Our library has more than a few instances of an experimental artist – from rock guitarists to electronic composers to harsh noise wall builders – getting their hands on a secondhand organ and invoking its goofiness or grandeur or both on a one-off release. With this 2017 cassette, Russian singer/songwriter Sasha Mishkin joins their ranks. Hailing from Petrozavdosk, Mishkin usually crafts strange, synthy pop songs, but seated at the pipes he spins folk and classical forms into gorgeous “music for the romantic gnome inside of us.” Side A of the tape holds the three-part “Hegenberg Concerto” (T1-T3), a web of complex classical figures filtering through an outerspace echo, but jazzed up with sudden UFO sound effects or an occasionally placed cheesy lounge chord. Side B features Mishkin’s vocals, on a dark and lovely waltz macabre (T4), a Beethoven tribute (T6), and the exquisite closing hymn “In the Alps” (T7).
Dreamcrusher is the project of Brooklyn-based noisician Luwayne Glass. As a teenager growing up in Kansas in the early 00s, Glass formed the Dreamcrusher sound – heavy dance beats turned up so far in the red that they’re mangled nearly beyond recognition – and dubbed it “queer nihilist revolt music.” This 2015 cassette EP from Obsolete Units begins with the swarming static and crushing pulses of “Aura” (T1), and then swerves into the hopeless hip-hop-inspired beats and vocals of “Imponderabilia” (T2). “Vitaal” (T3) heaves with an industrial churn (T3) that relents on closer “Mirror” (T4), as a thick wall of noise is stripped away to reveal a mournful chorus that comes in waves before it dissipates and disappears. Extreme harsh sounds – the constant distortion is at times reminiscent of another NY noise project (who frequently share a bill with Dreamcrusher), Uniform, recently added to our library.
Howard Stelzer is a sound artist from Massachusetts who works with cassettes as his instrument, both in his solo work (here) and his collaborations with Campbell Kneale, Frans de Waard, The Cherry Point, and others. This 2014 CDR release from Obsolete Units holds a single 54-minute work. During the first half of the piece, layers of recorded hums, buzzes, and echoes cast the dimensions of a vast interior space. Halfway through, a metallic rumbling emerges, and with it the realization that this space has only one exit, and that gap is slowly, mechanically, fastening closed. Air and light rushes out with a high frequency roar, the space seals shut. There’s nothing left to do but fumble through the void to hit the eject button.
Once upon a time, in a little planet called Earth, lived a vomitory breed called the human race. They were the worst kind of bastards on this side of the galaxy….
This 2018 LP revives of one of the strangest and most obscure works from the archives of Trax, the Italian mail art network active in the 1980s that counted Merzbow and Colin Potter among its members. The Cop Killers was a collaboration between three Trax operatives – or “units” as they called themselves – Vittore Baroni, Daniele Ciullini and Mark Phillips. The trio met IRL in Florence in 1982 and live mixed their cassettes together into a single work. The 90 minute take is presented here in its entirety, original hiccups, fuckups and all.
Baroni wrote the original script for this “spoken word industrial opera,” about a future world where those who show signs of peace or happiness are met with torture and extermination by an army of killer cops called, confusingly, The Cop Killers. Baroni’s narration – in English and the “dead language” Italian – details the gruesome, pornographic violence of the sick society. His vocals are sped up and slowed down, and collaged with Phillips’ minimal synth rhythms, Ciullini’s ambient spacey textures, sci-fi sound effects, snippets of recorded voices and sex sighs. Images of the d.i.y. art and materials from the original traded tapes are included in the LP’s liner notes; together it’s a fascinating artifact from early underground cassette culture.
Deux Filles is the experimental ambient project of Simon Fisher Turner and Colin Lloyd Tucker, formed in the early 80s and recently reunited in 2016. The inspiration for the project came to Tucker in a dream: the pair would become two French teenage girls who forge a friendship after experiencing horrible personal tragedies, together working through their grief with their music. Turner and Tucker fully embodied their alteregos, frumping it up in wigs, bows and pearls for the hilarious album photos (and even one live performance), and developing an elaborate backstory for their doomed characters. The filles released two albums in the 80s – 1982’s Silence & Wisdom and 1983’s Double Happiness – both attracting a cult following over the years, and now widely available again on this 2012 double reissue from Les Temps Modernes.
While the concept is a total joke, the music on these two records is anything but. Both albums offer beautiful, reverb-laden guitar ambience, that recalls the later work of Roy Montgomery or Liz Harris (A1, B1, B2, B3, B6). On Silence and Wisdom, there’s also serenades with whispered French vocals (A2, A5), melancholy piano melodies (A6), and fleeting samples of voices of young girls singing and playing or a twinkling music box (T10). But the mood darkens at times, with chants (A7), ragas (A9), and the eerie flute and voices of the title track (A14). These psychedelic hallucinations intensify on Double Happiness, as sounds and voices, like ghosts from the girls’ sad past, mysteriously appear. Maybe they are summoned by the recordings of spells and chants, hypnotically looping? The duo even tries to lead some chants of their own, and almost make it through with a straight face. But just as the haze feels too heavy, the tension breaks, with the light guitar of “Zacinthos” (B11) or the shimmer of “The Sun on the Sea” (B16).
Kali Malone is an American electroacoustic musician and composer currently based in Sweden. As a master’s student at Kungliga Musikhögskolan, she studied alternative and ancient tuning systems, and for her thesis she worked as an apprentice to an organ tuner in Stockholm. It was during this time that she learned to play the organ and composed the four pieces on this album for Ascetic House. Malone recorded the dirges in a small rehearsal room at her school, using closely placed microphones to capture the sound. Stripped of the usual heavy reverb and volume, her playing has no hint of the gothic or the gospel. The organ radiates a warm, intimate sound, and yet there’s still an unsettling tension, created by her use of unusual intervals and fluctuating durations of the tones. Gorgeous work, at once comforting and confounding.
For three decades, Hiroshi Hasegawa has pursued sonic chaos in many forms: the improvised madness of C.C.C.C. with his (now ex-) wife Mayuko Hino, the psychedelic synthcraft of Astro, and several other radical projects. In the early 90s, Hasegawa pursued a different kind of noise with his solo project Mortal Vision, releasing a few works under this name, including 1992’s Nacht Musik, originally released on cassette on Aube’s label G.R.O.S.S. In 2016, the Italian noise label Urashima reissued the tracks from that tape on this all-black-everything LP. Mortal Vision stands out from Hasegawa’s work – and the entire early 90s noise scene – for its focus entirely on the sounds of heavily treated electric guitar. Heavy feedback sputters and spirals, waves of distortion shift from soft to shredded, complex patterns converge to single point, a long-held note. Despite the source instrument, not a trace of rock, punk or any wave of music at all can be detected in these singular dark visions.
Norwegian free jazz drummer Paal Nilssen-Love brings together a killer lineup for this one: saxophonist Akira Sakata, guitarist Kiko Dinucci, and Japanoise legends Kohei Gomi (aka Pain Jerk) and Toshiji Mikawa (of Hijokaidan/Incapacitants). New Japanese Noise is the companion release to New Brazilian Funk (recently added to our library); both are recordings of explosive live sets recorded at the 2018 Roskilde Festival in Denmark. “Stiff Upper Lip Jeeves” (T1) blasts off with propulsive drumming, furious sax, damaged guitar, and – bubbling up into whatever free space is left over – brilliant rainbow electronics. The energy just barely lets up with the rock-inspired grooves of “Up the Line to Death” (T2), “Eats, Shites, and Leaves” (T3) finds Sakata’s strangely beautiful clarinet figures beset by rustling, then raging, rhythms. In the showstopper “The Bone People” (T4), Sakata’s maniacal growls summon a storm of howling evil spirits. The quintet bows out with a(nother) blast on the encore “Birdsong” (T5).
For 20 years, Sissy Spacek, the LA duo of Charlie Mumma and John Wiese, have churned out excellent noise that runs the gamut from gut-wrenching drums/guitar/growl grindcore to harsh electronic assaults to abstract concrète. The sounds on this 2019 LP fall on the latter end of this spectrum, with recordings of three recent live performances of tape music in collaboration with some heavy hitters from the LA experimental scene. On “Puzzle Performance” (A1), they’re joined by Don Bolles (of The Germs) on turntables and Mitchell Brown (aka Professor Cantaloupe) on synths and tape machine. A glowing sea of sound, with recorded snippets bobbing up to the surface – broadcasts from radio shows from the past or croaked alien language from transmissions from the future – and rough static eroding the edges. “Council-Manager” (A3), with assistance from Brown and LAFMS’s Joseph Hammer working the tapes, begins with quiet rustling; soon smooth jazz and feel-good folk are whipped into a nauseating nightmare. The B side is a sidelong track called “Glossolalia” (B1), named for Bolles’ excellent Monday night radio program on KXLU, one of the few you’ll be forgiven for cheating on KFJC to tune into. The demolition crew – including Brown and Bolles – gets to work, with crashing metal, concrete and glass. Strange melodies from a processed piano rise from the ruins; later, the familiar sounds of Wiese’s growling vocals and Mumma’s drumming that rolls to a boil, set the stage for the clipped classic rock finale.
Composer and synth musician Michele Mercure developed her sound through the 1980s in Pennsylvania, releasing the results on a handful of traded cassettes (under her married name Michele Musser) and on this sole 1986 LP, recently rereleased in 2017 by the RVNG sub-label Freedom to Spend. At first, Eye Chant seems deceptively accessible – with “Tour de France (Day 2)” (T1), that sounds like an extra stage of the Kraftwerk single, and the new-agey “In the Air” (T2) – but then, the album dives into the murky depths. A meditative mood – of drumming, flute, birds’ calls and wolves’ howls – is suddenly, violently shattered in “The Intruder” (T3). That shock launches directly into “100% Bridal Illusion” (T4), a nightmarish synth piece collaged with fragments of uncomfortable conversations with your relatives and the screams of their whining kids, that is altogether a hilariously accurate expression of all of the anxieties I have about marriage. Mercure’s processed vocals are layered to build “Eye Chant” (T5), and “Dream Clock” (T6) ticks over unusual melodies before arriving at the truly bizarre “Proteus and the Marlin” (T7), a tale of a woman who develops a lifelong psychosexual bond with a stuffed fish after her boyfriend jumps off the Golden Gate bridge. “Too Much” (T7) returns us to the surface with spare funk guitar riffs and downbeat dance rhythms.
One moment stands out from the first time I saw Tom Weeks perform: halfway through the set, he lifted his saxophone away from his lips, flipped it over, buried his face and tongue into the bell’s opening, and played it from the inside out. While I’m not sure he uses this exact technique, that same raw, physical energy is in full force on this 2015 self-titled release from Weeks’ ensemble Ero Guro. Named for the Japanese art movement of the erotic and the grotesque, the quartet features Weeks on alto sax, Mike Srouji on electric bass, and two drummers, Robbie Pruett and Patrick Talesfore. Over four wild compositions, they stagger from free jazz freakouts to rock grooves to doom metal depths to funky breakdowns – sometimes all over the course of a single track, as in the sprawling “Tentacle Apocalypse” (T2). Soaring themes descend a spiral staircase bassline into total chaos (T4), rhythmic intensity builds over quick sax/bass triplets (T5). Between the movements is a dreamy “Interlude” (T3), a hentai deathfuck fantasy. Ero Guro (and their follow-up 2017 cassette Blood of the Wolf we recently added) offers nonstop, killer extreme music, so dive in face-first.
Unreleased – until now – outtakes from the 1996 Musical Pumpkin Cottage sessions, the second time Steven Stapleton and David Tibet released work together under their names since 1991’s The Sadness of Things. This second session resulted in two albums – each “the Yin to the other’s Yang” – Musical Pumpkin Cottage and Musicalische Kürbs Hütte. Both albums contain different arrangements of the same two tracks. The first of these, “The Dead Side of the Moon,” a haunting love song with lyrics penned by Tibet, appears for a third time here (T1). Out of all three versions, I prefer this one the most – while the other two have a psych feel, this one begins with dreamlike melodies building into a fevered trance, setting a mysterious mood that suits the song’s lyrics. On the B side is “Frail Albatross,” a strange electronic sketch that sounds like the constantly churning inner workings of a bubblegum dream machine. Cool art from Babs and David, mastered by Andrew Liles. Es ist meine Party und ich werde weinen wenn ich Dich will…
Drew Daniel and MC Schmidt are still going strong after 25 years of partnership, and they’re celebrating the milestone with a new album. This work follows the blueprint of many previous Matmos releases: the duo choose a theme and a limited range of sounds, and build the album within those constraints, often finding creative and surprising solutions to the strict boundaries they’ve set for themselves. This time, they’ve crafted an album entirely from the sounds of plastic objects. Throughout Plastic Anniversary, there’s hints of past works – the latex squeaks from Supreme Balloon or the fleshy-tones of A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure – in the yelps from plastic tubing and squeals of synthetic fat and silicone breast implants. One element that sets this album apart for me is its powerful percussion. Members of a Montana high school drumline whale on trash bins in “Fanfare for Polyethylene Waste Containers” (T8) and solo on a “Thermoplastic Riot Shield” (T7, with added police state synths from Professor Cantaloupe). I outgrew my teenage crush on Deerhoof, but never my respect for their staggering drummer, Greg Saunier. Here, he contributes to several tracks, including the standout “The Collapse of the Fourth Kingdom” (T10), and the opener “Breaking Bread”(T1), where the trio plays the smashed fragments of old Bread LPs (a live performance of this track at the 2017 WFMU Record Fair caused a hilarious uproar from attendees). I could go on – the final track is synthetic soundscape of a teeming forest! (T11) – as this album overflows with unlikely sounds and ideas. Dead serious about their craft but never taking themselves too seriously, Matmos consistently rise far above the great garbage gyre that is the current musical landscape. Here’s to many more!
Raw, brutal “war jazz for the emotionally underdeveloped” (if you’re reading this, that’s you!) courtesy of Limbs Bin, the Western Mass.-based project of Josh Landes. Here, he’s joined by drummers Erik Brown and David Russell and Wyatt Howland (aka Skin Graft) on electronics. Two ~10 minute tracks recorded at a black site in Cleveland. Heavy darkness rings with a mechanical din and the vibrations of wires from electrodes applied to the skin. A cue – rapid clicks of drumsticks – signals the delivery of high-voltage shock. It hits in a blinding surge of skullbashing drums and howling screams, before dying out. The treatment repeats, over and over again, until everything is obliterated. What a glorious time to be free!
Anti-Ear is the appendage of noisician Tyler Harwood, formerly local but recently relocated to New Orleans. This 2018 cassette, released by Harwood’s NOLA-based music/graphic design imprint Planetary Magnetics Corporation, holds a 20-minute noise trip on each side. These aren’t complex collages that crush you with detail and density. Side A feels more like a comic strip, full of bold, broad strokes, graphic dots, and sudden zingers, like the oscillating electronics that warble until they succeed in shattering glass. Side B is still stark but more dark, with oozing synths, heavy pulses, and the quiet growls of Uncle Jesse on a meth binge, breathing down your neck. Have mercy!
Fierce improvisational avant rock from this trio headed by Wendy Eisenberg, a Boston-based guitarist, composer, and member of the no-wave punk band Birthing Hips. When she was a student at the New England Conservatory of Music, Eisenberg was spotted by John Zorn, who connected her with two accomplished players, drummer Ches Smith (of Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog) and bassist Trevor Dunn (of Mr. Bungle, Fantomas, Nels Cline Singers, and more) . This 2018 release from Zorn’s Tzadik label is the result of this collaboration. Eisenberg’s bold playing is at the fore, as her strings contort from discordant but familiar sounds into skewed sonic shapes or heavy, electronic growls, like on the noisy opener “The Descent of Alette” (T1, a tribute to the poem by Alice Notely) . The trio’s exchanges begin as dispersed bursts that that build in to intense grooves (T1, T3, T9), loose jams (T5), tangled thickets (T6, T10) or driving attacks (T4, T5, T7). Staggering sounds from this talented newcomer.
Care is a collaboration among experimental artists from two generations, English composer Simon Fisher Turner and Swedish electronic artist Klara Lewis. Turner has been working since the 1970s, and perhaps is best known for his film scores, including compositions for the works of avant-garde director Derek Jarman. Klara Lewis, sound artist and daughter of Graham Lewis from Wire, here revisits the abstract sonic spaces from her 2016 LP Too. Throughout Care, stretches of heavy stillness give way to sudden violent jolts and slowly emerging fragments of recorded sounds, The field recordings – of children playing, ritualistic chanting, strummed and sung traditional melodies – materialize in the foreground, and as they surface, so does the flood of accompanying emotion. Gorgeous, lush drones surge and swell, reaching their greatest heights on the closer “Mend” (T4), a vision of solace amid chaos.
A darkwave feminist revenge fantasy unfolds on this first full-length LP from Bloom Offering, the project of Seattle-based electronic artist Nicole Carr. Cold synths and calculating beats set the scene for Carr’s deadened vocal delivery, seething with equal parts rage and hopelessness. Out of all the tracks, I fell for the album’s “hit,” the defiant “venus shrugged” (T4), but was also drawn to the twisted samples of advice on how to catch and keep a man on “imperfect absence” (T7), the dismal dance beats on “swallow me whole” (T1), and the heartsick arithmetic of “simple math” (T6). Released by Jim Haynes’ label Helen Scarsdale Agency.
Three generations of improvisors come together to forge “beautiful alchemy,” and the gold is captured on this 2018 studio recording from London’s Rare Noise. Dave Liebman is a jazz saxophonist who was mentored by Elvin Jones and Miles Davis in NYC in the 70s before going on to perform in many other groups, including his own ensemble. Adam Rudolph is a prolific percussionist (see his collaborations with Yusef Lateef and the group Hu Vibrational), specializing in jazz and African drumming styles. Tatsuya Nakatani, another percussion wizard, tours like crazy across the US, performing solo, with collaborators, and with his own Nakatani Gong Orchestra.
The Unknowable showcases each of the artists’ strengths over 13 concise tracks. Rudolph’s lively hand drumming lends a natural, organic quality, while Liebman’s warm saxophone and flute melodies match the others’ quick rhythms, or lengthen in broad tones to add contrast. Nakatani’s textures – metallic, electronic, dark, untamed – make the more traditional elements feel modern. Some pieces find the artists experimenting with unusual instrumentation – Liebman plays the Fender Rhodes on “Iconograph” (T10), and transforms his saxophone with spectral electronic effects on the title track (T4), and Rudolph plucks the keys of a thumb piano on the peaceful “Distant Twilight” (T9). This is challenging – but never difficult – material, and altogether a genre-less, generous, and enjoyable album.
Italian singer and actress Maria Monti began her career singing traditional ballads in the cabarets of Milan in the 50s, and later appeared in several popular films in the 60s. But in the 70s, her musical work veered off into strange new directions that are on full display on this lost 1974 record, a jewel unearthed and reiussed in 2012 by Unseen Worlds. On these ten tracks, arranged by avant-garde composer Alvin Curran, Monti brings to life the lyrics penned by poet Aldo Braibanti, accompanied by Curran’s synths and Steve Lacy’s free jazz saxophone. Il Bestiario has as many wildly varied styles as creatures in a zoo, from the intimate jazz of “Dove” (T2), the rollicking chanson “No no no no” (T3), the smoldering piano ballad “Il Serpente Innamorato,” the wistful folk and birdsong of “L’Uomo” (T6), and the midwinter’s meditation “Il Letargo” (T9), but all are connected by Braibanti’s lyrics that evoke surreal images of animals. The one exception to this theme is the album’s finale, an expressive, borderline-New Age reflection on the four elements, “Aria Terra Acqua e Fuoco” (T10). Like the recently reissued albums of Brigitte Fontaine and Lena Platanos, this is another instance of work from an adventurous female artist finally getting the wide release it deserves.
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