MEF TEEF / OWL XOUNDS split (Arbor)

For disciples of that sometimes bizarre arc that joins "traditional" free musics with contemporary noise and other-ism, this split joins two young groups in what has been a prolific year for both. Iowa City's Mef Teef will probably be familiar to regular readers of this site. With Raccoo-oo-oon's Andy Spore beating out constantly mutating rhythms (although it's not clear whether there's always one person on percussion), the remaining troupe of Zaander, Kmiec and Kinkade create an interplay of trumpet, guitar, saxophone, piano, whistles and whatever else happens to be lying around. As Arbor head Mike Pollard notes on the label description, the session progresses with definitive mood changes. Mef Teef might not have existed long as a collective entity, but the members are extremely receptive to each other and able to adapt to spontaneous changes in a way which recalls much maturer groups. As heard on their previous output, the band prefer to stay out of the fire music and concentrate on quirky melodic changes, quiet textures and I swear there's a nod or two to Steely Dan. Most importantly, the band has a good sense of humor; you don't have to play like Albert Ayler, just play what you like.
Owl Xounds plays the polar opposite to Mef Teef. Once Adam Kriney starts splashing the cymbals (and dude has some SERIOUS cymbals), it's a nonstop barn burner. The liner notes admit that this live Cakeshop (Manhattan, NYC) set was recorded on the shittiest of handheld Sonys, so it's difficult to discern everything going on, especially since the set was obviously pretty loud. Greg Vegas' electric guitar is unfortunately buried in the mix, but there's a good long segment that spotlights some outstanding bowed double bass by Gene Janas. Darius Jones tries to bust a rib on the alto like Brotzmann, and he comes pretty close. This is the first tape release that Owl Xounds has appeared on, and unfortunately it's already sold out from the label. Interested parties may want to track down their LP on Wooden Wand's Mad Monk label or one of their many CDs.

MAMMAL + HIVE MIND “I've Been Sick” (Animal Disguise)

Michigan wastoid kings descend into the shock pit for 30 minutes of flat-lining tonal fisticuffs. Severe stasis shrieking gives way to oscillating bursts of blurry distortion roars, all coated in a cold hiss of galvanized steel and low-wage hostility. Not as stoned as most Hive Mind excursions but more loose and rambling than a lot of Mammal jams, “I've Been Sick” works pretty effectively as a nihilistic meditation tape. The B side in particular has a long back-and-forth swaying section that accurately simulates the sensation of staring drunkenly down at a table of pedal junk, eyes clouding over, everything going slowly black. The sickness thickens, building into a dense hypnotism of buried sirens, screeching wheels, and lifeless loops. Sounds like men being defeated by machines.

BARK HAZE “Macannabis” (Arbor)

This is the most Heavy Tapes-looking non-Heavy Tapes release of all time. Religious Knife Maya Miller did the carnivorous tree psychedelic landscape art here, and it’s pretty stunning…full color, two-sided, acid-fried. Music-wise, however, “Macannabis” (a weed joke of some sort?) is a cool C30 of Thurston Moore and Andrew MacGregor’s (Gown) improv duo with Pete Nolan lending bonus drums to the equation, which gives the guitar-duels some percussion to brawl on. The A side bleeds through some restrained riff murk and stuttery cymbal-riding until Gown starts falsetto moaning and Thurston begins Lambsbread-shredding the fretboard, hastening a decline into formless skronk that sprawls for a little, then cuts off abruptly. The B side is similar. After some mathy shred-mess they synchronize a 1-note low-end downstroke and cruise on that while Pete skitters the crashes and busts complicated fills in the background (it actually sounds like he’s using a drum machine for some of it but who knows?). A solid half-hour of all-star guitar fuckery/amplifier bramble harnessed against some steady low-mixed drumming. Fans of free garage jamming in the classic American tradition will find tons to dig on here.

BLACK VATICAN “Zed Omega” (Night People)

C38 of unpredictable genre-hopping by this Iowa City unknown loner (band?). Has a Modern Lovers delusional positivity in many places that’s enforced by the garage arrangements, upbeat choruses, and J Richman-style sincerity/singing. Lyrics about wanting to live, sugar in beverages, and unhealthy behavior are all delivered with an affected urgency that’s mainly endearing. But BV can’t be pinned so easily, bizarre elements filter in all over the place: new age flutes, electronic pulsings, prayer vocals, savage wah-wah, “do do do” doo-wop, blown-out bass grooves, dripping water samples, dub experimentalism…this shit’s all over the place. Actually, the longer I listen to it the weirder “Zed Omega” gets. Definitely one of the most awesomely out-of-the-blue Night People tapes to date. With standard killer Shawn Reed cover art.

KEVIN SHIELDS “Cavity Fever” (Arbor)

Live, Eva Aguila likes to grind this turn-of-the-century-looking metal crank and run that through a bunch of distortion pedals and kill everyone with ears, but on recordings the crank is less prevalent. This is especially true on “Cavity Fever.” The opener, “Homely Straw,” is a pensive passage of mixer bleeps and numb robot gas…and although subsequent jams like “Lovely Day Is A Hike Day” don’t shy away from shrill sine-wave dog-frequencies, nothing is as brutally “face down in a tank of electric eels” as the tracks on her recent Deathbomb full-length (“The Death of Patience”). The B side tracks are a bit more merciless and mechanized than the relative tranquility of the A stuff, but I’m splitting hairs here. Cartoon monster heads blooming into fat turnips adorn the J-card courtesy of World Breaker George Myers, and it’s a predictably sweet thing to stare at for a while.

LOVE LETTERS "Santeria" (Hate State)

Inspired by the famed Yoruba-derived religion in Cuba and reputably recorded in the country as well (if not somewhere else in the Caribbean), Albert and Christina Casais' new one delves into fevered hallucination from the get go. If any dead relatives were summoned through this one, it would hardly be a surprise. "Santeria" is flooded with swells of dark unconsciousness, seizuring high-pitched chirps, the sound of machines speaking in tongues and perhaps invoking something beyond the sum of their parts. Even the red tint of the cassette recalls sacrificial blood. This is definitely an affecting and unique addition to the cadre of conceptual noise dealing with religion and the occult. As with all Hate State releases, this one is wrapped in a hand-knit package by Hate State proprietor Eva Aguila. Recommended (as if you needed to be told).

COCKS OF THE DEAD "Blowskull Tape 1" (Phase!)

Housed in a nondescript cassette and nestled within a sturdy pink sheet splattered with a blue stamp appropriate for the group's tag, this Cocks of the Dead release looks slightly misleading, as if it were some hiss-saturated basement jam. It's not (although anything with a pink cover gets bonus points here). "Blowskull Tape 1" is a clean patchwork of static and moving layers of electronics, harsh in texture but measured enough not to overpower each other. Quietness is one of the best aspects on these sides, inviting attention to minimal stirring in the equipment and providing a dynamic for larger cut-up blocks to maneuver through. A few minutes pass on side A before the elements fall into a visible direction, but from there it's an engaging trip. One segment late on side B is an arresting frozen stasis where melodic whirring (possibly keyboard) lies beneath crackling electricity and all else is silent. Information on this group is nonexistent as far as I can tell, but hopefully there will be more COTD releases unearthed in the future. This is another item from the Athens, Greece label Phase!, which has a nicely done website here.

PUKERS “Dead Dog” (Night People)

Andy Spore (of Raccoo-oo-oon) and his girlfriend Olga’s new drums-and-voice attack duo barfs out this great/gross debut C23. Apparently R-Coon drummer Ryan Garbes contributes some guitar action to a few of these tracks as well, but you’d be hard pressed to identify a “riff” within the in-the-red percussion apocalypto and guttural mouth-breathing (though Ryan does rage on some harmonica a little on the A side and it manages to peek through the noise smokescreen pretty well). The B songs are a little less blown to hell, but Olga makes up for it by howling out some heavily fucked throat-song punk puke. File under: WEIRD. Also, they get FIERCE bonus points for naming the tape’s last track “All My Life I Dream Of Good Food, Good Loving.” Are you kidding?! Awesome. I think we can all relate to that. Pukers make music for the people.

NONHORSE / HORSE HEAD “Horse Split” (JK Tapes)

Two totally unrelated musical projects thrown together on a C30-something because they both have “horse” in their band name (in case you didn’t infer that from the title) on this new tape/CDR label. Gabriel Lucas’ Non-Horse outing here is a recording of a pretty good live set, lots of smearily collaged sound sources bleeding into one another…wind tunnels, rain, acoustic guitar plucks, beans-in-a-tin-can, factory clatter, melodica? Typically untraceable and mysterious. The jam dwindles out on a smoky/jazzy vibe, and then Mr. GLC gets on the mic and thanks everybody for coming and says it “was worth the 8 hour bus ride” and mentions he has merch for sale. Hopefully he sold some stuff! Orange County outcasts Horse Head are on the flip, and they hold down their rep as radical unpredictables. Apparently they’ve become a sloppy/outsider boogie band in the interval since their last release? Baffling. Slow, 3-chord basement rock with basic basslines, nasally angsty singing, and messy drums. Oh well. I guess it’s good to have zero clue what a band is going for sometimes. Tape comes in a nice thick white vinyl tape case and is drenched with spray paint and peeling labels.


Reverse Mouth is the duo of Panagiotis Spoulos and Sofia Zoitu who hail from Athens, Greece. Spoulos also runs the Phase! label which issued this release. "Negative Cutter" is a slab of minimal amplifier abuse, heavy on guitar feedback and effects twitching. It has some good ear-wincing moments, but the second half runs out of steam too soon. Brooklyn-based Slasher Risk (currently on tour in Europe) offer an extremely muddy four-on-the-floor stomp a la Punks with "American Football Fux." Disco beats, smoky riffage and thanks to the squalid recording a liberal dose of "???"

CALLING THE SKY PEOPLE “Meditations III” (Midori)

Never heard of this band, tape, or label, but it sounds like they have a good time. Deep cave noise echoes and guitar noodling phase in and out of a heavy haze of tape hiss and general murk. The J-card art is a similar murk of paint, pages ripped from magazines, and fabric shreds. Ok, I Googled around, it seems the label is based out of Canada. But I don’t know if the band is a band (it sounds like it is) or just the label dude’s solo jam alter-ego. Either way: pretty great tape! The B side starts off a lot more skuzzy and misanthropic, but eventually cuts to a straight field recording of rain. Which is nice, in the way that listening to the rain instead of murk-noise can be nice.

BIRDS OF DELAY “Live From Mind Avalanche” (Arbor)

UK noise duo offer up a C25 of high-pitched tonal flatlining. Way less ragged and enveloping than their usual white light/white heat pedal-heavy fare. The A side picks an ear-piercing frequency and holds it for the better part of 8 minutes, with a few waves of electronics oscillations floating through sporadically. It’s a tense scene, but ends quickly, leaving a long stretch of non-music tape hiss to unwind in. The B terrain is a little more varied, with an evolving landscape of looping densities, feedback blocks, and Line 6 groans/moans. Overall a fairly repressed patch of sonics compared with the explosive rapture of a lot of the Birds back catalog. Maybe they are trapped under Mind Avalanche, tapping out SOS signals with broken fingers on frozen delay pedals?


Sick set of new Yellow Swans tracks compiled for their recent European free-noise tour (w/Metalux, Wiese, Yeh, etc), with classic elliptical visual tape-case trippery by Shawn Reed. Impeccable balance of Pete’s higher-end hypno-stasis tones with Gabe’s lower waves of heavy guitar undertow. When vocals cut into the electric communion they do so dramatically, bleeding and fried and spiritual…none of the post-industrial apocalyptic screams reminiscent of the Live During War Crimes volumes. Everything about Deterioration is ghostlier – the loops fray and fizzle with poetic amplifier decay, the guitar shrapnel reverberates with a subtler sense of fracture, the mounting hills of mixer drones pulse upwards like water displaced by deep-sea gases. As moving and keenly-edited a collection of psychic electronics as anything else in the Y Swans discography.

ANGEL DUST "Uppers / Downers" (Deep Fried Tapes)

Nate, Ron and Jake must have found some secret frequency that inhibits brain activity, because while playing this I felt totally stupid. Angel Dust forego any coherence, form or style and trip over a cord straight into drug-addled oblivion. "Uppers / Downers" is broken up into eleven tracks of string choking, crude synth and feedback tones which sporadically include singsong yowling (sometimes with words) and odd repeated chants. Clocking in at a more than generous 40 minutes, anyone who isn't dosing on whatever the band was might call this an endurance test. However, there are moments when the snickering dumbness is totally endearing, and the songs are actually paced well and end when they should. Mostly. If Deep Fried Tapes keep up this aesthetic they might just have a legacy on their nauseatingly grimy hands.

A SNAKE IN THE GARDEN "Winter's Burn" (Grimeology Records)

Two longish tracks make up this C30 by northeast US noiser Matthew Mayer, and if anything they demonstrate the versatility of this project. "Frost of the Womb" is quite decent sparse ambient work with minimal nodes of dissonance periodically creeping into a slumbering synthesizer drone. "Water Caskets" is a polar opposite, a crunchy exploding mess in the tradition of your usual HN suspects, although the track displays a tendency to subside from total distortion into a single feedback tone which could have been used more sparingly. The only serious drawback on "Winter's Burn" is the noticeable lack of volume on the dubbing. Otherwise it's a good initiation into this guy's work and is enhanced by a solid packaging job with a color print on thick, high quality paper. Bonus points for one of the best label names I've heard recently.

MEF TEEF “Implied Brain-Flex” (Night People)

Circular space jazz freakery by Andy Spore and Co. Skittering cymbal flashes, restrained saxophone convulsions, dissonant piano smashing…all the elements are here for a very uncomfortable evening. But, though Mef Teef definitely prefer to follow a fucked muse, they do allow the collective juice to flow to where it will, meaning things congeal into warped Vince Guaraldi/Charlie Brown-theme ivory interludes, speakeasy-style wet streets horn brooding, groovy goateed free drumming. In most psych-associated jazz combos, the primary agenda seems to be sweat-heavy vein-draining Borbetomagus-ism. Bebop as PCP suicide bombing. But team Teef are way more on the lounge act tip, swanky trumpet vignettes for couples sipping cocktails. Only at the very end of side B do they attempt to rile the beatniks, with a barrage of violent drumming and off-key piano puke. An odd outing by an odd offspring of the Raccoo-oo-oon den.

EVAN MILLER “Twelve Canons” (Night People)

Iowa City main man E. Miller returns for another plate of pensive, six string memory ballads. He sounds even more serious and stately here than on Three Spells for Six String Guitar, if that’s possible. The Takoma Records legacy still hangs heavy in the air over these sessions, and few-to-none of his fixations seem to have shifted. Which, of course, is perfectly okay, as he’s definitely one of the spryer young handiworkers on today’s Fahey/Basho block. But if – as they say – every (Jack) Rose has its thorn, the only semi-needling such detail worth mentioning might be the vague sameness about the songs on Twelve Canons (except for the one with singing, duh). But whatever. I like things that are the same, as do many folk folks. Sick orange-on-red Shawn Reed screenprinted cover of two bucks clashing antlers beneath a levitating skull with bleeding eyes adds a key sheen of menace to the otherwise homebound/daydreamy proceedings.

CAVES "New Edge" (Husk Records)

One of the dirtier recordings that came in a while ago from Josh Lay's (Cadaver in Drag) label, "New Edge" would be more of a fist pumping anthem if it didn't sound as if the recording took place in this band's namesake. Pretty solid headbanging action though, all the while weighted down by dissonant and sparse bass punctuated by relentless drum machine thuds. The band's Myspace only seems to list one member, which is surprising since "New Edge" sounds like a live recording and there are a ton of things happening simultaneously. If it is live, more power to Mr. Caves for taking Joe Preston's gig and running with it into the abyss. Stylistically this is reminiscent of Josh Lay's solo material reviewed here awhile back, albeit more rhythmic. Though the drum machine is absent on the second track "Buzzed," the slow and thick tension between notes leaves ghostly chasms which might not have even been played but hang like smoke until the listener believes. This is one of those releases that benefits from being on cassette, as the murkiness adds to the mystery of the sound. A segment of delay-manipulated feedback at the tape's conclusion was overkill, but this one regardless will satisfy a craving for good bass-heavy sludge.

OH HOME “World Mask” (Hardlycore)

Shirtless/barefoot Redondo Beach confrontationalists Le Joshua split up some time following their 2005 West Coast tour with Mika Miko, and Oh Home is drummer Drew’s new-ish expansionist emo prog project/duo. Radly, the instrumentation and compositional pacing here is infinitely more complex, incorporating naked mandolin strums, breaking glass, ebowed tonal tension, fluttering flutes, radical quiet/loud shifts, falsetto soul covers, and grandiose guitar distortion. Unlike most psych crews, however, OH aren’t interested in mixing all these tricks up into a fluid bag…instead, they pivot violently from one zone/approach to the next. So, “jarring” is – intentionally – always the adjective of the day. There’s also no doubt some of the vocals will be tough for non-punks to stomach, but overall World Mask is a surprisingly diverse and unclassifiable block of youth art energy. Bonus: fantastic 12-panel double-sided fold-out J-card/mini-poster on recycled paperstock amps the tape’s object-hood immensely.

HELL & BUNNY w/ MIKE KHOURY “Restitution” (Night People)

Stark avant-classical musings from the Melee/non-Olson Graveyards posse (I think). “High” art violin scrapes and minimalist museum percussion contemplations interact in a distant, fractured sort of way. Seems like this could be the score to a really baffling performance art piece or something like that. Light snare-rim tapping. Fingers absently plucking strings. A small bell ringing in dead silence. Whoa. Don’t sneeze/cough, etc. Might interrupt whatever heavy message is being communicated here. Bland/stock cover photo of a tween girl smiling at a birthday party only compounds my non-comprehension.

(VxPxC) “Twelve Divided By Three” (Buried Valley)

Before all the smart-asses chime in with “the answer is four!!” hold on a moment and realize that LA beardiacs (VxPxC) are rarely so literal as to bust out basic math equations for tape titles. So, when they do, there’s probably some deeply pondered numerological superstition (or inside joke) at work. This Buried Valley C20 showcases most of their classic single-microphone group moves: meandering SK1 riddles, stuttering vocal ghosts, progressive melodica navigations, etc. They’re a band not afraid to do the unexpected, whether that means rocking a gothy drum machine beat (“Spitting In Our Hands”) or sticking a mirrored jackalope on their J-card. At first you scratch your head and frown, then you deal with it and move on. The design-y Tatum spine layout is a nice touch.

EVAN MILLER “Three Spells For Six String Guitar” (Night People)

Raccoo-oo-oon cohort and overt Fahey fetishist Evan Miller’s first tape for Night People is exactly what it says it is: three finger-picked acoustic guitar instrumentals. The A side jam (“Spell Against Forgetfulness”) is easily the most hectic of the trinity, revving steadily up from brisk Jack Rose fret-rambling until it’s just the sound of hands slapping against muted strings. On the B, Miller decides to lay his obsessions on the table in plain view. “Fahey Spell” couldn’t be much more obvious, directly copping an old-tymey melody straight from the fountainhead himself…it sounds exactly like a cut off Blind Joe Death. But the last track (“Spell Against Indifference”) is also probably the best, gliding fluidly from melody to melody, pitting the lower drone strings against the flittering high ones in a pitter-patter rhythm that’s both hypnotic and quietly dramatic.