Music Reviews

Robust – “El Foto Grande ” – [GALAPAGOS4]

Max Level   9/30/2007   CD, Hip Hop

Coming on strong from Chicago, Robust is a down to earth emcee who knows what he???s all about: says he???s dope and knows he’s all set to blow up big once the people and the record companies get tired of the mediocre rappers dominating the scene. His style is raw and he sticks to what he knows: raps about rapping, making it in the music business, love, and loyalty. Strong rhymes with feelings behind them. Production by Mike Gao and Nick Sena is good in a sneaky way; simple drum beats with keyboards, guitars, and other musical touches at just the right times. 16 is sort of an instrumental with repeating female vocals but no rhyming. Mestizo adds a few rhymes to 12.

Early Scandinavian Bands and Entertainers [coll] – [Banjar Records]

ArtCrimes   9/26/2007   12-inch, International

Early Scandinavian Bands and Entertainers

America is a nation of immigrants, and that???s always added to the diversity of music heard in the states, but that was even more the case prior to the Depression years, with American-made recordings of various countries??? folk music appearing in direct response to large numbers of immigrants in the US, pining for anything that would remind them of the Old Country. Here we have recordings made between 1904 and the late 1940s by Swedes (and a couple of Norwegians) playing dance tunes in traditional styles, and also more daring arrangements with large groups using xylophones and tubas along with the usual accordions and fiddle. Following the Depression, sales of these Scandinavian favorites started to trail off, with big band and country western displacing them in the fickle hearts of Swedes in America. So, here are the Glory Years of Scandinavian masters like Olle I Skratthult and The Eddie Jahrl Kvartett, playing the songs that made them famous, for a little while.

Folk and Pop Music of Myanmar (Burma) Vol. 3 [coll] – [Sublime Frequencies]

Daryl Licht   9/24/2007   CD, International

Sublime Frequencies returns with the third volume in their ongoing series of releases documenting the folk and pop music of Myanmar. This set focuses on the ceremonial folk music created by various Nat Pwe ???orchestras???.

In Myanmar, many people still believe in a folk religion (yeah, I know, ALL religions are really folk religions; some are merely able to present a more deceptive facade of legitimacy due to their large, formal, organizational structures and their varying, but significant, levels of influence over both cultural attitudes and governmental policies, but, I digress…) based on ghost spirits called Nats. Believers participate in ceremonies called Pwes in order to pay tribute to the various Nats with the hope of enjoining their assistance or, conversely, avoiding their wrath. The music on this disc was recorded live at various Nat Pwes throughout Myanmar and features some of top practitioners of the form.

These groups use an assortment of percussion (such as bamboo sticks, bells, cymbals, gongs, wood blocks, and xylophones, in addition to a wide variety of drums) to create an incredible foundation for layers of alternately melodic and chaotic oboes and reverb-drenched vocal stylings. The resultant music is an maniacal and hypnotic vortex of authentic, organic, asian folk sounds, which have been beautifully captured on these sixteen glorious tracks. Another fine and very much appreciated release from the sonic ethnographers at Sublime Frequencies! DL

World’s End Girlfriend – “Hurtbreak Wonderland ” – [Vibraphone Records]

cinder   9/21/2007   A Library, CD

WEG is the project of Japanese composer Katsuhiko
Maeda. Electronica and post-rock feels. Lots of
classical instruments (harps, cello, violins,
horns…), as well as some quirky samples here and
there. It’s almost like a mash of Mono, Bjorks
‘verspertine-era’ beats, and laptop glitch wizardry.
Not quite danceable, more thinking on a fast moving
train through sunflower fields. Each track seems to
paint a memory-trigger painting. Nice!

Beaulieau, Emil – “Moonlight In Vermont ” – [Rrrecords]

cinder   9/21/2007   A Library, CD

“Emil Beaulieau: America???s Greatest Living Noise Artist??? is the stage name of Ron Lessard. Noise artist out of Massachusetts, known for his “anti-record” technique of “treating” vinyl (drilling, painting, melting…) to make them into noise pieces.
Each cover for this release was handmade by him. It sounds a lot like a silent lab testing facility. Lots of long high and low pitched frequencies that buzz and drone together, making you feel like you forgot to wear earplugs last nite at that loud ass
performance. And of course there’s the gut churning electronic noise, oh how it burns. The last track has some rhythm to it if you want something that’s not just straight noise.

Akron/Family – “Love Is Simple ” – [Young God Records]

Daryl Licht   9/19/2007   A Library, CD

The talented crew from the Akron/Family return with their third full-length release ???Love Is Simple???. The material on this disc seems to constitute some vague sort of ???concept album??? or, at the very least, a ???song cycle???, based on the premise contained in its title that ???Love Is Simple???. They???re not singing about ???romantic love??? in the micro, interpersonal sense (although one would suspect that they would readily acknowledge the role of such ???love??? as part of a greater, more generalized ???love???), they???re singing about ???love??? in the macro sense; about love of life, love for humanity and, by extension, love for the planet. Everything about the material on this set, from the actual lyrical content to the heavy emphasis on choral passages to the pan-genre scope of the music, is intended to evoke the spirit of communal experience and brotherhood.

Over the course of this album, the Akron/Family, once again armed with a wide array of instruments and musical influences, delivers an amazing cornucopia of sonic diversity; sometimes all in one track! For example, ???Ed Is A Portal??? begins like some kind of rural freak folk revival, complete with chorus, which builds in intensity until it morphs into a beautiful segment of acoustic-based, uptempo pop, before abruptly changing gears to conclude with 90 seconds of neo-electronica. There are two additional excellent, lengthy, and similarly scizophrenic tracks ???There???s So Many Colors??? and ???Of All The Things???; the former featuring the disc???s most straight-up ???rock??? moments, while the latter is highlighted by an incredible out-rock eruption. Still, other cuts are more focused, but equally stellar. Case in point, ???Lake Song/New Ceremonial Music For Moms???, which is a riveting dose of communal psych, dominated by steady, almost tribal, percussion, layers of primal vocalisms and ???Crickets???, a beautiful, countrified lullaby, tastefully augmented with field recordings.

Despite vibe of brotherly love that they???re obviously trying to promote with this recording, it is clear that the Akron/Family is also aware that the choatic nature of their approach may not always provide a welcoming, ???user friendly??? experience for some members of their potential audience. For example, in ???Phenomena??? they acknowledge, ???Some might think this isn???t the right sound???. Although such introspective self-awareness is wise, I would submit to you that, for the most part on ???Love Is Simple???, the Akron/Family has gotten the sound exactly right and the result is their best work to date.

Parker, William / Raining On The Moon – “Corn Meal Dance ” – [Aum Fidelity]

Daryl Licht   9/18/2007   CD, Jazz

William Parker must either go without ever sleeping or somehow be able to suspend time. His masterful bass work graces seemingly almost every significant contemporary free jazz release and he leads several of his own ongoing projects, in addition to working as a music teacher and author. This disc is the second full-length release from his Raining On The Moon project and all the material was composed (both the music and the lyrics) by Parker. In addition to Parker on bass, this sextet is rounded out by an outstanding cast of musicians: Rob Brown (alto saxophone), Hamid Drake (drums), Lewis Barnes (trumpet), Eri Yamamoto (piano) and Leena Conquest on vocals.

This album may be somewhat of a surprise to the uninitiated. There are very few moments of the extraordinary free jazz for which Parker is famous; although, the players do perform quite admirably in their limited opportunities to step out, with Yamamoto???s contributions being particularly noteworthy. The nine tracks on this album focus on music in the long-running tradition of jazz pop vocals. In particular, it would seem, comparisons to the Sun Ra Arkestra seem unavoidably appropriate. Musically, this fine ensemble, like the Arkestra, creates swinging celestial afro-jazz of a high order. In fact, ???Gilmore’s Hat??? (a nod to long-time Sun Ra collaborator/right hand man John Gilmore, one might presume) includes lines such as ???rocketship to the moon??? and ???a place in space???. In addition, the big star of this set, incredible vocalist Leena Conquest, sounds uncannily like Sun Ra???s famous ???space vocalist??? June Tyson, beautifully delivering socially conscious lyrics which focus on issues such as poverty, oppression, and racism. Despite the heavy subject matter, however, the overall tone of this material is joyous and optimistic. Highlights include ???Doctor Yesterday???, ???Tutsi Orphans???, ???Soledad???, and the amazing ???Land Song???. ???Corn Meal Dance??? is another triumphant release from one of the giants of contemporary American music.

Never The Same [coll] – [Honest Jon’s]

ArtCrimes   9/18/2007   12-inch, International

collection: Never The Same: Leave-Taking from the British Folk Revival 1970-1977

Hats off to Honest Jons for shedding some light on a pretty obscure corner of British folk. Folk enthusiast Bill Leader was luckily situated in the right place at the right time when he started recording British folk acts in the early 60s like Bert Jansch, Davy Graham and Anne Briggs. However, none of *those* artists are present here, except in the liner notes photos included with this 2 LP collection, as their work was instead licensed to other labels for release…what we have instead is music Bill Leader recorded for one of the two labels he launched, Trailer. It’s probably accurate to say that much of the British folk momentum had changed to more eclectic, electric fare by the time Leader did these sessions in a decidedly old-school style, with most of these tracks being solo performances of purely traditional song rather than rocked-up updates like what Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention were doing at the same time. So it’s not surprising these tracks were overlooked in the market…it also seems that Leader’s fortunes in the music business were constantly beset with difficulties, as one can read in the liner notes provided. So most of this music has gone unheard since Trailer’s releases went out of print ages ago. Nice to have them here now, although one might wish for slightly greater variety given that some artists here have 2 tracks apiece, while other Trailer acts aren’t represented at all.

Trans Am – “Sex Change ” – [Thrill Jockey Records]

Max Level   9/18/2007   12-inch, A Library

Somewhere around the tenth Thrill Jockey release in just over a decade from this reliable trio. Plenty of no-nonsense rock guitar sounds and strong drumming here, but what sets Trans Am apart from the rest are their pulsing synthesizers and melodic keyboards. Each of these tracks exists somewhere along the scale between two extremes: some are closer to the ambitious guitar/drums muscle-rock of a band like Don Caballero, and others lean more toward the simple melodic robotic-synth-ism of Kraftwerk. Refreshingly rhythmic and uncomplicated, Trans Am???s music always hits the spot for me. They don???t show a particularly long artistic reach, but they rule their own musical neighborhood for sure. Mellotron-freaks, check A4.

Messiaen, Olivier – “Turangalila-Symphony ” – [Deutsche Grammophon]

cujo   9/16/2007   A Library, CD

The most brilliant display of the symphony orchestra ever put to record? For over an hour, my ears did that cartoon eye-popping tongue-unfurling gimmick. Bright highs, strong lows, new sounds, exotic orchestration, explosions of virtuosity, tsunamis of Tristan-esque drama… all at once a love song, hymn to joy, time, movement, rhythm, life, and death. In his own words: ???superhuman, overflowing, dazzling, and abandoned???

All the complicated hallmarks of Messiaen???s pre-total serialist style are here with none of the turnoffs. Through the fancy octatonics, rhythmical and tonal symmetries, and atypically catholic spiritualism emerge a shockingly tuneful and engaging poem.

This is the definitive recording ??? overseen by Messiaen, the prominent piano part played by Messiaen???s wife Yvonne, and the prominent Ondes Martenot part played by Yvonne???s sister Jeanne (professor of the Ondes Martenot at the Paris Conservatory), conducted by honorary Parisian MW Chung.

Say Yess to the Mess!

–Cujo, KFJC, September 2007

Gorecki, Henryk – “Symphony No. 3 ” – [Electra/Asylum/Nonesuch]

cujo   9/16/2007   A Library, CD

By 1992, go-RET-ski was nearing 60 years old, and his 3rd symphony was 15 years old. Gorecki hadn???t achieved any composing fame, except among the choicest circles. This symphony marked a turn towards a more traditional/tonal and less forward-thinking/avant-garde feel, much like compatriot Penderecki did at the same time. It draws on medieval modal tonalities without reverting to medieval rules. It???s mournful like Mahler but without any of the bombast. The Polish subtitle is unsatisfactorily translated as ???Symphony of Sorrowful Songs???, but it???s as accurate a translation as we could hope for. Dawn Upshaw rips your heart out with maternal laments while Gorecki???s strings draw out painfully slow canons. The texts are mournful: laments to Mary, a prayer to Mary found written on a concentration camp wall, and Mary???s words to her son as he hung dying. Some find redemption in the last movement, I just find more sorrow. In 1992 this disk was released and inexplicably sold nearly one million copies in two years, becoming the most successful album by a 20th century ???composer???. Naturally, the critical reception has never been so warm. Critics are never right. This is sublime.

The freak of the industry.

–Cujo, KFJC September 2007

Bartok, Bela – “6 String Quartets ” – [Deutsche Grammophon]

cujo   9/16/2007   A Library, CD

You can be sure that between 100 and 60 years ago, if KFJC had been around, that Nozmo King would have invited the Waldbauer-Kerpely Quartet to play Bartok on his show. That quartet was formed to premiere Bartok???s first quartet in 1910, and went on to premiere the next 3 as well. Back in the day, this was very forward-thinking stuff, and it???s my hope that for KFJC
fans it can still be a challenging and rewarding listen.

Bartok???s set of 6 quartets are the next pinnacle of the genre after Beethoven???s. Most of the typical formal constraints (four movements and sonata form) are for the first time successfully shucked, allowing for the assimilation instead of novel instrumental techniques (like the Bartok pizzicato), folk tunes, folk rhythms, folk dissonances (including quarter-tones). Strangely, they draw just as much a lineage from folk tradition and 20th century innovations (musical and technological) as they
do from traditional classical rules, just slightly translated. It???s as if Bartok invented his own powerful grammar. Like a musical Elfish or Esperanto.

A Bartok set is the modern litmus test for string quartet excellence. This 1988 Emerson set is fine indeed. Cellist and bay area native David Finckel, by the way, is the force behind the annual Music At Menlo series that just wrapped up a month ago.

–Cujo, KFJC, September 2007

Tudor, David – “David Tudor: Music For Piano ” – [Edition Rz]

cujo   9/16/2007   A Library, CD

They say history is written by the winners. Music history appears to be written by forces of personality. The post-war piano has seen no greater force than David Tudor.

Back in the 1950s, the course of the piano was in doubt. To go serial or
not? To go indeterminately or not? There were other compositional paths to
follow (music is boundless), with their own proponents and acolytes, but
have since fallen into obscurity. What happened? Pianist David Tudor
happened. So influential was he that composers stopped writing for piano,
and began instead writing ???for David Tudor???. Here Editions-RZ has culled German radio archives for 1950s/60s Tudor recordings of the choicest indeterminate works,
wherein the composers have given the perform free interpretive right within
some boundaries (often mathematical or graphical). John Cage is of course
extremely well represented with various sparse Musics For Piano (his major
aleatoric work that followed Music of Changes) and Variations II (hardcore
piano & electronics) and tickling his own sets of ivories. Popping up also
are Christian Wolff, Morton Feldman (in a piece for 4 pianos), and Sylvano
Bussotti. Tremendous documents worthy of release, I do wish they had found some more European representation.

Ironically, and probably inevitably, Tudor could only handle Cage???s ego-less indeterminant compositional paradigm for so long. His own ego got the better of him and he eventually abandoned performance for composition (and not as successfully, I might add).

In turn, I urge you to shed your egos and welcome your new indeterminate overlords.

–Cujo, KFJC, September 2006

Heavy, The – “That Kind of Man / Coleen ” – [Counter Records]

Max Level   9/15/2007   CD, Hip Hop

This UK band uses soulful grooves, big fat arrangements, and falsetto vocals to create their very distinctive sound: some Curtis Mayfield or maybe Eddie Kendrick-flavored vocals, some loud blues-rock a’ la Led Zep, and sometimes a loop-style hip hop sensibility. Tracks 1 and 2 are big and bad. Track 3 is a laid-back Al Green/ Memphis kind of thing. Don’t even try to pretend these guys aren’t heavy because oh yes they are; drive around with this sucker in the CD player, volume way up and the windows down, and you tell me. Tracks 1 and 2 serve as advance warning of The Heavy’s forthcoming full-length, which is looking to be a straight-up burner, and Track 3 is from a 7″.

Johnston / Frith / Hoff / Ochs / Smith – “Reasons For Moving ” – [Not Two]

Thurston Hunger   9/13/2007   CD, Jazz

Man what’s good for cows is good for the gander. A loose
goosey quintet with the bovine duo at the rhythmic center.
I suspect however Fred Frith was at the pleasure center, I’d
be tempted to ask who had the most fun playing with him on
this release. He initiates the album with some chilly chord
ripples and the members join in bird call stacatto while
Ches Smith gets a soft snare railroad going. Devin Hoff’s
string bass rises in sound and inner funk, Larry Ochs is
the first to go off. Later on “Biocarbon Man” Frith creates
a vibe of vibrato violence for an outstanding dark number. Yep,
it’s the hit single here! On “Speed Trap” Frith tosses a flaming
Sharrock cocktail, and both Ochs and Darren Johnston ignite.
It’s a quick one, but the fieriest. A lot of the instant
compositon on here features Ochs’s saxes and Johnston’s
trumpet having something between a conversation and a game
of Go. Check out “Bicarbonate of Soda, Man” in that a couple
of times Frith adds some muffled, fluffled guitar that sounds
like a turntable trapped in a pillowcase. “Distant Cities”
has the quintet sneaking into an icy harbor at night, buoy
drums and bowed cymbals, crisp cracking guitars and a fog
of horn. The closing and title track starts out with the most
driving rock flavor on the album, veers out for some invention
and ends up with a freezing-soothing Frith-froth.

Thurston Hunger

Battiato, Franco – “Pollution ” – [Water]

Thurston Hunger   9/13/2007   A Library, CD

Water re-issues another Battiato beauty. Its original 1972
release sorta fits that era: serious studio manipulation,
doubled guitar leads and it keeps on stone trekking. But
Battiato deflates any tendencies towards prog pomp with
dashes of humor, the synthesizer here is happier being more
of a noisy gadfly rather than some psuedo-symphonic oracle.
Battiato chooses the weird over the weighty…this album
floats in many parts. “Plancton” is an example, is it a
misty minstrel twelve-strung stoner folk number with buzz
organ…or a robotic shanty march? As much as there are
Cluster fucked fuse boxes, there are often male and female
wordless chants dancing around. It starts with classical
gasping and dying over some formal annuziato and then
chukka-chukka guitar. More of that rock mania would have
been welcomed, but that song and the album generally gives
way to Lucy in the Diamond Cathedral with Psychedelic Organs.
“Beta” starts with transmissions from the Galaxy Analogia
then grooves into a hippy march through a fragrant field
of ethereal vox poppies. Trinket piano comes and goes;
Guitar 101 rock solo too before regurgitated symphony and
a plea (to God??) in Italian? Hey I’m confused too at
this point, but not unhappily so!

Thurston Hunger

Freak fact: In 2006 Battiato directs his second film,
casts Alejandro Jodorowsky as Beethoven!

Nathamuni Brothers – “Madras 1974 ” – [Fire Museum Records]

Thurston Hunger   9/13/2007   CD, International

I was sort of hoping for the glory of the Jaipur Kawa Brass
Band, but this is a different kettle of sonic tea. This is
another large ensemble, accustomed to playing outdoors (this
was evidently recorded on a patio in 1974!) The clarinet-ty
nagaswaram is twice as long as the shehnai, its sound is a
tighter shade of shrill. It is strongly featured and often
with a pair or more leading the charge, the notes definitely
slither in Carnatic ecstasy, but the tone is oddly pure.
I miss the a raspier gasping to a degree. Also the bumps and
brrppts of the brass are very much in the background, even
then they are smoothed out. I will say that several times the
tabla/drums get good and driving, like at the end of #3.
The improv introduction to #4 is stellar, as free as any fire
jazz…completely killer! The next track is an epic 28 minute
excursion, again I found the drumming pushing my prana buttons
even more than the reeds. Some of the melodies sound closer to
home, rue Brittania?? And I’m not counting the English “Note”
on track 8 which would bring a tear to Popeye’s eye. Glad the
CD doesn’t end there. It closes with more nagaswaram noodling.
A solid release…as one would expect…by way of a UC Irvine
musicologist by the name of Robert Garfias.

-Thurston Hunger

Pink Reason – “Throw It Away + 2 ” – [Criminal I. Q. Records]

Daryl Licht   9/13/2007   7-inch, A Library

This is a repressing of the debut 7″ EP from Green Bay???s Pink Reason. It was originally released in a very limited edition of only 300 copies on the band’s Savage Quality Recordings imprint. The A-Side contains the highlight of their short career, ???Throw It Away???, a stunning dose of dark, driving, lo-fi, doom punk that harkens back to the late 80???s/early 90???s heyday of DIY 7??? releases. The B-Side contains two tracks, neither of which is nearly as successful. “Slate Train” is a short track that contains similar sonic elements as ???Throw It Away???, but is much slower and quieter and, as a result, isn’t nearly as engaging. “New Violence” is a quirky, yet still somewhat appealing, track that takes an entirely different approach, using only synths and a drum machine to accompany leader Kevin De Broux’s vocals. Not that any of that really matters as ???Throw It Away??? is among the best 4 minutes I’ve heard committed to 7″ vinyl in a while and the “must play” track! DL

Brighter Death Now – “Kamikaze Kabaret ” – [Cold Meat Industry]

cinder   9/12/2007   A Library, CD

Project of Roger Karmanik, the founder of Cold Meat
Industries. From Sweden! Past releases tend to dwell
on child molestation, damnation and sadism. This
follows in step with destruction, death and pure hate.
Intense crunchy pounding power electronics! Definitely
something to punch those cold bloody cow carcasses (or
those tall blonde models) to. Frozen chills in the
dark metal warehouse.

Menche, Daniel – “Wolf’s Milk ” – [Utech]

cinder   9/12/2007   A Library, CD

Three long amazing tracks, each focusing on one
instrument. The first being the organ. Long
sustained tones that float around each other in waves.
Static-y grumbles, dark clouds, locusts in flight,
burning fires in the hills. Builds up and ends with
the same creepiness. The second track favors the gong.
Ping pong echoed delays of athletic percussion. It
feels as though you’re “tripping” on the tennis court.
Halfway through the big bad monster gongs stomp in
and calm things down. The last track deals with
trumpets, like you’ve never heard before. You’ll want
your fly swatter for this one! The nagging bugger
won’t give up. Low heavy swarms of droneage counter
the solo high flying buzzes. This release is