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Max Level

Six Eye Columbia – “Frowny Frown ” – [Douche Bagophon]

Max Level   12/24/2005   12-inch, A Library

Creative and very well done cover versions. SEC is an SF quintet, evidently around since 1997 but this is my first exposure to them. Make no mistake, they can write and play their own “rock” material just fine, but this LP has a different agenda: it’s chock full of completely bent arrangements of songs by The Stranglers, Motorhead, Guided By Voices, Roxy Music, Hall & Oates, and a few others. Track 1 is a simple distorto-rocker similar to Coachwhips. Track 2 is an acoustic hoedown take on a speed-metal classic. Track 3 is a fairly straight reading of a Portishead song. Track 14 is an angelic acappella doo-wop version of a Descendents tune. High points for me: Track 7 applies the junkyard sound of Swordfishtrombones to a Black Flag number, Track 8 (written by Dr. Seuss!) is torture chamber sludge, and Track 12 is an amazing marriage of Roxy’s “Casanova” with Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”. Don’t miss this record. Every track a winner!

Farflung – “When Science Fails ” – [Transparency]

Max Level   12/23/2005   A Library, CD

Farflung says this CD is “kinda risky”, that it’s a different kind of Farflung record. Here’s what it is: other than a small bit of spoken or chanted vocal on every track, it’s primarily instrumental guitar/keyboard/drums hypno-psyche with buildups and descents, and it’s freakin’ brilliant! The playing is excellent, and the parts all fit together with a remarkably loose tightness. The influence of Can and Einsturzende Neubauten shows heavily. Parts of this music were used in a recent German film, so the Krautrock connection makes perfect sense. One of the tracks is 24 minutes long.

Sikhara/Umkra/Drk/Ript [coll] – [Marasm]

Max Level   12/23/2005   7-inch, A Library

The Marasm label (French, I think) brings us four under-underground artists, all of whom are in the noise/glitch/loop business. Not a lot of info available on this release, but the artist lineup appears to be as follows: Sikhara – manipulated jungle-type ritual music, chanting and drumming, also electronic noises. Umkra – loud, dirty glitch-mania. DRK – dark landscapes give way a couple of times to a messed-up beat loop, plus crashes and howling voices. Ripit – more noisy glitches. Are those voices in there? Noticeable surface noise on this pic-disc, adding somewhat overall to the cornucopia of weird noises.

Coxhill/Muller/Rutherford – “Milwaukee 2002 ” – [Emanem]

Max Level   12/23/2005   CD, Jazz

Live improvised music, on the quiet side, in solo, duo, and trio formats. Saxophonist Lol Coxhill has been a fixture on the UK improv scene for decades, as has Paul Rutherford on trombone. I was not familiar with German bassist Torsten M’ller before hearing this CD. Although the three players are obviously well-versed on their instruments, they seem to be more concerned here with the range of sounds they can make than they are with recognizable musical technique. Rutherford starts the CD off with a wild 22-minute (!) solo trombone piece. M’ller does a lot of light touching and scraping in his solo bass spot. Coxhill then spends 15 avant-garde minutes with his solo soprano sax. Various duo/trio combinations make up the other three tracks, and those are interesting performances as well. But it’s that fearlessly extended soloing that blows my mind.

Yoshihide, Otomo /New Jazz… – “Dreams ” – [Tzadik]

Max Level   12/23/2005   A Library, CD

Despite the name of the band, jazz isn’t really the major component here. Trumpets and saxes drift in and out, and there are some noisy free-for-alls that might pass for outside jazz, but this CD mostly defies genre classification. It’s an intriguing journey of many moods, among which you’ll find childlike (#1), atmospheric rock ballad (#2), and all-out Ground Zero attack (#7!). Guest vocalists, including the wonderful Jun Togawa, sing/croon/torch/yell in Japanese. Yoshihide foregoes his turntable/noise experiments, instead turning in some fine guitar work, while the horns and rhythm section add just what they should. This is one of the best records I’ve heard in a while, with new discoveries awaiting the listener each time out.

Qbico U-Nite, New York [coll] – [Qbico]

Max Level   12/23/2005   12-inch, Jazz

Free jazz, soundscapes, and various combinations of the two, recorded live at NYC’s Tonic in early 2004. Steve Dalachinsky kicks Side A off with a short excerpt from one of his twisted poems, followed by a long free jazz excursion from drummer Andrew Barker and hornmen Charles Waters and Daniel Carter. On Side B, clarinetist Perry Robinson and bassist Shanir Blumenkranz join the previous three for some lively dialogs. The soundscape elements arrive on Sides C and D, with the inscrutable Arthur Doyle performing both solo (on sax, recorder, and vocals) and with his Electro-Acoustic Ensemble (adding drums, bass, electronics, synth, and turntables), bringing us his distinctive outer space brand of jazz tribalism. Many fine moments. A most enjoyable record.

Ulher/Mallozzi/Zerang – “Landscape:Recognizable ” – [Creative Sources]

Max Level   12/23/2005   A Library, CD

Creative sources indeed. Ulher plays trumpet as a sound source, rather than a ‘musical’ instrument. So she’s blowing, squeaking, sputtering, hissing, and like that. Zerang coaxes subtle sounds from various percussive objects, whistles, bird calls, etc. Mallozzi adds higher-tech input with his CDs, voice material, turntables, and microphones. Once in a while the trio gets a bit of a clamor going, but generally these sound concoctions are on the sparse side, with a backdrop so quiet that every nuance really stands out. Track lengths fall within the 6 – 9 minute range, which is about the right size for unearthly sound pieces like these. Great headphone material.

Insomniac – “Polygonal Planet ” – [Soothsay]

Max Level   12/23/2005   CD, Hip Hop

This instantly recognizable MC probably does stay up all night writing his intense rap poetry, then he brings it hard and fast with a menacing deadpan delivery. The rhymes don’t exactly rhyme most of the time; Insomniac is more about alliteration and word association (…freakish zebra elitists steeped in sequins, keynote speakers…), and he’s a master of syncopating words and phrases over a beat. Check his unreal abilities on “Why Try It” for example. Reminds me of a fighter who jabs, jabs, jabs. In “I’m Serious” he puts on a wanna-be thug character, threatening to step up and take your chicken nuggets if he ever catches your sorry ass at McDonalds. The only thing I’d personally skip here is “T.P. Emergency” and its scatological detail; just not my kind of thing. Spex and Raggedy Andy make jazz/exotica flavored beats, and 5 different DJs cut up voices, etc for added color.

Submission Hold – “What Holds the Elephant Back ” – [G7 Welcoming Committee]

Max Level   12/23/2005   12-inch, A Library

Appalled by a world gone mad, this Vancouver BC band lashes out in all directions, reminding us how far out of control we humans are. Religious/political oppression, media brainwash, enviro-destruction, sexual inequality, etc., why do we allow them to continue? This band has something to say, and I like the way they say it with lyrics that are just abstract enough to let us interpret them more than one way. Vocalist Jen sings in a tender, resigned voice, then screams at us to see the madness and help stop it. Sounds to me like at least some of the lyrics may have existed before being set to music; the rhythm of the words sometimes clashes with the musical flow as though the words are being forced to live there. Appropriate conflict results. The band shifts gears constantly, churning out slow, heavy grind, uptempo ska-beat, high-energy thrash? Many classify them as a punk band but musically SubHold are well beyond that. They are, however, idealistic, strong-willed, pissed off, and 100% sincere, as are the best punk bands.

Quattro, Jesse – “Closer to the Wolf ” – [Utech]

Max Level   12/23/2005   A Library, CD

Not at all what I would have expected from this local chanteuse, but it’s usually not a bad idea for an established artist to throw a curveball or two or three. The shrieking, demon-channeling vocals of Ms. Quattro in such bands as Saint Of Killers and Carneceria is nowhere to be found here on her solo debut. Instead she brings us 16 untitled bedroom recordings, tending toward abstract vocal/sound collages and weird folk experiments processed with tons of reverb and echo and such. She strums guitar on a few tracks, and adds a keyboard on #16. This CD is all over the place, as she seems to be trying to find her musical way. Maybe these recordings will be used as starting points, from which she can take off in any number of directions for further exploration; folky acoustic strumming, looped vocal craziness? Nice to hear her branching out from that excellent shrieking thing that she does like no other. Limited to 100 copies.

Ifwhen – “We Will Gently Destroy You” – Self Released

Max Level   12/23/2005   A Library, CD

Atonal rock from this New York trio: Merc on guitar/ vox/beats, Kentaro on bass, and Mary on keyboards. The material is good and loud, slow-to-mid-tempo, with thick layers of keyboards washing over everything else. Everything else is: programmed drum beats, solid bass lines, and guitar that seems to be mostly fuzz-noise. I can’t make out any of the lyrics, but whatever they are Merc sings every song exactly the same way, soft and dreamy. The band calls its music ‘somewhat disorienting?, and I would not disagree with that. For example, the chord changes make no sense at all that I can determine. It all adds up to a nightmarish (but catchy in a weird way) experience. An aptly titled CD. It will gently destroy you.

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