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Max Level

California Lightening – “Penitentiary ” – [Sound on Sound]

Max Level   1/2/2006   7-inch, A Library

East Bay duo keeps busy with this project while also comprising half of the quartet Erase Errata. Jenny provides distinctive female vocals and busy guitar strumming, while partner Bianca nails it all down with powerful drumming. The two songs on Side A are nice slices of TeenBeat style guitar pop, melodic and strong. Uplifting. The song on Side B is blurry no-wave monotone noise-pop, much different from the songs on the other side. The whole thing could have been better recorded, but for a local lo-fi rock/pop project it works just fine. I’d love to hear more from this duo. This 7″ dates from summer 2000. And yeah, there’s an “e” in Lightening.

Msbr/Government Alpha [coll] – [Rrrecords]

Max Level   1/2/2006   7-inch, A Library

Two extreme Japanese noisemakers wreak havoc. MSBR (Koji Tano) generates groaning, whistling noise for 5:30. Sometimes harsh, but varies in intensity over the course of the piece. We hear the sound of an appreciative audience. False start and false ending on this side. On the flipside, Government Alpha (Yasutoshi Yoshida) attempts to kill everything within range, as usual. No relief anywhere in his 6:36 wall of noise. Cuts off cold, no need for applause, etc.

Rapture, the – “House of Jealous Lovers ” – [Dfa Records]

Max Level   1/2/2006   7-inch, A Library

Two dancey little numbers with sparse guitar/bass/drums arrangements recalling Gang Of Four. The male vocals are high-pitched and semi-yelling, not exactly my favorite style, but whatever. “House?” doesn’t have a whole lot of lyrics other than repeating the song’s title over and over. That track was also on the band’s 2001 full-length; not sure why a “radio edit” is out now, two years later. “Alabama?” is a bit more artsy, starting off with a quote from Captain Sensible’s “Wot”; after that, I can’t really tell what the singer is on about. Raw funk from white boys with a Telecaster. Not Bad.

Goodiepal – “Mort Aux Vaches ” – [Staalplaat]

Max Level   1/2/2006   A Library, CD

The notes printed on the rubbery CD case are completely incomprehensible to me, and web research only confused me further. What I think I know about this CD is that it contains 4 tracks recorded live at various locations as part of Dutch studio VPRO’s “Mort Aux Vaches” experimental music series. Cut-up music, whistling, ocean sounds, birds… There are also some MP3s on the CD, one of which is one second long, two of which have different names but are exactly the same track. There’s also a movie about a mechanical bird device. I’m going with Goodiepal as the name of the artist, but it could be G’oudjiparl or Kristian Vesper. Or maybe all three. Or maybe the artist is Gamers In Exile. Or maybe that’s the name of this release. The mysterious V/Vm seems to be involved in this somehow. See what I mean? Most confusing. No matter how many times I listened to this, I could not get a handle on it. Your experience may be different.

7 Year Rabbit Cycle – “Animal People ” – [Free Porcupine Society]

Max Level   1/2/2006   A Library, CD

A beautiful noisy mess in a lovingly hand-decorated sleeve. Wistful lyrics about eco-awareness and animal extinction. Romantic poetry. Rabbits, caribou, owls, trees, earth, sun, and moon. Angels. Slow kisses. Just a lovely release. But oh my god it is so f**ked up! The mix on the vocals and instruments is completely wrong, and full of distortion, overload, and feedback. Brilliant in its off-the-wall-ness. A couple of ex-Deerhoofers are behind 7YRC. Kelly’s vocals recall early Kim Gordon at her most pained. Rob’s guitar is insistent and jagged, and he adds violin as well. Miya sweetly tortures her bass. Drummer Steve crashes around on his kit and adds some bizarre vocals. In fact, everyone here sings at some point or other. Track 7 has a “road adventure” theme; it’s off-key and different from the rest, and it’s the only track I could do without. Songs often end abruptly, as though someone switched off the tape recorder even though the players weren’t quite done yet. Understandable because, really, what is there left to say after “food on my plate, water in my pail, rust in my bucket”? Track 8 is a 3-minute instrumental.

Total Shutdown – “Broadcast Performances ” – [Life Is Abuse]

Max Level   1/2/2006   7-inch, A Library

The “thank you” list inside says it all: shout outs to Black Dice, Burmese, Coachwhips, Flying Luttenbachers, Lightning Bolt, and many more. Horns and a broken Casio compete to be heard above the maelstrom of guitar/bass/drums. There is also some screaming. Short jagged pieces of jazz-damaged noise catharsis, and then quiet sections while the band figures out where to go next. Tracks range from :20 to 2:10. “Fighting Witches” is my favorite here. Noisy, scary fun.

Zodiac Killers – “Society’s Offenders ” – [Rip-Off Records]

Max Level   1/2/2006   A Library, CD

San Francisco punk rock quartet. Probably somewhat tongue in cheek, but then again maybe the ZKs are serious. Either way, this here is a CD full of catchy, sleazy fun. Snotty vocals and shout-along choruses, with “oh yeah!”s and “1-2-3-4!”s on practically every song. Leader/bassist Greg Lowery writes the lyrics, tackling subjects such as nuclear war, S&M, the news media, capital punishment, solo sex, genetic mutation, modern fast food convenience, and more. Occasional female vocals courtesy of guitarist Ruby Tuesday, who complains about boyfriends on a couple of songs. The music is sturdy punk riffing: a little Ramones here, some Buzzcocks there. Even the ghost of Johnny Thunders sits in on guitar from time to time. Track 11 is a cover of an Undertones song.

Soft Machine – “Live in Paris ” – [Cuneiform Records]

Max Level   1/2/2006   B Library, CD

1972 recording of this short-lived version of the Softs ever-changing lineup. Drummer Marshall had just arrived, and saxophonist/keyboardist Dean resigned shortly after. When R. Wyatt left the band a year or so previous, the loony jazz/pop experimental approach of earlier Soft lineups went with him, leaving behind more serious jazzrockfusion tendencies, as displayed here. A heavy dose of electric piano underpins the compositions, Ratledge uncorks a few blazing organ solos, Hopper and Marshall are a strong and fluid rhythm section, and Dean’s reed playing is unpredictable and interesting, although I wish he had unplugged his sax a bit more often; his electric sax sound is kind of flat and tinny. Overall a nice document of a band that never stood still, and in particular an incendiary lineup that wasn’t together long. This is a recording of the complete show, and the tracks all run together, linked by either audience applause or abstract instrumental passages. Track 4 on CD2 is a drum solo.

Fourtet/Hella [split] – [Ache Records]

Max Level   12/30/2005   7-inch, A Library

Ache is putting out a series of split 7-inchers, calling it the “Divorce” series (split = divorce, get it?). Here it’s Fourtet, a solo project by Kieran Hebden, on one side, giving us a slow instrumental full of blippy keyboards and random drumming. On the other side, the duo known as Hella bring us their usual spazzy madness; chaotic keyboards and samples atop some pretty incredible drumming. I think Ache’s idea with each of these splits is to bring together two artists who aren’t normally linked, but who work in similar fashion. These two tracks aren’t particularly similar sounding, but both feature keyboards/samples and live drumming. A cool release.

Mono – “Under the Pipal Tree ” – [Tzadik]

Max Level   12/28/2005   A Library, CD

Japanese quartet (3M,1F) plays ferocious crescendo guitar rock, in the style of Mogwai and GYBE. Several long tracks stretch out, build up and crash down. Mono will play at one gorgeous level for a while, kick it up another level, and then another. Echoing guitar/bass patterns intertwine and grow. Drumming is huge and perfect. Melancholy mood reinforced by guest on cello. I’ve read that people are often seen crying during Mono’s live sets. Think of how it feels to remember good times with a lost loved one; here is your soundtrack, all instrumental, blissful and sad at the same time. A beautiful recording!

Antennas Erupt – “Magical Energy ” – [S-S Records]

Max Level   12/28/2005   12-inch, Jazz

Crazy skronkadelic material from this Sacramento quartet with an unusual sax/sax/cello/drums lineup. Even though the music is completely wacky –imagine a circus parade led by a rainbow-colored clown jalopy towing a dumpster full of sax-playing chimpanzees– it’s easy to hear what good players these guys are; they’re as comfortable with the tightly arranged sections as they are with the freaky free jazz parts. While the saxes dominate, the cello pops up now and then to remind us it’s there. I like the drummer a lot, he’s loose but kicks plenty of butt. Tracks are mostly in the 4 to 6 minute range. The final track (B3) is 11 minutes long, including a silly sax line repeated for 3 or 4 minutes at the end, and afterward there’s about a minute of silence before the run-out groove. I read on the label’s website that this group broke up in late 2004. If so, this limited (500 copies) edition LP is a fine way to go out. Glad we got one.

Mummies, the – “Death By Unga Bunga!! ” – [Estrus Records]

Max Level   12/28/2005   A Library, CD

A collection of greatest hits and rarities by local trash-rock legends, destroyers of countless rock clubs and pizza parlors in the late ’80s – mid ’90s. Theirs was a majestic garage sound, blending the sneering ’60s fuzz-rock of The Seeds and The Music Machine with rockabilly guitar stomp and pure punk chaos. They also managed to slip some Sam The Sham-style humor into their 2-minute masterpieces. There’s a menacing Iggy vibe at the beginning of Track 6, and Track 19 (Mummies classic “Planet of the Apes”) is not only hilarious but also rocks like nobody’s business. Consistently awful sound quality adds to the fun. What are you waiting for? Slap this sucker on!

Bey, Faruq Z. W/Northwoods – “Rwanda ” – [Qbico]

Max Level   12/28/2005   12-inch, Jazz

Gorgeous, earthy, unhurried Mother Africa jazz here, deep and dark, mysterious yet reassuring. Sax/flute master Bey leads a superb group of like-minded story-tellers; together they bring forth a kind of ancient knowledge I can’t begin to understand. Long journeys unfold before us? our guides are bass, drums, saxes, flutes, bass clarinet, and vibraphone/marimba. Along the way we meet shenhai, zola phone, and bone guitar. Night comes in and spirits visit and we are at peace.

Fragments – “S/T ” – [Self Release]

Max Level   12/28/2005   CD, Jazz

Reviewing a self-released advance promo CD here. One of those “which library should it go in'” releases. I opted for the jazz section, since all three players bring solid jazz credentials, but the pieces herein might be better described as chamber-jazz-post-improv-modern-composition hybrids. Scott Hill is on clarinets and soprano sax, the up-and-coming Roberta Piket is on piano, and Eric Clark plays violin. It’s interesting how similar the tonal ranges of these particular instruments can be; sometimes for example it sounds like the clarinet is poking its head up when it’s actually the violin, and vice versa, and things like that. There is also a guest contributing flute and piccolo. Track 1 is a strong leadoff, with clarinet and violin lines merging and diverging, and Piket pounding out a dense Cecil Taylor-style racket. The final track is tricky: it’s listed as 8 minutes, but the CD time-counter shows nearly 17 minutes. It’s actually 8 minutes of music, then 40 seconds of silence, then a hidden 8 minute track. Fragments (the group) puts together outstanding music -intelligent, not easily classifiable.

Wolfe, Julia – “String Quartets, the ” – [Cantaloupe Music]

Max Level   12/25/2005   A Library, CD

When she’s not busy running the Bang On A Can music festival/organization, Ms. Wolfe composes for orchestras, chamber ensembles, brass groups, etc. She claims influences ranging from “the old masters” to Steve Reich to Led Zeppelin to the car horns and construction sounds of her home base New York City. Here are three compositions, each played by a different string quartet. Track 1, originally commissioned for Kronos, has a dark, abrasive motif throughout. Track 2 is less percussive; to my ears it has a sort of boat-on-the-water feel to it – leaning first one way and then the other. Track 3 is the most interesting; it has more contrast between darkness and light, and is more highly developed. It comes back down to earth with a full minute of quiet afterglow. Everything here is modern, strange, and good.

Harris, Eddie – “Electrifying Eddie Harris, the ” – [4 Men with Beards]

Max Level   12/25/2005   12-inch, Jazz

Tenor saxman Harris (1934-1996) and his classic 1966 Atlantic instrumental date, reissued in 2001 by 4 Men With Beards/Rhino. “Electrifying” refers to his pioneering use of electronic devices to enhance the sound of his instrument. But the enhancement is fairly subtle by today’s standards; just a thickening of the tone, no wah wahs and crap like that. That came later. Here the band is funky, in that familiar ’60s soul/jazz/groove/cowbell-boppin’ way, on “Sham Time” and the hit “Listen Here”. The two “Theme” tracks are slow and pretty. “Spanish Bull” is a stab at Coltrane’s new modalism. Harris produced a handful of popular things in about a 10-year stretch and didn’t do a whole lot afterward. So what? This record is cool and it’s good to have it back.

Larval – “Obedience ” – [Cuneiform Records]

Max Level   12/25/2005   A Library, CD

Guitarist Bill Brovold writes the material and leads this ensemble, the lineup of the band varying somewhat from time to time. This CD features five large chunks of tense instrumental music. A chamber-type approach, I guess, in that the compositions have a calculated feel to them. Nobody really cuts loose. The malevolence suggested by track titles such as “Something Terrible is About to Happen” and “When Bullet Meets Flesh” becomes real before our ears. Guitars, violins, cellos, and saxes play hypnotic, repetitive lines that don’t develop much over the course of a composition; when they appear, it’s to smolder for a while, sometimes flaring up into something hotter, until other lines eventually move in and take over. Disturbing and quite effective.

Orchid – “S/T ” – [Hand Held Heart]

Max Level   12/25/2005   7-inch, A Library

This little gem with the blank black labels contains five perfect blasts of concentrated hardcore, ranging from :55 to 2:30, and not one second of downtime. Shred, blister, and annihilate are words that come to my mind when trying to describe Orchid’s instrumental approach. Minimal lyrics describe everyday situations and abuses. The words are emotion-packed, and only the most tormented yelling will do to get the point across. This music is in some ways insane, but there is something so beautiful and pure about it.

Earthmonkey – “Audiosapien ” – [Beta-Lactam Ring Records]

Max Level   12/25/2005   12-inch, A Library

Deep, trippy excursions from Nurse With Wound alumnus Peat Bog. As Earthmonkey, he brings forth long, semi-droning, meticulously-assembled sound constructions. Intriguing textures are combined, phased, echoed, and looped; musical patterns repeat hypnotically; an occasional jazzy sax or wah wah guitar drops in. Also in the mix are children’s voices, backwards stuff, Middle Eastern hand percussion, harmonica, drum machine, throat singers, a million mysterious sonic fragments of who knows what… Assisting with this magnificent madness is NWW colleague Steven Stapleton, and possibly a few other folks as well. Among the tracks are 14 and 18 minute pieces.

T.V. Pow – “Being Nice Is Funny ” – [Staalplaat]

Max Level   12/25/2005   A Library, CD

Limited release CD in Staalplaat’s Mort Aux Vaches series- live Amsterdam radio performances, which have brought us Zoviet France, Flying Saucer Attack, Muslimgauze, and others. This installment (instaalment?) features experimental Chicago trio TV Pow recorded in 1999, working with an inventory that includes static noises, computers, turntables, home-made electronics, field recordings, glitches, and blips. Semi-musical drones are used but sparingly, and occasionally we hear far-off voices. On headphones, a subtle adventure and well worth the trip. This CD’s glitchy minimalism may cause your listeners to think you’ve gone off the air, so don’t wait too long to come back. Tracks all run together.

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