Master musicians Hossein Alizadeh on setar and Pejman Hadadi tombak perform 15 tracks of improvisational Persian classical music on their album “Monad”. Stunning in all aspects. Both are renowned, Alizadeh award winning and nominated for his tar and setar playing, Hadadi highly sought after for his tombak skills. The “Monad” project takes the modes of Persian classical music and explores the infinite possibilities within these with their improvising. Alizadeh’s finger work on the setar is stunning: quick changes, floating up and down the neck of the instrument while strings are strummed and plucked. The changes of speed, the mood tones, the smoothness of the playing add such a quality of beauty. Add to this Hadadi’s intense beats on the tombak… it is a conversation between the two instruments and musicians that becomes a meditation. Total beauty.
“Wild Heart”, Samantha Fish’s 2015 album, is a bit of a departure from her usual blues rock style. This album explores more of a roots rock feel, utilizing her blistering guitar and sometimes throaty vocals (think a bit of Janis Joplin) to deliver the tales of lost women, lost love, difficult times, the difficulty of being a woman, messed up families…. it’s all good and there’s even a little love thrown in. Her style is so dynamic without being overly stagey or theatrical. She tells the tough stories. Her band is tight, accompanying her on the tales she is weaving. Blues rock, roots rock, country rock _ whatever you want to call, it kicks. Toss one back and listen.
Ustad Bimsillah Khan is a renowned shehnai player, the wind instrument related to the oboe. Bismillah was famous for taking the shehnai, a traditional folk instrument, and elevating its status to the concert stage. On this recording, Bismillah performs nine pieces for the shehnai, accompanied with drone and drum, which would be performed at weddings. The tunes would help to preserve the sacredness of the wedding ceremony and help the couple to support and sustain Dharma. The tunes are haunting but surprisingly smooth and somewhat light in their emotional dimension. Yes, you can have haunting and light together. The notes sometimes swirl, as if following a path or leading the wedding participants on the beginning of their journey. The playing is elegant, with some subtle juxtapositions. An elegant surprise for my ears.
Each of the musicians in the Set Ensemble is also a composer, and this CD offers a wonderful sampling of the uniqueness of this UK-based group’s creativity. Track 3 is particularly interesting with the sound of a carrot and apple being chewed and digested. Among the other instruments decorating the sparse soundscape are cello, piano, a banana, crisps, contrabass, zither, and guitar. Watch your levels because sometimes things start out very quietly. But there’s art to the stillness…
Drew Daniel and MC Schmidt are still going strong after 25 years of partnership, and they’re celebrating the milestone with a new album. This work follows the blueprint of many previous Matmos releases: the duo choose a theme and a limited range of sounds, and build the album within those constraints, often finding creative and surprising solutions to the strict boundaries they’ve set for themselves. This time, they’ve crafted an album entirely from the sounds of plastic objects. Throughout Plastic Anniversary, there’s hints of past works – the latex squeaks from Supreme Balloon or the fleshy-tones of A Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure – in the yelps from plastic tubing and squeals of synthetic fat and silicone breast implants. One element that sets this album apart for me is its powerful percussion. Members of a Montana high school drumline whale on trash bins in “Fanfare for Polyethylene Waste Containers” (T8) and solo on a “Thermoplastic Riot Shield” (T7, with added police state synths from Professor Cantaloupe). I outgrew my teenage crush on Deerhoof, but never my respect for their staggering drummer, Greg Saunier. Here, he contributes to several tracks, including the standout “The Collapse of the Fourth Kingdom” (T10), and the opener “Breaking Bread”(T1), where the trio plays the smashed fragments of old Bread LPs (a live performance of this track at the 2017 WFMU Record Fair caused a hilarious uproar from attendees). I could go on – the final track is synthetic soundscape of a teeming forest! (T11) – as this album overflows with unlikely sounds and ideas. Dead serious about their craft but never taking themselves too seriously, Matmos consistently rise far above the great garbage gyre that is the current musical landscape. Here’s to many more!
Razavi Sarvestani was a master singer and interpreter of Iranian music. Darioush Talaei (more commonly spelled Dariush Talai) is an Iranian tar player of international status. This recording of vocal radifs of Iranian music is volume one of an extensive survey of radifs. From my research I have found 18 volumes on this label. A radif “is a collection of many old melodic figures preserved through many generations by oral tradition. It organizes the melodies in a number of different tonal spaces called Dastgah. The traditional music of Iran is based on the radif, which is a collection of old melodies that have been handed down by the masters to the students through the generations. Over time, each master’s own interpretation has shaped and added new melodies to this collection, which may bear the master’s name. The preservation of these melodies greatly depended on each successive generation’s memory and mastery, since the interpretive origin of this music was expressed only through the oral tradition. To truly learn and absorb the essence of the radif, many years of repetition and practice are required. A master of the Radif must internalize the Radif so completely to be able to perform any part of it at any given time.” And that’s just the beginning of the explanation. The radifs are so culturally important that UNESCO has declared them part of the UNESCO Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. This recording of 22 radifs, possibly in a specific order, start off with a spoken word, possibly the title of the radif, and then the interpretation. It is just Sarvestani singing and Talai playing the tar. I have limited knowledge with this type of music but what I hear is thrilling, mesmerizing and wonderful. The interplay between the two is flawless, each complimenting and guiding the other. I am taken by this so much, especially with my beginners knowledge of it’s significance. We can always learn.
Raw, brutal “war jazz for the emotionally underdeveloped” (if you’re reading this, that’s you!) courtesy of Limbs Bin, the Western Mass.-based project of Josh Landes. Here, he’s joined by drummers Erik Brown and David Russell and Wyatt Howland (aka Skin Graft) on electronics. Two ~10 minute tracks recorded at a black site in Cleveland. Heavy darkness rings with a mechanical din and the vibrations of wires from electrodes applied to the skin. A cue – rapid clicks of drumsticks – signals the delivery of high-voltage shock. It hits in a blinding surge of skullbashing drums and howling screams, before dying out. The treatment repeats, over and over again, until everything is obliterated. What a glorious time to be free!
RP Boo (Kavain Space) is one of the founders of Chicago footwork, an amazing musical style that is as interesting to watch as it is to listen to. “I’ll Tell You What” is RP Boo’s third official album. It is an intense, ear shatteringly jarring exploration of sound and vocal samples broken up and down into their most basic parts, repeated continuously to proceed with the footwork exploration of rhythm anti-rhythm. If you could take sound, beats and vocals and throw them against glass then watch them all shatter, then listen to what was left…this might begin to give an idea of what is happening. Limited vocal samples tell the stories of cultural war, antagonism, belonging, love, success. It seems simple but could be missed if not listened to. The beats start and stop, propel, crunch, echo, bounce… all within seconds at times. Then there is space, emptiness while one minimal beat or vocal phrase is repeated. And repeated. And repeated. This is such a unique, challenging sound, and it’s been around for over 20 years. Experimental hip hop? Avant garde electronic dance music? It’s much more than all of that. Thank the spirits there are RP Boo’s in this world.
Unaussprechlichen Kulten were one of the sickest bands featured on KFJC’s live broadcast of Nuclear War Now! and Iron Bonehead’s Never Surrender Festival in Berlin last year. The name of the Chilean death metal group is German for ‘Unspeakable Cults,’ and also happens to be the title of a fictional black magic text featured in the works of both Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft. U.K. refer to their music as ‘occult death metal’ and it appears to be heavily inspired by Lovecraft’s mythos.
This 2018 CD compilation from a Chilean label contains a limited selection of tracks from U.K.’s 4th album ‘Keziah Lilith Medea (Chapter X)’ (2017) (t.s 1-3), their 3rd album ‘Baphomet Pan Shub-Niggurath’ (2014) (t.s 4-6), their 2013 EP ‘Lucifer Poseiden Cthulhu’ (t.s 7-8; frustratingly, the compilation leaves off only one song from this) and their 2012 split with the American band After Death (t.s 9+10). The remaining 8 tracks are live material; for most of the live songs a studio version can be found earlier on the CD, although not t.s 14-17.
This is monstrously heavy death metal, akin to a thick black smoke clogging your accursed speakers. Fire follows smoke in touches of strong melody wrought by the dual guitar interplay of ‘Herbert West’ and ‘Joseph Curwen,’ but always with a demented, demon-summoning twist. Many songs begin by grooving around a deceptively simple phrase before revealing the fuller tentacled complexity of their nameless horrors. The grindcore-inspired drumming and Curwen’s deranged Spanish death-gurgles round out this insanely suspenseful take on death metal. U.K.’s gloom-ridden riffs and unforgiving song structure, owing something to both Immolation and Autopsy, make for a style that goes well with Nuclear War Now!’s roster of sulphur-seared diabolical DM artists (e.g. Ignivomous or Dead Congregation)— although these guys have been playing this style for 20 years, which is quite impressive. All Hail true Chilean death metal.
Jeppe Hasseriis is the composer and producer of this ultimate trip of an album (yes, Sal9000, this one’s for you!). Aptly referred to as darksynth, outer-spacey electro ambience, this release is perfect for creating a Dr. Who type of mood. “Escape” (track 6) is my go-to, but almost any of these will do the trick.
This is a treasure trove of folk rock inspired by Joni Mitchell’s 1970 album “Ladies of the Canyon,” so of course I love it. These ladies celebrated the rebirth of folk rock and hail from the canyons of California. Some have religious overtones because they were sung at church picnics; the first features a gorgeous voice of a 19-year-old and lasts for less than a minute; another (track 4) comes from singer who went on to perform in Disney films such as “Pocahontas”; all of them are unique tributes to a genre that will not be forgotten thanks to the researchers who curated this compilation. Great liner notes, too.
Here is a winning surf music album from the beyond compare St. Petersburg, Russia band Messer Chups. “Gitaracula” Oleg plays with a complex, wet, surfy, energetic twang. The beautiful “Zombierella” Svetlana on bass and Eugene on drums are an outstanding rhythm section. Mostly original compositions but with a couple of soundtrack references (track 7 and 11) and even a quote of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C-sharp Minor (track 4). Outstanding!!
This is an homage to the great electric guitarists of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Represented are surf, blues, psych and exotica as played in fine Bill Frisell style. Purists might complain that the tracks are not like the originals while Frisell fans might find it a bit light weight, but I think it is just right.
Irma Thomas, a Grammy-Award winning contemporary of Aretha Franklin and Etta James who never experienced their level of commercial success, teamed up with Dan Penn, one of the great Southern soul songwriters for this album. And so, I was excited to listen to it. Unfortunately, although her vocals are certainly great, Thomas just doesn’t seem to connect to many of the songs on this album. I felt like I had walked into the lobby bar of a really nice hotel and was listening to the house band and singer. There’s a laid-back modern soul feel that gets too relaxed at times and not fiery often enough. My favorite track is #4, “If You Want It, Come and Get It”, although many others are solid. Overall good, just not as big or great in this effort from 2000 as her prior and later work.
Judy Henske is a singer of blues, folk, country and jazz. Her career was full of connections with big names: she opened for Lenny Bruce, was a regular on tv’s Hootenanny, performed on the Judy Garland show but turned down a chance to be a regular, shared the stage with Woody Allen and is the original influence for Annie Hall, oh and so much more. These two albums from 1963 and 1964 capture a highlight of her career when she tore up the nightclub and coffee house scene coast to coast. She has a brash, boisterous, powerful voice which really work the lyrics and create a tone for the selections of blues and murder ballads. She never holds back with her emotion. Powerful stuff. What is really exciting, though, is her chat before the songs. These are recorded live and the audience loves her audacious, snarky, suggestive intros to the songs. Henske is like a Lenny Bruce crooner, irreverent and stunning, not afraid to go there. A brilliant collection of an amazing singer songwriter. All Hail the other Judy.
There are times when we luckily come upon something new. It may have been there for awhile but it is new to us. Such is the case of Nick Demopoulos’ project “Smomid”. Standing for String Modeling Midi Device, Nick, initially a guitarist, created smomid as a way for a guitar to interface with a computer. The smomid, along with his pyramidi, a midi device, are homemade instruments that transform sounds in a new way. And they look great. Lights, lights, lights. The smomid looks sort of like a combination of a guitar and one of those synthesizers from the 1980’s that also looks like a guitar. It is a guitar midi controller with all the knobs and buttons necessary to create a multitude of sounds, allowing for samples of tuvan singers and gamelan to blips and bleeps ala the best IDM to what may sound like sitar or stretched out guitar. Add the pyramidi midi devices that go along with it and wow. Talk about psychoalphadiscobetabioaquadoloop. Don’t forget to add the lights, synchronized to send out coded messages to viewers, flashing to the beat of the smomid. Be ready.
The Surfrajettes are an all-female surf band foursome from Toronto. Although their fame might be connected to the novelty of women playing surf, their music is high powered, energetic and well played. Great fun!
Fierce improvisational avant rock from this trio headed by Wendy Eisenberg, a Boston-based guitarist, composer, and member of the no-wave punk band Birthing Hips. When she was a student at the New England Conservatory of Music, Eisenberg was spotted by John Zorn, who connected her with two accomplished players, drummer Ches Smith (of Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog) and bassist Trevor Dunn (of Mr. Bungle, Fantomas, Nels Cline Singers, and more) . This 2018 release from Zorn’s Tzadik label is the result of this collaboration. Eisenberg’s bold playing is at the fore, as her strings contort from discordant but familiar sounds into skewed sonic shapes or heavy, electronic growls, like on the noisy opener “The Descent of Alette” (T1, a tribute to the poem by Alice Notely) . The trio’s exchanges begin as dispersed bursts that that build in to intense grooves (T1, T3, T9), loose jams (T5), tangled thickets (T6, T10) or driving attacks (T4, T5, T7). Staggering sounds from this talented newcomer.
Per Bloland studied music composition at Stanford and now teaches at Miami University. He often composes for an electromagnetically-prepared piano of his own design. The piano has a series of electromagnets placed along different strings, each of which can be driven by audio signal. This allows the timbre, sustain, and dynamics of each note to be controlled, and enables new type of resonance and feedback.
Chamber Industrial contains 5 works for chamber ensemble inspired by a variety of literary works and performed by The Ecce Ensemble. Moods are tense and suspenseful, contrasting delicate flutes and bells with the discordant growls produced by the sax, double-bass, and piano. Bloland evokes the energy of industrial music through abrasive, distorted textures and simple motifs. The electromagnetically-prepared piano is featured on T4, while T2 and T4 are purely acoustic.
This Los Angeles instrumental band straddles the line between exotica and surf. Guitarist Bill McGlynn’s wide interest in music shows in his compositions and arrangements for all tracks. Very satisfying, well played, and cool.
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