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Music Reviews

Cruel Diagonals – “Disambiguation” – [Drawing Room]

lexi glass   10/15/2018   A Library, Cassette

Disambiguation is the debut release from Cruel Diagonals, the experimental electronic project of Oakland/LA-based sound artist Megan Mitchell. Each track fuses the sounds of the ancient and the modern into dark, dreamlike ambient works, all held together by Mitchell’s stunning voice. Her vocals, treated with reverb and layered into hauntingly beautiful harmonies, are woven with minimal rhythms (T2, T4, T5, T8), dark drones (T6, T7, T9), or slowly building storms of noise (T7). Also worked into the tracks are field recordings from the ethnomusicology archives from the University of Washington, where Mitchell was a student. In these nine tracks she expresses the search for sense in the senseless, arriving at some conclusion in her final incantation.

Boxcutter Brothers 5 [coll] – [77Rise Recordings]

lexi glass   10/15/2018   Cassette, Hip Hop

2018 beat tape, the fifth in a series from the Boxcutter Brothers, a collaboration between California beatmaker Drasar Monumental and Ayatollah, a prolific producer from Queens. On Side A, Drasar represents the West Coast with five tracks of dense and adventurous sampling, (including some Bollywood dance tunes on A3, dark piano loops and electro beats on A4 and A5). But despite the beautiful backing tracks, the feel on this side is aggressive, violent, and razor sharp. Side B cuts the other way – Ayatollah delivers the more laid-back of the two sides, but it still crushes. Killer soul samples, heavy beats, and a couple of cameos from Sun Ra (B5- amazing) and Barry White (B6). From local SF label 77 Rise. FCCs on A1, A4, A5

Allien, Ellen – “Berlinette” – [BPitch Control]

Naysayer   10/14/2018   A Library, CD

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.

ESG – “Step Off” – [Fire Records]

Naysayer   10/14/2018   A Library, CD

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.

Warwick, Dionne – “Odds & Ends” – [Rhino Entertainment Co.]

Naysayer   10/13/2018   CD, Jazz

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.

Levin, Daniel / Maneri, Mat – “Transcendent Function, The” – [Clean Feed]

Naysayer   10/10/2018   CD, Jazz

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.

Felix Da Housecat – “He WasKing” – [Nettwerk Productions]

Naysayer   10/10/2018   A Library, CD

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 – “Pink Guts” – [Self Released]

Naysayer   10/10/2018   A Library, CD

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.

Psudoku – “Planetarisk Sudoku” – [Drid Machine Records]

Louie Caliente   10/10/2018   A Library, Cassette

Psudoko (formerly Parlamentarisk Sodomi) is Steinar Kittilsen, a one-man time-travelling prog-grind-math-core band from Trondheim Norway. This cassette was released in 2014 on Drid Machine, but recorded much later.

The sound is an adrenaline-heavy mix of prog-rock, math-rock, punk-rock, and butt-rock. Impossibly fast, impossibly intricate, and impossibly powerful. Highly controlled chaos.

Thumping bass lines and break-neck blast-beats. Fast, angular riffs that turn on a dime. Guitars that scream, scribble, and shred. What really sets this album apart is the meticulous arrangement and orchestration found in each track. Brief and beautiful piano interludes balance out blistering guitar solos. Violins sing and bells chime with perfect clarity alongside distorted strings and fuzz.

The future is here, and it is fast.

Nowottny, Marianne – “Studio Recordings 2008-2018” – [Abaton Book Company]

Max Level   10/9/2018   A Library, CD

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.