Music Reviews

Female Country Blues 1 [coll] – [Rst]

Max Level   1/7/2006   12-inch, Blues

1988 re-issue on RST Records, out of Vienna, Austria. Material by a handful of not-well-known singers, originally released on 78 in the mid-to-late 1920s. Sound quality is not great, since every recording here is at least 75 years old, but it’s certainly all listenable. Vocal performances, with mostly guitar or piano accompaniment, by Anna Lee Chisholm, Virginia Childs, Eva Parker, Cora Perkins, and Lulu Jackson who seems to be the featured artist here. Lulu sings/plays guitar/whistles on 8 tracks, far more appearances than any of the other singers, and she’s pictured on the LP cover. I prefer the blues mama earthiness of some of the others to Lulu’s high-pitched birdsongs. A couple of songs are offered in multiple versions, so it’s interesting to compare the different stylists. A fascinating look at some of the roots of the blues.

Subtonix – “Tarantism ” – [Troubleman Unlimited]

Max Level   1/6/2006   12-inch, A Library

Local quartet. This is one band that sounds exactly like it looks. I’d say they’ve cornered the market on beat-up goth-punk-feminist-horror-noise-pop. The sound: harpies wailing on top of loud keyboards, loud bass, loud sax, loud drums. Interestingly, no guitars. Musically, they fall about halfway between playing their instruments well and still figuring them out. A fine place to be, by the way. But they play like they mean it: speedy, jumpy, and in your face. Lyrics are provocative; themes of death, sex, pills, stained sheets, ripped-up dolls… enjoy it but don’t turn your back. The final track is a cover of a song by the Screamers, another band that was weird, pissed-off, and didn’t need guitars.

Orthrelm – “Asristir Vieldriox ” – [Troubleman Unlimited]

Max Level   1/6/2006   12-inch, A Library

Guitar/drums duo from the Washington DC area serves up 99 tracks in just under 12 minutes, each one a chaotic burst that lasts anywhere from 1 to maybe 8 seconds. Guitarist Mick Barr fires off chopped-up speedmetal licks, and drummer Josh Blair stays with him note for note, beat for beat. How do they write this stuff anyway? The tracks all run together with maybe a second or two of rest in between. For me it works sort of like the halftone dots in a newspaper photo: you won’t get much by looking closely at each individual dot, but stand back a bit and you’ll see the big picture. My recommendation is to play a big chunk of this (all of it!) and call it one long track. Completely over the top and amazing. Devotees of avant-garde, and/or metal, don’t miss this! A one-sided 12″ with an etching by guitarist Barr on Side B.

Cakekitchen, the – “How Can You Be So Blind? ” – [Haus Musik]

Max Level   1/6/2006   12-inch, A Library

Singer-guitarist Graeme Jefferies (a big part of the ’80s underground scene in New Zealand) has been the only constant in the ever-changing Cakekitchen lineup. I think it’s been several years since the band’s last effort, but they’re back now and in excellent form. This new LP is acoustic guitar-based, with electronics thickening the sound just the way I like it. Things get off to a jaunty start with “You Know I Really?”, and then a nice melancholy groove sets in for the rest of the LP. Jefferies’ romantic, downhearted lyrics are delivered in his low and intimate style. Cello and string bass touches show up at just the right times. As usual, I prefer the longer tracks, the ones heavier on atmosphere, but everything here is lovely.

Samartzis, Philip – “Soft and Loud ” – [Plates of Sound]

Krzton Drda   1/6/2006   12-inch, A Library

Environmentally derived composition from Tokyo December 1999 to Melborne August 2003. Music concrete evoking the spirit of urban Japan.

A side: crackle, clang, pulse, gaps, water, sizzle, clunk, hum, hiss, ploink, pause, whir, chant

B side: flute, fries, static, birds, 2001, temple, machines, voices, ring, shoot, hai!

Cyrille, Andrew – “What About? ” – [Get Back]

Max Level   1/4/2006   12-inch, Jazz

Solo drums/percussion from this well-traveled jazz explorer, recorded in Paris, 1969. Cyrille’s chops are formidable, but here it’s more about ideas, and the colors that can be produced with a drum kit, rather than a display of dazzling technique. Side 1 leads off with a 13-minute avalanche, unstoppable, sounding like millions of little objects crashing down a mountainside. Side 2 starts with a similarly long piece, this one more rhythmic and punctuated with stops and starts. The other tracks are more outside, with panting vocal sounds, finger cymbals, staccato rim-taps, metallic thuds, and whistles. Reminiscent of the nutty solo drum work Han Bennink was doing in Europe at around the same time, which is to say it’s daring and good. So give this superb release a try. Don’t be put off by the idea of SOLO DRUMS.

Nice Nice – “Chrome ” – [Temporary Residence Ltd.]

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

A guitar/drums duo from Portland OR who launch their simple lineup off in countless directions: funk beats, drones, jagged thrash, gamelan-sounding percussion, deep dub throbs, etc. Avant punk-funkers of the early 80s, such as Material (the “Memory Serves” LP for example) and Massacre come to mind. A definite Frith flavor in the guitar experimentation. Except for a couple of sections with processed vocals, tracks are instrumental. All recorded live without overdubbing. The boys evidently do a lot of looping and triggering, keeping grooves going while adding more live stuff to the mix. A great combination: talent, good ideas, and the modern technology to make it all work. Sort of a sketchbook feel here, with many of the tracks two minutes or less. Slightly longer pieces toward the end of each side.

Brotzmann/Perkins – “Ink Is Gone, the ” – [Bro]

Max Level   1/2/2006   12-inch, Jazz

Exuberant duo improvisation. Brotzmann, who has worked with just about every major avant-jazz artist of the past three decades, tears into his saxes and clarinet with abandon. Drummer Perkins is not as well known, but he led some respected hard bop outfiits in the 1950s-60s, and Brotzmann says “he is history”. On this date, it sounds as though the drums are following the horns most of the time, Perkins adding his quick-thinking percussive propulsion, pushing Brotzmann’s snaky playing to some wild extremes. I love the way Perkins occasionally yells from behind his drums, caught up in the music. This LP is limited to 999 copies, on heavy virgin vinyl, in a hand-screened sleeve designed by Brotzmann.

Buckethead – “Kfc Skin Piles ” – [Gonervill]

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

Nine eccentric tracks from The Bucketed One. This his been described as a battle breaks record, and yes it does seem like it would be good for DJ cut-ups with its insistent beats, abrupt changes, and voice snippets. It’s crazy stuff: Track 1 is unpleasant spoken word, chainsaw noises/screaming, then 4 minutes of beatbox. Track 2 starts with the Yo Ho Ho pirate theme on guitar, then moves into a deep Laswell-like throb. Track 5 features mole facts, then a percolating groove. Track 7 has big dark synths fleshing out a minimal beat. Overall, there’s relatively little of the space-age shred guitar he’s known for. Side A ends with a shrieking locked groove. Side B ends with what sounds like a locked groove, but it isn’t. A funny guy, this Buckethead.

Cannibal Ox – “Cold Vein, the ” – [Definitive Jux]

Max Level   1/2/2006   12-inch, Hip Hop

Two poets from Harlem with angry, intelligent, beautiful word-ism. They craft serious urban epics with their deep story-telling. It’s so far beyond the cliches that pass for rap these days that it’s not even the same genre. El-P, ex-Company Flow, assembled the backing tracks, and they are perfect for what’s going on here. The beats are sick, hung over, lurching, with sliced-and-diced jazz riffs and sounds we have never heard before getting piled up thicker and thicker until they’re strong enough to support the weight of what the MCs are laying down. It’s the end of the rap world as we know it, and nobody feels fine.

Emanon – “Count Your Blessings… ” – [Shaman Work Recordings]

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

This SoCal duo drops ideas about how dropping ideas can change something. Not exactly a new hip hop angle, but MC Aloe Blacc comes across as pretty fresh and DJ Exile does interesting things with beats, so this 12″ is worth a spin. “Count Your Blessings” is as much reggae/toasting as it is hip hop/rapping. Bouncy and good. We get two versions of “The Reasons” , with the same lyrics on each but completely different backing tracks. The first version has a seasick-sounding keyboard that gets on my nerves. The “Remix” version has much cooler sounds and beats, with strange little sonic touches. Side B is all instrumental versions of the Side A tracks.

Blank – “Duden ” – [Eventuell]

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

240 locked grooves on this LP, with 6 groups of 20 on each side. Blank is a trio of Frankfurt-based experimentalists who chopped up some of their recordings into sound bites, then cut those fragments into locked grooves on this 12″. Guitar strums, keyboard twinkles, feedback roars, electronic manipulations, percussive hits, etc? the record seems to be split roughly in half between “musical” sounds and bursts of noise. I checked out every one of the 240 tracks here and came up with some favorites, and I encourage you to do the same. Use them as music beds, play them solo for zen-like repetition, or mix with other locked grooves. By the way, this 12″ was originally constructed to be used by Blank themselves as instruments in live performance, each guy having his own copy to play around with. I’d love to hear the cool music/noise that must result when they do that.

Ballast – “Sound Asleep ” – [Profane Existence]

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

Thrashcore quintet crying out against the crushing oppression of modern society. Similar at times to fellow Canadians Submission Hold, but Ballast has a narrower, harder focus; more screaming in the vocals, louder guitars, and more constant violence in the bass/drums. I tend to like hardcore songs that have brief slow intros before all hell breaks loose, and there are a couple of those here. Between songs, there is only the briefest of pauses before the next assault is launched. One word review: Incendiary.

Iota – “S/T ” – [Rockadelic]

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

This late 60s-early70s outfit was not well-received in their hometown El Paso, TX. Local clubs and radio didn’t know what to make of their bare-bones psych-rock. “Too dark and disturbing” was a common complaint regarding their sound. Lack of local support caused them to move to Memphis, and then, unfortunately, to break up after a couple of years. They put out two singles, which appear on this LP, but all other tracks have been unreleased until now. Nothing hugely innovative here, but some decent bluesy guitar/organ heavy rock.

Pine, the – “S/T ” – [Into the Hurricane]

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

Wow! Melodic speed-pop-core from this Bakersfield quartet. Overall sad tone and emotional lyrics in front of a Husker Du blur of overdriven guitars and crashing drums. A couple of quieter moments on Side B, but other than that it’s one hard-charging song after another. The singer is probably an acquired taste, but his voice adds an unusual element to the sound and I like him just fine. Play this!

Ocs – “Songs About Death & Dying, Vol 3 ” – [Yik Yak]

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

Second effort from local act OCS (formerly Orinoka Crash Suite, now possibly Orange County Sound?). Musical whirlwind John Dwyer brings us meditative blues-pop, often sung in falsetto, accompanied by spare strums on electric guitar. Gone are the noise elements that were present on the previous CD by OCS. Here the quiet blues-pop gets an assist from Patrick Mullins, who adds low budget drumming and electronics. This goes a step further than bedroom recordings, sounding to me like bedroom closet recordings; cheap equipment at low volume producing a muffled result. Not all songs are about death and dying, however murder, drug overdose, and suicide do show up in the lyrics. Enjoyable, a bit disturbing, a nice change of pace for your radio show. Mastered by Weasel Walter. Excellent Roxy Music joke on the insert sheet.

Need New Body – “U F O ” – [File 13]

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

NNB’s second release features spazzy jazz-rock, played with demented energy. Piano and drums figure heavily throughout, but also plenty of other keyboards, percussion, horns, banjo, electric bass, electronics and chanted/yelled group vocals. Tin Huey, who blazed some of this same nutty trail 25 years ago, came to my mind immediately. There are songs about body parts, a lost pen, going to the beach, and there are some “found” vocals too. The free-association rambling on “Red As A Bone” is wonderfully warped. Evidently there is some type of personnel overlap between NNB and Bablicon, another of my favorite energetic spazzy jazz-rock outfits.

Carter, Tom & Bassett, Marcia – Zaika – [Eclipse, No Cat] – (33 rpm)

Hunter Gatherer   1/2/2006   12-inch, A Library

Tom Carter (of Charlambides) and Marcia Bassett (of Double Leopards and Hototogisu), two guitarists with very personal styles, team up to prove that there’s no I in drone. Released in September 2005, this album contains four lengthy improvisations, two on each side.

Given a superficial listen, this music sounded spacey or cosmic. It made me think about how when galaxies collide they sometimes get even more beautiful. But listening more carefully revealed something very earthy and grounded, like hearing old field recordings from the early 20th century broken down to their individual phonemes and reassembled.

The two guitarists complement each other beautifully throughout the tracks. Sometimes they play notes microtones apart that beat against each other, or one note sustains while the other arpeggiates or does something extramusical. Other times they hover somewhere over the boundary between music and noise.

Listening to this release will make you feel like you are being chased by a very lazy St. Elmo’s fire.

–Hunter Gatherer

Soil Bleeds Black, the – “Mirror of the Middle Ages ” – [The Fossil Dungeon]

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

Self-described Medieval Music. Dead serious. TSBB’s sound is built of flutes, pipes, vocals, hand drums, guitars, dulcimers and a touch of organ. The material –some of it composed recently, some of it from the last couple of centuries, some of it profoundly ancient– draws from a deep well of pagan, sacred, occult, and folktale sources. They’re all here: peasants, high priests, alchemists, and storytellers. A dismal arrangement of “Ring Around The Rosey” confirms its origins as a child’s rhyme from the time of The Plague. Just the thing for your Saturday night/ Sunday morning Black Church gathering.

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