Music Reviews

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.

Murray, David – “Interboogieology ” – [Black Saint]

Max Level   1/29/2006   12-inch, Jazz

Saxophonist Murray had already released something like a dozen records as a leader by the time this LP was first released in 1978. Cornetist/composer/conductor Butch Morris, featured here, was a requent collaborator. The rhythm section is Johnny Dyani on bass and Oliver Johnson on drums. Track A1 is a deep simmering stew with inspired horn work, strange wordless vocals by Marta Contreras, and a one-minute drum solo toward the end. Murray’s tenor plays a duet with Dyani’s bass on A2, a simple theme made interesting by the unusual interplay between the two. Drummer Johnson is a powerhouse on B1, a blazing bebopper that’s refreshing after the slow proceedings on Side A. B2, a bossa nova type thing with some really weak singing and lyrics, is my least favorite; as a saving grace, though, the band manages to kick this tune into stronger jazz territory at a couple of points. My picks are the two compositions by Morris, A1 and B1.

Nico – “Desertshore ” – [4 Men with Beards]

Max Level   1/29/2006   12-inch, B Library

2002 reissue of a compelling 1970 classic. Nico (1938-88) mapped out a large part of today’s goth landscape. She paints the bleakest of lyrical pictures, her icy vocals accompanied on half these songs with her well-known harmonium drone. Hugely important here is the uncanny work of producer/arranger John Cale, who plays nearly all the other instruments, and adds exactly what each song calls for: scraping avant-garde experiments, sweet sunlit piano, a heart-tugging child vocal, queasy drones, Arabic nightmares. An outstanding collaboration by two remarkable artists. At just 28 minutes, this LP is over far too quickly.

Jones, Joe – “S/T ” – [Unknown Label]

Max Level   1/26/2006   12-inch, A Library

Jones was a musician/composer/theorist, probably best known for his work with NY’s Fluxus movement in the 1960s-70s. He built mechanical orchestras consisting of instruments such as guitars, zithers, violins, and drums, that essentially played themselves in random fashion, via electric motors, wind, solar power, rubber bands, balls bouncing on them, etc. On this mysterious LP, there is no title, or any info on participants, performance date, or recording location. Only blank white labels on the LP itself. No idea who put it out. Anyway, it’s two side-long tracks, around 20 minutes each, which I’m guessing are two different sections of the same unidentified performance. A large ensemble of instruments rumble, roar, plink, and rattle, sometimes rhythmically and sometimes little more than a vague drone. I wish I knew more (or anything, actually) about who, when, and where, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking this is very cool material.

Kiani, Majid – “Iran, Volume 2 ” – [Ocora | Radio France]

Max Level   1/25/2006   12-inch, International

Kiani is master of the santur, a stringed instrument seemingly identical in appearance, sound, and playing technique to the hammered dulcimer one finds in rural Appalachian music. There are also Iraqi, Turkish, and Indian versions of the instrument. However, the tuning modes used here, carefully described in the liner notes, give these pieces a unique Persian flavor. Delicate, intricate patterns repeat and then vary, raga-like, as each piece slowly develops. According to the liner notes, Kiani has been almost single-handedly keeping this particular style of traditional music alive; there were never many master players and they eventually ran out of students to teach. These 1979 recordings transported this Western listener pleasantly to another place and time. Lovely.

Sexual Life Of…, the [coll] – [Soul Jazz Records]

Max Level   1/25/2006   12-inch, A Library

A double-LP overview of the 1980’s underground music scene in Sao Paulo, Brasil. A dozen bands, some of them sharing members, represent here. Overall it was not unlike the scene Soul Jazz documented on the New York Noise collection that featured Material, Defunkt, the Dance, etc. So there’s a lot of that ’80s NYC punk-funk sound, with crunchy guitar chords and bass players poppin’ it right up front. We also hear frantic guitar rock with yelled vocals, spooky art-sambas, and synth-pop that would probably appeal to OMD fans. I like the two tracks by Patife, energetic hybrids of punk, jazz, surf, and, I don’t know, maybe ska or something. One of the tracks by Fellini starts unpromisingly with animal noises, but then drops into a sexy groove and is one of my favorite tracks. It’s always cool to discover previously overlooked pockets of musical activities. Soul Jazz does a nice job with this one.

Brotzmann, Peter / Han Bennink – “Still Quite Popular After… ” – [Bro]

Max Level   1/25/2006   12-inch, Jazz

Brotzmann (reeds) and Bennink (drums) are two powerhouse improvisers whose association goes back at least a few decades. I think the story is that they hadn’t played together for a while, and this record is a reunion of sorts. Six pieces here, ranging from 4 to 8 minutes. PB plays clarinet on three tracks, and alto sax, tenor sax, and taragato on one track each. Both men are monster players, and I wouldn’t think of giving anything but a ten-star supreme rating to any project they’re involved with. Three other things ‘I’m a sucker for: limited edition LP, silk-screened cover, heavyweight vinyl. This rips! Give it a spin!

Dall, Cynthia – “Sound Restores Young Men ” – [Drag City]

Max Level   1/25/2006   12-inch, A Library

We’ve been waiting 6+ years since Ms. Dall’s last release, which I believe was her first. Her sound: simple, beautiful guitar/keyboard lines, often quiet and stark, fleshed out at times with feedback, distortion, and low drones. Occasional drums and drum machine. A bit of drama. Semi-cryptic credits don’t tell us much about who does what, other than Cynthia’s on guitar and angelic double-tracked vocals. A dog is credited with playing piano, that type of thing. Jim O’Rourke has some involvement with the recording/producing. This LP is lovely and sometimes scary, and it just knocks me out.

Major Organ & the Adding Machi – ” ” – [Isota]

Thurston Hunger   1/13/2006   12-inch, A Library

My first thought : What is this, Caroliner Elephant Sixbow?
A puzzling fuzz thing from some cluttered nutters, indeed
there is a mangled Mangum rolled in mix here. A whole lotta
sloppy poppy joes, when the bass rises up it tries to choke
the onslaught off, but fortunately it fails. Yessir this is
archival material from a range of the Elephant Six-pack but
the start with tape burble and then the oddball “When Father
Was Away on Business” makes you think you’ve found a lost
colony of slipperman! High praise! Through the album we’ve
got ganglion vocals, the sound of someone sawing Grandpa’s
favorite rocking chair, Elfs over Powered by more gremlin
glory. Skeletons are tickled on their xylobones, we get an
open night at the Conet project, fluid saxlines swoggle
in to interrupt a French class. A negativland-like sample
politely iritates… A barrage of body parts gets artfully
splashed on the vinyl screen: lungs, mustaches, jawharps and
the omnipresent, ever-watchful moonpie eye! Don’t wait for
a chance to catch your breath, this snapshot of art-becoming
will snatch it away. And oh, whimpering fanboy, does it help
if I tell you that this is *better* than “In the Aeroplane
over the Sea?”

Nine:Fifteen – “Spilt Milk ” – [Candle Wax Records]

Max Level   1/10/2006   12-inch, Hip Hop

Hip Hop fun here. DJ Blake9 puts together three bouncin’ tracks. On top, MC Comel flows in a loose, kinda goofy style. Track 1 has a jazzy vibe with piano, bass, and super-catchy trumpet lines. Track 2 is a funky cowbell-banger, and Track 3 is more laid back than the other two. Instrumental versions on Side B.

Kopp, Hermann – “Mondo Carnale ” – [Vinyl on Demand]

Max Level   1/10/2006   12-inch, A Library

Reissued material from this German eccentric, known mainly as a soundtrack composer for obscure psycho-horror films. This LP is full of the kind of pop songs that your muttering old hermit neighbor might make in his dark, damp basement after burying another one of his pet dogs in the backyard. It’s a sparsely-furnished sound, with the basic elements being vocals sung/spoken mostly in German, raspy violin, droning synths, layered noise, piano, bass guitar. and simple electronic beats. Perverse fun.

Hella – “Bitches Ain’t Shit… ” – [Suicide Squeeze]

Max Level   1/8/2006   12-inch, A Library

An unfortunately-titled 4-song EP full of king-hell spazz rock from this Sacramento duo. Spencer contributes some interesting fractured guitar, and, according to the credits, does programming of something or other. Zach plays hyperactive drums on every track. It’s out of control. It’s cool. It’s all instrumental except the last track, which has a guest on vocals. Watch out for the speedfreak Mahavishnu-style guitar on the third track.

Die Enttauschung – “S/T ” – [Crouton]

Max Level   1/8/2006   12-inch, A Library

Top-notch jazz, all original compositions, from this multi-national European quartet. Rudi Mahall is a brilliant bass clarinetist. He doesn’t spend as much time on the creaky lower end of that instrument as many other players do; his horn often sounds amazingly like an alto sax, very Jackie McLean-ish to my ears. The solid, clean trumpet of Axel Dorner is equally impressive. The two horns work well together, whether laying out a slow, stately theme or tearing through some ridiculously fast bebop lines in beautiful unison. Look out for some inspired soloing as well. The bassist and drummer are not familiar to me, but I like the way they drive the band with their robust playing. All four guys play their behinds off, while seemingly not taking themselves too seriously. Sounds to me as though they meant to have an element of silliness in here at times, and the goofy cover art does nothing to contradict that theory. A lot to like here. Limited to 500 copies.

Turntables By the Bay [coll] – [Hip Hop Slam]

Max Level   1/8/2006   12-inch, Hip Hop

Your fave Bay Area turntable acrobats mess it up in all styles on this Hip Hop Slam compilation. Tracks recorded 1996-2001, mostly unavailable on vinyl until now. Good stuff: SJ’s Finger Bangerz crew get low and sexy, Invisibl Skratch Piklz show off their world-famous flash, Live Human combines live drums and bowed bass with DJ Quest’s beats/cuts, DJ Flare gets it going on top of a mellow groove bed, DJ Raw B mates with a human cellist? and so much more. Amazingly, there is language on the last track only. Homeboys must be getting clean in their old age.

Vast Aire – “Pegasus/Red Pill ” – [Chocolate Industries]

Max Level   1/7/2006   12-inch, Hip Hop

Vast Aire, Harlem’s finest MC, is the king of artful menace. No surprise that he’s cutting up rivals and posers, but check the weird sci-fi and culture bombs he drops while doing it. Side A, a solo by Vast, goes old school, looping 1975’s “Love To Love You Baby” groove. Side B has a modern electronic throb, and brings Vast and another MC named Karniege in equal measure. Big Vast is always stylish and worth checking out. No disappointment here.

Crank Sturgeon – “S/T ” – [Rrrecords]

Max Level   1/7/2006   12-inch, A Library

Half man, half fish, and possibly half something else, Crank Sturgeon treats us to eight indescribable noise concoctions. His true identity is hidden from us, and he doesn’t exactly make it easy for listeners to grasp what he’s up to here. The first track is a couple of guys yelling some nonsense; it’s the shortest piece and my least favorite. After that it’s straight into Power Hiss in the Merzbow/Sickness vein. Plenty of that throughout the LP, along with more percussive things, feedback, possibly some treated guitar sounds, and a few weird voice recordings thrown into the mix. Impenetrable track titles add to the mystery.

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