Max Level

East-West Collective – “Humeurs” – [Rogueart]

Max Level   3/11/2014   A Library, CD

International group, as the name implies. Miya Masaoka and Larry Ochs represent the Bay Area improv scene as they join forces with Didier Petit and Sylvain Kassap of France and Xu Fengxia of China. Seven pieces of music, composed I believe but with ample room for inspired improvisations by the group. Ochs (saxes) and Kassap (clarinets) provide the reeds part of the conversation, Masaoka (koto) and Fengxia (guzheng) make lovely, interesting sounds with their traditional Asian string instruments, and Petit sort of ties it all together with his unusual cello style. Petit and Fengxia also do some vocals. Each player shows tasteful restraint; there is a lot of open space here and nobody tries to take over. It’s cool that five players with such different backgrounds and styles can find common ground and make coherent musical statements like these.

This Morn’ Omina – “Momentum of Singular Clarity” – [Ant-Zen]

Max Level   3/10/2014   A Library, CD

They describe themselves as a Belgian industrial ritual techno band, and I’d say that’s about right. These tracks are rhythm-heavy with synthetic beats, keyboards, and other loud sounds. Every track has voices of some type on it, either minimal, spoken-word lyrics or miscellaneous voice snippets from who knows where buried in the mix, but for the most part the tracks are instrumental. The sounds are not outrageously harsh in a power electronics way, but they are decently abrasive pretty much throughout. Pounding distorted beats, bleak and forbidding sounds–if that’s your thing, I don’t doubt that you will enjoy this. Tracks are in the 4 to 8 minute range.

Holley, Lonnie – “Keeping a Record of It” – [Dust-To-Digital]

Max Level   2/11/2014   12-inch, A Library

This record is a wonderful combination of down-home-comfort-music and what-the-fuck-is-this? Holley is a soulful singer from Alabama (and a sculptor as well) who writes songs and accompanies himself with spacy keyboards and percussion. There are some guests on this record, doing vocals and drums and maybe some other stuff. So far, so good. But wow are Holley’s songs bizarre. Take the first one: we have barely started the record and we’re already hearing about taking six space shuttles and 144,000 elephants, and launching one into space every 60 hours, from here and there and over yonder, to celebrate the Queen’s birthday. All I can think is: what the fuck? If it seems like I’m making fun of his songs, I don’t mean to do that–I’ve just never heard anything like them before and they blow my mind. My favorite song is “From the Other Side of the Pulpit”, a catchy, repetitive, bluesy 13 minute meditation about preachers and poverty and faith. For good measure this track includes seemingly random metallic crashes. The record is full of strangeness like that–it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me but I’m totally hooked on it. Holley is a real piece of work, and I mean that with the highest respect.

Smith, E. Doctor – “Quantum” – [Edgetone Records]

Max Level   1/20/2014   CD, Jazz

All instrumental. Sort of a jazz fusion project but not really. Bandleader Smith plays the Zendrum electronic drum system in basically a trio format with a guitarist and bassist, and there are a couple of guests doing cameos on trumpet and guitar synth. Releases on the fine Edgetone Records label tend to be filed in KFJC’s jazz library, and this one will as well because it does strike me as something from the heavier rock/fusion end of the jazz spectrum. It’s an interesting lineup: Smith’s Zendrum electronic drum-trigger device is pretty rad, and bassist Tom Shiben is all about playing Rickenbackers, to my ears an excellent sound but very un-jazz-like. And then there’s guitarist Jack Wright who can shred like crazy and shines throughout the record. This often has a mid-80s King Crimson vibe or maybe one of those Bruford/Levin/Torn projects. And that’s good stuff. Shiben and Wright composed most of the material. I really got into this.

Osborn, Ed – “Stone North” – [Estuary Ltd.]

Max Level   1/7/2014   A Library, CD

Three pieces (5, 11 and 26 minutes) by mysterious sound artist Osborn, who seems to be affiliated with Mills College and various other institutions of creative music. He uses extended techniques and electronic processing on electric guitars and, on the first piece, amplified skis as a sound source. The ski piece is full of deep roaring sounds, which is evidently what you get if you take skis, amplify them, and coax sounds out of them. The second piece is the most percussive as Osborn bangs on his guitar and its pickups–it’s probably the noisiest track. The third piece is the most electronic sounding with its fractured layers of droning feedback emanating from Osborn’s tabletop guitar. Attractively active ambient works here. The compositions are from 1989, 1992, and 2009.

Moe – “Oslo Janus” – [Conrad Sound]

Max Level   12/10/2013   A Library, CD

Tortured sounds from this Norwegian trio. Noisy sludge-doom-drone with hard-hitting guitar and drums. The bass player, who loves her distortion pedal, also does the vocals, which consist mostly of exclamations, growls, and accusations. Occasionally she’ll use a close-up, confiding tone of voice. I can’t tell what she’s going on about, even though she seems to be doing it in English, but it doesn’t really matter much–I’m willing to bet that the two other members of the band don’t know what the words are either. Track 1 shifts gears a few times with three or four short pieces packed into its 4:20. On Track 4 it sounds like the vocalist is saying “shut the fuck up” several times so be careful with that one. The music is great on that track, though–a satisfying, pummeling sludgefest, and the drummer’s cymbal work is outstanding.Track 6 is a 12:30 instrumental with a lot of strange textural stuff and a repeating bass line of doom. Noise from fucking Norway, man.

Iyer, Vijay & Mike Ladd – “Holding It Down: The Veterans’ Dreams Project” – [Pi Recordings]

Max Level   11/12/2013   A Library, CD

A thought-provoking multimedia project, originally commissioned by Harlem Stage and performed live in 2012. Noted jazz pianist Vijay Iyer composed all the music, which spans a wide range of styles from tensely atmospheric to jazzy to almost heavy rock. The spoken and sung lyrics examine the thoughts and feelings and dreams of veterans of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Veterans of color, that is. Lyrics and vocals are by underground hip hop artist Mike Ladd, a poet named Maurice who served with the Marines, and an Air Force sergeant named Lynn who was responsible for remotely piloting Predator drone bombers. We get a real sense of the awful realities of war and its aftermath through their eyes. A phenomenal effort by Iyer and Ladd, who have been collaborating on various projects for a while. Performance artist/vocalist/composer Pamela Z. also makes some contributions here.

Hana, Anders – “Dead Clubbing” – [Drid Machine]

Max Level   10/8/2013   12-inch, A Library

Noisy instrumentals by Hana, a mainstay of the Norway musical underground, member of Noxagt, Ultralyd, MoHa! and other projects. Hana played everything (guitar, drums, bass, sax, other stuff?) on this record. Sonically, it reminds me of a line of dialogue from John Carpenter’s “The Thing”, when they discover the alien and one guy says “Whatever it is, it’s weird and it’s pissed off.” This is like that… weird, big, distorted, and angry sounding. I don’t hear a lot of variety among the tracks but for what it is it’s pretty good. THIS IS A ONE SIDED TWELVE INCH. AND BY THE WAY THE GROOVES ARE BACKWARDS. PLAY FROM INSIDE OUT.

Holter, Julia – “Loud City Song” – [Domino Records]

Max Level   10/8/2013   A Library, CD

Always quirky, sometimes sultry songs from this L.A. singer/songwriter. She has been compared to Laurie Anderson, Kate Bush, and others; maybe so but I think it’s closer to the quirkiness of someone like Karen Mantler. I also hear the drama of Scott Walker and with all the lush, floaty keyboards (played by Holter) it even dips the occasional toe into Julee Cruise territory. Did I say floaty? Well, her version of Barbara Lewis’s old hit “Hello Stranger” sounds like it’s made of clouds; it’s brilliant. I’m not familiar with most of the musicians on here but I do recognize the names Devin Hoff (bass) and Chris Speed (saxophone.) This CD grew on me more and more with each listen.

Per Purpose – “Implicating More Than One” – [Bedroom Suck]

Max Level   9/2/2013   12-inch, A Library

You know that raw, slashing, stripped-down guitar/bass/drums trio you love, the one that totally rocks out and reminds you why you love that high energy yelling punk stuff? Well forget them–Per Purpose is your new favorite band, hurtling straight out of Australia and aiming to crash and burn on your floor. At home I played this record between High Castle and The Gits and it worked if that gives you any idea. You can’t miss the Aussie accent on the vocals. A1 and A2 are connected by ampbuzznoise. B1 is slower than the others. The chord progression in B3 makes no sense to me. So yeah, everything you want is right here.

Ambarchi/O’Rourke/Haino – “Tima Formosa” – [Black Truffle]

Max Level   8/20/2013   A Library, CD

Name an underground musician doing something of interest and one of these guys has worked with him/her. Maybe two of them have. Possibly all three of them. That’s how much these three get around. This is I believe the third release by this all-star trio, containing two long tracks and one short one, all recorded live in Japan in 2009. Oren Ambarchi makes guitar and amp textures/drones, Jim O’Rourke is on piano, and Keiji Haino does voice, flute, drum machine and vocals. It’s spacy and deep, and the final track (31 mins) has all the loud/soft dynamics you could wish for. Worth exploring.

Inzinzac – “Inzinzac” – [High Two]

Max Level   7/30/2013   CD, Jazz

Multi-national trio (guitar/sax/drums) plays spirited yet convoluted compositions. I guess it’s jazz; it gets loud, I can tell you that much. I love Alban Bailly’s angular guitar technique which sometimes approaches Beefheart territory; he composed all the music too. As much as I like this CD, I must admit that the constant changes of direction and time signature within a piece can be a bit confusing. Maybe I haven’t heard it enough times to really get a grip on it. There are some quiet passages but the music is mostly high energy and exhilarating. I’m willing to bet these guys are a hell of a live band.

RLLRBLL – “4 Corners” – [Nillacat]

Max Level   7/9/2013   12-inch, A Library

This latest release by Portland’s Rllrbll–down from 5 to 4 to 3 members now, and who needs vowels?–is not only a gas to listen to, it’s a great representation of the band’s wide-ranging capabilities. They are musical weirdos for sure and aren’t afraid to try any style they want, or mix a track in a crazy way. The thing is, there are solid instrumental chops supporting the weirdness; that makes it easy (for me anyway) to follow wherever the band leads. Mae is a talented keyboardist, and the rhythm section (Monte on bass, Gilles on drums) is tight and creative. I don’t mean to give the other members short shrift, but for me Mae’s vocals are probably the biggest thing that make this band sound like this band. Put a vocal track on and boom, hey it’s Rllrbll. There are too many highlights on this record to name them all, but here are a few parts I like: #4 is a cooker with a really catchy chorus, the AfroSambaBeat of #6 was made for the dance floor, and #7 is an unmelodic, semi-industrial rhythm ‘n’ noise thing that jumps out of the speakers. #8 brings in some moody accordion. #9 would remind me of Joy Division if JD had been big on squinky keyboards and fuzzboxes. The record ends with a trip-hoppy noir-ish kind of thing. Tracks are all in the 3 to 5 minute range, so you never have to wait long to get to the next chapter. This band rules.

Ex, The & Brass Unbound – “Enormous Door” – [Ex Records]

Max Level   7/2/2013   A Library, CD

A batch of uptempo rockers featuring the aggressive, driving guitars/drums/vocals of The Ex, fleshed out this time by a 4-man horn section (Brass Unbound.) It doesn’t hurt that the horn section includes Mats Gustafsson and Ken Vandermark, relentless collaborators and stalwarts of the international avant-jazz scene. The music does veer off into jazzier territory here and there, but for the most part you can expect to hear big doses of guitar riff weirdness, busy drumming, and odd lyrics from The Ex with an added punch from the horn guys. Good and noisy and I think it works.

Bad News From Houston – “In The Valley of The Cloudbuilder” – [Post-Consumer]

Max Level   5/21/2013   A Library, CD

I’ve been enjoying listening to this but it did take me a few plays to get a handle on it. I decided that the general thrust of this material is something that combines recognizable music with pure sound– a cool space to work in. The protagonists Thollem McDonas (pianos/sounds) and John Dieterich (guitars/sounds) need little introduction, as their various projects and bands and collaborations have been making waves for a number of years. But what’s going on here is probably different from what we may have heard them do before. The instruments sound to me as though they might be mic’d in unusual ways, emphasizing the percussive, hands-on, non-musical aspects of playing music, if that makes sense. The music is fragmented, extended techniques (I think) are sometimes used in playing it, and there are some sounds in the mix that come from who knows where… all of which encourage the question of whether this is about music or sound or both. Being about both is not a bad thing.

Black Pus – “All My Relations” – [Thrill Jockey Records]

Max Level   5/21/2013   A Library, CD

Solo project by Brian Chippendale (Lightning Bolt, Mindflayer). This would go straight into KFJC’s Fucked Up Shit library (joining Salmigondis, Blue Sabbath Black Fiji, etc…) if we had such a thing. Chippendale’s loud, busy drumming is the foundation, and he somehow manages –don’t ask me how– to drown that out a lot of the time with crusty oscillator-type moaning and groaning, random whooshes of raw noise, diseased loops, and vocals pretty much serving as yet another a noise element. No idea what’s going on here, and not only that I hate the name of the project. I’d play this on the air, though, just to mess with people. Which leads me to believe that plenty of other KFJC DJ’s would probably do the same.

Oliveros, Pauline – “Primordial / Lift” – [TAIGA Records]

Max Level   4/9/2013   12-inch, A Library

A 1998 work by Deep Listening/drone maven Oliveros, based somehow on the slowly changing resonant frequency of the earth and its connection (I think) to magnetic field variance. An earlier performance of this piece was released on CD but this is a new performance from 2010, released here for the first time in 2012 to commemorate Oliveros’s 80th birthday. Violin, cello, guitar, accordion, sampler, oscillator, glass, and voice create tense drones with textural scraping, moaning instruments, and some loop-style repetitive figures here and there. More a sound/science journey than a musical one. Taiga did a typically nice job here, releasing this in a limited edition of 500 copies, on that heavyweight vinyl we love.

Kandinsky Effect, The – “Synesthesia” – [Cuneiform Records]

Max Level   4/8/2013   CD, Jazz

A rough and dirty sort of jazz-rock. This Franco-American sax/drums/electric bass trio plays music with surprising twists and turns, clever rhythmic variations, and nice bass chord action. What’s cool is that they spice up their sounds with laptop and various other effects. Sometimes it’s subtle–a slight echo or whatever–other times an instrument gets tweaked and warped into a strange new thing. This isn’t dangerous crazy jazz–it has an element of refinement and no one is going to mistake this for one of Peter Brotzmann’s groups–but if you want some nice funk grooves and intriguing compositions you can count on these guys. For some reason this reminds me of a Jim Black project such as Alas No Axis.

Quin, Douglas – “Fathom” – [TAIGA Records]

Max Level   3/5/2013   12-inch, A Library

Field recordings from the Arctic (Side A) and the Antarctic (Side B). Or to be more accurate, water recordings as these were recorded from an underwater perspective using hydrophones. Walruses, whales, seals, orcas, icebergs. Gurgling, clicking, crashing, animal sounds. B2 could pass as an electronic music piece but evidently is nothing but naturally produced sounds–amazingly abstract and otherworldly. Tracks are in the vicinity of 8 to 12 minutes in length. A super nice release from Taiga Records with gorgeous, subtle letterpress/embossed artwork and packaging.

Cherry Five – “Cherry Five” – [Cinevox]

Max Level   3/5/2013   A Library, CD

1975. Goblin before they were Goblin. I’m not sure if the personnel is exactly the same in both bands, but this is where popular Italian prog band Goblin got their start as a unit. This album, Cherry Five’s only record, is a fun listen that doesn’t deviate much from the 70’s progressive rock formula: good musicianship, complicated arrangements with jazzy touches, odd meters, songs about who knows what… The music is all over the place but mostly upbeat and it moves along pretty well. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find this a bit too similar to other 70’s bands of this genre: early Yes for the meticulous vocal harmonies and Squire-like bass playing, ELP/The Nice for the aggressive keyboards, Genesis for the sweeping mellotrons and Hackett-like moments in the guitar (and one song even has a “Watcher of the Skies”-type riff)… maybe some Gentle Giant, some Focus… I like this mostly because it evokes a musical era I was a fan of, but I don’t think it’s particularly original.

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