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Xenakis – “String Quartets” – [Mode Records]

abacus   1/11/2012   A Library, CD

A collection of string quartet compositions (performed by up and coming Jack Quartet) from this pioneer in musical theory and electronic experimentation with a background in architecture and engineering. These pieces explore the sonic capacity of traditional violin, viola, cello from a perspective that is completely nonlinear and multi-dimensional, weighing both formal and sonic relationships in music. Tetras ??balances traditional structure and visceral sonic destruction while exploring the possibilities held within sliding glissando techniques. The quartet here acts as a singular unit, producing ornately layered textures, oscillating timbral colorations that explode into pointillistic spatterings of pizzicato notes. Tetora??produces nervous contrapuntal themes with circular melodies sliced by flat, metallic attacks that use no glissando or vibrato. This piece is based on an intervallic configuration called “sieves” that do not repeat at the octave so that they produce different melodies and harmonies depending on octave and transposition. ST-4??is the culmination of a bunch of experimentation in computer modelling and wasn’t originally intended as a string piece. Here he uses algorithmic compositional techniques that combine basic axiomatic models of music with probability theories, a form he calls “stochastic music.” Here we have a dizzying balance of plucks, strikes, bows and scrapes anchored in bouts of silence. Ergma??is based on the abstract geometries of the Dutch artist. Thick sonority rich in harsh chromaticism and relentless dissonance. Stripped down to its barest form, abandoning all extended techniques and modalities, this piece isn’t as rich in variety of sound, but equally powerful. Xenakis had a unique style that was equally formal in its categorization of sonic chaos and abstract in its harnessing of traditional musical forms. This will redefine your definitions of string quartet music!

Afternoon Saints – “Shirley Jangle, The” – [(K-RAA-K)3]

abacus   1/11/2012   12-inch, A Library

A meeting of saints indeed! Legends of the experimental world unite to create this masterpiece of sound art, noise and free improv. We have here Lee Ranaldo doing supremely understated tonework on guitar, David Watson on bagpipes providing a consistently tense underbelly of drone and doubling on guitar. Christian Marclay adding an eclectic??spontaneity of sound with his turntables and Gunter Muller punctuating the complex textures via electronics and percussion. (Did I mention Jim O’Rourke does mixing on four tracks?)??Three sides (DO NOT PLAY fourth side etched by Ranaldo) of improv-drone work at its best! Electro-acoustic sound collage of bubbling sonic??bionics overlapping lumpy liquids that simmer and buzz within interstellar apertures; a familiar treasure trove of tweaked oddities excavated from underwater caves and unearthed through haunted highway radio-dial explorations; chunky hip-hop squeaks churned through an industrial grade grinder erupts in a geyser of scalding bagpipe improv; victorious fanfares amidst ghostly incantations and echoes of classical guitar poetry torn at the seams within the undulating countryside. Drop the needle anywhere and forget yourself.

Blank Dolmen – “Wuzzermatic” – [Atro.Fact]

abacus   1/4/2012   A Library, CD

Lost tapes of Raffaele Cerroni recovered in 1999 by Italian independent label Atro.Fact. All the recordings were done 1983-1994 by Cerroni’s project Mushroom’s Patience and contain a mix of synth drones, found sounds, acoustic experimentation, broken drum machine rhythms and tape manipulations; also some muddled vocals on 5, 13. Sounds of synthetic, sepia-like soundscapes saturated with corroded plastic. 2-4 have an especially Lynch-esque feel to them with a paranoid serenity that is deceiving. 7 gets astroweird and then we jump into a spaghetti-western jazz lounge on 8. 10 gives us a suspenseful arcade adventure and we got some underwater lounge grooves on 12. The album feels like buried treasure from the 80s, we’re lucky to have it.

Burial Tree – “Outer Dark” – [Not On Label]

abacus   1/4/2012   A Library, CD

Burial Tree: tree or structure used for supporting a corpse or coffin. Gritty, sludgy funeral doom? No. Stark and forsaken? Yes! The album opens with a Hank Williams cover delivered solo cello style in the spookiest most tortuous rendition possible, then the rest alternates between ominous windblown drones and desert-dirge rock epics. 3,4 and 6 contain the headbangers, with ceaselessly subdued, infectious riffing in the vein of 90s slowcore vamping with subtle prog and psych elements. The drone tracks 2,5 are expectedly dark and blissfully brooding. The album closes with another unsettling cello solo backed by some church-like moody moogscapes. Hop on your harley and ride out along the barren desert landscape!

Asian Women On The Telephone ( A.W.O.T.T) – “Freedom As Mama Told Me” – [Self-release]

abacus   12/14/2011   A Library, CD

From the Muscovite pranksters’ minds to your bleeding ears. There are just 51 copies of this US tour only set that comes in a very confusing silk-screened folded puzzle of a CD case (hanging on the wall by mambo loco). You could listen to the entire two discs trying to decide if this is primarily a noise piece or rock album and never quite decide. The album starts off with the most unapproachable, screaming, indecipherable rant and quickly descends into all sorts of post-apocalyptic industrial grooves, raucous grinds billowing plumes of distorted anthems, and very danceable ritualistic psychedelia. The entire album is drenched in noisy distortion, haunted echoes and all sorts of nonsensical jabs but for the most part maintains a solid groove that could get you doing a shuffle as easily as it could get you breaking everything in sight. Just wait till you leave master…

D. Charles Speer – “Arghiledes” – [Thrill Jockey Records]

abacus   12/14/2011   12-inch, A Library

A trip to the Greek underworld complements of No Neck Blues Band guitarist David Shuford (aka D. Charles Speer). His solo work has traditionally been explorations into the roots of American music and the perverse influence of honky-tonks and all the drugs and alcohol that came along with them. Here, however, he explores the similarities in the Greek ‘Tekedes,’ though with a heavier influence on space and improvisation. The album weighs heavily on the bouzouki (saz equivalent) and more specifically, serves as a dedication to the father of the instrument Markos Vamvakaris (second track is a recreation of his song that translates to “The Sniffer” of drugs no doubt). Each side moves from traditional Greek/Anatolian instrumentation and structures into more open, freeform psychedelic sounds that introduce Western instruments and sounds in a very tripped out, narcotic ambience. There is a wide variety of styles and sounds here and no track sounds like any other. Check out the liner notes inside for in-depth track descriptions. Limited edition 500 copies!

Gebbia, Gianni – “Arcana Major / Sonic Tarots Session” – [Rastascan Records]

abacus   12/14/2011   CD, Jazz

Gianni Gebbia is a Sicilian sax mercenary who gigs all over the euro-jazz festival scene. Here, however, we have an intimate exposition of his seemingly effortless virtuosity. First off, this is a genius concept project as each track is an improvisation around each tarot card within the Arcana Major deck (check out the ‘game’ explained on rear). All solo explorations of the infinite sonic possibilities that the saxophone has to offer, we have here a centrifuge of tone poems composed of introspective and entrancing repeated arpeggios, enigmatic modalities, desperate struggles to grasp concrete ideas and formless, swarm-like drones. His circular breathing techniques allow for endless sweeps that explore every possible harmonic variation within his tonal journeys. The entire history of the instrument, from classical to modern jazz, is contained within, so intimately executed that you can hear the streams of breath and mechanical clicks that produce every sound. This entire album has a philosophical and narrative flow to it and could be listened to as one piece. Mix it, use it as interludes, play it on its own, just play it!

Pet Bottle Ningen – “Pet Bottle Ningen” – [Tzadik]

abacus   12/7/2011   CD, Jazz

Young, budding trashers from the NY Downtown scene burst onto Tzadik with this torrential release. Pummeling jazz fraught with a chaotic chimera of constantly morphing and moving ideas, building on their own math-confused complex of deviously creative rhythmic melodies, perpetually losing themselves in the spontaneous freedom of formless furies. Numerically challenging, relentlessly defiant and dubiously comedic, this trio leaves you dazed and dazzled from their seamless exploration of abstract compositional techniques and conversational improvisation. Scanlon hits you with a crumbling wall of distorted guitar noise and a ratcheting jangle of broken, finger-tapped melodic lines while Yoshida’s caterwauling coagulation of squeals, squeaks, skronks and screams seems strangely coherent along with Miller’s tornado of stop-start precision. Amidst this, track 4 lays down a funky hip-hop beat, while at 6 we reach the eye of the storm and track 11 offers a mysterious noir-tinged serenade. A very, very Tzadik release…

Cardiacs – “Radio 1 Sessions: The Evening Show” – [Strange Fruit]

abacus   12/7/2011   12-inch, A Library

Live studio session on the BBC-1 Evening Show with prog-punk overlords The Cardiacs. These tracks are early 1987 recordings from their 1988 and 1989 LPs and contain their ‘hit single’ “Is this the Life,” which is definitely not the highlight of the album. The other tracks are delightful samples of Cardiacs’ signature prog-rock mania, dropping all conventional songwriting styles for a charming unpredictability that inspired many for years to come.

Cardiacs – “A Little Man And A House And The Whole World Window” – [Alphabet Business Concern, The]

abacus   12/7/2011   12-inch, A Library

Think taking tea in your Royal Guard outfit while riding a unicycle way too fast through a carnival playhouse…and you’ll start to understand this high-energy, playful prog-pop from 80’s UK group The Cardiacs. This music is loaded with unpredictable stop-start changes blending genres from punk to psychedelia to medieval folk and pompous anthems but always staying firmly rooted to their prog-rock sensibilities. Lyrics are allusively poetic and philosophical, projected with a frantic, childlike energy. They adopt a surrealist pantomime of the traditional rock band format and place it within a framework that is symphonic in scope, complete with separate movements within each fast-moving track. Released at the height of their career in 1988, this is their 4th studio album??and is arguably the best known due to the presence of their only hit single “Is this the Life” (my least favorite of course). This band is fiercely independent and absurdly complex yet charmingly accessible. Renowned for their theatrical, carnivalesque performances, revered by their followers and shunned by critics. This is a piece of history indeed!

Tarfala Trio – “Syzygy” – [Nobusiness Records]

abacus   11/29/2011   12-inch, Jazz

Syzygy is a straight line configuration of three celestial bodies in a gravitational system. These three celestial bodies, Mats Gustafsson, Barry Guy and Raymond Strid, give us ferocious improvisations that range from blistering intensity to formless textural conversations.??Tarfala Trio met in 1992 at a music festival in Stockholm and proceeded to perform live together over the years, releasing a couple albums before this piece, a live performance in Belgium in 2009. Mats provides a fraying gruff that always seems on the verge of erupting into caustic howls yet constantly displays its subdued lyricism. Guy provides a more cerebral yet dizzying array of twangs, plucks and scrapes that matches Strid’s seemingly endless supply of percussive sounds constantly rolling and unloading and rarely coalescing into anything concrete. Each piece is devoted entirely to the journey with a telepathic expectation of how and where it will unravel. Broken by Fire explodes immediately in pyrotechnics then allows itself to decompress and deconstruct only to erupt again. Lapilli Fragments seems to build from the bottom up yet never quite reaches its peak. Cool in Flight showcases the expressive power of Guy on bass after a long minimalist exploration. Tephra comes comes together like water down a drain, dripping at the edges until finally swirling to the center. The 7″ title track seems to be the encore, succinctly summarizing the whole album within 6 short minutes. This shit sizzles…Check out live videos on youtube!

S.W.A.T. – “Deep Inside a Cop’s Mind” – [Amphetamine Reptile]

abacus   11/29/2011   12-inch, A Library

The soundtrack to the new police state from shit disturbers Adam Parfrey and Jim Goad, authors/publishers of the controversial and misanthropic zines Apocalypse Culture and Answer Me!, along with the folks from Poison Idea. This silly perverse satire is dedicated to the boys in blue, “the only real people left,” because while you “sit and criticize like the cowering, two-bit punk you are,” they’re out protecting you from the “killers, rapists, dustheads, welfare cheats, puke-smeared drunks and crusty schizos.” Seriously though, this is a bunch of goofy covers with self-glorified cocky cop catchiness inserted throughout along with clips from Dragnet and police broadcasts from the LA riots mixed in. An expose of real life on the streets for all you bleeding heart do-gooders. Each side has an interlude of peace officers talking philosophy at a diner that shouldn’t be missed (cameo from Anton Lavey and Boyd Rice!). All the lyrics are clean but they might get some local police to start profiling for KFJC bumper stickers. Watch out!

Lewis, George – “Les Excersices Spirituels” – [Tzadik]

abacus   11/29/2011   A Library, CD

“Ancient philosophy should not be viewed simply as a system of abstract discourses but as a set of practices or ‘spiritual exercises’ that aim at individual and social transformation.” -Pierre Hadot

George Lewis brings us three modern classical pieces in which he composes and/or provides live electronic processing and spatialization performance. The pieces are performed by three different New Music chamber orchestras that are each brilliant in both their technical skill and unsettling emotion. The title piece, firmly rooted in philosophical traditions, moves elegantly through both composition and improvisation carried by the dynamic interplay of flute and strings set in counterpoint to the guitar work and bass clarinet rants and musings. The electronic manipulations give the acoustic performance a fragmentary, dream-like experience. Hello Mary Lou, posed as an alternative soundtrack to the experimental film Mary Lou, presents a tense drone that creeps and creeps, refusing to reveal the echoes of a lost chamber piece. Bassoon and tuba shine! Ikons was composed for an acoustic octet with no electronic processing but instead used for a live interactive art installment where huge pyramidic ‘Ikons’ respond to visitor movement. More bassoon! Lewis uses the computer software/live electronic processing as an ontological framework to explore the possibilities of improvisation in the modern day. Enjoy!

Post-Alarmist Dracula Safari [coll] – [Oms-B Records]

abacus   11/29/2011   12-inch, A Library

Collection of solo projects from former members of spastic jazz-punk Portland band Alarmist. Tracks are a little less chaotic than the band’s previous efforts, engaging in a much darker, more contemplative climate of haunting, unhinged, sometimes industrial sounding projects. Inca Ore is Eva Saelens: ethereal wind-chime drones cradling ghostly whispered vocals set over a sound collage of clips from old Alarmist shows. Argumentix is James Squeaky: post-apocalyptic anthems rapped over rumbling gothic/industrial beats with mic rustlings and tenor sax musings. Ghost to Falco is Eric Crespo: tormented western folk-dirge with slowcore build. Tunnels is Nick Bindeman: caustic, piercing psych-pop with gloomy synth and moaning vocals. Limited to 300 copies.

Elisha, Ehran / Campbell, Roy – “Watching Cartoons With Eddie” – [Out Now Recordings]

abacus   11/29/2011   CD, Jazz

Another thorough jazz exploration from Ehran Elisha and Roy Campbell teaming up for a free-jazz duet in the tradition of Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell’s collaborations from the past. And acutally, the title track and album title are a reference to Elisha’s history with Blackwell, being forced to watch cartoons before drum lessons together. This album is full of tributes to free jazz greats: For BD is an improvised sound poem dedicated to Bill Dixon (written right before his death) and The Dizzy Roach is a reference the Dizzy Gillespie/Max Roach duet album. The influence of Cherry and Blackwell is very apparent throughout the album though they do stray from the freewheeling hard-bop feel to delve into more subdued, meditative and introspective pieces (Side B/C). Contained here are the aforementioned lyrical jazz licks but also all sorts of African polyrhythmic techniques, Middle Eastern modalities, and all sorts of textural experimentation. One of the first releases from new label Out Now Recordings.

Faust – “Something Dirty” – [Bureau B.]

abacus   11/21/2011   A Library, CD

Faust’s history is confusing to say the least. Pioneering the krautrock genre in the early 70s, the band disbanded in 1975, reunited in the 90s, then subsequently split into two groups, both named Faust. This incarnation, centered around founders Peron (bass) and Diermaier (drums), has also shuffled members but has maintained its current form since 2007 with James Johnston on guitar and Geraldine Swayne on vocals and keyboards. This release is amazingly cohesive and seems at times to be the closest sounding to their original sound. Nothing here seems too defiantly obscure yet it consistently maintains its pummeling intensity and relentless creativity. There seem to be two starts to this album, with the first three tracks establishing the complex dynamics to be explored later in the album; the blistering rock intro and juxtaposed serenity laden within the thickly layered Herbststimmung coalesce into the moving industrial march anthem Something Dirty. The album then begins again, exploring dark ambient soundscapes and psyched out guitar destruction alike. Swayne offers haunting yet seductive vocals (in English) on 5, 8, 13 while Je Bouffe assaults you with a grimy punk-waltz rant in French. In the final track, Swayne’s vocal musings echo and melt away into a crunchy feedback that ends abruptly, suggesting there may yet be more Faust to come. Let’s wait and find out…!

Sky Burial – “Aegri Somnia” – [Utech]

abacus   11/16/2011   A Library, CD

Sky Burial is an ancient Tibetan funerary practice involving a ritualistic dissection of the human body and displaying of the body parts on top of a mountain to expose it to the elements. Aegri Somnia is a Latin phrase meaning “troubled dreams.” This new release from Utech Records echoes both these concepts with astral navigations through overwhelmingly vacuous drones complements of Michael Page and garnished with the searing saxophone seance of Hawkwind’s Nik Turner. Track 1 is an interstellar journey through catacombs of a decrepit mass of stone and ice. A piercing brilliance radiates from the infinitely distant core emitting a surreal coating of otherworldly delirium that opens into a cataclysmic collapse at the center. Echoes of a subway sax screamer emerge, calming and caressing the subconscious discordance. Immerse yourself in the terrifying vastness of space. In track 2 demonic dementia erupts from the nightmarish depths of of your being, tearing at the last vestiges of your physical reality until all that is left is the shimmering void of existential bliss.

We are all empty vessels…

El Saffar, Amir – Two Rivers Ensemble – “Inana” – [Pi Recordings]

abacus   11/15/2011   CD, Jazz

Inana is the Sumerian goddess of carnal love and warfare, predecessor to Aphrodite and Venus and inspiration for endless strands of mythology throughout ancient cultures. Known as the goddess of infinite variety due to her unpredictability complexity of character and unpredictability she is often associated with chaos and disorder. This release from Iraqi-American trumpeter/composer Amir El Saffar and the Two Rivers Ensemble, a collection of prominent NY jazz pioneers exploring the sonic possibilities of Arabic musical forms within jazz, is an epic retelling of the myth of Inana. Beginning with the retribution she exacts on her former lover, the shepherd-god Dumuzi, the suite goes on to expose the many facets of the character Inana, culminating in the legend of her death and rebirth in Journey to the Underworld. The music here combines the ancient ceremonial Arabic improvisational technique of Iraqi??maqam, using microtonal modulations, meter-less lines and flexible tonalities, and combines this with the polyrhythmic syncopations, contrapuntal harmonies and polyphonic melodies of modern jazz within a dynamic group improvisational setting. Whether it be Mathisen’s chromatic cannonades on sax, Tabil or Abboushi’s mysteriously lyrical poetry on oud and buzuq (long-necked lute similar to the Turkish saz), or El Saffar’s deftly collected compositions on trumpet, vocals or santour (hammered dulcimer), the musicians here display virtuosic control over the maqam’s microtonal structures and use it to transform the jazz idiom in new and unprecedented ways.

Seth P. Brundel – “Devil’s Pawn” – [Aesthetics]

abacus   11/9/2011   12-inch, Hip Hop

A heavy dose of hyper-conscious hip-hop from Miami MC/producer Seth P. Brundel. Brundel has done work with Beta Bodega and Algorithm along with a few tracks here and there but this is his first full-length solo release. He takes on the production aspect all himself and offers a very unique sound thanks to a lot of acoustic instrument sampling (possibly self-recorded?) and dark, atmospheric beats that border on spooky. Lyrics also take a pretty dark tone focusing on all the political and social inadequacies/hypocrisies our modern society offers ranging from MKULTRA and NAFTA to Catholic pedophilia and police brutality. He is obviously very intelligent and literate and at times a little verbose but very engaging. If you’re into corporate conspiracies, political dissidence, wealth redistribution and flag burning then this is for you!!

King Blood – “Eyewash Silver” – [Permanent Records]

abacus   11/2/2011   12-inch, A Library

King Blood is ex-Snake Apartment guitarist and Skulltones Records frontman Ryland Wharton. This repress of a super-limited edition LP is also very limited (300 copies) and recorded on four track for a supremely thick and noisy lo-fi ??experience. All the tracks engage the listener with simple, mantra-like desert blues themes repeated into their own echoing, claustrophobic distortion for an entrancing meditative dirge. The scuzzy, overblown guitar riffs are washed in reverb and feedback and fraught with distant guitar psych-outs. Bass rhythms and minimal drumming peak from underneath the torrents of fuzz and muddy static. Vaguely reminiscent of Neil Young’s solo guitar work for the film Dead Man but with the intensity of Stooges riffage. Play it loud!!

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