Thursday, May 25, 2006

Sala-Arhimo s/t (Last Visible Dog)

Just when I thought that my long-lasting love affair with Finnish underground music was starting to fade a bit I’ve been fortunate enough to treat my ears with a cpl of amazing Finnish albums that for sure will be top 2006 candidates when it’s time to summarize this year further down the line. One of these items is Sala-Arhimo’s (frequent guest player with Islaja) self-titled disc for Last Visible Dog. Imagine a jazz-soaked Kemialliset Ystävät at their very least demented and fractured and Islaja at her most radiant and you’re getting close to what these repetitive folk structures are all about.

Memories from ancient times meet melodic drone aesthetics, and the melancholic and highly hypnotic results are nothing less than balsam for the soul. The mostly folky soundscapes and delicately perplexing yet gentle melodies are constructed from a myriad of instruments which forms an ornamental whole well worth being placed right next to the finest names of the Finnish scene.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

After the goldrush #9c

Dave Black is a new moniker for New Zealand’s (relocated to Melbourne, Australia while recording this album) David Edwards and given the sound presented on After Maths & Sciences (fiffdimension) it’s quite fitting that he chose to put this out under a different name as it’s not quite like anything he’s done before. Derek Bailey-esque improv dissonance hover on top of a riverbed of laptop work and all sorts of various sounds and voices that somehow seems to try to describe the Australian soul. Add to all this the occasional addition of cello, harmonica and shakers and you got yourself an album that demands a lot from the listener but which upon repeated listens will prove to be surprisingly beautiful and extrovert.

Whilst shopping from fiffdimension make sure to get hold of Gleefully Unknown, a best-of compilation of Dave Edwards’ music from 1997 to 2005. Unlike the disc described above this is a great starting point to understand where Edwards is coming from. Rough outsider folk-blues mysteries born out of a fascination for Bob Dylan gives way to dissonant rock textures along the lines of the Fall, which doesn’t prevent Edwards’s impressive talent for electric and acoustic improvisations to be all over the place. Edwards strikes me as one of the most overlooked musicians from the fertile lands of New Zealand and if you need a fresh start this might very well be the place.

Songwriter and accordionist Alec K Redfearn has been an integral member of the impressive Providence, RI scene for quite a few years now. His new album together with the Eyesores is called The Smother Party (North East Indie) and like previous Eyesores releases it’s a darkly lulling affair bathed in Balkan/East European folk colors. I remember writing something like ”I have no clue what to compare this with, but if you like me like folk as well as rock and exotic experimental goodness you'll probably find this quite intriguing, if not even mesmerizing” about one of the band’s previous outings and that statement is still very much valid.

The Japanese trio (living in Seattle) Na belongs to the rare kind of breed that manages to create improv music that is genre defying and demanding but also all about having fun. Naisnice (Pax Recordings) is mostly abstract and ethereal but there are enough vocal outbursts, surprising pop elements and discordant guitar work from guitarist/vocalist Kazu Nomura to make you constantly uncertain where things will go next. On top of Nomura’s work we get bubbling synthesizers, fractured piano structures and quietly seducing jazz percussion from pianist/multi-instrumentalist Noriaki Watanabe, and percussionist/multi-instrumentalist Shin Yamada. This is the sort of surreal sound exploration that might drive some people nuts, but for some reason I can't get enough of this stuff. Recommended.

More to come…


Monday, May 15, 2006

Peter Wright Pariahs Sing Om (Last Visible Dog)

It takes a certain kind of label to release a massive triple CD set with a relatively unknown drone poet out of New Zealand (now relocated to the UK) . Providence, RI-based Last Visible Dog is such a label and I love them for that very reason. This retrospective collects two complete albums (Pariahs Sing Om and Catch a Spear As It Flies), significant excerpts from Duna and A Tiny Camp in The Wilderness and a handful of unreleased tracks.

Avid readers of the Broken Face magazine will recognize the name of Peter Wright as we’ve spread quite some praise over a half-dozen of his releases on everything from his own Apoplexy label to celebrated underground imprints such as Celebrate Psi Phenomenon and Last Visible Dog.

What we get is the kind of stretched out drone sculptures that you never can be completely sure where they originate from instrument-wise, but no matter that they work eminently well as the soundtrack for an expedition to the Frigid Zone, majestically moving across miles and miles of ice with the biting wind hitting the explorer’s face harder and harder at every step. ”Miasma” (of disc 3) is one of my favorite tracks as it displays a bit of deceptive optimism before it settles down to a spine creeping finale worthy of any Omit record. Other tracks are exceptionally chilly and include plenty of variety slowly unfolding from the monotonous to the harsh before giving in to some shrieking textures as the whole thing fades away. It's a remarkably transporting and visual work that brings to mind the entire Metonymic gang, and if that means anything at all to you I just can't see how you possibly can walk this one by. Your headphones will love this and hopefully you will too.


Sunday, May 14, 2006

Viktor Sjöberg On a Winter’s Day (Kalligrammofon Recordings)

Aching, slow melodies and intelligent, restrained mixes of oceanic sound textures are the main ingredients of Gothenburg-based Viktor Sjöberg’s first album for the Kalligrammofon imprint. We get 34 minutes of precise, slowly shifting images of water flowing, air moving and billowing or a deserted railroad platform on an exceptionally wintry and dark December morning. As you stand there, gazing at nothing in particular you realize how beautiful it all is. This is where On a Winter’s Day comes in, with its unhurried mix of guitar washes, desolate drones, field recordings and the occasional beat.

Sjöberg unfolds a seamless connection of rails that stretch from border to border of an equally restful and haunting landscape. There's something wondrous and spiritual about the whole thing, a rarely seen hazy grace reminiscent of a flock of birds making their way over vast flatlands on their annual trip to warmer climes. Just like the birds, the ten melodies rise and fall in a dazzling topography of sound as the wind changes. A beautiful soundtrack for hangover addled regrets or pondering about what once was.

This lovingly molded capsule of subtle aural brilliance is for long lonely nights and dimly lit bedrooms. Could easily be filed right next to people like Stars of the Lid and Aarktica, and if that's not a compliment I'm not sure what is.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

After the goldrush #9b

With Throats as Fine as Needles is another New Zealand dream project including Birchville Cat Motel's Campbell Kneale, PseudoArcana head honcho Antony Milton, Sandoz Lab Technicians’ James Kirk and Richard Francis of Eso Steel fame. I could have listed at least half a dozen names of interesting bands behind each of these names, but my guess is that if you’re reading this you probably have a rough idea of what’s going on down under anyway. This self-titled disc on Digitalis and Students of Deacy was entirely recorded outdoors with battery-powered instruments and if the sound is any indicator of the places where it was recorded I am guessing a combination of air-raid shelters, abandoned bunkers and bridges in faintly lit industrial areas. If you feel like getting lost inside a barely visible labyrinth of darkly seducing aural fog you will know what to do.

Loscil is the moniker for Scott Morgan, an electronic wizard and sound artist from Vancouver, Canada. On Morgan’s fourth full-length album Plume (Kranky) we find him using sampling, synths and a fair dose of computer programming to create hovering airwaves of well-concealed melodies and electronic hypnotism. It’s the perfect soundtrack for a blurred slow-motion picture, taking place in a deserted city on a particularly mist-clad November afternoon. But this soundbath installation includes enough pulsing and bubbling soundscapes and subtle grooves to help these fluid slowly swelling drones to mutate into small fluctuating sound droplets suspended in the atmosphere.

Given Tanakh’s previous outings, Ardent Fevers (Alien8) is a surprisingly structured and poppy listen. But at the same time as it is considerably lighter it’s also draped in brain melting, seriously damaged psychedelic guitar excess and curtains of mesmerizing organ sounds. Personally I tend to prefer the honesty of the slow-moving folk numbers where we get to see the true melodic beauty of Jesse Poe and Umberto Trivella’s incredible song writing talents. What does unite this release with the past is that the beautiful, richly orchestrated melodies once again paints secret mental images of well-hidden vistas, of the natural as well as the urban variety.

More to come…

Anti-Clockwise Artificial Light (3 Beads of Sweat/Tinsel Ears)

It wasn’t long ago I praised the work of New Zealand’s the Renderers and Maryrose Crook in these pages, and now it’s time for the second half of the Crook family to make his voice heard. Here we find master guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Brian Crook (Renderers, Terminals, Flies Inside the Sun, Scorched Earth Policy and the Max Block) working under the Anti-Clockwise moniker and the results prove well worthy of comparison with just about everything the man’s done before.

Artificial Light is most of the time a surprisingly stripped down and spacey album that displays blurry images of rain-soaked nightmares and frozen moments of alienating beauty. I guess you could say that it’s a beauty in disguise, a sort of loosely knit and abstract melodies that make the sonic ideas, performed with the aid of evocative keyboard sounds, fragmentized drumbox beats, small clusters of mind-bending tonal weirdness and skeletal guitar work, so remarkable. Imagine an unexpected bridge between the noise-country of The Renderers, Brian Eno and the most introspective work of Loren Mazzacane Connors and you’re in the right ballpark.

Tom Carter Glyph (Digitalis)

Tom Carter’s Glyph was originally issued as a limited edition CD-R on his own Wholly Other imprint and even though I consider myself a dedicated Charalambides/Tom Carter/Christina Carter fan I actually managed to miss out. So, kudos to Digitalis Industries I am finally able to treat my ears to another of Tom’s beautiful solo albums (his Monument CD also comes highly recommended).

What we get is three amazing aural sculptures, one for steel string acoustic guitar, the second for lap steel, and the last on nylon string acoustic. But although there is a certain degree of variation in terms of instrumentation the overall feel of these minimally structured chords and vast guitar landscapes are still the same. The one of being temporary isolated in time and place by spatial guitarscapes. What always has struck me as particularly impressive about Carter’s work is that a sound so stripped of excess can be so shockingly full of emotions. First 500 copies come in gatefold sleeves, silk-screened on one side by Rob Fisk (Free Porcupine Society) and spray painted on the other by Tom. Highly recommended.


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

After the goldrush #9a

Things have been piling up here recently so I guess it’s time for another quick rundown of some of the stuff that’s been making my head spin here recently.

First out is a limited reissue of Tasmanian Keith Mason’s debut album K Mason 1 on the amazing Spanish Magic imprint. We get five rough outsider folk-blues mysteries all delivered with some sort of immediacy and raw tone that make them difficult to escape. The skeletal sonic qualities and loner/oddball characteristics that overflows this disc has me thinking about equal parts Pumice and Jandek, and that is indeed high praise folks.

Stay downunder and pay a visit to the prolific world of Antony Milton (A.M., Clay Man in the Well, Pseudoarcana label, Black Boned Angel, With Throats As Fine As Needles and much more), this time under the Nether Dawn moniker. Outer Dark (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon) is a perfect midnight companion that gracefully floats out of the speakers, forming ghost-like shadows on your living room wall and quiet whispers seeping out of the basement. Static waves of electronic drones blend with field recordings in a narrow corridor of darkly seducing, but still organic beauty.

°catlandgrey° is Milk & moon recordings’ second release, and another indicator of a label to keep an extra eye on. What we get here is some kind of downcast folktronica which most of the time stays on the folky and melodic side of things. Unlike a lot of people residing in this genre we get actual songs and a lot of lyrical contributions which contrary to what you might think actually adds to the nostalgic underwater journey taking place here. It might not be that original but it’s a great partner for those early Sunday mornings when the rest of the family has yet to awake.

More to come…

Harlassen A Way Now (Sustain-Release Recordings)

Sometimes people ask me why it is that I listen to so much dark music. I am sure there are a number of releases in my record collection that indeed could be labeled as such, but on the contrary I actually think that I mainly listen to joyous music. I guess this saying about beauty being something that is in the eye of the beholder is something that is very much the case when it comes to music as well. What I guess I am trying to say is that some people probably will think that A Way Now is a dark and ominous listen but if you ask me we get two epic tracks that although staring at the darker realms of life overflows with organic beauty. It's actually the cerebral qualities that make it such a highly successful aural adventure. It won't necessarily have you humming along, but don't be surprised if you find your head stuck in a quiet circular groove.

”An Eddy of the Blood” offers a acoustic segue to the repetitive aural hypnosis of the opening “What the River Said” which works as a sort of swaying suspension bridge of dementia before the hymn-like closer offers gentle solace. Fragments of acoustic guitar, searing violin drones, distorted piano and hypnotic percussion make up an album that successfully displays both the darker and lighter side of things.

Oh…I almost forgot to mention that ths icing of the cake is that the CD-R is encased in a handmade, canvas wallet with beautiful artwork by Louise Skelton. Each CD is numbered and individually dedicated. Lovely!

Various Artists Lead into Gold (Rebis)

The year of 2005 was the year of massive compilations of highest possible caliber. Lead into Gold is not a new Invisible Pyramid (Last Visible Dog) or Gold Leaf Branches (Digitalis) as it’s only a two-disc compilation, but in terms of sonic qualities and far-reaching ambitions it’s almost as inspiring. If I understand things correctly this release should be seen as a new addition to Rebis’ "long-form works" series. We get ten acts that can be found all over the minimalist, folk, psychedelia, drone and noise map to contribute pieces based on the theme of alchemical transformation-- so either pieces that start in one place and end somewhere radically different, or pieces that substantially alter their source material.

The Zoo Wheel AKA Liz Payne kicks things off with a bell-laced composition packed with microscopical details, but the overall picture remains somewhat repetitious and static. Of…Ohv continues to explore stretched out notes but “The Rocks Will Open” has more of an organic vibe to it, which probably doesn’t come as a surprise as Of is the moniker of Loren Chasse, an integral member of the Jewelled Antler collective. Another highlight from disc one is Son of Earth’s “The Finesse of Limitation” which provides slowly unfolding waves of claustrophobia tucked in blankets of darkness. The whole experience is much like waiting for something frightening that probably never will happen but you just never know.

The second disc starts with a full-on synapse meltdown from White/Light but as “Monadnock” evolves it’s actually more about fluttery bliss and billowy trance than power. Keenan Lawler’s scattered resonator guitar finds a secret vista firmly tucked away from all things real and human before Bruce Russell dives deep into a lake filled with all sorts of collage-like tape manipulations and digital processing. As a matter of fact this is one of the finest solo pieces I’ve heard from Mr. Russell in a very long time. Add to all this contributions from the Gray Field Recordings (which have received ample praise here before), Birds of Delay, Bird Show /Lichens and the closing, ocean deep theremin/computer drone from The Opera Glove Sinks in the Sea and you got yourself one of the finest compilations of 2006.

Ved Demis Roussos Internal (Müssiggänger)

Malmö resident Mattias Nihlén AKA Ved has been one of the most consistently interesting Swedish musicians in recent years. This 3” CD-R for the fledging Müssiggänger imprint is no exception from that rule although I have to admit that I have heard other upcoming Ved releases that are even more enticing and soul affecting. What we get on Demis Roussos Internal is one 20 minutes long track that walks the tightrope between darkly foreboding drones, forest-clad folk structures and atmospheric bliss. It’s not perfect but it’s another evidence that I’ll be following this guy as closely as possible. The disc comes wrapped in a beautiful brown envelope, limited to 50 copies, so act accordingly.