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Qwel & Jackson Jones – “Dark Day ” – [Galapagos 4]

Max Level   1/7/2006   CD, Hip Hop

Qwel from Chicago has got to be the illest emcee going; if there’s anyone digging deeper with words I’d like to know who it is. When this cat expresses something it’s not going to be less than like a hundred words long? rhyme after rhyme after rhyme coming at us in waves. True to the record’s title, this is a dark trip, an ongoing fable about people blindly worshipping at the Tower Of Babel while the people building it are wising up, asking questions, and losing hope. There’s music too: Jackson Jones makes beats so good I hardly notice they’re there, which in my mind is a high compliment. I mean anyone can put some loops together and hope an emcee can do something with it. But Jones’ work adds real force to the words without calling attention to itself. Flutes, guitars, bells, crunchy beats, explosions, basically you name it. Qwel is given inspired backing upon which to soar.

Olive Green – “Doo Bad Hustle, the ” – [Candle Wax Records]

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

This joint straddles the line between hiphop and rock. Side A has a sweet funky beat with nasty bass riffs and electric piano providing the bed, while Candle Wax main man DJ Blake 9 does some fine cutting on top. Sampled voices keep reminding us how funky this track is. Side B is more of a guitar-fueled rocker- a high-powered instrumental incorporating a few slices of movie dialog. DJ King Most does something or other on this track. If your taste falls firmly on one side or other of the hiphop/rock dichotomy, there’s something here for you. But I’m betting most people will dig both sides of this.

Barnes, Jamie – “Fallen Acrobat, the ” – [Silber Records]

Max Level   1/7/2006   A Library, CD

While in general I’m perhaps not the world’s biggest appreciator of singer/songwriters, there’s no denying the talent this young man from Kentucky displays here on his debut release. For one thing, he plays all instruments himself (acoustic and electric guitars, banjo, piano, percussion, glockenspiel, toy piano, etc.). Also, his lyrics are first-rate; observant, ironic, and hopeful are just a few words that come to mind. I like the way his voice stays near the top of his vocal range, which fits the feel of the music very well. This record makes a nice enough first impression, then grows more impressive with each listen.

Industrial Jazz Group – “Star Chamber, the ” – [Innova/American Composers]

Max Level   1/7/2006   CD, Jazz

Pianist Andrew Durkin leads his IJG ensemble through seven of his compositions, an edgy brand of scaled-down big band-style music, carefully arranged. The group has varied over the years, from a quintet to an 11-piece, whatever that’s called… here it’s a nonet configuration with 3 reeds, 2 trumpets, a trombone, piano, bass, and drums. The compositions are fresh and irreverent, owing something to left-field jazz explorers like Thelonius Monk and Carla Bley, maybe some Frank Zappa too while we’re at it. The soloists (all interesting) on each track are listed, a fine nod to big band convention. Track lengths are 5 to 10 minutes in length. Durkin’s BMI publishing is under the name of “Ugly Jazz”, an ironic way to describe his music, which is actually pretty delightful. Plenty to dig here, no matter what your favorite kind of jazz is.

Bomis Prendin – “Test/Phantom Limb ” – [Self Released]

Max Level   1/7/2006   A Library, CD

A digitally-cleaned-up reissue of low-budget recordings (originally released on two flexidisks between 1979-80) from this Washington DC-area sound collective. Rave reviews in the underground music press encouraged them to keep making their weird combination of bedroom pop, tape collage, fuzzed-out instrumentals, bizarre spoken word, and experimental composition, and so they did, armed with guitars, keyboards, toys, primitive electronics, anything that made an interesting noise. Recordings were made super cheaply at home with cassette-to-cassette overdubbing and such. I like this stuff because it’s fascinatingly odd bedroom material even by today’s standards, and even more likable for having originated over 25 years ago. The band’s discography shows a handful of limited-run cassettes and flexidisks coming out between 1979-86. Apparently they’re still at it; brand new material came out on CD in 2001 and 2004.

Subtonix – “Tarantism ” – [Troubleman Unlimited]

Max Level   1/6/2006   12-inch, A Library

Local quartet. This is one band that sounds exactly like it looks. I’d say they’ve cornered the market on beat-up goth-punk-feminist-horror-noise-pop. The sound: harpies wailing on top of loud keyboards, loud bass, loud sax, loud drums. Interestingly, no guitars. Musically, they fall about halfway between playing their instruments well and still figuring them out. A fine place to be, by the way. But they play like they mean it: speedy, jumpy, and in your face. Lyrics are provocative; themes of death, sex, pills, stained sheets, ripped-up dolls… enjoy it but don’t turn your back. The final track is a cover of a song by the Screamers, another band that was weird, pissed-off, and didn’t need guitars.

Teengenerate – “No Time ” – [Dog Meat]

Max Level   1/6/2006   7-inch, A Library

Maximum trash punk rock from this now-defunct Japanese quartet. Australia’s Dog Meat label brings us this limited re-pressing of 1995 material. Pick your poison. 4 tracks, each of them around 2 minutes long. Meters in the red and who gives a damn? Howling guitars and a straight-out-of-the-garage rhythm section. Slapping you around are Fink and Fifi on guitars/vocals, Sammy on bass, Shoe on drums.

Zolar X – “Timeless ” – [Alternative Tentacles]

Max Level   1/6/2006   A Library, CD

Incredible stuff! Zolar X were a mid-70s – early 80s LA band who bridged the gap between Ziggy-era Bowie (they lived, breathed, and sang about outer space) and classic punk-pop (check the energy). Their music back in the day, compiled on this CD, was aggressive hard rock with ambitious arrangements. The band is a total ass-kicker, especially Flying-V lead guitarist Ygarr Ygarrist who can shred with the best. Vocals are up in the higher registers, sometimes so high I suspect helium may be involved. Songs are mostly short, with the exception of a few “suites” (#10, 19, & 20) that stretch out and cover a lot of territory. The band was never hugely successful; their story seems to be one of setbacks, missed opportunities, and never fitting in with any scene. However, this CD is a revelation. I was aware of this band when they were around the first time, but had no idea they were this good. I’m happy to note that they’re playing together again, and appear to be as strong as ever. Play this, you rockers!

Orthrelm – “Asristir Vieldriox ” – [Troubleman Unlimited]

Max Level   1/6/2006   12-inch, A Library

Guitar/drums duo from the Washington DC area serves up 99 tracks in just under 12 minutes, each one a chaotic burst that lasts anywhere from 1 to maybe 8 seconds. Guitarist Mick Barr fires off chopped-up speedmetal licks, and drummer Josh Blair stays with him note for note, beat for beat. How do they write this stuff anyway? The tracks all run together with maybe a second or two of rest in between. For me it works sort of like the halftone dots in a newspaper photo: you won’t get much by looking closely at each individual dot, but stand back a bit and you’ll see the big picture. My recommendation is to play a big chunk of this (all of it!) and call it one long track. Completely over the top and amazing. Devotees of avant-garde, and/or metal, don’t miss this! A one-sided 12″ with an etching by guitarist Barr on Side B.

Cakekitchen, the – “How Can You Be So Blind? ” – [Haus Musik]

Max Level   1/6/2006   12-inch, A Library

Singer-guitarist Graeme Jefferies (a big part of the ’80s underground scene in New Zealand) has been the only constant in the ever-changing Cakekitchen lineup. I think it’s been several years since the band’s last effort, but they’re back now and in excellent form. This new LP is acoustic guitar-based, with electronics thickening the sound just the way I like it. Things get off to a jaunty start with “You Know I Really?”, and then a nice melancholy groove sets in for the rest of the LP. Jefferies’ romantic, downhearted lyrics are delivered in his low and intimate style. Cello and string bass touches show up at just the right times. As usual, I prefer the longer tracks, the ones heavier on atmosphere, but everything here is lovely.

Bianchi, Maurizio – “Antarctic Mosaic ” – [Ees’t]

Max Level   1/6/2006   A Library, CD

Bianchi was busy during the ’70s-’80s with his industrial, musique concrete, turntable manipulation, and electronic sound projects. In his more recent works, he’s been using what he calls a “fragmented” approach. This CD contains two huge compositions (36 & 38 minutes), comprised of innumerable short bursts of orchestral music, electronics, and mysterious noises. Maybe he created these compositions by jumping a stylus around on various LPs; maybe recordings were cut up digitally after the fact. Hard to tell exactly what’s going on. At any rate, the results are surprisingly enjoyable. A new musical genre: Attention-Deficit-Ambient. Something I for one can relate to.

Hominid – “All Accidental, All the Time ” – [Hominid]

Max Level   1/6/2006   A Library, CD

Singer Arone Dyer fronts this edgy NY quartet, cutting through the hard rock din with her childlike wail. Sharing center stage with Ms. Dyer is a guitarist injecting loud, unpredictable coloration. Fascinating tension here: vocals clash with guitar parts, notes clash with chord structures, then they all kiss and make up, only to start disagreeing again in the same song. Underneath, the bass/drums combo provides a satisfying pummel that recalls LedZep at times. The vocals are mixed with an upfront claustrophobic sound, adding an element of pleasant discomfort. My fave track is #6, which starts off as a cool saunter, keeps upshifting the gears, and ends up at a thrashing climax. #7 departs from the formula, with clinking percussion and whispered vocals.

Streets of Lhasa [coll] – [Sublime Frequencies]

Max Level   1/6/2006   CD, International

Another ear-opening world music/sound collection from Sublime Frequencies (may they never run out of remote people and places to document!). This time we’re in a town in the mountains of Tibet, with vocals, instrumentals, and field recordings. Featured are the erhu, a 2-stringed Chinese violin, and the san xian, a long-necked 3-stringed relative of the guitar. The track titles generally tell us what to expect (“Father/Son Vocal with Erhu”, “Streets Of Lhasa”, etc.). The longest track, #10, is a field recording, described as a group of monks conversing but to me sounding far rowdier; I was picturing a drunken, high-energy card game or something. I also don’t quite get #13, which is titled “Train” but sounds more like a stuck record. Whether one understands what’s going on or not, everything here is well worth a listen. Speaking of that father/son duet, you’ve gotta hear this 3-year old boy singing (#1 & #11)? no cute kiddie warbling, this child brings it, belting it out with unbelievable conviction. #19 is a 9-minute field recording with soft singing and bird sounds. A pleasant way to end our visit.

Man Is the Bastard / Locust – “Split ” – [King of the Monsters]

Max Level   1/4/2006   10-inch, A Library

1996 release. MITB provides three tracks of pissed-off apocalyptic ranting over harsh, ugly noise tracks, with tiny noise vignettes in between. This is part two of MITB’s “Our Earth’s Blood” series. Locust (this 10″ was their recorded debut) stick to raging thrash and crazy yelling. Both sides are classic horrorshow material.

Cyrille, Andrew – “What About? ” – [Get Back]

Max Level   1/4/2006   12-inch, Jazz

Solo drums/percussion from this well-traveled jazz explorer, recorded in Paris, 1969. Cyrille’s chops are formidable, but here it’s more about ideas, and the colors that can be produced with a drum kit, rather than a display of dazzling technique. Side 1 leads off with a 13-minute avalanche, unstoppable, sounding like millions of little objects crashing down a mountainside. Side 2 starts with a similarly long piece, this one more rhythmic and punctuated with stops and starts. The other tracks are more outside, with panting vocal sounds, finger cymbals, staccato rim-taps, metallic thuds, and whistles. Reminiscent of the nutty solo drum work Han Bennink was doing in Europe at around the same time, which is to say it’s daring and good. So give this superb release a try. Don’t be put off by the idea of SOLO DRUMS.

Ex-Models/Seconds, the [coll] – [My Pal God Records]

Max Level   1/4/2006   7-inch, A Library

Ex-Models are from NY, and if what I’ve read is accurate, The Seconds are pretty much the same guys playing under a different name for some reason. The two bands are similar in that they both play short, bizarre songs that pummel the listener with crazed nonsense vocals, violent changes, and unexpected jolts. As a reference point, both bands have been favorably compared to Melt Banana. The second song on Side 2 by The Seconds is a bit different; not as hyper-wacko as the other three tracks, it has an actual repeating riff, and is within spitting distance of being funky. However, for these guys frantic is a better fit.

Forcefield – “Roggaboggas ” – [Load Records]

Max Level   1/4/2006   A Library, CD

Forcefield is a strange animal indeed, a music collective generally comprised of between 2-4 members, but from what I understand as many as 60 (!) performers have shown up at some of the gigs. Ultra-bizarre costumes and goofy names mask their true identities. Their sound is loops and samples, throbs and glitches, buzzes and chirps, snorting and squawking. Tracks 4 and 8 have similar tabla-loop things going on. Track 9 is minimal rave-beat. Track 16 has a messed-up new wave pop feel. Track lengths range from 4 seconds to 20 minutes. Something for everybody, but at the same time there’s really nothing for anybody. These cats are very very weird and so is this CD. Deal with it.

Found [coll] – [Found Magazine]

Max Level   1/4/2006   7-inch, A Library

The groovy folks at FOUND magazine enlisted a few artists to contribute pieces of music based on found objects. All tracks are in the 1 to 3 minute range and all are strangely moving. A1: TRS-80 assembles a jungle-ish track with mixed-in snippets from a pre-teen’s 1960s audio diary. A2: Claudine Coule combines melancholy ambience with phrases from a tape found inside a broken telephone answering machine. B1: The Victrolas concoct a country-fried tale of longing and heartbreak from nothing more than a found playing card with someone’s first name written on it. B2: Jon Langford (Mekons, Waco Bros, etc) sets to music a tragic note found in a hotel room bible. Also a tiny untitled audio blurb at the end of Side B. Sure hope FOUND releases more such collections in the future; there must be thousands of great finds in the world waiting to be set to music.

Yau, R.H.Y. – “Coagulation: Selected Works ” – [Auscultare Research]

Max Level   1/4/2006   A Library, CD

Noise artist Yau goes straight for the gut as usual. Loud, wrenching material based on extreme close-up recordings of bodily functions, tortured screaming, yelling, jabbering, thuds, and crunches. Other types of violence in the mix: ominous machine sounds, harsh blasts, fluids dribbling and gushing. Sounds to me like somebody’s getting hurt real bad. Tracks are generally 1-5 minutes, except the final track which is 13 minutes and covers a lot of ground. Actual vomiting on Track 11. Brutal, and obviously not for everybody.

Nice Nice – “Chrome ” – [Temporary Residence Ltd.]

Max Level   1/2/2006   12-inch, A Library

A guitar/drums duo from Portland OR who launch their simple lineup off in countless directions: funk beats, drones, jagged thrash, gamelan-sounding percussion, deep dub throbs, etc. Avant punk-funkers of the early 80s, such as Material (the “Memory Serves” LP for example) and Massacre come to mind. A definite Frith flavor in the guitar experimentation. Except for a couple of sections with processed vocals, tracks are instrumental. All recorded live without overdubbing. The boys evidently do a lot of looping and triggering, keeping grooves going while adding more live stuff to the mix. A great combination: talent, good ideas, and the modern technology to make it all work. Sort of a sketchbook feel here, with many of the tracks two minutes or less. Slightly longer pieces toward the end of each side.

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