"Blue Skied An' Clear: A Morr Music Compilation"
It's hard to believe two years have passed since the incredible first 2xCD compilation from Morr Music surfaced ('Putting the Morr Back in Morrissey'). Two years later, a number of the bands featured have released marvelous albums on the Berlin-based Morr. This year's 2xCD collection of digital lullabies features a few acts who have become usual suspects from the Morr roster of champions as well as a handful of new faces: one disc of cover tunes, the other with all new material. Allegedly the story goes like this: Creation Records is dead and buried, Thomas Morr tried but failed to obtain the rights to reissue Slowdive's back catalogue, but that didn't stop him from successfully curating a fantastic collection of Slowdive cover tunes by a number of popular Morr artists and friends. Perhaps I'm a little biased going into this record, as Slowdive was one of my favorite bands during their time, and I can't remember the last Morr release I didn't enjoy, but all of the versions are tasteful, with a personal twist, and never forced. Disc one opens with the sparse version of "Alison" by Future 3 and ends with the breathtakingly shimmering version of "Machine Gun" by Múm. Some of the more heady (nearly-)instrumental tracks have been tackled by appropriate Morr acts like Limp and Manual while contributions from Lali Puna, Ms. John Soda, Styrofoam and Ulrich Schnauss will have you singing these songs in your sleep. If I had only one gripe, it would be the request that ISAN stick to instrumental music, otherwise, I can't imagine a more appropriate group of people to reinterpret some of the most beautiful music released in the early part of the 1990s. Disc two features another sparsely arranged track from newbie Future 3 as well as an original song from the peculiarly titled act Ms. John Soda (which features Micha Acher of Notwist/Tied and Tickled Trio and Stefanie Böhm) which make me anxious to hear full-length albums from each of these. In addition, brand new contributions from Ulrich Schnauss, Limp, ISAN, Manual and Hermann & Kleine will please anybody who's fallen in love with this label as much as I. Okay, I can stop gushing now... - Jon Whitney
Merzbow, "A Taste of..."
One cannot discuss a new Merzbow CD without mentioning how damn many others exist. No Merzbow CD can ever truly be "the new one", because some label is forever adding to the Merzbow publishing glut, newer ones arriving at a rate which confounds mere chronological hierarchy. It has become so that the band name is like a brand name; one buys some more Merzbow, rather than any specific album. Or one does not buy, which is increasingly seeming like a fine idea. After all, it is not apparent that Merzbow's Masami Akita actually has as many album-length ideas as he does albums. Rather, he produces his sound until his media-determined time restraint runs out. I would be very surprised if he listens at all to what he produces these days, after or even during the process of recording, so satisfied he must be that he has filled another 74 minutes with Merzbow.
Now, Mego is a label that I trust and respect. Not attached to any genre or style, only a vague and loose allegiance to computer-created music of some kind, I would expect them to demand more from Merzbow. That doesn't seem to be the case. On "A Taste of...", it sounds to me as if a couple of samples were looped for five minutes at a time, while various filters were bloodlessly applied and removed. It's as if a pattern, or perhaps an instruction booklet for some software, was strictly followed so that this specific result would emerge. There is a theme of Japanese cuisine presented in the artwork, but nothing within the music which resonates that theme. In fact, Japanese cuisine values presentation, freshness and detail, and this noise sounds as if no one made it or was paying much attention to it or its ingredients at all.
I believe that noise can be musicalbands like Hijo Kaidan, Borbetomagus, Masonna, and especially CCCC, have produced works that hold up as albums which evidence some compositional thought and emotion, or even concentrated non-emotion. Pita has done so using a computer; his "Get Out" is one of the most powerful computer-music albums that I can think of. Merzbow used to make albums that sounded whole ("Antimonument", "Batz-Tau-Tai", "Material Action 2"), but since the 1990s has forfeited quality for quantity. If you've been wondering why he is generally refered to as the "king" of Japanese noise music, you won't find out why by listening to "A Taste of...". - Howard Stelzer
The Pilot Ships, "There Should Be an Entry Here"
"There Should Be an Entry Here" is The Pilot Ships hard to find 1997 debut, now re-released on BlueSanct, who released their sophomore effort in 2000. Listening to it again now, it hasn't lost its impact five years on. These songs, created by members of the Stars of the Lid and Monroe Mustang, have lives of their own, as the pallette and feel of each differs from the rest on the record. What grabs you on one song may not be the driving force of the next track. And where traditional instruments drive the proceedings, there are moments of sampled field recordings and ambient noise that fill as much space as the guitars and vocals of other tracks. Birds chirp, a screen door shuts, and the lyrics lament about another blow when the subject is 'already broken down' ('A Song by Your Campfire'). Listening to it now, everything seems to be about these people getting to know each other as they create, knowing their stops and starts, so they can make music together. It's not less coherent than their later release, but it's not as adventurous, which just shows how much this band has grown and can grow still. The album's epic closer, 'Looked Over (No Fun Reprise)', is as tedious as ever, though, with a bizarre guitar and keyboard opening with vocal treatments, but dismantling five minutes in. Then a low hum or muffled city recording lasts for another thirteen minutes before piano and dripping water join with spooky vocals to raise the hairs on your neck. Still an affecting release, and only serves to whet the appetite for new music from this horribly underrated ensemble. - Rob Devlin
vague terrain recordings presents "a viable alternative to actual sexual contact"
Oh yeah. Ohhhhhh yeah. I have to admit that I feel really dirty after listening to this recording constructed by and for the usage of gay pornography. However, this has got to be one of my favorite albums this year. Released on a limited edition CD-R from Piehead, this disc is the seventh Piehead's limited series. It has got to be one of the most thumpingly deep, pounding, and implicitly explicit recordings I probably own in my collection. Songs are interspersed with audio snippits of various movies, with some parts even lifted from what appears to be conversations between directors and actors. If the duo who is widely known as the "A-Team of Electronica" has floated your boat before, the rip roaring guitar riff on tracks like "Fist Power" or the chunky lyrical bassline of "Son, That's a Battle You're Going to Lose" may not stop at only blowing your hair back. With low-cool pieces like "Son,..." and "The Rose Bud Opens", the duo have easily out-grooved Boards of Canada with a super-charged virile take on the popularized style which makes the Scottish Warp superstars look like eunuchs. Unfortunately by the time you read this review, however, all copies will most likely be gone. - Jon Whitney
Kevin Drumm, "Sheer Hellish Miasma"
Though his name has been placed firmly in the spotlight by a release on MEGO, Kevin Drumm has been plying his prepared guitar trade for some years now, and has worked with many famous names, such as Jim O'Rourke, Christian Fennesz, Martin Tetreault, and Axel Doerner. My introduction to his music was the split 12" with Pita only last year, on Chicago label BOXmedia, and that juicy fragment made me keen to see how he would respond to the ultimate form of Austrian patronage. The first track opens with a few bleeps that could suggest everyday MEGO laptop material, but soon moves to a constant, distorted analogue rasp: not at all a nod to the host label's stereotypical digital chaos.
An inspection of the liner notes reveals he's stayed with a traditional arsenal of guitar, mics, tapes, pedals and an analogue synth. Despite him admitting to some "computer assistance", Drumm's offering is very much in the tradition of old-school power electronics or Japanese noise, with only a few obvious signs of computer work to give it a more recent feel. A more contemporary comparison might be to Oren Ambarchi's more extreme processed guitar output.
As always with MEGO releases the packaging is notable, this time going in for some kind of black metal joke, with a gothic "KD" inscribed in gold on black. And they managed to scare me more than any 80's Venom publicity photo by tinting the CD gold, the sight of which produced a brief but morbid flashback to the mid-90's terrors of owning faded discs printed by PDO. Ultimately this black-clad music is more Boyd Rice than Varg Vikernes, but that, of course, is no bad thing. - Andrew Shires
"Grazing in the trash vol. 1 & 2"
Long before dictionaries included a musical description for the word 'funk', a common definition was "to emit an offensive smell, to stink". Ironically, the most popular "funk" bands (Parliament, Ohio Players, Sly and the Family Stone, or James Brown) all had substantial recording budgets and crisp, clean production for the most part. The originators of funk (as a musical style) weren't that far off from the dictionary's definition. The music was raw, produced on cheap equipment and found its way to a number of 7" records in the late 1960s around the same time as the flood of garage pop (see 'Nuggets' or 'Box of Trash' comps). While a number of NYC-based bands are jumping down the bandwagon of returning to garage pop ideals, NYC-based Soul Fire Records is heading down the road of original funk. Over the course of the last couple years, the label has been releasing a number of raw, yet powerful 7" singles in extremely limited quantities, which now are compiled on these two collections.
At first listen, it's rather deceptive, as you wonder if some of these songs truly date back thirty years. The first volume starts off with Soul Fire's third 7", two brief songs of looped gritty hooks by Calypso King & the Soul Investigators. It continues with the pimpin' sounds of Speedometer who bring to the collection a fierce horn section, wakka-wakka guitars and killer percussion. It isn't until the songs from Lee Fields & the Explorers that we actually finally hear a singer/band leader. While he shouts "Baby, I ain't James Brown" on "I'm the Man" I must point out he does indeed squeak out an occasional James Brown line like "Give it up, turn it loose" and "I got soul." The tempo drops down for the two slow-riding numbers from Third Point and picks up again for a virile ending from The Soul Command, clearly mastered from terrible recordings. Volume One ends with a special bonus - "Fast Funk Instrumental" by the Supersonics and a collection of breakbeats primed for sampling purposes.
Volume two continues with seven more singles (14 tracks) and opens with the flute and funk marriage by Bama & The Family. Lee Fields (who was previously quoted as saying how he wasn't James Brown) pays a clear homage to "Funky Drummer" with "Ain't it Funky Now" while the Whitefield Brothers play tribute to Funkadelic's "Super Stupid" with "In the Raw." The two songs from the Detroit Sex Machines adds a little more soul to the voice of the front man (and I swear this has got to be mastered from a slightly off-centered 45). There's no bonus beats on this volume but the poorly-cut masters are enough to provide a mild amount of home-grown amusement. Unfortunately now, I'm hooked and compelled to start buying their 7" single releases. Damnit! - Jon Whitney
Pheromone "Disparture" & Dan Warburton, Jean-Luc Guionnet, Eric La Casa "Metro Pre Saint Gervais"
Corpus Hermeticum & Chloe (respectively)
Lately, it seems as if the music of Jean-Luc Guionnet is everywhere. Though he has been active for many years, there seems to be a flood of published Guionnet work recently. However, unlike other equally prolific artists, Guionnet appears to have a diverse area of musical interest, backed up by solid ideas. Past albums have featured large group improvisation (with Hub/Bub), composed tape music (on the Ground Fault label), field recordings (with his trio Afflux), and metallic sound-sculpture installation ("Synapses", on Selektion). His two latest CDs, it should come as no surprise, are very different from one another and are both worthwhile.
Pheromone is the trio of Guionnet, here playing metal, wood, contact microphones and some instruments I've never heard of (chifelia anyone?) with Eric Cordier on his usual hurdy-gurdy and Pascal Battus on prepared (he says "surrounded") guitar. The music was improvised live to cassette on one day in May of 1998, and this CD retains the limited dynamic range and compression inherent in that medium. This is a good thing. The tape is saturated in such a way that the individual ingredients are pretty much indistinguishable, especially during the busiest sections. I happen to enjoy the sound of overloaded tape, so there were many breathtaking passages for me. At one point in the first track, something that sounds like a grunting beast wrestled with metallic percussion under a blanket of smudge and feedback... wonderful! As electro-acoustic improv albums go, this one has grit and a fierceness that one does not encounter very often. My only complaint is that 'Disparture' might actually be too much of a good thing; at 72 minutes long, I don't believe that the material has been sculpted into an album. Perhaps a good way to listen to this would be in twenty-minute chunks, because I found myself craving some shape and closure after about 40 minutes.
Another animal entirely is "Metro Pre Saint Gervais", recorded and performed in the Paris train station of the same name. English violinist Warburton (also a writer for the Wire and Signal to Noise) and the omnipresent Guionnet (here on alto sax) wandered around the train station with their instruments for an evening while Eric La Casa actively recorded the interactions between the duo and the station. In truth, the subway station itself makes this a quartet, since its peculiar gestures determine the nature of the sounds generated within. On this album, it can be heard interjecting bits of people's conversation, as well as its own strange acoustics, implacable bells and clangs, incidental noises and (of course) the occasional train in such a way that it is playing exactly as much as the "players" are. One tone seems to reoccur, echoing through the space as a sort of chorus to unite the piece's several sections. This odd tone is subtely quoted in Warburton and Guionnet's playing, which La Casa uses to underline serendipitous moments (like when an escalator drone matches the saxophone's pitch, or footsteps suggest a subtle rhythm, etc) into tense and concise compositions. La Casa is very concsious of the stereo field, as demonstrated in his pitting of violin against saxophone in opposing speakers, gradually pulled into the center just as a train arrives to obliterate the moment. Both instumentalists play into their environment, blending with and accentuating aspects of the found acoustic space, rather than simply overlaying improv onto environmental noises, which would have been obvious and boring. There is a danger in this kind of sound work that the subject matter might be so opaque that it overshadows the music, but this trio seems to be aware of that. They have created a pure listening experience, in which the elements add up to a complete and thoughtful whole.
- Howard Stelzer
Tribes Of Neurot, 'Adaptation And Survival'
This side project of Neurosis has been releasing some of the best experimental music since their first album, 'Silver Blood Transmission' in 1995. This one has been several years in the making, and is "dedicated to and inspired by... and originally produced by insects" according to the insert.
Disc One opens with the 2-minute "High Mobility", as a slow bass line is permeated with a shrill swirl of echoing bugs. Track 2, "Adaptability" sounds like an ant's aural perspective when thousands of its brethren are hastily running around. These tracks remind me of what Mark Spybey puts out on Hafted Maul without the particular toy which dominates each song. Unlike a lot of experimental acts you can hear and follow what is going on. Nothing irritates me more than when you listen to a 10-minute track where you have to lean into the speaker because it's turned all the way up and you 're not sure if you can hear anything. There is definitely something going on here, like track 4 'Small Size' which starts off with an undulating rushing flutter that runs throughout the entire track. Layered on top and underneath of that are beating hearts and steel cords being drug across plastic grating. If you like layered music this is for you. At times during track 5, 'metamorphosis', I am reminded of the feel I get from Nurse With Wounds 'Swan Song' from 'A missing Sense'. That rushing back and forth of the same drone, though not nearly as intense in this form. Only coming in at 33 minutes and 28 seconds isn't a whole lot of material, but it is a double CD. Disc two is all one track, clocking in at 34 minutes and 25 seconds which is odd, considering they are meant to be played together. I notice some of the same sounds in the first few minutes, but it is also a much more intense display. The same hum comes in and out through the whole track and there may even be a chorus of shrieking madness. There is no general song structure or percussion here, just sounds, which appeals to many. I like listening to this disc at work real loud and confusing everyone around me. They don't know what they are hearing. - Josh Conley
"Ich glaube ich hoere Genesungswerk"
This very nice (and nicely packed) compilation is a selection of 14 exclusive tracks, new or previously unreleased from the Genesungswerk label and their allies out of Germany, Dortmund. In addition, there is a cut-up version of the entire CD by Segment, available for download at www.genesungswerk.de/compilation. Unconventionalism is the connection here between the diversity of styles, described as 'Weird noises, nice melodies, obscure data snippets...' by Genesungswerk themselves. Most of the artists have contributed calm and moody electronic music, some a little more dub influenced ([multer], krill.minima, Basalt or Konrad Bayer) while others have a more soundtrack-ish approach, like Kallabris, Teamforest, Syncliar, Resonator and N (the guitarist from multer who submits a guitar-only piece far removed from recognizable guitar sounds). The opening and finishing Tracks by Pale Asle Petterson and P. Myles Bryson are fine examples in a more experimental vein, while the contributions from Segment (the label head himself), Franco Baresi and Karten Frankreich consist of a few deranged Dada Pop tunes. All of which are very suitable sounds for late night listening. - carsten s.
Clairvoyants, "Your New Boundaries"
Badman Recording Co
Melancholy, deliberate-sounding rock is making headway as artists become less concerned with the trickery or nuances of the genre and more concerned about the substance at all costs. Most try to find their niche, which establishes them while limiting them as they run out of steam on future releases. Athens, GA-based Clairvoyants show no signs of this behavior, making a solid debut on "Your New Boundaries" of minimal, haunting rock music by Brian Dunn. Most songs start with a solo guitar line, add instruments, then settle into their pocket, then Dunn sings. And he sings of loss, ghosts, memories, and Japanese paper actors. Not new subjects, nor really a new way of coveying them, but it matters little as the record is a solid piece of work throughout. The quotable lyric is the first on the record ('That city fucked you up/like everybody does/it does to everyone' on 'To Reassure'), but elsewhere, Dunn's affectations sound very British. His voice is low in tone and delivery, but occasionally it soars in his range, showing a control and beauty few possess. The band is tightly wound around Dunn, producing sounds and effects that serve these songs with absolute dedication. On 'Yes, I Waited a Year...', the band waits an eternity before entering, but when they do there are subtle strings, and a simple trumpet line that make it the slow dance song of the year. And on 'The Hungry Ghosts' the music is almost playful, inviting. There are even an untitled bonus track, for those who wanted more after the title track finally ends. It's a soothing, capable release that doesn't induce hibernation. And that, in itself, is quite an accomplishment for music this mellow and concentrated. - Rob Devlin
Al Brooker, "Quixotic" & Mouse Finding The Key, "My Hearts Diskontent"
Bella Union &
Gwei-lo's impressive debut album, the first of Bella Union's "Series 7" releases, was set to make them peers of the major post-rock outfits. But soon afterwards, guitarist Al Brooker died during a gig at the Strawberry Fair festival in Cambridge, UK. 'Quixotic' is a posthumous collection of some of his unreleased home recordings. With live, sampled and synthesized sounds, this mostly instrumental album has a band-like feel, echoing the graceful Gwei-lo sound in places, while moving into breaks and weirdness elsewhere. The strongest tracks, particularly "Slothrop", offer superb melodic post-rock moments, up there with recent Fridge. Vocal contributions come from Steven Adams (The Broken Family Band) and Pete Gregory (Um), to round off what is, in the circumstances, a surprisingly complete album.
Mouse Finding The Key is an act that's emerged from the Gwei-lo camp since Al Brooker's death. Dave Henson's solo debut combines warm electronica sonics with cultured post-rock overtones. The Gwei-lo aesthetic can be heard in the pretty melodic lines, tapped out over crunchy, deep percussion. Unlike much modern IDM, the programming doesn't stifle the music, and rather than rationing musical ideas, many of the tracks handle several at at time, such as the anthemic "Goodbye Big Gwei", or the solemn "Phrases, Loops, And Electricity". - Andrew Shires
KREIDLER, "Eve Future"
This latest seven song EP from the Dusseldorf combo comes across as somewhat of a well-preserved study in 80s symphonic synth pop composition and European-type soundtrack scores. While they may have gone a touch more electronic between 1998's "Appearance and the Park" and their 2000 self-titled disc, this time around it's all about working the strings, synth patches and samples, with the odd tubular bell now and then. The gloomy "La Casa I" opens the disc with something reminiscent of the Art of Noise, with its plucked strings, synth drones and trickles and underlying 4/4 pulse. You can almost see the credits rolling over a fuzzy ballroom scene. "L'autre Main" is a dark march of thick low-end chords, trumpet blasts and marimba sounds propelled by a repetitive snare drum that could be related to "Bolero," only more driving. "Circulus" chatters away comfortably with what sounds to be a sampled thumb piano, synth marimba and surdo rhythm with a melody played with the same synth-chime sound that begged the question "Do They Know It's Christmas?" While this disc is overall not my cup of tea, Kreidler has managed to honestly reproduce the 80s style pop and not have it dripping with irony. - Gord Fynes
For Radian's second long player, the Austrian trio have consciously moved away from the more clinical and stringent sound of their Mego-associated first album. Rhythmic laptop clicks have been surrendered for the sake of cooperative collaboration, as the members are all taking equal parts, without the noises taking center stage. Known widely for their live act, the band has made a more noticably conscious effort to attempt to convey that vibe on record this time around. At times, when the band gets going, it can be a marvellous treat. Beats are broken, riffs are made, and the feeling lies somewhere between 1970s gangster-movie chase music and Ryoji Ikeda-like sine-wave noises. There are numerous struggles when incorporating silence into the mix, which might work for an attentive, unchatty audience, but for the most part on record, these moments sound almost too-directionless. Thankfully the group will be out on the road soon with Pan American, so by then I'm sure everything will click in very, very nicely. - Jon Whitney
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