Music Reviews

Substance Abuse / Nebz – “Night on the Town ” – [Drive By Pimp Slap]

Max Level   2/9/2006   12-inch, Hip Hop

Side A: Substance Abuse and the legendary Kool Keith tell a tale of going out for a good time but never finding a place to land. Nice slow bumpin’ beat on this one as the guys try to figure out “where’s the party?”. Side B: A dark, tense beat backs up NEBZ and Eso Tre, and the music is perfect for their menacing flows. I can’t really tell what they’re on about, but it ain’t about a party, I do know that much. Simple, repetitive beats on both sides. No tricky DJ cutting/ scratching, all emphasis on the emcees. 3 out of the 4 names here are new to me and I like what I’m hearing.

Ahleuchatistas – “What You Will ” – [Cuneiform Records]

Max Level   2/9/2006   A Library, CD

Hand grenade math rock from this all-instrumental Asheville NC guitar/bass/drums trio. On this, their third album, they continue their agenda of expressing social commentary and protest without the use of any actual words. Their complex musical pieces are full of hairpin turns and constant attack, and the way the individual parts lock together is pretty amazing; it’s rare for this trio to do anything for longer than four bars without careening into something completely different. All three guys are super players and the band has a stripped-down, just-jack-in-and-play-without-distortion-pedals sound. Art can’t help being a product of the social conditions around it; given the chaotic, confusing, and violent world we live in, what’s a band to do except make music like this? And what are we Americans to do except remain ignorant over-consumers of mind-numbing junk while horrors and bombs rain down on everyone else? Are you getting the point yet?

Mukai,Chie /Yamamoto – “Live at Showboat 2/25/00 ” – [Last Visible Dog Records]

Max Level   2/9/2006   A Library, CD

A meeting of underground minds. Vocalist/instrumentalist Chie Mukai is a fixture on the Tokyo experimental scene with her band Che-Shizu and her various solo projects. Guitarist Seiichi Yamamoto from Osaka has worked with Boredoms, Ruins, KK Null, etc? Track 1 here is a 20-minute droner with Mukai scraping the strings of her er-hu (Chinese 2-string violin) while Yamamoto texturally noodles on his 6-string. On Track 2, Yamamoto’s guitar is more upfront, accompanying Mukai for 13 minutes as she explores a drum set and contributes some moaning vocals. Mukai returns to er-hu for Track 3, on which the Mukai/Yamamoto duo is joined by guest trio Lamones Young, a high-concept group notorious for taking hours and hours to perform the world’s slowest versions of Ramones songs, meant as a simultaneous tribute to the large extended works of LaMonte Young. This quintet lineup constructs a 31-minute fevered dreamscape that includes more than a few rough edges. Challeging but rewarding material for the patient listener.

Blau, Karl – “Clothes Your I’s ” – [Knw-Yr-Own]

Thurston Hunger   2/9/2006   A Library, CD

Ah, the uniqueness of the Samish sound. Up in
Washington State, Karl and his brethren (that
includes an actual sibling, & folks like Phil
Elvren from the Microphones) have this garden
of sweet pop diversity. Embellishment to the
guitar driven instrumentation includes flute
over dub, a simple sax drone, mighty melodica,
those squaaashy drums the Microphones use so
well, a banjo, musical jack-in-the-boxes, a
forlorn train) alone merits a look, a listen.
Lyrics add idealism flavors in the kool-aid,
not too fruity, but sweet. His song structure
is strong but bends enough for odd stop/start
action. I think in the old days the songs
would rake in the moolah for other “artists”
whose covers would blanch them, zapping all
the relaxed creativity. Tidy up those blurry
harmonies and I’ll kill ya! An absolutely
charming, resolutely individual pop album.
Not to be missed. -Hunger
(#7 has cold, run-out-of-tape-style end)

Grubbs, David “Two Soundtracks For Angela Bulloch” [Semishigure]

Numa   2/9/2006   A Library, CD

Summary: Minimalist improvised guitar instrumental work with breathing room.

This 2005 release features the ever-evolving sounds of David Grubbs. Grubbs’ works range from more structured songs with Squirrel Bait and Bastro to improvisational work with Jim O’Rourke in Gastr Del Sol as well as many solo albums. The two instrumental pieces on this CD were written to accompany enlarged-pixel artwork of Angela Bulloch. The first piece, ‘Z Point? (8:14), uses source material from the 1970 film Zabriskie Point by Michelangelo Antonioni. The first half of ‘Z Point? is spotted with sounds from Germans speaking to repetetive explosions that were taken from the final scene of the film. The second half of “Z Point” is more traditional with two guitars battling, one acoustic the other electric, to the end. The second piece, ‘Horizontal Technicolour? (13:12), is based upon footage shot by Bulloch in Death Valley (where a large portion of Zabriskie Point was filmed). The soundscape is more cohesive than in ‘Z Point? with rising and falling effect-laden guitar distortions.

Listening to this short release left me wanting for more. A bit short at 21:26 to sit down with on its own, but a great supplement with other Gastr Del Sol and Jim O’Rourke works.

Howard / Kapp, Noah / Bobby – “Between Two Eternities ” – [Cadence Jazz]

Max Level   2/6/2006   CD, Jazz

Two guys gettin’ after it, on alto sax and drums. Howard’s alto is raw and visceral, shooting out bebop sparks, once in a while shifting into full skronk mode, though there’s less of the latter than I would have expected. Kapp’s drumming is complimentary and never overpowering. Tracks are between 5 – 12 minutes long. I like each track on its own, but I have to say there isn’t enough variety here to keep me interested through the entire CD. I prefer some of the other sax/drums duet CDs we have added recently (Brotzmann/Bennink, Tsahar/Nakatani, etc) because of their wider tonal variety, due to the guys bringing more than one type of horn, or a bigger assortment of percussion sounds, to the date. Once I heard the first couple of tracks on this CD, not much happened later that surprised me. Good individual tracks, though, to crack open and enjoy.

Rempis Percussion Quartet, the – “Circular Logic ” – [Utech]

Max Level   2/4/2006   CD, Jazz

Jazz on fire! Rising star Chicago saxophonist Dave Rempis leads his quartet through two long pieces, 36 and 22 minutes, of stormy improvised jazz. One of the two drummers is Tim Daisy, Rempis’ cohort in Triage and Vandermark 5. The other drummer Frank Rosaly and bassist Anton Hatwich are new to me. Rempis works alto, tenor, and baritone on Track 1, and sticks to baritone on Track 2. He plays some startling stuff on top of crazy rhythms from the drummers and a solid heartbeat from the bassist. Each piece morphs several times along the way, with the leader nudging the ensemble this way and that, from duet interplay to free jazz wall of sound to Sexmob-style funkiness to percussion workouts, etc.

Apes, the – “Oddeyesee ” – [French Kiss Records]

Max Level   2/4/2006   A Library, CD

The Apes are an organ/bass/drums/vocal combo out of the Wash DC area, and are possibly the missing link between ambitious prog and snarling garage rock. By “organ”, I don’t mean cheesy pop Farfisa organ; we’re talking about big beefy Hammond organ in the manner of Deep Purple, Vanilla Fudge, and Steppenwolf. This CD, the band’s second full-length release, is an elaborate concept album built on simple pounding riffs and raw vocals. The story is vague but goes something like this: the band embarks on a journey to find a wise two-headed butterfly. Along the way they meet a couple of evil brainiacs, they get lost in fog, they come across a video-game freak, and then they go to some sort of disco. Eventually a troublemaker named Wor Wiz shows up, with his bomb that can destroy the world. It seems that The Apes prevail in the end, but I’m not 100% sure. The songs are mostly short, and they make exactly as much sense played separately as they do strung together. But why not enjoy this work as a long, flowing, concept album?

Abercrombie, John – “Class Trip ” – [Ecm Bmg Records]

Max Level   2/4/2006   CD, Jazz

Veteran jazz guitarist Abercrombie leads this quartet date, with fine collaborators Mark Feldman (violin), Marc Johnson (upright bass) and Joey Baron (drums) along for the ride. Excellent playing throughout. The guitar often has a mellow tone -which is nice because it doesn’t overpower Feldman’s unplugged violin- but it’s also a treat to hear Abercrombie break loose every once in a while, in the more aggressive style of his earlier releases. Baron’s drumming is remarkably subtle here, and he also launches a few bombs from time to time (tracks 3 and 7 for example) to make sure everyone is awake. At times, this CD is a tad too non-threatening for my taste, but these pros sound like they’re enjoying themselves and there are enough pleasant surprises here to keep me interested.

Better than the Beatles [coll] – [Animal World Recordings]

Max Level   2/4/2006   A Library, CD

A Shaggs tribute, long overdue considering the number of respected artists that have been raving about the Wiggin sisters for a couple of decades now. The playing on the first Shaggs LP was incompetent and bizarre, and thought by many to be a hoax. Then by their second LP they had learned to play their instruments marginally well. All along, though, Dot Wiggin’s lyrics were naively brilliant, and the songs were thoughtful and catchy but in the weirdest childlike way. This tribute CD is a low-budget affair, populated by artists checking in from their normal positions at the furthest fringes of indie-pop. Some are more well-known than others: you can try known quantities Deerhoof, Thinking Fellers, and Ida, or take a chance on obscure projects such as Furtips, Joost Visser, and Plastic Mastery. The lyrics and the simple catchy melodies shine throughout, but most of the tracks take much different approaches, arrangement-wise, than the original versions. Only a couple of them project the sweet clattering majesty that was The Shaggs at their best.

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