Music Reviews

Kero One – “Windmills of the Soul ” – [Pluglabel]

Max Level   3/8/2006   12-inch, Hip Hop

Local MC/producer raps full of positivity over clean, jazzy backing tracks. Kero One’s lyrics are about moral choices and making the right decisions. He’s not preaching, it’s all told from a personal viewpoint: this is what happens to the young man and this is how he deals with it. What goes on every day in real life isn’t pimpin’ and big bankrolls- it’s going to school, working a job, staying positive, and making music that means something. No, it’s not glamorous in an MTV-video-full-of-half-naked-bitches-and-a-ton-of-bling way, but I bet you can relate to what he’s saying, and that’s all that matters. The beats are dope- not weird at all, just totally funky. Kero One plays real live instruments himself (bass, keyboards) and has a few guests on sax, guitar, keyboards, and vocals. Production help by DJ King Most. All tracks clean. Dig the message!

Farrah, Shamek – “First Impressions ” – [Strata-East]

Max Level   3/8/2006   12-inch, Jazz

Impressive 1974 material by this somewhat obscure alto saxophonist. Farrah, Norman Person (trumpet), and Milton Suggs (bass), fine players all, are on every track, working with a different pianist and drummer on each side. Side One includes a straight-ahead bebop-style cooker and a ballad number. Side Two leans more toward the funky, with a couple of extra percussionists, and some especially good work by pianist Sonelius Smith. The title track is outstanding, with its meandering melodic lines and thoughtful soloing over a massively funky groove. I was not familiar until now with the excellent Strata-East label, which reportedly released somewhere around 50 albums during its existence. They focused on the jazz aspect of raised Black consciousness in 1970s America, with powerful releases by Clifford Jordan, Charles Brackeen, Pharoah Sanders, and Gil Scott-Heron, to name but a few. Needless to say, material not to be slept on.

Chicago Underground Duo – “In Praise of Shadows ” – [Thrill Jockey Records]

Thurston Hunger   3/3/2006   12-inch, Jazz

More free flow jazz, cut on lines of effortlessness but
sharpened by harder materials. Rob Mazurek and Chad Taylor
have the sort of telepathy other duos would die for. On this
lp they intersect on some keys in the physical plane, but
ebb and flow on higher highways. This is the preeminent modern
soul jazz. Dizzyingly sweet with the fragrance of Taylor’s
percussion, cymbals just blossom in his hands. Mazurek’s
mingling of electronics and brass has never worked better,
the cables have found a way to snake through the shadows
here…and his arsenal continues to grow! Still that tight
cornet calls it all together. Both gents drop ripples of sound
into various tracks, “Pangea” summoned a deeper darkness than
the typical iridescence, that track really stood out for me.
“Funeral of Dreams” finds Taylor leading a shadow dance across
gongs, Mazurek mean while is the wind stirring sand. “Glass
House” is a menagerie of mbira. The title cut is the plinkiest
pondering they’ve delivered for the first part, halfway through
Taylor rouses Mazurek from the piano and he’s off: that lip
quivering br-r-r-r-r-r-rrepp, some growl then emphatic muting,
but by the end soft as the moon’s shadow. One thing I’ve always
dug about the Duo is how quickly they can find an oasis of
gentle grace no matter where they were seconds ago sonically.
Trust in these two and the path they offer. -Thurston Hunger

Mapstation – “Mapstation ” – [Soul Static Sound]

Thurston Hunger   3/3/2006   12-inch, A Library

Eponymous 2000 debut from Stefan Schneider (of To Rococo Rot)
as Mapstation. Heavy focused simple beats on the A-side
serve as a distracting disc traction, while more interesting
gurlings and burglings battle it out in the spaces between
their emphatic landings. On the b-side lead-off track, we get
waves cresting again with insistent top sounds, while lots of
whispery electronics flourish less perceptibly beneath it.
“Elements” has a sort of exercise video rhythm, and 1 and
2 and 3 and 4 BREATHE… This time the little sounds are
microscoped up more on top, little echoing zaps…then
knocking aquatics, lead up to a sort of German bassline.
Love the ending to “Elements”, square wave to silence. Lastly
“Marden” wobbles on to the turntable, a sort of IDM feel
with those kinda funny austere bounces of sound. Brrr-EEEER.
At the end, we get a little nitty gritty clicky for a bit,
as with “Elements” before it the ending could have gone on
for a trancey bit more for me. -Thurston Hunger

Schaefer, Janek – “Skate ” – [Audioh!]

Max Level   2/28/2006   12-inch, A Library

Schaefer breaks the rules again, this time using a one-sided 12″LP packaged with a 3″CD. First the “Skate” LP: he used a primitive audio technique to cut what he calls “sound scars” (aka “grooves”) on it. The scars aren’t connected to one another, nor are they locked grooves; just a bunch of roughly-cut injuries to the vinyl. Spin the LP on your turntable and your stylus, attempting to play those grooves, skates around, looking for a home. Hisses, rumbles, and scrapes ensue, along with bursts of silence as the stylus leaves one scar/groove and hunts for another. Sometimes the stylus finds a place it likes and stays there a while, but it always leaves eventually. The composition is never the same twice. Schaefer suggests trying different turntables, different speeds, even turning the record by hand while playing. “Have fun!” he says. Then there’s “Rink”, the 3″CD: It contains 99 tracks, each one a different recorded result of playing several of the “Skate” LPs simultaneously at a 2001 sound installation. As if there wasn’t already enough randomness in the way the sounds were generated, the artist of course recommends playing this CD document of the event on random mode to add yet another level of unpredictability.

Monosov Swirnoff “Seven Recorded Works” [Eclipse Records]

cujo   2/20/2006   12-inch, A Library

This CA duet of Ilya Monosov and Preston Swirnoff play 2 black sides of untitled almost-drones. Monosov lays down a creepy background on harmonica and/or hurdy gurdy. The hurdy gurdy I can expect to serve a greater drony purpose, but the harmonica? It takes a slightly twisted mouth to take all the joy out of that harp. On top of this, Swirnoff plays melodica, organ, and/or piano, picking out notes or compatible drones or tone clusters as their imaginations see fit. He is not above heading to the inside his piano to find the needed notes. Sometimes they switch roles, like on Side B track A when the melodica drones and Monosov plunks on both his instruments. But then again, sometimes they’re indistinguishable, especially between the melodica and harmonica. Sometimes three or four instruments are going at once; this was probably and hopefully achieved without overdubbing. Side B tends to be a bit more happening, what with the instrumental ambiguities on track A, the (relative) wealth of individual notes played on track B, and the industrial drone (with organ) on track C. Is there a narrative underlying it all? Unclear. Probably not.

-Cujo, KFJC, February 2006

Qbico U-Nite Bruxelles [coll] – [Qbico]

cujo   2/20/2006   12-inch, Jazz

From the fishies (that graced the cover of the Qbico New York concert album we added to the library a few months ago) to the monkeys (Brussels). This is a double LP release pressed on lovely two-tone vinyl of a concert produced by Qbico on April 8, 2004 in Brussels.

Side A starts with a lengthy double bass solo (full range meandering, high register exploration, a bit playful) by Alan Silva and concludes with a short percussiony pocket jam by the Finnish duo Lauhkeat Lampaat.

Things really start to take off on side B & C when the Vibracathedral Orchestra go for a lengthy walk in the park. Their piece is wonderful culturally-ambiguous drone that’s at turns asiatic, tribal, bagpiping, electric, rocking, and finally hypnotic.

On side D, the VO is joined by Lauhkeat Lampaat and pals Paul Faherty (alto sax) and Chris Corsano (drums). The result is a bursting jungle safari rock-drone that builds and ebbs in layers and complexity; Lauhkeat Lampaat’s inanity and Faherty’s wide wailing contribute the most here.

The actual recordings are a bit weak, as is the audience applause that follows all pieces.

-Cujo, KFJC, February 2006

Lackluster – “Showcase Ep ” – [Merck Records]

Max Level   2/18/2006   12-inch, A Library

Finland’s Esa Ruoho, using the self-deprecating moniker Lackluster, follows the same basic formula on each track here: all instrumental, pleasant, synthetic music with beatbox rhythms and keyboard patterns intertwining, somewhat similar to the Schlammpeitzinger sound. Then he adds Moog-ish melodic lines on top. Although he’s working strictly with synthetics and beats, there’s no techno here; it’s a nicely human sound without any harshness. Even the jumpier tracks have a soft, smooth feel. I wouldn’t call this music lackluster, more like chilled-out and refreshing.

Le Volume Courbe – “I Killed My Best Friend ” – [Honest Jon’s]

Thurston Hunger   2/17/2006   12-inch, A Library

he title sets the tone for an amazingly confessional album,
and the vinyl delivers. Much will be made of her Bloody
co-pilot, Kevin Shields, but Charlotte Marionneau is the one
flying in the clouds sans wings, sans prayers. The vocals
are pillowy hallucinations, triple-tracked and hazy with a
criminally subliminal vibe. The volume often curves down
with its hair hanging in its face, half of the lp features
Charlotte whispering teases to an acoustic guitar. Happy
blues, like “Sitting In Your Head” or cute clueless killer
like the title cut. Nice production touches in the shadows
between sounds, and the overlapping voices do raise the
delirium a tipsy notch. Is a French woman singing in English
still a chanteuse? She does try on other clothes besides
vagabond, folk-gazer/drifter. Piano cha-cha for Nina Simone’s
“Ain’t Got No…” Then with “Who Are You” Charlotte gets
stuck in a squelchy sample squeezer, similar to its sister,
on the great gaspy “The Mind Is A Horse.” “Hanging Around”
has a silliness that overcomes the dorkiness of the initial
synth loopy line. The closer “Locarno” lands on a darker,
dubbier side of the Moondog, when she sings “He scares me,
he’s beautiful” I’m more afraid for “him” whoever he is.
-Thurston Hunger

Mammal – “Let Me Die ” – [Animal Disguise]

Thurston Hunger   2/17/2006   12-inch, A Library

Bass transmissions jammed, overloading the undertones and
overmatching a wind-up drum machine. This delivers noise that
burroughs and kicks scratchy signals out while it does so,
emitting more pulses than beats. Maybe even some EMR going
on here as well, crazy electronics have a way of come up
through the fissures of Detroit. At times listening to this
felt like being in an electric oven, I felt I could hear the
coils charged up, the iron popping atom by atom, and I could
taste the thick heat. The last track thins it out a bit, but
overall little deviation from the dungeon here. Maybe adjust
the rpms to take your own spin out of this din’ Not sure
where the gripping title Gary Beauvais chose, comes from?
Is it a plea from the torturer, or the torturee? -Hunger

Casiotone for the Painfully.. – “Twinkle Echo ” – [Tomlab]

Max Level   2/14/2006   12-inch, A Library

CFTPA is Owen Ashworth, a twenty-something singer/songwriter who brings us “tiny, honest tragedies in the lives of fairly average young people” (his words). He accompanies himself with electronic keyboards, distorted tones, and Casio beats. Super-simple, solid, chord structures. When all is said and done, it’s Ashworth’s lyrics that stay with me. They’re small in scope, possibly a bit nerdy, and among the most romantic I’ve ever come across. He’s listless but hopeful as he sings about lovers, dreamers, and loners. It’s all so sad but true. Outstanding, distinctive songwriting.

Mouthus and Axolotl – “12/25/04 ” – [Olde English Spelling Bee]

Max Level   2/14/2006   12-inch, A Library

Yep, recorded on Christmas Day? East-coasters Brian and Nate of Mouthus have collaborated before with West-coaster Karl of Axolotl, and here they are hooking up again for two crazy, side-long, abstract raga-like excursions. A good guess would be that it’s mostly guitars used here, but with some of the sounds it’s hard to tell what is doing what. The yellow side, at 19 minutes, leans more toward laid-back and quiet, though it does have moments of tension. The green side, at 20 minutes, seems more agitated, heavy on what sounds like fuzz bass. If you enjoy ringing, fuzzy, reverberated loops, you’ll get your money’s worth here. I liked both sides equally for deep listening, but found the green side’s energy better for running around doing housecleaning.

Doyle Electro-Acoustic Ens. – “Conspiracy Nation ” – [Qbico]

Max Level   2/14/2006   12-inch, Jazz

Brilliant jazz, but in the weirdest sort of way. Arthur Doyle plays sax and flute, and throws in some nonsense vocals from time to time. The sound of the Ensemble is in constant flux; it’s a crazy stew full of abstract bebop, loose improv, and electronic washes. Doyle calls it “free jazz soul music”, and that about covers it, if such a thing includes Sun Ra-style spaciness and samples crackling along in the background. There are several places where Doyle lets the band do their thing and he doesn’t play at all, the sign of a savvy bandleader in my book. Recorded live at two clubs in upstate NY. The sound is muffled and distant, though; from what I have heard, he records his performances with a portable cassette recorder. Doyle’s a true original. You gotta check this out.

Masakatsu, Takagi – “Eating 2 ” – [Karaoke Kalk]

Max Level   2/14/2006   12-inch, A Library

A really cool one-man recording project by video/sound artist Masakatsu, who is new to me. These short-ish, all-instrumental pieces are pleasant, colorful, and on the funky side. Addictive. Masakatsu plays a lot of keyboards and percussion, and I think I hear vibes, horns, and some other instruments. Or it might be that he’s giving us well-done keyboard equivalents of those. Imagine French Paddleboat gone jazzy. Probably the easiest review I’ve done for KFJC. I mean, what’s not to like?

Designer Music – “Good Girls ” – [Planet E Communications]

Thurston Hunger   2/13/2006   12-inch, A Library

Re-issue from Carl Craig as Designer Music. Single-sided
stomper with hiccoughs…when it separates out it sounds
like a very swinging section of a marching band’s percussion
unit. Actually the web says it’s a reworking of “Give It Up”
from the GoodMEN. Ha? But then it turns out that track was
actually built on a sample of some Brazilian batucada. So
now I’m thinking a marching band…with only feathers for
their loins?’ It goes through a lot of earmuff tunnels, at
the end an electronic asthmatic attack wheezes in for a bit,
the Good Girls get stuck and almost die twice before a slow
fade ride to the center groove. You can start hearing voices
when you listen to the tweaked beaks, I could have sworn I
heard “Let Me Get the Handwipes” for a while… Originally
released in 1993…probably slapped a lot of woofers out of
the floorboards of Camaros. Play the side with music for
best results. Drums major. -Thurston Hunger

Substance Abuse / Nebz – “Night on the Town ” – [Drive By Pimp Slap]

Max Level   2/9/2006   12-inch, Hip Hop

Side A: Substance Abuse and the legendary Kool Keith tell a tale of going out for a good time but never finding a place to land. Nice slow bumpin’ beat on this one as the guys try to figure out “where’s the party?”. Side B: A dark, tense beat backs up NEBZ and Eso Tre, and the music is perfect for their menacing flows. I can’t really tell what they’re on about, but it ain’t about a party, I do know that much. Simple, repetitive beats on both sides. No tricky DJ cutting/ scratching, all emphasis on the emcees. 3 out of the 4 names here are new to me and I like what I’m hearing.

Sender, Ramon – “Desert Ambulance ” – [Locust Music]

Thurston Hunger   2/2/2006   12-inch, A Library

Two pieces from sonic bender scene transcender, each piece
a spry forty years old or so.
“Kore” – somewhere between a Terry Riley dervish driver
and a Raymond Scott ultrasound dreamstate. Wiggly trackball
sprinting key spritzes pre-date video game high scores.
Underneath those, aquatic squelch rolls in and out like a
breathing shoreline. Grunion running in these vinyl grooves.
“Desert Ambulance” – different side and a different world.
See liner notes for insights into the internal view to this,
including conections to the Spanish Civil War. Also we find
this side includes the beautiful bellows of Pauline Oliveros.
Her accordion plays straight man to a tape chorale fatale.
Some pizzicato strings are added for a nervous twitch. It
could pass today as abstract turntablism, which is praise
for the unreal-to-reel work here. Towards the end, the
strings start to spiral up stronger into the sky.
-Thurston Hunger

Stars, the – “Perfect Place to Hideaway ” – [Pedal Records]

Thurston Hunger   2/2/2006   12-inch, A Library

Definitely a corpus callosum between the two sides of this
stellar record by The Stars. On the first, a seminal showcase
of rock respecting the groove. “Subway (aka Night Walker)”
has this heavy drum riff (it hits tune-worthiness by itself),
bounce in some active bass and a little guitar wrinkle, then
top it all off with slurry, worry-free Engrish vox. Seems
like a simple recipe, but interweaving it is this slow
e-bow drone that just bakes it to perfection. It feels like
it spins on the turntable for 3 hours, at the same time
leaves you completely wanting more. Song o’ the year material.
The groove continues to stir in “Lemonade”, You Ishihara and
Michio Kurihara are already canonized in the underground
but Chiyo Kamekawa (also Yura Yura Teikoku) and Yasunobu
Arakawa (Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her) write down a
rhythm section with Metaphysical Graffiti. Lemonade dissolves
with a false ending, but revives for a encore. A soft tunnel
out then over to the flip side where free blues rock bursts
await. Guitars engulf the first two tunes before a sort of
soft coda in “The World I Left Behind.” Still a rock solid
release that tastes like timelessness to me, especially those
opening two shake and bakers. Plus this is a 12″ filled with
sound; the band would played right through the whole in the
middle if they could have. -Thurston Starstruck

Japanther – “Operating Manual for Life… ” – [Tapes Records]

Max Level   2/1/2006   12-inch, A Library

A one-sided 12″ of super low fidelity pop/punk/rock from noisy Brooklyn trio. Fuzzy wall of sound by way of piled-on guitars, basses, keyboards, drums, percussion, and vocals. Lyrics aren’t easy to decipher, but they pop up every now and then, telling us about everyday drags such as divorce, unemployment, and death. A few clips of miscellaneous dialog spice things up. Driving beats, catchy melodies, and sing-along choruses guarantee a good time for all. Smart and rockin’.

Ahmed, Mahmoud – “Ere Mela Mela ” – [Kaifa Records]

Max Level   2/1/2006   12-inch, International

French re-release of essential mid-70s Ethiopian classic. High-powered Afro-Arabic jazz grooves with guitar, bass, organ, drums, percussion, flute, and some of the craziest sax lines I’ve ever heard. In front of the band, Ahmed sings so passionately I don’t need to know the language to know he means every single word he sings. My favorite tracks are A2, A4, B3, and B4, all packed full of dark funk in those weird Ethiopian scales, with the band playing as if possessed. B2 is also great, but it’s slower and more of a sexy trance-like thing. The rest of the tracks are more “pop” sounding, and they’re cool too, but I like this music best when it sounds like Sun Ra and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sitting in with Ricky Ricardo’s orchestra, and they’re playing in your garage. Five stars.

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