Monday, November 21, 2005

Feathers s/t (Feathers Family)

Sometimes it’s very obvious that a new recording is going to work very well at the BF Headquarters. Vermont collective Feathers is unquestionably such a combo and their lovely self-titled LP on their own imprint is the physical evidence of the already obvious. The reason for my praise is that these eight people take cues from some of the finest psych/folk of the ‘60s and proceeds straight into the ‘00s with a significant dose of surprising sonic whims, damaged enlightenment and hypnotically catchy folk melodies. Despite that, this is overall a hazy psychedelic journey that indeed is very familiar with its roots. Drugged vocals, hand drums, chanting, a great sense of penning hypnotic melodies and ample use of instruments such as mountain dulcimer, lap harp, sitar, banjo, acoustic guitar and electric guitar provides these guys with a secret vista in a parallel universe to the English acid folk sound that indeed seems like a pretty strong influence, especially folks like the Incredible String Band and COB.

One could argue that Feathers just reproduce something that already has been done on repeated occasions but as far as I am concerned they manage to avoid falling into that trap and they do it beautifully. As far as influence with the aforementioned artists, music is as we all know an ancient form of emotional communication in which everyone is involved. That statement is very much valid for Feathers as well.


Sunday, November 20, 2005

Gul 3 Singular (Headspin)

My relationship with jazz has been somewhat complicated ever since my dad treated my ears to a substantial dose of traditional jazz during the majority of my childhood. As a matter of fact I can’t remember listening to anything but my dad’s jazz records when growing up.

In my teens I decided that I hated pretty much all of it and it took me quite a while to get over that first impression and although jazz by no means dominates my record collection today that specific genre stands for a significant part of it. My way back to conventionally structured jazz was unquestionably through extreme free jazz but in recent years I’ve found myself more and more drawn towards languid, textural jazz concoctions that not are about showing off, rather about exploring emotions and creating a specific tone. Swedish Gul 3 does just that and their Singular album grooves gently and only briefly disappears into shrieking sax explosions, so nothing really gets in the way of the mellow musical flow present here. Their slow motion playing style and predilection for minimalism sets them apart from most of their contemporaries but choosing this sonic approach also makes the interplay between the saxophone, cello and percussion crucial. I am happy to report that no player takes too much space; everyone is at the center of this telepathic sound journey. There’s an unplanned beauty to get lost in here, which no matter instrumental focal point will be remembered, for its whole rather than its parts. Explorational, surprisingly subdued and highly inventive.


Saturday, November 19, 2005

After the goldrush #8

Antony Milton’s PseudoArcana label continues to impress. This time by releasing a CD-R by Australian duo Joel Stern and Anthony Guerra. Outdoor Bowers is just like its predecessor Stitch an impressive combination of Guerra's highly processed guitar work and Stern's subtle field recordings, flavored with a healthy dose of microscopic electronics. What I find amazing with this duo’s work is how organic and warm it all sounds despite its highly experimental features. If my memory serves me right I described Stitch “as a record that's not only about minimal resonance, as the drones come packed in clusters of crackling details and corrosive nuances which, to tell you the truth, just wouldn't be near as astounding sans headphones.” This is still very much the case.

Whilst shopping from Antony Milton you might as well check out his own Clay Man in the Well project that from afar seems like the most psychedelic thing I’ve heard from this prolific New Zealander. You could even go as far as to describe Steps Towards Dusk as the cross-legged hippie’s dream crossed with the drone generation but what’s more important is that it strikes me as a sonic document, which is all about the soil and the eerie depths of the ocean. Fragmentized under water ceremonies give way for clattery, dirt-soaked folk structures that recalls equal parts Jewelled Antler and Ghost at their most primitive.

I’ve enjoyed the music of Tarentel for a long time and Ghost Weight (CD EP on the Spanish Acuarela label) is not going to change that although I wouldn’t place it quite on par with the band’s most fascinating work, The Order of Things (Neurot Recordings). Plaintive guitar/drum patterns meander glacially across a plane of crackling noise. This is not music for people with short attention spans but given that you’re reading this I guess you don’t belong to that category, right? A friend of mine once wrote these words about Tarentel: “Call it cinemati-core if you must. Call it post interesting, Krautrock-revivalist—take your pick.” If you want your goods more classically baked, in a post rock kind of way, proceed directly to New England/Virginia sextet Apse’s self-titled debut on Acuarela. Think of Slint at their most subtle meeting up with Do Make Say Think and you’re not too far off the mark.

Minneapolis-label Words on Music is starting to build up a reputation as one of the prime labels when it comes to reissuing entrancing, melodious dream pop excursions and infectious post punk records from the mid ‘80s. In this case the turn has come to London quartet The Lucy Show’s 1986 album Mania. If you find yourself returning to early Jesus and Mary Chain albums on a regular basis and like me is a secret admirer of New Order, then this is for you.

Let’s get another thing straightened out right away. I am just not sure how I feel about French O’s Numero 0 (Antenna Records) album but what I do know is that it’s one of the most varied and downright perplexing albums I’ve heard all year. I’ll describe this the lazy way, by quoting Stephen Lawrie of The Telescopes. ”Yan from O insists O is not music…the listeners make it music. So the listener is the only artist involved and must work towards building new music. O work against demonstrative music and believe the mastering of an instrument to be an illusion. O never hides their chaos, and realizes death gives sense and value to life. Their detuned aesthetic of primitive error, and their disobedience of metronome clearly express this vision. O are old children. Their music is like prehistoric art. When O use electricity, you feel the voltage flowing through you, and when they pluck string, you feel the snap of bone and the tension of wire. Yan says O will die after this album, but O will never sound dead to me.” Interesting!

Let us finish this column in my own neck of the woods, in Southern Sweden. The Roaring is a relatively new trio out of Malmö, Sweden that includes members from a number of the most interesting contemporary bands from this region. The Famous Solo is their stark debut album and if this one is any indicator of what is to come I can pretty much guarantee that you want to keep these guys on your shopping list. What we get is improvisational, piano-laced ambience and emotional tone clusters that together form a wonderful piece of floating minimalism that’s all about knowing when to shut up and to have guts to leave the necessary silence between the notes. The Roaring seems determined to further develop the hypnotic minimalism and atmospheric drones of Brian Eno and the lovely glacial drowsiness of Cluster. That’s not an easy mission to live up to but what these guys are doing are well worth your time even if you like me already have fallen under the spell of Music for Airports.


Friday, November 18, 2005

Egghatcher Cat’s Ear (Spanish Magic)

A few friends have been raving about Robert Horton’s music lately and although I certainly have enjoyed everything I’ve heard, nothing has had the same effect on me as his most recent work under the Egghatcher moniker. Cat’s Ear is an enthralling journey through a wide range of experimental musical styles, but in some strange way Horton manages to bind things together no matter if we get shimmering blankets of drone fog, fractured folk structures, buzzing improvisations, claustrophobic layers of feedback or dense fogbanks of primitive electronics.

The opening ”Lost Issues” kicks things off with a thick lava flow of buzz, screech, fuzz and hiss that brings an equally cavernous and joyous feeling to the table. Without recognizing quite how it happened the frantically insane electronic monsoon is all over and has perfectly flowed into the title track that sounds like a graceful celebration to someone that wandered off a bit earlier than expected. Another favorite cut is the dark and beautiful folk of “Tamlin” that drones, swirls and vibrates for just over eight minutes. I have no clue what’s what here as Horton generally applies a myriad of all sorts of weird instruments and field recordings but I do know that the sounds presented hangs in the air like distant echoes in the clear night of a hidden valley. These eight minutes are just true bliss. The following track is decidedly more electric but shows the same sort of tension between complete darkness and skeletal guitar beauty. It offers a kind of rustic, caustic, even abrasive electric folk music that is so honest that it might be painful for some to listen to.

There's a loose and natural approach to notes, folk, drones and quiet noise present here that has me thinking as much about early Charalambides and Sunroof! as Sandoz Lab Technicians and Roy Montgomery. If you know anything at all about what makes my head spin you know exactly what you need to do. Nearly perfect.


Thursday, November 17, 2005

Zelienople Ghost Ship (PseudoArcana)

Zelienople follows up their quite recent Ink with another monster of a disc, this time on the much-heralded PseudoArcana imprint out of Wellington, New Zealand. The beautifully droning sound of Ghost Ship is like an ocean liner experiencing the rarity of a calm Atlantic Sea. The ship is surrounded by nothing but endless silence, stillness and anxiety of what the approaching thunderhead on the horizon might hold for the ones that are bold enough to further explore. The sailors' worst nightmares don’t necessarily come true within this disc’s 44 minutes but the hidden energy that comes wrapped around every stretched out organ note, all sorts of bowed instruments, phased guitars, vibrachimes, bass clarinet, bass, vocals and drums is nothing short of stunning. This all results in a sort of slow building, trance inducing improv that sounds like a funeral hymn for an old ghost ship that made her deal with the ocean some hundred years ago. Recommended.


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Brian McBride When the Detail Lost Its Freedom (Kranky)
Windy & Carl The Dream House (Kranky)
Burr & Sverrison A Thousand Incidents Arise (The Worker’s Institute)

Every now and then I tend to get stuck in a specific genre for a longer time than I initially expected. When it comes to drone music it’s beginning to approach tradition that the autumn is replaced by winter to the tones of ultimate atmospheric drones. Brian McBride (one half of Stars of the Lid) does the job particularly well on the distinctively organic When the Detail Lost Its Freedom. I am not quite sure where this aura comes from but the fact that no electronics were used and that the instruments recorded were guitar, piano, vocals, harmonica, trumpet and strings probably helps. McBride has described the recording of the album “as therapy during a divorce and a move to a city which thrives on sucking the life out of people's souls” which explains why the whole things strikes me as incredibly emotional, if not even heart breaking. That being said, this release is distinctly darker than most Stars of the Lid outings but in terms of treating each tone with astonishing grace and respect, carefully placed next to the last one, you can definitely see where McBride is coming from.

It’s been more than five years since we last heard from Windy & Carl, but long-time fans don’t need to worry. It was well worth the wait. This husband and wife duo’s new double disc on Kranky continues where they last left us, but at the same time manages to take the sustained tone clusters to a new sort of quiet extreme. The Dream House is filled with slowly evolving pieces stripped of excess but so shockingly full of emotions and small unsettling details that it doesn't take more than a few seconds to find the listener just staring down an empty street into the mysterious darkness beyond.

If you want similarly minimalistic drones but of a more melodic kind proceed directly to Anthony Burr and Skúli Sverrisson’s finely polished sound sculptures that beautifully float like mist over a faintly lit city park late at night. There’s a temporary sense of isolation in time and place present here that helps these minimally structured chords and cyclic melodies construct vast and spatial dreamscapes without any external interference what so ever. This duo manages to blend dark and rumbling drones with simple melodies smeared into washes of minimal shimmer and if I’d have to choose only one of the three items described in this review I would probably go for this one. I think you know what that means.