Friday, March 30, 2007

Chris Smith Bad Orchestra (Death Valley Records)

I’ve been a fan of Australian guitarist Chris Smith ever since hearing his magical but neglected masterpiece Cabin Fever album in the late ‘90s. It consists of fractured mini-symphonies that walks the tightrope between droning noise and manipulated semi-pop with stunning ease. It still stands out as an album on par with New Zealand soundsmith Alastair Galbraith’s finest work.

It’s been a while since we last heard from Smith but when he gets back he does so in an absolutely remarkable way. Bad Orchestra is an album that adds a strong song-based element but without loosing the sense of aural claustrophobia that comes wrapped around every dark ambient tone. Imagine a mix of Galbraith’s abstract drone noise pieces and astral ghost fog, the Dead C's abstruse ambient noise and thick streaks of fluttering feedback, meandering Morricone-like sound sculptures recalling the open vistas of the never-ending outback and soaring Neil Young-inspired country/blues jams and you’re in the right confusing ballpark. Add to all this the occasional lilting piano ballad and organ snippets and we got ourselves an equally perplexing and inspiring album.

Smith himself describes his influences as “the razor-fine line separating yourself from the babbling hobo you cross the road to avoid. Post- Roman Catholicism/LSD, the Devil and the deep blue sea.” If that description sounds even remotely interesting you owe it yourself to check out one of this time’s unknown legends.


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Evening Fires s/t (Deep Water)

From the same label that brought us the amazing Clear Spots discs comes this killer CD-R, an mostly instrumental forest exploration that offers up little snippets of some long lost forest folk album. Shimmery and pastoral, hypnotic and transcendent free folk that spin a repetitive sound web that seems to unite the MYMWLY collective and the Irish Deserted Village label with some of the finest things on Digitalis. The sounds fly majestically over sun-drenched meadows and summer-clad forests like a flock of birds playing in the wind. Evening Fires, that includes members of the Clear Spots and Peacefeather, weave a delicate world of surprisingly structured folky clatter and Appalachian countryside, simply strummed guitars, lilting finger picked melodies, little bursts of primitive percussion, weary flute, bits of hazy drones and organ that wheeze out short mournful melodies that float just above the whirling background ambience. This is a stunning album that is likely to be criminally neglected.

After the goldrush #24

In some ways I guess I have this strange love and hate relationship to Texas, but when it comes to Texan music with a certain psychedelic flavor there’s nothing but love. That’s very much the case for Houstonite Kay Bonya a k a Kable who is back with her fourth album for the Fleece imprint. It’s been five years since we last heard from Bonya which is a shame given what she presents on Boar of the Forest. It continues along a similar reckless folk-psych-indie rock-noise trajectory as Tardy All the Time, Chlorophyll and 3 but here she takes things even deeper down those psychedelicised waters. In most cases there is a rough skeleton of a folk song that works as some sort of sonic platform, but to different degrees these structures are buried in fuzzy guitars, Texan noise and psychedelic production. Beautiful and primitive outsider music created from an armory of guitars, banjo, mandolin, keys, percussion and all sorts of homemade instrumentation. Don’t let us wait this long next time, ok?

John Weinland’s Demersville (John Weinland) offers, despite its well-known tone, something new and something familiar for those who have followed folks like Cat Power, Smog, Neil Young and Elliot Smith. Not really sure if there’s actually a specific element that is new but there’s that “something” about this country-tinged melancholia and nostalgia that has me asking for more. Demersville’s emotional roller-coaster folk/country-pop is flavored with a convincingly seductive voice and the use of piano, strings and pedal steel. This might all be classic ingredients for subdued folk pop, but to make it sound human and real and not just like one more self-loathing cliché is the real achievement here. Music rooted in darkness is to tell you the truth not something that works that well on a warm spring day but if I know the Swedish spring there will be more rain and snow coming this way. Can’t wait.

John Weinland links to Rollerball through their hometown Portland, Oregon. Apart from this they don’t have much in common, but given our regularity when it comes to writing about these cats you have probably guessed that we dig what they’re up to. All music that transcends time and culture while at the same time treading over new sonic territories is well worth a listen in my book, and it’s hard to think of anyone doing just that more than Rollerball. I haven’t loved all of their dozen full-length albums but this cross-pollinated musical hybrid on Wallace Records displays the band’s talent for diversity, but at the same time all ten tracks pulse with a kind of organic energy I am not sure I have heard from the band since their stellar Trail of the Butter Yeti album. This is jazz for the ones who enjoy staring at the sky, exploring the space from a comfortable distance, the kind of slightly deranged, jazz streaked expeditions I’ve come to love so much.

We all love Keith Wood’s Hush Arbors project, right? If not, it’s time to start tapping into his dreamy folk world and what could be a better way than with a re-release of his first full-length for Digitalis, Under Bent Limb Trees. This two CD set, housed in a lovely gatefold cardboard jacket, shows a lot of Wood’s wide musical repertoire, ranging from delicate folk melodies and old forgotten tales of what’s hidden under those moss-clad stones to heavily-delayed repetitive guitar lines and soft, dense clouds of psychedelic drone primitivism. Can and will be filed next door to Six Organs of Admittance and that my friends, is nothing but praise.

Giant Skyflower Band is a new project featuring Glenn Donaldson (Skygreen Leopards, Thuja etc) and Shayde Sartin (Flying Canyon) that according to Donaldson himself is his answer to "bummer psych". I leave it to you to decide what to include under such a tag but the stoned psych-folk-pop nuggets present on Blood of the Sunworm (Soft Abuse) has a stumbling and somewhat fractured character that seems to fit the description eminently well. The heartfelt and honest music of The Skygreen Leopards comes to mind but this is somehow both more damaged and poppy at the same time. Definitely one for fans of the aforementioned ‘Leopards, Skip Spence and Syd Barrett.


Sunday, March 18, 2007

After the goldrush #23

Philadelphia musician Margie Wienk’s debut album under the Fern Knight moniker sure had its bright moments but it’s not even near the sonic genius presented on the aptly titled Music for Witches and Alchemists (VHF). What we get here are some beautiful fusions of delicate British folk and dreamy psychedelia filtered through a prism of surprisingly rich arrangements and endlessly deep emotions. Primarily constructed from guitar, voice and cello but definitely one of those album where the sum is a whole lot more impressive than its parts.

I’ve been impressed by a lot of Robert Horton’s work but I don’t think there’s a single album I’ve returned to as many times as this collaboration album with Dax Pierson. Like the title suggest Pablo Feldman Sun Riley (AA/Nosordo) pays tribute to Morton Feldman, Pablo Augustus, Sun Ra and Terry Riley and although that blend might seem a bit far-fetched each of these individuals shines through on these brilliant recordings. The dominant instrument here is unquestionably the melodica and top of that Horton spins drone webs delicate and subtle as a breeze or a whisper. The album has a strong meditative effect, and I have no problem what so ever seeing people falling asleep to this record, and I don't mean that as criticism in any way. On the contrary its darkly serene tones are destined to create some amazing dreams, and if there ever was a safe way into the unconscious, the sounds of Pablo Feldman Sun Riley might very well be the perfect choice.

Live In Mimer (Ideal) captures Gothenburg-based Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words’ dark minimalism, quiet static ambience, metallic drones and low-end rumbles in the live setting. These tracks were recorded at the Norberg festival in 2004, a festival held in an abandoned mine and the historic traces of industry, machines and long working hours is something that is very much present throughout. Possibly my favorite recording from this solo outfit, and that my friends, tells a lot.

I’ve never been a fan of Dredd Foole (aka Dan Ireton) to the same extent as some of my friends but I have to admit that Daze on the Mounts (Family Vineyard) makes me question my previous impressions. In collaboration with Matt Valentine and Erika Elder he displays soulful avant folk of the traced-out variety, that lands somewhere between Tim Buckley, Jandek and MV & EE. Very nice.

There are some albums that you just never grow tired of and one of those is In Gowan Ring’s The Glinting Spade, so hearing new material from B’eirth is always of great interest around these parts no matter if the end results are called In Gowan Ring or Birch Book. Fortune & Folly (Helmet Room Recordings) is less gothic, droney and apocalyptic than In Gowan Ring but the more structured and song-based material presented here is still dark in a Leonard Cohen kind of way. It gets a bit repetitious after a while but this is overall genuine, heartfelt and unforgettable.


Friday, March 16, 2007

After the goldrush #22

Over the last cpl of months I have seriously started to consider writing an excuse letter to labels sending stuff in my direction as I’ve had a very difficult time to find much time at all to write. So, let’s start with another one of these After the goldrush columns to get the ball in motion.

First out is Alan Sondheim’s Ski/nn (Fire Museum), a recording of solo acoustic guitar and alpine zither songs. I am not sure if it’s the alpine zither or Sondheim’s musicianship, but this disc keeps displaying new corners of the primitive guitar spectrum with every new listen. In a way it has me thinking of avant-country-jazz-sci fi guitarist Eugene Chadbourne and that’s indeed high praise. Sondheim shares Chadbourne’s predilection for exploring the traditional American styles in a highly improvisational and unorthodox way. We get a kind of guitar playing that’s created by someone who obviously is technically skilled when it comes to his instrument but who manages to leave theory and concept behind in favor for emotion.

Poland’s The Magic Carpathians have been covered in the pages of the Broken Face on numerous occasions and their new Mirrors (Vivo) album is just as mesmerizing as any of their previous work. We get Central European folk, nature-clad drones, rural psychedelia, fiery free jazz sections and surging storms of found sounds and field recordings of nature that blends with very unorthodox and varied vocal techniques. This might seem like a very mixed bag but while the record jumps from one idea to the next, it always maintains an incredible listenability.

Richard Skelton’s new project is called A Broken Consort and it proves to be just as exciting as his previous drone explorations under the Harlassen and Carousell monikers. The Shape Leaves (Sustain-Release) creates a sonic plane in which such earthly considerations as time and space quickly melts away. Add to this a welcome folk flavor and you are onto something quite remarkable. This is an equally contemplative and challenging foray through delicate folk, visceral sonic abstraction, corrosive overtones and tasty minimalism all bathed in a mysterious pool of bowed strings. Lovely.

I’ve find myself taking a long time to full absorb Californian Starving Weirdos Father Guru album on Azul Discografica. Not necessarily because it takes a lot of time to get into their music but it depends on having some spare time on your own without too much distraction. We get three epic and minimal, slightly AMM-ish tracks that sure takes its time to reach its goal but that’s sort of the point when it comes to this sort of glacial electro-acoustic improv. Imagine an improv version of Double Leopards and you’re in the right ballpark.

Fulborn Teversham is a new name and just the fact that they show up with their debut album on the fine Pickled Egg imprint is enough to get me interested. Count Herbert II is an eclectic sonic stew that idea-wise has me thinking of the genre-defying Bablicon, but this is also decidedly more electronic and poppy. Elements of post-punk and catchy electronica move right into joyous experimentation and slow-moving jazz structures of highest possible caliber. On top of all this there’s even some prog flourishes and although this could be a bit too much for some to handle I am most definitely in love. It’s been long since I heard such a playful and downright fun record. Definitely one for parties with an audience asking for more than background music.