From 2003, this is Ellen Allien’s second release on her own BPitch Control label. Berlin techno parties must have been a blast with sounds like this playing into the early morning. Here we have Allien’s charismatic voice singing over an eclectic mix of techno beats mixed in with glitch, tweak and odd computer modulated vocals and sounds. Each track is pretty unique, standing on it’s own as well as fitting together in the whole work. I’m finding this early work almost more experimental, more quirky than her later work. These pieces are not afraid of challenging the listener and of taking a chance. With beats. Always. One of my favorite finds over the last year.
This 2002 release marked a return, of sorts. of the wonderful Scroggins family and their infectious stripped down funk sound. This time around, daughters have joined in and the beat is still pumping. Remember, ESG is all about the bass, and man is there bass. Simple bass lines repeated over and over almost take on the power of a vocalist. Without the bass, there is no ESG. Minimalism is the word for this funk post punk project. Some songs just have Renee Scroggins simmering vocals accompanied by bass. Others have that oh so familiar drum beat, a little guitar, some tambourine or other percussion thrown in. That’s it, but what an “IT”. A real joy to continue to hear them. Some of these tracks are even more stripped down then songs of the past, and a bit slower, but the sound, the beat, the thump thump thump is so infectious. Your head will bop and booty will shake.
Dionne Warwick is truly one of the greats. Unclassifiable for some: jazz, blues, gospel, soul, r&b, pop? Where does she fit in when actually she fits in everywhere. These 25 songs plus some promo material are from one of her golden eras when she was on Scepter Records and was working with the brilliant team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Recorded between 1962 and 1971, these recordings capture an era that in some instances, remains timeless. The quality and catchiness of Bacharach’s instrumentation, the depth yet simplicity of David’s lyrics, found their interpreter in the unique voice of Warwick. They were a trio made for each other and the continued hits demonstrated their quality. This collection comes from rarities and lost bits of the time. Many of the selections are recordings of her classics sung in other languages: French, German and Italian. When Warwick stole Paris in her concert tour, she was asked by many to record in their language and the results are here. Superb renderings of her choice work. Also there are alternate takes and some obscurities of equal quality. With each song, Warwick sings in her unique way, nailing the lyric with superb style and interpretation, rising above but not dominating the glorious orchestrations of Bacharach. Also, this was 1962 when the trio’s first hit came about. One can not disregard the barriers and walls of prejudice they overcame with this artistic relationship. A profound collection. And she is Whitney Houston’s aunt.
Daniel Levin (cello) and Mat Maneri (viola) have composed six pieces of improvisation using instruments not usually noted for duets let alone jazz duets. Using Jung’s comments about consciousness vs unconsciousness, they explore the freedom of improv with an organization of sorts that flows from melody to full on busrts of string sound. Classical, free form microtonal interplay between the two guide, float and battle throughout the selections. Whether bowed or plucked, the listener can never predict what will happen next yet each new phrase is a pleasure to the ear. Skronk and melody all in one.
Feixs Da Housecat, electronic pop/house music king supreme, plays it up with this 2009 release. Twelve tunes of bubble gum electro house catchiness, most with vocals by breathy, squeeky or monotone female vocalists which add an edge of naughty. (Think of his work with Miss Kitten). Songs about Prince,living in a platic world and machines are all just edgey enough to make you question. The electonic beats are a variety of riffs on old gaming system soundtracks (Elvi$), low rider street bass (Kickdrum, which will blow out the speakers) and of course early house. The lyrics are suggestive sometimes but fun. This is just fun. Felix knows his style and works it to the end. Dance happy.
Electric Machine Gun Tits are Naoko Nozawa (vocals and synth) and Tora Fujimoto (vocal and guitar). Several years in the bay area, from Japan, singing in English and Japanese. Power, power, power. Hard drum machine pounding, raucous rhythm guitar, screamed repeated phrases for lyrics about pineapple junkies, fake fur, monkey brain and sushi. Cheap electronic toy noises from Naoko who yells and laughs insanely while wearing a rainbow unicorn plushy. Intense rideculous fun. You will be covered in cooked ramen. Fox and I have seen them twice, opening for Bob Log and Shonen Knife and both times they kind of stole the show. Like riding a roller coaster going 0 to 100 in 2 seconds flat.
Ten years worth of offbeat pop stylings from the versatile Ms. Nowottny, sharing the billing here with her All American Band. She sings and plays keyboards and a few other things, and the band adds guitar, bass, banjo, piano, melodica, and more. A wide range of music on this CD, including stately torch songs with piano, some trip-hoppy moments, country-flavored tunes, and some twisted concoctions that could be Kate Bush with a Casio out in the garage. My two least favorite tracks are the cover tunes: “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’ is a downer–it sounds like a version the house band on Twin Peaks might have done, and “Danny’s Song” (by Kenny Loggins) is done pretty much straight ahead and is no more interesting than the original version. Track 5 is a snazzy instrumental.
Top-notch lo-fi, cherubic acoustic folk numbers
that pick up grit in lyrics and feedback on some
of the numbers. Eardrumheadrupture percussion
on #10. DIY worn on the literal CD sleeve, in
“No Compression/No Masters. Cut around the
ides of March 2015, I imagine the sting in
these songs remains for Jones. The lead off
number is a searing noisey joy, tooth in ear
material that doesn’t really return. The
pain afterwards is mostly conveyed vocally
and lyrically. Her voice keens and slices
corners through the flatness of a field
recorder. Like the long lost little sister
of the Mountain Goats. A little banjo on
the knee in #6, plenty of scrapes and bruises
on the knee elsewhere. That intersection of
raw and sweet makes for a Happy Meal for
Mikey and me, hopefully you too.
2017 release. possibly part of a “garment” series
(“11 Buttons” was another release paired with this).
This is comfy ambience, steady clank of sampled and
digital percussion, more like a mechanical heartbeat
than a rhythm. Soothing waves of synth, topped off
by samples of oceanology and ornitholgy, perhaps
striving for a natural relaxation. A Tokyo storm
shelter sound seeker, well I’m not even sure he’s
out of Tokyo, but I envision a guy trying to look
out past the skyscrapers and earscrapers. The album
has a uniform feel, you can easily soak into one
track and find yourself floating three tracks down.
Tokunaga’s segues are frequently seamless, dipping
for a gentle cross fade. Some repetive samples move
at a faster rate than the steady click/clank/pulses of
percussion. Check out “slab” as a masterful stitching
of such squiggling sounds, it also has volume-pedal
breathing of white wave noise. When this album both
soothes and unsettles it is at its most striking.
“slab” and “Diagonal” provide such frayed threads
in this overall sleek suit.
This is an aurally fascinating concept album about an individual attempting to navigate through the maze of mind (which is Mara, a demon) in order to transcend worldly pleasures and achieve the awakened state of the Buddha. The musicians on here meld Eastern and Western traditions in a fascinating way, and you can hear elements of Indian classical ragas infused with jazz, hip hop, and spoken word. Brother-sister duo Aditya and Mythili Prakash have produced this CD that will get you dancing and awake in the best possible way.
This group is otherwise known as Mercury Rev, and consists of likely suspects Jonathan, Grasshopper, Nels Cline, Steve Shelley, Jesse Chandler, and Martin Keith. Woodstock-based guitarist Peter Walker joins this amazing band, and it is he who brings to mind Ravi Shankar’s sitar, seeing as he studied with Shankar. The music on this CD is pure psychedelic bliss, and the songs themselves take their time as they exemplify the Greek fates: past (lachesis), present (clotho), and atropos (future). Enjoy every minute.
Actual Trio is Bay Area jazz veterans John Schott (guitar/composer), Dan Seamans (bass), and John Haynes (drums). Recorded December 2016. The previous summer, apparently though, these compositions sounded happy and joyful. But after that year’s election (what the artists describe as “our looming national catastrophe”), they considered not making the recording at all.
What comes out of this is a technicolor palette of anxiety. I find that the music, while sometimes pretending to be cool and groovy, is in fact tense and jumpy. It has an improvisational feel most of the time, but is also clearly composed at other points.
Play it, spin it, slip it in…
Rombix is Roman Voronovskiy, a sound artist from Moscow and founder of the 24919 label that released this limited edition 2008 CD. Each track is a minimal collage made from layers of analog tape loops. Repeating patterns – of metallic rhythms, washes of static, soft chimes, echoing piano, angelic voices – ebb and flow into the mix. I should just give up on this review now, because nothing I could write would hold a candle to this, a poor English translation of a review I found on a Russian mail order website: “There is no genre. Do not noise and not ambient, do not guess. Experimental – this is not a genre… when you listen to ‘Butoh’, he just gently rustles. The main association is ice and mirrors. There are no synthesizers. The computer is also not. There are only rings from the film. In the spirit of ‘Butoh.’ It’s hip-hop that died. The drums fell, all the instruments melted, disappeared (rotted, crawled away), only the bare space of the tracks, soft fluffy itching from the speakers remained.”
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.
San Francisco bass + guitar duo pushing boundaries of compositional technique via telepathic improvisational dialogues, and “the blurring of standard electric guitar/electric bass roles”.
Intricate, interconnected noodling. The pair are not afraid of a melody, but not afraid to stretch it into new dimensions either. A variety of moods on display here, from the playful Primary Colors (T-8) to the melancholy Krystyna’s Theme (T-7), reminiscent of Lonely Woman. Things get a little strung-out at times, like on Idee Fixe (T-3), but nothing that’s going to hurt you.
Adult is Nicola Kuperus and Adam Lee Miller and “Detroit House Guests” is the CD that came out of their project inviting six very distinct artists into their Detroit home at separate times, collaborating with that artist and creating work from that collaboration. It’s a fascinating concept that offers so many varying outcomes. Fortunately, each collaboration is unique and of superb quality. Adult tend to fall into an electronic art punk art damage sound, pulling from the 1980’s/90’s but definitely making it their own. The influences are sometimes obvious on this new CD, which makes it more fun, but you can figure them out for yourself. The 12 tracks are definitely filled with the style and sounds of each collaborator but in the end the songs are Adult. The list of artists is so unique, from big names to lesser known to the mainstream alternative but equally valued by those in the know. Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe brings his electronic soundscapes, twisting and beating with frightening authenticity. Shannon Funchess of Light Asylum adds her powerful deep vocals, drums and electronic play to mix with the sound of Adult. Michael Gira (Swans) and Douglas J. McCarthy (Nitzer Ebb) do what they do best with their onslaught and push. The new people for me were Dorit Chrysler and Lun*na Menoh, Dorit Chrysler is an internationally known theremin player, cofounder of The New York Theremin Society and founder of America’s first school for theremin. She also has this amazing voice, very emotional and cerebral at the same time. Lun*na Menoh is an artist, performance artist (Les Sewing Sisters), musician (Seksu Roba), and conceptual clothing designer. With Adult she uses her interest in sewing machines, using them to establish beats and rhythm. Put these all together and you get 12 tracks of electronic beats, monotone vocalization, art performance, emotional distance. Exceptional quality.
Rory Block needs no introduction to those in the know of blues singers and musicians. Winner of numerous blues awards, Block has established a catalogue of respected recordings. “A Woman’s Soul”, which is a tribute to Bessie Smith, is the first in her”Power Women of the Blues” series which will honor a variety of distinguished female blues singers. Tribute albums can be a dangerous thing, a slippery slope. They often fall flat because the interpretation is to try and sound exactly like the original or to change the artist’s work so much that it just sounds ridiculous. Neither is the case in this wonderful 2018 collection of the familiar and the obscure and rare of Bessie Smith’s own catalogue of tunes. Smith’s voice was powerful, her interpretation unique within the confines of the blues musical pattern. Black takes these songs and makes them her own, in a great way. First, the instrumentation: Block plays all instruments – acoustic guitars, bass and percussion which is things like blocks, sticks, and boxes including oatmeal boxes. She puts this together in a manner that sometimes falls toward old country, and that is a good thing. Then her vocals: she has this vibrato that accentuates key words and phrases. Top that with her holding out specific notes and the meaning gets layered and put in your head. Her pitch rises and falls with the story she is telling, sometimes working out a guttural vocalization which hits the spot. This is a double thumbs up. Pure joy.
“Our New Quarters” is Julian Fane’s 2007 release on Planet Mu. Ten tracks of lush, orchestral faux gaze (not quite nu-gaze) float the listener down an auditory river. At once slightly Sigur Ros or Damon & Naomi and then avant garde vocalizations and elongated strings mixed with electronics, Fane shifts sounds and tone like the differences one encounters when on that river. His lyrics are eloquent poems of desperation and sadness, observances of what will come (not good) and what is around (not good). The guitar work balances his tenor voice, often beautifully indecipherable, making you fill in the text based on your level of sadness. Fane once was a broker working the NASDAQ. He gave that up and went into music. We need more people to make choices like this. Wallow on in your ennui oh wayward son.
The staticky quality of these recordings are perfect for the blues, and Carr proves that misery loves company with these songs. Recorded circa the years of the Great Depression, we get a true feel for how tough things can be. “Rainy Day Blues” is awesome, as are many of the other tracks. Looking to commiserate? Try any of these to keep those lonesome feelings at bay.