Max Level

Kelvox 1 – “Grazed Red” – [Aagoo]

Max Level   4/24/2012   12-inch, A Library

Here’s a UK trio (synths/sampler,bass,and guitar/vox) spinning out two long mesmerizing tracks. The starting point seems to be a yearning kind of 80’s-style pop, but it’s slowed down and floating in a sea of extreme reverb. Sort of like Human League on quaaludes. The vocals, somewhat down in the mix, seem tuneful but they aren’t really–they’re just kind of there every once in a while during the side-long tracks; meanwhile all kinds of other stuff is happening: snakey guitar lines, deep bass tones, minimal but insistent programmed percussion, dub effects coming and going, subtly layered synths, and many sounds of indeterminate origin. Side B is the noisier of the two; more industrial sounding I guess. Both sides are well worth experiencing.

Kommissar Hjuler Und Mama Baer & Ninni Morgia/Silvia Kastel – “Two Couples” – [Ultramarine]

Max Level   2/28/2012   12-inch, A Library

This record is just too damned weird. Deranged German couple on one side, incomprehensible Italian couple on the other. On the Kommissar/Mama side there is talking, and somebody repeatedly hitting something squeaky, then Mama’s agitated voice shrieks and wails and howls while Kommissar taps/bangs rhythmically on a guitar. Two short pieces and one long one; all of them cut off suddenly. The Ninni/Silvia side is more listenable and less random sounding than the other side, but still kind of a mess. It seems to be mostly electronic sounds, and there is nothing I recognize as a voice until the last track, which is probably the closest thing to music on this record–all psychedelic guitars and heavy reverb, and eventually some Yoko Ono-inspired squealing atop a throbbing background. I kind of enjoyed listening to it but now have a headache as a result.

Sachiko – “Anro” – [Utech Records]

Max Level   2/28/2012   A Library, CD

One track, 37 minutes long. Sachiko (from Overhang Party and other projects) journeys alone through a strange, unknown place, offering her voice, viola, recorder, and percussion as her prayers for safe passage and understanding. Though the traveler is surrounded on all sides by unknowable ancient things watching, the path must be followed. This hypnotic, ritualistic piece sounds like an apprehensive walk through a fog-shrouded Japanese drone-forest at dusk. Eerie and powerful.

Lost Domain, The – “Drunken Sailor” – [Negative Guest List]

Max Level   2/20/2012   7-inch, A Library

Side A of this 7″ presents us with a heavy mixture of blurting horns, fuzzy guitar and organ, stiff drumming, and a few gruff vocals, lashed together into a loud clunky version of the traditional lament “What Can You Do With a Drunken Sailor?” If Old Time Relijun jammed with Painkiller, it might sound like this. On Side B we encounter a rough and treacherous tone-scape type of thing with moaning instruments, feedback, and cymbals. Recorded (rather badly) in 1999.

Mimeo – “Wigry” – [Monotype]

Max Level   2/20/2012   12-inch, A Library

Four side-long sound worlds to get lost in. Here is an orchestra of ten, armed with synths, computers, sampler, electronics, prepared guitar, and a piano, playing live in a beautiful old church in Poland. The naturally reverberating interior of the church adds a pleasantly warm depth to the proceedings. These players have been working together for over a decade, so they know how to listen, what to add, and when. Nearly 90 minutes of material here, constantly moving, layering, shifting, droning, ringing, humming, clicking… to me it seemed to be one collective organism evolving and changing, not ten separate people making sounds, and I really enjoyed it from that perspective. Each side has a range of sounds from soft to loud, but overall Sides A/B are the quieter sides, and Sides C/D are noisier and get more intense.

Mattin – “Exquisite Corpse” – [Azul Discografica]

Max Level   1/31/2012   12-inch, A Library

Just so you know, I saw a review online that called this “one of the most unlistenable records ever.” Here’s the deal: Anarchist punk improvising artist noisemaker Mattin (Basque by birth but now a troublemaking citizen of the whole damned world) wrote a batch of extreme, socially conscious, the-world-is-fucked lyrics and recorded them in his jabbering nonsense of a voice. Then he enlisted three musicians (guitar/piano, bass, and drums) to come up with backing music, giving them exactly three minutes per song to do whatever they wanted and only one take to get each song right. And oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention that none of the players ever heard the others or even the vocals; they had the lyrics for inspiration and that’s all. They had no idea what the vocals sounded like or how the other musicians were dealing with key, tempo, or style. Not that it mattered. Mattin piled the parts one on top of another and called it a mix. Boom, done. It sounds pretty much like you would expect it to, all loud chaos and sharp-edged randomness, making absolutely no sense. I enjoyed this record in spite of it being completely unlistenable.

Interplanetary Remixes [coll] – [Wfmu]

Max Level   1/30/2012   CD, Jazz

Our friends at WFMU put their own spin on Sun Ra’s music with a wide variety of results. He is a good candidate for remixing because that loose space shuffle of his always seems to have plenty of room in it for just about anything: skronky saxophones, June Tyson’s distinctive vocals, odd dialogue and spoken word passages, doo-wop, Batman clips, some droning things… His spirit and energy pervade these tracks no matter what WFMU’s intrepid remixers came up with. Obviously a labor of love, the music mutated but with respect for the original, and I think Sun Ra would have appreciated it.

Center Down [coll] – [Nodak Records]

Max Level   1/17/2012   7-inch, A Library

Bombastic crustcore from Chicago bands Arriver and The Swan King on this split 7″.
I read something that said one of the songs is about people forced to resort to cannibalism and the other is about aliens destroying the earth. Cool. Both sides are big and heavy and very satisfying musically.

Cross, Tara – “Tara Cross 1982-89” – [Vinyl on Demand]

Max Level   1/17/2012   12-inch, A Library

A girl, her keyboards, and a cheap drum machine. Cross was based in New York during the ’80s, and released her somewhat eccentric music mostly on cassettes. This impressive 4-LP set on heavyweight vinyl collects maybe a half a dozen of those releases along with some collaborations and appearances on various compilations. There are tracks with a gently techno-ish feel, goofy new wave songs, and many nicely-layered keyboard extravaganzas. Many of the tracks remind me of Bill Nelson’s solo projects from the same time period, with perhaps a bit of Brian Eno in there too. She sings and also uses some found-sounding vocals–guys talking in French and stuff like that; maybe it’s movie dialogue? Track lengths range from about 1 minute to nearly 7 minutes. Approximately half of them are instrumental. This ambitious box set is a great historical document and if it’s your first–as it was for me–exposure to Tara Cross’s music, I encourage you to dive in and check it out. She was definitely onto something.

Video Door [coll] – [Culture Dealer]

Max Level   1/4/2012   A Library, CD

Track after track of basically the most random material imaginable. It’s the soundtrack, if you want to call it that, of a twisted video (VHS!) collection from the Culture Dealer folks. Music, dialog snippets, mysterious noises… Much of it has that slightly shaky audio quality that makes old VHS tapes so much fun. If it helps, I can tell you that the videos themselves are also completely random: cut-ups of source material from bad commercials, horror movies, newscasts… some of them modified by the video artists, some of them left in their original state. It would be cool to hear DJs drop a few of these little gems into their shows here and there to add a bit of spice.

Preston, Don / Centazzo, Andrea – “Escape From 2012” – [Ictus]

Max Level   1/2/2012   CD, Jazz

When esteemed keyboardist/synthesist Preston joins forces with percussionist Centazzo, it’s all about inventive sound constructions heavy on dynamics and coloration. Each time one of the pieces in this 2010 concert recording starts, the listener really has no idea where it will end up. Preston proves he can lay down some serious jazz piano in addition to concocting startling synth sounds. Also nice to hear Preston playing the double bass–I was not aware this instrument was in his arsenal. Centazzo adds a wide range of techniques, from melodic tuned percussion to thundering doom. Both players have impressive credentials, Preston having worked with Gil Evans, Frank Zappa, and Carla Bley among many others, and Centazzo with Elliott Sharp, Derek Bailey, and Evan Parker to name just a few.

Lemur – “7” – [Plus 3DB]

Max Level   12/13/2011   A Library, CD

Norwegian instrumental quartet with a distinctive sound. Flute, French horn, cello, and double bass. The material sounds improvised, ebbing and flowing, full of squirts and squeaks and rubs. The players are skillful and they know just what to add where as they build their sonic landscapes. Hild Sofie Tafjord (French horn) has played with the noisy avant-garde projects Fe-mail and Spunk, and Lene Grenager (cello) was also in Spunk–that’s all I know about this group. While I wouldn’t call this jazz music, the boundaries of jazz probably stretch far enough these days to include cool improvised sounds such as these.

Oliveros, Pauline – “Roots of The Moment, The” – [Hat Hut Records Ltd]

Max Level   12/13/2011   A Library, CD

Spacey drones in droney spaces. Recorded in Switzerland in 1987, this material offers a glimpse of the vastness of outer space. That’s what Joe McPhee says in the liner notes, anyway. Oliveros, for at least half a century an undeniable force in modern music, lays out drifting accordion lines that do indeed suggest a simple, infinite universe. At the same time, the composer could be suggesting a universe that folds back upon itself and asks questions. I hear an occasional hint of Terry Riley’s intricately patterned work in this music. A 2006 Hat Hut release.

COUM Transmissions – “Sugarmorphoses” – [Dais]

Max Level   12/12/2011   12-inch, A Library

An interesting audio document in the form of two side-long tracks. Genesis P-Orridge (Psychic TV, Throbbing Gristle, etc) made these recordings in 1974 while he was working with the somewhat perverse COUM Transmissions art collective. I’m not entirely sure what the group was up to–it seems to have involved prostitution and performance art among other things. The action took place in the depths of poverty in an old leaky house without plumbing, but at least there were tape recorders and a piano hanging around. The piano was painted blue and was, one might say, tuning-challenged. Murky experimental sounds ensued, with layers of radio-transmission type voices, rambling piano playing, and tape manipulations. G.P-O gives us a detailed history of the situation on the album insert.

Kretzmer, Yoni – “Overlook” – [Out Now Recordings]

Max Level   11/29/2011   CD, Jazz

Not afraid to step outside, these guys. It’s all about forward-thinking jazz with this sax/bass clarinet/bass/drums quartet. Tenor saxophonist Kretzmer in particular colors way outside the lines when he gets going. He also wrote all the material, and his compositions seem fairly complex. There is a wide range of sounds here–some of the tracks have an abstract, almost soundscape feel, while others are more aggressive and feature a lot of moving parts. Track #7 has a blues vibe and all of the guys get to do solos on it. The final track (#9) has a minute of silence in the middle for some reason, starting at around 4 minutes in, and then the band comes back for a strong finale.

Jandek – “Where Do You Go From Here” – [Corwood Industries]

Max Level   11/29/2011   A Library, CD

I really don’t know what to make of Jandek–this is not at all what I expected one of his records to sound like. Spacious, mostly instrumental tone pieces here with piano, guitar, drums and percussion, a bit of harmonica, and minimal vocals on a few tracks. Not sure where this fits into the KFJC library genre-wise; some of these pieces could be inserted for subversive purposes into a spaced-out jazz set; others would seem right at home next to Floating Flower or even Deerhoof. I dig the overall atonalism. Vocals on 4, 5, 9 & 10.

Wooley, Nate / Lonberg-holm, Fred / Roebke, Jason – “Throw Down Your Hammer and Sing” – [Porter Records]

Max Level   11/8/2011   CD, Jazz

Five lengthy tracks of sound-based improv played on trumpet, cello, and upright bass, with just a touch of electronics. It’s mostly a sputtering, scraping approach as the pieces ebb and flow through varying levels of intensity. Everything becomes a percussion instrument at some point. There is considerable overlap in the tonal registers of the instruments (such as the low trumpet / high cello, and the low cello / high bass) so it’s not always clear who is making which sound. None of the tracks jumped out and overshadowed the others; I found all of them to be full of creative ideas and equally interesting to listen to.

Negative Lifestyle – “Panic” – [Deranged Records]

Max Level   11/7/2011   7-inch, A Library

Come on now, who doesn’t love a good punk 7-inch? Check out this Swedish three-piece outfit, keeping the punk flame burning bright with seven short headbanging tracks (longest is 2:08). I can’t tell what they’re singing about, but I never knew what Fear was singing about either and it didn’t matter. Totally raw and great.

Lasqo, Joe – “Turquoise Sessions” – [Edgetone Records]

Max Level   10/25/2011   CD, International

Solo piano and a fine listening experience. On his website Lasqo describes this work as “Ancient musics from Japan and India in 21st-century modernist interpretations”, which sounds about right to me. He combines North and South Indian raga forms, traditional Japanese flute music, some classical techniques, and solo jazz-based piano improvisation into longish pieces that are unpredictable throughout yet quite nice to listen to. I don’t think I have enough of an understanding of international and modern classical music forms to truly appreciate what Lasqo is doing–a raga constructed from something called an All-Interval Hexachord would be just one example– so I let him do all the driving and I just go along for the ride. I ended up liking this CD quite a lot. Tracks range from 6:38 to 24:48 in length.

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