Saturday, December 24, 2005

2005 year has been another great year for fringe music. Here are a few of my favorites. Merry Christmas and all that…

Best Album
Pelt (Untitled) (VHF). The resonating guitar work and the gritty mantras of aurally demanding drones are simply superb and I can’t think of any piece of music that has had such an emotional effect on me this year. (Untitled) is an incredibly dark and threatening two-headed aural monster that’ll keep you awake long after the lights have gone out.

Best Debut
Paavoharju Yhä Hämärää (Fonal). This is to be honest not Paavoharju’s official debut album but in terms of reaching out to a wider audience it certainly is. Their dense webs of gurgling ambient beauty and electronic haze are truly one of a kind.

Best Reissue
Davenport Free Country (Last Visible Dog). If there ever is such a thing as essential reissues, this one definitely belongs to that category. Free Country was originally released in an all too limited edition in the amazing Foxglove series, so it's cool to see that all involved has decided to make this stunning outing more widely available. Free Country is a sublime piece of dream music that is rich in contrasts, hypnotic and full of beauty.

Best Various Artists Compilation
Invisible Pyramid (Last Visible Dog). It’s simply impossible to find words strong enough to accurately describe exactly how great this compilation is and what an overwhelming task it must have been to put it all together. There's 7 hours and 36 minutes of incredible music presented here, which of course makes it very difficult to grasp but if you have a day on your own I can’t think of anything more exciting than sitting down and listen through it all in one sitting. Essential.

Best Cover Art
V/A By the Fruits You Shall Know the Roots (Time-Lag / Eclipse). Gorgeous deluxe 3LP set packaged in a full color, fabric textured, triple gatefold cover that unfolds to reveal a huge 25 inch by 37 inch poster in classic San Francisco ballroom-era style art.

Best Vinyl Only
Feathers s/t (Feathers Family). Vermont collective Feathers 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.

Best CD-R Only
Egghatcher Cat’s Ear (Spanish Magic). 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.

Best Cassette Only
Fricara Pacchu Waydom (Lal Lal Lal). Waydom is like an uncontrollable volcano of instrumentation floating together to an impressive and majestic lava flow, initially interesting for its power more than the mind-puzzling polyrhythmic structures laying beneath, that doesn't strike me until much later. It’s like a pulsating tangle of primitive folk clatter, deranged psychedelia, motorik krautrock and feedback-riddled ceremonies that’s all repeated till it invokes a sinister aural nightmare.

Best Live Show
Birchville Cat Motel live in Gothenburg, Sweden. Some people say that you experience your entire life in the shape of rhapsodic fragments the seconds before you’re about to die. Birchville Cat Motel in the live setting makes music for these seconds, sonically as intense, detailed and multifaceted as life itself.

Biggest Surprise
Det Gamla Landet s/t (Aa). This is a strangely alluring record that meanders along the deserted streets of Malmö, Sweden with a great sense of melancholia, desperately trying to find the new soul of the changing city. But even though it’s a folk document of abandoned city streets it also includes vaguely psychedelic music aimed to present the sounds of the mystical Swedish forests.


Thursday, December 15, 2005

Carousell A Dead Bridges into Dust (Sustain-Release)

In recent years I have all too often had an irregular ear problem that makes me hear next to nothing on one ear for a week or two. This has not only made me value my hearing a whole lot more but has also made me realize what sort of music it is that works despite the ear damage. In some strange way certain tones have a way of recreating sounds the way I used to hear them. Carousell’s A Dead Bridges into Dust is such an album and what’s amazing is how alike it all sounds, now when my hearing is back. Other albums are just entirely impossible to listen to during these periods so there’s something mysterious hidden under these highly organic but dense sound draperies that makes it find their way into my ears anyway.

What we get in terms of music is a lovely droning sound packed with soul, dreamy spiritualism and desolate beauty. Sparsely plucked guitar improvisations, distant piano, dusted violin massage and muffled drone clusters form minimalist hymns that despite its stark tone sound as natural as the cycles of days and seasons. The total running time of all this is only just over 33 minutes but if you already pray to the Jewelled Antler altar and appreciate the timeless sound world of Phil Legard’s Xenis Emputae Travelling Band then this is for you. That this white CDR comes wrapped in a canvas paper handmade wallet and individualized insert is only the icing of the cake. Essential.


Sunday, December 11, 2005

Toitu Séance s/t (Seedy R)

There's no way on earth that I could pin down what New Zealand's Sandoz Lab Technicians are doing in mere words, but my love for their sound is as bright and clear as a Northern sky in February. But don’t be fooled to believe that Toitu Séance is a new moniker for the Sandoz guys, no this disc is a document of that trio teaming up with no less than half a dozen major forces in New Zealand fringe music. On this release we find Tim Cornelius, Nathan Thompson and James Kirk side by side with Peter Stapleton, Campbell Kneale, Richard Francis, Zoe Drayton, Antony Milton and Clinton Williams. It’s difficult to think of a more mouth-watering New Zealand line-up. The whole thing was recorded during the biannual Lines of Flight festival in Dunedin (mid-sized town on the Southern Island) and came about because Sandoz Lab Technicians organized the usage of a recording studio so as to work toward their new album, but with such an impressive number of talented musicians in town it was obviously impossible to “just” record another Sandoz album.

Layers of restrained feedback are placed against a tapestry of improvised drums, subtle fogbanks of organ and lots more but it’s not the instruments applied that’s important here. Rather the filmic, organic, droning and improvisational feel that comes wrapped around the glacial and stretched out notes. Given who’s involved it might not come as a surprise that it all sounds alienating and intoxicating in the same way as most releases on the Metonymic label and if that name in any way is familiar you will know what to do.


Friday, December 09, 2005

Eclipse feature

Some of you might be interested to know that I just did an interview with Ed Hardy of the amazing Eclipse Records. You can find the results at Terrascope online.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Tanakh interview

Some of you might be interested to know that I just did an extensive interview with Tanakh. You can find it at Terrascope Online.


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

A short introduction to the First Person label

2003 was probably the year when home-made 3” CD-Rs reached a sort of peak in terms of underground status, but when it comes to the actual sonic quality 2005 has been just as great, if not even better. This is to a high degree thanks to Andy Jarvis’ (formerly member of A Warm Palindrome that released one monster LP back in year 2000 but of some strange reason remains tragically unknown) First Person imprint. I was lucky enough to get my hands on the majority of the label’s back catalogue a cpl of weeks back and the only sad thing I can think of is that I let it pass such a long time before tracking down these discs. All releases are 3” CD-Rs that are housed in hand-made clear acetate covers with information printed on one side and an image on the other. It’s simple, beautiful and perfect at the same time.

The music presented on these discs range from the beautiful and surprisingly structured folk meanderings of sister/brother duo Mikarla and Andy Jarvis and the warm but quietly intense drone blankets of Julian Bradley’s The Piss Superstition project to the droning hypnotism and thermal pools of bubbling electronics of Neil Campbell and the cascading overtones of Culver.

The list can go on for quite a while since this label covers a lot of the aural grounds that I am interested in these days. Andy Robbins delivers droning folk of the timeless and more structured variety, Puff dives deep into the fractured waters of gurgling noise created from all sorts of metal objects and toy instruments and we get three discs of music from the always-impressive and inhumanly prolific Ben Reynolds. We get ominous tones and subtle percussive elements that create a haunting whole that strikes me as a secret meeting between the man’s compositional talents and his predilection for claustrophobic minimalism and improvisation.

Scotland’s Morganstewart presents reverberant guitar melodies that cycle endlessly and that effortlessly will cut a hole in your heart and seep right in. Think of a mix of Bert Jansch and Six Organs of Admittance and you’re in the right ballpark. No matter how fine this disc is I’d say that the free folk/improv unit Sculptress presents my favorite disc among all these as it brilliantly searches for genre conjunctions well outside explored territories and manages to do so in a similarly successful way as the aforementioned A Warm Palindrome. The swirling clarinet sound hovers just over a riverbed of meandering guitars, tapes, melodica and percussion and to describe the sound as mesmerizing and beautiful is probably the understatement of the year. If you’re foolish enough to only pick up one of these items you might want to start with the Sculptress disc, but given the fact that they’re priced at £3 each or £10 for 4 I think you know what to do. I can wholeheartedly recommend anything that wears the First Person signature.