Sunday, March 30, 2008

SOUP HORRIFIC / CRAZY GREEKS ON FIRE Split (Spread the Disease)

Someone ought to write a scene report on Barcelona. Whether it's my own blind ignorance or due to an exponential increase of internet networking, there are a whole lot more noise-influenced bands and labels popping up in Spain than in years past. Stephane K. from Spread the Disease, a Barcelona based label, was kind enough to send a couple split releases from the STD catalogue (yuk yuk) complete with annotations and a letter of introduction. Now that's a motherfucking PRESS PACKET.
"Don't Give Up the Soop!" seems to be the title for proceedings on both sides. Soup Horrific, consisting either of Steff *and* Terrortank or Steff who *is* Terrortank, aims to please right off the bat with some Aaron Dilloway- inspired tape loops and random chain dragging, submerging all in forebodingly thick atmospheres. There's also kind of a "hands-off" approach to probably half of this session which the Fag Tapes contingent would appreciate. Meditative and slow-paced, but too eerie to be relaxing.
Crazy Greeks on Fire, which is Steff and Guillaumme (possibly misspelled) from Sektion 9, throw some guitars, a tin flute and a couple microphones through a chain of distortion and delay pedals and splice the results into 2 or 3 minute tracks. The result screeches in the best way at moments but at other points seems scatterbrained. Overall, it's less of a cohesive statement than some practice room outtakes. The spraypainted and indeed diseased looking tape (recorded over a Star Wars disco mix, which I'm bummed to have missed out on) comes housed in a plastic bag with wraparound photocopied insert.

http://www.myspace.com/spreadthementaldisease
http://www.myspace.com/theterrortank

Spread the Disease
c/o Stephane Kerandel
Calle Sicilia 328, 3/2
08025 Barcelona, Spain

Thursday, March 27, 2008

BLUE SABBATH BLACK CHEER / VESTIGIAL LIMB Split (ESR)

Epicene Sound Replica created an interesting match-up for this split in combining two relatively new artists which can dish out the harsh stuff but usually build to it from different angles. Blue Sabbath Black Cheer's entry starts out with a slow, minimal machine pounding before detonating a compressed, fuzz-laden mass of rhythmic industrial sludge, complete with snarling yowls resembling buzzsaws. All manner of obscure chirps and creaks plug away in the background, with dismal synth tones only appearing at the right moments. All this, the sheer chunkiness and overall sound quality make for a slab that rewards successive listens. Due to the vocals-noise-drum machines lineup the group draws an inevitable comparison to Wolf Eyes, and although that isn't the only influence you'd have a more realistic idea of BSBC's sound with this than by basing any guesses off the band's name. At any rate it's commendable that there are still noise bands that bother creating structured *noise* compositions to pull them off as songs. BSBC is doing this well, and here's hoping they continue on for a few more years to come.
Vestigial Limb's mode of operation stems from the natural "incidental" sound (if that makes any sense) characteristic of Japanese harsh noise. The combination of manipulated tapes, record player and miscellaneous electronics present a pretty confounding wall of moving textures which get 'nuff burly but not so much as to completely obscure any tones from source material. Some predictable contact mic fuckery temporarily distracts the attention, but the additional layers of hum and hiss (with a touch of whatever it is that makes laser sounds) more than make up for it, culminating in a raucous climax of seizure-inducing feedback, crumbling static and dense motor reverberation before the finale. The nicely textured insert on heavy stock depicts some sort of psychedelic lightning storm, which is appropriate. RECOMMENDED!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

HEATSICK “Reverse Gardens” (Turgid Animal)

Birds of Delay used to bathe the globe’s brain in their high-velocity crouch-frenzies a lot more commonly, but with Steven Warwick’s wing of BoD based in Germany their prolificacy had nosedived. That’s ok though, cause Luke Younger has been scorching ears as Helm and Warwick’s found an outlet via his ever-deepening Heatsick alias. Reverse Gardens finds him in a long-form mood, his zonal flow control as ‘out’ and wastedly intuitive as ever. Both sides here sprawl through roiling electric tides of Pacific City-style psychedelic visions, overloading the tape with transverse updrafts of raw OM distortion and pitter-patter psycho-narcoleptic counter currents. Intimate and unmappable and thick as a prism. Has a cool kitty cat bleeding with collaged worm ooze on the cover that’s strangely apt. Another cryptic key to Warwick’s weird kingdom.

NECK HOLD / YOUNG ROMANTIX split (Scumbag Tapes)

Two more bands I’ve never heard of gangbang this split CS on the Midwestern haven of misanthropic obsession, Scumbag Tapes. Neck Hold have a shrieky instrumental no-wave energy that’s not bad at all. Hyper but not spazzy, the guitars sound like oscillators and the drums sound like guitars. It has all the fidelity of a cell phone recording a car stereo across a parking lot but that only adds to the pissed-off-ness of the proceedings. It’s over pretty fast too, which suits music like this. Young Romantix are even no-wavier, with sax and a girl screaming and the songs are bit more song-y (at least at first). The vocals remind me of Pukers (which is obviously a compliment) and the sax reminds me of some Michigan scum crew, and the meeting of the 2 is kinda a match made in heaven/hell/heck. I can’t imagine why this band wouldn’t rule at a house party, unless they pushed their keyboard stuff to the forefront (which is their main cheesy weakness). Otherwise: B.Y.O.B. In an oversized bag with a magazine photo of a blonde model as ‘artwork.’

WHITE LEATHER “W.L.” (Excitebike Tapes)

Dan and Khris’ terminal abuse team doles out another half hour of Michigander hell-raising, torrents of pissed off circuitry and frowning young men. Bleak, irritated, hostile, and wearing a Negative Approach t-shirt. The A goes from ugly to uglier, trapping you a corner and spitting insults in yr face. The B is a little more hungover, lolling through a nauseous, sea-sick nic fit before slow-motion barfing into a stranger’s shoe. Wasted & Loose, Whippits & Liquor. Edition of 50, sold out for months. The fake-pretty cover art is false advertising.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

JON MUELLER "Hollow Voices / Singing Hands" (Friends and Relatives)

It is on rare occasion that Free Improv music is released on cassette. The genre usually shuns the format, presumably because of the fidelity limitations. The noise floor on a cassette is usually too high for the wide dynamic range most improvisers require. Also, Improv culture is, in general, way less likely to brandish its underground DIY cred; most improvisers are too busy trying to land art grants to play in little white cubes where uninterested people drink Franzia from plastic cups and talk about "exploring issues" and "challenging preconceptions." However, improvising percussionist, Jon Mueller, keeps it real with this tape of Improv pieces for amplified bass drum. I've known Mueller's name for a while as one of the founders of the excellent Crouton music label, and by his CDs with players like Bhob Rainey and Jason Kahn. On this tape, the first Mueller solo recording I've heard, we are provided two tracks of acoustic feedback in a system between a mic'd drum head and a speaker. Mueller also seems to place objects on the drum from time to time; the vibrating of the skin activates the objects, making them rattle about.

Now. Solo Improv is tricky. Some critics claim that without other players, an improvisation cannot truly be "free." The player must be combining and reorganizing units of pre-composed music on the fly, but never achieving something until then unknown, unplayed. The presence of other musicians, and therefore the element of unpredictability, is what pushes a player to find new methods, invent new techniques, evolve his/her language. Granted, this is an old viewpoint, and one more aptly suited to the Improv world of the 1970's. Since then, improvisers have become more concerned with extended technique, the exploration of the physical limits of an instrument. In the case of Mueller's tape, the unpredictability is inherent in the system itself-- his amplified bass drum. Acoustic feedback is notoriously difficult to control with any nuance. Even in Mueller's skilled hands, the sound occasionally gets out of control, or disappears abruptly. And while the music sounds like the struggle between a player and an unruly system, these two pieces also come off as a kind of semi-composed catalogue of the sounds possible within the limited vocabulary of the instrument. And in this way, the imperfections in the performance make the piece fall flat. Solo improvisers working in this same area, like Mark Wastell, Tomas Korber, Graham Halliwell and the aforementioned Kahn, dispense entirely with the live, spontaneous feel of Free Improv, to focus on the "perfect" performance of a specific concept. Rarely in one of their pieces do you hear something that could be interpreted as a mistake. This recent trend has prompted detractors to accuse solo pieces of being boring, sterile, and "new age." This new generation is taking the aesthetics of the end result of Improv, and removing the improvisation from its production (and, as a result, the ideology that supports it). With this tape, Mueller has taken a step backward. This sounds like an Improv release from the early 2000's when we were satisfied by CDs like Toshimaru Nakemura's "NIMB" series and Axel Dörner's "Trumpet," where the skilled examination of a very narrow sound world, previously unheard, was incredibly exciting. The problem is: feedback is feedback is feedback. It sounds pretty much like what you think it should sound like, and the sloppiness of the performance suggests that perhaps this release should be viewed as a throwaway demonstration of Mueller's (admirable) technique, an anomaly in his catalogue.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

IS "All Class" (Community College)

If dear reader is interested in the sort of conceptual harsh noise artist who references Henri Bergson and Martin Heidegger in the same breath as Phil Blankenship and Whitehouse, you might already be familiar with Is, the prolific project of Chicago's Bryan Tholl. This new slab on the Ohio-based Community College imprint saunters down a few different avenues ranging from contact mic'd scrap metal rattling to hissing white squall to subdued rumbling. Side B's "Trochoid" is probably the more successful in pulling off a combination of these textures, ending up with a compelling pairing of half low-end wall, half high-pitched drone. Copies are still available as of this writing. Comes with a glossy heavy-stock j-card.

www.somnimage.com/is.htm
www.myspace.com/isthisis
www.myspace.com/communitycollegerecords

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

FOSSILS “Bell Jar” (Open Range Records)

This Canadian noise factory works straight through the weekend and all major holidays, unloading a staggering amount of product into the shelves and online warehouses of the world. I’m guessing Bell Jar is discog entry 180 or so, so please bear with me if I’m unable to articulate exactly what separates this particular C30 from their last bucket of mixer mucus. The A is blindly harsh and distracted, fluctuating wildly through a spectrum of agitated audio convulsions, and the B is slightly mellower though no less schizophrenic and deranged. I’d be shocked beyond words if Fossils themselves were able to distinguish the bulk of their output and put a name to a jam if tested, as it all runs together into a blurred and monochromatic tape-fucked junkyard of rude FX. Fossils isn’t a band, it’s a lifestyle. In a sandpaper case and spraypainted shit-brown.

BLANK DOGS “On Two Sides” (Fuck It Tapes)

As commonly happens in our current accelerated music hype-topia universe, there’s often bands/artists/styles that one only hears about via blogs or magazines or mass-texts saying that “you gotta check out so-and-so, they’re the new thing!” Sometimes they are and sometimes they’re not but Blank Dogs are a band/dude I always read about in the context of someone ranting “The latest BD single is his best yet! But it’s sold out already! So try to grab the next one!” I guess maybe my internet connection is just slow or something, cause I’ve yet to succeed in grabbing any of his sides. So it’s cool to hear this, thanks to J. Earl handling the CS edition of Blank Dogs’ TMU full-length. And it’s cool to learn that the underground blogosphere is ranting/raving about a dude who sounds identical to this CDR of Soft Cell demos a friend gave me in 2002. Pre-“Tainted Love,” Marc Almond’s shit sounded JUST like this. Mid-tempo drum machines, poppy robot guitars, lo-fi space age singing – New Wave for dudes on the dole basically. This is the American food stamps version.

POLISH HEX (Excitebike Tapes)

Don’t know if this is just another Dan band/plan or some other Michigan crusty, but the sound is what you’d expect to find inside an edition-of-27 red vellum skull-covered J-card with a spray-painted blob sticker stuck to the front: gross, raw, personal puke-tronics. Sometimes moody, sometimes not, sometimes sparse, sometimes not. Might be high-art, might be no-art. Breaks down all barriers, basements, bullpens, bullshit. The hopelessly esoteric moments here sink in with me best (some chunks just sound like a guy dropping bricks on concrete 50 yards away). I’m pretty sure this was dubbed on a recycled tape too, cause some radio-ready soft rock blares through in a couple places, and there’s at least 25 minutes of dead space at the end of each side. Pretty likable for what it is (whatever that is!).

VESUVAN “Cosmic Caverns” (Slime City Tapes)

Young Josh Burke has been pouring vast vats of audio-drip into the global slime pool since he finally decided to start recording/releasing his Vesuvan messes a few months ago, and “Cosmic Caverns” is release number one on his own Slime City Tapes bedroom label. First off you should know that this CS is 90 minutes long, and it is dubbed unbearably quiet (I fast forwarded through the first half of side A thinking it was blank). So, as it’s damn nigh impossible to even discern the existence of music on this cassette, I can’t in all professional good conscience recommend it as an apt starting place for folks interested in plumbing the Vesuvan canon. From what I CAN tell, turning up all volumes to 10, is that it is tape-manipulated sludge with no beginning, middle, end, editing, or overdubs.

Friday, March 7, 2008

SUNBURNED HAND OF THE MAN / EMERALDS split (Man Hand)

Cool split between some dudes who have been running the underground track since Nirvana was a band on Geffen not New Age Tapes and some dudes who have been smoking indo on analog synths since No Fun Fest 2006. Old meets new, basically. Savvily and radly, Sunburned reign in their clattery beard blather for an Emeraldsian zoner séance of keyboard levitation and moon sparkle that’s probably the best jam I’ve heard by ‘em in my lifetime (though I’ve only heard about 16% of their discog, I’d guess). Ohio’s chosen sons, for their part, do not disappoint in the least. The Joan Osborne-ly titled “What If God Was On The Subway” ascends a single-file escalator into the sky using a glorious procession of synth arrangements that all sound immaculately mapped and pre-destined to fuse together into this piece’s singular architecture. I gotta say I passionately love it when a band with as much online fervor/hoopla/hype as Emeralds back it up release after release with consummately executed magic like this. So thoughtful and deliberate and intentional it demands the rest of the musical planet’s droners raise their own game, NOW.

JESSICA RYLAN + ORPHAN FAIRYTALE “Lost in Time and Space” (Pluim)

Two of noise’s least classifiable females team up for this pipe-cleaner-entwined purple CS on Eva/Fairytale’s here-today-gone-tomorrow label. I’m in love with most OF stuff but teaming up with Ms. Rylan has for whatever reason resulted in a totally flat, no-fi wall of plinky-plonky keyboard noise that fails to hypnotize or evolve. It starts at a frantic electric pace and never blinks for the duration of its running time. Maybe the acoustics of the space where this piece was performed were radder than what the tape recorder captured, but if not this seems like a pretty tedious way to kill a quarter hour. Wish I could get my six bucks back.

UNEVEN UNIVERSE / VILLA VALLEY “Saint Louis Blues” (Excitebike Tapes)

Yet another pairing of Khris and Dan’s prolific sound worlds (how many does this make? They’re like the Lemmon & Matthau of Ferndale noise!). This one’s called Saint Louis Blues, and it’s either a tribute to the hockey team of the same name or just a couple live recordings that I assume were recorded in said city. The UU side makes me laugh/mosh because, despite being ostensibly created by FX-mangled horns, it really doesn’t in any way for even a fraction of a second resemble the sound of horns! This in itself is obviously a huge achievement. Strangled peals of high-end distortion blare out and twist above the table of mixers and cords. What I dig about it is how long they stretch the tones out, one after the other, warping yr perception until it almost starts sounding weirdly jazzy?! Way different from other recent UU sides, which I appreciate immensely. The Villa Valley set is typically dense and incomprehensible, slogging through numb wormholes and piercing shrieks. I can’t help but wonder what “hi-fi” VV would sound like, as this is about 30th outing I’ve heard by them where I can’t tell what the fuck’s going on due to how ridiculously blown out everything’s recorded. A man can dream, can’t he? In a nice metallic-flecked vellum J-card.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

SLASHER RISK “Vole” (Abandon Ship Records)

AWESOME. I love when I throw on a tape and in the first 5 seconds can already tell I love it. Never heard this band before but obviously they have a sweet name and fortunately the audio doesn’t disappoint. Their style seems to bury a low, thudding drum machine rhythm (or, if it ain’t a machine, it sure sounds like it) deep in the mix and then let loose roiling, driving briar patches of blazing lo-fi feedback on top of it. The subliminal beat keeps the chaos in motion and makes things feel like they’re building to some grand finale (which they sort of aren’t, but whatever). The second of the two A siders totally kills, garage kraut cruising into a black-and-red wasteland of electricity and good times. Shit gets heavily blown out in parts, but the speaker-fry is definitely a key ingredient in Slasher Risk’s crash-n-burn cauldron. Interestingly, the B track totally deviates from the fury of the A, rumbling through a ten-miles-wide cavernous warehouse of resonant metal and evocative emptiness. If the whole tape sounded like this I’d probably get sleepy/bored, but as a cleanser to the first side I’m alright with it. Overall though: give this dude/dude crew a B+ or something, I wanna hear more.

JOSH MCABEE AND THE (7/13) MOON "untitled" (Scumbag Relations)

As a general policy, I’m pretty PRO-confusion. But this tape really puts my stance on the stand, cause there’s so much weird misinformation going down that I don’t even know how to process the actual audio. To avoid total falsehood-perpetuating, I’ll just transcribe the facts I’ve found. The spine of this CS says “Josh McAbee and the (7/13) Moon.” Then there’s song titles on the inside, but no album title. The Scumbag Relations website lists this release as “7/13 (moons) ‘ism is not.’” Then on the likely-long-since-updated tripod artist site it mentions this tape as “7/13 - ‘Ism in not.’” Then on McAbee’s MySpace page it seems to list the ‘artist’ name as “(7/13)” even though the URL is myspace.com/713moons. Clear as mud, right? I do however give massive credit/laughs to the honesty of his MySpace page slogan thing: “Making no sense since 1984.” At any rate, the songs/sounds contained herein are zero-fi mechanical landscapes of foggy FX and distant whirring motors. Cold and impersonal and 38 minutes long. Those seeking additional info are advised to conduct their own investigation.

LOOPOOL “Spells” (JK Tapes)

Life-wanderer Jean-Paul Garnier farms out another five-song riddle of computery drones, flamboyant spoken word, and creepy instrumentation for some unclear purpose. I keep trying to pay attention to the music but the abysmal quality of the J-card/insert is so xxxtreme as to be hypnotic. Not only does the collage look like it was thrown together in about 3 seconds on Photoshop using low-res images snagged from a lazy Google search, but the whole thing was printed so pixilated and blurry that you can barely read the generic Courier New font/text. Add to this the fact that the insert is mis-cut so you can’t read the last 3 words of every line AND the center labels are bubbled and tearing cause of excess watercoloring on them and you have a truly & unambiguously ugly object on yr plate. I gladly recognize that many individuals do not share my neuroses regarding proper-resolution printing and carefully executed packaging, but within my own worldview it’s crucial, which makes this CS a disaster. One of the few releases I’ve ever heard in my life that I’d rather own as a download (I guess).

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

TALIBAM! / LE HARMACY Split (MT5 Tapes)

This Talibam! / Le Harmacy split marks the debut of the, um, "subsidiary" of MT6 Records out of Baltimore. Talibam! are at the top of their usual flailing form on an NYC studio date from late 2006. Most of the side's duration captures the hyper elastic all-guns-blazing improv this trio has become known for over a span of prolific releases and live sets in the last couple years. Matt Mottel conjures a melting Galaga of a spacescape on synth with 8-bit staccatos colliding like trapped Lotto balls. Kevin Shea is unflappable on drums, barely pausing the skittering waves of snare and hi-hat interplay unless unexpectedly dropping into a 4/4 disco stomp (this happens more than a couple times). Ed Bear's sax begins sorely buried in the mix but becomes gradually prominent and the session is better for his angular counterpoint to Mottel. The concluding minutes are somber and reflective as Mottel switches to acoustic piano, Bear dredges up some murky blues and Shea intuitively carries the dialogue with subtle brushwork. A perfect ending.
Le Harmacy could be the unofficial Italian sister band of Talibam!, with Diego Fattori's scratchy and manic guitar replacing Mottel's keys. Nicolo' Fattori trades in the bass for squelching synth on the middle segment but the equipment lacks the dexterity of Lorenzo Senni's drums. After a wailing inertia at the outset, Le Harmacy sound less and less like a Hella-loving rock improv trio as the side progresses, which could be a good thing or not. All the same, a very appropriate matchup and solid opening salvo from MT5.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

GRIZ+ZLOR "Nocturnal Beasts" (Earth.Space Noise Research Laboratories)

The first promo addressed to Cassette Gods with the specific request that it be reviewed by me! How cool is that? I was clearly picked out of the critic roster by Griz+zlor because of my column on the Wall Noise subgenre, which this tape happily belongs to. Unfortunately, even as I wrote that column six months ago, I felt the WN phenomenon slipping out of popularity in the noise world. Culture moves so fast these days that we can feel nostalgic about things that happened last month; nothing sticks around for long before it gets mulched behind Benjamin's angel of history, and snarked at by VH1's "Best Week Ever." WN hasn't quite gone the way of Lil Jon beats and bullet-time FX shots yet, but the outlook isn't good. For this reason, this tape (unfairly) sounds a bit like a relic. "Nocturnal Beasts" is a slow c97 (dude!) whose two sides stay within a mid-heavy frequency range. Even at super loud volumes, the pieces aren't exactly harsh, they're lulling. I would sooner compare them to a bedside noise generator designed to aid sleep than to a nuclear holocaust, or some equally violent metaphor. In this respect, I would say that Griz+lor's WN material has more in common with Richard Ramirez's more subtle projects (Werewolf Jerusalem and recent Man Plug come to mind) whose static drone style is less concerned with brutality than it is with texture and atmosphere. However, Griz+zlor's sound pallet is less sophisticated than Ramirez's, less detailed; close listening reveals a shallow dynamic depth with fewer layers of individual crunch than one would hope to find. Rather than seduce a person to listen further, it encourages him/her into a trance like state; noise to be ignored, or received subconsciously while other mental tasks are performed. In this sense, it is merely a good tape, and unfortunately, considering the current uncoolness of WN, only great tapes will impress. (The excellent B-side of Forbidden Fuck's "Borderline" cassette on Callow God gets a pass simply because it is so detailed and skillfully produced that the listener cannot help but be sucked into its world.) "Nocturnal Beasts" is the type of tape that I will listen to often, but probably while reading a book, not while staring at my speakers, unable to tear myself from the sound.