Dorji, Tashi & Ibarra, Susie – “Master of Time” – [Astral Spirits]

Max Level   10/25/2022   12-inch, A Library

Two intensely focused side-long duo pieces recorded live at an art museum at Skidmore College in 2019. Tashi Dorji plays electric guitar in a constantly interesting percussive (as opposed to melodic) style, using various unorthodox techniques. Drummer/percussionist/bandleader Susie Ibarra is in top form, sometimes adding colorful percussive accents to the guitar sounds, at other times taking the lead and giving Dorji a solid rhythmic bed to explore. Wonderful musical dialogs going on here. These two were meant to play together.

Big’n – “DTS25” – [Computer Students]

Max Level   9/19/2022   12-inch, A Library

This Illinois hardcore-math-punk band was around throughout most of the 1990’s, unbeknownst to me. Here is the 25th anniversary deluxe 2-LP reissue of their ‘Discipline Through Sound’ album and it’s surprisingly great. Record 1 is the original LP, recorded by Steve Albini so you know it’s going to be satisfyingly loud and sharp. Record 2 contains demos of the songs and some outtakes, and tracks from a split EP they did with Oxes. Solid playing throughout. One of my first impressions was that Big’n sounded a bit like US Maple would sound if you owed them money and they came to your house and slapped you around. Then I found out the guitarist is USM vocalist Al Johnson’s brother. So there’s that. Speaking of vocalists, the singer in this band is the epitome of full-tilt throat-wrecking mayhem. These are love songs about doubt and torment and misdirected passion. Add to that some precise, angular guitar, bass, and drums and… man… this thing rocks hard. Super hard. Turn it up!

Litter – “Newfound Grids” – [Syrphe]

Max Level   8/23/2022   A Library, CD

Litter is a project of audio/video artist Elyse Tabet of Beirut, Lebanon. This CD offers ten pieces of instrumental music that reside somewhere in the vicinity of electro/ambient/glitch with a few forays into trip-hop territory. Each track has a different flavor and each is very well put together to suggest a certain mood. I like the awkward, messed-up beats on #6 and the tense, droning industrial ambience of #10. Tracks are all in the roughly 3 to 4 minute range.

Vic Bang – “Lira” – [Kit Records]

Max Level   7/25/2022   A Library, Cassette

Colorful, percussive, sample-based compositions by Victoria Barca aka Vic Bang, who is based in Buenos Aires. The tracks are crazy catchy and don’t sound much like anything I’ve heard before. The way the perky rhythms and ingenious sounds are assembled push my happy button bigtime. If this doesn’t put a wide smile on your face, I don’t know if we can be friends.

PTRKLLR – “Live in Earth” – [Self-release]

Max Level   7/25/2022   A Library, CD

PTRKLLR = Peter Keller who is doing improvised situational performances on this 2020 release, using whatever materials/objects are at hand. Anything can produce a sound; the trick is to hear it for what it is and use it. Celebrate it. A creaking wooden floor, a baseboard heater, a plastic water bottle, a discarded cardboard cutout of ABBA, leaves and grass… those are just a few of the sound sources used here. The artist uses terms such as “acoustic noise textures” and “gestural field recordings” to describe his work, and that should give you a pretty good idea of what’s going on here. lowercase noise with a capital lowercase L. Fantastic.

Shipp, Matthew and Gauci, Stephen – “Pandemic Duets” – [Gauci Music]

Max Level   7/19/2022   CD, Jazz

Gauci’s tenor sax teams up with Shipp’s piano, bringing us eight active conversations in which the two players weave around each other, suggesting things, following each other’s lead, staying fully engaged throughout. Creative improvisation at its best. This is one of nineteen improvised sessions in Gauci’s “Pandemic Duets” series, recorded in Brooklyn NY in the summer of 2020 when the Covid pandemic had brought activity in the NY music community to a standstill. Gauci resolved to give players in the local avant-jazz scene an outlet to express what they were feeling in those challenging times by inviting them to perform duets with him and recording the sessions. This release is solid and I don’t doubt the others in the series are as well.

die Angel – “Live in Austin” – [Erototox Decodings]

Max Level   6/15/2022   12-inch, A Library

Two side-long drone pieces, recorded in Austin TX in 2019. This long-running duo (Ilpo Vaisanen of Pan Sonic and Dirk Dresselhaus of Schneider TM) use electronics, prepared guitar, and effects to create their mildly tense ‘instant compositions.’ Side A has a slightly rough, buzzing quality and Side B is somewhat the same except it has a subdued electronic beat layer during most of it. Nice.

Toned – “Toned” – [Self Released]

Max Level   5/9/2022   CD, Jazz

An electroacoustic dream with nightmare attached. Make sure you are firmly strapped in for this one. East bay trio Toned slices and dices everything within reach, mixing and matching the sounds of outside jazz, noise, spoken word, loud ambient tone layers, crazy crashing percussion, electronic blurts, etc etc etc—-basically more things than I can name—into a hyperactive, blinding, deafening, audio assault that defies description. Sometimes sounds like unrelated tracks of noisy playing piled on top of each other, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad way to do things. Track 10 bursts out of the speakers like some unholy rampaging monster come to life.

Bischoff, John – “Bitplicity” – [Artifact Recordings]

Max Level   5/9/2022   A Library, CD

Electronic composer Bischoff has a sound and approach all his own: It’s all about events—-‘sound’ events disrupting the silence, and ‘silence’ events disrupting the sounds. Random and non-random events occurring. There is often quite a bit of negative space in his compositions, as the performer and his gear decide in real time what moves to make next. Much interaction between man and machine takes place during live performance. Whenever I listen to Bischoff’s work, which I have spent a great deal of time doing over the past 20 years, the feeling I get is controlled unpredictability. This excellent CD contains performances recorded at Mills College in 2020-21, live with no overdubs.

Years – “Rats” – [Self-release]

Max Level   4/17/2022   12-inch, A Library

Noisy rock out of Oakland, with bluesy, folky, and country touches. Singer-songwriter Kyle Ranson fronts an honest-sounding, solid-but-not-overly-polished band that gets the point across. Slide guitar all over the place. Some harmonica. Reminds me of American Music Club but friendlier. Songs are around 2 to 4 minutes in length. Totally enjoyable.

Nihil Communication – “Live: The Lab In San Francisco 12 Nov 2011” – [Danvers State Recordings]

Max Level   4/17/2022   A Library, Cassette

One 22-minute track of atmospheric sound-noise-scape. For this live 2011 performance, Andre Custodio’s solo project Nihil Communication expanded into a quartet lineup including members of other projects such as Conure, Sutekh Hexen, and Neurosis. I hear laptops, microphones, and instruments such as flute and guitar in the mix. The dynamics vary from medium quiet to medium noisy. Nothing harsh or scary, though—just intriguing caverns of sound created by people who know how to do this stuff.

Guinea Pig – “The New Neighbors” – [Edgetone Records]

Max Level   4/4/2022   CD, Jazz

Guinea Pig is a jazz quartet that formed in 1995 and has finally released their second album. Recorded live in 2019 at the SF Musicians Union Hall. The lineup is Timothy Orr–drums/percussion, Rent Romus–saxophones, Robert Kuhlmann–electric bass, and Tony Passarell–saxophone and cornet. Six pieces of solid outside jazz, ranging from around 4 to 7 minutes in length. Check out the cool blowing-two-saxes-at-once action. Orr on drums really propels this group. Nothing I don’t dig about this.

Thollem – “Obstacle Illusion” – [Astral Spirits]

Max Level   4/4/2022   A Library, CD

Thollem’s imagination continues to astound. Four lengthy pieces here: Tracks 1 and 4 are solo piano inventions that cover a lot of unpredictable ground; Tracks 2 and 3 are tumultuous electronic pieces performed on his trusty Korg Wavestate keyboard. As a master of every musical style on this planet and beyond, his technique is brilliant and seemingly effortless. Much respect for that. But the way he jumps from one idea to another, one musical voice to another, and somehow makes all the passages flow together like they belong together—that’s what puts him in a class of his own. He NEVER seems to be out of ideas. And I mean good ones. All material recorded live in Italy, late 2021. No overdubs.

Insect Factory and Rambutan – “Radio Frequencies” – [Tape Drift Records]

Max Level   3/15/2022   A Library, CD

Long, involved constructions of drone and sound and noise and sometimes melody. Not quite like anything I have heard before—they seem to be speaking a musical language all their own. The first track is a mind-bending 33-minute journey that is difficult to describe, both pleasing and challenging to the ear as things evolve into other things and then into other things. The other two tracks aren’t nearly as long but their gestures are similar. All three are trips well worth taking.

Made to Measure – Volume 1 [coll] – [Crammed Discs]

Max Level   3/15/2022   A Library, CD

A remastered 2021 collection of mid-1980s recordings by four artists/bands (Minimal Compact, Benjamin Lew, Aksak Maboul, and Tuxedomoon) that were used as soundtracks to various films, plays, dance performances, and fashion exhibitions back in the day. A few of the tracks have a decidedly 1980s flavor and there’s nothing wrong with that. The material is pleasantly moody throughout and a lovely listen. Vocals on Tracks 2 and 3—–all other tracks are instrumental. Tracks 8 through 11 are short solo piano vignettes and they sound very nice played together as a suite.

Alex Zethson Ensemble – “Some of Them Were Never Unprepared” – [Relative Pitch Records]

Max Level   3/7/2022   A Library, CD

I read somewhere that Alex Zethson considers this music to be influenced by both gamelan and krautrock, and I definitely hear that. It’s easy to get lost in this music while it’s playing. The two tracks are long, rhythmic, and hypnotic—-minimal pieces using the complex instrumentation of a 13-piece ensemble. Part One (17:00) is a constant banging on what seems to be mostly prepared pianos and metal percussion instruments, with a double-time section toward the end. Part Two (16:22) takes a couple of minutes to get going, and from then on it’s a sublime build-up from a low throb to a raging crescendo of violins, cellos, basses, pianos, drums, and guitars. Really really cool stuff.

Dewar, Andrew Raffo – “Ekphrasis Suite” – [Rastascan Records]

Max Level   3/7/2022   CD, Jazz

Thoughtful, spacious compositions by soprano saxophonist Dewar, working here with three stalwarts of the Bay Area improv/new music scene: Kyle Bruckmann on oboe/English horn, Gino Robair on percussion/vibraphone, and John Shiurba on acoustic/electric guitars. The four have worked together previously under the name Interactions Quartet. On this release, four visual artworks (reproduced in the CD package) are interpreted musically by the ensemble. This gives each of the four pieces (which range from 10 to 16 minutes in length) a distinctly different flavor from the others. Overall, the music is a bit spacey but never disjointed. Recorded in 2014, but not released until 2021.

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