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Music Reviews

Branca, Glenn – “Lesson No. 1” [Acute Records]

stingray   1/14/2005   A Library, CD

A re-issue of three Glenn Branca pieces.
Track 1 (‘Lesson #1 for Electric Guitar?) is a shimmery, ambient piece of minimalist guitar music.
Track 2 (‘Dissonance?) features multiple tempo changes and some frenetic and chaotic percussion (including sledgehammer). Listening to it gives me a palpable feel of dread, probably a result of the cognitive dissonance of listening to these ‘rock? instruments creating what is clearly a neo-classical composition.
Track 3 (‘Bad Smells?) is a neo-classical guitar piece in several movements. It starts out with a kind of up-tempo prog-rock beat, then dissolves into chaos; after surfacing briefly as a funk-informed drum-and-bass jam, it then tumbles over the cliff of chaotic guitar chords over a bed of pretty synthesizer chords.
There’s also a quicktime video on here of ‘Symphony No. 5?, a guitar/drum/bass drone. The sound quality is pretty terrible on this (I can see the drummer, but I can barely make out any drumming), but it is amusing to see Branca ‘conduct? by leaping and convulsing about the stage like David Byrne on PCP.
‘Lesson #1 For Electric Guitar? and ‘Dissonance? were originally released as the two sides of a 12″ single in 1980. ‘Bad Smells? was originally released in 1982.

NOXAGT – “The Iron Point” [Load Records]

stingray   1/14/2005   A Library, CD

Heavy minimalist instrumental rock out of Norway. The bass and drums lay down heavy, thudding grooves and guitar and violin/viola screech over the top. This is music designed to be played loud enough to peel paint. A couple more dark/ambient pieces as well, if heavy thuddery doesn’t do it for you.
Tracks grouped by type:
1, 3, 6 – Slow and heavy.
2, 4 – Upbeat and heavy.
5 – Speed-metal fast and heavy
8 – Starts off speed-metal fast, transitions to mid-tempo, and then ends with about 1:30 of industrial ambient drone/whine.
7 – Synth-organ chords with and old man (the Violist’s grandfather). Singing in Norwegian. Darkly pretty and more than a little creepy.
10 – Industrial drone with a sparse drum beat. Piano chords start showing up about halfway through.
Liner notes are bizarre. To read them, it sounds like they are a country band recording in Nashville (‘plain, honest, down-home music?).
Stingray

[coll] Anticon Label Sampler: 1999-2004 [Anticon]

stingray   1/13/2005   CD, Hip Hop

An extremely long (almost 80 minutes!) compilation from east-bay hip-hop crew/label Anticon. Even though this is a collection, the tracks blend together, so careful at the start and end of tracks. I’ll split the review into three parts:
Singing: Some of the artists on Anticon are singers rather than rappers. The effect is that of indie-pop with a more hip-hip beat. Artists in this vein include Why? (2, 12, 22, 29) who answers the question ‘what if the Residents played hip-hop?, Passage (6, 18), Restiform Bodies (28), and the Alias track that features Markus Acher of The Notwist (31).
Rapping: In the more traditional hip-hop vein, Alias (4, 14, 20, 25), Sole (5, 13, 21, 32), Themselves (3, 11, 15, 27), Deep Puddle Dynamics (5), and Pedestrian (7, 19) feature skillful and dexterous rapping over backgrounds that vary from melodic and catchy (Pedestrian) to dark and mellow (Alias, plus 5 and 13 by Sole ? produced by Alias), to dark and heavy (Themselves, Deep Puddle Dynamics).
Instrumentals: Odd Nosdam provides dark, heavy, electronic instrumentals (10, 23) and a bit of comic relief (17, which features the Muppet Show bari sax baseline and sampled spoken vocals from TV/film); he also produces Sole tracks 21 and 32. Alias (26), Dosh (30), and Jel (33) provide smoother, trip-hoppier sounds.
Language: 4, 5, 12, 14*, 22, 27
*Only in the spoken outro. ‘Shit? at 3:20 of 3:37.

Stingray

[coll] 10 + 2: American Text Sound Pieces [Other Minds]

stingray   1/13/2005   A Library, CD

What it is: Vocal (but-non-singing) works of American avant garde composers.
What it sounds like:
1. The words ‘Rainbow? ‘Chug?, ‘Bandit? and ‘Bomb? sampled and looped.
2. A somewhat cut up speech about modern music that references track 1.
3. A cut up speech that talks about John Cage.
4. Vocal screeches, hisses and groans. Somehow based on the name ‘Merce Cunningham?
5. A woman reading a recipe and a fantasy novel edited together with a warbley echo. FUCK.
6. The word ‘bang? over and over again. Originally a locked groove.
7 and 8. Originally a single track. A synthesized voice repeating the same words with pitch shifting.
9. Quickly spoken words that are hard to make out over a background of electronic noodling.
10. The composer makes vocal noises (‘eh eh eh ah ah ih?) in the background while her mother speaks about her in the foreground.
11. A poem being read one word at a time while being written on a chalkboard.
12. Several conversations with telephone operators that overlap.
13. The word ‘crickets? over and over. Originally a locked groove.
About the recording: Rerelease of 1975 LP on the Arch label. Biographies included in the liner notes are c. 1975.

al-?Ajam?, Hasan, “The Singing of Sanaa” [Radio France]

stingray   1/13/2005   CD, International

What it is: Traditional Yemenite Music
What it sounds like: Hasan sings and accompanies himself on a Yemenite lute, known as a tarab (it has a similar sound to an Asian lute, but has a somewhat richer tone). He is accompanied by Muhammed al-Kham’s? on copper plate percussion, known as a shn nuh’s?. At various times, the music is arrhythmic, in 11, in 7, and in 2. Each track is a complete piece in several movements (see the liner notes for details). The first track features vocals throughout, while tracks 2 and 3 have 2-3 minute instrumental introductions.
About the recording: The composition and performance of music was banned in Yemen in the 1960’s. Hasan is a third generation musician who’s predecessors kept the traditions alive. According to the liner notes, he is the only Yemeni musician who still uses the traditional Yemeni tarab, others having switched to the more common Oriental ?’d.

[coll] Gauguin Years, The: Songs and Dances [Nonesuch]

stingray   1/13/2005   CD, International

What it is: Field recordings of indigenous Tahitian music.
What it sounds like: The most interesting tracks (to me) are some combination of chant, prayer and song (6, 8, 10, 17, 18, 22, 24). Most of them involve a kind of call and response with a ‘preacher? or storyteller and a chorus. It must be a similar experience to hearing a catholic mass in a language you can’t understand.
Some tracks are beautifully harmonized a cappella prayers and laments that can sound quite alien to western ears (2, 4, 11, 12, 13, 16, 21, 25).
Some tracks are ukulele/guitar accompanied by one voice (3, 15, 20, 23, 26), a chorus of voices (1, 14), or no voices at all (9). These sound like ‘traditional? Polynesian music (as opposed to the slicked up stuff presented to tourists, but you can hear the roots of that here).
Rounding out the collection are some tracks of drumming (5, 19) and a brief wind instrument (nose flute perhaps?) solo (7). I’ve indicated my favorites on the back, but everything is good and the recording quality is quite excellent.
About the recording: Originally released in 1968 as part of a series of South Pacific field recordings. All tracks recorded in Tahiti by Francis Mazi’re.

TULEAR NEVER SLEEPS

Ann Arbor   1/13/2005   CD, International

This is the first compilation of music of the Tsapiky (Tsa-peek) guitars from south west Madagascar. They are handmade box shaped lutes. The gentle rhythmic lute-like musical style is similar to many of its African neighbors but it’s distinct. The tsapiky is at the center of the group which includes vocals, bass, drums and dancers. The vocal styles vary and the lyrics tell stories about people, relationships and aspects of life. A beauty! AArbor

CAPTAIN YABA – YabaFUNKRoots

Ann Arbor   1/13/2005   CD, International

This music is ‘griot funk? from Sierra Leone. Originally released in the 1990’s this album apparently had little impact at that time. Yaba’s sound slowly grew in popularity by word of mouth. Yaba himself died of TB (in his early 30s) in April of 2001. For about 4 years from 1999 until 2003 the album was out of circulation. RetroAfric re-issued it re-packaged with added tracks from the original session. Funky African style beats underpin Yaba’s gentle 2-string gourd guitar (koliko) grooves, a muted trumpet & vocals. A beauty! AArbor

added: 03/31/04

Butcher, John/Robair, Gino “New Oakland Burr” [Rastascan]

Thurston Hunger   1/9/2005   CD, Format, Jazz

Recently issued capture of two 2001 sessions between local
percussion-plus purveyor (and chief man at Rastascan) Gino
Robair, and UK sax whacker John Butcher. The album starts
with high-pitched twitting over a (bowed?) rumble droner;
it’s hard to tell if that whistling is amplified Butcher or
Robair sawing on some styrofoam or both. The key is that
both guys are willing to stretch their sonic repetoire to
the point of illusion. Thus at times on this you’ll get the
“drummer” squonking away, while the “horn” player is tapping
out a spit-rhythm or other percussion. On other tracks, both
guys approach an alien sound together, like on “Slug Tag”
where they are speaking metal slowscrape. Robair’s ebowed
snare appears on the “Pudsey Surprise” like a fly trapped
buzzing in window screen, Butcher bugzaps some electrosax.
A lot of turf covered here from the drone-tundra of “Fid”
and “Peal” to more squigglery on “Blagovest.” Humor not
to be discounted, hear the sax whinny on “Vug” and Robair
gets in on the joke, but I’m not sure on what instrument.
Would have been great to see this in person live, these
tracks are as short as they are strange…so they are very
easy to squeeze in and play musical ears.

Fontaine, Brigitte “Brigitte Fontaine” [Saravah]

Thurston Hunger   1/9/2005   A Library, CD, Format

1972 a completely fascinating audio enchantment. Fontaine
sounds strong but soft, subtle yet striking. She’s always the
focal vocal point accompanied by sparse backing and sometimes
just naked by herself (or herselves as several tracks feature
great moments of Brigitte multitracked like the beginning of
#2, #6 & #8 which features gaspy sobs as well!) At other
times she’s pitched up against a more gravelly male voice
(Areski I believe who she would record more with). It starts
with a breezy folk-pop smile of a song but boom #2 kicks off
with a piercing shriek. On track #3 we have a few seconds of
audie realite babysitting, then #4 a ponderous chamber ditty
that recalls Nico. Before this scant 30 minutes is up you
will have heard incorporated a cuckoo clock approach, a
harmonium harmonizing with Brigitte and then protest shouts,
sad pining with an Arabic lilt (Areski’s influence?), other
moments that feel like hymns and it ends up with a kind of
proggy number. Lady Fontaine is a champion chameleon, an
artful performer and in my estimation an absolute and
essential genius. French and twisted! Worship her.

Peter Brotzmann’s Chicago Tentet Plus Two “Broken English” [Okka Disc]

Thurston Hunger   1/9/2005   CD, Format, Jazz

Despite a leading gentle mantra guided by Hamid Drake’s vocal
prayer, frame drum and soul…do not be deceived, this is
**horsepower** jazz. Peter Brotzmann knows how to whip up a
stampede. He rides into the fray with a gypsy’s tarogato,
calming cycles to go with Drake’s dream chant… But just
shy of six minutes, skyscrapers of sound shoot up through
the idyll. Cue the lurching Longberg-Holm cello…unleash
the dual drumheart of Zerang and Drake pumping at more than
capacity, and the race has begun. Brotzmann has amassed
some mighty thoroughbreds…plenty of NRG and BBQ to keep
the fire music flaming…but “Stonewater” does have some
stillness running deep in pockets. Ultimately it is the
sputtering saxes that stand-out, I’m telling you I hear
horses…lip-flipping, braying, raging stags. So even when
we get a little clarinet soft-shoe around 18 minutes in,
and then a very faint cello/bass duo, I’m waiting for
the hoofs…which leap in almost like a bad edit. For all
the fine playing, track one is acoustically imbalanced.
The second tracks stays strong throughout, a nice brass
oven at the end of its first third. The piece pauses
for a trumpet soliloquy at 13:36 (McPhee?) then it’s
over to Gustaffson for his pyrotechnique. Late in the
piece a drum duet locks in, invites in a swinging set
from the whole twelve and boom, a cliffhanger ending.
Years of music barely fit into 67 minutes, escape words.
Listen, follow one player for awhile, repeat..

Bradford, Bobby/Wong, Francis/Roper, William “Purple Gums” [Asian Improv]

Thurston Hunger   1/9/2005   CD, Format, Jazz

Roper’s tuba is smudgy and thick, he also plays the
conch shell…and this reminded me of one gigantic
conch shell at the bottom. Wong’s sax is smoky but
not so much so that you cannot see Bobby Bradford
darting in and out on cornet. All of these are
improvisations that work just fine on their own…but
on several of the pieces, Roper puts down the tuba
and delivers some monologues…that even when tackling
touchy issues like segregation (#4) do so with a noble
sort of whim. He’s not singing, but his voice is so
rich and sonorous that you want him to keep on talking
despite it somewhat distracting from the music. Well,
I sure…did he seems like quite a character, check
“You A Square.” If you want the straight music, they
have got you covered as well.

Birdbrain “I Fly” [Persian Cardinal]

Thurston Hunger   1/9/2005   A Library, CD

Beak-tweaking pop from this Brooklyn Quartet. Yvette Perez’s
queerly cheering vocals and kewpie paroxysms ride on top of
a great trio of horns. Betty Boop over bop? Actually the horns
(two saxes and a trombone) sound like marching band refugees
trying to capture Albert Ayler in minimalism? The songs are
quick to flight, the album breezes by in a feather over 20
minutes. Perez’s vocals are stacked in teasing layers, they
definitely add to the braininess. The birdiness comes from
some of the horn’s tooty tweeting, and staccato woodpecker
sections. There are a few avian persuasion lyrics and a fowl
sample or two, but this stays fair and delivers a homerun
for fans of herky-quirky.
O Superband!

The BellRays — “The Red, White, & Black” — [Alternative Tentacles]

Hunter Gatherer   1/9/2005   A Library, CD

This is the 4th full length release by the BellRays, originally released in 2003 by Poptones. It’s being re-released on Alternative Tentacles and won’t be available until later this month (1/2005)

The music on this CD is “Rock & Soul,” fuled by the power of singer Lisa Kekaula’s soulful and expressive voice and Tony Fate’s driving and equally expressive guitar work. The band is from Riverside, but their sound is from Detroit.

The quality of the tracks is pretty uneven, both in the songwriting and the playing. And there is a self-seriousness in the music and liner notes that is off-putting. But on the tracks where everything clicks (especially 5,7,8,12 in my humble opinion) all is forgiven.

After listening to this CD you’ll no longer wonder what Aretha’s albums would have sounded like if Steve Cropper was replaced with Tony Iommi.

Language: Fuck on 3

Use the track listings on the inside of the liner notes. The back cover doesn’t contain the full track listing.

–Hunter Gatherer

[coll] Nightime Recordins From Bali [Sublime Frequencies]

Thurston Hunger   1/9/2005   A Library, CD, Format, International

Alan Bishop (nee Lomax?) of the Sun City Girls
undertakes an underground and afterhours look
at international music with his strongly
self-run Sublime label. Ears in armchairs
get a whiff of the enchantment, as well as
smoldering flesh at funeral pyres. Some of
these recordings are truly in the *field*,
with Balinese flora and fauna. A good number
are “fast food gamelan,” quick glimpses into
lengthy performances. These sections have
more agressive flourishes, like a dog tearing
at something: violent shakes of sound. Then
diamond dogs do drop in on #14, I wound up
wondering about the stories behind that and
other tracks, (at the end of #17 we overhear
“I thought he was the police”). Hopefully we
can get Alan on for an interview. “Rubber
Television” mixes raindrops and teardrops
for a radio soap opera.

Henriksen, Arve “Chiaroscuro” [Rune Grammafon]

Thurston Hunger   1/9/2005   A Library, CD, Format

Supersmeared trumpet from Supersilent’s Henriksen. With a
no-hassle, yes-Hassel vibe the palate here is warmer than
the first six slices of Supersilent. And pieces are shorter
sketches of sound. Here Henriksen’s tiny voice, which often
stands in striking contrast to the monumental Deathprod’d
musical monoliths, instead helps bring us down through a
microscope into a smaller world. Nano-whales spout muted
streams; percussion from Audun Kleive is like subcellular
flagellae, gently whipping at beats. The straining of
Hernriksen’s trumpet (it pines like a shakuachi on #7)
can give this a mistakenly elegiac aire, but I think it
is really an album that is at peace with its smaller
and more subtle nature.

Russell, Arthur “Calling Out of Context” [Audika Records]

Thurston Hunger   1/9/2005   A Library, CD, Format

RIP Charles Arthur Russell II – April 4th, 1992. Arthur
might still be championed as a lost visionary even if
his life were not lost to AIDS. He helped stage shows
at the avant-kookery known as the Kitchen in NYC but
he also had a predilection for disco (releasing a
dance discs under names like Loose Joints, Dinosaur L
and Indian Ocean). This posthumous pop release reissues
an album “Corn” along with other kernels. I have to
confess, “The Platform on the Ocean” is nearly perfect
for me. His loose-lipped, note-cloud singing I enjoy,
especially when dipped in quick reverb as he does. His
cello flies in askance and belies his brief tenure at
Ali Akbar Khan’s Marin college. Gotta find that lp of
his solo cello work. Certainly his boogie nights see
the light of day on this, drum machines skip and prance
to prod tracks. His vocalizations may steer some clear,
but I’ll take them time and again over Jennifer Warnes
(on #6). His vox are the ghost in the dance machine!
It’s a tragedy that his life will be defined by the
success others he shared time and rehearsal space w/
went on to, instead of his own.

Architecture in Helsinki “Fingers Crossed” [Bar/None]

Thurston Hunger   1/9/2005   A Library, CD, Format

Pillow talk rock sung by perpetual prepubescents in their
Human League t-shirts. You get the feeling Burt Bacharach
would even smile when he gets that Helsinki feeling. Bass
lines bubble up with mirth, banks of toy pianos teletype
a rosy colored glass more than twice half-full. Yep this
is an album that is positively brimming, positively beaming.
If Mitch LeMay does not like this, then run for cover as
the end of the world is nigh. If you don’t like it, the
vocals are probably just too damn fluffy for you. Or
maybe it was the kazoo? Maybe you have a problem with
merry-go-rounds…that’s possibly the ideal setting for
sitting with these sounds spinning. The collective draws
from many global points, yet none of them in Finland. The
band however was born in Melbourne. Casio tones for the
plainfully together?

Ape Has Killed Ape “Another Fraudulent Hoax” [self]

Thurston Hunger   1/9/2005   A Library, CD, Format

Matt Stein is top banana in Ape Has Killed Ape. He also
is the erstwhile drummer for Leather Hyman. His talky
vocals with telephony squelch cannot help but recall
“Flash and the Pan” for me. First track has rock 101
appeal, second track is lazy three-chord, three-beer
acoustic ditty, third track is an instro interluude key
crawler, the fourth lays out tribal drums and tangled
effect-strafed guitar, the fifth’s an instro at a
bottling company with anthem lite guitar, the sixth
fills theremin trills in the space between a collapsed
relationship. Lastly Stein is joined by a rowdy Roddy
McDowell sample for “The Fall of Man.” This CD has
about as much evolution in it as a Georgia textbook.
Stein will keep working with his little four-track
until they pry it from his cold, dead fingers and
opposable thumbs.

Antarcticans, the “The New Black”

Thurston Hunger   1/9/2005   A Library, CD, Format

Mystical epics carved with glacial grace by this 5-piece from
Pasadena. Lengthy instro excursions climb through God Speed
clouds up and over the Holy Mountain. Excellent use of the
rise and fall of dynamics, as if the listener finds resting
caves along the way, only to catch a second and a third wind,
along with a second and third guitarist to boot. Track one
hits a pagan celebration about 10 minutes in, Io Pan indeed.
Track two begins bending an angular riff over a broken half
step at the temple to some two-headed god. Janus? The god
gets angry, then blissfully calm, then angry again. The band
seems to have a firm grasp on how long to ride a passage
before moving on to other territory. The last track finds
all five adrift on an iceberg with the mummified remains of
Florian Fricke. Nice harmonics tick up to a squall around
6:50 in…large auditorim reverb billowing on quick picked
guitar that mounts in fury till 11 minutes or so…then its
a very slow fade to white, which is the new black. Somewhere
between the 12- and 32-minute marks that song vanishes into
thin air.

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