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Phil Phactor

Beauty School – “Crust Immersed” – [Weird Ear]

Phil Phactor   9/19/2018   A Library, CD

A bashing, clattering, scraping mess from this trio of Bay Area weirdos,  namely Tom Djll on trumpet and electronics, Jacob Felix Heule on percussion and electronics and Matt Chandler on bass guitar (ex. Burmese). Group noise has the potential to sidestep the wank-factor inherent in solo noise, and this release is a good example. It’s difficult to tell who’s doing what, but you can hear that everyone’s listening, stretching their capabilities, and competing to deliver the most brutal blow. The result is chaotic, claustrophobic, and abrasive, not to mention a bit of an endurance test. The first track is 10 minutes, and they get longer from there. Originally released on cassette, Tom Djll made this CD-R just for us. Should be deeply satisfying for both free jazz-ers and noise freaks alike.

Alto! – “LP3” – [Trouble In Mind]

Phil Phactor   9/19/2018   12-inch, A Library

Pit veterans Alto! return with their third LP and they’re sticking with their track naming strategy, which means we start off with ‘Piece 14.’ Bells and hand percussion are soon joined by a chunky synth melody and then—woah, is that a whistle—we’re off into Señor Coconut territory. Do not miss the killer flute solo a little over halfway through. There’s the occasional sinister guitar stab, but combustion will have to wait, as this weirdo world groover stays the course. The next track, ‘Piece 12,’ opens with some late-night minor-key guitar noodles, and then BOOM, depress the pedal and it’s just non-stop doom riffage. Eventually the dust settles, and we’re back to our Tunisian opium den. A bongo player emerges out of the shadows, and it’s all over. Or is it? The flip is marked as two tracks, but they track together to form an extended percussion and synth workout in the vein of the opener. Has the torch of the mystics been passed?

Shep and Me – “Nasturtium Inertia” – [Dear Skull Records]

Phil Phactor   9/5/2018   12-inch, A Library

Vinyl re-issue of a 2009 cassette and our first release from the (now-defunct?) Dear Skull label. This is dark, drony music for the nighttime. More specifically, this feels like Loren Mazzacane Connors meets The Microphones, as plaintive melodies rise up from the murk of lonely guitar lines and scratchy field recordings. Gets deeper with every listen. A project of Matthew Himes, who also records as Mole Hole and runs the Lighten Up Sounds label, which appears to still be going.

Raghu, Palghat / Subramanium, V.V. – “Bhavalu / Impressions” – [Nonesuch Records]

Phil Phactor   8/29/2018   12-inch, International

South Indian (Carnatic) instrumental music played by an ensemble featuring Palghat Raghu on mrindagam, the Indian barrel drum, and V.V. Subramaniam on violin. The violin was introduced to India in the late 1700s, and it’s fascinating to hear its sound was radically transformed through the use of ‘alternate’ tunings and modified techniques (including the use of oiled fingers to facilitate slides.) The mrindagam has a sharper and more powerful sound than the tabla, and it often takes the lead, for example on side A. The music of the north and south are both based on ragas, or modes, but in the south these are supplemented by composed, and often intricate, melodies upon which further improvisations are built. As a result, the music on this album requires a little bit of focus on the part of the listener, but it’s well worth it!

Khoury, Mike – “Tocsin” – [Detroit Improvisation]

Phil Phactor   8/22/2018   A Library, CD

A set of three pieces for solo violin, with and without electronics, all composed to accompany the dances of Leyya Tawil. On the first track, Tawil’s footfalls share sonic space with Mike Khoury’s barely there harmonic flutters. There’s a lot of space in this piece, and you’re left to imagine the visual element. The second track opens with a slow, repeated chime, but quickly grows into a sprawling morass of wailing drones as Khoury utilizes electronics to double and triple up on himself. Eventually, everything fades away, and the piece ends on the same note it started. The last track is similar to the first one, with Khoury upper harmonic explorations mingling with the suggestive sounds of bodily motion, both dissipating into the reverberant space. This limited edition CD-R was released on Khoury’s own Detroit Improvisation label, founded in order to document his personal journey as an improviser.

Xu/Xu – “Alma” – [self]

Phil Phactor   8/1/2018   A Library, CD

Xu/Xu is apparently pronounced “FuckYouSlashingFuckerYou,” and is the alias of a certain Hidinori Noguchi from Japan (no relation to the coffee table, I presume). A palette of clattering, claustrophobic percussion, deeeeeeeeep rumbling bass, glitched-up white noise, and cavernous reverb undergirds these three very satisfying tracks of post-Basic Channel technoise experimentation. The middle track (Concha) is the funkiest of the three, bringing to mind an especially-deranged Vladislav Delay, but none of these are going to fill a dancefloor. A jagged edge of an EP, that stabs you at every opportunity, and is over far too soon. (Limited edition of 10 CD-Rs with hand-painted aluminum plate.)

Hennies, Sarah – “Embedded Environments” – [Blume]

Phil Phactor   7/24/2018   12-inch, A Library

Sarah Hennies is a composer and percussionist currently based in Ithaca, NY. She is a part of the long-running experimental percussion trio Meridian, alongside Tim Feeney and Greg Stuart. She writes:

“Percussionists are unique not because we lack ‘an instrument,’ but because we are the only instrumentalists with the freedom to define ourselves. In this malleable space lies a commonality between percussion and queer/trans identities in that they are most easily defined by what they are not. A queer person is not straight, a percussionist is not a cellist, a transgender person is not cisgender.”

Okay, but what does it sound like? This LP is made up of two sidelong pieces for four percussionists. Side A, “Foragers,” is the quiet side, beginning with a soft, low rumble that continues…and continues…and continues. Other sounds emerge, twinkling, outer space sounds that could be electronic, but they’re not. And then the whole thing fades away. Side B features the title track and is the loud side. Much more obviously drum-derived, this is crashing and cacophonous but somehow also calm and meditative. Both pieces were recorded in a large grain silo, which subsumes everything in a massive, cavernous wash of reverb. Fascinating stuff.

Duncan, George – “Mondegreen” – [Kinda Is Records]

Phil Phactor   7/11/2018   A Library, CD

Lo-fi bedroom shambles from the mysterious George Duncan and an array of fellow travelers. Lots of jingle-jangle guitar along with banjo and tambourine and a sort of studied sloppiness that brings to mind nineties slacker rock or maybe Sunburned Hand of the Man at their most subdued. Duncan’s voice is a bit of an acquired taste: nasal, often trembling, sometimes reaching for an intensity it can’t quite pull off. (So, par for the course.) The mood is mostly hushed and confessional, with some goth moments as well as the occasional acid flashback. Tracks 3, 10, and 14 feature some quite beautiful string playing. FCC on 2.

Applebaum, Mark – “Speed Dating” – [Innova Recordings]

Phil Phactor   6/13/2018   A Library, CD

Mark Applebaum teaches at Stanford and his compositions are said to pose “challenges to the conventional boundaries of musical ontology.” He has also given a TED talk on boredom. Both of these facts come to mind when listening to the first three tracks of this CD, which comprise the piece “Three Unlikely Coroporate Sponsorships.” The composer is credited with playing ‘rant,’ but it’s a strange sort of ranting. Each movement starts with a spoken brand name, repeated, slowly morphing into other words, related in sound but not in meaning, decorated with cookie cutter glitches and delivered at hyper-speed. It’s something like a manic version of Amirkhanian’s text-sound compositions. It’s certainly not boring, but is it enjoyable?

The other tracks are more conventional, at least on the surface. Clicktrack (T7) delivers an array of percussive sounds arranged in Cagean fashion. Skeletons In The Closet (T4) features eight analog synths squelching and belching away, and the title track (T5) is your source for classic dissonant string sounds.

Louise, Sarah – “VDSQ Solo Acoustic Vol.12” – [Thin Wrist]

Phil Phactor   5/23/2018   12-inch, A Library


There’s a gently flowing Appalachian stream and then there’s the vastness of the cosmos, and hovering somewhere in between is Sarah Louise. Something about the way her 12-string is tuned bathes all that rapid fingerpicking in a soft glow, so that you’re never quite sure if you’re listening to John Fahey or Tangerine Dream. This record is from 2016 and is part of VDSQ’s solo acoustic series. 2018 sees a Thrill Jockey release as well as an LP reissue of her 2015 cassette on Scissor Tail. All tracks are in the 4-6 minute range.

Usiende Ukalale: Omutibo From Rural Kenya [coll] – [Mississippi Records]

Phil Phactor   4/18/2018   12-inch, International

Omutibo is a style of Kenyan folk music that combines storytelling with intensely rhythmic fingerpicking guitar. It was developed by guitarist George Mukabi in the early 1950s, who took inspiration from the traditional nyatiti lyre and sukuti drum. The style proved to be wildly popular, and Mukabi sold hundreds of thousands of records throughout East and Central Africa. Over 50 years later, Cyrus Moussavi (Raw Music International) traveled to Kenya to visit many of the original musicians and record them in their homes. While George Mukabi himself is not featured here (he passed in 1963 at the age of 33), we do hear music from his son Johnstone. Joyous, life-affirming songs, and an essential document.

Parker, Evan / Lazro, Daunik / McPhee, Joe – “Seven Pieces Live At Willisau 1995” – [Clean Feed]

Phil Phactor   4/11/2018   CD, Jazz


Clean Feed brings the goods once again with this document of a 1995 meeting of three titans of the modern saxophone. From the opening long-held tones of “Echoes of Memory,” it’s clear that this is going to be a conversation, not a shouting match. These guys know how to play, but they also know how to listen. Moments reminiscent of a Bach fugue evolve effortlessly into moments of unbridled free play. This recording has been remastered from cassette, and the tape hiss and occasional cough really help in the feeling of being there. The track “Florid” (T4) is solo Evan Parker, and it is one of his classic circular-breathing ascending-to-heaven epics. Worth the price of admission all by itself. The last track ends with extended rhythmic clapping.

Cambien, Jonas Trio – “Zoology of The Future, a” – [Clean Feed]

Phil Phactor   3/14/2018   CD, Jazz

Modern, quirky, jazz miniatures from this trio of Europeans. It’s the very opposite of a skronk-fest, as all the tracks are composed (at least in part), and most clock at under five minutes. The compositions are highly rhythmic, with the melodic material hinting at all kinds of things from modern classical to lounge jazz. A polite, measured treat.

Kim, Roger – “Portrait Maker” – [Self Produced]

Phil Phactor   3/6/2018   A Library, CD

Achingly gorgeous work from local talent Roger Kim. Delicate melodies lushly arranged for an ensemble of strings, woodwinds, voice, guitar, and piano create a fairy-tale atmosphere. Drift off into a strange and wonderful new world…

Rich, Robert – “Biode, The” – [Soundscape Productions]

Phil Phactor   2/28/2018   A Library, CD

High priest of the chill-out room Robert Rich returns with this satisfying collection of slithering, shimmering, seething electronic ambience. The beats range from absent to gently propulsive, but you probably won’t be tempted out of your bean bag chair. Eastern-tinged melodies rise up out of the electronic murk and then fall again. On first listen, some of the tracks can sound rather simple, but there’s lots of hidden detail for the patient listener.

HMS – “Tetrad” – [Astral Spirits]

Phil Phactor   2/14/2018   A Library, Cassette


Yes, it’s another genre-defying release from the folks at Astral Spirits. Climb aboard the HMS Tetrad! You’ll find delicate drumwork, disembodied violin, and other things too, but mostly there is just the deep, dark vastness of the sea. These tense and drony soundscapes bring to mind a darker, fuzzed-out version of The Necks, and that’s high praise as far as I’m concerned. Retriever (T2) is the highlight.

Similar Fashion – “Portrait of” – [Self Produced]

Phil Phactor   2/14/2018   A Library, CD

Dancey, sunny, art-pop from this L.A.-based quartet led by Logan Hone, whose solo album recently sailed through Current. There’s a west African feel to a lot of these tracks, and an Arthur Russell feel as well. The pop song format gets turned upside down and inside out and spiked with ??some delicious bits of free improvisation, but the groove is never far away. Logan Hone’s earnestly weird lyrics evoke the joy of living in California and the joy of living in general. If this doesn’t put a smile on your face, there’s probably something wrong with you.

Computer – “Internet” – [Skrot Up]

Phil Phactor   1/31/2018   12-inch, A Library

This is an album called ‘Internet’ by an outfit calling themselves ‘Computer,’ and well it sounds exactly like you think it would. Which is to say, cliched synth squiggles, slapdash Youtube sampling, text-to-speech, wrong-speed experiments, gratuitous power chords, all chopped up and run through Ableton by a pair of millennials on an Adderall/weed bender. Another reviewer writes: “just a big dump of digital trash that cannot be avoided.”

Gerowitz, Joshua – “Solano Canyon” – [Pfmentum]

Phil Phactor   1/16/2018   CD, Jazz

This is the debut album from Socal-based guitarist Joshua Gerowitz, and it’s exceedingly hard to pin down. The lead-off track seems simple enough, with the horns blowing over a swinging, dad-jazz vamp, when all of a sudden Gerowitz launches a fuzzed-out attack and blows things wide open. The Hamburger Isand tracks (T2, T5, T7) are noisy, vocal-led drone improvisations and available in a variety of track lengths for your programming convenience. Morning Landscape Illusion (T4) is a bluesy dirge with lots of filigreed horn work that slowly builds in intensity. Last track is a lonely, looper-ed, Bill Frisell-style send off.