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Max Level

Welch, Fritz – “a Desire to Push Forward Without Gaining Access to Anything” – [Radical Documents]

Max Level   11/28/2018   12-inch, A Library

Strange constructions built with Welch’s overdubbed vocals. The Glasgow-based artist talks and rambles and exclaims and makes just about every kind of vocal noise possible. Voices on top of voices on top of other voices side by side with other voices. Track A2 is a short piece name-checking some of the USA’s most famous prisons. Side B is one 17 minute track. If you are a fan of vocal magicians like Makigami Koichi and Jaap Blonk, you’ll want to check this out. Edition of 300 on super cool green vinyl.

Bailey, Derek/ Goodman, Greg – “Extracting Fish-Bones From The Back of The Despoiler” – [Beak Doctor, The]

Max Level   11/6/2018   12-inch, Jazz

Two side-long tracks (20 and 21 minutes) of entertaining guitar/piano adventures recorded live in 1992. Bailey practically invented the language of modern improvised guitar and is in good form on this recording– scratching and jabbing, and occasionally projecting electric flurries of sound. Pianist Goodman spends little if any time playing the piano keys during these performances, concentrating instead on producing unusual sounds from the interior of the instrument. I could describe this record as a lot of plinking and plunking, but that would be selling it short– dedicated listeners will find some inspired music-making going on here. Well-recorded and a high quality pressing on heavyweight vinyl, too.

Vehikel & Gefass (& Ventilator) – “Make ’em Pay! Homemade Napalm… etc.” [Schimpfluch]

Max Level   10/16/2018   7-inch, A Library

Two five minute chunks of sound performance recorded live in 1990, I think, in Zurich Switzerland. We’ve all been to this type of event–a ratty warehouse with people sitting on the dirty concrete floor and a couple of guys making random sounds using toys and junk. No way to know what we’re hearing exactly, although there are voices here and there, and a violin shows up near the end of side A. Other than that, it’s all rumbles and scrapes and squeaks. Noise-wise, this is not particularly noisy; it’s more like lo-fidelity sound recordings of who knows what. Kind of rad for nearly 30 years ago.

Nowottny, Marianne – “Studio Recordings 2008-2018” – [Abaton Book Company]

Max Level   10/9/2018   A Library, CD

Ten years worth of offbeat pop stylings from the versatile Ms. Nowottny, sharing the billing here with her All American Band. She sings and plays keyboards and a few other things, and the band adds guitar, bass, banjo, piano, melodica, and more. A wide range of music on this CD, including stately torch songs with piano, some trip-hoppy moments, country-flavored tunes, and some twisted concoctions that could be Kate Bush with a Casio out in the garage. My two least favorite tracks are the cover tunes: “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ is a downer–it sounds like a version the house band on Twin Peaks might have done, and “Danny’s Song” (by Kenny Loggins) is done pretty much straight ahead and is no more interesting than the original version. Track 5 is a snazzy instrumental.

Monkey Power Trio – “The Ballad of Christian Wolfcock” – [Pocahontas Swamp Machine Recordings]

Max Level   8/28/2018   10-inch, A Library

MPT have their way with the expanded 10″ format this time. The five-member trio is back with recordings they laid down in 2014 and 2015 –OK, so things don’t move terribly swiftly in The Land of MPT– and it is one of their best releases in a while. If “Left Behind” was MPT’s “Exile on Main Street”, and I think we can all agree that it was, then this new one is their “Let it Bleed.” One surprising song style after another, yet it all hangs together somehow. Highlights for me: “Gordon Muir, Time Traveler” must be heard to be believed. Remember “Kraken” from a few years ago, with its grinding guitars and weird falsetto vox? Well, this is its geeky cousin. “Deadhand Button” is an uptempo, knee-slappin’ little ditty about nuclear holocaust. The drugged-out funk of “Black Wig” moves nicely into “Under the River”, a country-ish strum-along reminiscent of the Glimmer Twins after several too many bottles of wine. “Hello Cleveland” ends the record and this song is so pretty it would have been at home on “eMPTy”, the band’s prettiest record to date. Even the weird (w)rapping toward the end can’t derail this one. We never do find out who Christian Wolfcock is, by the way. I give this record four and a half fingers, maybe five.

Inutili /Hallelujah! [split] – [Aagoo Records]

Max Level   8/7/2018   A Library, CD


Scum rock. Hallelujah! is an Italian trio and I think Inutili may also be an Italian trio. Blasting guitars and pounding drums giving us energetically repetitive sludge. The vocals tend to be buried in the mix and the lyrics are generally hard to decipher, although there are several clear FUCKS on Track 4. And on Track 1, the lyrics mostly go like this: “MICE MICE MICE MICE MICE MICE.” Track 2 is around 7 minutes long and goes through a few sections with different dynamics, heavy on guitar. The tracks are all pretty rockin’. I can’t say that most of them offer much in the way of redeeming social value, and I suspect that’s pretty much what the bands had in mind.

Romus, Rent-Life’s Blood Ensemble – “Rogue Star” – [Edgetone Records]

Max Level   7/10/2018   CD, Jazz

No matter which of his many musical endeavors Rent Romus is presenting, it’s always solid. His music invokes solid musical traditions—raging bebop, free jazz, tight ensemble compositions with tasteful solos, and various ethnocultural musics to name but a few, yet he’s always looking to blaze new trails into the future of jazz. His Life’s Blood Ensemble is a perfect vehicle for his vision. Sprawling, multi-faceted jazz sounds here, brought to life by saxophones, flute, e-trumpet, vibraphone, drums, and two double basses. The sounds are from distant galaxies and at the same time are clearly of this earth. Listen and stretch your jazz mind. Track 8 is traditional Finnish music.

Screaming Bloody Marys – “Musica De La Revolucion!” – [Zip Records]

Max Level   6/12/2018   7-inch, A Library

Hell yes! Local ass kicking punk rock. The Screaming Bloody Marys were around in the 80s-90s, went on hiatus, and are back now playing shows and recording. This 7″ came out in 2017. Side A: Cranked up beat and big guitars. Johnny’s dead, too bad. Side B: Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” done with a march-flavored beat, a wall of guitar, and some wicked theremin by my new favorite vocalist Angelique, who belts it out like crazy on both sides. East Bay Ray is on here someplace.

Amirkhanian, Charles – “Lexical Music” – [Other Minds, Inc.]

Max Level   6/6/2018   A Library, CD

Amirkhanian is the dean of American Text Sound Composition. His work on this 2017 release dates from 1973-77. Here Amirkhanian is using words and language and vocals as sound elements, building compositions out of mostly nonsensical spoken words and phrases. Among his methods for creating these pieces: Live vocals combined with pre-recorded vocals. Tape loops colliding, then syncopating, then diverging, creating insistent yet seemingly random rhythmic patterns. Multiple tape recorders in a series, continuously recording and overlapping until the words eventually disintegrate into unrecognizable sounds. Things like that. Track 5 integrates location recordings as environmental backgrounds. The liner notes in the accompanying booklet are detailed and fascinating, and toward the end there is a breakdown of each of these pieces and and how it was made. Super avant-garde and I love it.

Henry Blacker /Black Bombaim (split 7″) The New Evil /God Unknown

Max Level   4/24/2018   7-inch, A Library

A Side: UK trio Henry Blacker offers a spare rocker built on a repeating descending guitar riff. Heavy bass and drums. Good and crunchy with inspired yelling replacing the calm vocals in a couple of places.
B Side: Portuguese trio Black Bombaim cranks out a high energy psyche-rocker with an alien-sounding guitar line commanding attention, as the rhythm section pounds away relentlessly. This side is instrumental.

Gem – “Sheep” – [Car Crash Records]

Max Level   4/10/2018   7-inch, A Library

A rockin’ 7″ from 1995. I couldn’t find much info on Gem other than one of the members is/was Doug Gillard who has connections to Guided By Voices and My Dad Is Dead. Side A “Sheep” is hard-charging and relentless and would probably have stirred up a mosh pit back in the day. I like the thick guitars all through the song. Side B “Smiling All The While” is an indie-pop type of thing with more in the way of arrangement than Side A. Shimmering guitars and a hard rhythm section. “Apartment Life”-ish I’d say. Solid.

James, Timothy – “Wind” – [Tiger Shrimp]

Max Level   2/28/2018   12-inch, A Library

Lovely little guitar pieces by Mr. James. Some are on the floaty side, some are more insistent. Overdubs of multiple guitars, bass, and occasionally a simple drum machine beat. Lengthwise, most tracks are in the 2 to 3 minute range, with the longest topping out at just under 4 minutes. DJs who don’t enjoy playing short tracks on the air–I tend to be one of them–can take advantage of the fact that there is not much space between the tracks, which means one could create a “mini-suite” by playing 2 or 3 or 4 tracks in a row. All instrumental.

Usufruct – “Windfall” – [Vauxflores Industrial]

Max Level   2/13/2018   A Library, CD

Usufruct is a super interesting local project. Polly Moller Springhorn and Tim Walters bring us an unpredictable mix of flute music, vocals in different styles, and computer glitchery. Tracks 2, 4, and 5 are my favorites–heavy on electronics and processed flute sounds. Track 3 is pretty much all spoken word–it’s dramatic and tense and not really my cup of tea; however I do like the reverberating electronic sounds that accompany it. Truly avant-garde stuff here.

She Didn’t Respond – “Chagamole EP” – [Shplargnarf Records]

Max Level   2/6/2018   A Library, CD

She Didn’t Respond is Patrick Harsh (aka Fuckmaker) working with someone named IZFERNOR, of whom I know nothing. If you have been craving an adorable little 3″ package of relentlessly harsh/ugly noise, here you go. Actually I’m not surprised that she didn’t respond–I’m guessing she is probably dead.

Fuckmaker – “Untitled” – [Trashfuck Records]

Max Level   2/6/2018   A Library, CD

A seething bundle of ear-shredding noise from Trashfuck. If you took a Masonna record and a Government Alpha record and played them both extremely loud at the same time, you would eventually wonder why go to all that trouble when you can just put Fuckmaker on instead. The man behind the Fuckmaker curtain is named Patrick Harsh, and that might tell you all you need to know about this CD. Track 4 is not as harsh as the other tracks but it’s no walk in the park either.

Granli, Gaute – “Animalskt” – [Unhinged]

Max Level   1/30/2018   A Library, CD

Norwegian weirdness. Droning off-balance situations with raggedy guitars, voices, and random percussion. Odd things provide odd counterpoint to other odd things. Haphazard slide guitar and incomprehensible vocals throughout. One track sounds like a pair of sneakers tumbling noisily in the dryer. To be honest, I couldn’t really make heads or tails of this CD. Compared to this, the Bren’t Lewiis Ensemble sounds almost normal.

Mazurek, Rob – “Chimeric Stoned Horn” – [Astral Spirits]

Max Level   12/18/2017   CD, Jazz

A fantastic listen. Trumpeter/cornetist Mazurek dives fully into electronic manipulation of his piccolo trumpet. Synth processing, samples, and loops are the tools being used. My impression is that the trumpet is largely the source of the sounds, and sometimes that is apparent, but a lot of the time it’s hard to tell–the sounds are bent and modified and crushed and corroded and squonked-out beyond recognition, so who knows? Mazurek’s super creative manipulation drops you into a sound-world the likes of which you have probably never heard before. Long tracks, short tracks, it’s all here. Fascinating.

Clawman – “Citizen Gorgeous” – [Imaginator Records]

Max Level   11/28/2017   A Library, CD

Eccentric solo recordings with a ton of overdubs. Not exactly rock, not exactly pop, not exactly anything really. Clawman is one David Rogers-Berry, of whom I know nothing. With the exception of a guest or two on a couple of tracks, he plays everything himself, including guitars, keyboards, percussion, vocals, and various unidentifiable sounds. The musical style changes from song to song and in fact it often changes quite a bit within each individual song too, so it’s not easy to get a handle on what’s going on here. I listened to this CD three times and it sounded different each time–new parts that I hadn’t heard before kept showing up. An interesting although somewhat baffling listen. There is something on here for you so check it out.

Lord Fyre – “Destruction At 2013” – [Auris Apothecary]

Max Level   11/21/2017   12-inch, A Library

Droning, lo-fi, semi-bedroom recordings. Lord Fyre uses all manner of oddness to make their music–listen for hippie drums, various guitars, lap steel, viola, rhythm box, bells, tape echo, found sounds, flute, public address system, califone(!), solar feedback, sonic overload… there is even a Tony Conrad LP in the mix, adding violins.
A2 is an actual song with vocals, chord changes, and lead guitar. A3 and B2 have vocals too, but they seem more random and off the cuff, which fits the droning, stoned-sounding music.
For the most part, this record will satisfy your need for hazy, laid back, psychedelic drone experiences.

Gravitas – “Godspeed & Good Hunting” – [Auris Apothecary]

Max Level   11/7/2017   A Library, CD


Respectable, math-style heavy rock from now-defunct trio out of Bloomington, IN.
Solid playing throughout. Four short tracks (1 to 3 minutes) and two longer tracks (5 to 6 minutes.) I found the latter two to be the best tracks–they move through different passages in tight arrangements and kept my interest. My favorite part is the Sabbath-inspired jam in the middle of #5. #1 is two minutes of solo flanged-out guitar.
The label says this is their only recorded work. It’s too bad there isn’t more material here, but as I said this is respectable the way it is.