COIL, "LIVE SPECIAL EDITION BOX"
When it was announced that Coil would play their first live show in North America on August 18, 2001, I was shocked by what seemed like an incredible series of synchronicities. I had long considered Coil to be one of my favorite bands, but I thought there would be little or no chance of ever seeing them play live. Though they had recently begun playing select concerts at some classy venues and festivals in Europe, they just seemed far too shadowy, eccentric and English to ever grace American shores. Strangely, the day announced for the concert was not only my birthday, but
my 23rd birthday, a number commonly involved with synchronicity, and a number often mythologized by Coil themselves. Also, before hearing the announcement, I had already planned a trip to New York City to celebrate my birthday. It seemed as if mysterious forces had aligned in to make certain that I would not miss this Coil performance. However, I did not have very high expectations for the concert itself. Sure, Coil were mind-bending and transcendent on record, but how could their complex, studio-hermetic sound possibly translate into a meaningful live show? Coil's live
performance is a revelation; a powerful, dramatic explosion of dynamic energy, every bit as impressive as their recorded output, but somehow even more potent and overwhelming. The absolutely massive sound achieved by Sleazy's digital programming, Thighpaulsandra's soaring
synthesizers and Jhon Balance's possessed outbursts clearly needed proper documenting on record. Recently, Coil inaugurated a backwards-unfolding series of four live CDs, each documenting a different "age" of their constantly evolving live show. To those willing to shell out nearly $200, Threshold House also offered a limited box set of all four discs, together with two extra CD-Rs and "art objects" allegedly "loaded with magickal intent". - Jonathan Dean
This documents the Coil concerts that took place throughout Europe in the fall of 2002. As such, it is the most eclectic of the four discs, containing four songs that have never been on an album, and several other songs rarely performed in their live shows. "I Am Angie Bowie (Sine Waves)" opens the disc, with its mind-scraping oscillations and Balance's absurd shouts of "I am Angie Bowie! No!" For the next song, Coil resurrect the long-discarded track "Last Rites of Spring" from Gold is the Metal, and expand it into a 10-minute excursion paying homage to the author of Naked Lunch and Electronic Revolution: "William S. Burroughs is hallucinating is space," intones a confident Balance. "Are You Shivering?" and the omnipresent "Amethyst Deceivers" are more or less faithfully reproduced here. John Balance's playful audience-baiting is in rare form on "The Universe is a Haunted House" as he darkly intones "I'm not here..." out of the left stereo channel, then answers "I am there..." from the right. The song unexpectedly mutates into a shattering reprise of Coil's acid rave classic "Windowpane." The mix is just right on this disc, with vocals and music well-balanced and reproduced crisply for home listening. "Bang Bang" is the rare instance of Coil covering someone else's song, in this case a Cher (!) ballad penned by the late Sonny Bono.
Balance's delivery is solemn and haunting, turning the song into an icy murder ballad, although I can't help but be amused by Coil's outrageously campy choice to cover this song. The disc ends with the scary bombast of "An Unearthly Red," a noisy, industrial invocation of war: "I didn't want to do it!" screams Balance, "God told me to do it!" A computer-animated flight simulation ending with a harrowing crash into the World Trade Center accompanied this song in concert.
This documents a Spring 2002 show performed in Bologna. It was an interesting period for Coil performances, as Thighpaulsandra temporarily left the line-up to tour with Spiritualized. To make up for his noticeable absence, Peter and John enlisted Mike York and Cliff Stapleton to fill in with hurdy-gurdy and Breton pipes. This new, exotic instrumentation adds an unstable, organic element to the performance that works well with the setlist chosen for these shows. The disc opens with the ritualized workout of "Anarcadia: All Horned Animals." If you've heard The Remote Viewer EP, these ethnic-inflected drones will sound very familiar, not entirely dissimilar from Taj Mahal Travellers or The Magic Carpathians at their most psychedelic. "Amethyst Deceivers" is here again, one of four slightly variant versions available in the box set. The classic track "Slur" from Horse Rotorvator is given a faithful rendition, but Balance's voice is not quite equal to the job of singing this one, and Marc Almond's backing vocals are sorely missed. Balance dedicates "A Cold Cell" to all the prisoners of the world, as well as those "in prisons of their own making." It's always been a haunting song, and the live version enhances its lonely, melancholic atmosphere. Track six is an accomplished recreation of "Paranoid Inlay" from Musick To Play in the Dark 2, even though the tracklisting on the back of the digipack omits it completely. "Sick Mirrors (Version)" is a meditation on the concept of remote viewing utilizing dense Middle Eastern melodies. The song seamlessly segues into a frighteningly intense version of "A.Y.O.R.," the second of three songs in this set that may have been destined for Coil's long-promised-but-never-delivered Nothing Records album, now referred to as The World Ended a Long Time Ago. "Backwards" ends the set, a joyous psychosexual EBM bacchanalia, with Balance uttering some of his most transgressive lyrics: "Fuck me in reverse/Normal is perverse/Everything's backwards." This disc would be perfect were it not for a rather nagging problem with the mixing, which seems to favor Balance's vocals and pushes much of the music into a muddy, nebulous background. Even with the technical difficulties, Live Three is an essential chronicle of one of Coil's most inspired shows.
Coil's Moscow performance in the Fall of 2001 is documented here, soon after their brief stateside visit. Like the NYC show, the Moscow performance went under the banner "Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil," a tight, energetic performance highlighting Coil's most confrontational material. This is my personal favorite of the four periods of Coil's live shows, simply because Coil seemed at this stage to be perfectly in control of their audience, skillfully heightening tension and confounding expectations, all the while subliminally projecting their bizarre brand of personal empowerment propaganda onto the unwitting observers. This Moscow performance seems to be the absolute zenith of the "Constant Shallowness" show, which is why the bad mix on tracks like "What Kind of Animal Are You?" is very disappointing indeed. The officially sanctioned bootleg CD-R recording of the NYC show actually boasts superior audio, which is surprising considering Coil's usually scrupulous attention to their production fidelity. Still, this performance is very impressive, especially the pitch-perfect rendition of Horse Rotorvator's "Blood From the Air." The final, apocalyptic blowout of "Constant Shallowness Leads to
Evil" begins with Balance satirically answering some vicious rumors printed in a Russian publication: "We've heard that some of you may have read that we eat human flesh. However, we only do this on religious holidays." Coil then launch into a lengthy noise assault specifically formulated to exorcise you of demons and brainwash you of all your previous learning,
leaving you vulnerable for Coil's subliminal psychobabble. "God please fuck my mind for good!" screams a wrecked Balance, stealing a line from Captain Beefheart's "Making Love to a Vampire With a Monkey on My Knee." If you manage to make it to the end of this exhausting set with your sanity intact, you may truly grasp Coil's final motto "Persistence is All."
The last in the live series is a 2-CD set beautifully packaged in a foldout digipack. The two discs document the first two Coil performances of the new millennium, focusing on their Time Machines material. It must have been terribly exciting for the audience at the Royal Festival Hall in April of 2000 to hear the opening tones of "Everything Keeps Dissolving," this being Coil's first true live concert other than some sallow, abortive attempts made in the early 80's. Coil no doubt practiced for months, as they show no signs of unease in unveiling their polished live presence. Disc one originally saw limited release as Time Machines Live only available with mail order copies of Musick to Play in the Dark 2. It's swell for this material to be widely available, as it is truly a great concert and a flawless recording. At this early stage in Coil's performances, John Balance had not yet adopted the dancing, screaming, extroverted lunatic personality he was to unveil in later shows. Therefore, the three tracks that make up the London show contain no live singing, just a series of enraptured electronic oscillations that twist around the brain, wiping out all thought but an extreme sense of dislocation and confusion. "Queens of the Circulating Library" utilizes samples of Thighpaulsandra's opera-singing mum Dorothy Lewis, together with digital arpeggiations and sexy purrs from a wounded synthesizer. "Chasms" flirts close to Tangerine Dream territory, a swirling circulation of warm synthesizer tones that unfold like a Russian science fiction film. Disc two comprises Coil's terrific performance at Barcelona's Sonar festival in June of 2000. It repeats the same songs from disc one, but adds three new songs to the setlist, including the fourth and final permutation of "Amethyst Deceivers." Bill Breeze plays viola throughout the entrancing set, adding some beautiful neo-classical flourishes. "The
Universe is a Haunted House," a line taken directly from Burroughs' Naked Lunch, is present in a much more nascent version than the one heard on Live Four. Unfortunately, this disc suffers from two problems. First, the audio source used for this release was not made from the soundboard, but is rather a recording by a member of the audience. While pains have been taken to clean up the sound, the audio does suffer from the technical problems inherent in bootleg recordings, including annoying audience chatter and trebly distortions. Second, although the digipack lists six tracks, the CD only contains five tracks, the last two apparently having been accidentally merged. Still, this is a rather impressive bootleg recording, and these problems can easily be forgiven and the concert still enjoyed. We hear Jhon Balance step to the front for the first time, delivering a series of blood-curdling screams on "Elves," once again making a play for the title of the most warped vocalist in music today.
With each box set, Coil includes a CD-R of their performance at the Megalithomania! Festival. This disc cannot be purchased separately, and is available only as part of the limited edition box. It's a very nice bonus indeed, as this performance is unique among Coil's live history, and marks a sort of turning point for the group. Megalithomania! was a celebration of sacred sites and standing stones as expressed through history, folklore, art and sound. Basically, everything that Julian Cope was on about in his mammoth tome "The Modern Antiquarian." For this special event, Coil performed a long, drawn-out permutation on "The Universe is a Haunted House," turning the piece into a slowly evolving ambient sound sculpture involving the ghostly sound of water droplets, quietly droning synths, and a particularly spectral vocal improvisation from Balance. As reported by many people who attended the event, there seemed to be a strange rift between Balance and Sleazy, evidenced by John's agitated screaming: "Why are you here? Why are you here?" Balance's statement that "we are the alien" could be read as a tribute to the extra-terrestrial builders of Stonehenge, or as a further statement of his growing alienation from his long-time partner. A few days after this performance, Peter and John announced that while Coil would continue, they would no longer describe themselves as a couple. Sad, indeed, but these personal matters cannot overshadow a very unique and powerful performance. As the tension and mutation compounds over the 40-minute length, Balance's alien incantations fight for prominence with Thighpaulsandra's thick slabs of stoned-Druid synthesizer. The recording is spotless, highlighting all of the ghostly minutiae of this one-of-a-kind Coil show.
In addition to some suitably odd printed art cards and scrying mirrors, every live box set also includes a black plastic clamshell containing this, a tour-only CD available at some of Coil's most recent shows. ANS contains three long tracks of about 20 minutes each, consisting solely of tones made with the Russian ANS synthesizer. Invented by Eugeny Murzin in 1938, only one ANS synthesizer has ever actually been built, and it sits neglected and obscure, collecting dust in the basement of Moscow State University since 1958. Coil were given access to experiment and record with the strange machine, and their experiments are chronicled on this disc. ANS is a "photoelectric" instrument that produces music via a completely unique process. The user must inscribe a series of line drawings that represent visible sound waves onto a series of glass discs. The shape, location and nature of the drawings determines the sound that the synthesizer produces, which encompasses the entire range of audible sound, 720 pure tones. Unfortunately, the fascinating history and musical theory behind the ANS instrument is ultimately far more interesting than the music Coil has managed to make with it. While there are many dramatic points of convergence buried within these abstract, long-form compositions, the overall effect is of dilettantes noodling around with an unfamiliar piece of equipment that reportedly takes years to properly master. Though there are some parts of ANS that are reminiscent of Time Machines, none of these pieces has the trance-inducing intensity of that album's minimalist drones. Reportedly, Coil are remixing and expanding ANS into an official double album release scheduled for later this year. Perhaps with a bit of the signature Coil touch added to these naked tones, this material will come alive. As it stands, ANS is a fascinating but musically non-compelling tangent into the avant-garde realm of theoretical music.
Gold Chains, "Young Miss America"
It's not surprising that the first full-length Gold Chains release is receiving mixed reviews. Everybody's only used to hearing a GC product in shorter incrementsand the reason why that works so perfectly is that it's complimentary to the unique GC style. Topher LaFata, who basically -is- Gold Chains is one mad talented motherfucker. His rap is densely packed, rarely ever pausing to let the music to exist on its own, while the music is so intricate and involved, changing styles often from bar to bar. By the second track he's gone from four on the floor techno to swinging post-industrial, and nerdy glitch pop all in a matter of minutes. The swapping of styles continues for the rest of the release, from parodies of big buck rap to jazzy interludes. Couple this with rare occurances of lyrical repetition or a "chorus," and tuning in to the music demands complete and undivided attention. Only until repeated listens are instruments like live drums, piano, and guitars even audible, since the subject matter of the rap is such an involved fantasy world that it's hard to pay attention to everything else that's going on. Thankfully lyrics were included this time around. Reading the lyrics without the music is also a fun exercise as they make great journal entries or stream of consciousness writing on their own. Topher loves to play with language, with a number of themes which seem to resurface. Themes about San Francisco, society, sex, drugs, money, and "warpping that Cali cooch in Prada" are amusing but crashing 11 songs of that in a row makes this album work best as a record to be paused in the middle while the listener's got to get up off their ass and go flip it. In a bizarre way, it all makes sense that Topher is an old industrial fan, a former punk bass player, and allegedly an intense computer programmer. Gold Chains is almost like the prog-rock of modern electronic laptop rap, as the music is so dense, academically flamboyant, technically nerdy, but superbly addictive after its hooks have sunk in. Some people claim that with an expensive video and the right promotion, this guy could be huge, but I think at this point his music is far more involved than the general public can handle. I look forward to the "techno" album LaFata claims to be working on as even an old GC tune like "Burn Babylon" has the fabulous powers of sexy killer hooks. The question remains: if world domination is in the dreams of GC, is he willing to dumb his music down for the masses? I sure as hell hope not. - Jon Whitney
gilbert/lewis/mills, "mzui: waterloo gallery"
Back before the Internet and World Wide Web allowed music junkies to connect with others and trade secrets, fans of bands in areas of the world far outside the band's nucleus had to rely on sources like magazines and books for the best information they could get on a group. Despite being a project from former Wire members, the experimental music contained didn't make it a title which warranted an in-print status and copies worldwide were rather scarce. As a young Wire fan, it had been on my personal wish list for years. When I finally discovered it in 1998 as a used record for $30 my heart jumped. I finally found it! The excitement of owning it became more important than actually hearing it as by the time I got home and listened on my record player, the vinyl was so old, coarse, and poorly maintained that it was borderline painful to listen to. The collected recordings from Russel Mills along with Wire's Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis, recorded at a 24-day installation are a perfect example of one of my strong beliefs: quiet music is not meant for vinyl. In the same way that hearing Mirror's Eye of the Storm on CD for the first time (after being familiar with a vinyl version whose cracks and pops became louder than the music) hearing these recordings from the Waterloo Gallery matchesand might even surpassmy excitement of finding the record in a used bin. Wire split in February of 1980, and by August of 1981, Lewis and Gilbert already had a number of releases under their belt as Dome and Kupol. They wanted to do something more intense than simply release records and do an occasional performance, and this experiment in London's Waterloo Gallery, a former meat-packing warehouse. Over the course of 24 days, the three basically had a work-in-progress, changing rooms, creating sounds from trash, using PAs and microphones to record pubic reactions and filter them in, breaking down exhibits and building new ones. The resulting recording is two 21-minute recordings which covered each side of the original record, assembled in a multitude of movements, all with completely different sources and motives. While the recordings were the exhibition ambience, it's surprisingly unlike an ambient recording, as pieces are arranged together without the sense of lengthy, drawn-out pieces that go on way too long. From spacious echoes to whooping bird-like sounds, chiming metal and looped vocal samples mimicing radio static, hearing this without the clicks is heavenly. The accompanying booklet has a great interview about some of what went in to the performance as well as some public reaction. Photos are also included as they were for the original release along with some which weren't available the first time around. It's obvious that a good amount of care went into the reissue of this and I look forward to more obscure gems from the vaults to surface on this new division of LTM. - Jon Whitney
JEFF PARKER, "LIKE-COPING"
For the first release under his own name, guitarist Jeff Parker (Tortoise/Isotope 217) presents a disc of fairly straight-ahead jazz compositions in a trio setting featuring longtime associates and fellow Chicago Undergrounders Chris Lopes on upright bass and Chad Taylor on drums. Although Parker's playing is the main focal point with this format, the group's well-crafted compositions and support convey an honesty of a collective recording that just happens to feature the guitar, moreso than a soloist with a backing group. A few free-jazz freakouts are also included for good measure. Taylor's heartfelt composition, "Miriam," opens the disc as a brushed waltz of warm chord changes that briefly sneak into double time throughout subtle guitar soloing. The disc's uptempo title track, penned by Lopes, features some cool vamping sections at the chorus' turnaround that solidify the structure and give a strong reference point during each player's solo. Named for his daughter, Parker's "Days Fly By (with Ruby)" moves from an oom-pah styled unison guitar and bass intro over Taylor's busy brush soloing to finger snapping swing for some tasteful playing on an overall great composition. The only hint of structure on the free-spirited "Omega Sci Fi" are the blasts of walking bass lines that play against bombastic drums, splintered cymbals and scraping guitar for four minutes of busy instrumental dialogue that chases down the next line to be stated. Fans of Parker's work that have come to expect a certain style of playing and tone with his above mentioned main groups, along with other projects such as Toe 2000 and Tricolor should be pleasantly surprised with this album. A more traditional style of writing and playing that hadn't been as evident before shines throughout the recording and shows the vast talent of a great player. - Gord Fynes
PAPA M, "THREE"
The third single Dave Pajo's series of audio tour diaries showcases his interpretation of a couple of covers and one original track; recorded in Bloomington and Chicago while on tour with his current day job, Zwan. Pajo's vocals and country-influenced guitar pickin' on the traditional "Wild Mountain Thyme" convey the tune's original spirit. Background vocals and strings from collaborators Molly Kien and Maggie Polk make this track all the more authentic. My current favorite hurtin' tune would be Pajo's cover of Little Feat's "Truckstop Girl" with its jangly capo'ed acoustic guitar that, while beautifully played, brings a sadness along with vocals that sing of the end of a love affair that results in tragedy. Although the overdubbed electric guitars that take the tune out are fairly simple, their tone and timing are very powerful in context. The original "Who Knows" has Pajo handling the duties of drummer and bass player along with his multi-tracked vocals and guitars on a relaxed tune whose interesting country-tinged chord changes and lyrics feel very comfortable. As these singles are being released, I've been wondering if any of the material might surface on the next full-length Papa M release. As I'd mentioned in a prior review, there's a certain charm to hearing these tunes stripped down as they are. If this is what Mr. Pajo has been up to while he's busy on the road, the results from being in a more relaxed studio environment should be all the more exciting. - Gord Fynes
2 By Bukowski, "Drink From My Bastard Grail"
After a series of EPs and singles, northern England's 2 By Bukowski have released their
second full, experimenting with spare, atmospheric soundscapes and wild, jarring collisions of noise. On Drink From My Bastard Grail, they straddle the line of introspective ambient and volatile psyche-rock, offering energizing slivers of each throughout the disc. "Chopperfuck" begins with a filthy, snarling guitar riff over slow, crawling drumbeats and heavy, distorted chords that swirl like an intense storm. Suddenly a distant female voice pokes through and the clouds lift as a calm, meditative melody wisps along with it. The respite is short-lived, and the track once again climbs upward in a frenzy of distorted squeals and groans. "Wild Manner" is a vicious, screaming assault of amplifier feedback, lurching along full of bilious thrust. It's a frenetic sound, yet one that is underpinned by a solid, restrained rhythm that keeps everything from flying out in every conceivable direction a la Comets on Fire. Bukowski are a far more precise outfit than that. The energy can be felt bubbling beneath there, but the control makes the track all the more tense and cohesive. A simple arrangement of piano triads leads "I Am Ready For Death in This Dominion," coupled with synthesized strings to give the air of a mournful funeral procession. Bukowski plays with standard, thoughtful pieces as well, eschewing the noise for expansive compositions that operate through mood and texture rather than gut reactions. "The Last Aerie" and "Gate 3" both take the slow road, the latter using trebled chirps and gurgling effects to evoke a teeming brook and gusts out into a pleasing pastoral wash. The movement between the louder and softer tracks doesn't result in dissonance, but in fact highlights the strengths of each in contrast. Just when 2 By Bukowski sounds as if they are going to pull apart and shatter, they slip in with a welcome and rejuvenating break from the schizophrenia. An excess of either end of the spectrum would have made for a stale listen, but the group shows that they can sound powerful and dynamic whether mired in sludgy rock or icy ambiance. 'Drink From My Bastard Grail' is soothing, enervating, pleasing, and provocative. With these tensions rubbing against one another, the friction they generate makes for an engaging listen. - Michael Patrick Brady
Hans Appelqvist, "Att Möta Verkligheten"
Completely out of the blue comes an extraordinary little CD, so powerful in its minute way, hugely evocative and humane. The clues to what's going on are in the photosa living room recording set up with Mr. Appelqvist marshalling apparently amateur singers. He plays the piano and a few other things, talks to the singers and they sing. It is the intimacy of it that is most compelling, so intense that it is almost unbearable but beautiful and joyous in such an honest and direct way that is truly unique. Only a few of the Songs in the Key of Z come close and none have this fragility or fluidity. Zenna and Marie are the two little girls on the first track, they sing a song in Swedish chat and then "Be What You Wanna Be" in English. They don't seem to know all the words, loose their way, mumble some lines but no matterthey come back to the chorus with enthusiasm and unaffected positivity that only the Langly Schools Music Project can touch. Appelqvist's lively playing is deft and idiosyncratic with a delightful light touch that adds much musicality without moving beyond the role of accompaniment. The directness and total absence of artifice carries over to the sound quality, which is simply brilliant. It puts you right there in that mundane living room with these wonderful people to positively eerie effect, as though you were invading someone's privacy. Xiang, more grown up and probably Chinese, sings on track two. She expresses the self-consciousness that comes after childhood and before actual maturity. Ruth, older again, is soloist on track three. Her song, "Geh aus, mein Herz," is given a strangely menacing backdrop with a few heavy guitar chords and ethereal flutes. She sings with the confidence of someone who has been through motherhood and long since sent her children off into the world. She seems to treat Appelqvist's project with the indulgence she would give to her grandchildren's antics. One could perhaps say that this disk is about language, how it affects music, how song, intonation and melody adapt to it. The girls sound so different in English from Swedish, Xiang shows that the melody of Chinese is inescapable, and Ruth's song in German shows the strictness of that language and how uncomfortable it is with melody. Interesting as this thought may be, the real stuff here is in the emotion and how we lose so much of that with all the manufacturing involved in the other music we hear. - Tom Worster
Make Mine Music
Scott Sinfield and Jon Attwood (or Portal and Yellow6) met when Attwood donated guitar for a track on Portal's debut album. Shortly thereafter, the pair began making music together on a limited basis. They shared the stage on tour, backing each other for their respective projects, and for a series of split EPs in 2000, they covered each other's songs. Finally, on the debut release from their own label, Make Mine Music, the two properly collaborate. Both Portal and Yellow6 get two tracks a piece on this split, as well as the four tracks they perform together, and in this case the whole truly is greater than the sum of its parts. I'll go as far as to say the two gentlemen should start a new band together, bring vocalist Rachel Hughes along for the ride, and leave their separate discographies in the dust. Portal starts off the release with a cold air, a temperature setting that remains for half the release. Hughes, who has worked with Sinfield since his debut, sounds detached and aloof, as she sings about her misconceptions and seemingly undying hope. Then, on "The First Breath of Winter," the chill settles in, as breath turns to mist, and the programmed beat, keyboards, and echoed guitar emit languish in their confines. The track threatens to go somewhere, but ultimately stays static, yet again reinforcing a detachment and brushing off. Yellow6 seems to take this frozen energy at face value, presenting "Threefold," a track that starts with simple guitar structures and a minimalist beat. None of this should be perceived as negative: the song is still enough to make the heart patter, albeit at a slower pace. At about the three minute mark, though, Yellow6 returns to form, opening the door for virulent distortion that spills everywhere. This is not warmth that lasts, however, as the track ends on the same cold note on which it began. "The Sinking Sun" is also appropriately titled, as though the lunar team is stuck, and they watch the daylight fade, unable to stop it or save themselves. Even in the clutches of such a cold death, the moon seems to shift its rotation on the next track, the first of the contributions to feature both artists. Suddenly, there is hope, possibility, life, and a hint of meaning to all of existence. It's that powerful, that moving, and it lasts for nigh on twenty-four minutes. Sometimes, the cold fights to return, such as on "#5," but it isn't strong enough to cause the ice age it threatens. The fire stays, even builds somewhat glacially on "#3;" and although both Sinfield and Attwood shouldn't quit their day jobs, they should make a record like this together and share more of this ambient wonder with the world. Make Mine Music also shows potential as a quite progressive label, with Portal, Yellow6, and Epic 45 full-lengths already released or forthcoming. - Rob Devlin
SOULO, "MAN, THE MANIPULATOR"
The last few years have been a pretty interesting time for pop and electronic music. As the technological side of music has gained more credibility as an art form, it's taken on some more "traditional" facets which have spun off a bunch of interesting hybrids that continue to collide and fuse amongst themselves. Man, the Manipulator, the second release from the Chicago art school duo of Shawn King and Nate Flanigan as Soulo, is a prime example of how mixing laid back, orchestrated pop songwriting with various areas of electronic music can remain focused without leaning too heavily in one general direction and still be very "musical" in the traditional sense. The warmth of acoustic guitar and Theremin-like whistling keyboard on the intro of "How Do You Feel?" remains throughout the addition of relaxed machine beats, bass end and the near squelch of keyboards, even when it drops out for some simple, yet effective organ licks. The ethereal "Emotions, Can You Trust Them?" builds from the murkiness of synth ambience to soft vocals and pitch bending bass peppered with piano, held together with a rhythm so laid-back that you could drive a truck between the beats. "Born Female" blurs backwards guitar and violin into an almost call and response melodic line over Rhodes piano, thickening electro-bass and crisp machine beats for a sweetness that's summed up in all of two minutes. Rounding out the disc's twelve tracks, "The Peter Principle" opens with a scratchy punch-in-the-gut rhythm, electro-chaos, feedback and heavy metal power chords that drag it in a raunchy direction only to subside in intensity once upright bass, trumpet, violin, clarinet and banjo (yes, banjo) come quickly to the forefront. It's quirky, yet makes perfect sense and totally works. At just over thirty-eight minutes, the bulk of the disc's tracks are in and around the three minute mark, which tends to be a bit brief for some ideas to play out and be embellished. By the same token, Soulo's sparingly used clever and popish hooks are more effective in this manner than listening to them repeat a thousand times so as to add another synth module. - Gord Fynes
William Basinski, "The Disintegration Loops"
The liner notes remark how this recording was played while watching the fires burn in the aftermath of September 11th. There's an emotional element present before even a single note is heard. Even without that introduction, The Disintegration Loops would be a masterpiece of minimalist composition. It is suffused with the most exciting qualities a musical recording can hope to have: simplicity, intrigue, beauty, and emotion. The sound itself is the result of a recording of American pastoral music on magnetic tape falling to pieces as it is played and transferred to a digital medium. The disintegration of the tape itself spawns a living and breathing brass organism swaying to and fro, changing subtly and magnificently over time. It's a simple recording, its main attraction being the serenity of the instruments as they fall away and die but it is also supported by the elegance of the process itself. There's simply no way of avoiding the emotional impact this music has. Even without William Basinski's ruminations about the origins of this recording and what those origins mean to him, the music would be morose, breath-taking, and triumphant. There's an inescapable sadness throughout the entire experience but it is coupled with a sense of wonder and freedom and is the first recent recording I've heard that feels American. This might be the result of my ignorance or perhaps the liner notes are beginning to seep into my blood but I can see the plains of Illinois and the badlands of South Dakota when I listen. The colossal beauty of the mountains in the west and the west coast's monolith, the Pacific Ocean, are all resurrected from my memory and relived vividly through the sound of full, tranquil swells. It's astonishing how much the loop changes over time. Handsome tones begin to distinguish themselves from a mass of sound and breathe their resonant melody through space before being swept away and lost. Released in 2002, The Disintegration Loops is probably the most exciting and stunning piece of music I've heard since the year changed over. It has reminded me of how powerful music can really be. Don't be fooled, though: the power doesn't have to come from the association Basinski draws between September 11th and the music (though there's nothing wrong with his association). The power is within the music and the process, both of which are responsible for the creation of an album that perfectly captures the geography and spirit of modern America. - Lucas Schleicher
Thilges3, "Die Offene Gesellschaft"
The title means "the open society," and Thilges3 mean it. The band prides themselves on a bit of performance politics, but in this case they come off as the free labor wing. Thilges3 firmly believe that venue affects performance, and therefore select carefully where to record and who to record with. The only thing that remains a constant, is the paint they splatter on their canvas: analogue synthesizers. Die Offene Gesellschaft is their debut full-length, and shows great potential for their concept society-altering music while failing in certain aspects. The album's opening is a call to arms, with stuttered synth beats and whale-like echoes showing the way. The mind stutters, the feet want to move, and the hands want to act. Though repititious, it serves what seems to be its intended purpose: what you are about to hear is not to be taken lightly. The songs on the album came out of performances for children, monks, and criminals, and field recordings of all three find their way onto the release, which is part of the wonder and all of the problem. The second track opens with a conversation over dinner, that includes chants, flatware on plates, even someone blowing their nose. Unfortunately, it sounds like what you hear at a concert when no one is interested in what's on stage. It serves no purpose at all, other than to start the track but fade out when the real music starts; and when it comes in, it creates a stir of fears with its loud pulses, glitches, and swirls. The music is fine, it's just the field recordings that are unnecessary and maim the performance rather than help it in areas. The children chatting and singing on "KiBe," for instance, annoy more than entertain, and it took me away from the glory of the music. The venue is important, just as long as it's empty. Once Thilges3 try that on for size, the music will take over, and the results won't just be innovative: they'll be stunning. - Rob Devlin
surface of eceyon, "dragyyn"
For the second full-length collaborative release between members of Landing and Yume Bitsu, Surface of Eceyon have decided to use their live studio tracks without overdubs or post-production. By doing this, listeners have a special glimpse at what their raw in-studio sessions actually sound like. The down side is the curse of the fade ins and outs: Fading a song in at the beginning and out at the end is a major cop-out. I can't think of one listener who is fooled into believing that what we hear is all that there is when a song fades in at the beginning and/or out at the end. The result is the feeling that there is something more that we're not allowed to have. Most of the time, the reason is that the group probably agreed to use the most interesting part. Using that argument, however, it's clearly a way to cheat the obstacle of composing a good song with an appropriate cadence. I consider Landing close friends of mine and I have loved nearly everything I have heard. I've seen Adam Forkner before live both with Yume Bitsu and Surface of Eceyon and so long as the hair and prancing can be ignored, there is a lot to be said about the sounds that fire out of his guitar. It's not beyond any of them to write a good song, but a lot of neat guitar effects, late night jam sessions, and decent riffs doesn't necessarily make a great record. - Jon Whitney
Emil Beaulieau, "Moonlight In Vermont"
Forget every "rule" of noise, do away with any preconceptions concerned with the genre, and prepare for something just a bit different. There are silences, sonic abberations, variations in pitch, timbre, and duration, and a wide palette of moans, groans, and explosions used all at once. Variety and intrigue is the name of the game on Moonlight In Vermont and Emil Beaulieau is chess master (if you will). Sure, there's punishing, unrelenting, cascading, headache-inducing assaults to be found on this disc, but there's also dynamic elements. Most noise I've heard ends up sounding like one mass of destruction hell-bent on chewing concrete. Beaulieau's noise is different because he is capable of using sonically opposite sounds together. It could still eat concrete for breakfast, though. The first half is a nuclear melt-down accompanied by random samples (like a flute), electric stabs of rhythm, and the sound of unholy wails. If this is what a moonlit Vermont sounds like, I'm staying the hell out unless I have a shotgun and a small army. It's a truly scary summit that is reached before the fifth track (all of them are unnamed) acts as an oxygen tank and restores some sense of direction and balance. What sounds like a backwards guitar hums in the background whilst changing tones, punchy gasps of static, and roaring winds pour through the speakers. It makes getting submerged beneath the final two tracks a bit easier. Beaulieau's recorded sound has as much character as his live performances have but it's twisted and shaped in different ways. Sounds just don't start and stop; they're alive and full of nuance. The last I checked, Moonlight was only available on the tour but with some luck perhaps it'll show up at RRRecords, soon. - Lucas Schleicher
If "prog-esque overblown, overlong self-indulgent wankery" sounds like a bad thing or if comparison with Tales From Topographic Oceans carries un-cool implications then this CD may not be for you. I doubt that there remain many Brainwashed readers who still subscribe to the NME's Exclusion Principle, i.e. that to like The Fall you have to revile Yes, and it is to those thus enlightened readers that I'd recommend Just Drums. Think instead about a more important principle: there never was a truly great band with a less than excellent drummer. While many a band has achieved true greatness with ho-hum guitarists, challenged singers or uninspired keyboard players, none achieved that level with a mediocre drummer. So it's really only fair that the drummers should have a CD of their own from time to time and this is one: seventeen drum solos from masterful drummers in diverse corners of the muso-sphere. Kicking things off is Gregg Bendian, respected improviser and leader of the Mahavishnu Project, with an expansive workout through fusion topography. Even for non-drummers and people who, like myself, know absolutely nothing about drumming, it's fun to play the reminds-me-of game. Though we may not understand them, the game works because perhaps drums dominate the musical world we live in and we learn subliminally. Bendian's flamboyant, rollicking, colorful and bewilderingly complicated playing reminds me of, appropriately enough, Billy Cobham. Laura Cromwell, former God is my Co-Pilot drummer, has a short, kind-of Jon Hassell moment. Victor Delorenzo's straightforward but seriously swinging piece backs less than 100% convincing singing (presumably his own); evidence in support of that more important principle. Dylan Fusillo's contribution is a beautiful fusion of African and more western styles, initially a vertical form elaboration of a driving tonic beat it beaks away into a real but brief drum solo on that same basis. Gerry Hemingway has impressive credentials and I've enjoyed his work since way back but hadn't kept track of his more recent activity. Here we find him working with electronics and extended techniquemost of it is beautiful except that the squiggly electronic sounds (mere electronics) rather annoy me. What I never liked was a jazz drum solo. These seemed to be aiming specifically for maximal confusion of the meter, often through gratuitous acceleration and deceleration. This detestable effect ruins John Hollenbeck's otherwise lovely effort as well as Payton Macdonald's. So it's surprising that I enjoy William Hooker's pieceit sounds like a jazz drum solo but has enough form, tension and energy to hold it together for fully eleven and a half minutes. I've run out of space so the last word goes to Nandor Nevai and his explosive "Nonillion, 10 to the 13th Power" that, in a mere 90 seconds, is a gem of power, anger and sonic brilliance. It has something of the seductive impact of Lightning Bolt, if you ever caught them live. - Tom Worster
Nick Forte, "Pasted Lakes" & Kiyo, "Chaotech Odd Echo"
Nick Forte is half of a duo called Christmas Decorations that released a pretty decent album on Kranky last year. For his first solo excursion, he's come up with a mini-album that crams 15 tracks into just over half and hour. The record has an excellent starting point in "Green Language," where Forte expertly weaves together a dubbed-out backdrop, broken-down machine beats and swirling layers of sound and noise into a really satisfying work that always seems to be on the verge of falling apart. But the good feeling brought on by of those first few moments is quickly deflated, as the one- to two-minute tracks that make up most of the disc are unexciting little bursts of abstract sound that go nowhere fast. Some promising flashes of structure appear in a couple of places, most notably on "Thistle Rue" and "Forgotten Music", but generally Pasted Lakes sounds like a collection of unfinished ideas and unfocused sound farts, few of which I find especially appealing.
I did, however, find a lot to enjoy on Chaotech Odd Echo, the first full-length album from Japan's Kiyoshi Ono a.k.a. Kiyo. Reportedly, this disc arrived at the Schematic offices with a note that read "Enjoy warm noise from Japan," and that phrase that fits the album quite nicely. The artist's website bio reveals him to be a fan of David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick, and through his juxtaposition of melodic sketches and fractured beats with layers of subtle rumbles and in-and-out waves of crackling static, he manages to evoke a sense of unease and edginess in his music that is similar to that found in those director's films. There are a couple moments where things threaten to get a little too flighty and abstract, but Kiyo has a good handle on how to keep the listener's attention by balancing those non-linear impulses with warm harmonics and clank-and-crunch rhythms. - Greg Clow
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