Tiptons, the – “Tsunami ” – [Self Released]

Max Level   1/8/2006   CD, Jazz

Nutty, jazz-flavored stuff from this Seattle-based quintet, formerly known as the Billy Tipton Memorial Orchestra. The lineup features co-leaders Jessica Lurie (alto/tenor sax) and Amy Denio (alto sax), along with two other saxophonists and a percussionist. Everyone in this all-female group plays beautifully, pitching in with tight ensemble playing and cutting loose in their solo spots. In this group, the horns are the thing, of course, but I also like what the percussionist adds to the music, from conga beats to old-timey jazz drumming with little splash cymbals. Most of the material was written and/or arranged by the group, and they include a couple of great Raymond Scott tunes. Solid, swingin’, and fun from start to finish.

Stockhausen, Karlheinz – “Tierkreis/Zodiac ” – [Wergo]

Max Level   1/8/2006   A Library, CD

One of Stockhausen’s more accessible works, for bass clarinet, trombone, accordion, percussion, cello, and double bass. A calm and mostly peaceful combination of composed parts and improvisation, in 12 zodiac-related sections. Two versions of it here, so 12 x 2 = 24 tracks. Version 1 is the ensemble playing the 12 sections by the book. Version 2 is Version 1 played back on tape while the players improvise along with it. The liner notes explain that the track order blends the two versions (tracks 1-3 are from Version 2, Tracks 4-9 from Version 1, 10-12 from Version 2, etc?) but don’t explain why it’s sequenced that way instead of a more logical 1-12 and then 13-24. Some kind of astral math, no doubt. The piece also uses 12 specially-built music boxes, playing the melodies of the 12 sections. I really grew to like this, and I think you will too if you’re into avant-garde composition and/or improv music.

Walter,Drumm,Lonberg-Holm – “Eruption ” – [Grob]

Max Level   1/7/2006   A Library, CD

Weasel Walter on drums, Kevin Drumm on guitar and pedals and things, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello. 40 short tracks, divided into 3 suites. Awful track titles. Sounds like this: noise noise noise noise noise insanity noise noise noise murder noise chaos noise destruction noise noise brutal noise scary noise crazed noise noise terror noise noise hell noise noise kill noise noise noise noise obsessed noise brilliant noise.

Legendary Stardust Cowboy, the – “Tokyo ” – [Cracked Piston Recordings]

Max Level   1/7/2006   A Library, CD

Textbook outsider music. Part science geek and part Gene Vincent, “The Ledge” combines his small-town Texas roots with his love of outer space to create a perfect world where Elvis is on the radio and lovers hold hands at the wrecking yard, gazing up at the evening stars. Who else could express the joys of hot-rodding in San Jose, and then give a rockabilly salute to slide rules? Or write a love song titled “Constructive Criticism” – The songs are mostly go-cat-go rockers, with the occasional heartfelt slow-dancer. Majestic, sweeping vocals a la Roy Orbison, but with only sporadic success in the melody/pitch department. The Altamont Boys (including Dead Kennedy Klaus Flouride on bass) supply reliable backing: everything from John Lee Hooker boogie to cha-cha to go-go beats. Cover of Bowie’s “Space Oddity” adds even more novelty flavor, but there are much stronger/stranger songs here. Grab any track and let ‘er fly. Yip yip! Yee haw! Yeah!

Mutts, the – ” ” – [Fat Cat]

Max Level   1/7/2006   7-inch, A Library

Respectably rocking material by straight-ahead UK quartet. Guitar/bass/drums/vocals. Three tracks around three minutes each. Nice job of walking the line between clean and gritty. I’m definitely up for more of this.

Macromantics – “Four Facets/Conspiracy Remix ” – [Quaketrap]

Max Level   1/7/2006   7-inch, Hip Hop

Australian MC Romy Hoffman, aka Macromantics, delivers sharp-tongued, rapid-fire wordflow. I’m loving her Aussie accent, it’s a totally fresh sound in rap, but she’s no novelty act. Her rhymes are literate and tough, and seriously I’d put her up against anybody. Side A: the four elements of hip hop. Side B: urban violence. Unusual production by Quake Trap artists Shaggy Manatee (side A) and Yoko Solo (side B). This thing is dangerous.

Vast Aire – “Pegasus/Red Pill ” – [Chocolate Industries]

Max Level   1/7/2006   12-inch, Hip Hop

Vast Aire, Harlem’s finest MC, is the king of artful menace. No surprise that he’s cutting up rivals and posers, but check the weird sci-fi and culture bombs he drops while doing it. Side A, a solo by Vast, goes old school, looping 1975’s “Love To Love You Baby” groove. Side B has a modern electronic throb, and brings Vast and another MC named Karniege in equal measure. Big Vast is always stylish and worth checking out. No disappointment here.

Each Other – “S/T ” – [Birds Go South Records]

Max Level   1/7/2006   A Library, CD

Strong, intelligent rock from this local project. Choppy guitar with a distinctive distorted tone. Big, thick keyboards blasting away and occasionally adding weird textural things. First-rate rhythm section, especially the drummer who evidently has more than two arms. The vocals remind me of Robyn Hitchcock, of all people. I like the sections where not all of the instruments are playing, and then when the whole band comes in, things really take off. Minimal lyrics are, in the band’s words, “based on the lives and stories of selected Russian writers?”, so songs about imprisonment, exile, and such. Not what I’d call a fun CD, but a fantastic listen all the same.

To Hell and / Shemps [coll] – [Gloom Records]

Max Level   1/7/2006   7-inch, A Library

Two rowdy New York bands kick in your front door and grab everything they can while your security alarm howls. To Hell and Back is a hard rock/punk combo with gruff vocals, big riffs, and short, wild guitar solos. Their two tracks are each around 2? minutes long. The Shemps crank up three sharp slices of ripping pogo-beat, under 2 minutes apiece. The message: you’re stupid and you hate us and we don’t care. Bonus points for the band’s name, the cover art, and for having a guitarist named Squeaky.

Japonize Elephants From… – “40 Years of Our Family ” – [Tzme Productions]

Max Level   1/7/2006   A Library, CD

The strangeness continues. Everybody’s favorite hillbilly klezmer vaudeville gypsy circus orchestra is back with another load of their cheerfully disturbing (disturbingly cheerful?) song stylings. The players wear makeup and costumes and have names like Schmeeglewop and Zozzy. Do you like sax, flute, accordion, guitar, banjo, xylophone, tin whistle, trumpet? A percussionist who plays nothing but Junk? You’ll love this stuff. They have a full-time glockenspiel player, for heaven’s sake. The music doesn’t sit still; it twists and turns and blasts and bounces from style to style. It’s a surprise a minute, and an exhilarating ride. Excellent musicianship, cartoon-ish vocals, bizarre lyrics: bacon, whiskey, personal hygiene, some low-budget Francais, etc.

Anodyne / Keelhaul [coll] – [Chainsaw Safety]

Max Level   1/7/2006   7-inch, A Library

Side A: Brooklyn outfit Anodyne offers a 5:41 medley consisting of an original composition (a minute and a half burst of hardcore madness), which segues into a version of Throbbing Gristle’s “Persuasion” that’s all rumbling bass throb, odd loops, and spoken words off in the distance. Side B: Cleveland’s veteran hard rockers Keelhaul blast off with a killer 6-minute piece that twists and turns through several sections of tightly focused riffing and chording. Drummer Will Scharf is worth the price of admission here. Side A is cool, but Side B rules!

Crispus Attucks – “! Yo Peho ! ” – [Six Weeks]

Max Level   1/7/2006   7-inch, A Library

Posthumous release of super destructo hardcore from Washington DC quintet. Radical politics and skateboards. Smash the state, resist and fight, shred ’till death. Each side has 3 very short tracks clocking in at a total of less than 3 minutes per side. Forget the individual tracks, you’ll want to play a whole side. It’s all good.

Crank Sturgeon – “S/T ” – [Rrrecords]

Max Level   1/7/2006   12-inch, A Library

Half man, half fish, and possibly half something else, Crank Sturgeon treats us to eight indescribable noise concoctions. His true identity is hidden from us, and he doesn’t exactly make it easy for listeners to grasp what he’s up to here. The first track is a couple of guys yelling some nonsense; it’s the shortest piece and my least favorite. After that it’s straight into Power Hiss in the Merzbow/Sickness vein. Plenty of that throughout the LP, along with more percussive things, feedback, possibly some treated guitar sounds, and a few weird voice recordings thrown into the mix. Impenetrable track titles add to the mystery.

Crib – “Remnant ” – [Transparency]

Max Level   1/7/2006   A Library, CD

Crib (bassist Devin Sarno working solo) has been exploring low-end drone situations for over a decade now. Here are three pieces of typical Crib ambience, with unobtrusive contributions by a handful of guests on violin (P.Haden, J.Gauthier) and guitar (G.E.Stinson, N.Cline). Sarno adds subtle coloration to the mix with voices, breathing, and, on one track, a locomotive passing by. Each of the tracks is lovely and floaty, but not without a feeling of underlying tension to keep things in balance. Nearly 40 minutes of spacious chill-outs; little sonic worlds for you to explore. All in all, another fine installment in the Crib series.

Birdtree, the – “Orchards and Caravans ” – [Last Visible Dog Records]

Max Level   1/7/2006   A Library, CD

Intriguing solo project by Glenn Donaldson of San Francisco’s Jewelled Antler Collective, combining acoustic folk music with strange and beautiful sounds too active to be called “ambient”. Donaldson sings and plays 99% of the instruments, largely via cassette overdubs, creating that classic recorded-in-the-bedroom sound. We hear guitar, banjo, bouzouki, keyboards, percussion, accordion, harmonium, toys, nature recordings, and heaven only knows what all else. He does a nice job with the folky guitar/vocal parts, but for me it’s the addition of all those surprisingly musical “non-music” sections that give this project its elegance. Good stuff. Donaldson also did the fantastic artwork; too bad this isn’t 12″ vinyl in a double gatefold cover.

Kaiser, Jeff /Ockodektet – “13 Themes for a Triskaidek… ” – [Pfmentum]

Max Level   1/7/2006   CD, Jazz

So Cal trumpeter Kaiser composed this avant-jazz work and leads an 18-member ensemble, heavy on horns/reeds (trumpets, trombones, tuba, euphonium, saxophones, clarinets, and flutes). There are also acoustic and electric guitars, contrabasses, keyboards, electronics, and percussion. Names you may recognize: Golia, Stinson, Diaz-Infante, Johnston… The stately opening theme leads into squeaky and squirty horn interplay, groaning modern classical, electro-glitch, rumbling Bitches Brew grooves, dense electric guitar tones, deep droning organ, etc. The saxes in particular are amazing throughout. The work is divided into 13 sections, but the tracks all run together in such a way that one can’t tell without looking at the CD time-counter when one section ends and the next starts. “Triskaidekaphobic” means fear of the number 13. Don’t be afraid of these 13 jazz explorations; enjoy them–even though it seems kind of mean of Kaiser to put exactly 13 tracks on a CD that has triskaidekaphobia as its overall theme.

Thinking Fellers Union Local 2 – “Kids Are in the Mud, the ” – [Japan Overseas]

Max Level   1/7/2006   7-inch, A Library

Pop music from the furthest reaches of Bizarro-World. The “Kids” side is talk-singing with scraping, loops, pitch-shifting, electronics, and no sign of a “real” instrument to be heard, except for a short section with some vibes or bells or something. The “Bones” side conjures up the Residents with drawling vocals, warped carnival calliope, and a rhythm consisting of boings and thuds. What makes people do stuff like this, anyway? Do I like it? Oh yeah. Do I understand it? Not a chance.

Sanctum – “Let’s Eat ” – [Cold Meat Industry]

Max Level   1/7/2006   A Library, CD

As is the case with most releases on CMI, this is full of dark scary beauty. Sweden’s Sanctum have been quiet for 4 or 5 years, while main members J. Carleklev and H. Paulsson worked on other projects. Back in action, Sanctum delivers “Let’s Eat”, a work that relies less on the often baroque orchestral approach of their earlier work, and more on an industrial-based sound heavy on loud synthetic beats and samples. Lovely, subtle music is in there, but it’s layered among (and complimented by) some pretty harsh textures and beats. The female singer on their previous releases has departed, leaving the males to do most of the vocals in a gruff/hoarse style reminiscent of Godflesh. Track 4 features a female guest vocalist. On that track, the delicate vocals and piano are combined with an insistent rhythmic groan that adds a nice dark edge. This CD is superbly assembled and produced, and is a real feast for the ears.

Female Country Blues 1 [coll] – [Rst]

Max Level   1/7/2006   12-inch, Blues

1988 re-issue on RST Records, out of Vienna, Austria. Material by a handful of not-well-known singers, originally released on 78 in the mid-to-late 1920s. Sound quality is not great, since every recording here is at least 75 years old, but it’s certainly all listenable. Vocal performances, with mostly guitar or piano accompaniment, by Anna Lee Chisholm, Virginia Childs, Eva Parker, Cora Perkins, and Lulu Jackson who seems to be the featured artist here. Lulu sings/plays guitar/whistles on 8 tracks, far more appearances than any of the other singers, and she’s pictured on the LP cover. I prefer the blues mama earthiness of some of the others to Lulu’s high-pitched birdsongs. A couple of songs are offered in multiple versions, so it’s interesting to compare the different stylists. A fascinating look at some of the roots of the blues.

Keith, Rodd – “Ecstacy to Frenzy ” – [Tzadik]

Max Level   1/7/2006   A Library, CD

Two lengthy keyboard/vocal improvisations and three short pop-type numbers. 75 minutes of strange, crazy music. Rodney Keith Eskelin, who died in 1974, was a talented but eccentric musician/arranger. In the 1960-70s, he worked for various record companies, setting lyrics by amateur songwriters to music for possible pop hits. Amusing jazz/rock/pop mini-masterpieces ensued; Tracks 2, 3, and 4 here are typical examples. In addition to the day job, he made his own odd music in the studio at night: Track 1 is 33+ minutes of weird organ/piano patterns and nonsense vocals (counting, burping noises, yelps, etc) with the right channel backwards on the tape for some reason. Nobody knows whether the left and right channels were intended as two separate pieces, or as one piece containing both a forward and backward track. To confound us further, Track 5 is that same long piece reversed, each channel now playing in the opposite direction for a different listening perspective.

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