Music Reviews

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.

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.

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