Democri$y – “S/T ” – [Self Released]

Max Level   1/2/2006   A Library, CD

Democri$y (democracy = hypocrisy) is a noise group from So Cal. Their agenda leans toward the political, in that their writings and performances display their criticism of what they call “overextended power”. Exactly what they’re getting at sonically, though, they say is open to interpretation. All four members are credited as contributing “noise” and nothing else. That translates to feedback, crashes, buzzes, hums, and disturbed human voices. Imagine two angry monsters fighting to the death atop a calliope in a metallic hailstorm of forks and knives. Crusty old pirates gargling. Dogs in blenders. Slow-motion car wrecks. Noisemaster Bob Bellerue recorded and mixed this. An amusing DIY touch in the liner notes: “Contains a few mistakenly included ‘bonus’ throwaway tracks. Sorry.”. I wonder which ones they were, since all tracks are equally brilliant/horrible.

Naked City – “Live- Vol 1 ” – [Tzadik]

Max Level   1/2/2006   CD, Jazz

High-flying quintet performing live in 1989 at NY’s Knitting factory. Supposedly the first release in a new Tzadik series of historical live Naked City recordings. John Zorn plays sax and leads his cohorts (Baron, Frisell, Frith, and Horvitz) through his insanely convoluted compositions. Electric jazz. Blues. Wacky funk. Country and western moments. Lots of stop/start. Swinging interludes interrupted by piercing shrieks. Also some covers of soundtrack music (Mancini, Goldsmith, etc) , less chaotic than the Zorn material. Final track is a swinging 10-minute jam featuring Horvitz on piano and some incredible guitar pyrotechnics by Frisell. Zorn said Naked City was all about seeing how far out he could go with a basic sax-guitar-keyboards-bass-drums lineup. He had the right players for the job, that’s for sure. Note: several of the tracks are under a minute long.

Brotzmann/Perkins – “Ink Is Gone, the ” – [Bro]

Max Level   1/2/2006   12-inch, Jazz

Exuberant duo improvisation. Brotzmann, who has worked with just about every major avant-jazz artist of the past three decades, tears into his saxes and clarinet with abandon. Drummer Perkins is not as well known, but he led some respected hard bop outfiits in the 1950s-60s, and Brotzmann says “he is history”. On this date, it sounds as though the drums are following the horns most of the time, Perkins adding his quick-thinking percussive propulsion, pushing Brotzmann’s snaky playing to some wild extremes. I love the way Perkins occasionally yells from behind his drums, caught up in the music. This LP is limited to 999 copies, on heavy virgin vinyl, in a hand-screened sleeve designed by Brotzmann.

Cordier, Eric – “Digitalis Purpurea ” – [Ground Fault Recordings]

Max Level   1/2/2006   A Library, CD

Four pieces (10 to 15 minutes each) of minimal sound art, mostly involving tape manipulation rather than electronic processing. Cordier recorded droning sounds from “real” instruments such as hurdy-gurdy, church organ, and dulcimer. The taped results were sped up/ slowed down/ manipulated into unrecognizability. Track 4 differs from the other three in that there was no manipulation of the actual recordings. All pieces were recorded 1992-97, and originally presented via ambitious sound installations involving hundreds of speakers. Here are nice stereo mixes for the home listener.

Buckethead – “Kfc Skin Piles ” – [Gonervill]

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

Nine eccentric tracks from The Bucketed One. This his been described as a battle breaks record, and yes it does seem like it would be good for DJ cut-ups with its insistent beats, abrupt changes, and voice snippets. It’s crazy stuff: Track 1 is unpleasant spoken word, chainsaw noises/screaming, then 4 minutes of beatbox. Track 2 starts with the Yo Ho Ho pirate theme on guitar, then moves into a deep Laswell-like throb. Track 5 features mole facts, then a percolating groove. Track 7 has big dark synths fleshing out a minimal beat. Overall, there’s relatively little of the space-age shred guitar he’s known for. Side A ends with a shrieking locked groove. Side B ends with what sounds like a locked groove, but it isn’t. A funny guy, this Buckethead.

Colley, Joe – “Desperate Attempts at Beauty ” – [Auscultare Research]

Max Level   1/2/2006   A Library, CD

Joe Colley (aka Crawl Unit in a previous life) never seems to have much to say about his work. He sets up simple sound-producing situations and then lets them do what they do, without trying to direct things much. It’s his “this is no big deal” attitude that’s so cool. Two of the sound sources he uses here are ice water and clay. The sounds are unprocessed, but closely mic’d and amplified for maximum sonic depth. I won’t describe what any of the tracks actually sound like -except for Track 1 which I’m warning you will knock you out of your chair if you’re not ready for it- because that would impair the sense of anticipation and discovery that I think makes all the difference. There are times on this CD where it sounds like not much is happening, and that’s because, well, not much is happening. Deeper listening reveals the ambient sounds between the higher-level events. One of the best artists going, if you ask me.

Cannibal Ox – “Cold Vein, the ” – [Definitive Jux]

Max Level   1/2/2006   12-inch, Hip Hop

Two poets from Harlem with angry, intelligent, beautiful word-ism. They craft serious urban epics with their deep story-telling. It’s so far beyond the cliches that pass for rap these days that it’s not even the same genre. El-P, ex-Company Flow, assembled the backing tracks, and they are perfect for what’s going on here. The beats are sick, hung over, lurching, with sliced-and-diced jazz riffs and sounds we have never heard before getting piled up thicker and thicker until they’re strong enough to support the weight of what the MCs are laying down. It’s the end of the rap world as we know it, and nobody feels fine.

Sciflyer – “Melt ” – [Sciflyer]

Max Level   1/2/2006   A Library, CD

3 song EP from local guitar/bass/drums trio. Dreamy flights through thick clouds of shimmering outer space particles. Simple chord changes, nice melodies, effective repetition, and lots of effects on those guitars. All tracks have sleepy, barely there vocals, mixed way down and nearly inaudible at times. #1 has a 30-second intro and a matching outro; in between is a fuzzed and phased masterpiece. #2 is longer, with the same lethargic tempo, and more of those beautiful psyche-effect guitars. #3 is shorter and perkier, a cover of a Husker Du song. Buy a ticket for a ride in the Sciflyer!

Emanon – “Count Your Blessings… ” – [Shaman Work Recordings]

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

This SoCal duo drops ideas about how dropping ideas can change something. Not exactly a new hip hop angle, but MC Aloe Blacc comes across as pretty fresh and DJ Exile does interesting things with beats, so this 12″ is worth a spin. “Count Your Blessings” is as much reggae/toasting as it is hip hop/rapping. Bouncy and good. We get two versions of “The Reasons” , with the same lyrics on each but completely different backing tracks. The first version has a seasick-sounding keyboard that gets on my nerves. The “Remix” version has much cooler sounds and beats, with strange little sonic touches. Side B is all instrumental versions of the Side A tracks.

Earth Ear Radio [coll] – [Earth Ear]

Max Level   1/2/2006   A Library, CD

A radio-only sampler featuring 13 international artists, exploring music/sound compositions based on field recordings. Both nature and urban backgrounds are used. Tracks 11 & 13 are musical compositions, and they’re fairly interesting. Track 2 sounds like bland new-age music and I don’t recommend it. What makes this a worthwhile collection are the “natural ambience” tracks, and the handful of pieces described as “composed from nature”, which involve some creative manipulations of nature sounds. Listen for birds, insects, wind, village sounds, frogs, traffic, water, violin, percussion?

Sharp, Elliott/Terraplane – “Do the Don’t ” – [Zoar Records]

Max Level   1/2/2006   Blues, CD

It’s The Blues all right, and this CD is going in the Blues library, but this band seems to be on a mission to stretch the boundaries of the genre. Funk, rock, jazz, gospel, reggae, and even (I think) a few computer-generated sounds are in the mix. Sharp’s fiery guitars are everywhere; I especially like his crazy way with the lap steel. Also on the front line: Sam Furnace on saxes, and the soulful vocals of Dean Bowman and/or Eric Mingus. Guest guitar legend Hubert Sumlin ignites three tracks with his raw blues power. Notable tracks: #2 uses a tribal beat to take us to church, #5 rolls and lurches like The Magic Band at their best, #7 is a high-powered urban shuffle. A solid effort. Fun. Slightly weird. Highly recommended. Instrumentals: #1,4,6,8,9,10.

Starfuckers – “Infinitive Sessions ” – [Dbk Works]

Max Level   1/2/2006   A Library, CD

Italy’s Starf**kers, around for over a decade now, continue with their anti-technique, anti-style, anti-music. On this CD, they’ve jettisoned the creepy “vocals” of their previous releases, in favor of an all-instrumental approach. The music lurches and stumbles, but quietly, like a drunken husband sneaking in at 3 am. The guitarist stabs randomly at various chords, the drummer wanders around on his kit, poking at things, neither of these guys following any logic at all as far as I can tell. The third guy supplies groaning and crackling electronics in the background. Most tracks are in the 7-8 minute range. Track 4, the longest at 12 minutes, starts with a few minutes of subtle electronic noises before the other two players fall into their places, such as they are. The music this trio makes is weird and fascinating.

Hijokaidan – “Last Recording Album, the ” – [Alchemy Records]

Max Level   1/2/2006   A Library, CD

Don’t be fooled by the peaceful serenity of the cover photos, this CD brings us more of the extreme sonic assault this long-running Japanese noise outfit is known for. Main instigator Jojo Hiroshige (on guitar, sounding more like an assortment of amplified skilsaws, drills, and grinders; I think he also does some vocals) and Junko (shrieking vocals of insanity) are here as usual, joined by three cohorts bringing even more noise on drums and power electronics. A couple of tracks are around 4 minutes long, and one is 30(!) minutes. Regardless of length, all tracks are loud hellish masses of complete destruction.

Blank – “Duden ” – [Eventuell]

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

240 locked grooves on this LP, with 6 groups of 20 on each side. Blank is a trio of Frankfurt-based experimentalists who chopped up some of their recordings into sound bites, then cut those fragments into locked grooves on this 12″. Guitar strums, keyboard twinkles, feedback roars, electronic manipulations, percussive hits, etc? the record seems to be split roughly in half between “musical” sounds and bursts of noise. I checked out every one of the 240 tracks here and came up with some favorites, and I encourage you to do the same. Use them as music beds, play them solo for zen-like repetition, or mix with other locked grooves. By the way, this 12″ was originally constructed to be used by Blank themselves as instruments in live performance, each guy having his own copy to play around with. I’d love to hear the cool music/noise that must result when they do that.

Ballast – “Sound Asleep ” – [Profane Existence]

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

Thrashcore quintet crying out against the crushing oppression of modern society. Similar at times to fellow Canadians Submission Hold, but Ballast has a narrower, harder focus; more screaming in the vocals, louder guitars, and more constant violence in the bass/drums. I tend to like hardcore songs that have brief slow intros before all hell breaks loose, and there are a couple of those here. Between songs, there is only the briefest of pauses before the next assault is launched. One word review: Incendiary.

Health Program, the [coll] – [Boyarm]

Max Level   1/2/2006   A Library, CD

Strange stuff. The Boyarm label claims “we have formed our own niche in the category of abrasive music.”. And so they have. For this CD, they took recordings of a typically hyperactive death metal drummer (John Caldwell of Lucifer’s Hammer) playing solo, and sent a different portion of those recordings to each of fifteen noise-type artists. The artists were instructed to add whatever they like as long as they leave the drum track just the way it is. An odd idea, but what the hell. So we end up with fifteen short noise pieces, each one having Those Big Drums as its centerpiece. Seems to me that no matter what else got added to them, the pummeling drums still end up as the star of every piece. Hard to single out any particular track(s); they are all strange, interesting, and, yes, abrasive.

Iota – “S/T ” – [Rockadelic]

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

This late 60s-early70s outfit was not well-received in their hometown El Paso, TX. Local clubs and radio didn’t know what to make of their bare-bones psych-rock. “Too dark and disturbing” was a common complaint regarding their sound. Lack of local support caused them to move to Memphis, and then, unfortunately, to break up after a couple of years. They put out two singles, which appear on this LP, but all other tracks have been unreleased until now. Nothing hugely innovative here, but some decent bluesy guitar/organ heavy rock.

Pine, the – “S/T ” – [Into the Hurricane]

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

Wow! Melodic speed-pop-core from this Bakersfield quartet. Overall sad tone and emotional lyrics in front of a Husker Du blur of overdriven guitars and crashing drums. A couple of quieter moments on Side B, but other than that it’s one hard-charging song after another. The singer is probably an acquired taste, but his voice adds an unusual element to the sound and I like him just fine. Play this!

Ocs – “Songs About Death & Dying, Vol 3 ” – [Yik Yak]

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

Second effort from local act OCS (formerly Orinoka Crash Suite, now possibly Orange County Sound?). Musical whirlwind John Dwyer brings us meditative blues-pop, often sung in falsetto, accompanied by spare strums on electric guitar. Gone are the noise elements that were present on the previous CD by OCS. Here the quiet blues-pop gets an assist from Patrick Mullins, who adds low budget drumming and electronics. This goes a step further than bedroom recordings, sounding to me like bedroom closet recordings; cheap equipment at low volume producing a muffled result. Not all songs are about death and dying, however murder, drug overdose, and suicide do show up in the lyrics. Enjoyable, a bit disturbing, a nice change of pace for your radio show. Mastered by Weasel Walter. Excellent Roxy Music joke on the insert sheet.

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