Music Reviews

Larval – “Obedience ” – [Cuneiform Records]

Max Level   12/25/2005   A Library, CD

Guitarist Bill Brovold writes the material and leads this ensemble, the lineup of the band varying somewhat from time to time. This CD features five large chunks of tense instrumental music. A chamber-type approach, I guess, in that the compositions have a calculated feel to them. Nobody really cuts loose. The malevolence suggested by track titles such as “Something Terrible is About to Happen” and “When Bullet Meets Flesh” becomes real before our ears. Guitars, violins, cellos, and saxes play hypnotic, repetitive lines that don’t develop much over the course of a composition; when they appear, it’s to smolder for a while, sometimes flaring up into something hotter, until other lines eventually move in and take over. Disturbing and quite effective.

Orchid – “S/T ” – [Hand Held Heart]

Max Level   12/25/2005   7-inch, A Library

This little gem with the blank black labels contains five perfect blasts of concentrated hardcore, ranging from :55 to 2:30, and not one second of downtime. Shred, blister, and annihilate are words that come to my mind when trying to describe Orchid’s instrumental approach. Minimal lyrics describe everyday situations and abuses. The words are emotion-packed, and only the most tormented yelling will do to get the point across. This music is in some ways insane, but there is something so beautiful and pure about it.

Earthmonkey – “Audiosapien ” – [Beta-Lactam Ring Records]

Max Level   12/25/2005   12-inch, A Library

Deep, trippy excursions from Nurse With Wound alumnus Peat Bog. As Earthmonkey, he brings forth long, semi-droning, meticulously-assembled sound constructions. Intriguing textures are combined, phased, echoed, and looped; musical patterns repeat hypnotically; an occasional jazzy sax or wah wah guitar drops in. Also in the mix are children’s voices, backwards stuff, Middle Eastern hand percussion, harmonica, drum machine, throat singers, a million mysterious sonic fragments of who knows what… Assisting with this magnificent madness is NWW colleague Steven Stapleton, and possibly a few other folks as well. Among the tracks are 14 and 18 minute pieces.

T.V. Pow – “Being Nice Is Funny ” – [Staalplaat]

Max Level   12/25/2005   A Library, CD

Limited release CD in Staalplaat’s Mort Aux Vaches series- live Amsterdam radio performances, which have brought us Zoviet France, Flying Saucer Attack, Muslimgauze, and others. This installment (instaalment?) features experimental Chicago trio TV Pow recorded in 1999, working with an inventory that includes static noises, computers, turntables, home-made electronics, field recordings, glitches, and blips. Semi-musical drones are used but sparingly, and occasionally we hear far-off voices. On headphones, a subtle adventure and well worth the trip. This CD’s glitchy minimalism may cause your listeners to think you’ve gone off the air, so don’t wait too long to come back. Tracks all run together.

Fields, Scott – “Mamet ” – [Delmark]

Max Level   12/25/2005   CD, Jazz

Five longish pieces of jazz-based improv from three well-known Chicago-area mercenaries. Weapons of choice are electric guitar, contrabass, and all manner of percussion. Not much melody and not much rhythm found here; the techniques are mostly along the lines of tapping, scraping, and rattling, with the leader’s guitar ideas (sometimes baby-gentle, sometimes angry and harsh) leading the charge. Occasionally the three players come together and assemble something solid, mostly they are sketching things out for one another, each player seemingly reluctant to step too far out front. Scenes from five of David Mamet’s plays are hereby set to music- the moods, actions, and emotions of the characters interpreted by the musicians. Somewhat scary adventures here; the 21 minute Track 4 (“The Woods”) is outstanding.

Apse – “S/T ” – [Acuarela Discos]

Max Level   12/25/2005   A Library, CD

These young New Englanders explore slow-ish, dramatic themes that remind me of GYBE, Mono, Mogwai, and Tarantel. Plenty of quiet parts and big buildups. The band doesn’t seem to be following a strict formula, though, and they create some nice contrasts by changing things up from time to time. The sparse vocals serve as sonic decoration since the lyrics are mostly unintelligible. I like the way the tracks sort of drift in and out of dreamy soundscapes.

Waldteufel – “Heimliches Deutschland “

Max Level   12/24/2005   12-inch, A Library

Strangely beautiful and beautifully strange. Markus Wolff (drums, vocals, lyrics) and Annabel Lee (violin and accordion) perform songs and recitations, all in German, based on Northern European myths and sagas from centuries past. Well, I read an article that says that’s what the songs are about anyway. Accompanying Wolff’s vocals are simple percussion, rough-edged violin, far-off horn blurts, and the like. Guests add percussion, flute, various sounds, etc. Quite an exotic listening experience, evoking singers and storytellers gathered around a fire, in a clearing in a deep dark forest, about 500 years ago, telling tales of great battles and the like; however, it was recorded in Portland OR in 1999-2000. So a nice job of transporting the listener.

AMERE3 – “Trees ” – [Whi Music]

Max Level   12/24/2005   CD, Jazz

UK improvisational trio, quieter than most. In this setting, a saxophone can easily overpower the other instruments; here Phil Hargreaves avoids that tendency, not that he can’t rip it up when he wants to. Simon H. Fell is on double bass, often bowing rather than plucking. His sound ranges from a high chirping to the deepest bass rumblings. Rob Dainton’s drumming is busy and creative, but not overly noisy. What you’ve got here is conversational music, not a terror-jazz screamfest. All tracks feature saxophone except #5, which has Hargreaves on flute. #3 gets loud and fiery, #7 stays barely audible throughout.

Clocked Out Duo – “Water Pushes Sand ” – [Clocked Out Records]

Max Level   12/24/2005   A Library, CD

Piano and percussion. “Piano” in this case means forceful plinking, jazzy meandering, low rumbles, scraping, even a toy piano. “Percussion” includes all the sounds you would normally think, plus a few you might not: bicycle bells, typewriter, whistles, rubbing/squeaking of balloons, lots more. Erik Griswold’s piano ideas don’t sit still, and Vanessa Tomlinson’s percussion touches always add just the right color. The duo have worked quite a bit in China recently, and have developed a love foor that country, so included here are Chinese voices and street sounds; that’s where the bicycle bells come in. The music is humorous, dramatic, pastoral, and exciting, and the interplay and togetherness of these two musicians is often quite amazing.

Six Eye Columbia – “A Million Six ” – [Unknown Label]

Max Level   12/24/2005   A Library, CD

American Music Club are hanging out at Nick Cave’s house. Guided By Voices comes over later, feeling down in the dumps but bringing more beer at least. On this CD, well-crafted songs abound, forlorn but with hooks everywhere. Fine singing and playing, no problem there. What really sets this band apart is their willingness to experiment sonically on every track. Their strong pop sensibility is distorted and enhanced with samples, found sounds, odd EQs, and vocal effects. Once in a while the boys play it straight, but not for long. I’m impressed with the arrangements and the band’s production ideas. A tiny bit of language on Track 8, which is too bad because the song is gorgeous and I’d love to hear it played a lot on the radio. Ultimately, I can’t say enough good things about this release.

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