The sinfully underhyped Kompakt label has a history of high-quality releases in the tech-house and micro-house subgenres, heralding the so-called Cologne Sound that those in the know cannot get enough of. While many house music peers seem content to release exclusively on vinyl, Kompakt is a trendsetter, regularly releasing what now appears to be annual editions in the Total series of unmixed compilations. Featuring tracks from 12" singles as well as previously unreleased material, Total 5 is the latest installment of top-notch tracks from the label's respectable roster. SCSI-9, a Russian duo with several releases on the acclaimed Forcetracks imprint, opens the disc with "All She Wants Is," a deep cut structured around a repetitious and incredibly catchy vocal hook and sizzling with a minimal drum loop and various synth embellishments. Superpitcher, who appeared on Total 4 with an electroclashy number, transform the simplistic house groove of "Mushroom" into a beautiful and rather serene nature scene for the ears, complete with simulated water droplets. While these two may stray somewhat from the well-beaten path of Cologne house, contributions from Phong Sui, M. Mayer, and Reinhart Voigt present solid tunes bubbling over with warm synth pads and steady mechanical beats. If I had to choose the highlight from the bunch, it would result in an admirable draw. Potential techno "It boy" T. Raumschmiere of Novamute and Shitkatapult fame drops a gooey track of the warbly bass and robot funk he is currently championing. In contrast, The Orb co-conspirator and Sun Electric mastermind Thomas Fehlmann makes a breathtaking appearance with the gorgeous soft textures and tones of "Radeln." With captivating dubby echoes and a genuine clickhouse groove, "Radeln" grew on me considerably more with each listen. You go buy now. I go eat sandwich. - Gary Suarez
KHANATE, "NO JOY (REMIX) / DEAD"
Guitarist Stephen O'Malley has played in a number of twisted sludge-metal bands notably Thorr's Hammer, Blind Idiot God and Burning Witch but his work in Sunn O))) is what has gained him notoriety outside of the insular indie-metal scene. Sunn O)))'s oppressive, effects-laden guitar drones have impressed devotees of noise and experimental music, as well as listeners of post-industrial and neo-psychedelia. Stephen O'Malley's new band Khanate shares much of the shattering doomcore of Sunn O))), without the strict musical asceticism. The addition of James Plotkin on bass, singer Alan Dubin (of OLD) and drummer Tim Wyskida fills out the sound, bringing Khanate out of the depths of harsh, noisy minimalism and into the realm of more-or-less traditional metal. Khanate's self-titled debut for Southern Lord was a slow-motion tribute to the Nordic death metal of bands like Burzum, Dimmu Borgir and Borknagar. This new 12" on Load Records, home to many terrifically bizarre post-metal bands, contains a remix of the song "No Joy" from the first album, and a new track "Dead" on the b-side. James Plotkin's added touches to the frighteningly macabre "No Joy" turn the song into a brutal, mind-crushing dirge, a post-apocalyptic tribute to The Stooges' "No Fun." No fun, indeed, as the nine-minute track is warped and extended for maximum oppression and mental violence. O'Malley's guitar delivers the painstakingly sluggish, catastrophic riffs that caused Julian Cope to exclaim that "slow is the new loud." The drums are also played achingly slow, with monolithic forcefulness in every excruciating beat. Dubin's high-pitched shriek-singing shares the same terrifying, evocative morbidity as Tom Araya's Reign in Blood-era vocals for Slayer: "No joy/No fucking joy/Only hate." Plotkin's extra production touches intensify the song's darkness and brutality, adding electronic stutters, time-stretching, creepy whispers and ghostly metallic phasing. The b-side, "Dead," is a previously unreleased track taken from the same sessions as their upcoming full-length album on Southern Lord. It is a similarly oppressive slab of queasy, ambient doomcore, but this time Dubin's desolate vocals are more emphasized in the mix: "I was visible/But not seen/Deserted/Alone." Plotkin adds unexpected digital smudges, squalls and glitches to this track, indicating a more experimental direction for the band. What I find so impressive about Khanate is their exaggerated but ascetic musical vocabulary: each element is carefully formulated to impart maximum dread, pathos and painful aggression. It's extremely theatrical, completely original, and ultimately very satisfying. - Jonathan Dean
TIED AND TICKLED TRIO, "OBSERVING SYSTEMS"
It's been two years since German electronic/jazz collective Tied and Tickled Trio released their fine Electric Avenue Tapes disc, and with good reason. In part, the core rhythm section of brothers Micha and Markus Acher had spent a great deal of time perfecting the sound of their other group the Notwist's last disc, while also recording and performing with separate projects Ms John Soda and Lali Puna. In returning to the Tied and Tickled Trio fold for Observing Systems, the nucleus of the group's rhythm section (now featuring some great hand percussion) is all the more rock-steady for the group's expanded horn section to play off. The disc's eleven compositions are nothing short of brilliant in the orchestrating, arranging and conducting departments which marry up modern jazz combo horns with thick, live grooves and electronic elements. Four other interesting, electronic-based avant garde-type interludes weave between these tracks. For a recording that features thirteen musicians, the only presence of electric guitar on this disc is the brief, sampled motif which introduces the infectious "Revolution." It launches into a funky syncopation that quickly fills up with reggae keyboard, electronic sounds and a monstrous bass clarinet solo. Distorted hand drums propel the dark, minor sounding "Freakmachine" throughout its six minutes of upshots and a wall of horns that move in small intervals. The peppy upright bass progression on the waltz "3.4.E" is filled out by tuba and various pieces of percussion while beautiful, long-lines horn melodies that feature the flute blend beautifully. The smoky drums and one-note bass figure on the comfortably quirky "Bungalow" keep a relaxed feel during the somewhat elongated jazz standard form for horn melodies, then build in intensity with shakers during the crazy-go-nuts bass clarinet soloing section and subside as the tune winds down. With the addition of a couple of percussionists and more open recording style, Observing Systems, in all of its brass and electronic elements and arrangements, comes off with a generally earthy sound. As it's busting out with big, danceable grooves, it's only a matter of time before the twelve-inch remixes start popping up. - Gord Fynes
Quasi, "Hot Shit"
Touch and Go
We live in interesting times, if I may make a grand understatement, and it's only natural that current events find their way into the realms of art and music. Expressions of disillusionment with the current presidential administration, its policies, and the state of global politics in general permeate this disc. It doesn't sound like a "message" record, though, and it's not a call to arms. Hot Shit is a documentation of the personal impressions of Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss, one which I'm sure is shared by many. They are worried about government control, unnecessary wars, the erosion of freedom, and the confusing jumble of fact and fiction that loads the world's newspapers today. On the title track, they immediately begin with a question. "Wild goose or Holy Grail? / Red Herring or the Great White Whale?" In essence, what's it all about? It is this sense of confusion that drives much of the feelings behind the album. On "Seven Years Gone," Coomes even admits about the newspapers that say America supports the president and the war on terror: "How much is lies and how much just unwise, I can't say." While Quasi is capable of detailing their concern through clever storytelling, their discernment occasionally lapses. "White Devil's Dream," co-penned by Coomes and Weiss is the most direct attack on the theme, calling out the names of the members of George W. Bush's administration and telling them to "fuck off." It's hardly a nuanced critique on their policies and beliefs, but it does convey the frustrated anger that the pair (and no doubt the others who will warmly embrace this tirade) feels. Still, it is an unfortunate breach of the subtlety and craft that Quasi displays on the other tracks. "Master and Dog" is an allegory that accuses world leaders (this time, not by name) of taking their people by the leash and forcing them into conflict. Neither side of the political spectrum is spared, as Coomes sings "The elephant wields the rod / while the donkey throws you a bone / I'd rather have a bone than a beating, I suppose / but either way it's still just master and dog." The lesser of two evils, indeed. Musically, Quasi is on target. They give off a loose, stompy rock sound that perfectly suits Coomes vocals and Weiss' backup. It's particularly upbeat for the subject matter. On "No One," they bring in wistful strings to add a poignant flavor to the track. It's a simple piece, hiding from all the world's troubles and seeking comfort and safety in the warm embrace of a loved one. The sentiment and delivery is truly affecting. After the breakdown that is captured in "White Devil's Dream," the album takes a much more positive tone, emphasizing the importance of individual vigilance and group strength in the face of these disheartening times. Hot Shit is a sympathetic record, one that echoes a lot of the more common thoughts people are struck by when confronted with the flood of graphic images and muddled information. It's a protest, sure, but one that doesn't stem from empty motivations or sloganeering, instead coming from genuine emotion. - Michael Patrick Brady
Sonig (DE) /
Thrill Jockey (US)
Jan St. Werner has a way of keeping the flavor-seal closed tight. There's a freshness to everything he gets his hands on that is downright addictive. When Mouse on Mars broke out, they gave bliss-out electronic the funky backbone it needed to stay interesting; likewise in Microstoria, Werner contributed a tender roundness to Markus Popp's digital landscape. Scrypt is the third album from St. Werner's more abstract solo project Lithops, and where the first two treaded heavily in a shaky land of bedroom concréte and dissected electro, Scrypt marks an invigoration of the Lithops sound.
The obscure cover-art and vaguely archaic title paint an accurate picture of the music inside. The common thread is, more than ever, St. Werner's layering of distorted drones and static pulse. This time around, however, the cohesion achieved makes the even most complex tracks sound elemental, as if gathered from the air. The first track, "Generator," acts as an overture, condensing the gamut of distorted planes in which almost everything here is submerged. Throughout the disc, as melody emerges from the fray, it is constructed of rich, droning bass and frayed, stuttering high notes. While on earlier Lithops releases a deliberately "underproduced" quality permeated, on Scrypt, it has been tempered by a refined attention to placement. A clear touchstone for much of this album would be the music of Christian Fennesz, except here somber guitars are replaced by bits of saccharine pop bliss and plodding bass notes, fractured in and out of the waves of static. "Graind" contains a melodic hook that would easily feel at home in a DAT Politics tune.
As always with St. Werner and the rest of his Sonig buddies, the element of surprise is at a premium. Horns, woodwinds, trashcan percussion, plunking guitars, and all variety of concréte pandering are at work creating music that is at once playful, challenging, and even melancholic. As with recent Mouse on Mars material, St. Werner stands alone here in his ability to rend unorthodox rhythms from the most diverse sonic tidbits and to bend these around an equally impressive array of instruments. The results are never boring, and this is the best Lithops music yet. - Andrew Culler
Dredd Foole and the Din, "The Whys of Fire"
A strange album that, try as I may, I can't help but like. It's the posturing evident on the packaging that's off-putting, borrowed cachet from old-fashioned fine art records (that's just sooo SYR) and old school improv. I guess that stuff works to an extent and you can't blame folk for wanting to sell their disks. The music, on the other hand, is handily distinct and functional. At heart its live recording of a psychedelic group improvisation blow-out: three guitars (Thurston Moore, Patrick Best and Jack Rose) plus Indian strings (Mike Gangloff) build a great big flat wall of atonal drone, skitter and feedback against which Chris Corsano drums up a furious pounding storm and through which Foole's (Dan Ireton) heavily echoed and reverberated vocal droning, shouting, and wailing tunelessly wanders. It's basically all noise played at a fairly static level with some embellishment. There's an impression of rather little interaction between the improvisers for much of the way but that's looking at this the wrong way, as thought it were old-school improv (e.g. Company or AMM). In contrast to that, what's really happening is what talented psych rockers do (did) in their long out-chorus extemporizationsthe building up of one great big collective head-banging drone made up of as many components as the band can muster. No one is trying to stand out front in the sense of soloing or being a virtuoso and there's none of the challenge-response approachit's all collective action. What makes it strange is the mix. You would be forgiven for not noticing Corsano's drumming, he's so low in the mix. Once you cotton on to that contribution the whole thing takes on a whole different aspect, turning from a nice little noise package into a dynamic driving rock-out. Foole's singing is primitive, musically-challenged but fairly effective. On most tracks he's just providing another element of the collective din, adding color and a little humanity to the guitar laden whole. Emotionally powerful or aesthetically challenging he is not but the heavy use of reverb etc. on his free-form vocalization brings a nice 60s art experiment touch. I have a sense that the music isn't taking itself too seriously and that's also the key to enjoying it: a great big indulgent degenerate-rock blow-out. How this release relates to the two from the mid-80s when Ireton was collaborating with Mission of Burma alumni, I can't say, not having heard those. - Tom Worster
ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE, "MAGICAL POWER FROM MARS"
I'm consistently impressed by that essential spark in the Japanese creative potential that seems uncannily able to co-opt elements of Western culture and effortlessly transform them into a postmodern hybrid that is strangely familiar, yet entirely alien. There are clear forerunners for the sound of the Acid Mothers Temple the space-rock of Hawkwind, the fuzz-metal of Blue Cheer and the hippie cult music of Amon Duul II and yet guru Kawabata Makoto and his family never engage in heavy-handed imitations of these influences. This cult of shaggy, unwashed heathens has repeatedly shown its talent for creating forcefully original material that pays homage to its godfathers even while joyously trampling on their graves. Magical Power From Mars is the latest addition to the Temple's absurdly prolific discography. This CD collects the three limited edition hologram EPs released by Important Records earlier this year, and adds one bonus track available only on this release. The cover is another inspired lenticular spacescape - a retro-futurist scene resembling a 1920 World's Fair artist's rendering of humanity's inevitable colonization of Mars. The track titles are puns on glam-era Bowie, oddly appropriate for these four massive, cosmic slabs of flamboyantly exaggerated rock n' roll. "Ziggy Sitar Dust Raga" feels like an uneasy countdown: a persistent sitar scale backed by lunar synthesizers and a galaxy of hazy reverberations. This track kept me on the edge of my seat waiting for the eventual onslaught. Ten minutes in, Cotton Casino's "Prepare for takeoff!" shrieks made me feel ever closer to the inevitable launch. Twenty minutes later and surprise! No liftoff. It's all wind-up with no explosion, like a long, exhausting tantric sex ritual. The second and finest track, "Diamond Doggy Peggy," starts with Casino's possessed ululations, before kicking the Acid Mothership into high shamanic gear, Makoto's hyperspeed guitar loosening its lysergic vibrations out into the solar system. Cotton Casino's chirping synths sprinkle fairy dust (or angel dust?) over the cosmic proceedings. The bonus track, "Aladdin Kane," is a showcase for the Temple's synth and backwards-guitar prowess: a Joe Meek-meets-Tangerine Dream breakdown of galactic proportions. It's a haunting and genuinely creepy track that meanders through black holes and nebulous corridors, asking far more questions than it answers. "Cosmic Funky Dolly" is the final insult, a 20-minute anomalous orbit that reverses the polarities of inner and outer space as it burns up on re-entry. This final track plays like a remake of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey directed by Shinya Tsukamoto and starring the Manson Family. Luckily, the incomprehensibly galactic Magical Power From Mars CD conveniently arrives just in time to pop it in the player, drop acid and peruse the new high-powered telescope photographs of the Red Planet. - Jonathan Dean
Simultaneously released with their Rebel Powers' Not One Star Will Stand the Night, Emi Nobuko, Higashi Hiroshi, and Kawabata Makoto's Gekkyukekkaichi serves as a kind of companion to the dark, gnashing tones of the former. The modus operandi is the same: two extended tracks, an hour in total, of free improvisation without cuts or overdubs. These are meant to be pure, unadulterated acidic shots to the senses. Unlike Rebel Powers, which delved into heavy blacks and grays, the immediate tone of Gekkyukekkaichi is one more concerned with points of light, shimmering into view and filling the senses. The intensity and extremity still exists, but it isn't a lurching menace: it is contained in a more dynamic wash of colors and shapes. The title track twists around itself as Makoto's fully live guitar kicks up dust amidst the sparse percussion. It is the sounds of what is seen after looking at a bright light for too long and then closing the eyes. The after effects linger on the cornea like a mix of spectral ghosts, rushing forward before shaking themselves apart to make way for the next hits of eye damage. It hurts, but it's just so cool to watch. A short interlude in the middle of the storm allows for a breather before amplifying the energy to even greater heights for the closing. When "Seiitenrinengi" begins, the restraint in its form is startling compared to the title track. Here, there seems to be more method than madness, less staring at the sun and more looking at what it is shining upon. It feels like a landscape soundtrack with the music gently rising and falling to match the terrain and trace its image in sound. Nearly ten minutes into the piece, the landscape takes a harsh turn, and the music rapidly climbs in strength and speed as if the ground just broke out from underneath it. It's a high-speed plunge that sears the eardrums with nasty squalls of white noise and high-pitched, screaming drones. This movement comes crashing to an end and the music sputters, plucks, and taps along the silence that is now visible as the waves of noise dissipate. What emerges from this break is a more focused movement, seeming to meld the first controlled section with the second freak-out section. Now, like any long form piece, there are moments of power that draw the listener in with their intricacy and inventiveness, but there are also stretches where the needle skips the groove and things just aren't clicking right. Gekkyukekkaichi is a more consistently solid effort than Not One Star Will Stand the Night, but what they share in method and design also leads to them sharing inadequacies. The extended, improvised, one take style results in an aimless, drifting section, or a place where the music could have possible used a little editing. Still, despite those little deaths along the way, there are moments of great ideas in these long pieces, and they make for an illuminating listen. - Michael Patrick Brady
The Hafler Trio, "A Small Child Dreams of Voiding the Plague"
Though I only noticed IT as IT came screaming at my face, the aftermath (the dreams I inflicted upon my lack-of-consciousness through sheer force of will) was fertilized with ITs form and ferocity. IT was a scattered being made both of sound and image though not entirely solid as if IT were completely of the extended realm. Imagine frames or shards of glass excreting tuneless television stations; nothing but static and bursts of images from some broadcast somewhere in the universe. Women's voices singing out, exaggerating pain, pleasure, and imagination (though it may be argued that these are really not seperate experiences). While in my dizzying dream these shards leaned over me and felt their way beyond my oblique and stationary body to the room beyond where all manner of colors were spilling forth as if the glow of an old stereo receiver were ejaculating its contents onto the floor and into the air. I became terrified when ITs voice went metallic and scratched its way into the air with a hiss and scream. I could not move and there were bells in my ears, now. Perhaps this was the sound of fear but my curiousity immediately took control and rendered the air about me into black cloth and various shades of curtains. I rose and threw back each cover as if searching for a toy I had lost and desperately wanted back in my arms. I knew that broken image was somewhere in this maze, too and so each movement breathed nervous sounds and anxious movements. The glow was there, ITs unearthly aura shining through the ether blinding the meters in front of me. There was but one final action for me to take and as I threw adrift the final veil ITs facade lifted. I stared at her and laughed knowing it meant something only so long as I lived. - Lucas Schleicher
PSI, "The ___ Who Had Begun His Career as a Useful ___ of the ___ Court Later Became the ___ of ___ and the ___ of ___."
There's altogether too much dilettantism(²) in the world of experimental music, all manners of musical incompetence can hide behind strangeness and it seems that anyone can make noise. All too often I get the feeling that what motivates the latest improvised experimental music project I subject myself to is the shortest path to contemporary artist status. It gets quite tiresome and the conspiracy of silence surrounding the poseurs and their novelty stunts is frustrating. But free improvised music is a soil fertile for flowers as well as weeds. It defeats all other musics in its capacity for surprise and drama and perseverance can pay off. This first disk by NYC trio PSI is one that makes the suffering worth while. Jamie Fennelly plays electronics and seems to use field recordings as part of his palate, Chris Forsyth plays guitar unconventionally (I know, a ludicrously dated thing to say) and Frtiz Welch plays percussion and found objects. Comparison to AMM is obvious. There is a comfort and confidence in their sparse playing and a control of the collective sound for which AMM is the archetype. The sound is also not unlike AMM'sWelch's techniques, especially the bowing has a familiarity and both the guitar playing and electronic sound like Keith Rowe at times. The interactions of the individuals becomes more apparent on repeated listening but more of the time the cohesive whole is what it's all about. What impresses the most is how this collective voice achieves generative exposition of its ideas without ever getting stuck. It moves on from any given topic at the right time almost as though composition were involved. Thus many of the best aspects of improv are shown off in a fairly understated mezzo forte. The distinction between the flowers and the weeds in the fields of experimental improv may be hard to explain but it is not hard to hear. PSI is a pleasing reassurance that our belief in the genre is not purely religious. - Tom Worster
The influence of the electro-pop 80s is not just living strong, it's experiencing a genuine revival of late. Dave Gahan's got a solo album, Duran Duran is recording again with the original members, and artists like Kenna are recording albums drenched in the New Order pastiche. One artist who has always seemed to like this palette while not being afraid to take chances is Jon Crosby, aka Vast. With his two albums on Elektra, Crosby embraced the industrial electronic sound with a modicum of pop sensibilities to create his own path, with odd samples entering the mix from the Bulgarian Voices to Benedictine Monks. Through it all, though, is a heavy Joy Division and Sisters of Mercy feel, with dark subject matter as the anchor. Now Crosby is taking his biggest chance yet, separated from Elektra who wanted a more radio-friendly sound: he's releasing the demos for his new album as two separate ten-song downloads on his website. It's not a new concept, obviously, and there's no planned fan interaction where they get input into the album's final tracklisting. It's just a chance to hear the new music and to see how it will evolve. Turquoise and Crimson represent the new evolution in the Vast sound, with more of the same from Crosby, just free from the bounds of label politics.
Turquoise is the stronger of the two mini-albums, with harder-edged arrangements and performances. The title track starts off with the bitter anger of loneliness, and its a tone that remains throughout with occasional moments of slower tempo and quiet. There's a cold that runs at the core of all these songs, like there's nothing left at the end of the day to run on. This music is the loss of a lover or a loved one, of innocence, and of dreams you hoped would materialize but always really knew would melt away. As a result, the lyrics give very little in terms of hope. Some of the lyrics are a bit on the trite side, as well, so my hope is that some of them will change before the final release, or the weaker songs will be left off entirely ("Can't Say No to You" and "Candle" are prime examples). But there is an energy in these songs that is undeniable. Crosby is lashing out, but he's not proceeding unabated. He wants forgiveness, he wants to belong to something or someone. That doesn't mean he can't be bitter about not belonging now. He also has a real gift for melody that shines through any rough spots that exist. "I Woke Up LA" and "Falling From the Sky" are powerhouse songs, and "Desert Garden" brings to life a futility that everyone has felt at some point. Turquoise soars with melodies and hooks, stumbles a little lyrically, but overall walks on its own two feet with confidence.
What Turquoise lacks lyrically, Crimson more than makes up for. Any album that starts off with "I know you just want to kill me" is going to ride a rollercoaster of emotions, and on these songs Crosby lets out all the demons to play. Thematically, this group is also about bitterness and loss, but the feeling is conveyed with a lighter brush. With the exception of a few songs, this would be considered the mellow record, and the confidence is all but replaced by crippling doubt and insecurity. Where the songs on Turquoise seem to fit together, there is a start and stop on Crimson where things don't exactly match up, and that seems to be part of the point. Harder-edged songs are there to break up the monotony and overwhelming depression, but also to jar and bring across a feeling of uncomfortability. True, they're demos, but they were arranged this way for a purpose. Nevertheless, the songs may not be as agressive, but they're just as impressive. "I Need to Say Goodbye" is the ultimate kiss-off, the "I won't be played with" song that hits where it hurts. "Winter in My Heart" and "Where it Never Rains" bring across both sides of the love coin, where it's missing and desperately wanted and where it's found and is clutched at tightly in the hope that it won't go away again. The only misstep is the heavy-handed social commentary of "That's My Boy," which seems to be an examination of the culture that produced the killers of Columbine. Crosby doesn't complete the thought, and switches to a faith examination that confuses the issue, so the song doesn't hit the right switches. Overall, it's a minor flaw, and both mini-albums have enough strong songs to make a fine album. Both are a step beyond his previous work, and with the right fixing they could be the makings of the best Vast album yet. - Rob Devlin
The Twilight Singers, "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair"
It's been a tumultuous ride for Greg Dulli. The Afghan Whigs stormed onto the scene in 1986, determined to destroy all the walls that stood in their way. As the years went by, they slowly metamorphosed into a sex rock project, with Dulli's howl shifting more into a purr meant to coax off panties rather than bust down barriers. And then, after three labels and fifteen years, they called it quits. Dulli had already started his new project in the Twilight Singers, but their debut was languid and laden with death imagery, probably because Dulli wrote the record in the pit of a depression determined to kill him. Needless to say, it didn't fly off the record shelves, despite the best efforts of Fila Brazilia to dance up the dirges. It was time for a change, it seemed, as Dulli parted ways with his second major record label in five years. Now with a firm cheering section in place with Birdman, it feels like Dulli has hit his stride again, and he's brought the angry swagger with it. This limited edition EP is the first new Twilight Singers material in 3 years, featuring a cover and two original tracks. Where the Twilight Singers used to be a mellow affair with scattered dance beats, now it's as if Dulli decided his two bands needed to become one. "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair" is a traditional that Nina Simone made famous, and as he did on Uptown Avondale with classic soul numbers, Dulli makes it his own with classic verve. It starts off like any Twilight Singers song would, but when the guitars join with Dulli's screams, it's like the Whigs at their height: goosebumps galore. "Domani," too, at first is more like what you'd expect from the Singers, with soul licks and that sexy vocal. But again the wall of guitars return halfway through the song, and the Singers are born anew. "Now I can see, everything's clear up here from my position" says it all as Dulli's confidence has never been this charged. "Son of the Morning Star" sounds like a remix of another track, with faded vocals and a rapid-fire dance beat. The track's a bit of a throwaway until the strings come in, and even then I would probably skip it on repeat listens. On the strength of the first two tracks, though, the forthcoming album should be a real treat with plenty of sex to go around. - Rob Devlin
Tomahawk, "Mit Gas"
Mike Patton has a cult fanbase, mostly due to his vocal gymnastics and his unique sensibilities when fronting a group c.f. Fantomas, Mr. Bungle, et al but with Tomahawk he's very much in Rock Band Member mode, not acting as the circus ringleader. This can be a great thing, as the new Tomahawk album shows. The first Tomahawk album was full of a violent starts and sudden stops but Mit Gas is a 40 minute sampling of smoother (if still bizarre) Tomahawk pieces. Band leader Duane Dennison (Jesus Lizard) continues to lay down a collection of sneaky guitar riffs and licks over the thick, solid layers of drums and bass guitar. The album's opener, "Birdsong," begins with imposing bass drones, ominous slide guitar notes and birdsong samples until a minute in, when the bass comes in and lays the album bare as a rock and roll record. The guitar sounds sparse throughout the record, with judicious use of effects and guitar wankery and a few electronic sounds for texture. The combination of the guitar's timbre and the band's rocking gives the record an immediacy that I haven't heard in a lot of recent "rock" music. The album has lots of high points, and comes across as more comfortable and cohesive than Tomahawk's debut album. There's no doubt that playing live has made the band members more comfortable with each other. There are moments of funkiness, like the wicked "Harelip" with its funky bass and slinky guitar and Patton's comic crooning "I am the Harelip/Give me one more kiss," and right between the jittering electronic "Capt. Midnight" with its bombastic bridge and guitar that belongs in a David Lynch movie. The pounding "When The Stars Begin To Fall" is followed by the soothing ballad "Desastre Natural," equipped with accusatory lyrics sung in spanish. The album comes to an end with "Harem Clowns" and "Aktion 13F14." The former is a moody instrumental which features a sampled and repeated phrase, "I don't know how to read notes," over and over again. It leads into the latter, where a robotic voice reads hand-to-hand combat "how-to" instructions over a hypnotic bassline. Everything eventually collapses into a clusterfuck of noise followed by a silence and a beautiful short guitar piece. Fading into nothing is a perfect way to finish off an album with so many peaks. - David Piniella
Andrew Liles, "Aural Anagram" / "Anal Aura Gram"
For an album that is right at forty-six minutes long, it sure does seem to last an enternity. The entire record is basically a series of tones accompanied by various passages concerned with or describing sexual perversions. At first this seemed like an exciting enough prospect: Andrew Liles associates Aural Anagram with the various productions of Hans Bellmer. Bellmer was one of the first post-Dada surrealists, his self-portrait appears on the cover and I assume that the artwork in the liner notes is either inspired or drawn by him. The primary sketch on the liner notes depicts a nude woman on her hands and knees with her lower torso "x-rayed" to reveal her womb and sexual organs. At the same time, she is pleasuring three different men who are shown only by the presence of their penis. It's a strange image to be sure, but none of the sexuality in the picture makes it into the music in any way. Each track sounds remarkably the same with various vocal samples describing various perversities or sexual observations made from a nearly medical standpoint. Nothing changes throughout the duration of the recording: many of the tones used have the same color and feel throughout and much of the vocal samples simply repeat themselves into boring oblivion. It sounds more like one long recording than a series of nine compositions inspired by an explicit artist. It may be my hormones talking, but with a premiss like this, the album certainly could've been more exciting and retained its rather dark and ominous atmosphere. In the end, that is what makes everything about this recording so dull: it's too dark for too long and with little to no variation in the bleakness of it all. It's an interesting exploration of an artist and an idea but it fails as a composition as a result of being far too limited in scope. - Lucas Schleicher
On the other hand, the remix album included with the first one-hundred copies of Aural Anagram is a more cohesive, varied, and interesting exploration of droning sounds and sexual expression. Instead of being a series of nine tracks like the original was, Anal Aura Gram is four tracks tied together very closely so that the recording can be experienced as a whole. By cutting the album down by ten minutes and condensing much of the original material, Liles creates an almost deafening world. It isn't deafening because it's overly loud or overpowering in any way, it's just that the sounds used produce the aural equivalent of claustrophobia. Every sound has a tactitle quality, whether it is feathery softness or the cold feeling of making a discomforting observation. More melodic elements are present than on the original and not so much time is devoted to near-silence or frustrating repetition. The vocal samples are used more sparingly and multiple textures are used throughout so that nothing overstays its welcome. This sort of attention to detail adds to the eerie and dire feelings that were attempted on the original mix: various melodic tones float like bubbles and are flourished by rolling sparkles in piano-like ascents and descents. Small buzz-saws cut away quietly in the background while other alien sounds stutter and chop their away across the sound spectrum. Here and there feminine moans and abrupt cries appear and disappear within the mix creating a vaguely erotic tension while maintaining a secretive tone that hints at violence, destruction, and (somehow) infidelity. There are fewer overtly sexual references made, but the ones used are both exciting and unsettling. The remixes are everything Aural Anagram could've (and should've) been, so those interested should grab a copy before they all disappear. - Lucas Schleicher
DAEDELUS, "THE QUIET PARTY"
The Quiet Party is a re-mix EP of tracks from Los Angeles avant-garde hip hop producer Daedelus' Invention disc, including interpretations from the good company of producer/DJ Madlib, the Antipop Consortium's High Priest, along with MCs Abstract Rude and The Weather's Busdriver. Opening up the disc, "Playing Parties (Yesterdays New Quintet The Stars Remix)" sees Madlib mixing loose, jazzy drums and percussion with a repeating, dreamy piano progression, peppered with a minimal, controlled overdriven melody, upright bass string slides and assorted bips and bleeps for an overall warming track. Choppy drum machine and quirky keyboard patterns move "Muggle Born (High Priest ESP Remix)" along for the Priest to convey his signatory, precise rhymes and rhythms. "Girls" has Abstract Rude and Busdriver trading rhymes to swoon the ladies with over a backing track of lounge/exotica motifs nailed down by tight beats and the "shoop" of open hi-hats, all topped off with orchestral string swells. Available only of the CD version of this EP, Daedelus' "A Touch of Spring" mixes early 60's kitchy big band with a TV show soundtrack-styled feel to a familiar 80's synth-pop riff that still has me smirking - all set to sharp drumkit samples. Daedulus' interesting and recognizable compositional style is not only solid on its own, but also stands to offer up great source material. - Gord Fynes
Brassy, "Gettin Wise"
I call it smooth and sickeningly so. The lyrics go down easy, the beats float like a bed of feathers, and the melodies are maddeningly similar throughout the entire album. Try meshing together the sounds of hip-hop and some fragments of 70s, 80s, and 90s pop and rock music (it's really a very easy thing to imagine) and what might emerge is something like Brassy. There's some funky bass rhythms that twitch and gallop here and there and some of the beats are truly infectious but those damn vocals are like police sirens just when I thought I'd gotten away with it. It's not that the vocals aren't performed by a talentless group of performers, it's just that the content is empty, repetitive, and usually far too giddy. On "Where Did You Get That Funk?" the title is repeated a few times during the chorus while a frighteningly clean rhythm accentuated by cleverly placed bass slaps brings to mind images of various creatures dancing in place somewhere within Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. It's hilarious to think about when the music isn't playing. Sitting through the music is a chore and after about the fourth song everything bleeds together and ends up sound exactly the same. While there are some enjoyable moments, the general attitude of every song makes me wonder why this group hasn't appeared on a certain television station and taken home ten or twelve awards yearly. Maybe I'm being a bit harsh. There is, after all a minute and twelve seconds of distinctive rest called "Swett's Muse." In addition, "Gettin Wise" does manage to convey its freakiness without sending me over the edge of sanity (at least I don't immediately reach for the skip button). By the middle of the album, however, I was capable of predicting exactly what each track was going to sound like. It's catchy, it's sort of funky (though in a very clean way), and is easy to swallow but it also wears its welcome out very quickly. - Lucas Schleicher
Expanding on and experimenting with a given style is an artist's right. Just ask John Zorn. But what happens when an influential artists delves into unoriginal, boring territory? Take Pole as an obvious example. Stefan Betke's first three releases embodied a minimalist, ascetic aesthetic, from the atmospheric crackles of his broken Walfdorf 4-Pole filter unit to the album names themselves. Though he may not have invented the notion of incorporating static sounds into a dub framework, he clearly spearheaded the musical trend that would take on such names as "clicks and cuts" and "glitch." By his '3' album, however, many critics felt that Betke was a one trick pony, having maxxed out the potential of his style. So naturally we should expect the artist to expand and experiment. After the stylistic cues of his recent '90/90' and '45/45' EPs, as well as the eclectic theme compilations on his ~scape imprint, the sound of his latest full-length should not surprise those who have been keeping up. Still, that doesn't mean we shouldn't feel disappointed. Here's an artist who could have potentially added more organic roots and reggae elements into his music, progressing further in the natural direction his music had seemed to take after the first trilogy. Insteaad, we get a stark digression, where the underlying pops and crackles have been wiped clean and out-of-place percussive, instrumental, and even vocal elements have been included. A long way down the road from the glitch movement, this self-title album reeks of pandering to a crossover indie hip hop scene without the b-boy comprehension of a Prefuse 73 or a Dabrye. Def Poetry riffs from rapper Fat Jon come across awkward and lost over Betke's uneasy new musical failure. In layman's terms, I tried to like this. Really. I did. But it sucks. It just sucks. - Gary Suarez
Farmers Manual, "RLA"
As principal early players in the 90's computer music scene, fetishising digital audio and austere CGI graphics with the best of them, it's fitting that Farmers Manual should be behind RLA, the latest and most uncompromising expression so far of the Merzbox mentality. Technically, RLA is a dual layer DVD9, NTSC, region-free DVD with a running time of three days, 21 hours and 38 seconds. It's as exhaustive as possible a collection of everything to do with Farmers Manual's live shows since 1995: nearly four days of MP3s (from "several artists, but mostly FM and related folks") along with accompanying JPEGs of the shows, their locations, gig flyers, stage passes, press reviews, mailing list write-ups, and even a few movie files. The icing on the cake is that, inserted in a computer's DVD drive, it auto-plays some baffling and unexplained handheld camcorder footage of FM knocking a wall down in a basement studio, then later hanging around in an apartment with a cat.
The MP3s on RLA (the abbreviation stands for "recent live archive") were created from whatever sources FM could find, so the sound quality varies, and some recordings are incomplete. But this is part of the collection's charm, and with around 150 MP3s on the disc, you can forgive the occasional imperfection.
With FM being a largely improvisational group, RLA doesn't feature the same music again and again: each collaboratively improvised performance is sonically and to some extent structurally unique. Though their sound has much in common with the noise-influenced digital crunch producers who followed them, their source material and influences are often broader. Their music is more straight-faced surrealism than aleatoric(¹) violence.
It's impossible to review this release without fixating on the format, but in the packaging-obssessed world of MEGO, that doesn't seem inappropriate. Obviously, being a DVD, and a data DVD at that, RLA is only usable if you have a computer DVD drive, and not a domestic DVD player. But the entire project is available for free download from FM's web site, and new recordings have been added to the site over time (currently around 10 more hours' worth). And if you don't have a decent net connection, or any at all (in which case where are you reading this?), you can legally obtain the music under a "copyleft"-style license, meaning that at least in principle you can ask someone to make you conventional data CDs of the approximately 8GB of data here. I suppose you'd have to ask them very nicely.
RLA is more of an ongoing project than a single artefact. It's an essential resource for existing fans, and as good a place as any for newcomers to learn about this most unique of laptop supergroups. I still haven't finished exploring it. - Andrew Shires
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