Friday, June 27, 2008

SEAGULL "From Grass and Earth" (Smoke Filled Casket)

Somehow this recent slab sent in from Seagull's Michael Piercey became unfairly buried in the "already reviewed" pile and so did not appear in the most recent column (which is solely comprised of a ton of reviews to make up for my absence on the 'Gods blog). Just as well, because this piece absolutely kills and so deserves a little extra shine on its lonely.
Seagull recently appeared on the second volume of Sam McKinlay's excellent Lake Shark Harsh Noise compilations. Whereas that track ("The Heart Lies Dormant Against All Who Come For It") had a brutal mid-range heft, this second edition of "From Grass and Earth" is considerably more sadistic on the ears. Scalding sheets of high-pitched hiss and feedback are the main attraction here, particularly on Side A. That might not seem rare in harsh noise, but the particular way Seagull pulls it off is kind of refreshing in a scene of mostly low-end crunch worshippers. Characteristically, "From Grass and Earth" owes more to older Japanese artists like Pain Jerk than Canadian contemporaries like The Rita. It's "dirty" noise that ignores the usual defined, crumbling textures of the wall style in favor of greasy machine overload. At the same time, the layers congeal, separate and rub against each other to create an atmosphere of ghostly subtleties and unexpected harmony.
All in all, a perfect noise tape. Could have sworn this duo had a Myspace page at some point but now I can't find it. Seagull's own label is listed below in all its mailorder-ready glory. I suggest you visit and purchase this item and other merchandises and support the tenure of High Canadian Noise, long may it reign.

www.smokefilledcasket.com

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

XTRA VOMIT "Inebriation" (Otherwise Dead Records)

Awesome hardcore punk in just about every way. The riffs are catchy but not poppy. The vocal is strenuous and very human; totally youthful. I listen to this a lot in my car (but if you're on a bike you could use yr walkman, which is seeming like a MUCH more appealing situation these days). The production rules so fucking hard cos it's way raw and warm but not lo-fi, not losing any clarity and you can hear what's going on to the right degree I think; even the way the tracks are linked together is perfect; classic sample clips between tracks edited well and not akward or detracting from the music... I got this tape from the Loaded For Bear / Abrade tour in January 2007. I guess this guy Xtra Vomit, or Sock from Grand Rapids MI, was supposed to be with em or something and he couldn't make it, so they were getting his tapes out to people along the way. I didn't initially know what it was (just that it was probably punk or grind and not a noise tape); didn't know it was a solo act or that it was drum machine cos it's kind of like Mavis Concave's SX where the machine is pretty similar to a standard hxc punk drum style. There's a cover of the band Cress (in some ways similar, but not same, as Crass) which I didn't know before Cress actually used drum machines too. This tape definitely got me listening to a lot of Cress afterwards, which I'd really only heard briefly until then, and I can see a good amount of influence they might've had on the Xtra Vomit material in content and approach. There's a xerox zine/book that comes with the tape and it's got the words and collages and notes, totally fun but not at all just some childish bullshit trying to adhere to some stereotyped aesthetic. Xtra Vomit rules cos it's one dude in the midwest doing what he wants to do in the vein of classic hxc punk even in the 21st century. I think we're playing with him in Grand Rapids next month, so I'm pretty stoked. I hear there are other releases besides this "Inebriation" tape too... Robert Inhuman, June 2008

Thursday, June 12, 2008

JERK "Narrow Bionic" (Catholic Tapes)

From a murk that threatens to be the tedium of yet another drone-sludge release emerges fantastic and masterful rock music. With no-reference points that are meaningful, Jerk firmly has its own sound that centered around energized rhythms that evolve perfectly. Using the textures of both electronic and acoustic instruments, the beats fun and upbeat without sacrificing the meat. Sparse vocals punctuate just enough to make it a true rock affair. While fans of everything from Arab on Radar to Racoo-oo-oon would love this, Jerk don't travel any type of conservative road calculated to please everyone. They just weave a magic and unique rhythm based sound that feels great. Get it to soundtrack your summer by.

Friday, June 6, 2008

JOHN WIESE "Don't Move Your Finger" b/w "Corpse Solo" (Ecstatic Peace!)

A special brand of legitimacy is bestowed upon Noise artists who do not use pseudonyms. They get to do fancy shows funded by arts councils. (Nothing sounds less worthy of the Fine Arts gallery world than a Noise project called Feedback Twerp, or Stab Wound Crap Sack, regardless of how appropriate for the setting the music may be.) "Real name" artists don't have the burden of adhearing to one specific aesthetic the way that a project with a psuedonym must. In the case of John Wiese, I would never suggest that he is undeserving of any of his success, only that he wouldn't have had the same type of success had he called himself something goofy like almost everybody else. The issue is, how do these artists use their "real name" credibility to further their music, or the genre as a whole. Last year, Wiese toured Europe in a lineup featuring some current popular Noise artists, C. Spencer Yeh and the members of D. Yellow Swans, and some old-school English Free Improv musicians like Evan Parker and John Edwards. The shows were billed as "Free Noise" in an uninspired attempt to mashup the two genre names-- as if Noise weren't somehow "free" in the same sense as Free Jazz and Free Improv in the first place. (Or does it mean that they weren't charging a cover at the door?)

The result of this tour, for the rest of Wiese's work, seems to be a renewed excitement about improvisation and the musical aesthetic of Improv. After he returned from tour, Wiese set up the Sissy Spacek 13-tet, a truly abominable Improv performance featuring members of Mika Miko and No Age who, I'm certain if quizzed, could not name any of the original members of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, let alone grasp what Wiese was actually asking them to do in the performance. It was as if only half of the thirteen players (Mitchell Brown and Joseph Hammer specifically) were even aware that Free Improvisation was a musical practice that hundreds of brilliant people have devoted their entire careers to since the mid-1960's-- i.e.: a practice with a rich history to which a player must have some responsibility before they get up in front of a sold-out crowd and start fucking around.

Wiese has been much more successful adapting his newfound interest in old-school Improv to his solo work. The cassette, "Don't Move Your Finger b/w Corpse Solo" is the first document I've heard of a style in which Wiese has been performing occasionally throughout the last year or so. Whether or not the pieces are truly improvised is not the point-- they may be thoroughly composed. The sound borrows heavily from the moment-to moment logic of early European Free Improv (EFI) music. Both sides of the tape (appropriately recorded live in Holland and "somewhere in Europe") use minute slices of audio: Wiese shuffling around with contact mics, hitting drums / table legs, and twanging guitar strings. These sounds are placed among very short silences, and ping-ponged across the stereo spectrum. The feeling is very similar to the later days of EFI when electronics became more common but the compositional logic of the players hadn't yet adapted to their new instruments' strengths. One touchstone may be the music of Furt. This tape, like a Furt album, has a distinctly electronic sound palette, a British sense of fussiness (in a very Derek Bailey / John Stevens kind of way) and a pre-EAI (Electro-Acoustic Improvisation) idea of time and linearity. Wiese is proving here that he could have easily held his own had he appeared on the (so-called) orange CD on Charhizma, but on nothing afterward.

The real strength of this area of Wiese's music is not totally represented on this tape, however. The tape is good-- in fact, really good. But when Weise plays similar material live, it is the influence of his Noise music upbringing that makes this style into something special. He plays it loud. Really fucking loud. Which is not something that Furt do. And really, that volume is what pulls this stuff out of the realm of homage (to EFI, to Evan Parker, to whatever) and into something genuinely new. It sounds stupid to say that something so simple could, so drastically, change the nature of this music, but it is absolutely the case. The actual sounds that Wiese plays are, to my ears, undistorted. It is uncommon to hear clean audio at really high volume, and for it to be as violent and assaulting as Wises makes it. Seriously, I thought my teeth might rattle out of my head in the middle of the concert. The one aspect of EFI that Wiese has done away with entirely is it's politeness. By simply cranking the volume, he's given it quite a bit of attitude. So even though he records and perform under his real name (and not Withered By Her Stare or Autoerotic Nightstick) John Weise can still bring the noise. Even when seduced by other areas of art music (those that are substantially better funded) he choses to retain a degree of the confrontational nature inherent to Noise, learned through a decade of Noise mastery.

GREY SKULL "Soft Spots" (Breaking World/Bonescraper)

West Mass power trio return from a nebulous hiatus to bludgeon out a punishing pair of half-hour tapes of classic free drum/noise in the hallowed Grey Skull mode. The double cassette is a good format for expansive abusers like GS because it allows enough running time for the beatings to subside for short spells and then resurrect in fresh waves of amplifier violence, which keeps yr ears limber and alert (and waiting for the next blow to fall). I keep hearing rumors of a half-decade-in-the-making LP on Ultra Eczema, and this shit could only sound better if it was blasted on black wax, so I hope the grapevine is tellin' the truth, cause that's worth holding out for. In the meantime however "Soft Spots" is a solid hour of unique psychedelic assaults (some studio, some live) that's perfect for erasing the world and blacking out all thoughts. Fills a similar hole in yr head to shit like Hair Police and certain Load Records outings, high energy misery to combat life's bleaker evenings. With great double-cover art by G Skullers George Myers and Jeff Hartford.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

PANOPTICON EYELIDS "Glitter Vomit" (Abandon Ship)

I confess: I was a bit worried when I saw that the B side of this CS was titled "Goodbye Booze/Hello'weed Night," because joke/jokey music is a really jagged pill for me to swallow happily most of the time (there's exceptions, but they're rare). Fortunately, my hesitation was totally unwarranted: this tape/band rules. Panopticon Eyelids are a Montreal posse of weirdos who play really deranged psychedelic rock in a totally unique and unhinged way. The guitar/bass/drums does the classic long-form jam-based freak-out thing, sticking together in a united blobby bobbing mess of motion that seems secretly way more focused and precise than the vibe it gives off. But then they've got someone puking all this stretchy-sounding taffy electronics over the top that sounds kinda hilarious and loony in a cartoon acid trip sorta way. It's hard to describe but it really works for me. It also doesn't hurt things that the A side track is called "Electron Headbanging," because 1) that's awesome, and 2) it's accurate. The "Booze/Weed" B side is basically more of the same, but it's great too, muddy goon squad rock pogo-marching into fields of aluminum foil and poppies. The opening line of their self-penned Myspace bio sums up the dumb/rad path they tread: "Panopticon Eyelids was born in 2002 just before the city of Montreal was taken over by the Ethiopium Biker Rock gang." Sign my ass up for more, please.

CHRISTINA CARTER "Texas Working Blues" (Blackest Rainbow)

I'm fucking floored that after this many years of non-stop music-making Christina Carter can still sit down in a wooden chair, put her hands around an electric guitar, and free-associate fresh arrangements of notes and chords and lyrics and solos and not be bored shitless. Right? I mean, I guess if you multiply six strings by, what, 21-or-so fret positions per string, and then you have to multiply that by something else, because of all the barre chords and open positions and fingerpicking possibilities like that....well, once you start doing the math the number of potential jams to bust on an electric guitar is pretty endless I suppose. But still. The point is that Christina's earliest East Texas loner blues came drifting into the cosmos a long, long time ago ('91-ish?), and here she is, 2008, and "Texas Working Blues" is easily as bewitching and beatific a set of songs as she's ever recorded in her entire life. Stunning and simple ballads of the heart and soul, layered in electric grace, lost on the plains, lying in the dirt, staring at the stars, etc.