsession. The B side is just as good, but far more freaked out and deranged. Misanthropic guitar riffing plods out chunks of in-the-red wall-noise while cavernous reverb tumbles in the shadows, occasionally shifting into the foreground and shaking the speakers. Crushing depression, rattles and moans, a slow escape into the distance. A fucking amazing tape, and dubbed so deafeningly loud it’s beautiful.

STONEBURNER “Abydos” (Abandon Ship)

Smoky collab project between Grant Capes (of VxPxC, Thousands, Phantom Limb Recordings, etc), Brad Rose (of 9 billion things, plus Digitalis Industries), and Nathan Young (of Ajilvsga). Don’t know if this is a one-off or just a “whenever we’re in the same city” kinda thing, but this Tulsa, OK meeting seems to have gone down pretty smooth. The A jam, “Boxgrove Inferno,” finds tonal organ notes laying out on the dirt for jangly guitar and electronic farting oscillator noises to somersault on top of. Random and rambly. On the flip, Brad (one assumes) riffs some picky/strummy acoustic guitar for the opener, then the trio close the C38 with a…bleak banjo dirge? Or something like that. Dead country blues for sure. Gotta say though, the ASR cover art is pretty outta-left-field to my eyes: a cuddly seal’s head emerging from water? A bit more SeaWorldburner than Stone, but oh well.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

THOUSANDS “Skinless/Boneless” (Abandon Ship Records)

Another bottomless chicken bowl of fried psych-outs from this restless Glassell Park posse. As usual, a Guitar Center’s worth of instruments tag-team in and out of the spotlight – SK1 warbling, reverb bummer guitar, slow horns, more melodica than a lotta dub records, jazz bass strutting, mouth breathing, wood blocks, etc. With such a melting pot of ingredients, the plated recipe is naturally stuffed to the bursting point with radically varying vibes and flavors. A good chunk of the A side is heavy on the groovy/jazzy tip, with the rest of the skin hanging loose off the bass. But much of the B trip has a lonely post-indie guitar reverie atmosphere. Then there’s a long finale section laden with clanging bells, swaying organ, flutes/whistling/panpipes (??), and a prominent keyboard “waltz” drum setting. Welcome to All Over The Place. For better/worse, the cover art opts for a highly literal interpretation of the title (a “skinless” cow skull next to a “boneless” jellyfish). A photograph of a rotisserie chicken stand would have worked pretty well too.

TIK///TIK “Glacier Skars” (Big Monies Tapes)

Inaugural outing by Rob’s 10-years-coming LA label, Big Monies, is a purple C10 of classic TIK///TIK atari teenage rioting: crunchy digital shred pulverized by choppy sprinklers, mixer rocket launching, and aimless voice fragments. It’s easy to picture a monochromatically-clad Cano thrashing around on the ground to this sound. The B side has more of his Deathbomb dance music attack/approach, a numbly pulsing beat buried under waves of looping nasal talk/yelling (Erin Allen style). The closer, “Grandmess Up Close,” is a storm of overlapping air raid chaos, UFO buzzing, and robot explosions that works like an energy drink on the ears. My only question: what’s a “skars”?

Monday, September 3, 2007

OAK / A SNAKE IN THE GARDEN “The Enchanted Forest” (Grimeology)

Sweet split/collab tape from these two East Coast best fwend gang/projects. A Snake in the Garden (one dude, apparently) is definitely the hater of the pack, starting the CS off with a gross phasing mixer rumble stacked with background lurk noise, against which he growls echoing Malefic-style vocals. Totally theatrical but great…yet when things kick into pure screech attack mode somehow the intensity lessens. The frequencies are compressed and mid-range, which seems to gate the violence from breaking out into total amp fury. Still, a good offering. Oak go the more steady/static route with “Rods From God,” which burns like an antique incense urn of slo-mo e-bow, drifting jangle, and water-treading sitar accents. Doesn’t really go anywhere, but the trip is plenty pleasant. The B side is the collab, “Sacrificial Wizards,” and it seems like nobody wanted to play leader. Snake holds in his electric venom, but the Oak posse keep their hippie hair trimmed kinda close too, so nobody really ever steps up and pushes things one way or the other. The outcome is a quiet, tentative tip-toe through gently tapped metal, nature hiss, and softly plucked single strings. Which, personally, is a path I dig treading. More heads are better than none.

BIG NURSE “Alive II: No Youth Movement Left” (High Density Headache)

Tennessee’s Big Nurse ripped through the West Coast a couple weeks ago playing the sort of mass-mind 6-piece communal art-punk that it seems like most folks out here have given up on (in favor of solo/small projects or song-based stuff). The 3 drummers, 2 guitarist, 1 bass crew shredded one endless, pounding, deafening car crash of glorious noise for 12 minutes, then threw their shit on the floor and were done. Perfect. This tape, however, ain’t really like that. “Alive II” finds BN experimenting with every nook/cranny of their arsenal, resulting in a strange collage of blown out rock wanderings, sparse practice-taped vagueness, and overt noise wastelands. The live unity/cohesion vision has been ditched in favor of endless homeless amplified teenage puke. Which, suffice to say, has a different charm all its own. Maybe not essential listening, but definitely an authentic slab of unedited weirdo southern psych-trash, appropriate for many fucked/desperate occasions.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

SOCIAL JUNK “Mirror Landscape” (Snakefork)

This metallic gold C12 by warped Kentucky electricians Social Junk is as great, nameless, and unique as anything else I’ve heard by ‘em. The A track is a hypnotic windswept steppe of blips, bloops, and purring electronics that ends far too soon, and the B is pretty similar, although some of the high plains drifting peaks at screechier frequencies, plus there’s some lonesome sax bleat and the echoing croak of what sounds like a pack of gargling frogs somewhere under a dock. Unclassifiable and visionary and a solid display of Social Junk’s impressive depth. Bonus/bummer: you gotta bust out a knife to play this CS, as it comes rope-tied to a chunk of oversize cardboard. Deal with it.

Monday, August 27, 2007

GHOST OF OBTUSE s/t (ESR)

GOO (the initials say a lot) is the duo of Matthew Reis (head of Epicene/ ESR, Teeth Collection, etc.) and Josh Fink (Plasmic Formations, etc.), who have also collaborated on projects like Kvlt of Unicron, Ex-Yes, Collapse and Antennae Boy. Whew! Ghost of Obtuse professes a liking for Aufgehoben on this collection, and one can see the similarities in their open improvisation, but this is dirtier. It seems fitting to describe GOO as a "band" rather than two gearheads jamming. There's a real dialogue between the acoustic drums and percussion (being processed real-time through warped and distorted effects) and the banks of synthesizers and electronics. The second track on side two (there are four untitled tracks altogether) is sans beats but crammed with enough insane bleepage to satisfy a diehard synth freak. Not that the rest is exactly rhythmic- whatever the drums are going through, they're more like depth charges. Slow and crumbling 4/4 thuds on the A-side opener are interspersed with high-pitched squalor until the whole thing congeals into a menacing, thundering wall. Anyone familiar with collaborations between Hive Mind and Mammal might recognize a similar feel, except Ghost of Obtuse prefers to change directions frequently and without warning. The only objection here is that a c30 just isn't enough to contain all the possibilities suggested from these excerpts, a few of which are mercilessly cut off by the end of the reel. Ghost of Obtuse full length? Damn, I hope so.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

TEETH COLLECTION / MIGRATIONS IN RUST split (ESR)

Recently I was lucky enough to get a chunk of the new batch from Matthew Reis' Epicene / ESR label (the former is for vinyl and CDs, the latter for short-run tapes, CD-rs, etc.), and they all look pretty stellar with nicely designed pro-printed color inserts. Teeth Collection is the prolific alias of Mr. Reis himself. In a previous review I had guessed that synthesizers might be his primary sound generators, but it turns out that the strange tones Teeth Collection employs are in fact homemade reverb chambers. This explains why material from this project has a distinctive sound that one doesn't hear too often. The two unnamed tracks on this split are even more lethargic in feel than past releases and noticeably minimal to great effect. The feeling which Reis' work has conjured in the past of passing slowly through decaying industrial wastelands is still alive and possibly more realized than before. Never having heard Migrations in Rust, I was surprised to find that its sole member is Jesse Allan of the NY noise duo The Cathode Terror Secretion. This is about as far away sonically from that project as you can get. "Thrust Against This Horrid Machine, We Shudder As Its Voice Is Opened To Us" (great name) is an unbelievably sublime ambient composition focusing on shifting layers of submerged melodies. It easily rivals anything being produced today in this vein. Allan has previously used a laptop in performance with The Cathode Terror Secretion, but it's difficult to tell whether it's in use here (to reassure anyone with a negative disposition towards the "L" word). Another impressive release from ESR, and sure to disappear soon.