Wednesday, October 24, 2007

After the goldrush #33

Christian Kiefer and Jefferson Pitcher’s To All Dead Sailors (Camera Obscura) is a concept album of sorts that explores the mysteries of the sea. Acoustic and electric instruments are combined with field recordings to create a wide palette of oceanic colors. We get the sonic equivalent to its brutality and we get the hard-explained beauty of the crashing sea in its eternal struggle to create physical shapes beyond the world of imagination. But most of all we get tracks that overflow with longing over people lost at sea or people being away from home for too long. It’s an intriguing sonic document that goes from airy fogbanks of sound experiments to graceful, soft-spoken, folk-tinged melancholia with impressive ease. This is one of those hushed, heart aching, and utterly timeless moments when the sum indeed is greater than its parts.

Serafina Steer’s Cheap Demo Bad Science (Static Caravan) is another subtle musical affair, this time constructed around Steer’s traditional singing and her impressive harp work. Comparisons will inevitably be made with Joanna Newsom but Steer comes from a British folk background rather than classicism if that makes any sense. Nice, and definitely on par with the aforementioned Appalachian-meets-avant-garde harpist.

Bostonian Eric Dahlman’s Ripped Echo (Space Walrus Records) is another disc that has been played a lot here recently. Dahlman is mainly a trumpeter but plays a myriad of instruments on this intriguing hybrid of jazz, Appalachian folk, ethnicism, country and classical music. The opening “Pahasteteeko” is spiritual to say the least and comes off as some lost ceremonial anthem from the border between Tibet and China. Other tracks are jazzier but there is always enough sonic surprises going on to prevent it from becoming just another jazz album. Ripped Echo is jazz that aims at the stars and is more likely to travel to some exotic country for inspirations than to the jazz club around the corner. Dahlman utilizes various Boston and Chicago based musician but luckily no player takes too much space, everyone is somehow at the center of this telepathic sound journey, although Dahlman’s smooth, decorative trumpet work admittedly is the one thing that holds it all together. I love just about everything (minus the artwork) about this album and I think you might as well.


Friday, October 19, 2007

After the goldrush #32

There’s been a lot of minimalism and drones here recently so I figured that today’s column should try to cover a slightly broader range. First out is the incredibly bizarre Rain in Skull (musicyourmindwillloveyou) by Australian Charles Curse (Greg Charles to friends and family). Fragments of disjointed folk melodies move across a plain of wheezing chords, tape hiss, children's voices, ambient washes, amp buzz, electronic glitch and bits of buzz in general. The contrast between downcast guitar playing and the physical claustrophobia-inducing weight of sound is equally perplexing and intriguing. It’s all presented in a decidedly lo-fi environment but the sound construction is anything but simple, this is a complex sonic stew, which sounds unique in the true sense of the word. Recommended to people who like their noise screwed up with enough structure to puzzle just about everyone. I love this, but I know that quite a few of you probably won’t.

Bolt of Apollo (Camera Obscura) is Black Sun Ensemble's 11th studio release, and one that to a large extent returns to the band’s previous instrumental focus. Once again we find Jesus Acedo's hallucinogenic mantras of scorching guitars effortlessly meshing with trance mysticism, prog rock tendencies and Eastern ragas to one impressive acid-rock record. This blazing set of ten tracks is an odd mutation of traditional folk and heavy guitar goodness and goes from the intense to the intricate with impressive ease.

We have been fans of idiosyncratic avant-garde singer/song-writer Marianne Nowottny ever since the late ‘90s when she at the age of sixteen released the indescribable Afraid of Me, but I still don’t think I’ve enjoyed any of her previous outings as much as I dig What Is She Doing? (Abaton Book Company). She's been called "a teenage Nico" and "the new PJ Harvey", but this one is actually quite different from such comparisons, as Nowottny apparently “set out to construct a homemade R&B/pop album.” That might lead to the wrong conclusions but please remember that this is the Broken Face you’re reading and you can probably guess how we would use such a term. What we get is tasty chunk of beat-laced, dreamy electronic pop that is quite primitive but at the same time catchy to say the least. An arsenal of synthesizers and keyboards are employed to form the melodic water surface which Nowottny’s inimitable vocals hover over, float on and dive deeply into. It's an intelligent and sophisticated, yet naivistic sound, which makes me genuinely happy. Just listen to the swirling synths and the dreamy harmonies of the opening "What Would I Do" and you'll see exactly what I mean. There are side excursions into free jazz, exotic themes and glorious space whispers to keep things unpredictable, but this is foremost a pop album that’ll have me dancing the next time I drink too much.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

After the goldrush #31

As you probably have figured out by now I am desperately trying to catch up in terms of writing reviews. Here’s a quick rundown of a few things that have been sitting in the review pile for too long. First out is Isle of Man resident Mike Seed’s A Boy Mistaken for a Crow (AntiClock Records), an introvert album packed with 20 naked and haunting folk miniatures that tend to look inwards rather than outwards. Beautifully picked guitar and Seed’s affecting voice are at the center of things but the icing of cake is probably when droning organ enters the mix in “Sleep In My Melody,” perfectly illustrating some sad moment, saturated with an inconsolable sense of loss.

Electric Bird Noise’s Fragile Hearts…Fragile Minds (No More Stars Records) is another pleasant surprise, displaying Brian McKenzie’s subtle guitar experimentalism. He seems to be determined to further develop the hypnotic minimalism and atmospheric drones of Brian Eno and Cluster and in most cases does so quite successfully. There’s a lovely directness and spontaneity written all over this album that just glides along its sad melodies but also provides a warm, dense blanket perfect for tucking you in at night. This is rich and emotional tone abstraction celebrating the fall at its very best. Nicholas Szczepanik out of Washington DC is another fellow interested in experimental minimalism but in this case it’s more in the vein of folks like Alvin Lucier and Philip Jeck. Astilbe Rubra (Small Doses) is not quite as easy to enjoy as Electric Bird Noise but it has a fair dose of organic qualities on top of the creaking electronics, field recordings and avant-garde tendencies that prevents it from becoming merely an interesting experiment. Self-described quite simply as “resourceful,” Szczepanik refers to his debut as a collection of ideas and directions he plans to explore in the field of sound design and composition. Everything is allowed, one track finds him scraping a slab of vinyl on the concrete floor, then wrapping it in aluminum foil, and proceeding to forcefully play it on his turntable. I quite like this one.

Japanese Naoki Ishida also resides in the minimal corner of the music world, but this is once again something completely different. Fragmentized field recordings of urbanity in its most quiet forms blend with improvised acoustic snippets, iridescent synth waves and carefully strummed chords to quite meditative effect. The press sheet describes Tone Redust (Quasi Pop) as deconstructed “digital” folk ballads and that term fits him nicely. Imagine what it would sound like if Giuseppe Ielasi lived in Osaka or if Tape would focus on lowercase and you’re getting close to what this one is all about. Häpna would as you probably imagine be a very suitable home.


Monday, October 15, 2007

When receiving the new issue of Ptolemaic Terrascope in the mail today I realized that my interview with Glen Donaldson regarding the Skygreen Leopards (and more) wasn’t included. This one has been sitting in my computer for more than two years but I figured it’s better that at least someone get to read it. Better late than never…

Glenn Donaldson interview (from January 2005)
by Mats Gustafsson

There are probably not more than a handful of contemporary bands and artists that with ghost-like precision somehow manage to epitomize what my sonic taste is all about. One of them is without any question of a doubt Glenn Donaldson, a multi-talented San Francisco-based psychedelia/folk/drone/improv musician who is an integral part of so many fascinating musical projects (Skygreen Leopards, Thuja, Blithe Sons, Franciscan Hobbies, Ivytree and Birdtree to just mention a few) that you can’t really blame those with difficulties to keep up. When setting up this interview it was mainly with the intention to investigate the organic roots of the beautifully layered and loosely structured psych pop/folk of the Skygreen Leopards, a duo that besides Donaldson features Verdure mastermind Donovan Quinn, but after getting in touch with Donaldson I soon realized that there’s so much beauty, intimacy and uniqueness in everything this man is doing that it wouldn’t feel right to focus on just one corner of his creative output. I guess that the way I see his different combos and monikers is as differently colored rivers that unite in one impressive stream of sounds, and depending on where you decide to dip your toes you’re as likely to hear elegantly crafted outsider psych/folk, distant blankets of intoxicating drones and subdued collages, mournful guitarscapes, hillbilly minimalism, dank organic noise and clattering forest ambience as ecstatic tribal damage. I got in touch with Donaldson via email for the discussion that follows.

Tell us a bit about your personal background. Where did you grow up?

I grew up in suburban southern California, hanging out in parking lots, going to the beach, skateboarding, listening to punk records. Music was an escape, something to get excited about. Punk was the big folkart movement of that time...

Do you remember when music really caught your attention for the first time?

I sang in church when I was very very young; I have vague memories of watching John Denver and Alice Cooper on the Muppet Show. I remember schoolteachers singing folk songs while playing autoharp. My best friend's older brother played in a KISS cover band and performed at his birthday party when we were 5 years old. That blew my mind.

When did you start listening "seriously" to music?

Aww I'm not serious. The first band I really loved was the Monkees, because it was playing in re-runs at the time. I also dug the Beatles and the Byrds; I got into 60's music and punk at around the same time. I was in elementary school, pre-teen. I jumped around a lot in my bedroom pretending to be a punk singer or 60's psychedelic guitar player. I didn't have much money to buy records, so I would go to the record store, stare at the cover art and imagine what the band would sound like. I bought the Ramones "Leave Home" and the first Velvet Underground album for $2.99 each on cassette from a big bin at a local bargain department store.

I grew up in Fullerton, so there was The Adolescents, Social Distortion, Agent Orange and many more. Another friend's brother was in a group called Medicine Man (a Green on Red/Dream Syndicate/rootsy type of band). We used to hang out in their practice space and bash away on their gear when they were gone.

Was it around this time you went from being a listener to actually play music? Or did that come later?

I've been making music my whole life. My parents had a big electric organ and I used to create a big droning racket on it, messing with all the knobs and switches. I imagined it sounding like a symphony. My friends and I would make tapes, playing harmonica and drums or with someone playing two notes on a cheap electric guitar. Not much has changed really! But I mainly sang in a church choir in public school, then in garage bands playing songs like "Gloria" and then punk music. I didn't really start playing guitar until I was 21.

What made you pick up the guitar?I wanted to write my own songs.

When starting playing music I guess punk was a natural choice, right? Tell us a bit about your early musical development.

I took a few piano lessons, but I wanted to do things the 'wrong' way, make new sound, just bang on things and have fun. I think this is the natural way to create music. Structure and theory comes after the fact. I want total freedom, and then ideas can flow and maybe form motifs or themes appear and then you can get engergised by them as well. I have a voracious appetite for hearing new music; punk is what originally sent me off into the stratosphere. There's so much energy and feeling, art and style in it.

There is so much beauty and space in the music you do today that I often tend to come back to the landscapes when writing about it. How important is this side of things and your geographical location for you as a person and as a musician?

Thank you. I love a big spacious sound. Like an epic movie, a vast desert expanse, an enormous cavern...I love reverb especially, natural and artificial; it gives the music a certain topography. I also like dry upfront sounds contrasting with spacious, formless ones and having multiple layers, like soil strata or dense underbrush, different species of plants intertwining. The landscape literally has an influence on the sound when I record outdoors with Loren Chasse in the Blithe Sons or on my own when I do the Ivytree. But more than that, I love San Francisco and the Bay Area, the history, culture and the parks and the people. This must have an influence on my life and therefore the music I make.

Concerning the environment of recording-- that's a connection among most of your releases and something that truly sets them apart from most other stuff out there. What do you think is added to a recording when recording parts outdoors and including various field recordings?

Playing outdoors is a humbling experience. You don't want to play too loud and disrupt the silence or the birdsongs. That's part of the reason why sometimes we play so quiet and minimal. If you play fewer notes, more of the sound of the space can seep in. Field recordings add a visual element. You can see with your ears.

Where does your interest in the nature come from?

Years ago, I took a lot of LSD and mushrooms and roamed around out in the woods down in Santa Cruz, out in the Mojave desert and up north in Eureka. The combination of drugs and overwhelming natural beauty was very potent. I imagine this had some influence, but really experiencing these types of places before I took any drugs was just as intense.
Can you tell us a bit about Mirza and its formation?

Mirza was Mark Williams, Brian Lucas, Steve Smith and me. Steve and I have played together since we were 15 and we met the other two guys in college at Santa Cruz. We started in 1994 playing pretty structured music. Listening to stuff like Pharoah Sanders "Tahuid" and Pink Floyd "Echoes" and Sun City Girls and those jams on Jefferson Airplane's "After Bathing at Baxters", helped us loosen up a bit. Also 3/4 of the band was smoking a lot of marijuana at the time, so things started to get more fucked up. I started getting bored with electric guitar, so I started incorporating field recordings, casio, banjo, tape loops. Brian Lucas used to "play" a reel-to-reel machine like Eno used to in Roxy Music or Martin Swope in Mission of Burma. The band split in 1998 just when Brian moved to NY and Mark to Spain.

What lead to the decision to start Jewelled Antler? Was there a point at which you thought "we could do this better ourselves"?

Loren Chasse bought a CD-R burner and asked me if I wanted to collaborate on a CD-R label, a novel idea at the time. I think this was 1999/2000. The CD-R label idea gave us total artistic freedom, and we didn't need a lot of money. Indie labels got kind of conservative for a while there I think. CD-R labels can exist for 4 people or 400 people. It doesn't really matter either way.

What role do you think Jewelled Antler is playing in underground music today? Has that role changed over the years?

I don't know. Hopefully a few more people stop and listen to the wind in the trees for a moment.

What's the story behind Thuja's birth? Why the name?

Mirza was incredibly loud. Our ears were tired, and we wanted to incorporate more acoustic/unusual instruments/field recording etc. Mirza had these elements, but it was more difficult to do live in the context of a loud rock band. So after the other two guys split, we asked our old friend Rob Reger to play with us. He had a huge warehouse space covered in vine-y plants and cacti. Kind of a beautiful decaying industrial garden which had an influence on the aesthetics of Thuja I believe.

I saw Loren Chasse play in an amazing band called Ohm-A-Revelator (with Greg Saunier from Deerhoof and Cole Palme from Factrix), and I took note of the unconventional way in which he played the drums. A few years later he showed up at a party at our house. I struck up a conversation with him because he had a Magma belt buckle on. A few months after that, he joined our group.

I named the group Thuja after the plant. The word was written really large on a jar in an herbal medicine store I used to go to. Also the break-up of Mirza was disappointing, so I think we consciously wanted Thuja to be loose and unlike a "real" band, so there would be no pressure to practice or put out albums. We played with no expectations at all, and it all developed rather at its own pace.

Although Mirza is no longer you’re still involved in a number of groups, some of the better known being Thuja, the Blithe Sons, the Franciscan Hobbies, the Skygreen Leopards, the Ivytree and the Birdtree. Care to give us a brief description of each combo/moniker?

Thuja: 3 or 4 people listening to each other more than playing.

The Blithe Sons: two people attempting to merge 19th century Transcendentalism with 20th Century Minimalism and folk music, but mainly just an excuse to get outdoors.

The Franciscan Hobbies: a myriad of friends and ex-friends having a sound-picnic.

The Skygreen Leopards: two people strumming 200 year-old-guitar chords and trying to discover a new mythology of love, hope and dreams.

The Birdtree: collages with bird-headed figures with sad music.

The Ivytree: yet more of those collages and sad music with thin rays of light coming through the branches.

What do you want people to experience from the Skygreen Leopards’ music?

Love, sadness, humor, passion, confusion, joy.

Tell me about the Skygreen Leopards’ debut album? How did it come about? What was the response like?

We recorded two CD-Rs in 2001 and then late 2002. Then the Leopards went to sleep for a bit. Donovan really wanted to get some Verdure albums out. I was doing Birdtree/Ivytree/Blithe Sons/Thuja and a million other things too. But I really wanted to make more Skygreen music, because it is such a joy to work with Donovan; he inspires me; he's one of the most brilliant people I've ever encountered. Chris Berry from Soft Abuse offered to re-issue the CD-Rs, so I convinced Donovan to record some 'bonus' tracks with me, and within a month we had a new album. People seemed to like "One Thousand Bird Ceremony", we got some very kind reviews and emails.

Are the first two Skygreen Leopards CD-Rs still going to be reissued?

Yes, but I'm not sure when or how yet.

Does each release have a different unifying idea, or goal behind it? If so, what would you say makes “One Thousand Bird Ceremony” on Soft Abuse so special?

I don't know if it's special, but thanks for saying that. We pull our lyrics from the unconscious, Donovan is a Freudian and I am a Jungian. So our songs have a mythological quality to them, but at the same time they are very personal stories about our lives and experiences. We are very sincere and serious about making good music, but also we don't want the whole thing to be ponderous. We want to make pop music, inspired by the AM radio psych-pop/folk of yore, but we can't help but make it a bit strange, because we are a bit strange. Each release does tell a story. It's a non-linear saga. Like Life itself, we're not sure where it's all going. The albums are about us and the people we know, our histories and dreams.

Earlier you described the Skygreen Leopards as some sort of new mythology of love, hope and dreams. How important are dreams to you? Do they play any kind of role in the creation of your music?

It's hard to 'know' the meaning of a dream intellectually, but it's a poetic hint at understanding yourself. The lyrics might come from the same place. Being aware of dreams certainly influences my life and therefore the music I make.

When I'm making collages, I feel like I'm in a waking dream. I always learn something in the process. Also I sometimes dream about music, impossible instruments and sounds. I once dreamt that I had my hands in a shallow creek and discovered that if I lifted these small smooth stones in the creek-bed, a watery organ tone would be emitted. So in my dream, I could actually "play" the creek-bed like a primitive pipe organ. I tried to recreate that sound on some instrumental passages of the Ivytree CD.

How did you get in touch with Jagjaguwar?

Soft Abuse sent them "One Thousand Bird Ceremony" and Chris Swanson wrote me an email saying come join us, and they've got Nagisa Ni Te who is the greatest band in the world, so we had to say "yes". Also they told me that next up they were working on a Supreme Dicks box set. I took this as a sign from the almighty that we should join their roster.

I totally agree with you on Nagisa Ni Te’s excellence. Don’t you think it is kind of odd how relatively unknown they still are? I mean, they should have conquered the world by now.

Yeah. Well maybe the tastemakers just haven't caught on yet. They are just brilliant, emotionally majestic songcraft...also the audio design of their albums conveys so much vastness and beauty.

How does your two Jagjaguwar albums "Child God in the Garden of Idols" compliment "Life and Love in Sparrow's Meadow"?

Sparrows are amazing singers; their notes are so pitch perfect, an orchestra can tune to their songs. When Sparrow sings it summons the Child-God. The Child-God brings wonder, mystery and confusion. In other words, the arrival of the Child-God represents the birth of creativity (and thereby of everything).

I hear a great deal of Nikki Sudden and the Jacobites influences on "Life and Love in Sparrow's Meadow." What were you inspired by when making this record?

It's nice to be compared to Jacobites, that stuff is truly amazing, the Swell Maps too! I love the first two Jacobites albums and stuff like "Dead Men Tell No Tales". I think the similarity comes from the fact that Nikki was into the same things we are: Dylan, Bolan, Stones, Small Faces, Big Star and Neil Young. Donovan Quinn never actually heard Nikki Sudden till recently.

It's hard to pin down influences for "Life and Love". When we met we bonded over the West Coast folk-rock and pop, the Monkees, the old Grateful Dead LPs, Donovan's father's band Country Weather, the Byrds, Gene Clark, Kaleidoscope etc. and other worlds like ESP-Disk, old Flaming Lips stuff and Television Personalities. But that's just the launching pad. I mean we listen to a ton of music. The basic structure for Skygreen music is pop or folk music, but at the same time, I'm free to weave in field recordings, noise, whatever.

I’ve never really heard Country Weather. What are they like?

They played heavy psych-rock, some of their stuff sounded like a West Coast take on Cream or early Pink Floyd; then later they had more of a country rock vibe.

How do you and Donovan work together when creating music as the Skygreen Leopards?

We work very spontaneously. We both sing, so often there is a second song within the main song. Nothing about it is random though. We consider it "Pre-cognitive Songcraft", aka "Backwards-shadowing". Each song is a remembrance of a song not yet written. As Donovan Quinn once told me, "we need to travel backwards through a forest twice in order to find our way back."

We spend a good amount of time drinking espresso and listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival or the Holy Modal Rounders together and discussing Art Nouveau paintings and other foppery. Donovan is a bit of a country-dandy. Most of the last two albums were recorded in his trailer on the back of a horse ranch. The animal sounds you hear at the beginning of "One Thousand Bird Ceremony" are right outside his window.

Care to tell us more about the “so much is humored, in love” motto?

The four humors are blood, phlegm, choler and melancholy aka black bile. Our lives are influenced by the flow of these liquids, and love creates an intense "humoring" in the body. This is only one interpretation.

What is a Skygreen Leopards show like? Any European dates on the horizon?

We play shows as The Skygreen Leopards Skyband with Christine Boepple on percussion, floor tom, bowed banjo, fuzz guitar harmonica, flutes etc. I play 12-string acoustic/harmonica and Donovan plays acoustic guitar and mandolin. I think live our country-folk side comes out more. It's pretty strange and sometimes haphazard but mostly we enjoy it. I think the Skyband is getting pretty good live considering it was previously an all studio thing. We are starting to sound more like us if that makes any sense. We are talking about more touring, but we haven't set anything up yet.

What do you see coming round the bend?

I try not to see past right now. Thinking about the future is a kind of black magic. If you mess around with that too much, the demons will come and take you away.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I'd just like to add that I'm grateful for all the wonderful people who I've met through music. I've travelled farther and did way more than I thought I'd ever do. In the USA, there are evil forces at work, very wealthy criminals who want to crush culture and self-expression and kill innocent people in other countries. It's a sad time really and that's part of the reason why we make this music. So here's a big fuck you to George Bush from "new weird america" or whatever it's called this week.


Friday, October 12, 2007

After the goldrush #30

I am a true Sublime Frequencies fan boy, much because they give me a chance to hear music from countries that I probably never would have come across otherwise. My favorite release are probably the ones with a North African origin but that doesn’t mean that their two new Thai releases, Thai Pop Spectacular 1960s-1980s and Molam: Thai Country Groove from Isan Vol. 2 are any less great. Thai Pop is indeed spectacular, displaying a confusing blend of largely groove-based, funky pop armored with hooks worth killing for. It’s all equally catchy and bizarre, and if you ask me that is exactly what great pop music should be about. Fuzz organ, cheesy beats, amazing horns, wah wah guitars, bouncy bass lines, impressive percussion and all sorts of vocals are key ingredients of this soulful introduction to Thai pop. Molam is the multi-faceted folk music that came from rural areas of Thailand and Laos. The term literally translates into “expert singer” or “expert song” which is very suitable given the outstanding vocal delivery throughout. It’s like the vocals follow their own melody on top of the already musically complex rhythms. The result is generally over the top and groovy to say the least but this disc has more of a spiritual and even ritualistic vibe to it than the one described above. Yet another impressive addition to a kick ass series of compilations.

San Franciscan duo Barn Owl owes a great deal to the gently drifting folk-psych tradition of Six Organs of Admittance but this self-titled disc for Foxglove proves that they’re very much capable of standing on their own legs. Fluid acoustic and electric guitar beauty meanders over a riverbed of droning lo-tech minimalism constructed from primarily synth, effects and organ to stunning effect. It’s all a very organic trek through pagan ambience, psychedelic drone primitivism and homebrewed folk. Some of Brad Rose’s previous recordings under the North Sea moniker have explored similar territories and although On the Endless Golden Skyway won’t be found Miles away it’s still a step sideward to something tenderer and more song-based . Wonderfully focused and distilled, yet free acoustic folk songs constructed from a myriad of string instruments such as banjo, guitar, bouzouki and autoharp. As always when it comes to the impeccable Black Petal label the CD-R comes wrapped in absolutely stunning homemade packaging.

The Phoenix Cube’s Let the Summer Come to You aims for a similar mood and does so with a very soft-spoken folk-psych approach, with a discreet progressive touch, which strikes me as ghostly precise on a misty fall day like this one. This is timeless, multi-layered folk music that makes me want to stay in bed all day.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

For Barry Ray New Days (Room 40)

When getting a disc like this one in the mail I realize how lucky I am when it comes to receiving promos out of the blue. Sure, not everything is great but I am happy to wade through some crap to find new exciting musical projects like Carina Thorén and John Chantler’s For Barry Ray. The opening ”Through Holes, Glass & Stone” is a stunning piece of harmonium bliss stock full with starkness and loneliness. “David” is a spacious tone floater that despite its downcast and restrained atmosphere strikes me as very conversational and dialogic, much due to the inclusion of some lovely clarinet playing.

In the following ”A Dark Blue Heat,” ”Aurora, Dancing...” and the closing “Blending Light” vague organ patterns, ghostly guitar whispers, unsettling ambience, austere experimentation and becalmed drones form glacial underwater ceremonies and dreamtime musings packed in a beautiful aura of emptiness and vastness. Not everything between these obvious highlights is as amazing but enough is to make it a very intriguing listen.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

After the goldrush #29

Silver Tongued Sisyphus (Kranky) is a new CD EP from German psych/krautrock/drone/minimalism duo Cloudland Canyon. While dozens of bands are producing 10 minute long pieces of drift and drone, few of them has at the same time managed to return to the real psychedelic freak out, which makes this a very refreshing and highly enjoyable EP. The whole thing aims for some sort of Teutonic kosmische sound with dusty clouds of droning electronics that swells to a throbbing wall of guitar repetition, not at all far from Ash Ra Tempel at their prime.

Droopy Septum AKA Ryan Emmett aims for a similar place on his Howling Lands, Whispering Leaves CD-R (New American Folk Hero) but does so with less of a krautrock approach and more of a noise methodology. Well, this is really not noise in the traditional sense but the thick lava flow of droning buzz and carefully layered gusts of hiss and screech most certainly nod in that direction. To my ears it sounds a bit like Sunroof! on valium, and if anyone wonder I do consider such a comment to be a great compliment. More on the same label comes from Alexander Turnquist and his Sleep Chapter 3", which does the extended and resonating guitar drone in a traditional way (as in Stars of the Lid for instance) but it’s all performed in an immaculate way which makes it suitable not only for subtle background listening but also enjoyable for its precise details. Andy Futreal’s Like Twilight Bleeding 3” is a different cup of tea altogether as it’s a collection of improvised acoustic guitar pieces that has nothing to do with big gestures but still manages to capture the very essence of emotion and quiet beauty. We get three instrumentals that stroll along gently and always remain on the melodic and structured side of things, but this never gets dull or uninspiring. On the contrary every little note lives its own life and just listening to how they resonate and carefully build up intimate sound clusters is alone worth the price of admission. It’s easy to mention the Takoma influence but there is to tell you the truth as much influences taken from both the North African and Eastern folk tradition. Eric Carbonara’s This May Be The End/Long Hallway, Three Slightly Open Doors (once again on New American Folk Hero) is another guitar album but this one is more effect-laden and relies heavily on repeated guitar patterns, or guitar loops if you will. Add to all this brilliant synth washes and you get another small format disc to add to the forever-swelling 3” collection.

Charalambides Likeness (Kranky)

At one point I think I counted how many Charalambides-related reviews I’ve written over the years and I have to say that the amount scared me a bit. After more than 25 reviews one might rightly wonder why bother writing another one. There is only one simple answer to such a question: Charalambides are still one of a kind and they continue to find new peripheral sonic corners that yet haven’t been explored. Likeness is their new one for Kranky and is no exception from that rule as it displays a blend of the band’s early folk/noise albums and their more recent guitar minimalism. The lyrical content (largely derived from public domain American popular song from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries) and Christina Carter’s lush vocals are in podium position throughout and dances beautifully around surprisingly delicate and chilly guitar work. It’s all a startling window to the unseen worlds that hover just below reality. Hazy fall afternoon diversions don’t get more serene, or eerie, than this. When reviewing last year’s A Vintage Burden I described it “as some sort of concluding document, somehow signaling that things might come to an end, but given their past I am positive that all involved are going to continue to surprise, challenge and fascinate for as long as they live”. Now I know that I was right. Not really sure this one is officially out yet, but I am guessing it will be any day now. Absolutely essential.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Ray Off Nothing Like A Ribbon Around A Parcel (Black Petal)

Ah, Ray Off. Ray Off. Say it again, with reverence, like you really mean it. I’ve praised these New Zealand cats before and judging by the sounds presented on this all too limited CD-R that’s not going to change anytime soon. The band is fronted by James Currin who runs the United Fairy Moons label but also features Pamela Poppins, Katrina Thomson and Tim Cornelius of Sandoz Lab Technicians fame. Traditionally, the Ray Off approach has been one of damaged folk enlightenment, and that tradition is definitely honored here as well, but it does seem that the tracks might be more coherent and accessible than before, while still maintaining the most far-reaching meditative ambitions. “Nothing Like A Ribbon” sets the tone with melancholic melodica and subtle string patterns woven together into a stunning otherworldly intro. Then evocative female vocals make an impressive appearance on the minimal noise sculpture of “And You Take” before “Mouthful of Feathers” proceeds further into improv terrain with sawing violin, corrosive drones and cello. “Glisters” is silently haunting and repetitive, like a secret blend of Tower Recordings and Movietone. The epic “We Love To Laugh” is noisier and more collage-like before “Round A Parcel” close things with subtle disorientation, stylistically related to the opening piece. It’s a perfect outro for an album that has just about everything I tend to want from music these days and as a consequence surely will end up on my end of the year list.

After the goldrush #28

In recent years I have constantly had problems with my vinyl players. One problem has often replaced the previous one. Kudos to my lovely parents for finding a new one, which by far is the best one I’ve ever have had. Due to this, today’s column is all dedicated to vinyl. Let’s start with Susan Alcorn’s And I Await…The Resurrection of the Pedal Steel Guitar (Olde English Spelling Bee), an album that illustration-wise looks like a mixture of those early Charalambides albums we love so much and something Jan Anderzen (Kemialliset Ystävät etc.) probably could churn out on a daily basis. The whole thing looks amazing which is great given that the sonic quality of the six floating instrumentals is just as high up there. The temporary sense of isolation in time and place helps these minimally structured and stretched out chords construct vast and spatial guitar landscapes. It's like these heavenly guitar compositions, somber melodic fragments and quietly unfolding soundscapes come out of the Texan environment itself, just hanging in the air before finding their way into my ears and then returning to the wide-open flatlands again. I remember once describing Alcorn’s meditative music as something you can actually feel moving in a never-ending loop between your mind and your heart. That’s still very much the case. You know what to do, folks.

The German Dekorder label has a very nice habit of releasing excellent stuff on vinyl. Finnish Uton’s Alitaju Ylimina is no exception. If you've been a fan of Uton's (AKA Jani Hirvonen) previous outings on labels such as Jewelled Antler, Pseudo Arcana, Last Visible Dog, Digitalis and Ikuisuus it goes without saying that these electro-acoustic sound collages and noise-clad drones will feel right at home in your record collection. Droning strings wrestle with lo-fi electronics, minimal guitar scratchings, shamanic folk structures and distant traces of jazz ideas, and although definitely remaining on the difficult side of fringe music, this multi-faceted piece of beautiful vinyl still works like balsam for the warped mind. More on the same label comes from label head Marc Richter under his musical alter ego, Black To Comm. His slowly unfolding, almost static organ/electronics/effects feast is quiet by nature but totally blows my mind when turning it up loud. This is an ambient noise mantra and circular groove that keeps repeating itself for the entire first side and the overall effect is both cavernous and mesmerizing. Black To Comm shares space on this LP with Hamburg duo, Aosuke. This is a new name to me but if these three tracks are any indicator of where they’re usually at I am sure we’ll here a whole lot more from these guys further down the line. Tobert Knopp and Ulf Schütte throw in a bunch of influences into these ambient proceedings, ranging from the quieter side of Krautrock, pulsing synth traumas, meandering guitar explorations and spaced-out drones. The final result is surprisingly melodic and quite meditative.

On the I See a Sign Defined 7” (Pickled Egg) we see John Cavanagh AKA Phosphene teaming up with Bridget St John, Isobel Campbell, Bill Wells as well as members from Nalle under the name Phosphene and Friends. On”See a Sign Defined” we find St John’s lovely vocals leaning against a warm and rich tapestry of sound, melodic and with an impressive attention to sonic details. The flip is the title track of Bridget St John's debut album, and the somber version presented here features three of Cavanagh’s favorite people, Hanna Tuulikki, Chris Hladowski and Aby Vulliamy of Nalle. This one explains exactly what it is that makes the 7” format so appealing.

D+D is Derek Higgins and Dino Felipe and on this pink 7” for Public Eyesore we find these underground luminaries being a whole lot more restrained than I initially imagined them to be. There are plenty of space left between the guitar notes, mutated electronic buzz and subtle samples and one thing that strikes me after listening to these two rather short tracks is that the whole experience feels a bit like seeing a sculptor at work that add (and remove) layer after layer until it’s reached it’s intended format. Nice.


Thursday, October 04, 2007

Bevel Phoenician Terrane (Contraphonic Music)
Pulga Pulga Loves You (Fire Museum)

Bevel is the solo project of Chicago-based musician Via Nuon and Phoenician Terrane is his fourth solo album to this day. What we get is a soft-spoken glimpse into the world of sad balladry and rich folk, bathed in a distant feel of ancient times. What lifts it up above most exploring this familiar terrain these days is the wide breath of instrumentation, the use of strong guitar arrangements, violin, flute, clarinet, synth, electronics, vibraphone, saxophone, upright bass and loops (all played with help from members of Califone, Boxhead Ensemble and Manishevitz), mixed within a dense wall of narcotic beauty and warmth. Imagine a blend of Nick Drake, Rachels and Dirty Three and you’re in the right ballpark.

Italian/Texan Pulga explores similarly moody terrain on the densely layered Pulga Loves You but does so in a more experimental way. All sorts of sounds seep in and out of the mix and what at times first might seem as merely another great drone is soon transformed into something whole lot more grand, with the addition of wailing saxophone, shamanic percussion, electro-acoustic experimentation, subtle sonic chaos or unexpected beats. The icing of the cake is unquestionably “Raga Pulga,” the 19 minutes long dynamic closer which manages to transcend both time and space with some truly otherworldly saxophone playing, bowed strings and clusters of droning splendor.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

White Rainbow Prism of Eternal Now (Kranky)
Eyes Like Saucers Still Living in the Desert… (Last Visible Dog)

Adam Forkner should be a familiar name to avid Broken Face readers due to his involvement with fellow space voyagers in Surface of Eceyon and Yume Bitsu. White Rainbow is Forkner’s solo moniker and although Prism of Eternal Now also tends to gaze at the Big Dipper this one points as much in the direction of progressive rock and the whole shoe-gazer movement. An ocean of delayed guitars dances around waves of fuzzy keyboards and at its best the overall effect is quite seductive and even meditational.

Eyes Like Saucers’ Still Living in the Desert (But Mostly Inside My Head) is just as inspired by space and admittedly even more out there. It’s the solo effort of a former urDog member and one can definitely sense the relation, although this one turns inwards much more than any of the urDog albums ever did. What we get here is an absolutely essential piece of music constructed from bleak song fragments interspersed with shimmering waves of haunting Indian pedal harmonium bliss and electronic bedroom experimentation. It all sounds like some nearly lost memory that you wish you could get rid of, but no matter what you do will be with you in one way or the other for the rest of your life. These mostly instrumental tracks creep up on you like an unexpected madness so reading that the whole thing was recorded when jeffrey k spent most of the year 2006 living within a Volkswagen van in the northern Arizona desert with nothing but his dog, harmonium and 4-track recorder doesn’t really come as a surprise. When traveling through this desert almost ten years ago I fell in love with the place and listening to Still Living in the Desert is a bit like playing those scenes for my eyes again. The slightly Nico-inspired dish presented here is not easy to digest but the reward is plentiful for everyone willing to make the effort.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

After the goldrush #27

Astralis is the latest addition to the hopefully forever-swelling discography of the German husband and wife duo Fit & Limo. They’re still on September Gurls, and they can still be found somewhere in the midst of late-night acid-folk songwriting and rich psych/prog compositions. Fit and Limo take the late ‘60s work of the Incredible String Band, Comus and Pearls Before Swine as a starting point and add their own unique voice in the form of various exotic instruments and intricate male/female harmonies. The end result is transcendental bliss of the highest order, easily ranking with the band’s brightest moments.

The self-titled disc from Glockenspiel (Krayon Recordings) is similarly hypnotic and entrancing but manages to be so with more of a “less is more" aesthetic. Intensely meditative and ambient textures created from tapes, bubbling electronics, haunting percussion and effect-laden guitars washes build swirling melodies that are destined to orbit around your head over and over until you finally give in to the sonic splendor. Rich emotional depths, adding so much contrast that it’s heartbreaking, highlight these insular drones. The whole album is very dream-like, mystical and fascinating, like being in the middle of a fog bank and totally loosing your sense of direction.

Mofongo is the moniker of Puerto Rican José Ayala and on the Tumbao EP (Aagoo Records) he offers an intriguing sound collage constructed from found sounds, samples, field recordings and drum tracks from Broken Face fave Keith Fullerton Whitman. Incessantly pounding beats move across a plane packed with experimental details and fragments. Imagine a mix of outer limits electronica, quiet white noise and stray sounds in general and you’re getting close to what this one is all about.