Friday, June 29, 2007

V/A "BTHO" (Ecstatic Peace)

Born To Hang Out, huh? Is that what all these guys go and do when they leave shows all early and shit? Heh. Just kidding. The concept of this release is that all the artists featured on this comp live within the 90028 zip code in Los Angeles, and, as the name of their posse would suggest, they all hang out together all the time. From this I presume the listener is supposed to glean some kind of sense of how cool it would be to kick it with the SoCal Noise Elite, maybe have a backyard BBQ. Among some, this tape could have the appeal of, say, A Hard Day’s Night, or Ocean’s Eleven—movies whose success is based mostly on how badly the audience wishes they too could hang out with (and be as cool as) their stars.
It is mentioned in the press release that this is the first cassette on Ecstatic Peace in well over twenty years. Apparently the label is a little rusty on how this whole thing should work. First off: by some anomalous dubbing fiasco, my copy of BTHO contains absolutely no audio in the right stereo channel. None. Totally silent. Both sides of the tape. I don’t know how much I am missing by only hearing the left channel. Maybe the tape contains sing-alongs that I’m not hearing because all the vocals are crammed into the right channel in tribute to Phil Specter’s production techniques from the late 1960’s. Secondly: the artwork is pretty janky—a pixilated picture on a flimsy piece of printer paper cut slightly too large to fit into the cassette case but crumpled up and rammed in nonetheless. And finally: the tabs aren’t popped out on the cassette itself. Do they want me to tape over this?
Side A begins with a track by The Cherry Point (AKA Phil Blankenship) named for actress Kelli Maroney. Though little connection can be drawn between the music and Maroney’s masterpieces, Night of the Comet and Chopping Mall, it is a very satisfying slab of noise. Thinner sounding than TCP’s other material, a smaller frequency range is employed without sacrificing any of the harshness. What we’re left with is a blistering mid/high range sizzle with some occasional whistling feedback.
The Sissy Spacek track “Bannanas” is a cut-up collage of a quartet lineup of the band. The source material seems to all be acoustic, as if the members of the band were banging around on whatever they could find in somebody’s kitchen. C. Spencer Yeh (who definitely does not live in the 90028 zip) joins the usual crew of John Wiese, Corydon Ronnau and Danny McClain with some frantic violin sawing. The whole thing kinda sounds like a bunch of Martians fighting about groceries—low-fi clanging and jibbering with all the fussiness of an Evan Parker/Derek Bailey duo, but with all the aggression of, well, Sissy Spacek.
Allen Pyle is the solo project of Shannon Walter, a recent émigré to LA and member of 16 Bitch Pile-Up. Her track “Total Fuckingly” is quite nice—heavy crackling with bursts of out-of-control feedback. I can’t help but imagine it’s power is severely neutered when only one channel is audible.
Tom Grimley really was born to hang out. Seeing him play is pretty much the most fun a person can have in Los Angeles. If you don’t know his deal, look him up. To describe the nature of his performances would require much more space and attention than the format of the cassette review will allow. Suffice it to say that any recording pales in comparison to the experience of witnessing it live—yet the recording still fucking rules.
Obstacle Corpse (Ronnau again) closes out side A with a track that sounds just like Obstacle Corpse—which is great for people outside of LA, because this project is sadly under-documented, but for those of us who get to hear him play live every couple of weeks, the piece is pretty unsurprising.
Damion Romero’s “Faux Vespa (For Joe Colley)” could very well be an unprocessed recording of a scooter engine—perhaps the spiritual (smaller) sister to his 3”CD Idle, on P-Tapes. John Wiese’s track is probably very nice, but ill-suited to the cassette medium whose signal to noise ratio is too high for the type of subtlety and quietude he’s attempting. Again: maybe the left channel makes the whole thing come together much better.
Seven Depressions is the duo project of Damion Romero and Shannon Walter. The multiple appearances by some artists on this comp seems a little bit cheap, but how many people can really live in the same zip code, right? (This recombination only hints at the hilarity that is Traumatic Stress, the one-sided 7” whereon every possible combination of Wiese, Blankenship and Ronnau is explored, all within five minutes.) The tape ends with a piece by GX Jupitter-Larsen of The Haters— a Morse code message which I can only imagine decodes to: “Born to hang out? WTF? Nobody has seen me at a noise show in LA in more than a year.”
And then, because the material on side B is shorter than that on side A, there is a long long silence until the tape actually stops. Grrrrrrr.
Honestly, it’s too bad this isn’t better. Several of these tracks are great, and every one of the artists on this comp is a serious heavyweight. If Ecstatic Peace decides to release any more cassettes after this, I hope the quality of the dubbing/artwork/everything matches the quality of the content with which they've been entrusted.
BTW: this reviewer is looking forward to the inevitble beefs that will arise out of the creation of noise crews such as this. Look at what happens with the Diplomats, G-Unit, D-Block, etc. Personally, I can't wait for the BTHO vs. Scum Crew mixtapes to start hitting the streets.