Jason Lescalleet, "Electronic Music"
If the analogies of botanical classification and plant breeding are applied to the evolution and development of music and musicians then Jason Lescalleet's niche market nursery Glistening Labs, a name that reflects its experimental agenda, has released two fascinating and promising new clones within the genus 'Musica Electronica' ('ME'). The first, with the potentially confusing name Electronic Music, is a new crossing of varieties within in the species 'ME Lescalitus' while the other, Combines XIX XX is a mutation of the robust 'Beauliea-Lescalitus' hybrid known as Due Process. The most striking, almost freakish quality of the crossing Electronic Music is how its emphasizes the differences between it's three parent varieties, namely tape-loops, manipulation and synthesis. This aspect is at first quite disconcertingthere's something hallucinatory about the merging of sweet sounds softened by reverb and whathaveyou with the raw, brutal sound of an untreated defective tape-loop. The differences between these are toyed with and made ambiguous by greater or lesser degrees of manipulation but, whether it's intrinsic to the music or a perceptual trick, the synthetic elements seem also to adopt the nature of the tape-loopsthe ametric rhythms of physical tape defects and the power struggle between different sounds overwriting each other without the use of an erase head. Electronic Music thus fully retains the essential character of Lescalleet's sound while adding a new layer of complexity. The track called "Litmus Tape" is enthralling and it measures up the best of Jason's past output. Its powerfully tense atmosphere is like an only half perceived, entirely alien monster lurching around; always behind you or in the periphery, unidentifiable, sinister, but curiously fascinating and, from what you can see, beautiful. If you need to ask yourself whether or not you are dreaming then, unless you are hallucinating, you probably are. The feeling of unreality that begs that question is what "Litmus Tape" brings forth like noting else I've heard. The rest of the LP is consistent with that feeling in different ways. The various references found in the titles, pictures, layout and materials of this desirable LP are left as an excercise for the reader.
Jason Lescalleet's Due Process, "Combines XIX XX"
We Break More Records
There's something slightly unlikely about the popular Due Process hybrid. The defiantly low-brow stance of the species 'ME Beauliea' with its comedic theatricals and jubilant confrontation contrasts markedly with the seriousness, finesse, fastidious methods and critical self-appraisal of the 'ME Lescalitus'. That this thought only occurred to me recently while watching Jason performing with Thomas Ankersmith, a musician perhaps even more intensely serious than Jason, clearly hints at the success of the hybrid and reminds us that in breeding, as in marriage, comlimentarity can be as important as commonality. Ron Lessard's solo performance as Emil Beaulieau looses much from the lack of context in a recording (his budget priced videos might be a better starting point for the curious newcomer to America's Greatest Living Noise Artist) and I've found that this is true to an extent also of the Due Process recordings. So it is important that Combines XIX XX goes under the moniker 'Jason Lescalleet's Due Process' and that this refers -not- to the senior member of the team (Due Process has been the name of not Jason's, but Ron's various collaborations) but to Jason's heavy hand in production; going way beyond mere editing and mastering. He has coaxed what I assume to have been live Due Process material into a mutation, the clones of which are now available in LP format. It is by far the most accessible of this duo's releases. The music ranges from clearly identifiable Beaulieau antics polished up in the Glistening Labs to material that is essentially new Lescalleet music based off the recordings. Given that Ron has taken to using Jason's solo releases as source material in his own performance, and I think there are examples of that here, the genealogy of Combines XIX XX is elegantly circular; rather like the shape of the LP itself and having much the same diameter.
- Tom Worster
From David Narcizo's first ratta-tatta snare snaps of on the opener, "Mercury," I knew that this was not the Throwing Muses which picked up where they left off with Tanya's departure, nor was it the Throwing Muses of the later 1990s. This was the thunderous sound remeniscent of the Muses that I first fell in love with on their other eponymous album. It's unsurprising, as this time around there's no major label expecting a blockbuster hit single, nor are there high production costs sunk into the mix. The music was recorded in gangbuster marathon recording sessions over a three weekends, and the raw, blistering energy is a very, very welcomed sound. Kristin Hersh's vocals puncture holes in an already densely packed mix of raunchy, distorted guitars, pounding basslines and driving drums from what is still a very small kit by most standards. Be prepared for many unconventional chord structures and melodic movements and songs which switch gears numerous times with swift tempo changes. Combine that with Hersh's lyrics which need years of therapy by a team of experts to completely unravel. Even then, it's nearly impossibly to tell if she's telling the truth or not, going from caustic to apologetic often within the same song (like wishing the subject of "Civil Disobedience" would choke on an aspirin and then confessing how much she's still in love). The slower songs, like "Pandora's Box," and "Speed and Sleep" are never ballads: they just provide a very slight bit of breathing room before the choruses and blaring guitars stomp in. Just as I'm thinking that much of this album sounds as if the band is deftly dodging high-speed traffic, recording on the pavement of a multi-lane highway, freeway references are made on "Status Quo!" There's still the occasionaly frisky, playful melodies, like both the jovial guitar riff and lyrics on "Portia," where Hersh talks about frat boys sleeping together and how "all the world loves a lover." "Halfblast" is probably the closest the band will get to a hit single on this record, with backup volcals from Tanya Donnelly and a singalong chorus which is nothing but an optimistic gem, counting the blessings of the beauty of people, nature and the skies. Even the album's closer, "Flying," takes an unconventional album-ending approach, as it's aggressive, upbeat and driving as much of the rest of the record, without the cadence of a closing track. This approach effectively is appetite-wetting for whatever's next from the group, and gives whoever's lucky enough to catch the Muses live something to feverishly anticipate. - Jon Whitney
Krsitin Hersh, "The Grotto"
Curling up with a Kristin Hersh solo album is much like curling up alone in bed with a good book late at night. There's always something to discover with the other route Hersh takes with her songs, heading down the path without bombastic drums and fuzzy guitars. This time around, Hersh has also taken a step back, completely opposing one of my top picks of 2001, her Sunny Border Blue album. In 2001, Hersh was almost completely alone and filled the tracks with drums, bass and electronics, whereas here, she's assisted by Howie Gelb on Piano and Andrew Bird on violin, and the songs are all acoustic and drum-free. While I'm very fond of this record, I question the arrival date for a couple reasons. First of all, I always need to spend a lot of intimate time with Hersh and her songs to get as close to them as possible. Being punched twice on the same day with this and the Muses album can be something difficult to recover from. Next, The Grotto is possibly one of Hersh's most reflective albums, with an indescribable feeling of coldness that only somebody growing up in New England truly knows. It comes as no surprise that this album was recorded over the past year, which was the snowiest winter we here in the north east USA have seen in years. It's odd to start listening to this album in March, just as the snow's about to melt and give way to a warm, green spring. The piano and violin add something magical to her acoustic fingerpicking, providing a perfect soundtrack to the first light of the sun on a cloudless morning, reflecting off a snow-covered lawn, while her words, significantly subdued from any Muses recording, are both tender and sharp. I can honestly lose hours in headphone land with Hersh's solo albums, and while The Grotto is no exception, I might have to pull this one out again in November for the best effect. - Jon Whitney
Alvarius B/Cerberus Shoal, "The Vim and Vigour of,..."
North East Indie
The second edition of madness that is the Cerberus Shoal split-CD series finds the Shoal trading songs with Alvarius B, with the intent of both artists recording each other's songs as well as their own. Alvarius B may be a name unknown to many, having recorded two LPs and little else, but it's the alias chosen by Sun City Girls guitarist Alan Bishop. His music is acoustic folk, mostly, and his songs are just short of justification for FBI monitoring. A title like "Blood Baby" is a pretty big clue towards the mood of the piece, and "Viking Christmas" may seem innocuous while it's everything but. The music is simple, merely there to underlie B's voice, which makes the compositions all the more chilling. The chopping of babies and other flesh seems to be the common theme for B's songs, and he delivers it all with a calm and matter-of-factness that disturbs as well as it impresses. Occasionally, he gets into character, adding a realism and bite that sends shivers. Ghostly voices join in, cackling and haunting, and B seems almost resolute as his share of the nightmare concludes. The Shoal then take Alvarius B's songs and make them more bombastic and grandiose, as well as a bit more murderous. Horns, shakers, piano, and percussion provide the groundwork for the blood choir that makes "Blood Baby." There's hushed whispers, empassioned and insane vocals, and sounds that appear out of nowhere only to disappear again. This song is not to be listened to in the dark. "Viking Christmas" is bludgeoned into the "Auld Lang Syne" of a beer hall serial killer cult, complete with the clinking of glasses here and there. Saving the best for last, though, "The Real Ding" was their sole original contribution, and their arrangement is the prettier over B's, with a multitude of voices accompanying a typewriter as the song begins. Bizarre lyrics and unusual instruments make for a rocky ride, but in the end the song is anchored by odd percussion, banjo, and a seductive rhythm. This CD is the best yet of the Shoal's little project, and at this rate, the whole series will be the year's musical sleeper, gaining strength with each volume. - Rob Devlin
The Dutch duo Beequeen has been digging into their archives lately, discouraging the collector-scum by making their rare releases and concert recordings available to the public in greater quanity. I've been a fan of both members' work for many years. Freek Kinkelaar's Legendary Pink Dots-ish solo recordings as Brunnen yeilded three fine albums in the 1990s, and Frans de Waard's many recordings as Kapotte Muziek, Quest, Shifts, and Captain Black are things I have been enthusiastically seeking out since I was in high school (a long time ago, folks). The Beequeen sound is generally a lush, subtly melodic drone with subdued electronic crackle, a nice inbetween point between de Waard's abstractions and Kinkelaar's low-key pop sense. This latest disc compiles music intended for release in 1998, four tracks that were to be released as an LP and two that were to be an unlikely collaborative 10" with Japanese noise "band" MSBR.
The first four tracks are delicate, with a gentle nudge toward dub that never overwhelms the static drift. The sound dives almost to silence, but percolates upwards with a bassline here or a slight rise there, all tasteful, understated, and appealing. It reminds me of Eno's ambient music, which colors the tone of a room but does not assert itself so much. The collaborative tracks with MSBR, in which the artists worked by reshaping each other's sonic material, are not as ephemeral as the tracks that come before them, but are complementary nonetheless. Beequeen's reworking of MSBR's noise begins with some teeth-grinding tension, which is quickly forced down to a low, barely perceptible rumble. MSBR's mix of Beequeen sounds like a digital cut-up that twists with a distinct feeling as if it is about to explode out of control, yet never does. - Howard Stelzer
Legendary Pink Dots, "Basilisk"
Beta-Lactam Rings Records
The original cassette-only release of this (recorded in 1981/82, released 1983) is possibly my favorite of the Dots' cassette releases. Unlike the Chemical Playschool compilations, Basilisk was threadded and sequenced like a conventional album with a clearly distinguishable first and second side. After witnessing the rather sad treatment a lot of the old cassettes got for CD reissue, I was skeptical about this. Thankfully I have been wrong this time. For a cassette which even comes with a note from Edward Ka-Spel himself apologizing for not being able to locate the original master, the sound quality is incredible, far superior to Stained Glass Soma Fountains, Under Triple Moons, and even some of the Ka-Spel solo material mastered off vinyl. My biggest gripe is actually in the easier tasks of coordinating a release like this. I absolutely hate the way the original cassette is indexed by only three track marks for the CD, despite the first containing numerous songs, (even with clear silences), but that can be dealt with. Much of the music contained was revisited and resurfaced on other releases long ago. The looped chorus of angel-like voices singing "sing while you may" which opens the album popped up first on the Legendary Pink Box along with "Clean Up," while the instrumental piece, "Love Is..." later became "Love Puppets" for the Curse LP. The melody from "Basilisk One" and "Basilisk Two" was revived as "Flesh Parade," "Wall Purges Night" was re-recorded for Curse, while "Methods" became an Edward Ka-Spel solo tune. What's left is a lot of really cool, but eerie noise noodling which takes up most of side two as "Basilisk Two" and a couple really short songs buried deep in track one as "Basilisk Part One" on this CD. In addition to the original 60-ish minutes are some strange songs from the vaults: "Ideal Home," recorded in 1981 featuring Keith Thompson as lead vocalist and an early unreleased version of "The Glory, The Glory," also allegedly from 1981. But they didn't stop there. It's hardly a CD reissue/remaster job without some song tossed in completely out of context. With this release, it's a version of "The Ocean Cried Blue Murder," but this one, as the title (and sounds) suggests was probably recorded "on a ferry in a storm on a walkman." All cynicism aside, it's a great audio document to finally own, despite the appalling font choices, but then again, good LPD cover artwork is a rarity (especially with reissues). With any luck, Bernard and Raymond Steeg will be able to "enhance" Atomic Roses and Premonition for that upcoming release along with other cassette-only things. I leave chanting "Traumstadt 4," "Traumstadt 4," "Traumstadt 4," "Traumstadt 4!" - Jon Whitney
Timonium, "Until He Finds Us"
Timonium's songs have always been contemplative. Narcotic melodies combine to create themes which repeat over and over, as if to bash you on the head. It's as if, at one moment, you had no earthly idea these sounds existed in unison, but then you hear them and you become dependent on them, uncertain whether you can go on living without them. To have these themes repeated over and over in a song, then, becomes a blessing rather than a curse, blissful rather than tedious. So perhaps "caressing" would be more suitable than "bashing," but keep in mind that there are these incredibly loud moments in Timonium's songs where the caressing does in fact become bashing, though it is a thrashing one gladly accepts. 'Until He Finds Us' compacts these tensile melodies into shorter statements, but the songs remain long and contemplative by virtue of more complex song structure. The exception which threatens to prove me wrong is the compact (3 minutes) first song, "Populations," which touts a kinetic sound that never really explodes, but which manages to get the listener all worked up (accomplished largely by the drum rhythms). I like to think of this song as a preamble to the whole album, and I think it works well like this. In previous albums, the band would use a combination of finely-wrought statements together with sweeping changes in dynamics (think Bedhead). Timonium has now added tempo changes and time signature changes to their arsenal. "Solemn Corridors," for instance, embarks as a slow and somber song which is punctuated by short guitar chords on the up beat, but halfway through it switches time signatures and starts to rock significantly harder, all the while maintaining a melody which links these two disparate sections of the song like Siamese twins (except that these twins look entirely normal and natural conjoined at the melody, and you would never think of staring in bewilderment or averting your gaze in revulsion). Timonium is growing up, and their music is likewise becoming more complex. The whispery male and female vocals remain refreshingly understated in most of the songs, letting the music envelope them rather than dominating the song. They do happen to peak out confidently in the louder parts, but it's only momentarily and always proper. The messianic overtones of the album title and lyrics have the effect of turning this album into a type of post-rock hymnal, with lots of talk of blood, wounds, and rebirth. Somehow, even rocks and marble are imbued with some religious significance. Then again, there is just as much talk of birds, griffins, and trees. I am unsure what to make of it all, but I do challenge you to put the line "I pissed in your mouth" in a song and have it sound as placid and soothing as Timonium are able to. If there is a moment of ascension, it comes early on in the album, in the song "Across the Footlights" (which has another attention-grabbing shift in time signature). You'll know the moment when it hits you just by the sheer glory of the sound, but whether you're ready for it is an entirely different discussion. - Joshua David Mann
aphex twin, "26 mixes for cash"
One of the better 1990s music trends was when the remix truly evolved into an art form. Artists like Meat Beat Manifesto, The Orb, and Autechre were some of the first who not only transformed a song into something almost completely new, but left their mark with a distinguishable sound that made the new version identifiably their own. While Richard D. James tended to follow more of the music trends than lead them (whether it was techno, ambient, drum and bass, breakcore or whatever terms hipsters, IDM listees, and record stores were coming up with that month) he excelled in the craft of transformation. A large percentage of Aphex Twin's popularity rose because of the remixes he did for then-popular worldwide acts like Nine Inch Nails, Jesus Jones, and Curve. (Another large percentage might arguably be chalked up to advertisement music, be on the lookout for 15 Ad Themes for Cash soon!) People bought 12" singles and CD singles in the early-mid 1990s because anything that had Aphex Twin printed on it was usually a sign of quality, and, no matter how little the original artist was liked, the remix would satisfy. 26 Mixes collects some of the more popular remixes along with some unreleased and scarely printed songs, arranged on two discs, with disc one containing more of the quiet stuff and disc two containing more of the beat-saturated loud stuff. It's an excellent document for those who aren't willing to pay high prices for things like the super-limited noodly Philip Glass/David Bowie track, are too embarassed to own a Jesus Jones record in their collection, or have absolutely no clue who Nav Katze, Mescalinum United, or Die Fantastischen Vier are and where to find them. It's not chronoligically arranged, but through the magic of programmable discs, the evolution can be charted, from the bashful, timid, faceless-era Richard D. James of 1990-92 through the "I have a bloody tank"-era Richard D. James of 2001. Fans will delight in the inclusion of two unreleased remixes: one from Selected Ambient Works 2 and a remix of Windowlicker (although shockingly not the one by V/Vm), but that Beck remix just didn't make cut. Maybe next time, Becky. - Jon Whitney
Bad Company UK, "Shot Down On Safari"
Electronic music has had many casualties over the years, but none probably as depressing as the death of drum n' bass. Unlike many genres who have fallen victim to the same ultimate fate, drum n' bass (which for the sake of this review will encompass all subgenres that would fall under the larger grouping) found itself divided inside itself as well as commercially exploited in a ruthless manner. In the end, corporate trend vultures and shady admen reduced the music to 30 second loops, while those who originally loved the music splintered off into "new" genres such as garage and breakcore. Still, there are artists out there plugging away and writing music truly evocative of the genre. However, the question lingers: does this effort even matter anymore? If Bad Company is any indication, then the answer is, sadly, no. In order for a genre to thrive, the music must remain interesting. Over the course of two CDs (one album and one continuous mix), Bad Company's Shot Down On Safari represents the stagnancy that helped bring down drum n' bass. From the overused ragga vocals (particularly on "Mo' Fire") to the same old tired breakbeats and synth effects, it becomes abundantly clear why so many people jumped ship for more progressive sounds. Admittedly, my tastes in drum n' bass have always leaned in the darkstep / techstep direction, but this album just doesn't offer anything up worth mentioning. If for some bizarre reason after reading this review you still feel like you want "Shot Down On Safari," rest assured that the mix CD offers quite a few older tracks that reflect the brighter days of drum n' bass. - Gary Suarez
Hanin Elias, "No Games No Fun"
Back in 1998, "Transmissions From Scumsburg," my weekly industrial and experimental radio show on the Boston University student-run station, gave me a late-night forum to blast the blossoming genre often called digital hardcore. Alec Empire's DHR, the label who gave the genre its namesake, introduced me to such angsty, noisy acts as Bomb 20, Shizuo, EC8OR and, of course, Atari Teenage Riot. The music was pure and violent, and its riot sounds inspired me in ways that industrial music no longer did. Then, at the zenith of the label's popularity, it made numerous bad decisions, giving too much attention to god-awful side-projects (Nintendo Teenage Robots and She-Satellites) and uninspiring new acts (Fever and Lolita Storm). The label had lost all of the vital energy that kept it relevant, and it wasn't long before people stopped caring about any music it put out. During this fall from grace, Atari Teenage Riot's original frontwoman Hanin Elias started up the Fatal imprint on the label, showcasing music exclusively made by women. While the idea may have resembled the somewhat admirable goals of the Seattle riot-grrrl scene, the implementation was universally dull, signified by the unoriginal white noise of Nic Endo's debut EP and Elias's own drab full-length. Sadly, on Elias's new album No Games No Fun (inaugurating the first Fatal release outside of the DHR community), it appears that those glory days are just as far away as they ever were. Even more lackluster than her last album, Elias' bad songwriting plagues the album as a whole, via murky rock tracks ("Blue") dated hip hop ("You Suck"), lo-fi electronic cuts ("Rockets Against Stones") and bland acoustic numbers ("Catpeople"). Quite frankly, Elias' voice just doesn't work with ANY of these styles. Not even notable contributors such as Merzbow, J. Mascis, Khan, and even Mr. Empire himself can save this uneven, sub-mediocre release. Still, one thing about this release is consistent: its title. I can assure you that this was "no fun" to listen to. - Gary Suarez
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