Max Level

Thomas, Henry – “Bull Doze Blues” – [Mississippi Records]

Max Level   12/4/2012   12-inch, Blues

A totally charming blues album. Thomas, a Texas native who hoboed and railroaded his way all around the country, recorded these tracks way back in the 1920’s. Every song is upbeat and almost jaunty, influenced by the ragtime music popular at that time. Thomas accompanies himself on guitar and one of the most distinctive blues sounds I’ve heard–he plays the quills, a home made panpipe type instrument with its origins in American slavery. He plays it the way another blues singer might play mouthharp and it makes me smile every time he whips it out. His songs especially caught on with west coast blues revivalists of the 1960’s-70s such as Canned Heat, Taj Mahal, and Hot Tuna, who either covered his songs or “borrowed” them to write their own songs. I’m not exactly a blues aficionado–give me Albert King and Big Mama Thornton and I’m happy–but I could not stop playing this once it got its hooks in me.

Maximin, Berangere – “No One Is an Island” – [Sub Rosa]

Max Level   11/27/2012   12-inch, A Library

Studio magic from this French artist. She processes the sounds of her own voice and guitar, and sounds made by four guests, on her laptop to create otherworldly situations not easy to describe, except maybe to say they’re weird and great. Among the guest contributors are Rhys Chatham on trumpet and Christian Fennesz on guitar. A2 is particularly strange, with Ms. Maximin chanting in monotone about something magical, gorgeous, marvelous, and/or fantastic, while a sea of huge guitars rages behind her. Slowed-down voices too. A3 is full of noisy, slurpy electronics. On B3, she processes and multiplies Chatham’s trumpet to the point of madness against an abstract heartbeat. Psychoacoustic Soundclash anyone? Linited to 300 copies on beautiful clear vinyl.

Lean Left – “Live At Cafe Oto” – [Unsounds]

Max Level   11/13/2012   CD, Jazz

Powerful jazz-noise sounds from this international quartet, recorded live in London 2011. The long-running duo of Ken Vandermark (sax, clarinet) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums) is augmented/enhanced/transformed by guitarists Terrie Ex and Andy Moor of The Ex. One guitarist is on the left side of the mix, the other is on the right; together their chaotic electric guitar dialog–a Sonny Sharrock and a half’s worth of chattering, scraping, slashing, and diddling–serves as a wild accompaniment to Vandermark’s fervent reed-blowing and Nilssen-Love’s off the hook drumming. Two long tracks (30+ minutes each) each with noisy sections and quiet sections. Dig in.

Mori, Ikue – “Class Insecta” – [Tzadik]

Max Level   11/6/2012   A Library, CD

Lots of burbling and clicking on this 2009 release of solo laptop electronics. Most tracks are heavily percussive with either machine-made beats or glitchy patterns combined into rhythms and offbeats. The sounds are subtle yet constantly moving. There seems to be some kind of an animation angle to this– perhaps these are soundtracks to animations/videos about insects? If so, these pieces would be perfect for that– bustling insects in groups of thousands, winged insects flitting here and there… I’m a huge fan of Ikue Mori; nobody else does quite what she does.

Helm – “Impossible Symmetry” – [Pan]

Max Level   10/23/2012   12-inch, A Library

Helm is a solo project of Luke Younger, also heard in the duo Birds of Delay. Here’s a nice assortment of electro-acoustic sound constructions pressed on heavyweight vinyl. Quick descriptions of tracks – what I hear, anyway: A1– possibly micro-recordings, whip-like electronics, multi-layer drone. A2– low frequency pulses, subtly ringing metals with an Eno feel, a strange but not unpleasant high-pitched howling. B1– muffled claustrophobics, big time metallic clanging, distant voices (children?) B2– messy semi-power electronics, deep reverbed-out drone. B3– ambient beginning, mostly synthy electronics, bell-like sounds, a wind-tunnel effect. Every piece is different, all of them deep and well put-together.

Blanketship – “Pleated Shorts” – [Gigante Sound]

Max Level   10/16/2012   A Library, CD

A crazy quilt of found music stitched together by Jared Blum aka Blanketship. Thrift store records (scratchy, warped, whatever) are wonderfully repurposed into wobbly, eerie concoctions that are pleasant to listen to. A snippet of this and a section of that over a beat from somewhere else… and where did that voice come from? Just when a piece starts to get catchy, something goes wrong: a bass line in a different key gets added or the beat jumps the rails. Things like that. Lots of fun, needless to say. All tracks under 2 minutes long.

IBM – “Oval Recording, The” – [Mego]

Max Level   10/16/2012   12-inch, A Library

2001 release by Ilpo Vaisanen and Mika Vainio of Pan Sonic with supreme noisemaker Bruce Gilbert. One 12″ and one 7″ in the package. No vocals. No beats. Nothing melodic. It’s all hum and feedback and bursts of static and dirty loops and electronic squelches and crunchy waves of distorted rumbling. On the 12″ there’s one long track on Side A and two medium long tracks on Side B. The 7″ has one short (3 to 4 minute) track on each side. Fantastic material if you want to add a degree of unease to your radio show– play it alone or layer it into a hellish KFJC-style noise mix.

Urabe, Masayoshi – “Kampanerura” – [Utech Records]

Max Level   10/2/2012   A Library, CD

Saxophonist Urabe has played with just about everyone in the Japanese underground music scene. He doesn’t have what I’d call a musical approach; he’s more about picking up an instrument and experimenting with it to see what it can do. He often discovers sounds that no one else seems to have found, and he also isn’t afraid to include a good bit of silence in his artist’s palette. I would describe the tracks on this CD as restrained sound pieces. In addition to saxophone, Urabe can be heard on guitar, percussion, vocal noises, bird calls, chains, and no doubt a few other things. Teruhisa Nanbu (Aural Fit) adds percussion on #2 and #5. Otherwise it’s all Urabe. A worthy addition to Utech’s “Shokyo Ontei” series, which focuses on work by groundbreaking Asian artists.

Hintz, Daniel – “S/t” – [Self-release]

Max Level   10/1/2012   7-inch, A Library

Local dude. Self-described minimalist. Two tracks of solo guitar atop faint background noise such as traffic and voices. All open-string droning-type stuff with no fancy fingering. Hintz either didn’t bother to tune the guitar, or he carefully tuned it to get the desired effect. Does it matter which? To me it doesn’t. One short track on each side of this clear 7″.

Shanley, Scott – “No Title” – [Self-release]

Max Level   8/28/2012   A Library, CD

Here’s an array of soundscape-type things. They never go totally into noise territory, but many of them are heading in that direction. What you get is sample-mania and sound processing. Clicks and cuts. A few dirty rhythms here and there. Layers of muddy electronics. Track 2 has an insistent motorik beat with a three note melody and then other things on top of it–it also has a false ending, fading out and then fading back in again with about a minute to go. Track 13 is much longer than the others–pretty much a rumbling drone throughout. Some of the tracks cut off cold at the end. I enjoyed sitting back and listening to this CD, often wondering how the various sounds were made.

Comiskey – “Relays” – [Self Released]

Max Level   8/28/2012   A Library, CD

A 3-track EP, 16 minutes of chilled-out blisscore from this solo artist, out of the Denver area I believe. Track 1 is haunting and atmospheric with ghostly vocals. Track 2 starts off with bleeps and bloops, then evolves into a layered keyboard drone. Track 3 features a lot of sequenced upper-pitch notes and patterns swirling around. I wish the tracks themselves were a bit longer and this EP had a bit more material on it because I really like what Comiskey’s got going on here.

Musique Fragile [coll] – [Constellation]

Max Level   7/31/2012   12-inch, A Library

A wonderful, beautiful, ambitious release from Constellation. Actually three separate releases by three different artists compiled in one box set. The music is cool and interesting, and the sleeves and goodies (posters, art cards, etc) are all gorgeously screen-printed. Volume 1 in a series and I hope the subsequent releases are as nice as this one.

Disc One: Les Momies De Palerme – “Brulez Ce Couer”
Floating female vocals and somber atmospheres. Xarah Dion and Marie Davidson play Casios, Moogs, Farfisas, harmonium, etc. A3 and B5 are the only tracks with beats.

Disc Two: Khora – “Silent Your Body is Endless”
Matthew Ramolo plays what sounds like keyboards, bells, and stringed instruments. The pieces fall somewhere between drones and loops. Lots of filigree and tinkling stuff. The last track builds up to a multi-layered guitar crescendo that sounds like a noisier Mike Oldfield.

Disc Three: Nick Kuepfer – “Avestruz”
This is the most active and rhythmic of the three discs. Many short tracks, so there’s always something new. Repeating patterns of guitar and accordion and maybe some bowed instruments. Samples and field recordings are used too. Recordings made on 4-track cassette, dictaphone, and laptop. Final track is a live guitar/vocal performance by somebody who isn’t Nick Kuepfer, complete with psychotic birds whistling.

Note: An LP and a CD version of each release is included in the package.


Leaving Earth – “Ejecta” – [Feral Fang Media]

Max Level   7/10/2012   A Library, CD

Leaving Earth is, not surprisingly, all about outer space. It’s two people making sound/noise pieces that indeed sound otherworldly. Some are heavily electronic while others are more like ambient field recordings, from some strange alien fields. A few disembodied and processed voices here and there. Overall this CD has a bit of a muffled sound and a claustrophobic feel; no doubt listening to it from inside a space suit would make it sound like this if it didn’t already sound like this. Track 8 starts with a warning by a military guy to be on the lookout for a secret upcoming war, and Track 9 doesn’t do much until about 30 seconds in; then it’s a computer-generated message warning us of secret government plans and our imminent doom.

Reiko, Ike – “You, Baby” – [Bamboo]

Max Level   7/10/2012   12-inch, International

Sexy Japanese pop from the ’60s-’70s, sung/spoken/breathed by Reiko, who starred in a series of sex-packed action movies full of chases, fights, ripped blouses, and erotic interludes. The music is slow-ish pop with touches of jazz and exotica; horns, guitars, vibes, sax… perfect for the ’60s bachelor pad. Practically every track features Ms. Reiko gasping and moaning with pleasure, and one track (Love Slave) even has spanking/whipping sounds that are answered with… moans of pleasure, of course. Deranged laughing on B5, and a cool soprano sax solo on B6. Many of the songs have a weird extraneous sound that I can’t identify; it sounds like a dog whining at the back door, but I’m sure that’s not the case. No matter–this record will provide a sexy good time for all.

3 Moons – “Kult Ur O Man Cor” – [Psyop Recordings]

Max Level   6/26/2012   A Library, Cassette

Drone-based musical adventures, layered and overdubbed on a 4-track Tascam. You’ll hear some noise elements, scrambled sounds, and messed-up vocals now and then, but for the most part this seems to be guitars and other instruments playing patterns and making textures. Tracks 3, 7, 8, 9 and 10 are pretty laid-back; the other tracks are more on the fidgety side. Nice concepts here. I think this is a one-man project but I’m not sure.

Mezei, Szilard Quintet – “Cerkno” – [Leo Records]

Max Level   6/11/2012   CD, Jazz

Mezei is a Hungarian Serb who composes music for, and plays viola in, all sorts of settings from solo work to duets, trios, and larger ensembles such as this quintet. On this live CD he leads a stellar group (viola, clarinet/sax, piano, bass, and drums) through some adventurous jazz compositions at a 2006 concert. Brainy jazz, but with lots of thrust and movement. These guys are fantastic players and the recording job is just right. Sometimes the sound will remind you of various other jazz groups that feature a violinist, but Mezei’s viola adds a different flavor–mellower and part of the group sound, teaming up with the other instruments and not always clamoring for your attention with high notes and solos. Tracks tend to run into one another, with breaks for applause between only a few of them.

Yves / Son / Ace – “Unsung” – [kill shaman]

Max Level   6/11/2012   7-inch, A Library

Scuzzy solo recordings by Matthew Ford. Short tracks (1 – 2 minutes.) Blues-pop-rock with vocals. Distorted guitars or keyboards or whatever. Everything more overloaded than everything else. Delay pedals. If you like real drumming, forget about it– on this record you get a machine on some tracks and what sounds like a bunch of junk being hit on the others. Cool harmonica on Side B. Dig it.

Simmons, Desmond – “Alone On Penguin Island” – [Wmo]

Max Level   5/28/2012   A Library, CD

Punk-damaged British art rock circa 1979-81. The music is minimal and repetitive with vocalist/guitarist Simmons sort of chant-singing. He’s not doing anything groundbreaking here, but if you liked Wire’s (and Colin Newman’s) early work as I did, you will no doubt find this worth a few spins. The Wire connection is too big to overlook–Newman and his fellow conductors Robert Gotobed, Bruce Gilbert, and Graham Lewis were collaborators, though not all at the same time. Most of the tracks are 1981 studio recordings supervised by Gilbert and Lewis, and I’m not clear on who the players are–unless I’m missing something, no musicians are listed. The drumming on a few tracks sounds Gotobed-ish (yay, a new word!) so I’m guessing it’s him; it could be Simmons playing everything else or maybe Gilbert and Lewis lent a hand. Toward the end of the CD there are several previously unreleased live tracks by three different groups he was involved with, and the musicians are credited on those. The title track is an eerie instrumental.

El Doom & The Born Electric – “El Doom & The Born Electric” – [Rune Grammofon]

Max Level   5/21/2012   12-inch, A Library

Norwegian progressive hard rock that keeps moving through complex arrangements. No tedious riff-rock here. If you like fearless guitar-slinging and a solid rhythm section, this is right up your alley. Ole Petter Andreassen handles lead guitar, did most of the composing, and produced the record. He’s also the singer, and, well… I’m not crazy about his voice; a little of it goes a long way. If they could have gotten, say, Rob Halford in, this would be just about perfect.

Black to Comm – “Earth” – [De Stijl Records]

Max Level   5/21/2012   12-inch, A Library

A looped and layered collage of unusual sound sources such as bells, singing bowls, autoharp, musical saws, vinyl and shellac records, metal objects, and harmonium to name but a few. Originally composed –under the influence of heavy painkillers he says, and it really shows– by Marc Richter (aka Black To Comm) to accompany the silent film “Earth” by Singaporean visual artist Ho Tzu Nyen. The film is a post-apocalyptic vision of the earth strewn with junk and rubbish and many bodies who slowly come to life and then I’m not sure what happens after that. This would seem to be an excellent soundtrack for such a film. Sort of nightmarish but not in a scary way. David Aird contributes odd floating vocals.

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