Pop music has become associated recently with certain bands that love to either impersonate early rock n' roll to no avail or slick everything up in fancy production to make up for the horrible songwriting. This delicate debut does neither and ends up inducing an eased state of mind. It also happens to include a second full album with each track mixed by the likes of Rafael Toral, Hrvatski, and Christoph Heemann. Every instrument and every little nuance takes its time to develop and never raises its voice beyond a low murmur. The lyrics are lighthearted, sometimes nonsensical, and always have a tendency to pass in and out of the spotlight. There's a sense of heartbreak here and there, especially on "Moon" and "I Don't Mind." Slightly treated guitars and pianos phase in and out of eachother and on the latter a small, gentle voice declares "I don't mind if I'm not by your side" as if it were a catharsis and a resignation. Sun has a fantastic sense of space and their more laid back songs are particularly excellent: there's always room to breathe and stretch out within the songs themselves and so every small detail stands out and sparkles as if it were the proud star of the show. The closing "It's Not Real" is a blues-inspired mark that puts a pit right in the center of my stomach. The impression is one of loneliness and a dying sense of hope. I've often sat down outside at night with this playing and just zoned out completely; everything just slows down right along with the music. The remix album is entirely different from the original. The music is still mostly low-key and some of the original elements are retained but there are noiser and more cavernous waves of sound used. Perhaps I'll go take a drive and remember all the places I used to hang out while listening to this, there's a sense of childhood throughout that makes me want to reminisce about a few things. - Lucas Schleicher
"The label that is MORE than just a label...!"
The Angelika Koehlermann label is the "bizarro" Mego Records. Austria's Mego is looped into an endlessly banal release schedule highlighting the works of balding European men whose incompetence and lack of musical skill is constantly heralded by certain pedantic critics as representing some sort of revelatory artistic invention. The truth is, a lot of these art-school rejects haven't yet bothered to learn how to use their expensive equipment, and they are desperately hoping that their conceptual posturing will fool people into thinking that the music is anything but what it actually is: simple, boring and largely unlistenable. Fellow Austrian label Angelika Koehlermann's release schedule is similarly littered with unmusical, head-scratching "bedroom electronic" junk, but with one major difference: they have a wicked sense of humor. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, they are forging ahead, releasing a clutch of bizarre, outsider crap that the world will never care about. Their collected press releases, full of preposterous hype and deliciously absurd claims about the quality of this weird trash, are comedic in themselves. Either Angelika's marketing department is truly deluded, or they have become geniuses at spinning musical tripe into post-ironic gold. Don't take my word for it! Peruse AK's website and witness the absurd level of hyperbole injected into the descriptions of each release. What follows is an attempt to come to grips with the Angelika Koehlermann conundrum by examining the hype, the mythology and the music behind three of the label's most recent releases.
Ted Minsky, "Madame Le Ted"
Ted Minsky is actually Anne Grabow. Why has Anne Grabow chosen such a masculine moniker? Who is Anne Grabow? Who, for that matter, is Angelika Koehlermann? That's like asking who Betty Crocker is. Someone. Anyone. No one. And in the end, does it matter? What evidence can we glean from the press release? Nothing important, it seems, except that Ted Minsky is described alternately as a "young costume designer" and as a "super-architect" leading us "to the borders of pop music." This is pure hyperbole, I'm afraid. Ms. Minsky/Grabow's musical travesty Madame Le Ted sounds something like a lobotomized Bjork recording songs onto a faulty four-track in a public bathroom stall. The dimly realized melodies and poorly mixed vocals are covered up with a bland palette of factory-preset distortion effects. The vocals are of the world-weary chanteuse, I-can't-be-bothered-to-actually-sing style. The lyrics are in a confounding combination of German, Spanish and English. What shall we call this hybrid? Gerspanglish? Spangermlish? How about "annoying"? It's like a series of idiosyncratic in-jokes that nobody actually gets, not even Minsky herself. Songs with names like "Who Will Hold My Boobs?" promise humor and irony, but deliver only detached weirdness. Ted Minsky has an obsession with her own bodily self-image, which is explicated in the song "Proportional." This plays like a musical version of the comic strip Cathy. The desire to turn this music off is nearly irresistible. I think I'm going to give in. - Jonathan Dean
Boulder dDash, "Alien Folk Trash"
The further I investigate, the more Angelika Koehlermann seems to be a fictional character. According to the press release, she is a girl from Paris who, on a whim, took a train to Koln and met a guy who suggested that they "make an electronic music label." She decided to try her hand at playing "guitar tracks for Japanese young people." Ms. Koehlermann's strange biography ends with a passage so beautifully absurd, I am forced to quote it here in its entirety:
"There is no end to this story, because the only possible end was for her to die, but she preferred not to. There is no end to this record because the only possible one would have been to remove it and everybody wanted to listen to it before."
I am rendered speechless by this Zen paradox masquerading as a press release. What IS the sound of one hand clapping? Whatever that might sound like, I'm sure it's not anything like Boulder dDash's unfortunate new AK release, Alien Folk Trash. Unfortunately, this album cannot live up to its wacky title. I'm afraid this is yet another exercise in banal, low-fidelity electro-pop noodling. Boulder dDash is Jean-Baptiste Hanak, one half of the French group dDamage. Yeah, I know, I've never heard of dDamage either. The music is made of up uncredited samples and loops from other artists, with extremely annoying drum machine and Casio keyboard stuff on top. It's like Wesley Willis producing a Beck album on inhalants. The thing that really puzzles me about this music is that I can't figure out what audience Jean-Baptiste has in mind for this execrable album. I have a feeling that even his close friends won't listen to this CD all the way through. It's far too painful. They'll probably just be like: "Yeah, Jean-Baptiste, the album is great. I especially like the first ten seconds of track one." As a totally unnecessary and unwanted bonus, the Alien Folk Trash CD also comes with a whole extra full-length album The Dark Side of Boulder dDash in MP3 format. This may be the most unwelcome gift I have ever received. - Jonathan Dean
Further into the Angelika Koehlermann riddle, here is a release that surprised me by actually not being that bad. It's not really that good, either. However, I'm surprised that a release like this made it onto a label that seems proud of its unbroken record of pure, unadulterated silly crap. B.O.S. is an Austrian trio whose sound is informed both by Krautrock and by current German lap-pop like The Notwist and Lali Puna. B.O.S.' songs use the classic Can formula: a dark, insistent bass rhythm that repeats ad infinitum, to which is added instrumental and percussion overdubs, trance-inducing vocals, and galaxy of spacey effects. B.O.S. alternately use simple guitar chords, trumpet, clarinet, harp, toy percussion and burbling electronics to round out their kosmische music. None of these instruments are played with much skill or virtuosity, but that's really not the point, is it? They have quite a knack for writing a pop hook, as well, even if you can't really decipher what the vocalist is singing. As a first release, O-Land shows a lot of promise. There's nothing terribly inventive about a song like "Bring Back," but it does have a passable atmosphere and a rather catchy melody that make for an engaging listen. Unlike Ted Minsky and Boulder dDash, this album does not have me sprinting for the eject button.
Will the Angelika Koehlermann riddle ever be solved? I think Angelika herself sums it up best when she says "[My friend Gerhard] stopping swimming after an accident. He's finally like sinking to the bottom of his lonely life. I also try to get home in a way. I had a house some times ago, but one day, I went there, and the house had disappeared." There is absolutely nothing I can add to that statement. - Jonathan Dean
ANGUS MACLISE, "THE CLOUD DOCTRINE"
Listening to the overtly Eastern influenced percussion Angus Maclise plays on parts of this double CD, I can't help thinking that replacing him with Mo Tucker might've been the best thing that ever happened to the Velvet Underground. They're such different drummers, almost opposites, that you suspect Lou Reed had totally had enough of the hippy dippy guy who'd turn up to play gigs half an hour late and then carried on playing half an hour after the rest of the band finished. Tucker's monotonous tub thump became such a signature of that band that it's hard to imagine them any other way. Maclise died almost exactly twenty-four years ago out in Nepal. Over the last few years this marginal character has been exhumed for public display with a bunch of archive recordings that reveal a curious dabbling with everything from meditative hand percussion to beatnik poetry to electronic tape splice composition. This selection from a much larger cache of recordings rediscovered by Exploding Plastic Inevitable whip cracker Gerard Malanga covers all points, but is intended only for those who want to dig deeper than the festive Oriental tribal music featured on the earlier release Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda. The most impressive selections here are probably the early 'electronics' compositions "Electronic Mix For 'Expanded Cinema'" and "Tunnel Music." "Electronic Mix" exhumes eerie drone flailed at by babbling radiophonic shrapnel and for almost half an hour transcends the shoddy audio quality. Most of the music is rendered quaint and distant by poor mushy recordings, like faded photos that maybe muddy memory as much as clarify. This is an album that could only be recommednded to people who are fairly obsessive about this whole late sixties New York loft drone scene. Tony Conrad and John Cale collaborate on some tracks, but you'd be better advised to check out their releases on Table of the Elements before getting this. There are two poetry recitals included, and Maclise has a friendly welcoming vocal presence. "Description of a Mandala" has some nice cut up images, but the twenty minutes of "Universal Solar Calendar," where he gave a name to every day of the year reeks of tired hippy dogends and quickly gets tedious. Another half hour instrumental, "Thunder Cut," features a loop of a thunder recording made by Tony Conrad, but everyone else seems to be playing completely out of time with it. You wouldn't even realise it was thunder if it wasn't documented in the booklet. Some of the recordings, such as "Two Speed Trance" are so lo-fi that their character has probably altered entirely, paying Maclise a diservice. If you don't mind mangled squished violins and cracked cimbalums partially bled by years of magnetic corrosion and recording limitations, and really want to hear every last gasp of a guy who left the Velvet Underground not too soon, then this is the double disc you've been waiting for. Those who are a bit less obsessive about the historical angle might just be left thinking that some ghosts are better left to rest. Mostly this sounds like some hippy farting about. There's nothing wrong with that in itself, but its questionable how many people really need to hear it many years later when there are so many better contemporary recordings around. Nothing left now but the recordings, fading slow. - Graeme Rowland
BARDO POND, "ON THE ELLIPSE"
Tell the hippies come back and be crushed to dust! This is easily Bardo Pond's best album and maybe the most dazzling recording I've heard in a decade or so! Straight out of the flimsy artwork bereft plastic envelope on its first wonderful spin even their previous run of outstanding vented trip-fuck drone-rockers hadn't quite prepared me for such fine honed intensity and sheer beauty. Bardo Pond have always liked their psychedelic stew very heavy and deeply hypnotic. These six songs take a trip through beautiful cosmic mindfuck sex energy and out spinning around stars, dissolving into pure light. If you want head expanding drone rock with mammoth slow guitar overkill, this is the place to find it. I didn't think they'd ever be able to surpass their previous highpoint Set and Setting, but they have and then some. The recording is sharper but that doesn't detract from the heady riff brew, just fires it to harder glory. Where once they were sludgey they now burn clear and bright with no sops to vapid commerciality. Two guitars overdriven with effects trace patterns on the sun. Isobel Sollenberger sings beguilingly of every man being a star which sounds trite on the screen but fits the music perfectly. There is a deceptive lull when one of the guys, probably bassist Clint Takeda, takes a mumbling stroll through "Walking Clouds" in a superior take on the kind of psych-folk Flying Saucer Attack used to excel at. When the final swirling megablast of "Night of Frogs" atomizes solar revolution time, it's obvious that Bardo Pond have penetrated so far beyond the mundane now that there isn't any turning back. Just at the point of collapse, about to t(r)ip over into infinity, On the Ellipse is such a fitting titlethis would be a great soundtrack to leaving the planet, dropping out forever.Mogwai have proclaimed them their favourite band, but Bardo Pond are universes beyond. The word is that they're going to be touring Europe with Jackie-O Motherfucker and Threnody Ensemble in the Autumn. Maybe it'll be time to hit the road and never come back. - Graeme Rowland
Black Music, an LTM Compilation
Whether one enjoys these label-sampler compilations depends mostly on how one's taste agrees with that of the person who runs the label. There are no record labels whose taste I agree with 100%, but I like a lot of what LTM does, enough to keep me interested in what label-boss James Nice decides to issue next. This CD compiles tracks from the recent batch of LTM releases with a few otherwise unreleased songs to sucker in the completists. Hell, it works for me, why not. LTM and its sub-label Boutique seem to have several related missions: to reissue music originally released by Factory (other than the bigshots, Joy Division, Durutti Column, and New Order) to music by bands who might at some point have had a record (even just a 7") on Factory, and to release new music by bands who were on Factory long ago and are either still going or who have been ressurected due to Nice's enthusiasm. One of those bands, Crispy Ambulance, has donated a live album from thier reunion tour as a bonus CD that comes free with the first run of "Black Music" CDs.
I don't love all of this, of course. My taste runs more towards the late 70s/early 80s industrial post-punk sounds, so the tracks here by Department S (a foot-tapping punk-disco anthem called "Going Left Right") , the amorphous fuzz noises by Ludus (one of the exclusive tracks), and especially Crawling Chaos and Artery's skewed punk appealled to me. The comp is successful in that it's certainly got my interest enough to seek out more CDs by these bands, which are forthcoming in the months ahead. The reunited Crispy Ambulance and the project currently calling itself the Wake (now a duo containing only one original member) sound tired and reaching, not particularly as inspired as those bands early 1980s music. The Graham Massey (of Biting Tongues and 808 State) remix of a newer Crispy song just plods along with seemingly random effects and some movie samples... <yawn>. Section 25's track from a recent incarnation sounds great, though; it's a lo-fi stomper with electronic drums (yeah!) and fuzzy synths, many steps back from thier New Order-like proto-house single "Looking From a Hilltop", and frankly much more interesting. I could do without Cath Carroll's or Blue Orchids' singer/songwriter blandness, Paul Haig's opaquely smooth disco pop (I can hardly believe that he's the same guy who was in Josef K!), Blaine Reininger's melodramatic, pretentious schmaltz (again, worlds away from Tuxedomoon), or Ultramarine's shiny techno. What are they doing on this CD? I'm not sure. But then the darker stuff, like Royal Family & the Poor, the Passage, and Stockholm Monsters, keeps me interested enough to remain attentive to LTM's output.
- Howard Stelzer
Napoli Is Not Nepal, "Revolv_er"
The mix of smooth-jazz and four-on-the-floor beats on this new full-length is rather bland on this release from Shitkatapult, who is more commonly known for excellent releases that are usually somewhere between airy and desolate beat-driven songs and flat out boogie down, break out the boom box party pleasers. The grooves on Revolv_er do not always connect, however and I'm left feeling disappointed by its combo of live and electronic sounds. "A Night Outside in the Bunker" opens the album with an uninviting belch: the rhythms are clean and fun and then the live instruments begin to ruin everything in a smattering of jazz-like flourishes. Thankfully "Electrobastard" and "This World Is Sound" are more inviting. The latter ends up as a distorted ballad of sorts full of wonderful harmonies and it is backed by completely scathing beat. It's unfortunate that nearly everything goes awry from there on. "Annie Opper" is a great sound collage but is only a brief twenty-four second excursion while "Bangkok" is a nice song, but only nice. Its influences were all too obvious to me and this ruined the effect I think it was intended to have. "Selma" begins promisingly and then that live piano messes everything up: basically destroying the subtle mood that was established so flawlessly and smoothly at the beginning. This turns out to be a contagious problem that haunts most of the songs. Everything on the album just ends up sounding mediocre as a result. I can understand why Shitkatapult released this album, thoughthere are some fantastic beats and melodies here reminiscient of other performers on the labelbut it has an almost overly clean gloss to it that leaves me feeling as if six consecutive days of listening to Merzbow or Whitehouse is a good idea. - Lucas Schleicher
After a few years in which only a handful of Merzbow albums seemed to emerge, the typically prolific Masami Akita has returned to his traditional, aggressive release schedule. Having overcome the exhaustion associated with the fifty CD Merzbox, the past six months have offered a plethora of new material, including Frog, Merzbeat, Merzzow, the collaboration with Pan Sonic, and the Russell Haswell collaboration Satanstornade. Finally, Ant-Zen has stepped into the ring with this cleverly packaged 4x3" CD set. Each disc offers a bite-sized portion of the diversely noisy flavors of Merzbow's modern noise compositions. The ferocious "Warhorse" opens this collection with a wailing guitar loop that soon submits to the cacophony of abstract percussion and sizzling soundscapes. Far removed from his earlier work a la Music For Bondage Performance, the piece hits like an air raid and offers little relief through its 21 minute duration. In contrast, the second CD opens with the minimal yet bassy rumblings of "Space Trackin," whose somewhat rhythmic structure experiences constant interruption from static-laden frequencies. It stays relatively consistent until roughly the last minute, evolving into a squeaky filtered bleep-beat experiment. The accompanying "Ramatam" combines a white hot sheet of electronics with hard rock drums before yielding to the sounds of burning hard drives. Disc three comes from the same mindset, if not the same recording sessions, of the Merzbeat project. Of the two tracks here, "Stone The Crow" appeals to me more with its steady, sludgy rock backbeat churning under an array of dominant, menacing squeals and hisses. The final CD sounds most like an Ant-Zen release. From the onset of "CD Hunter," a rework of the previously-available "AB Hunter," a muffled rhythms lays the foundation for stream upon stream of digital noise. After giving all four discs a good listen, it has become clear to me that Merzbow is releasing some of the most creative and interesting work of his entire career. - Gary Suarez
NEON HUNK, "SMARMYMOB"
Neon Hunk walks the line between quirky and totally annoying. They play twisted jerky rock music that was probably inspired partly by Boredoms but is nowhere near as fun. Certainly their garish artwork seems greatly in debt to Yamantaka Eye, but like the music it seems a little diluted. I bet they like the Residents a bit too. Brutalism with kittens might mess up kitchen table if the totally distorted synthesisers don't mess up the lettuce first and the clattering drums could probably crush your tomato at fifty paces. I can't really say I like this album or don't like it, it just kind of craps about like a flappy kid who tries too hard and knocks everything over while I try not to get annoyed that I'm not listening to Boredoms instead, and end up mixing metaphors instead of chopping up Robert Sandell from 'Mixing It' on Radio 3 to feed to my pack of hounds who all sound a bit like XTC but not really and the rest of the CD is quite different and not very good in actual fact. Not in this HC fact though, its all of the same quality with a super-dumb drummer who clatters off a bit behind throughout but that's his minimal charm. Mothmaster seems to be after a fingernails-on-chalkboard sound on the synth but falls just short of utter shrillness. Sometimes they even fuck about playing the tapes backwards. Its like they wanted the lunatics to take over the asylum but only got the toytown version with Larry the Lamb and Noddy jingling bells all night until their mums shouted at them to shut the fuck up. The quasi-songs threaten to fall apart any minute but are usually over just before that happens. The album is also really short, which might be a blessing in disguise but could be one good reason not to shell out full price for it, if I haven't already put you off. Like Pink and Brown, they give their tracks humourous titles that aren't really very funny, but who cares what the songs are called anyway? They might be quite amusing to catch live if they pull off silly moves to match the twists and turns of the gargled unintelligible babbling screeching vocals. Neon Hunk seems like a one trick pony one leg short, but you might keep it around out of some kind of misguided pity. Someone should flog this lot to the Hoxton trendies fast, while they wait for an exciting new band called Radio 2 to pretend they wrote an old Gang of 2 song, whilst not mentioning that wave, punk and core are now acceptable to the afternoon teatime set. At least Jonathan Ross will never play Neon Hunk on the radio, and that's the immoral of this sordid abortion. Don't even think about getting this until you have the ultra heavy killer Noxagt album on Load. Fuck Neon Hunk, they couldn't even be bothered to get a classically trained viola player in the band, and what good is that? - Graeme Rowland
Lazarus, "Songs For an Unborn Sun"
Temporary Residence Ltd.
At the very least, the sound of Lazarus's lazy drawl and delivery indicates someone who just woke up in the morning, if not actually rising from the dead. Guitars are plucked deliberately, syllables are enunciated slowly, and the music proceeds ploddingly. Sometimes it is a race between Montgomery's drawl and his guitar to see which can proceed more slowly. Often they are neck and neck, two tortoises fumbling towards a far-off finish line. The scratchiness of the vocals screams for a glass of water to dispel those early morning frogs in the throat. And on the fringes of the music are little electronic twiddlings which, at first, are more decorative than substantive but which eventually come to define the album. Lazarus is Trevor Montgomery, who has played with Tarentel and The Drift; this is his first solo album where he explores some quiet acoustic compositions. The most unsettling (and fascinating) part of Lazarus's music is the ghostly background vocals which pop up in many songs. The background voice is a few octaves higher than Montgomery's main voice, so it is hard to discern if it is the same person singing them. But the background voice is also chillingly more scratchy, unsteady, and frail. My impression was that there was a background banshee, rather than a human, singing. The first half of the album maintains a monotony which is only broken by "Ocean (Burn the Highways)," a song which picks of the lagging pace and fills in the space with some fine guitar plucking and a lively organ during the chorus. It also has the most unsettling instance of the background banshee vocals, where her voice threatens either to decompose altogether or send us shivering to bed, curled up and frightened (think of the difference between Winona Ryder's characters in "Edward Scissorhands:" her young character in the film sounds normal, whereas her character as aged narrator has a geriatric, frail voice which still makes my hair bristle when I hear it). But the monotony persists in the other seven or so songs at the beginning of the album as they flow seamlessly into one another, not really making a name for themselves. Ironically, by the time the lovely short instrumental "(untitled)" comes about, Lazarus adds some interesting electronics to the limping acoustics to spruce up the sound. The highlight of this is heard at the end of "Obviust" when vocals are overtaken by the more compelling electronic frequency noodling. The last four songs are the most captivating of the album, forecasting a darkness and a vision so bleak that another resurrection might be in order. - Joshua David Mann
Luke Eargoggle, "Audio Warriors"
I grew up a military brat and spent seven of my most formative years in Germany. At the time, I was a total b-boy, listening to classic hip hop that was on the charts, like Run DMC, Beastie Boys, and Kool Moe Dee. I hated rock music and wanted nothing to do with it. At the same time, I was being introduced to new music through a number of friends and acquaintances. During this time I heard my first taste of Kraftwerk, and the industrial electronics of any West German metropolis. It was keyboard tones, glitch beats, and the low rumbles of electronic voices and bass tones. Back then, we didn't really care what there was to dance to, as long as we could dance to it. We'd bug out and breakdance and robot to anything with a beat, which always seemed to amuse the teachers and parents. Secretly, we wanted to know where this music was made, as it always felt like it was being made by machines with AI so advanced they knew just what could make us boogie; and we chastised American artists who did anything that used similar sounds, from Harold Faltermeyer to Herbie Hancock, labelling them "posers" like they were street punks who didn't know any better. How wrong we were when we were just reaching adolescence, but how easy it is for a record to bring all that rushing back. Luke Eargoggle, one of the new gods of robot electro, displays a clever range of styles all with the same palette on Audio Warriors, and it's a cheeky listen that got me right back to 1983. Each song bounces with energy of a classic sound with updated technology. From the start, you want to move to it, dancing around the room like you just don't care. "I want to be free to do what I want," says Luke, and it's like an anthem for body-moving. Different rhythms, but all with that hip-hop style and electronic production, frame each track, as swirls and bumps highlight the computerized vocals that sometimes contain real lyrics and sometimes just exclaim ("Yeah, yeah!"). There's really not much more than that to this, but the music begs for that kind of minimalism. It truly feels like Eargoggle's overjoyed laying this to tape or hard drive. That energy is catching, and it's been a long time since I had this much fun. - Rob Devlin
Cut Out, "Interlude with the Fun Machine"
When I was seven years old, I received a rather exciting Christmas present, or at least it was exciting to me at that young age. It was a Yamaha PSR-6 keyboard, with 99 special effect voices (including the ever popular 'Machine Gun' and 'Ocean Wave') and 16 different styles of beat! Imagine the possibilities that were available to me, the things I could do with so many features and options. It was an orchestra in a bulky black casing, just awaiting the twitch of my conductor's baton. In reality, my seven-year-old virtuosity was capable only of hitting 'Samba' and then goofing around with the funny noises. I am reminded of this warm childhood memory because Cut Out's "Interlude with Fun Machine" sounds to me like it was put together by a group of seven year olds with PSR-6's. Had I only known then that I could have recorded myself (with that little thirty-second memory button?) and put out an album. It honestly sounds, to my ears, as if every loop, beat, and voice was drawn from this device and then sprinkled with a little studio work. The album's opener, "At It Again" goes on for five minutes with only five seconds worth of music. "The Power Brokers" is the closest to breaking from the unfortunate Yamaha sound, with drippy effects, original beats and a bright organ loop that does not overstay its welcome. The track is relatively and thankfully brief. "Theme From Fun Machine, Part I," however, is an exercise in endurance, clocking in as the longest song on the album, though not by much. It's ten minutes and nineteen seconds of the 'March' beat with a rising and falling tone that sounds like an advanced slide whistle synthesizer. I just kept thinking to myself, 'What could justify ten minutes of this?' In a shorter context, the ideas that Cut Out had for this piece may have worked, however throughout the long (long) course of "Fun Machine," they are repeated until your mind becomes desensitized to the audio wavelengths and you forget you're listening to anything at all. The final song, "Fin" does come across well, with a mournful organ that drones on darkly, actually managing to evoke a mood or a feeling rather than just looping a tinny beat. Its ending is abrupt, but keeping it short and knowing when to get out is a virtue that would have improved the rest of this disc immensely. "Interlude with Fun Machine" suffers from a dearth of ideas, and lacks sufficient style to hide that fact. Did they take the name Cut Out as an allusion to the cut out bin? I have a suggestion. If you're of a certain age range, chances are that you too received a PSR-6, popular among budding grade school musicians, at some point in your childhood. If it happens to be kicking around your basement somewhere, I suggest you dig it out, dust it off, and hit the 'demonstration' button. That song was always a lot of fun. It was long, but at least it had variations. - Michael Patrick Brady
The Mountaineers have an intriguing style that seems to blend a down home, foot tapping folk sing along with modern electro-pop techniques, no doubt a product of the past and present influences of their Welsh upbringing. At the heart of their songs lies the jangly acoustic sounds of a guitar that might just be a little ragged, the kind that might make an appearance around a campfire after everyone's gotten a little loose. From there, electronic beeps and slurs are used like garnish, never overpowering the heart of the songs, but working along with it, adding new layers of sound and melody to the already tuneful compositions. "Self Catering" is a bright track that shows off multitrack harmonies and taut, precise beats that are found throughout the EP. "Clap in Time" begins with a windy horn introduction before giving way to a cricket chirp of electronic beeps and the song's body, where the singers ask you to do as the title suggests. It's strange, but the electronic chirps, once again give that feeling of a campfire sing-a-long (and clap-a-long), albeit one that is being experienced through a filter of software and ingenuity. "Chicken" is a raucous, stomping song with the words gushing from the singer's mouth and following down the cascading progression before shooting back up to the top in a strained yelp. "Radio Cat" is the most adventurous track, as goes for total programmed abstraction, floating around on electronically processed vocals and a fuzzy programmed beat. The track is then manipulated and cut up with sudden, jerky clips. Still, it retains a certain swing that the Mountaineers drop into every track. It's not o sterile that you can't swivel your hips, or maybe walk with a little strut as it plays on your mental soundtrack. "Camped Out" features a gorgeous chorus with an excellent harmony that comes through like a slightly out of range radio broadcast from the past. "Your Gunn is Sett on Me" is a light guitar piece of obliquely longing lyrics like "If you're gonna step on me / you gotta give it / you heal this injury." Hidden behind this is the unlisted "Fuck You in the Eye," and while obviously a throwaway fun track, I wouldn't be surprised to see the music recycled into something more legitimate in the future. The way in which the Mountaineers use their conventional instruments, classical piano, guitar, in a manner that is perfectly agreeable to their use of electronic instruments and production techniques, makes the EP an alluring listen. - Michael Patrick Brady
Because Muslimgauze's Bryn Jones released nearly every second that he recorded in his lifetime, a task which is being continued for him by labels such as Soleilmoon now that he has died, there are many CDs (and double CDs, and triple CDs, and boxsets) which sound very similar to one another and may even have been recorded all in one day, one right after the other. How is this Muslimgauze CD different from all 150+ other Muslimgauze CDs? It isn't, but it is a live recording, which is quite rare in his catalog and is of note simply due to that fact. Since it isn't a studio work, it can't be held to the same criteria as his studio albums; this really was recorded in one evening, and as such it is just fine. If it were a studio album, I would complain that the material does not sound finished, that the main difference from track to track is a (very) slightly altered drum pattern. But then that's a common problem in all of his music. I can't help but wonder what a Muslimgauze record would sound like if Jones had taken a year, or even half a year, to work on it, rather than simply spit them out and move on to the next one. For a concert document, though, it's a moot point.
The "Arabbox" concert was recorded in 1993, around the same time as... oh, eight other CDs. The music is upbeat and relaxed, with loops of heavy drums (both electronic and sampled from middle eastern percussion) driving every song along in a laconic, easy-going fashion. The songs appear to be loose, consisting of little more than a beat, some spare sound effects, a droning tamboura, and a melodic instrument (usually steel drums or tablas, or some keyboard sample of a percussion instrument) soloing on top. Some neat dub effects bolt in and out of the mix, with backwards loops and cut-up voices rising and falling suddenly at various times. "Arabbox" flows smoothly, at a similar medium tempo throughout, which makes it useful for establishing an atmosphere and not calling too much attention to itself. Though this is a live concert, no evidence of an audience is present and the sound quality is excellent. Is it necessary? Not really, but it has documentary importance, and isn't unenjoyable on its own terms. - Howard Stelzer
ALLTAF SAMA SV?N?
Arguably nobody has done more for Icelandic music than the Smekkleysa (a.k.a. Bad Taste) label. This double-CD compilation markes the label's 100th release after 16 years of operating. Disc one features rare and exclusive music from some of the biggest names and current bands woth checking out, including the proverbial Bjork and Sigur Ros cuts, along with retro freaks Trabant, that other guy from the Sugarcubes, Einar ?rn, as well as glitchsters Stilluppsteypa, distorted rockers Minus, and Gunnar (Dr. Gunni) Hj?lmarsson (the label's most visible employee and cool radio show host), himself. Disc two is a bit of a 'greatest hits' over the years, highlighting the most different styles imaginable, with a punchy tune from Hei?a's old outfit, Unun; a Frenchy-style accordion and crooner bit from Hlj?msveit Konr??s B?; f-word heavy hip hop from Faculty; goth-metal sounds from Olympia (please don't sing in English); porn-funk from Funkstra?e; plenty of hardcore and pop; and the single that kicked the label off, "Amm?li," (Birthday) from Sykurmolarnir (known outside of Iceland as Sugarcubes). Both discs styles flip-flop completely, and I have to admit that I can't think of one person who could actually like every song here, but it's not terribly unwelcome, as the songs are short, end, and a new song begins. It's much like listening to a mix tape and not knowing what the tracklisting is because there's always that burning curiosity as to "what's next?" A lot of this music is completely unheard of outside of the tiny island, despite the number of bands that have in fact made their way across the waters in the last few years, so hopefully some of these bands' completists might actually take some time to listen to what -else- there is out there before letting some hip fashion magazine dictate it. - Jon Whitney
PHILL NIBLOCK, "TOUCH FOOD"
Some might call Niblock single minded, in that he always approaches composition in pretty much the same way. Take a living drone then double it, treble it, increase overlayed density until new harmonic overtones appear. What is nice is that he seems to be able to up the ante with each release. This is his most mind-altering selection of droners yet, and its actually pretty difficult to listen to the whole thing without zoning out into the void completely. Over two CDs there are four different instrumental approaches foregrounded, and it's the different textures of each instrument that characterize each of Niblock's compositions. Even so, he seems to have more light and shade and ebb and flow here than in some of his earlier more static tracks. Perhaps the stand out track is "Yam Almost May" with bowed and e-bowed bass drones played by Kaspar T. Toeplitz, sampled and superimposed by Niblock. This builds up ever expanding and enlarging swathes of harmonic density, sounding more like a deep wind instrument than a bass guitar. The first disc also features heavy baritone sax C tone drones on "Sea Jelly Yellow" and similarly opaque clarinet, bass clarinet and basset horn lockdown. The second disc is a four-part skullfuck that takes the dear old piano to corners it rarely visits courtesy of a nylon string tied to a single piano string and is seventy minutes long mostly because Niblock is seventy this year. The sound it makes is more like Glenn Branca's symphonic guitar army than a regular piano, and I keep expecting those massive drums to come rolling over the horizon. Of course the drums never come, leaving the massed ecstatic bass tones to boom on in eternal foreplay. The booklet includes photos of Asians growing and making food and some thoughts on Niblock's drones from Gerard Pape, who makes a case for shape shifting 'timbre as space in suspended time.' Featured saxophonist Ulrich Krieger also comments on some differing technicalities of pieces he's performed in collaboration with Niblock, and guitar droner Rafael Toral raises some interesting ideas about the emotional impact of various Niblock tracks. I find Niblock's music really useful for blocking out everything when I want to rest and there's a lot of noise going on. It also seems to annoy the hell out of trendy fuckwits, 'that's-not-music' ignoramuses and attention seekers with low attention spans. The blocks seep by so slowly that change is almost imperceptible until some new overtone brings on a seismic shift. His images of people working might be apt in respect of monotony, but on another level, if you were to actually chop wood and lug boxes into boats with Niblock on full blast you'd probably zonk out and fall in the river or accidentally cut off your poor little hand. Lord let Phill fuck your mind completely! - Graeme Rowland
The Jealous Sound, "Kill Them With Kindness"
Better Looking Records
After almost becoming another defeat at the hands of the major labels, finally the Jealous Sound release their debut full-length with their old friends at Better Looking Records. Trust me: if the prevailing rumor about Jive having hold over them is true, it's justification enough for the increase in darkness and aggression in their overall sound. That's just one area of growth and change brought forth on this release, though, as the band finally delivers on the lofty expectations being thrown about. It seems, actually, that now that Blair Shehan has a proper band for the project he's settling in just fine to a post-Knapsack indie pop sound. Relentless touring and all that time in recording limbo gave them the opportunity to create a cohesive and bold group of songs. Working with Tim O'Heir, they even found the opportunity to expand their sound, adding touches of keyboards here and there, as well as some spirited backing vocals that it would be easy to miss with their live power and Shehan's signature voice. Only one previously released song, "Anxious Arms," finds its way on to the album, and I honestly prefer the version from their self-titled EP. All over this release they show the ferocity and keen grasp of melody audiences have seen for three years. "Hope For Us" is a call out to the desperate attention leeches, with a hearty "Kiss me open mouth!" and loud swirled guitars on the chorus. "Naive" and "Does That Make Sense" are three-minute power pop gems, the kind where everyone jumps up and down at the shows. Slower tempo tracks are sprinkled throughout, with the six-minute "Recovery Room" showing the most promise, though the double-shot of "Guard It Closely" and "For Once in Your Life" with its keyboard handclaps hold up the middle of the record quite well. One of the finest moments, though, is the keyboard drive of "The Fold Out" with its haunting "oohs" and freight train final minute. There's wind in their sails, they've lasted this far, and now they're ready to take over the world. And I'm ready and willing to let them. - Rob Devlin
Ulver, "1993-2003: 1st Decade in the
For those who are unfamiliar with the Norwegian trio Ulver, here's a bit of background for you: They got their start as part of the infamous Scandinavian black metal scene, and in the mid-90s released a trilogy of albums based on the darker aspects of Norwegian folklore that are considered classics in the genre. They then alienated much of their original fanbase with a sprawling double CD that placed readings from William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell over a variety of sounds that included dark ambience, jazz and industrial noise. Interviews with the group revealed their strong interest in experimental and esoteric artists, especially Coil, and subsequent releases have continued to flit from one style to another, with the only continuing theme being their movement to embrace electronic tools as their primary sound source. This interest in technology comes to a head on their latest project, the retrospective-cum-remix album 1993-2003: 1st Decade in the Machines, on which 13 electronic and experimental artists - including Third Eye Foundation, Bogdan Raczynski, Fennesz, Pita, V/Vm and Merzbow - plus Ulver themselves have pulled material from the group's decade of work and in most cases mulched the material into something completely new. Ulver themselves get things started in fine fashion with "Crack Bug", an excellent piece that packs heavy doses of sinister atmospheres and boiling chaos into a nice and compact three and a half minutes. Too bad Alexander Rishaug didn't follow a similar "quality over quantity" rule for his contribution which follows, as his mixture of skittering glitches and filtered guitars is already tired by the halfway point of its seemingly endless eight minutes. Thankfully, the overall quality of the disc tends towards to positive side of things, with highlights like "Lyckantropen Remix" from Third Eye Foundation which is a beautiful and subdued work that combines a clicky backdrop with a quiet and moody melody, and the orchestral and organic ambience of the epic "I Love You, But I Prefer Trondheim (parts 1-4)" by Adam Wiltzie (of Stars of the Lid) Vs. Stars Of The Lid. The album's main problem is one of consistency and flow, as many of the tracks sound drastically out of place next to one another. The cute video game melodies and punchy breakbeats of Bogdan Raczynski's "Bog's Basil & Curry Powder Potatos Recipe" sound especially lost amongst this collection of generally darker and less perky numbers. It's not until the disc-closing triptych of noise from Jazzkammer, V/Vm and Merzbow that a consistent vibe is felt, and by that point, it's a bit too late (not to mention annoying for those who don't dig the noise thing). So on a track-by-track basis, this one gets some high marks, but as a complete album, it just doesn't work for me. - Greg Clow
Ex Models, "Zoo Psychology"
Ex Models torment their instruments, creating sounds that can be looked upon as pushing the equipment to its limits or just plain making it hurt so that it screams in pain and joy. They are the latest masters of the no wave sound, emerging from the New York underground only several years ago and already boasting a mature sound and a loyal following. Zoo Psychology is their second full-length, and it shows growth over their debut as the band grows comfortable in some ways but branches out in others. These musicians want to dismantle the song structure, abating the relentless verse-chorus arrangements to allow for more adventurous and improvisational terrain. At the same time, there is an overall dismemberment of melody and time signatures. All throughout, the brothers Motia intertwine the screams of the guitars with the shrieks of Shahin, who seems to enjoy pushing his vocal cords until they don't even have the will to relent. It's not easy listening, and it's not an easy listen, either. It's organized disorder, with a fine sense of humor and a generous helping of tongue-in-cheek, particularly on the song titles ("Fuck to the Music," "Brand New Panties," and "Hey Boner"). In fact, its the sexual charge that gets these songs across, despite the almost disjointed nature of the music. It's not for everyone, but the near funk of "Hott 4 Discourse" and the jackhammer "What is a Price" can appeal to most anyone who likes post punk ear damaging noise. A band that's this unafraid to push their limits can't do anything but improve, and it'll be a strange and pleasureable ride every time. - Rob Devlin
Tindersticks, "Waiting for the Moon"
Tindersticks' first two albums, which appeared in the early 1990s, were marked by an uncommon emotional rawness and seductive melancholy. Tracks like "A Night In" and "Tiny Tears" with their epic orchestrations and Stuart Staples' brooding croon rank alongside some of the better works of Nick Cave and Scott Walker. The albums subsequent to their first two eponymous records, like Curtains and Can Our Love, contain occassional moments of that intial brilliance, but overall, the heart-wrenching, visceral gutsiness that once dominated their work began to fade. On Waiting for the Moon, their sixth album, it is all but gone. Tindersticks have seemed to lapse into the same self-satisfied, vanilla territory of chamber pop as radio-friendly bands like Cousteau. The twangy guitar and insipid lyrics on the album's opening track, "Until the Morning Comes" set the uninpsired tone. Even Stuart's voice sounds like a washed-out shadow of what it once was. "Say Goodbye To the City," despite its crescendo towards the end, ultimately goes nowhere. Tindersticks have reached the point at which they've begun to sound as if they've run out of ideas. Despite the fact that they thump out albums at a regular pace, it seems as if they would serve themselves better by taking time to re-evaluate their direction (or lack thereof). I was shocked to read that the press release for Waiting for the Moon touted: "more sonic explorations in sound" and a return to their "experimental" roots, because those statements couldn't be further from the truth. - Jessica Tibbits
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