If Thousands “I Have Nothing” [Silber]

Max Level   1/22/2006   A Library

Fine drone-based compositions in bite-sized pieces (nothing over 5-1/2 minutes) on this, the second Silber release by this duo. Waves of sound ebb and flow, ranging texturally from soft and meditative to thick and crushing. A human touch is added by way of guitar on #1, 2, 7, & 9, and what seems to be bass clarinet and trombone appear on #12. Elsewhere it’s keyboards, accordion, bowed bass, electronics, and any number of other things from which a droning sound can be coaxed. My favorite is #3, with its huge saturated tones and then tiny little glitch noises at the end. #13 is a goofy little keyboard ditty. #15 features banjo strumming by Paul Metzger, whose playing seems to assure us that everything is going to be OK. All instrumental.

Stronen/Storlokken [Rune Grammofon]

Max Level   1/22/2006   A Library

Supersilent’s Storlokken (keyboards/electronics) teams up with fellow Norwegian Stronen (drums/electronics) for some nutty abstract jazz-rock, all instrumental. (you want nutty? check Track 5.) The tight interplay between the two musicians is amazing, considering this material was supposedly all improvised. Storlokken uses odd keyboard voices to send out lines that are jazzy but in a weird fractured way. While Stonen’s drums definitely groove, he often seems to be whacking everything within reach, just for the sake of variation. At times it seems that his drums are also triggering programmed sounds and patterns. A wonderful mixture of blurting electronics, moody downtempo atmosphere, and crazy hyperfunk.

Brumit, Jon – “Vendetta Retreat ” – [Edgetone Records]

Max Level   1/10/2006   A Library, CD

Local artist with some interesting ideas. Three long sound/music/noise tracks (12-22 mins each) here. On Track 1, jarring bursts of noise interrupt quiet beats, electronics, and periods of silence. It’s simple but genius, and I love it. Elsewhere we come across pleasant chords, tense walls of sound, cluttered ambience, aggressive loops and more. Those crazy noise bursts show up again halfway into the third track, and that’s how the CD ends, completing the circle back to Track 1. Elaborate liner notes don’t shed much light on the making of this CD. Brumit himself may be creating these sounds, or they may have been taken from other sources. Other Brumit projects: recording city dump sounds, offering various services door to door, and something involving peoples’ dryer lint. Really. Does this CD have anything to do with any of that? I have no idea, but I can tell you that this release is weird, artful, and enjoyable. According to the artist, this is a soundtrack to a motion picture that hasn’t been made yet.

Allbee, Liz – “Quarry Tones ” – [Resipiscent]

Max Level   1/10/2006   A Library, CD

Gentle madness, gloriously warped. Trumpet, vocals, keyboards, electronics, loops. Some tracks are crazy soundscapes, others try to be songs but stop just short. Nothing is as it should be, yet everything is perfectly in place. How is that possible? One hefty 11-minute track in the middle, everything else is on the short side, 4 minutes or less. At 29 minutes total, this wonderfully strange CD is over way too quickly.

Disjecta – “True Love By Normal ” – [Polyfusia]

Max Level   1/10/2006   A Library, CD

Four enjoyable sound constructions by Mark Clifford, aka Disjecta. A warm organic vibe envelops the whole CD, though each track has its own unique flavor. Track 1 has what could be (but most likely isn’t) the sound of small animals chirping and squeaking, over a drone-ish background. Track 2 is more note and loop based with subtle creaking/crackling coloring the sound. Track 3 is similar to Track 2, but softer and floatier. Track 4 is a layering of medium-soft glitch noises, reminiscent of one of the quieter releases on the Ground Fault label.

Windy and Carl – “Dream House /Dedications.., th ” – [Kranky]

Max Level   1/10/2006   A Library, CD

Kranky reissues two sold-out limited release CDs. Each disc has two long pieces of typically gorgeous W&C guitar/keyboard ambience. Windy explains the origins of the pieces in her lengthy, heartfelt album notes. Disc 1 “The Dream House” has an uplifting sound and is meant as an appreciation of love, beauty, longing, and loss. Disc 2 “Dedications To Flea” is a tribute to W&C’s dear departed longtime canine companion. Floaty music accompanies recordings of Flea the dog moving around, lapping water, panting, scratching. Carl’s guitar dominates Track 1, and the tenacious spirit of Flea himself is all over Track 2.

Nine:Fifteen – “Spilt Milk ” – [Candle Wax Records]

Max Level   1/10/2006   12-inch, Hip Hop

Hip Hop fun here. DJ Blake9 puts together three bouncin’ tracks. On top, MC Comel flows in a loose, kinda goofy style. Track 1 has a jazzy vibe with piano, bass, and super-catchy trumpet lines. Track 2 is a funky cowbell-banger, and Track 3 is more laid back than the other two. Instrumental versions on Side B.

Modular Set – “Beached on the Half Landing ” – [Howell’s Transmitter]

Max Level   1/10/2006   A Library, CD

Abstract jazz-rock aided by electronics and loops. All instrumental, with guitar/keyboards/drums, a bit of violin, and a couple of horns in the mix too. Some sections reminded me of Iceburn’s grunginess, others of Soft Machine’s spacier moments. There is a big Crimson caveman guitar riff on #4, and a nice chugging beat on #7, other than that the playing seems mostly unstructured. Not particularly well-recorded. but then again I suspect this Bay Area band itself gets by with a lo-fi sound. I dug a lot of their ideas. Weird but worthy.

Kopp, Hermann – “Mondo Carnale ” – [Vinyl on Demand]

Max Level   1/10/2006   12-inch, A Library

Reissued material from this German eccentric, known mainly as a soundtrack composer for obscure psycho-horror films. This LP is full of the kind of pop songs that your muttering old hermit neighbor might make in his dark, damp basement after burying another one of his pet dogs in the backyard. It’s a sparsely-furnished sound, with the basic elements being vocals sung/spoken mostly in German, raspy violin, droning synths, layered noise, piano, bass guitar. and simple electronic beats. Perverse fun.

Raised By Wolves – “We Am Monstroum ” – [Self Released]

Max Level   1/8/2006   A Library, CD

RBW are an intense UK drums/guitar rock duo, at their best capable of grinding out loud fearless explorations reminiscent of the drums/electric guitar duo pieces William Hooker recorded with Elliott Sharp and Thurston Moore. Track 1 is abstract and noisy throughout. Track 2 starts with chaotic rock noise, then settles down into something that sounds like an energetic garage band covering Neu!’s “Hallogallo”. Track 3 is a mood piece, with low organ tones and non-musical guitar noises. Track 4 features hyperactive drumming, organ, handclaps, and voice. Track 5 starts with all hell breaking loose, evolving into an insistent sludgy riff. Tracks are in the 5-10 minute range, and all are untitled. Not the best recorded sound, but good enough to reveal the playing, which is just about always Killer.

Pumice – “Raft ” – [Last Visible Dog Records]

Max Level   1/8/2006   A Library, CD

New Zealand’s Stefan Neville (also in psyche-improv group Ohm) is Pumice, singing and playing everything here. Based on the ultra-compressed sound quality, I’d guess these multi-overdub recordings were made at home on cassette. Building up from a folk-rock-ish foundation, he adds loud feedback guitar, fuzzy keyboards, plodding drums, weird loops and echoes, various noises, bursts of volume at unexpected times. My picks: Track 5, a stately instrumental, and Track 10, a gently repeating guitar lullabye with a machine-type hum hovering in the background, and a false ending about 2 minutes before the actual ending. Tracks 2, 4, 7, and 9 have vocals. Tracks 3 and 8 have vocals too, but on those tracks they’re incomprehensibly distorted and are really just noise elements. All tracks here are diamonds in the rough and quite enjoyable, mined from someplace deep in NZ’s underground.

Mass Producers – “Performances for Large… ” – [Dark Beloved Cloud]

Max Level   1/8/2006   A Library, CD

Composer/bandleader Caroline Kraabel (ex-Honkies) and her 20-member troupe play nothing but alto, tenor, and baritone saxes. In concert, the audience sits in the middle, in the dark, and the musicians stand in a circle around them wearing what looks like miner’s lamps on their heads. Sort of like five spooky saxophone quartets joining the Residents. Two compositions on this CD, 43 minutes and 24 minutes in length. Long, but stick with it. Periods of quiet noodling alternate with periods of controlled roar. Unbelievable overtones are created when so many similar instruments play in unison. Track 2 contains a loop repeated for 10 minutes, and some may find that annoying. It does go on and on a bit, but I found it mesmerizing. Kraabel wanted to build that into the piece for some reason, so I think it’s cool.

Hella – “Bitches Ain’t Shit… ” – [Suicide Squeeze]

Max Level   1/8/2006   12-inch, A Library

An unfortunately-titled 4-song EP full of king-hell spazz rock from this Sacramento duo. Spencer contributes some interesting fractured guitar, and, according to the credits, does programming of something or other. Zach plays hyperactive drums on every track. It’s out of control. It’s cool. It’s all instrumental except the last track, which has a guest on vocals. Watch out for the speedfreak Mahavishnu-style guitar on the third track.

Skozey Fetisch – “From Among the Pale Adjust… ” – [Magnetic Motorworks]

Max Level   1/8/2006   A Library, CD

power electronics, uneasy pauses. frequency waves clashing and multiplying. matrix gone wrong. frenetic blipscapes. phase cancellation and ghost rhythms. crazed alien jabbering. interludes of defective silence. messed-up sounds cut to shreds, re-assembled incorrectly, glued with glitch, then messed up some more. dangerous voltage amplified, hums, buzzes, burbles, explodes. synapses assaulted, blood boils then freezes, brain hurts and misfires. language fails?

Gebbia/Gianetto/Nunn/Palma…. – “A Night in Palermo ” – [Ratascan Records]

Max Level   1/8/2006   CD, Jazz

Freewheeling, outer-limits jazz sounds recorded live in 1998. The players hook up in various combinations, presenting a different lineup on every track: sax/bass/bug/drums, sax/styrofoam, voice/bass/bug, voice/saw, bass/bass, to name just a few. (Yep, I said bug, styrofoam, and saw. There’s also a bike horn and a waterphone on here?). The CD insert breaks down who’s doing what where. G.Gebbia’s versatile alto sax appears on about half the pieces. Drummer G.Powell shows a good feel for the other musicians. He kickstarts the blazing chaos that is Track 1; too bad his superb drumming only shows up in a few places on this release. When M.Palma’s vocals go operatic, they don’t do much for me. Nice, though, to hear her shift gears and get totally weird, as she does in her duets with T.Nunn and G.Robair, both of whom add plenty of their own nuttiness throughout the course of this CD. Track 10 is a tasty sandwich, with bassists L.Giannetto and D.Smith on the left and right, and Nunn’s bug crashing around in the middle. Never a dull moment with this bunch.

Lunch Money Singles 1 [coll] – [Bully Records]

Max Level   1/8/2006   A Library, CD

Canadian label’s compilation of artful, mostly instrumental pieces that originally appeared on 7-inchers by Sixtoo, He Did Glass Music (Sixtoo + Matth), DJ Signify, and a few others. Mainly down-tempo, in the hip hop to trip hop bag, with combinations of acoustic and electric instruments, samples, and a lot of attention paid to beats and layering. Interesting things on every track. Good music beds can be found here, if that’s what you’re into, though not all tracks are 100% bed-worthy, due to varying amounts of movie dialog and other vocal input showing up here and there. For example, #5 starts with a minute of poetry, and #9 has one sampled spoken phrase repeated many times. And there’s bad language, lots of it, on the extremely unpleasant #8. Overall, a nice intro to some artists, and a label, that may have been flying under your radar, as they were mine.

Die Enttauschung – “S/T ” – [Crouton]

Max Level   1/8/2006   12-inch, A Library

Top-notch jazz, all original compositions, from this multi-national European quartet. Rudi Mahall is a brilliant bass clarinetist. He doesn’t spend as much time on the creaky lower end of that instrument as many other players do; his horn often sounds amazingly like an alto sax, very Jackie McLean-ish to my ears. The solid, clean trumpet of Axel Dorner is equally impressive. The two horns work well together, whether laying out a slow, stately theme or tearing through some ridiculously fast bebop lines in beautiful unison. Look out for some inspired soloing as well. The bassist and drummer are not familiar to me, but I like the way they drive the band with their robust playing. All four guys play their behinds off, while seemingly not taking themselves too seriously. Sounds to me as though they meant to have an element of silliness in here at times, and the goofy cover art does nothing to contradict that theory. A lot to like here. Limited to 500 copies.

Het – “Let’s Het ” – [Ad Hoc]

Max Level   1/8/2006   A Library, CD

Crazy, intense material from UK duo Het, a re-issue of their long out of print 1984 LP containing some of the strangest, most densely-packed arrangements I’ve ever heard, expressing total angst by way of shouting vocals, choirs shouting back, detuned guitars and basses, a bit of baritone sax, and a truckload of percussion instruments. Ad Hoc’s jacket blurb likens this to Harry Partch meets the Residents, and yes it often does sound like a furious hardware store version of “Mark of the Mole”. Tim Hodgkinson (Henry Cow) originally recorded this at Cold Storage Studios in London, and has now spearheaded this re-issue. My mind is boggled: I’m familiar with some other mid-80s Cold Storage artists, and I know about Hodgkinson, but how on earth can I have missed Het until now? Mind-bending material, wild arrangements, superb engineering and production, incredible sound.

Turntables By the Bay [coll] – [Hip Hop Slam]

Max Level   1/8/2006   12-inch, Hip Hop

Your fave Bay Area turntable acrobats mess it up in all styles on this Hip Hop Slam compilation. Tracks recorded 1996-2001, mostly unavailable on vinyl until now. Good stuff: SJ’s Finger Bangerz crew get low and sexy, Invisibl Skratch Piklz show off their world-famous flash, Live Human combines live drums and bowed bass with DJ Quest’s beats/cuts, DJ Flare gets it going on top of a mellow groove bed, DJ Raw B mates with a human cellist? and so much more. Amazingly, there is language on the last track only. Homeboys must be getting clean in their old age.

Mephista – “Entomological Reflections ” – [Tzadik]

Max Level   1/8/2006   A Library, CD

A partly composed, partly improvised affair, featuring an impeccable trio of veteran NY players. Sylvie Courvoisier is all over and under and inside her piano, generating jazzy licks, scrapes, bangs, you name it. Susie Ibarra taps small percussions and crashes big drums. Ikue Mori produces subtle, colorful textures from her laptop. Ibarra’s percussive reactions to Courvoisier’s piano surprises are particularly good. For her part, Mori shows how well tasteful electronics can work with acoustic instruments, and she often acts as a sort of musical glue, chattering away, holding everything together. Track 12 has an intriguing dark feel, which sets it apart from the other tracks. This music is full of strong, creative female energy. A release in Tzadik’s excellent “Oracles” series, which showcases today’s forward-thinking female composer/musicians.

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