Saturday, July 25, 2009

After the goldrush #50

It seems like forever since I last wrote here and it probably is. I am not going to try to explain why I am so irregular at this thing these days but rather just dive deep into some stuff people sent me over the last half year or so. First out is an amazing collection of Algerian songs on the 1970’s Algerian Proto-Rai Underground LP (Sublime Frequencies). I’ve praised this label at numerous occasions but this just simply has to be one of their best outings. What we have here is classic tribal North African music dressed up with electric guitar, organ drones and shiploads of circling trumpets. The addition of the latter is what really sets these infectious recordings on fire but as often with these things it’s the combination of groove, soul and rawness that makes it so special.

More vinyl of the same striking quality but of an entirely different form comes from the star collaboration of Aaron Moore (of Volcano the Bear, Songs of Norway and much more) and Anla Courtis (Reynols). Brokebox Juke (NO-FI Recordings) is solemn rock experimentalism brought through a filter of ocean deep krautrock drones, urban psychedelia and breezy jazz textures. It’s all much more accessible than I first imagined it to be and I certainly mean that in a positive way. This mail collaboration is one of few that feel natural and actually sounds like the players are listening to one another, a somewhat rare feature these days. Any fans of the two involved or anything on the Last Visible Dog imprint will walk knee-deep in this finely textured sound mud for the rest of the week.

Sweden’s Testbild! is probably a household name to at least the Scandinavian part of the readership but for the rest of you I imagine that their sweeping pop collages still might be unexplored territories. Aquatint (Friendly Noise) is to tell you the truth not my favorite release (perhaps Imagine a House or The Inexplicable Feeling Of September are better entry points) but there’s enough goodies on this concept album of sorts to make it memorable and very much worthwhile to track down. The sound of dripping water, the crashing sea and underwater inspiration in general meet the band’s trademark blend of the ‘60s soft pop sound and the Canterbury scene. It’s a graceful and ambitious album that for some reason has me thinking about Astrid Gil and that can’t ever be a bad thing, right? In addition to the 68 minutes of music, this album also includes a 12-page booklet comprising a short story and a short film by collective member Pontus Lundkvist.

I haven’t really kept track every release of Astral Social Club release in the same way as I used to do with Neil Campbell’s previous bands, but I have never figured out why since everything I hear is stellar in its own way. Octuplex (VHF) is no different as it effectively combines shimmering loop-laced electronic drones, psychedelic ambience, techno pulses and synthetic rain showers in general. More on the same label comes from Æthenor, a combo that shares members with SunnO)), Guapo, and Shora with additional guests like David Tibet. Other people have always seemed more impressed by these cats than myself but I have to admit that Faking Gold & Murder is pretty effective at sounding like you wouldn’t expect, like some kind of alchemical psych prog mix that prefers distant and bumpy roads rather than the most noticeable ones. The tracks do occasionally veer off into wilder terrain; walking a circling road from walls of black riffage and free-wheeling drum kit work to ferocious soundscapes. No matter chosen volume and velocity the presence of Tibet adds a very welcome supernatural color to the four varied tracks. I think I might have converted…

The rumor says that Across the Sea of Id: The Way to Eden (Camera Obscura) is the final Black Sun Ensemble release. I’ve been a close follower of Jesus Acedo and Eric Johnson over the years and although I have fond memories of pretty much all of their albums none of them has ever struck me as fully developed as this supposedly last one. It’s not necessarily their best material but it’s been thought through, constructed and sequenced with an attention to details I rarely have seen before. There’s not as much of Acedo's hallucinogenic mantras of scorching guitars as on the previous albums but we get songs that are haunting in their own right, songs that with simple means actually go beyond the more out there stuff. The meandering guitar work moves comfortably around Eastern influences and jazz flourishes and the overall effect is entrancing to say the least. I have no clue how Acedo’s fight with his inner deamons is working out these days but if the sound presented here is any indicator I have to say that things are starting to look more optimistic. Whilst shopping from Australia make sure to get your hands on United Bible Studies’ The Jonah, a disc that in some ways mark a new direction for these Irish prog-folk masterminds. I guess that you could say that this is their way of doing the same thing Richard Youngs did with Ilk, his ultimate prog release. Apparently the band set out to do a prog album and although I think such a term is accurate I’d also like to stress that this still very much sounds like the ‘Studies, just of a slightly more...hmm..post-apocalyptic variety. Imagine a mix of Nick Castro, Espers and the band themselves and you’re getting close the essence of this recording.

On the lesser known side of the scale we have Kahl Monticone and his self-released Mistakes and Palpitations. As a matter of fact I don’t really know anything about this fellow besides that he’s from Brisbane, Australia and given my personal sonic connections to that city it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that this is right up my alley. Subtle piano playing and scattered bass walk alongside a meandering river of open-ended guitarscapes to stunning effect. The improvised sound sculptures form a gentle curve towards the delicate sonic equilibrium, but instead of taking the shortest route Monticone takes some time to fully explore the space within his pieces which makes these recordings work like a gravitational pull, glacially taking the listener to the conclusion. The whole thing is mournful and melancholic, but the beauty and elegance that lies within the guitar notes is just as impressive. This is the sound of an endless beach or of the morning sun slowly finding its way into the hidden valley. Very few are able to create this sort of sublime and eternal beauty with so little but if you need companions Loren MazzaCane Connors and Scott Tuma come close.

Another Brisbane musician with a taste for things experimental is film maker and sound artist Joel Stern, but where Monticone favors melodies Stern tends to focus on found sounds and objects in a similarly organic way as for example Loren Chasse. Objects.masks.props (Naturestrip) is to a large extent about forested field recordings playing with another or glued together to counterpoint one another. Stern’s slowly unfolding, yet detailed and somewhat grainy sonic landscapes, offer a sacred space for solitude, wonder and demented beauty which is difficult to pin down in mere words. It all sounds like some nearly lost memory that just hast to be remembered or like being trapped inside a dream that’s all about subtle disorientation. This disc is unquestionably one of the most demanding ones I have heard in a while but the reward for those who manage to let go and follow the vision of this man will be immensely rewarded.

UK's Ashtray Navigations (aka Phil Todd) has been spitting out CD after CD after tape after tape after CD-R after CD-R for years now. Close to 100 would be my guess. The sheer amount of releases makes it pretty difficult to try to point a newcomer in the right direction, but Sugar Head Record, a beautifully packaged dbl CD-R on Deep Water is definitely up there. Billowing clouds of thick chordal bliss, modal guitar-drone bliss, warbling drones, tape trickery, communal trance orientation and buzzing improvisations that range from the dissonantly beautiful to a sort of repetitive aural hypnosis are some of the components of this epic release but mark my words, these words don’t do this one justice. Look it up, folks!

I’ve said some very positive things about Houstonite Susan Alcorn in the past and that is not going to change anytime soon judging by the sounds of her latest offering, Curandera on Majmua Music. Curandera includes seven floating instrumentals for the pedal steel guitar, and as much as it is unusual to see this instrument used in this kind of beautiful and experimental context, it’s filling me with joy. Never underestimate the possibilities of making the sound of any instrument into something unique. In this case we’re served an emotional journey that sees currents of unease crashing into rock formations of endless sorrow and beauty. The technique is flawless, but ultimately it's beside the point. As with a handful of other modern guitarists Alcorn’s a woman who packs emotion into every little single note and even the spaces between seem to be there to evoke a specific feeling and mental state.