Monday, July 31, 2006

Rory Storm Fuck the Memescape (United Fairy Moons)
Jo Jo ef Steve A Quiet Night In With... (United Fairy Moons)

Rock music is in nine cases out of ten complete crap, but upon entering the world of New Zealand’s Rory Storm it’s simply impossible to escape this genre name as I can’t think of more than a handful of records from 2006 that has rocked in the same impressive way as Fuck the Memescape. Insanely cheesy beats, reverberating fuzz and a monsoon of electronics are placed against a tapestry of repetitious and massive, but still catchy, guitar riffing. This is glazed trance rock of highest possible caliber that goes from rousing noise mantras to snippets of fuzz-soaked electronic pop in no time.

Sometimes you just have to surrender and admit that there’s no point in trying to review something that’s already been described in almost perfect words. United Fairy Moons boss James Currin has described Jo Jo ef Steve’s A Quiet Night In With... as if the Dead C had kept making records in the vein of Operation Of The Sonne, but ditched the drums and the electric guitars, and as if the Clean got incredibly lazy and started forgetting to finish songs or turn the radio off or sing properly…'One out of the box', as the puzzling NZ expression for something unusual goes. And, as for the name: there is no explanation; but somehow it does say it all.

I know I’ve said this before but I can’t honestly think of a label that I enjoy more right now than the constantly perplexing United Fairy Moons. Track them all down, folks.

After the goldrush #15

Hush Arbors’ CD EP Landscape of Bone is only available as a part of Three Lobed’s Modern Containment series but as the line-up is so frigging amazing I’m sure that won’t be a problem, or how does a subscription series including releases by Bardo Pond, Hush Arbors, Kinski, Mirror/Dash, Sun City Girls, Sunburned Hand of the Man, Matt Valentine & Erika Elder with the Bummer Road and Wooden Wand and the Omen Bones Band sound? Hush Arbors’ contribution displays 35 minutes of song-oriented forest folk ornamented with surprisingly strong rock characteristics. Some of the unspoken folk legends of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s come to mind, and if there’s any justice in the world this is just another piece in the world domination puzzle of Mr. Wood.

The Weird Weeds is a Texan trio including Nick Hennies, Aaron Russell and Sandy Ewen that after a promising self-released debut album have found their way to a bigger label (Sounds Are Active). That certainly makes sense given the fact that these guys, despite their experimental pop leanings, shows a great talent for penning catchy hooks and swirling harmonies. The Weird Weeds manages to succeed with the difficult task to create pop-based music that sounds utterly original. Unexpected sonic whims, unorthodox rhythms, chamber strings, country tendencies and the occasional side trip in to fringe/improv terrain flavor this stirring Sunday morning pop stew to perfection.

Christian Kiefer’s Czar Nicholas Is Dead (Camera Obscura) is a subdued sound affair based around melody-based guitarscapes bathed in all sorts of corrosive string massage and field recordings. It’s the sound of lying on the ground and watching the gigantic clouds move towards the horizon, or watching the occasional ripple in the waters from the fish beneath. Kiefer invites us to attend a beautiful journey across historic Russia where folk is as important as experimentalism, but where moods and atmosphere are the components that truly counts. Czar Nicholas Is Dead leaves plenty of space for the listener so it’s just a matter of closing your eyes and let go.

Except for both being US residents and loving the outer regions of sound, Howlin Magic has next to nothing in common with Kiefer. What we get from this Californian one-man ensemble is a kind of ferocious guitar noise that probably is equally inspired by the screeching guitar fuzz of Japanese High Rise and the Dead C’s towering feedback explorations. That being said, this is brain-melting distortion, maniacal percussion, whooshing electronics and howling magic at its very best. Try to listen to this disk in headphones and you’ll find yourself in the middle of a tunnel packed with all your regular nightmares, all presented to you at the same time and at high speed. For more information about this self-released disc send a note to jrakusin-at-gmail.com


Thursday, July 20, 2006

After the goldrush #14

230 Divisadero is the duo of Matt Shaw and Nick Grey and their quite recent debut recording is a CD-R EP entitled A Vision of Lost Unity (Milk and Moon). It’s an album consisting of one 28 minutes long underwater ceremony constructed from all sorts of misty drones, pulses, non-word vocals, hallucinogenic electronics, feedback attacks and mournful cello playing. This is good stuff that manages to surprise by combining subtle drone characteristics with repetitious aggression.

In a recent interview in Dream Magazine Italian My Cat Is An Alien stated that their music contains a basic aspect of psychedelia, in terms of hypnotic reiteration of sounds. I think they said that they “create multi-stratified space sounds, which produce a sensation of cyclicity, similar to the effects of early minimalism”. Judging by The Secret of the Dancing Snow (Ikuisuus) the concept of minimalism and repetition does indeed seem to be close to the band’s idea of space music. It’s a divinely beautiful journey that’s based around extended wordless tones from Roberto Opalio that blends beautifully with a seemingly constant swarm of electronics, chiming bells, layers of echoing guitars, all sorts of space-sounding toys and the occasional pounding cymbal, but the overall sound is actually so massive it’s sometimes difficult to make out what’s what here.

Four More Raga Moods is another corker on the same Finnish label, this time from the hands of Phil Todd’s long-lasting Ashtray Navigations project. Todd is as always armed with an arsenal of instruments but guitars, casio, moog and tapes are some of the key components at hand for creating these four explorations in the balance of rhythm, drone, subtle chaos and noise. Well, that’s actually not entirely true as he also gets help from some of the finest UK underground musicians, including Ben Reynolds, Pete Nolan, Andy Jarvis, Alex Neilson, Chris Hladowski and Mel Delaney. Shimmery minimal abstraction, rousing blasts of guitar waves, acoustic ragas, electronic twinkles, warbling drones, digital monsoons and distant folk tendencies build up to what very well might be my favorite Ashtray Navigations album and that’s saying something.

Giuseppe Ielasi s/t (Häpna)
Anders Dahl Hundloka Flockblomstriga 1 (Häpna)

I wouldn’t say that neither of these two new Häpna releases belongs to my favorites from this phenomenal Stockholm label but everyone reading this should be aware that everything issued by these guys is worthwhile. The slow-moving opener of Giuseppe Ielasi’s second album for Häpna is actually a magnificent little vessel of post/folk/drone expansionism worth the price of admission alone. It starts with some lovely corrosive violin massage and guitar picking, but what truly makes it fill every inch of the room is the horn section that completes one of the most rewarding meetings between orchestral cohesion and space is the place explorations I’ve heard this year. In the light of all this the second track feels a bit out of place with its dub-inspired beats and electro-acoustic tendencies. As a matter of fact the latter is a characteristic that is much more evident here than on the Gesine CD (also on Häpna) and I am not quite sure that’s the development I was hoping for. The attention for details is stunning throughout though and I am sure this one will grow on repeated headphone listens.

Swedish Anders Dahl is a new name to me, but I am sure we’re going to here a whole lot more from this guy in the future. Hundloka Flockblomstriga 1 (Hundloka is cow parsley in Swedish) is Dahl’s new album for Häpna and one that fascinates as much as it puzzles. Seemingly inspired by nature this is a disk that contrary to what one might think strikes me more as urban than rural, or maybe it’s just that it’s walking along some hidden trail between the two and yet hasn’t quite made up its mind of where to stay. As far as I am concerned that’s for the better as I find the strength of these three epic pieces constructed with the aid of guitar, bouzouki, prepared shakers, clarinet, computer and percussion in the midst of that subtle battle. Hundloka is actually a lot about battles without winners as it also displays the meeting between composition and improvisation. The final result is a somewhat dense, and occasionally even harsh, drone web that despite its chosen instrumentation rather feels digital than natural.

After the goldrush #13

Plainswalkers is a Pittsburgh duo that with the aid of cassette manipulations, heavily treated guitars, Tibetan horn and cymbals explores the link between gurgling noise, glacial tunnels of buzz and all sorts of hiss. Ramskull (Dynamo Sound Collective) is a fifteen-minute long ride though decidedly electric, static and improvised settings, but the whole thing is not as difficult to get into as it might seem, as the volume generally is quite low. Comes in black digi-pakish case with hand screen-printed covers.

Billy Bao is a free rock combo consisting of Xabier Erkizia, Alberto Lopez, Pablo Reche, Mattin and Alan Courtis. The latter is known from his work with Reynols and those digging the raw rhythmic collisions, the cluttering percussion and heavy distortion of that group won’t be disappointed with how Rock 'n'Roll Granulator (w.m.o/r) kicks off. That sort of clangy guitars and outsider punk rock vibe dominates the two opening tracks while “El Grado Zero Del Pulso” besides a little bit of processing and laptop hiss is just about nothing but regular drum sounds; seemingly endless repeated drum strokes a few seconds apart. Call it avantgarde if you will, or maybe rock concrete, and if you urge for comparisons think of a marriage between Reynols and Italian Starfuckers/Sinistri and you’re in the right ballpark.

Fans of the aforementioned Mattin should keep an extra eye open, as there’s a number of Mattin-related material being released these days. First there is his collaboration with Josetxo Anitua under the Herman Hostia moniker, which is surprisingly straightforward and melodic lo-fi punk. But to confuse there are also a few longer tracks that veer off into much more hushed, experimental terrain. By no means essential but still quite entertaining.

If Herman Hostia is a bit surprising then Deflag Hamorrhage/Haien Kontra’s (AKA Mattin and Timothy Goldie) Luxury is closer to what I’ve come to expect from Mattin. Things start on a quitely intense note but that’s seemingly just to trick us to stay on board their vessel to free jazz/noise/computer feedback hell as things only get more and more extreme the further the album continues. When we’ve reached “Submucosa” you’ll find yourself in the midst of the sort of shrieking laptop/feedback mayhem that just a few of you will enjoy. But in the midst of the unalterable noise Mattin and Goldie also leaves some space for quieter lowercase sections and drone fragments. I can’t honestly say that I will listen to this disk on repeated occasions but I love the fact that I continue to be surprised by this very demanding sonic stew all through its 73 minutes.

After the goldrush #12 - tule ystäväna

It’s always a pleasure to get an unexpected package from Finland, as it always tends to include some of the most mind-stirring music that there is around. In this case it was a package from tule ystäväna, another relatively new CD-R label that releases music in handmade covers and somewhat limited editions.

First out is Hei’s Meri, which offers a muddy perspective from the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Ocean-deep drones are interspersed with all sorts of alien crackles and ambient hums to a dark sound excursion that comes to full life in “Meren Kurkku,” where we find a lonesome cello hovering just on top of the polluted waters. The music is mainly about stark textures and bleakness, but there is also an undercurrent of melody that makes this record enjoyable on different levels--both for concentrated listening in headphones but strangely enough also as background music.

Heikki & Ilari’s ambitious double disc set 291102 offers an intoxicating duel betwixt acoustic and electric guitars that tread over both restrained as well as aggressive territories. The whole thing is rather primitive and from to time even lo-fi, but the emotions at hand often shines brightly through these layers of corrosion. Personally I tend to prefer the more delicate stuff presented here and maybe 80 minutes is a bit too much to handle in one sitting, but there’s enough promise and talent present here to make me want to hear more.

Heikki Juhani’s Löysin Sillan Avaruuteen kicks off with the highly percussive noise rock intro “Fanfaari” and although that one partly shows where this disk is going there’s a whole lot more going on here than rustic noise. ”Maan Alla Enkelin Holvi” is a darkly buzzing and fragmentized nugget with sharp percussion erupting at the center of the claustrophobic tones while “Silta (vaskiluodon)” is a meandering guitar piece recalling a beautiful but sad memory. ”Ada Paraati” is brilliant Finnish fingerpicking bathed in brutal primitivism, and to tell you the truth the rest is just as good. After hearing the ambient noise of the epic seventh track and the delicate piano notes of the closing ”Kalmar” I realize that I probably am one of very few that have treated my ears to one of the most unheard masterpieces of 2006. Pick it up while it still is at hand or rely on the fact that this simply has to be reissued at one time or the other. It’s your choice.

After the goldrush #11

Antony Milton’s Guitar Has Strings is another beautifully packaged CD-R from Anthony Guerra's impeccable Black Petal imprint. Luckily the aural goods are right up there with the visual aspects as Milton plays the acoustic and electric guitar in a bluesy and lovely raw way. Improvised guitar sculptures draped in clouds of nightly haze and quivering tones and textures surrounded by nothing but silence make up an album that drones, swirls and vibrates for 46 minutes and those repetitious minutes are indeed true bliss.

More guitar music comes from Alan Sparhawk of Low who on his album length solo debut Solo Guitar (Silber Records) blends glacially moving and somewhat minimalistic guitarscapes with strands of glistening noise. Quite often the tracks tend to start on a slow and intimate note before moving right into a tsunami of feedback, a wall of breathtaking dissonance. All in all it’s enough to transport one to the farthest reaches of the galaxy and back again in a matter of minutes.

More hazy daydream music on the same label comes from Vlor, basically a tool for label boss Brian John Mitchell to make music with some of the friends he admire the most. The process behind A Fire Is Meant for Burning started with Mitchell recording 90 minutes of guitar riffs and arpeggios that he sent to six friends (Jon DeRosa of Aarktica, Mike VanPortfleet of Lycia, Nathan Amundson of Rivulets, Jessica Bailiff, Jesse Edwards of Red Morning Chorus and Paul Messere of 6P.M.) for completion. Despite being primarily based around the guitar we get a varied listen that includes as much pastoral string massage as primitive walls of sound hitting you right in the face. My favorite track is possibly “Suncatcher,” an all too brief, downcast slice of dream pop that reaches the heavens much thanks to Bailiff’s vocal contribution. Nothing of all this is that original but there’s still something about this disk that makes it difficult to escape.

We’ve been writing a lot about New Zealander Peter Wright (now living in London) before and Red Lion (Digitalis) is not going to change that. It displays more of the half-awake drone state overflowing with mood and emotions that we’ve come to expect from Wright. Shimmering, slow motion washes of guitar bliss, effects and field recordings that still have a distant melodic vibe to it are phased in and out to a blissful yet unsettling whole with only small variations. Nice.

While we’re on the subject of submerged melodies, insular drones and glacial sound webs it’s fitting to write a few words about The North Sea & Rameses III’s Night of the Ankou (Type Records). The opening “Death of the Ankou” walks on a parallel path to Stars of the Lid, building its sound from that very surface, for every second eroding a microscopically small sound particle but at the same time enveloping new details that you never would have seen if you’d taken the straight line from a to b. What makes this one differ from the ‘Lid’s celestial minimalism is the fact that it’s dipping its toes in a pool of folky instrumentation, ranging from flutes and chimes to bowed bouzouki. This is music that reminds me of watching the Northern Lights with flickering curtains of light dancing against the dark skies. Absolutely essential stuff that shines brightly in the dusky midnight sky.