Monday, February 28, 2005

The Satyrswitch The High Lonesome Sound of… (Camera Obscura)

If the Salamander review below made you curious of the fledging Minneapolis psych/folk/improv scene I suggest that you also check out the Satyrswitch, which primarily is the solo work of Skye Klad and Blitzen member Jason Kesselring. Just like Bent Hemlock, this late 2004 release offers a step away from Kesselring’s previous outings. On The High Lonesome Sound of Satyrswitch we find him exploring all kinds of folky traditionalism; from old-school Americana and acoustic ragas to captivating acid folk. It’s all surprisingly melodic and structured but nevertheless rewarding.

The very capable bit of folky pop and soul-touching harmonies, which is Stan Jones’ ”Ghost Riders in the Sky”, is a catchy stunner where Kesselring’s baritone vocal comes to full effect. The vocals is probably a hit or miss thing depending on who you ask, but if you ask me they add something distinctively unique to the somewhat dark proceedings. The acoustic folk guitar and fingerpicking techniques present on the lovely “Israfel” makes me think of equal parts Bert Jansch and modern interpreters of the Takoma tradition, and if that’s not a good thing I am not quite sure what is. The High Lonesome Sound of… does admittedly borrow plenty of elements from the past but is still a powerful and beautiful listen.


Friday, February 25, 2005

Salamander Bent Hemlock (Camera Obscura)

Here’s one of the most anticipated records I’ve been fortunate to treat my ears with in the last cpl of months, a brand new recording from Salamander, the much-beloved Minneapolis psych/space/improv/folk unit. I am positive that most long-time fans will enjoy this CD but I am also quite sure that they’ll be equally surprised by its relatively downcast folk vibe. With slow dark folk attributes, Salamander escorts us to a dark rural vista and when you expect the guitars from the previous records to suddenly blast in, they choose to explore the same hidden track through the outskirts of forested psych/folk all over again, and the results are just mind-bending. The improvisational component is still very much present but it’s playing a much more sporadic and concentrated role on Bent Hemlock.

The relatively short opener “Galleon” presents a solemn combination of beauty and melancholy, with the unmistakable touch of the Appalachians hovering just on top of 11 year-old Madeline Westby’s angel-like vocal delivery. Then “The River Song” is positively gothic in its presentation, a vibe that largely comes from Sean Connaughty’s unmistakable voice and I guess that the violin that meanders around the acoustic guitar just further cements this feel. Before it all sinks to the eerie depths of the ocean some tasty guitar fuzz appears on the horizon, but we can only hear it in the distance and when the acoustic brilliance of the slightly Pelt-sounding “The Somnambulist” appears it’s already long gone. The more upbeat “Portal” is closer to what we’ve come to expect from this quartet, but then “Diagram” again emphasizes on the most vulnerable side of their repertoire. “Nocturne” is just like a handful of other tracks on the album an instrumental snippet of sorts that beautifully manages to knit a strong link between the relatively different styles of the band’s two primary songwriters, the aforementioned Connaughty and Erik Wivinus. “Call of the Hills” is a Wivinus track that sets acoustic guitar strumming against a howling wall of feedback and in the middle of it all we find Dave Onnen and Matt Zaun not only providing an impressive rhythm section but also keeping the whole thing in one piece.

Despite its relatively mellow vibe, Bent Hemlock is easily one of the most haunting records I’ve heard in 2005. It’s an album of great depth of maturity, and honestly quite unlike anything you’re likely to hear this year. This better make some year-end top ten lists.


Thursday, February 24, 2005

Light Year Furies: Six Years and an Eternity of Listening - part 3

I've spread so much praise about Six Organs of Admittance's Dark Noontide (Holy Mountain) that I probably should just zip it, but the way you can feel the music moving in a never-ending loop between your mind and your heart here is just too stunning. Painfully intimate psych folk with dark vocals hovering above the guitar notes with grace and beauty in the next moment replaced by some heavily psychedelic drone machine that seems to get stuck in an eternal cycle, but it's all part of a master plan that might take a few listens to understand. When you do you'll have no other option but surrender and repeat. If Ben Chasny and Jack Rose have one thing in common it's the talent for making the acoustic guitar sound like it's living a finger-picking styled life all its own. On the Red Horse, White Mule LP (Eclipse) Rose (also of Pelt) proves just that by packing every singe note so chockfull with emotions that it'll make the hair on your arms stand on end. There’s a profound respect for John Fahey, Leo Kottke and Robbie Basho throughout this LP, but the respect for the silence between the notes and for instrumental acoustic guitar in general is what will strike you the most. The genre-defying Boston ensemble Cul de Sac once collaborated with the aforementioned Fahey for a full-length release and even though the outcome includes a few highlights, it's nowhere near the heights of their own Immortality Lessons (Strange Attractors Audio House). It's actually a live recording taken from a set at the local radio station WBRS, and unlike many other live documents it's characterized by an amazing flow from the very first note to the last. Like a kite caught in an up-draft, the recording circles around the notes like a floating carousel. Despite that tracks all originate from different eras of Cul de Sac's 12 year career, it's very much one consistently enthralling sonic document.

The Music Ensemble was a revolving improvising unit built around Roger Baird, Billy Bang, Malik Baraka, Daniel Carter, William Parker and Herb Kahn that developed during the heyday of NYC's Loft Scene in the early '70s. It's frightening to realize that these immortal sounds have been kept from the public for nearly 30 years until Roaratorio decided to do something about it in 2002. The results are still mesmerizing, and I’m sure that any fan of free jazz that's about color and texture, and people that are as likely to travel down the road of free-form folk as down Ayler and Cherry Street, will play this self-titled document to death. It's like the different players exist as one spirit that guides them through their tribal jazz structures. No player takes too much space, everyone is at the center of this telepathic sound journey, and the end results are so pure and incredibly powerful that it could easily bring a grown man to tears. It'd be a mistake to call UK's Oddfellows Casino a jazz combo, but they definitely take cues from said genre on the Yellowbellied Wonderland album on Pickled Egg. Jazz-instrumentation and lovely acoustic folk pop tangents recalling summers' hazy days blend with electronic touches and experimental snippets in a gloriously soft-spoken statement that is beautiful, experimental and infectious at the same time. MG

I guess in retrospect, ’02 was either about spacious organic reflections or claustrophobic mechanical seclusions, or maybe a little bit of both. In the case of Sweden’s The Spacious Mind, the hint is in the name. Do Your Thing But Don't Touch Ours (a title that’s reminiscent of a recent Acid Mothers 3 CD set on Earworm) on their own Goddamn I'm a Countryman Records shows the ensemble in their favorite environment, the live setting. As great as their studio albums can be, there’s a level of psychic interplay at work here between Jens Unosson’s keyboard work and the rest of the band that seems more natural and amorphous. Even though that is a guitar, an organ, drums and bass doing their expected duties, all massed together on the horizon it may as well be a thick bank of low hanging storm clouds rolling over a dense green forest, shrouding everything in a fine glowing mist. Rocket From the Tombs on the other hand is all about the grime of the city. This Cleveland proto-punk/metal group remains one of my all time favorites in the genre(s), and by the time you read this I’ll have seen a reconstituted version of them live in Austin (go, me!). What can be said about this group that hasn’t been before? The version of “30 Seconds Over Tokyo” found here gets my vote for the Apocalypse Now of rock and roll, and to extend that metaphor, all of the archival material found on The Day the Earth Met the Rocket From the Tombs (Smog Veil Records) rocks like Coppola’s best work of the 70s. It’s brainier than the Dead Boys, not as oblique as Pere Ubu and referencing Alice Cooper repeatedly can’t hurt! Heavy metal for punk rockers, or acid rock for head bangers, or fucked up noise for fucked up people--take your pick! Speaking of fucked up noise for fucked up people, Devendra Banhart (who is actually a very handsome young man) makes a fairly fucked up, but also genuinely intriguing, folk racket on his ludicrously christened Oh Me Oh My…The Way the Day Goes By The Sun is Setting Dogs Are Dreaming Lovesongs of the Christmas Spirit (Young God). Yes, it’s a mouthful, but somehow the four titles in one work in communicating Banhart’s warped, unique folk-pop sensibility. He’s obviously a fan of old troubadours (he’s played Fred Neil live) as well as any of the more cracked tunesmiths out there (folky Marc Bolan, Daniel Johnston, Nick Drake), and not surprisingly, this all comes together into something very special and endearing. It’s one of the most schizophrenic records I’ve ever heard, also one of the most pleasing. “Oh, Michigan state, how I want to live in you.”

Nagisa Ni Te’s Feel (Jagjaguwar) was actually released in 2001 on the P-Vine label in Japan, but this version from early 2002 is the one I own, and it remains one of my most favorite soul soothing folk-pop platters of all time. The mystery and beauty that Shinjii Shibayama and partner Masako Takeda (both of Osaka) conjure repeatedly throughout these ten songs is simply incomparable to anyone else operating in the genre (though everyone, myself included, loves to make comparisons). The first two songs alone are 16 minutes of the most perfect, inspired electric/acoustic folk rock you’ll ever hear. And that is hardly some fan-boy exaggeration, my friends. It’s fact!

Eh, but where’s the rock? We wanna rock!! Oneida’s Each One Teach One does the trick. I have the double vinyl version of Version City, but there’s a 2CD on Jagjaguwar (which apparently would fit on one disk, wtf?). This is some seriously blasted hyper psych punk referencing everyone from Blue Cheer and Krautrock to Suicide, delivered as crusty 21st century noise. Think minimalism, think outlaws and white powdery substances, or don’t think at all and just surrender to the laser blast of opener “Sheets of Easter”. Look into the light, indeed! LJ

Sunroof!'s Cloudz (VHF) is probably the most soothing and expansive minimal electro/folk/noise I've heard from Matthew Bower and friends yet. Don't be surprised if you find your head stuck in a quiet circular run-out groove that seems to be as much about the darker realms in life as it's about joy and celebration. It's an introspective glance at soundscapes seemingly constructed to circle around your mind forever.

You can read about Of's The Infants Paths (Jewelled Antler) in the review section of Broken Face #18 so I'll be brief. To cut it short, it's downright a miracle how anyone can create such a devastatingly beautiful and dark listening experience from string (and other) instruments and a wide range of manipulated field recordings. The general feel of the album is like listening to a fragile, nearly broken melody which is clad in all possible natural sounds and then processed beyond the world of imagination. Get it before it goes out of print! The step from Of to the Franciscan Hobbies is not only a small one; it's an obvious one as both combos can be found under the much-heralded Jewelled Antler umbrella out of San Francisco. But just like some other recent recordings from JA-related artists the 'Hobbies' Masks & Meanings was released by another label, in this case the fledging Florida imprint Soft Abuse. This is another record that strikes me as ceremonial, but it's a different kind of ceremony that these loose and hypnotic, slightly tribal but mellow folk/drone improvisations invite us to. Masks & Meanings is the sound of a wedding set in the forest, with the impressive trunks of the oaks as the ceiling, and the spring sunlight filtering down through the branches, putting all of its energy into the creation of thousands of beautiful leaves which provide a pleasant shade for such shimmering tones. While in the shade, you might want to enjoy some quirky pop songs with the emotional depth of the Atlantic Ocean from Portland, Massachusetts' The Ponys. If you still haven't heard Shishimumu (Time-Lag Records) I’m guessing that you’ve yet to read our interview with them presented in this very issue, as I’m pretty sure that one will win you over. What we get is music that passes over grounds as varied as droning psychedelia, Velvety instrumentals, indiepop and country music, but the overarching feel is definitely pop. Pop that’s familiar but still somehow unique, classic yet genre bending, sad yet uplifting and the kind that'll blow anyone away that’s lucky enough to hear it.

As I'm writing this I’m eagerly waiting to catch Seattle's finest cosmic rock combo Kinski live in Stockholm in a couple days time. It's not every day we get visitors at this latitude that have a record in the vaults as impressive as 2003's Airs Above Your Station (Sub Pop). It's a record that perfectly blends Kinski's affection for sparse Krautrock with dissonant washes of white noise and throbbing discordance. But what's really unusual with their roaring guitar explosions and cymbal-crashing menace is that they somehow keep things melodic the whole time. There's no noise for noise's sake here, and that's relieving these days, but we still get our plate packed with the tastiest fruits of roaring avant-rock and droning repetition. MG

I guess if any one idea or theme permeates 2003 for me, it is that of the micro-label, and more specifically CD-R’s (well that and the incomparable Outkast). Something that had been happening for years now finally reached an apogee of sorts when many of my favorite releases of the year ended up as limited edition CD-R’s on obscure in the larger scheme of things--yet very well known in other circles--labels spread throughout the world. There’s really no use in getting specific, since practically all are covered extensively in the reviews section, but I’ll just say it’s not hard to see we’re currently in the midst of a home-recording revival the likes of which hasn’t been glimpsed in ten or even twenty years. The revolution will not be televised, and the RIAA doesn’t even have a clue.

One of said releases is Hala Strana’s 2 CD-R Fielding on Jewelled Antler. I wax insanely about this elsewhere, so I will just say that it is a stirring double disk of noise folk magic that most definitely deserves to be heard by more than a hundred people. And that’s definitely the case with San Francisco’s Thuja’s brand new All Creatures of the Past (Emperor Jones) too. It just may be their finest document, but who am I to say? Get to the reviews section (once again, in BF #18) to see why I placed it in this one. And if you really wanna get freaky, just cast your mental line down into Guignol’s aural soup. Angela, David & the Great Neopolitan Road Issue (Cenotaph) is one of the most strangely affecting records I’ve heard in a good while. You can hear hints of the related bands Bablicon and Volcano the Bear in these eight songs, but arguably neither has ever matched a love of sheer experimentalism and moving songwriting into one such consistently compelling and fascinating listen. It’s a kaleidoscope of emotional and aural textures that run the gamut of folk, pop, noise, jazz and cabaret and doesn’t stop there. You could probably say something similar concerning Robert Wyatt’s Cuckooland (Hannibal), another album I explore more deeply in the reviews section, so check it out! I’m glad Mr. Wyatt is still making his heartfelt presence known to us, and still making the kind of floatating jazz-pop that makes the soul sing and the head spin. But then No-Neck Blues Band does it over and over on Intonomancy (Sound At One). The New York ensemble’s latest studio album is arguably their most consistent to date. Musical and chaotic at the same time, but rarely clatterous or “difficult”, this is tribal folk-jazz designed to quiet the mind, quicken the pulse and reinvent reality simultaneously. LJ


Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Playlist #13

Sir Richard Bishop Improvika (Locust)
Salamander Bent Hemlock (Camera Obscura)
Hala Strana Fielding (Last Visible Dog)
Lau Nau Kuutarha (Locust)
The Satyrswitch The High Lonesome Sound (Camera Obscura)
Born Heller S/t (Locust)
Extradition Hush (Sweet Peach)
The Buried Civilizations Tunnels to Other Chambers (267 Lattajjaa)
Chris Thompson For My Double (Wild Rose Music)
Skygreen Leopards Child God in the Garden of Idols (Jagjaguwar)


Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Light Year Furies: Six Years and an Eternity of Listening
Part 2

Jackie-O Motherfucker's first CD release Fig. 5 (Road Cone) was possibly the most surprising musical highlight of 2000. It's an unsettling document that has its roots in the past, shuttling you all the way from Appalachian folk territories to a dark back alley jazz club in the 1950s. Our eclectic guides don't stop there though; they continue to the outskirts of contemporary free form rock and then drop you off back home, equally confused and delighted at the same time. Fig. 5 is innovative, surprising and hypnotic but most of all truly incredible. With a risk of sounding repetitious the same could easily be said for Alastair Galbraith's Cry (Emperor Jones), an album that according to a certain Mr. Jackson, “mixes dense, droning Caleian soundscapes (read as mounds of smoldering violin and organ) and an ever-increasing mastery of delicate songcraft into a hallucinatory aural achievement of great scope and rare beauty.” I’m the first to second that, and the honest truth is there are very few sound smiths I'd rate as highly as this New Zealander. He doesn't only have a sonic expression and voice all his own, but he’s also a guy who remains quietly outside things, thus being ghostly precise in pointing out what we're too busy to see when stuck in the middle of the mess we call life. Acid Mothers Temple’s La Novia (Eclipse Records) is by far this Japanese collective's finest outing. It's a release that maintains their psychedelic and Krautrock-flavored vision but still favors the colors of European folk forms as well as fiery guitar pyrotechnics. It's beautiful, traditional and innovative at the same time. The same could probably be said about Idyll Swords second full-length album, aptly titled 2 (Communion). It offers an odd mutation of the traditional folk sound that's loaded with suspense and mystery. One favorite cut is "Moab (Arches)", inspired by Arches National Park in Southeastern Utah which has over 2000 sandstone arches, including the spectacularly elongated Landscape Arch. The music captures these otherworldly geological formations with ease, creating a temple of sound that, like the rest of this almost flawless record, holds jaw-dropping qualities that will recapture that lost moment of beauty. Judging from the albums listed above it'd be fair to say that 2000 was the year of folk, but to show that there indeed were other worthwhile things in different genres released, I'd like to share a few words about another great record, Vibracathedral Orchestra's Lino Hi on Giardia. It's one of those albums that’s so utterly hard to explain why you love it so much, but I know that I just can't escape its incredible tantric flow. The album sounds almost ancient and even visceral, but its dense clusters of open-tuned, acoustic resonance are still very warm and immersive. From the very first tone the listener is submerged into a hostile, but somehow still inviting sound environment. MG

Steven Von Till’s first solo album As the Crow Flies (Neurot) is quite a contrast from the grunge doom punk he makes with bay area heavy hitters, Neurosis, but the subject matter isn’t such a stretch. Bleak and despairing, but also truly entrancing in its distillation of themes of loss and regret, this is record for lost souls who may be beyond hope but still have a little faith. It’s worth owning for the amazingly depressing downer folk of “We All Fall,” but that’s not the only reason. One collaboration that yielded bountiful fruit is Damon and Naomi With Ghost. This self-titled disk on Sub Pop fulfilled a long ago promise suggested by Damon and Naomi’s performing as members of Ghost during their first American tour. The end results truly offer something neither has achieved on their own, seeing their lush folk sensibilities perfectly intertwined, and thankfully that is a good thing when the musicians are as equally visionary as these two groups are. I bought the Front Row Centre LP (Die Stadt) on a whim at one of my favorite Austin record stores a few years ago. The live album by Christoph Heemann and Andrew Chalk, AKA Mirror, is a stunning experiment in pure sound and mood. Building from a barely perceptible hum over the course of two sides, slowly and organically flowering into some of the most room-saturating deep drone I’ve encountered, this is a record you can interact with in a variety of ways, and at a variety of volumes. I like to turn it up loud and pretend I’m no longer human, dancing effortlessly between the elevated crests and sub-aural lulls. But then there’s Vancouver’s New Pornographers to effectively bring me back to earth. The quintet’s debut, Mass Romantic (Minty Fresh) is easily one of the most accomplished “indie rock” releases of the last few years. It’s a classic example of a lot of like-minded, but not so like-vocaled, singers and players coming together and indulging shamelessly in their love of Beach Boys, Roxy Music/Eno, Big Star, Magazine, etc and literally not missing a beat. Manic, festive and undeniably oblique, I have no idea what the fuck they’re singing about most of the time, and I don’t care! That brings me to Round Wound (Camera Obscura) by Boston’s Abunai! (who sadly called it quits last year). These guys always made a wailing fuzz racket that fell somewhere between brit folk rock and an exploding supernova, but Round Wound is the full on space-rock freak affair. Comparable to recent Boredoms, Bardo Pond and Faust Tapes in its scattered presentation, but still very much an Abunai! space mission, molded and edited from years of archival material into one extremely transportive flight of sound. Also, the guitar strings styled packaging is a real hoot--remains a highpoint for bashing and crashing millennial space damage the universe over. LJ

In my opinion Pelt's double disc Ayahuasca (VHF) is these Virginians ultimate achievement. They take the corrosive string massage and meandering overtones, caught up in a gravitational swirl rotating around its own center, from their previous outings and blend them with more obvious traces of the real world. The dense clusters of sound dust have never had this sort ethnicity to them before, and one can't help to think of it as some secret link from peripheral territories among massive and energetic stars in the outer galaxy to the most rural parts of the Appalachians. The word perfect seems appropriate, and it's easy to use the same sort of strong expressions when describing Tom Carter's ridiculously limited CD-R Monument on Wholly Other (now reissued on Kranky). I think I might have said something like it sounds like Charalambides doing Pelt covers to a friend of mine, but it's not really fair to compare it to anything, as it's truly one of a kind. In the 47 minute long "Monument 2" guitar textures hover like morning mist, and if you have some sad moment still missing a soundtrack, look no further as it couldn't possibly be captured more resolutely than on this fragile piece which is saturated with an inconsolable sense of loss. Tanakh is one-man ensemble (with contributors) out of Richmond, Virginia (now relocated to Florence, Italy) who finally got his debut album Villa Claustrophobia (Alien8) out for public consumption in 2001. It's a beautiful explosion of organic folk colors and drone-based improvisations that walks the tightrope between the abstract and structured songwriting. The result is music specially made for riding quiet country roads through the Appalachians, dusted with brilliantly colored fallen leaves in all shades of red, yellow and orange. This is dreamlike hypnosis that defies categorization and more importantly is downright magical. Rollerball's Trail of the Butter Yeti (Road Cone) is just as dreamy but a bit more complex in its exploration of aural landscapes. Simmering electronics move into indie territories and then over tweaky improv, post-cabaret atmospherics and drone clusters, before diving deep into some chilly jazz explorations and fragile chamber folk arrangements. It's a varied mix that despite the multi-directional characteristics is consistent and cohesive in a mind-blowing way. The Broken Face has always been a balancing act between melody and free form music, and in 2001 the most successful endeavor of the first type was unquestionably Volebeats' Mosquito Spiral (Blue Rose). We find the Detroit group lacing a healthy dose of lovely infectious power pop harmonies into their unique brand of vibrant twang, even occasionally evoking a 60s psych pop vibe, and they do so in a simple, uncluttered and absolutely compelling way. MG

If Jackie-O Motherfucker’s previous album cast a spell on Mats, then Liberation (Road Cone) worked a similar mojo on me. This extensive nine track behemoth is an astounding clash of old folk soul and new jazz damage, but it’s so much more beautiful than all that. They’re one of the very few bands who can make build-up improv noise that’s constantly fascinating and evolving, but also incredibly warm and inviting. It’s a record to get lost in for minutes and hours on end, and “Ray-O-Graph” is the ultimate mix tape closer. Fry their minds and warm their souls at the same time, that’s what I say! Ah but then the incredible debut album by PG Six AKA Pat Gubler of the Tower Recordings, Parlor Tricks and Porch Favorites (Amish Records), is every bit the mystical folk experience. Of all the Tower Recordings related acts, PG Six is the most traditionally folk-rocking and the most structured. None of these songs could be dismissed as pretentious indie twaddle or free anything; they’re simply nine of the most moving, impeccably performed folk-rock songs ever recorded. Think Renbourne and Jansch, and also of Tim Barnes’ amazing percussive abilities.

’01 was also a year of many psychedelic pop wonder whirls. Two records hit me pretty hard, the first of which, Dipsomaniacs’ Stethoscopic Notion (Camera Obscura), is every bit the masterstroke psych/folk pop platter that its predecessor was. Perhaps more overtly American influenced (Love and the Byrds especially), it’s still a work of Heavenly Beatles-y psych-pop perfection (by way of Norway), and a more than worthy addition to the list of the finest modern psych popsters. Ditto could be said for Outrageous Cherry’s The Book of Spectral Projections (Poptones). The Detroit quartet’s 4th album, self-described by main man Matthew Smith as a rock opera along the lines of Hawkwind, is actually much better than such a description might suggest. The only problem could be its extensive length at 80 minutes, but found here are an innumerable amount of fuzzy psych/punk garage knockouts and just as many slow, smoldering pop heart-breakers (which are what really keep me coming back). And just in case you all think I’m overly wussing out here let me say I love Acid Mothers Temple’s Absolutely Freakout: Zap Your Mind! 2LP (Static Caravan/Resonant). This four sided monster gives you everything AMT has to offer, from drug-addled space synth whoosh to world-destroying noise rock and ethno-trance meltdowns (only in reverse). Next to La Novia (Eclipse/Swordfish) and In C (Eclipse/Squealer), this is my favorite AMT studio joint. LJ

To be continued...


Monday, February 21, 2005

Light Year Furies: Six Years and an Eternity of Listening
Part 1

Last night I revisited a text that Lee Jackson and myself wrote for the final installment of the Broken Face. I realized that I am quite fond of this wrap-up piece so I decided to republish it here. Here’s the first part…

When Lee Jackson and I started discussing the idea of doing a 'zine in 1997 we had pretty much no idea where things would go. Looking back I feel that we did things just right, developing at our own pace and slowly finding whatever form we've taken with the help of an evolving cast of talented contributors. But one thing that I remember from our initial discussions was the simple thought that we only would write about music that we love, whatever genre the band or artist could be placed in. The following lines come from the definition of how we described our mission back then: "Because we're only interested in what we consider to be good music most of the artists covered could be considered underground or indie bands, but we have no real aversion towards popular music. We're just not concerned with commercially motivated individuals, and besides those folks get all the coverage they need as it is. As a result, we try to cover a wide variety of more established and lesser known but equally rocking bands. We're firm believers in the idea that one guy with nothing more than a used guitar, a 4-track and the incessant yapping of the voices in his head is capable of creating the kind of honest music that can stir the soul and open the mind, and in some cases just flat-out blow us away."

I'd say that these words still very much characterize what we're doing. So what could be a better way to end things than with a rapid-fire breakdown of some of the albums that piece by piece added fragments to what was to become the soul of The Broken Face from 1998 to 2003? Ladies and gentleman, we present to you our gilded void.

It beats me why Juneau's self-titled monster on Ba Da Bing! never really reached out to the underground masses. It didn’t just reach us though; it blew us away with its extended improvised mix of assured, tight Krautrock and utterly formless layers of damaged psych. It's amazing how two guitars and some drums can be so incredibly dynamic, going from broken shards of droning noise to meandering guitar passages in no time and back again. Peter Scion's forest folk on Devachan (Domestica) could easily be described as just as dark, but besides that it has very little in common with the former. This is an introspective glimpse at a somewhat wounded soul that’s capable of transmitting inner feelings through Swedish/British folk music. A lot of it is improvised and could probably be considered both psychedelic and experimental, but this is truly music that aims for the heart and soul. Tower Recordings' Furniture Music For the Evening Shuttles (Siltbreeze) displays a similar willingness to blend folk structures with sound experiments, but TR can be found much further out in the cosmos. In the midst of the traditional influences they create a very fucked up racket at times, whether completely switching directions in the middle of a song or messing things up via panning and phasing and weird percussive elements. A song on Furniture can go from something quite sweet and accessible to something very far out in seconds. The way it delves deeply into the exploration of inner and outer spirituality and obtains a meditative quality is nothing short of stunning, and it remains one of my favorite records to this day. So does Renderers' A Dream of the Sea (Siltbreeze), which is a wildly overgrown, dark tangle of nightmares, depressive country, avant-folk, dissonant rock and feedback. If I'd only choose ten desert island disks, chances are high I'd bring this one along. If you travel up the east coast of the Southern Island you will eventually get to Lyttelton, the hometown of Roy Montgomery, another New Zealander who delivered one of the strongest records in 1998. With the meditative, heavily effect-laden guitar explorations that occupy his And Now the Rain Sounds Like Life Is Falling Down (Drunken Fish) he (once again) shows us that he knows exactly how to be gentle, frightening, desolate and emotional at the same time and in the same space. MG

Without a doubt, ‘98 was the year of Neutral Milk Hotel for many an indie punk hippie. Seemingly out of nowhere came a group of strange ones led by a hopelessly hopeful eccentric (Jeff Mangum), featuring a contributing cast of heavy-hitters from the Elephant 6 clan, all delivering fully formed pop classics with a sense of mystery and conceptual identity that remains untouched in the 90s. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (Merge) is an album that sounds like it should come wrapped in orange and yellow ribbons covering rust red paper with small pix of old-time cars and airplanes checkering its dime store sheen. Mangum’s lyrics recall the ghosts of sad-eyed, two headed carnival boys and Anne Frank and yes, the resiliency of a damaged soul. It’s unabashedly sentimental, but warped enough to not seem so. The music sounds like a Martian jug-band on acid backing a wavering alto that I suppose you either love or hate. I enjoy the cringes and think it remains a high point in any genre, though the preceding On Avery Island (Merge) is just as good. Another strange and intensely personal disk from ‘98 is Alastair Galbraith’s Mirrorwork (Emperor Jones), which lives up to its title with fractured aural reflections of the world that are delivered as chopped up folk songs and abstract drone noise pieces. Galbraith is one of the few performers (Syd Barrett, Pip Proud and Robert Wyatt are a few others) whose conversational tone is enough to send shivers down the spine. That it delivers such rich, evocative tone poems is merely frosting on the cake, yet a necessary ingredient all the same. Sir Richard Bishop AKA Rick Bishop of the fantabulous Sun City Girls got in on the mystical solo action in ’98 with Salvador Kali for the late John Fahey’s Revenant label. Within its evocative package can be found languid, Fahey-esque avant folk guitar constructions, albeit run through the Bishop’s ethnic filter, pushed over a continent or two and given a Nico-ian isolationist slant. There’s a hint of flamenco, a bit more Indonesian folk and a great deal of artistry to be heard here.

All Young In the Soul, The Photon Band’s long player debut for Darla, is undoubtedly a rock record, one that work’s very nicely as a modern updating of classic mod/psych maneuvers (Who, Kinks, Beatles) and effortlessly walks the line between unhinged psych raveups and modish folk-pop of the most toe-tapping variety. Definitely a masterstroke of raw, unhinged and heartfelt jamming that puts most in this realm to shame (hello, Lilys!). And that brings us to the face-melting improv rock of Mirza’s Iron Compass Flux, another Darla doozy that proves that serious rock and roll and serious improvisation can coexist in the same time-defying headspace and make you bang said head while tickling the cerebral cortex like a cockatoo’s feather. Both this one and Juneau’s amazing self-titled disk are definite high points in America’s unfolding improve-psych scene and harbingers of the more ethereal free folk/noise trajectories of groups like Sunburned Hand of the Man and Thuja in the ‘00s. LJ

Norwegian Dipsomaniacs' Braid of Knees is one of my all-time favorite psych pop confections. It's a nearly perfect album that ranges from pop ditties in the spirit of Revolver/Sgt Peppers era Beatles to Byrdsian folk mysteries. On top of the melodic splendor, we get to dive deep into a pool filled with psychedelicised water and sound excursions recalling the most harmonic experimental side of the Elephant 6 collective. The result is a surreal and exhilarating pop journey where nothing is wasted. Jeff Kelly of Green Pajamas fame has a similar affection for the finest psychedelic pop of the '60s as the Dipsomaniacs, but his solo 4CD box-set Melancholy Sun (Camera Obscura) actually shows a closer bond to someone like Leonard Cohen than the Beatles. Don't get me wrong, the intensely personal stories that occupy these four discs are not only about folk and British folk rock; they're actually as much about late-'60s psychedelia, gothic pop leanings and literature. One of the very few connection points I can see between Kelly and New Zealand's Omit is that they both seem to prefer to operate on a similar level of isolation, finding solace in the shadows instead of the spotlight. Omit's Interior Desolation (Corpus Hermeticum) is a forever swelling, detailed cluster of processed electronics and claustrophobic dronescapes where it can be particularly frightening to loose your sense of direction, but the music invariably pulls you back time after time. The feeling of a piercing, sudden cold environment full of ghosts and voices and restless with foreboding is created with an incredible attention for detail and a talent for knowing where to place the loops and find the sources. Then we have Hood's The Cycles of Days and Seasons (Domino), which with its minimal, slightly folk-induced dronescapes, shows us a blurry view of the steep-sided grasslands of the English countryside and the deserted industrial areas seen from the same foggy perspective. It's strange to listen to a record that’s as cold as moaning, crackling icebergs, but at the same time applies something very warm, if not even nostalgic to the proceedings. All these albums from 1999 are fantastic in their own way, but I'd say that this was probably the year of the great Japanese psych folk group Ghost who actually unleashed two masterful albums at the same time. The title of Tune In, Turn On, Free Tibet (Drag City) reveals a lot of what it's about in terms of goal and political statements, but sonically speaking it's as much about haunting Japanese folk and dense freeform psychedelia as it is about the plight of Tibet. Ghost invites us along for a mind-bending journey through the history of psychedelia, cosmic Krautrock, medieval song structures as well as acoustic balladry, and along the way we not only get a Pearls Before Swine cover but also a glimpse of the most beautiful Tibetan temples you can imagine. MG

Though it was technically released in the last two weeks of ’98, the Green Pajamas’ All Clues Lead To Megan's Bed didn’t find its way into my hands till well into 1999. Their second release for Camera Obscura, following the equally stunning Strung Behind the Sun, remains one of the most insistently infectious post-Beatles psych folk/pop records I’ve heard. Equal parts Byrdsian guitar jangle, Seattleite mistiness and home-recorded psychedelic splendor, it’s a near perfect song cycle of love, lust, mystery and ghostly encounters. One of a few deliriously high points from the second phase of this neglected psych/pop group’s existence. Another disk from ’99 that really floored me was Electroscope’s Journey to the Center of… on their own Boa records. This heavy slab of clear pink vinyl is one of the most enchanting home-recorded psych/dream pop confections you’ll find in the late 90’s. What sets them apart from the dream pack is the minimal design of their tunes and strange analog electro tangents delivered across nineteen songs with the same blaring, rapid fire intensity of a flashbulb, but dolled out at a much more relaxed, entrancing pace. Comes off a bit like the Young Marble Giants covering Comus’s First Utterance or Empress being broadcast live from Pluto. In Gowan Ring’s The Glinting Spade on Bluesanct is another modern folk updating that sounds a lot more British than American (think Incredible String Band and COB), despite being the work of one B’eirth (and friends), who is in fact a Utah native with the soul of a troubadour. The music found herein is old world and new age at the same time, with all the mysticism and trance-inducing qualities such a description would suggest, and none of the eye-rolling. File somewhere under The Wicker Man, narcotic acoustic guitars and crystallized minimalism. Speaking of minimalism, our old pals Pelt hit the golden chord with Empty Bell Ringing In the Sky (VHF). This remains one of the most transportive collisions of NYC loft minimalism and Indian raga I’ve encountered. Shouldn’t come as such a surprise given it was recorded at the second Terrastock festival in San Francisco and features a collaboration with the rhBand. As your editor suggested above though, ’99 was undoubtedly the year of Japan’s Ghost. Of the two albums concurrently released, Snuffbox Immanence (Drag City) barely takes the prize with me. I love this record because it balances Ghost’s later maturity and painstaking song-craft with their love of classic rock, and it features the one and only guitar sorcerer Michio Kurihara all over the place. Too many shining moments to recount here (the luminous title track, a mind-blowing cover of the Stones’ "Live With Me", etc and so on). Actually, it’s right about time for another fresh serving of Ghost’s mystical folk magic. I’ll be keeping my third eye open. LJ

To be continued...


Thursday, February 17, 2005

The best Swedish blog...

The most surprising news today is unquestionably that the Broken Face blog has been nominated as one of 50 contenders for "The best Swedish blog award". If you want to vote for BF (or someone else for that matter) go to Internetworld and scroll down to kultur


Tuesday, February 15, 2005

After the goldrush #4

At some point I think I said that 2004 was the year of micro-labels and CD-Rs, and given the start of this year I might very well end up stating the exact same thing when it’s time to wrap up 2005. One of the finest items in this category is unquestionably the brand new The North Sea & Xenis Emputae Travelling Band split CD-R on the British Larkfall imprint. We get The North Sea (AKA Brad Rose) at his very best with glacially unfolding dronescapes hovering like morning mist across the span of his four tracks. Words like filmic, organic, droning or improvisational comes to mind while listening, but most of all it’s just perfect meditation music for the drone generation. The same actually applies for the impressively prolific and consistently great one-man ensemble Xenis Emputae Travelling Band who with this release presents “further chronicles of his current obsessions and journeys - the pastoral-gothic of Clark Ashton Smith's poetry, the local omphalos of "Orm's Cliff", faery hills and the prophecies of the local saints of the Yorkshire Wolds.” If this at all sounds interesting you owe it to yourself to also check out Xenis Emputae Travelling Band’s Toadman’s Bell (Digitalis Industries) which is firmly rooted in the medieval past but also corresponds with those interested in modern organic drones along the Jewelled Antler axis. Psychedelic haze, dreamy spiritualism and folk-inspired soundscapes have rarely sounded this inspiring.

The Brooklyn, NY-based duo, The Grand Hotel presents something a whole lot more complex and demanding, but the outcome is by no means less rewarding. On the contrary, Extra Tiger (Felt Records) offers mind-bending music that lives up to its impressive list of influences. Christopher Larose and Jason P. Grisell claim to be inspired by the worlds of electronic experiments, cassette noise underground, Japanese improv freakouts, folk music, field recordings and psychedelia and after being swept away by the tidal wave of unhurried groove-laced noise clusters presented here I’m not the one that’s going to argue with such a list. We get it all, and we get it in a way that sounds almost as great as the idea of Sun City Girls, Throbbing Gristle, Animal Collective, No Neck Blues Band, Boredoms and Fennesz teaming up for some sort of unexpected joint venture. It’s a difficult disc to describe and probably one that is bound to exhaust as much as fascinate but I can unreservedly recommend it to everyone even remotely interested in the drone/screech/fuzz/folk/noise/psych universe.

Whilst shopping cheap and incredible CD-Rs make sure to send an order to 267 Lattajjaa and get your hands on The Skaters’ Palm Shaper and The Buried Civilizations’ Tunnels to Other Chambers. The first is a blurry snapshot of a peripheral vista somewhere in the middle of a fuzz-drenched triangle including the Dead C, Avarus and Angus MacLise while the latter includes the kind of wonderfully fragile psych/folk/improv that we’ve come to expect from every project including San Franciscan Glenn Donaldson. Under the Buried Civilizations moniker he teams up with Kerry McLaughlin (Franciscan Hobbies) for nearly perfect folk mysticism that lands somewhere between Jewelled Antler acts like The Birdtree and The Blithe Sons.


Thursday, February 10, 2005

urDog Garden of Bones (Secret Eye)

I’d be surprised if I ever read a review of Garden of Bones that doesn’t mention the somewhat unconventional instrumentation - drums, guitar and farfisa organ. Not only is that an easy way out for lazy reviewers but it also provides the reader a pretty good idea of where this Providence, RI trio can be found. The band’s love for psych/prog/kraut acts like early Soft Machine, Amon Düül II, Ash Ra Tempel and even Popul Vuh is unmistakable throughout, but somehow they manage to take these influences and make them sound their own. The slowly melting cosmic fuzz of “Ice on Water” is a particularly effective epic that does recall the aforementioned Popul Vuh at their most abrasive. The surprisingly calm “Long Shadows” is another immediate highlight with moody fem vocals finding its way into densely tangled drone webs of highest possible caliber. The organ-laced title track offers an excursion into slow-moving space clusters while the last two tracks (“DMZ” and “Triumph”) deliver the sort of psych/prog bombast that we probably expected all along. We get trance-inducing organ, repetitive guitar fuzz and just the sort of dynamic drumming needed to take the tracks where they're heading. To be honest I am not really sure what the goal of the trip is like, but I do know that it’s a very rewarding journey.

Note: European readers should make a mental note that urDog will embark on a European tour in the beginning of March.


Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Hush Arbors Cleaning the Bone (267 Lattajjaa)
The Golden Oaks Autumn Testament (Digitalis)

One-man folk/psych/drone ensemble Hush Arbors AKA Keith Wood was unquestionably my favorite sonic discovery of 2004. So it’s with great pleasure that I announce the arrival of two new Hush Arbors-related recordings, one solo 3” and one full-length collaboration with Brad Rose under the name of the Golden Oaks.

Cleaning the Bone, the brand new 3” CD-R on the Finnish 267 Lattajjaa imprint, is quite different from Wood’s two most recent Digitalis releases since this highly organic, folk-tinged drone affair is allowed to spread out over a little more than twenty minutes. But despite the fact that we get music rather than songs this time out, it’s still very much gentle free folk bristling with rare invention and spirit. The beautiful improvisations hold the regenerative powers of the Appalachians; somehow hosting the energy that has been hiding under logs and rocks for decades just waiting for the right man to come along and pick it up.

This strangely beautiful document takes as much from the rich history of American folk as it does from ancient drones and psychedelic primitivism. But most of all it’s an unhurried and slowly unfolding wave of folk/drone bliss that evoke a pastoral atmosphere so strong that it’s perfectly suited for inner mind expansion or as the cheapest way to transport you to the most beautiful parts of the Appalachians.

The Golden Oaks is a new duo comprised of Brad Rose (the North Sea, Juniper Meadows etc.) and Keith Wood. Although the sounds of Autumn Testament can be found in the same forestclad hills as Hush Arbors you can definitely sense the impact of Rose’s contributions. We get some sort of blend of the North Sea’s slowly shifting guitar drones, glimmering delayed guitarscapes and Hush Arbors’ dreamlike folk hypnosis. I guess you could say that the Golden Oaks walks the imaginary tightrope between the enormous areas of the sea and the feel of riding down some quiet country road that is dusted with brilliantly colored fallen leaves, and the results are just spectacular. Highly recommended.

Note: The Hush Arbors 3” is not officially out yet but will be released any day now.


Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Rameses III Parsimònia (Foxglove)

I don’t know an awful lot about this UK trio but I do know that they’re capable of creating a subtle, droning sound that make you close your eyes and imagining the small dynamic shifts of a meandering river. Following the water downstream is an almost unreal experience as it provides a glimpse of an isolated landscape with thousands of tiny lights hovering just above the constantly changing riverbed. And in this great expanse you can see those lights live their own life before the beauty of the sunset on the far-off horizon completely takes over the show. All five pieces on this all too limited CD-R will have your imagination run wild and paint pictures of vast and eerie places.

Each tone is treated with astonishing grace and respect, carefully placed next to the last one and although things move glacially, Rameses III somehow maintains a distinctively organic aura. Listen to the gently droning sounds sink into the river, make sure to get that last glimpse of the wide horizon because before you know it, these washes of flowing ambience will dissolve into no longer visible particles. Fans of Stars of the Lid, Aarktica and The Dead Texan would make a grave mistake to walk this one by. Highly recommended.


Tuesday, February 01, 2005

After the goldrush...

Depending on whom you ask you’ll get at least a dozen descriptions of what psychedelic music sounds like. A few recent arrivals at the BF headquarters only further cement the difficulties to go for just one definition. First out on our voyage through psychedelic sounds is Norwegian No-Life Orchestra’s self-titled CD-EP on Luftwaffel Records. This is some truly ear-bending music that mixes elements of hardcore, post punk with a tasty dose of organ-laced psychedelia. The instrumental sections are often top class but personally I have a bit of a problem with the hardcore-inspired vocals, but that probably has more to do with my own taste than the actual vocal quality. I think someone described these lads as progressive garage core and if you think that sounds interesting you know what to do.

Former Abunai! member Joe Turner’s Between Two Seconds (Camera Obscura) is something different all together with its delicious psychdelic pop/rock moves. Folk-tinged harmonies along the Byrds axis blend flawlessly with pretty, '60s-influenced psych pop, with the occasional bonus of mind-expanding guitar workouts. Given all this it shouldn’t come as a surprise to find people as Bill Doss (Sunshine Fix, ex-Olivia Tremor Control), Sam Mixon (Sunshine Fix) and Heather McIntosh (Circulatory System) backing Turner up on a few tracks. That also gives you a good idea of what the neighbourhood is like where you can find these complex arrangements and dreamy power pop. Turner succeeds in creating an atmosphere that is playful and relaxed, flowery and fragile, and highly psychedelic.

Tobin Sprout definitely shares some ‘60s influences with Turner, but the final results are less complex and a whole lot more about rough pop gems than arrangements. Live at the Horseshoe Tavern (Recordhead) is a double CD set of live music recorded in 2004, but the selected songs can be found all across his discography. There are GbV nuggets like “Ester’s Day” and the the all too brief “Awful Bliss,” early solo material like the goregously languid “Gas Daddy Gas” and more recent songs like the jangly “Inside the Blockhouse”. The energy present, Sprout's fuzzy guitars and unique vocals combined with a deep love for the finest of ’60s pop makes this a record that I already know all about but still love to bits.

San Fransiscan SubArachnoid Space has been around for what seems like forever and The Red Veil (Strange Attractors Audio House) is if I am not mistaken the band’s ninth album in as many years. Due to certain personel changes in recent years the band has slowly evolved into a more song based (I really use that term loosley here) format and The Red Veil is probably their most straightforward, volume-slathered, power chord-driven drone rock document to this day. I guess that you could say that we get less of the Krautish tendencies and more of a stoner rock vibe. All in all these dense and intense recordings somehow manage to keep things dreamy and hallucinatory and the band's unequalled capacity to churn out spiraling feedback forays is still very much here. Not my favorite release in their catalogue but still highly enjoyable and rewarding. If nothing else it makes me remember how much I dig seeing these cats in the live setting.