Guided By Voices, "Earthquake Glue"
Bob Pollard may be a god to some, but lately there's been a strange decline in the music he releases outside of Guided By Voices. Airport 5's last was an errant mess, the Circus Devils' Harold Pig Memorial had its moments but ultimately didn't satiate, and even the last GbV record was showing some cracks in the surface. Some were saying the most prolific man in rock was running out of steam finally, and that this marked the beginning of the end for Pollard and Co. This new record should easily choke all the naysayers. Earthquake Glue is the first great Guided By Voices album since Under the Bushes, Under the Stars and marks the real return of the band after their two album romp with TVT. Tighter, leaner, and more ready for action than anything on Universal Truths and Cycles, "My Kind of Soldier" kicks it off with bright guitars and classic Pollard vocals. The production both sounds like it has taken a slight hit from the last record, which is just what most fans probably want, while it is improved in other areas; but this sound quality really does serve these songs. "She Goes Off at Night" and "Useless Inventions" propel the album forward, and the keyboard and harmonica of "Dirty Water" show a new willingness to try something fresh. "I'll Replace You With Machines," though, is the real treat, the nugget that proves the boys are back. With its whip-cracking percussion and Doppler Effect mix, the urgency comes across in full force with the "I can't face you" chorus throwing in extra oomph. It's the Ghost of Christmas Past, and it's a pure joy to behold. Elsewhere, "The Best of Jill Hives" is bar none the best song GbV have ever written. The bass line grooves and undulates when Pollard joins, then the other band members come in one by one. "I don't know how you find your nerve/I don't know how you choose your words" sounds like the questions of a child to his/her father after a harsh defeat. Pollard's voice warbles in its mild echo, and no one cares. It's classic GbV, it's got a great hook, and it ends before it becomes too commonplace. I admit it: I, too, had my doubts about the longevity of the band hearing the last album and EP. "They've had a great career, so maybe it would be a good time for them to hang it up, before it starts to get really bad." No more. There's miles left in this sound yet. - Rob Devlin
"Masters of the Scene: the definitive Abba tribute"
The effects of Abba's music is undeniably cross-cultural and timeless. From the freaky tourists with smelly breath at the NY record shops to the merch-spotting Chris Carter publicity photos, it's hard to find somebody who's life has not been touched. Over the course of a few years, a staggering 24 tracks have been gathered by this tiny operation out of Chicago which bridge the gap between one of the first bands I was fond of in my young childhood to the noisy, more abrasive sounds I'm enjoying in my adulthood. I find this collection both refreshing but question its sub-title. Through the noise, there are some strong examples of artists who either take the task seriously or take their music seriously: people who thought "how could I reinterpret this song to put my own take on it," and get to the core of the brains of one of pop music's most successful songwriting teams, Anderson and Ulvaus. Unfortunately, there are a few too many tracks which simply play the original song in the background and do easy, lazy, pointless nonsense on top. It opens with a mistake I think, as Conned Ham's "Does Your Mother Know?" more strongly resembles the Beatles "Your Mother Should Know," followed by a rather bedroom-recording sound of Sockeye's "Take a Chance On Me," who at least demonstrate they know the music and probably like it too. Then, faster than you can say wife-swapping-Volvo-drivers, Kazumoto Endo blows the roof off with that maddening riff of "Gimme, Gimme, Gimme," bending it to uncomfortable, almost borderline unbearable levels. Absorb's "Super Trooper" is a very endearing vocal interpretation that resounds with the feeling of innocence truly in love with the material while Guilty Connector's noisy "Rock Me" is pure sun up at 3am sex (just remove the original from the background at the end please). The contribution from I and Kawabata "sure I'll appear on your compilation" Makoto is somewhat of a let down as the vocal rendition of "Eagle" (possibly one of Abba's most brilliant moments) could have potentially been incredible, but only ends up with a sparse musical arrangement (only synth samples and delays) to back up a rather timid voice. (I can only begin to imagine a boombastic distortion-filled Acid Mothers cover of "Eagle," and it's gooooood.) Another unexpected moment is the Irr.App.(Ext.) contribution, "Knowing Me, Knowing You," where the ever creepy Matt Waldron steps out from his psychotic vaginal ochra shield to bare all with vocals and acoustic guitar in a warped dementia style only he can do (the guy is a fucking genius). While most of the rest are amusing enough, (and a few include too many skipping/samplings of Abba) it's worth noting that with every purchase, a coupon is included for a cassette of "outtakes," this compilation noticably fails in the tech department - mastering gear might not be necessary for noise, but at least the levels could have been balanced from track to track. Or, perhaps this is the effect this is trying to give - that of a mix tape of some of your best friends in their basements doing their most personal impersonations of something everybody truly loves but is afraid to admit in public. - Jon Whitney
CAN, "OUT OF REACH"
Germany's Can is certainly the most influential band to emerge from the first wave of krautrock. Their first six studio albums are unparalleled masterpieces of experimental rock, effortlessly combining jazz and classical influences with psychedelic guitar rock, ethnic percussion and unhinged vocal improvisations. The past few years have seen the entire back catalog re-mastered and re-released in deluxe CD and LP editions on Can's own Spoon imprint. Every album, that is, except for the much-maligned 1978 release Out of Reach, which Can seem eager to completely omit from their discography. As such, it has long remained one of their rarest and least talked about albums. Fortunately for completists, Marginal Talent has now issued a re-mastered CD of this most obscure of Can records. The received wisdom is that Can began to decline when Japanese vocalist Damo Suzuki departed to join a religious sect after 1976's Future Days. While this is somewhat accurate, hindsight has been kinder to the later, more homogenized Can albums. We can now retrospectively admit that Soon Over Babaluma and Flow Motion both contain great moments, displaying the same ingenious instrumental fusion that characterized Can's most fertile creative period. Record collector lore demands that Out of Reach be a similarly underrated, unsung gem. Unfortunately, this is just not the case. Out of Reach is one of Can's worst albums, and while it has its moments, it must be relegated to the same pile as Saw Delight and Inner Space - disappointing latter-day efforts that make convincing arguments that Can should have retired earlier. The main reason for this drop in quality was most likely the departure of bassist Holger Czukay, founding member and innovator. To make up for Czukay's noticeable absence, Rosko Gee and Reebob Kwaku-Baah of the execrable prog-rock band Traffic joined the line-up. Their influence is an unwelcome one, to put it mildly. Gee and Kwaku-Baah bring with them a penchant for pointless jazz-inflected solos that drone on endlessly, watering down the usually explosive chemistry between Irmin Schmidt, Jaki Liebezeit and Michael Karoli. "Serpentine" introduces this incarnation of Can, with a mildly engaging marriage of ethnic instrumentals and elevator jazz. The music is far from terrible, but compared to dynamic masterpieces like Ege Bamyasi and Tago Mago, it's positively snore-inducing. "Pauper's Daughter and I" is livelier, but is marred by the badly delivered nursery rhyme lyrics from Rosko Gee. "November" is by far the best track on the album, the one song where the fuzz guitar really lets loose, and the rest of the band's improvisations build a trippy, pitch-perfect backdrop for Karoli's amazing soloing. "Seven Days Awake" starts out on an interesting note, but soon declines into pointless repetition. "Give Me No 'Roses'" sounds like a bad Traffic outtake, as does the sub-par reggae of "Like Inobe God". The one-and-a-half minutes of "One More Day" is the album's tribal swansong. This is far from essential Can, even more troubling than 1989's ill-advised reunion album Rite Time. If you are looking to collect every Can album, put Out of Reach right at the bottom of the list. - Jonathan Dean
Conrad Schnitzler, "Gold"
Listening to Schniztler's solo recordings from the 70s is a mixed bag but quite good fun in several ways. It's like a time capsule, for one thinga throw back to a particular genre of relentless sequencer patterns, modal noodlings, phasers and filter sweeps. It has the essence of a personal musical identity that influenced the people who went on to create that genre from it. But the sound on these solo recordings shows that what Schnitzler was able to do, given the time and opportunity, went well beyond the daily fodder of that genre. He could dredge a harsh grittiness from the equipment as well as delicate finesse that doesn't fit the nostalgic idea of that warm analog sound so fetishized in recent years. The abstract pieces without rhythms work best. Schnitzler had quite an inventive talent for composing these evolving layers of otherworldly sounds into science-fiction concertos too menacing to be merely psychedelic. The curious tension between the familiar and the novel, even with an advantage of perspective nearing 30 years, highlights the unusual breadth available on Schnitzler's pallet. Where things work less well is when that pallet is applied to creating the kind of sequencer-driven rock music that others including Tangerine Dream did too much with in the same period. The mechanical structures are used as a basis for soloing that just shouldn't have been allowed to happen. Such banal melody in the solo lines was not exactly uncommon among the electronic bands of the time. For example, Edgar Froese could throw a crowd into a tizzy of excitement just by picking up a guitar but, let's be honest, he was never very good at playing it. It's the same problem here. Listening from the 21st centaury, one wonders where the sci-fi connotations come from. Were the styles appropriated for movies and other media to then become conventional symbols? Is it a trick of association with the zeitgeist? Or were musicians actually aiming at making space-age sound? Anyway, fans of Schnitzler's 70s solo oeuvre will welcome this addition to the set of color albums. At the very least I can say with certainty that the CD booklet represents a succinct response to the problem of what to do with such a ridiculously small page format. - Tom Worster
With fifteen different songs from fifteen different musicians, this collection simultaneously demonstrates the creative variety found on the On-U roster. Included are a few exclusive tracks, songs from upcoming releases, and a smattering of recordings already available on various albums. Though a lot of what On-U releases has a reggae or dub feel to it, Chainstore Massacre houses some blues-inspired meanderings from Little Axe, a rather erratic sample fest from Adrian Sherwood, a dance-floor rendition of Asian Dub Foundation's "Cyberabad," and a metal influenced electronic work-out from Mark Stewart. There's plenty of depth to be found and that's part of what makes this compilation so great: none of the songs sound the same. Ri Ra drops a concrete slab of Irish rap backed by some slick keyboard melodies and a smooth layer of bass and on the next track Junior Delgado unleashes a basic reggae track dedicated to explaining the benefits of using marijuana. So while there is a good amount of both upbeat and chilled out tunes, the most awesomely surprising and beautiful music comes from a musician named Skip "Little Axe" McDonald. He is the only one on the album that gets two tracks to himself and he deserves it. "One Drop Blues" is full of layered guitars, harmonica, a slow and sassy rhythm, and a guitar that paints a picture of a hot day in the park. "My Love I Bring" has Sinead O'Connor on lead vocals and a misty atmosphere provided by an eloquent meshing of electric and acoustic guitar. These two songs warrant buying the compilation alone, but the compilation as a whole is cohesive and diverse and is a great appetizer for material that will hopefully be released soon. - Lucas Schleicher
Guther, "I Know You Know"
Guther is the name under which the songwriting and production duo of Julia Guther and Berend Interlmann have released the overly-precious new album, I Know You Know. It isn't that the album is poorly produced, or that the songs aren't earnest in some way, but there is something wholly superficial about the process of listening to this record that makes it seem like something of a bad joke at the expense of the listener. Julia Guther's vocal style is sometimes painfully straight-forward, drawing attention to each syllable of each word. If the lyrics were meant to carry any sort of emotional or intellectual depth, her phrasing would be a good thing. However, the lyrical content of most of these songs floats somewhere in the clouds as a stab at post-modern pop, refusing to offer a sincere or candid insight or even a phrase worth repeating. In fact, everything about the album is too simple, as if the duo sat down one rainy afternoon in a posh loft and decided to knock out an album of 'that pop music' for kicks. It sounds more like people looking down their noses at pop music than pop music proper, which is a shame because there's potential in the simple arrangements and some of the melodies here. All of that is largely squandered, though, by a singer who doesn't want to commit to anything substantial and by a production partner who appears to equate repetition and simplicity with the keys to the perfect pop song. In fact, the best pop songs usually are simple, but they are almost never written by smug, boho artistes who approach pop music as something quaint or cute. That may not be an accurate portrayal of the people responsible for I Know You Know but it is the overwhelming vibe that the album gives off. Trimming away all of the fat of tricked-out production works in a lot of cases (Jessica Bailiff comes to mind) where a singer-songwriter is trying to take a batch of tunes to another level, and the fuzzy glitch-pop that is riding a wave wouldn't have made this album more enjoyable. But since there is nothing about the vocal that grabs the listener, and little about the arrangements that begs for attention, the songs wind up coming off hollow and flat. Now having said all of that, I think that what this record does create is an amazing sense of drifting emotional malaise that will no doubt speak to a lot of people who feel like they would rather skim surfaces than plunge into depths. It hints of French cinema and at scenes of a young woman wandering around in the big, distant city, not so much searching for purpose as avoiding it. It plays well as the soundtrack to the Winona Ryder characters of the world, and if you feel a kinship with those archetypes, then there is probably something about Guther that will appeal to you. As pure escapism, this record is a real treat: it requires no investment on the part of the listener and it frankly makes no promises. It is the ultimate musical one-night stand, if only it were a little more romantic! - Matthew Jeanes
"MUTANT DISCO: A SUBTLE DISLOCATION OF THE NORM"
In 1981, an underground New York label known for their influential roster of disco and no-wave artists released a seminal compilation of some of their best singles. With this release, Ze Records both solidified the definition of the leftfield disco movement and gave the genre a name that stuck. It's a name that conjures up images of tentacled, post-nuclear fallout humanoids letting loose and getting down on the crowded dance floor of Studio 54. The intention was to showcase the edgier, more avant-garde side of New York disco. The original LP contained only six songs, but for the new CD re-issue, Ze Records has expanded it into a stunning two-CD set containing a total of 25 tracks, the bulk of their relevant 12" dance output from 1979 to 1981. This music was years ahead of its time, and will sound particularly relevant to those tuning into the second wave of avant-dance, characterized by current acts like Out Hud, Metro Area, Playgroup, and LCD Soundsystem. Many recent anthologies, such as Strut's Disco Not Disco series and Soul Jazz's New York Noise have attempted to document the scene, but Ze Records has the historical advantage of including the entire original Mutant Disco LP. Also, the overall focus on Mutant Disco is much clearer, and the compilation boasts many rare tracks not available elsewhere other than the highly collectible original LPs, which frequently change hands for prices as high as $500. Was (Not Was) appear three times across the two discs. Their first track "Wheel Me Out" is a densely layered groove, combining sampling techniques, sleazy rock and bad jazz into an infectious disco-house number. Bill Laswell's artist-collective Material produced a clutch of important singles and LPs in the early 80's, but for sheer fun it would be hard to beat the rock-disco collision of "Bustin' Out," with vocals from soul diva Nona Hendryx. Cristina's contribution is the first of several lightweight disco remakes of classic rock songs on the collection, this one a cover of The Beatles' "Drive My Car" (produced by John Cale of Velvet Undergound, no less). I have never really liked the Latin dance pastiche of Kid Creole and the Coconuts, but their two contributions to Mutant Disco are surprisingly addictive, especially the dislocated mambo of "Annie I'm Not Your Daddy." I'd rather shake my ass to this than Los Del Rio any day of the week. The Aural Exciters are one of the more mysterious acts on this collection, appearing with a pair of truly odd, dub-influenced disco deconstructions. It is nearly impossible to find any information on this band, but it's hard to deny the weird power of "Emile (Night Rate)," with its off-kilter percussion and spooky, echo-chambered chorus of women's screams. James White and the Blacks (AKA James Chance and the Contortions), turn in the umpteenth re-recorded version of the gloriously warped no-wave classic "Contort Yourself," re-worked and extended for the dance floor. Lizzy Mercier Descloux was quite the scenester in post-punk New York - a savvy French waif who transformed herself from a first-generation punk into a sassy disco diva. Her three songs are strangely prescient of a later NYC breakthrough dance-pop sexpot named Madonna. Descloux's cover of Arthur Brown's 60's psychedelic novelty-hit "Fire" would be pure disco cheese, were it not for the top-notch arrangements and production. Although I can't provide a description of every song on the anthology, there are also fine contributions from obscurities such as Garcons, Gichy Dan, Coati Mundi and Casino Music. Play any of these tracks head-to-head with the accepted canon of classic disco artists - Larry Levan, Giorgio Moroder, Cerrone - and it holds up magnificently. Mutant Disco is nothing less than an essential document of dance music's adventurous past. - Jonathan Dean
"N.Y. NO WAVE: LOWER EAST SIDE STORY"
Coinciding with the release of Mutant Disco, Ze unleashes another collection, this time concentrating on their other label specialty. No-wave was a short-lived outgrowth of post-punk concentrating on short, powerful bursts of atonal rock, with agitated vocals, primitive percussion and explosions of free jazz. The no-wave current lives on today through current bands like Erase Errata, Q and Not U and Liars that have obviously been influenced by the original NYC zeitgeist. Ze Records is using a relatively loose definition of the genre for this collection, including slightly off-topic contributions from synth-pop pioneers Suicide and more dance-oriented material from Lizzy Mercier Descloux. It all holds together well, though, making this a worthwhile compilation containing many previously hard-to-find tracks. Although collections like this one and New York Noise are nice, they really just emphasize the need for a reissue of the epoch-defining Brian Eno-produced No New York LP that featured DNA, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, The Contortions and MARS. One of those supposedly "hip" NYC record labels should get a clue and re-release this in a deluxe, re-mastered CD edition. Come on people, this is long overdue! This shouldn't be held against NY No Wave, however, as it makes a worthy addendum to that earlier classic. James Siegfried (AKA James Chance AKA James White) is all over this anthology, either with his own bands The Contortions and James White and the Blacks, or as part of Lydia Lunch's Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and Arto Lindsay's Pill Factory. The ubiquitous "Contort Yourself" appears yet again, this time in its three-minute, spastic free-jazz incarnation. Suicide appears twice, including their electro-punk satire of Velvet Underground "Mister Ray", an unholy clash of Lou Reed, Elvis and Kraftwerk. Lydia Lunch's noir jazz narrative "Lady Scarface" sounds out of place on a no-wave compilation, but she's still as funny and sexy as ever. MARS' contributions are fantastic, short-winded explosions of tense, surrealistic punk. Rosa Yemen's minimalist sound was informed by French playwright Antonin Artaud's "Theater of Cruelty", with Anna Magnani's zealously screamed accusations backed by atonal rhythms and dark surf guitar. Arto/Neto is an odd art school in-joke, a combination of Seth Tillett's off-kilter playing and Arto Lindsay's warped, rambling joke narratives. The 22 tracks that make up NY No Wave only actually constitute eight different bands, but there is enough variety in each artist's strategies to keep things interesting for the entire length. Taking a look through Ze Records' extensive discography, there is more than enough mutant disco and no-wave material to fill 10 more compilations like this one. Here's hoping that they continue the great work of re-issuing their sought-after back catalog. - Jonathan Dean
Cerberus Shoal, "Chaiming the Knoblessone"
North East Indie
After two years of experimentation and intense exploration, the art collective known as Cerberus Shoal are finally prepared to unleash a new sound on the unsuspecting populace. The fusion with Tarpigh now defunct, the Shoal have been working with different artists on their split EP series, seemingly searching for the right meld of identities with which to continue. Though those EPs showed some impressive, while convoluted, structures, this is where the real meat is. Chaiming the Knoblessone is Cerberus Shoal at their most stunning, most ethereal, most theatrical, and most confused; and all of that has never sounded so carefully planned. It's a brand new language almost, or an original take on storytelling, melding equal parts rock, jazz, folk, and Middle Eastern music into a new type of spiritual. These are the songs of a tribe of modern minstrels, detailing the woe and glory of a people who had no hope but still strived. Perhaps it's a musical oral history, with a little bit of dramatic infusion and random leanings. With five tracks over the eleven minute mark, Chaiming is also like a night at the opera of the human mind, with longer movements making way for grand exploits to taint your dreams and synapses. "Apatrides" starts with low chants and "oohs" that build to a chorus of madmen chanting random thoughts about "river skins" and "shadow-bent reveries." Suddenly, the twisted sounds of trumpets and accordions announce the arrival of a brain dance, where psychoses and neuroses mingle and mate with abandon. It departs just as suddenly, as the electron thought bursts of "Mrs. Shakespeare Torso" arrive, which dissolve into sweet voices, more accordion, and warped scales on stringed instruments. The climax of Act One, though, "Sole of Foot of Man," is the most pure approach of all, with acoustic guitar strums, swirls of electric instruments, and strained male vocals joined by ghostly female harmony. It has hints of every era of Cerberus Shoal with the flavorings of the future, and is a beautiful and brave arrangement. The intermission of "A Paranoid Home Companion" is frightening with its helium computer voice and trial of views that does not fully impress as a song, but as a scene it is fantastic. Act Two soars above it all, with "Ouch" continuing with the madman chorus and the ghostly harmony, but relying more on stringed instruments and structured percussion. The struggle explodes at the end of the track, and then the aftermath is detailed in calmer tones and occasional bursts of singing for the remainder of the album. As music, this is a difficult piece, as these compositions are jarring and loose, not adhering to any structure; plus it must be listened to in its entirety to be appreciated. But as a piece of theatre, this is bold stuff, capable of changing whole landscapes with its power. Cerberus Shoal have found a new direction worth pursuing, and anyone along for the ride is guaranteed to have a frighteningly good time. Chaiming the Knoblessone is available now on North East Indie's site and on September 2nd in stores, when a second full-length will also be available on the website. - Rob Devlin
Andrew Schrock's Grounded Records promises to release music from artists who are forward thinkers in today's soundscape. If this compilation is any indication, the label has a strong future. Following the release of a handful of singles, Grounded Sound is the label's first CD release, featuring tracks donated by artists Schrock respects as well as some repeat participants the label has worked with previously, such as Greg Davis. All of the artists involved generate ambient compositions with some level of digital processing. Several of them reveal manic tendencies, as well, with structures that shuffle and shiver above the static sounds below. The end result is an extremely pleasurable experience, one that puts the mind and body at ease with an elegant mix of similar styles yet different approaches. E*rock's "Ice Museum," for instance, is a slow-build hum with occasional beeps and swishes and lovely vocals, while Melodium's acoustic guitar-based "Impropre" starts!
gently enough but then gets interrupted and broken by all sorts of computer madness. Both tracks produce the same feeling, but through different means and with different components. Every track is a standout, from the here and there stutter of Misterinterrupt, to the drum and tumble of Don Mennerich, and on to the glow and gurgle of Charles Atlas. It's amazing how cohesive the compilation is considering the fact that twelve artists participate, and although a few of the tracks are previously released elsewhere, it's full of new music that stimulates as well as it impresses. - Rob Devlin
Hecker, "Sun Pandamonium"
Typically I enjoy listening to scratches, hums, explosions, defective motors, swarms of bees, and intergalactic noise galore, but somehow I am incredibly unimpressed with these exercises in manipulation. It doesn't even start off on the right foot: "Bsf”zyk 5" is the longest four minutes and sixteen seconds I think I have ever sat through. Strings somehow caught on the event horizon of a blackhole pulse and distort themselves while constantly being destroyed and repitched. It's as if they are constantly gaining velocity only to lose it in what sounds like a hyperspace effect from some sci-fi film. "Stocha Acid Slook" takes up just over twenty-one minutes of this forty minute recording. It begins so promisingly with a low rumble sounding like the perpetual chant of a monk stuck on a solitary note. It slowly develops into a more abrasive track filled with high pitched waverings of birds mutated by a nuclear meltdown. It might read as if it is entertaining (and the first few minutes are), but after awhile it becomes more annoying than people chattering over the music at a concert. After the onslaught of sound, the remaining tracks feel like little leftovers or half thought-out soundscapes that go nowhere and do nothing for the album as a whole. Perhaps an entire release dedicated to these little shorts would make for an entertaining listen. It's their placement next to this one, mammoth piece that makes them feel insignificant. After awhile everything begins to sound the same and all the effects become so foreign as to be completely alien. There are some fascinating moments here and there, but it ultimately distances itself too far from me. There's no way for me to relate to it as it has almost no emotive qualities: eventually glithced out noise like this will have to find some familiar ground to touch upon to survive. The effect of becoming so abstract is not always fascination, sometimes it just leads to plain old frustration. - Lucas Schleicher
Glen Velez, "Internal Combustion"
"File under Electronic" says the promotional blurb. It seems that Schematic are trying to sell this reissue of Velez 1985 release to the Autechre brigade. I can see the parallels but is trance-drumming what the electronica heads are after? Velez, a superb drummer and authority on frame drums, their various traditional techniques and musical styles, draws on those references in five longish improvised pieces that are ultimately not traditional music but his own. As with the electronica, rhythmic framework is always apparent and layers of complexity are added. But here every individual touch is a unique human gesture in real time as (opposed to programming and looping) and the result is all the more exciting for it. Velez' control is amazing. While the tonic rhythms are never lost, their internal complexity is built up and pushed to breaking point only to suddenly return homethe apparent instability was all an illusion with Velez in perfect control throughout. Since the rhythmic modes are quite clear it sounds more like process music than improv and has the hypnotic character of good minimalism. That and the overtone drone singing at a couple of points gives a hint of New-Ageism and World Music. In a certain sense, there's little difference between this and hippy drum circles. But practically the difference is enormous: Velez can really play, he devoted his life to mastery of these instruments, achieved that and it shows. The excitement of bravura virtuoso performance is the distinction. Velez can create the illusion of as many as three drummers playing at once. This isn't to say that Velez is a flashy show-offnot at all, the music is fairly muted with an aim at detail and nuance. The low dynamics actually allow one to better hear the nature of the sound of the various drums he uses. At a surface level it may seem static but underneath there enormous depth to the variation of both rhythm and sound. It can be quite the head-trip if you give it the opportunity, which I suppose is what Schematic hope all you Autechre fans will do. - Tom Worster
Various Artists, "Mush Tour Spring 2002"
This DVD compendium featuring cLOUDDEAD, Reaching Quiet, Boom Bip & Doseone, Radioinactive, and Labtekwon plays more like a single concert film than a tour collection. That's odd, too, because featured on the disc are five different groups and over 20 songs recorded between two shows in California. As concert footage of your favorite Mush artists, the disc works well to bring the live experience to those who might have missed it, or wished they could have taped it. However, it offers little else, which is a shame because the few moments that show the artists goofing around on the road and in the tour bus are some of the most fun to watch. Labtekwon kicks off the show with a pair of lukewarmly-received numbers that demonstrate that a single MC with a mic and no apparent backup, dj, or visual accompaniment has to work extra hard to command the stage. At least for the performances captured here, Labtekwon isn't quite up to the task. Radioinactive come up next and kick the disc into 'jam-band' territory, which is where the questions about Mush's somewhat schizophrenic identity as a label begin. While there is a thread of hip-hop running through all of the performances, it's ever balanced and in some places struggling with the live, jammy, band aesthetic. It would have been interesting to get some of the artists perspective on this, but there's not any of that here. I've always thought hip-hop sounded best when played with turntables or samplers rather than performed by a live band, and these clips are no exception. Boom Bip & Doseone strip the band formula down to a duo and triumphantly ride Doseone's charisma and Boom Bip's laptop through the best sections of this disc. Doseone is the first performer to really seize the stage, and whether you love or hate his half-rasp, half-whine vocal delivery, you can't take away his ability to work the mic and the audience. By this point, the disc has been grinding on with well-edited but homogenous footage of the two shows that were taped for the release, and a return to the tour bus antics, a behind-the-scenes interview, or some other interlude would have worked well to put the performers and their work into context. cLOUDEAD's set that closes the disc out is a great mixture of live performers using traditional hip-hop instrumentation (a pair of MPC's, some keyboards, etc.) and demonstrates how the Mush artists here all come together to make sense in the end. The artists featured in this collection all share a bit of the coffee house/open mic night/beat poet/hip-hop vibe, which can rub the wrong way as easily as it can entertain, but luckily most of the material here doesn't take itself too seriously, and the nods to hip-hop culture aren't played for laughs too often. It's hard to imagine a tour DVD winning new fans to the Mush stable, but it certainly serves as a nice companion to the label's audio output over the years. - Matthew Jeanes
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