Music Reviews

Mutts, the – ” ” – [Fat Cat]

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

Respectably rocking material by straight-ahead UK quartet. Guitar/bass/drums/vocals. Three tracks around three minutes each. Nice job of walking the line between clean and gritty. I’m definitely up for more of this.

Each Other – “S/T ” – [Birds Go South Records]

Max Level   1/7/2006   A Library, CD

Strong, intelligent rock from this local project. Choppy guitar with a distinctive distorted tone. Big, thick keyboards blasting away and occasionally adding weird textural things. First-rate rhythm section, especially the drummer who evidently has more than two arms. The vocals remind me of Robyn Hitchcock, of all people. I like the sections where not all of the instruments are playing, and then when the whole band comes in, things really take off. Minimal lyrics are, in the band’s words, “based on the lives and stories of selected Russian writers?”, so songs about imprisonment, exile, and such. Not what I’d call a fun CD, but a fantastic listen all the same.

To Hell and / Shemps [coll] – [Gloom Records]

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

Two rowdy New York bands kick in your front door and grab everything they can while your security alarm howls. To Hell and Back is a hard rock/punk combo with gruff vocals, big riffs, and short, wild guitar solos. Their two tracks are each around 2? minutes long. The Shemps crank up three sharp slices of ripping pogo-beat, under 2 minutes apiece. The message: you’re stupid and you hate us and we don’t care. Bonus points for the band’s name, the cover art, and for having a guitarist named Squeaky.

Japonize Elephants From… – “40 Years of Our Family ” – [Tzme Productions]

Max Level   1/7/2006   A Library, CD

The strangeness continues. Everybody’s favorite hillbilly klezmer vaudeville gypsy circus orchestra is back with another load of their cheerfully disturbing (disturbingly cheerful?) song stylings. The players wear makeup and costumes and have names like Schmeeglewop and Zozzy. Do you like sax, flute, accordion, guitar, banjo, xylophone, tin whistle, trumpet? A percussionist who plays nothing but Junk? You’ll love this stuff. They have a full-time glockenspiel player, for heaven’s sake. The music doesn’t sit still; it twists and turns and blasts and bounces from style to style. It’s a surprise a minute, and an exhilarating ride. Excellent musicianship, cartoon-ish vocals, bizarre lyrics: bacon, whiskey, personal hygiene, some low-budget Francais, etc.

Anodyne / Keelhaul [coll] – [Chainsaw Safety]

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

Side A: Brooklyn outfit Anodyne offers a 5:41 medley consisting of an original composition (a minute and a half burst of hardcore madness), which segues into a version of Throbbing Gristle’s “Persuasion” that’s all rumbling bass throb, odd loops, and spoken words off in the distance. Side B: Cleveland’s veteran hard rockers Keelhaul blast off with a killer 6-minute piece that twists and turns through several sections of tightly focused riffing and chording. Drummer Will Scharf is worth the price of admission here. Side A is cool, but Side B rules!

Crispus Attucks – “! Yo Peho ! ” – [Six Weeks]

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

Posthumous release of super destructo hardcore from Washington DC quintet. Radical politics and skateboards. Smash the state, resist and fight, shred ’till death. Each side has 3 very short tracks clocking in at a total of less than 3 minutes per side. Forget the individual tracks, you’ll want to play a whole side. It’s all good.

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.

Crib – “Remnant ” – [Transparency]

Max Level   1/7/2006   A Library, CD

Crib (bassist Devin Sarno working solo) has been exploring low-end drone situations for over a decade now. Here are three pieces of typical Crib ambience, with unobtrusive contributions by a handful of guests on violin (P.Haden, J.Gauthier) and guitar (G.E.Stinson, N.Cline). Sarno adds subtle coloration to the mix with voices, breathing, and, on one track, a locomotive passing by. Each of the tracks is lovely and floaty, but not without a feeling of underlying tension to keep things in balance. Nearly 40 minutes of spacious chill-outs; little sonic worlds for you to explore. All in all, another fine installment in the Crib series.

Birdtree, the – “Orchards and Caravans ” – [Last Visible Dog Records]

Max Level   1/7/2006   A Library, CD

Intriguing solo project by Glenn Donaldson of San Francisco’s Jewelled Antler Collective, combining acoustic folk music with strange and beautiful sounds too active to be called “ambient”. Donaldson sings and plays 99% of the instruments, largely via cassette overdubs, creating that classic recorded-in-the-bedroom sound. We hear guitar, banjo, bouzouki, keyboards, percussion, accordion, harmonium, toys, nature recordings, and heaven only knows what all else. He does a nice job with the folky guitar/vocal parts, but for me it’s the addition of all those surprisingly musical “non-music” sections that give this project its elegance. Good stuff. Donaldson also did the fantastic artwork; too bad this isn’t 12″ vinyl in a double gatefold cover.

Thinking Fellers Union Local 2 – “Kids Are in the Mud, the ” – [Japan Overseas]

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

Pop music from the furthest reaches of Bizarro-World. The “Kids” side is talk-singing with scraping, loops, pitch-shifting, electronics, and no sign of a “real” instrument to be heard, except for a short section with some vibes or bells or something. The “Bones” side conjures up the Residents with drawling vocals, warped carnival calliope, and a rhythm consisting of boings and thuds. What makes people do stuff like this, anyway? Do I like it? Oh yeah. Do I understand it? Not a chance.

Sanctum – “Let’s Eat ” – [Cold Meat Industry]

Max Level   1/7/2006   A Library, CD

As is the case with most releases on CMI, this is full of dark scary beauty. Sweden’s Sanctum have been quiet for 4 or 5 years, while main members J. Carleklev and H. Paulsson worked on other projects. Back in action, Sanctum delivers “Let’s Eat”, a work that relies less on the often baroque orchestral approach of their earlier work, and more on an industrial-based sound heavy on loud synthetic beats and samples. Lovely, subtle music is in there, but it’s layered among (and complimented by) some pretty harsh textures and beats. The female singer on their previous releases has departed, leaving the males to do most of the vocals in a gruff/hoarse style reminiscent of Godflesh. Track 4 features a female guest vocalist. On that track, the delicate vocals and piano are combined with an insistent rhythmic groan that adds a nice dark edge. This CD is superbly assembled and produced, and is a real feast for the ears.

Keith, Rodd – “Ecstacy to Frenzy ” – [Tzadik]

Max Level   1/7/2006   A Library, CD

Two lengthy keyboard/vocal improvisations and three short pop-type numbers. 75 minutes of strange, crazy music. Rodney Keith Eskelin, who died in 1974, was a talented but eccentric musician/arranger. In the 1960-70s, he worked for various record companies, setting lyrics by amateur songwriters to music for possible pop hits. Amusing jazz/rock/pop mini-masterpieces ensued; Tracks 2, 3, and 4 here are typical examples. In addition to the day job, he made his own odd music in the studio at night: Track 1 is 33+ minutes of weird organ/piano patterns and nonsense vocals (counting, burping noises, yelps, etc) with the right channel backwards on the tape for some reason. Nobody knows whether the left and right channels were intended as two separate pieces, or as one piece containing both a forward and backward track. To confound us further, Track 5 is that same long piece reversed, each channel now playing in the opposite direction for a different listening perspective.

Lost Sounds – ” ” – [Holy Cobra Society]

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

Memphis TN’s contribution to the “blackwave” school of music, Lost Sounds are sort of a goth-y rock and roll synth punk conglomeration. There’s a compelling air of desperation to Lost Sounds, as if there’s nothing else these people can possibly do except to make this music with this band. Side A is a frenzied guitar/keyboard rocker that ends with a more restrained piano-driven section. Side B has an excellent cover of Joy Division’s “Ice Age”, and also a Joy Division-ish original.

Barnes, Jamie – “Fallen Acrobat, the ” – [Silber Records]

Max Level   1/7/2006   A Library, CD

While in general I’m perhaps not the world’s biggest appreciator of singer/songwriters, there’s no denying the talent this young man from Kentucky displays here on his debut release. For one thing, he plays all instruments himself (acoustic and electric guitars, banjo, piano, percussion, glockenspiel, toy piano, etc.). Also, his lyrics are first-rate; observant, ironic, and hopeful are just a few words that come to mind. I like the way his voice stays near the top of his vocal range, which fits the feel of the music very well. This record makes a nice enough first impression, then grows more impressive with each listen.

Bomis Prendin – “Test/Phantom Limb ” – [Self Released]

Max Level   1/7/2006   A Library, CD

A digitally-cleaned-up reissue of low-budget recordings (originally released on two flexidisks between 1979-80) from this Washington DC-area sound collective. Rave reviews in the underground music press encouraged them to keep making their weird combination of bedroom pop, tape collage, fuzzed-out instrumentals, bizarre spoken word, and experimental composition, and so they did, armed with guitars, keyboards, toys, primitive electronics, anything that made an interesting noise. Recordings were made super cheaply at home with cassette-to-cassette overdubbing and such. I like this stuff because it’s fascinatingly odd bedroom material even by today’s standards, and even more likable for having originated over 25 years ago. The band’s discography shows a handful of limited-run cassettes and flexidisks coming out between 1979-86. Apparently they’re still at it; brand new material came out on CD in 2001 and 2004.

Daugherty, Michael – “Philadelphia Stories / U F O ” – [Naxos World]

Thurston Hunger   1/7/2006   A Library, CD

A rather rich sound summoned on these two works, perhaps too
rich for the ragged and ripped aural palette of some KFJCers?
Still some of the sweeping sections in “Philadelphia Stories”
are nicely dizzying, in a way that certain soundtracks can
be. The opening track bounces between two worlds, one where
a sun rises in cascading string tones as opposed to a bouncy
guitar and flock of flutes coming up out of the rushes. Then
we find ourselves in something like a Western, those clicks
of woodblocks like horseclops. This ain’t Sun Ra’s Philly, but
it ain’t a big ol’ soft pile of cream cheese either. On the
“Tell-Tale Harp” things are pretty feathery, and feathered
prettily. I guess that has a blunted Herman Blount vibe to it,
but it could more easily double as stock soundtrack to a Chris
Columbus movie. Evidently Daugherty’s shock to the overground
tux and pearls audiences is that he listens and incorporates
popular music and ideas. Heck I just kinda enjoy this alright,
it’s not Xenakkis shock and awe, but we do get a plenitude of
percussion on the UFO suite, led by Evelyn Glennie. In fact,
in contrast to the KFJC noise of matter being ripped apart
electron by electron, this highly ordered music feels a
tad refreshing. Some of the vibe-work on UFO could fit in
with Gregg Bendian and Tortoise, nice aquatic tinges on the
slower movements to UFO (#5, #6). On “Objects” Daugherty
unveils the alien as a taiko orchestra. Nice! -Hunger

Jan Dukes De Grey – “Mice and Rats in the Loft ” – [Breathless Records]

Thurston Hunger   1/7/2006   A Library, CD

Re-release of the second release from this UK trio. Unlike
too much prog, this at times allows for the possibility of
skipping down a sunny hillside, there are carefree vibes in
each of the 3 lengthy, intricate songs including passages of
strong tune-worthiness (including a sort of brief quote
from Three Blind Mice on “Call of the Wild”). But beneath
that sunshiney vibe, the lyrics here talk of guillotines
and ripping hearts right out of the flesh (years before
Indiana Jones turned such an act into a theme park). The
deft mix of instruments: sax, mandolin, trumpet, flute and
more not only showcases the proficiency of the band, but
makes for a very full-sound for a three-piece. Derek Noy
is a very imaginative guitarist, his work on the initial
“Sun Symphonica” propels that through its early phases
until it hits a quaint English tea-time interlude around
5 minutes in. But shortly afterwards he gets some 12-string
fury (or is that the “Zelda Chord”) charging the song up
again. Another energizer is the glissando growling voice
of Noy (rising up like a siren, an effect duplicated by
both keyboard and an actual siren on this album.) Each of
these songs is just plain brilliant in scope and sound.
-Thurston Hunger

Dj Female Convict Scorpion – “Patience Cleveland ” – [Self Release]

Thurston Hunger   1/7/2006   A Library, CD

At some point in time I will no longer find the name of this
project funny, but even after the date; far, far into the
future…I’ll still enjoy the creative collision of samples
strung together on this. DJ FCS is none other than Josh
Pollock, billionaire playboy by day and pilot of the Six
Eye Columbia by night. He mixes things like a drummer, which
in my mind is the highest compliment. Non-drummers when they
stack up tracks often just wind up with an overcluttered,
crossfighting much. Even before we get the Doomsday catalogue
of Billboard beezlebubs (that release on its lonesome still
spooks what little bejesus is left in me), but even before that
which in its short excerption gets treated with no less than a
deftly aimed space laser, than a jolt of Muslimgaue, and even a
Hanna Barbera jack-in-the-box sproing, BUT even before that the
opening drift and slow jazz feels like Supersilent in a test tube.
Later there are elements of what sound like Popol Vuh, and well
tons of other stuff that strikes you as recongnizable, but it is so
deftly mixed that you don’t feel like spending time trainspotting,
just digging this fine concoction. With whisps of theremin worked
in on top too!! Gotta love the interview between a children’s record
and what sounds like an earthquake. For me, this is the sort of
hamburger helper that hip hop needs today. Yo, MC’s step to the
mic on the Scorpion’s tail!

Baiyon – 22.Nes that Sounds Like School R 22 – 5BBaiyon5D

Thurston Hunger   1/7/2006   A Library, CD

I can guess that the title refers to having a cheap speaker
in an acoustically active hardfloor school cafeteria fritzing
out and in doing so transforming whatever sound is pumped
through it into its own unique otherworldly transmission. If
that is what experimental creator/artist Baiyon intended, he
achieved mightily. You hear the sound straining to get through,
as if there’s a tiny homunculus inside your speaker/headphones
pressing his back up against all the electronic notes that
he then forces out into your air/head. It ends up sounding
like some distant relative of Hans Edler/Gershon Kingsley/
Morton Subotnick/Robert Moog (the last of whom Baiyon
contributed music to the recent film about). The results here
never feel laboratory-boring synthesized, they feel as
real as a kid at a playground, and have the same sort of
infectious cute virus as well. Right off the bat, I knew
this album would make me happy…the first track, with its
sputter start and choppy whips then in comes a reversed angel
singing a theme song to an imaginary cartoon. Divine! I’d
like to see Baiyon load these as ringtones in 50 cellphones,
and then record them as a chorus called simultaneously.

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.

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