DIAMANDA GALâô, "DEFIXIONES: WILL AND TESTAMENT"
Like the agonizing lament of a bereaved widow at a Bedouin funeral, like the piercing shriek of a peasant woman as her village is burned to the ground in some terrible holocaust ignored by the world, like the confrontational screech of a decadent French poetess-provocateur, like the guttural schrei of a German expressionist diva, or a stricken plague victim coughing up her last mouthful of blood and lymph, Diamanda Gal?' vocal ululations pierce straight to the heart, unearthing a swell of deadly inhumanity that bubbles up from our collective unconscious memory of the brutal atrocities of history. She is wise to realize that there is something painfully cathartic in exorcising these demons, voicing the cries of the dispossessed, palpably invoking their spirits. Diamanda Gal? forges a blood pact between audience and performer, calling up sorrow and anger from her deepest emotional reserves and fearlessly exposing them. For her new solo operatic work Defixiones: Will and Testament, Gal? could not have chosen a subject more obscure or meaningless to Western listeners the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek genocides carried out by Turkey between 1914 and 1923 but the varied texts she has chosen, the haunting musical settings and, most importantly, her forceful and emotive delivery vividly evoke this forgotten moment in history. The double album is packaged with a hardcover book which contains the libretto, drawn from various texts by an impressive array of authors including Armenian poet Siamanto, French poet Henri Michaux, Syrian poet Adonis, Romantic poet Gerard de Nerval and Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini. This multilingual patchwork of texts, some dealing specifically with the Turkish bloodshed and some only suggesting the same outrage, sadness and psychological terror, forms a compelling narrative flow from the hysterical anguish of the 13-minute opener "The Dance" to the painful resignation of the concluding "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean." Diamanda's stunning four-octave instrument attacks this material with amazing technical and emotional virtuosity, transforming from a quavering falsetto to a throaty growl in a matter of seconds, enforcing the primacy of her moving drama, effortlessly referencing Greek liturgical music, American blues and Middle Eastern vocalizations. Upon listening to the first track, I was completely transfixed and listened to the entire two hours plus of Defixiones in one sitting. Her seductive performance creates a violent historical shadowplay for the mind that feels all too relevant to our times; the sentiments so universal that she could just as well be singing about the horrors of the Civil War, the ethnic cleansing of the Third Reich, the bombing of Hiroshima or the rape of Nanking. Diamanda Gal?' electrifying work is entirely without peer in the contemporary scene. Her avant-garde exorcisms of plagues, madness and despair sound simultaneously ancient and modern, allegorical yet viscerally direct, elusive and immediate, and Defixiones: Will and Testament should be required listening for anyone who has ever felt the pull of human history's dark chambers beckon. - Jonathan Dean
DIAMANDA GALâô, "LA SERPENTA CANTA"
I couldn't imagine a more welcome gift this winter holiday season than two brand-new double albums from Diamanda Gal?. La Serpenta Canta is a live song recital, containing new performances of many favorite songs from her back catalog, her set drawing freely from blues, country, and Motown soul. The idea of a singer as possessed and theatrical as Diamanda Gal? covering American popular song may seem a novelty on the surface, but La Serpenta Canta has quickly become my favorite album by the Greek-American diva. Her dissection of the familiar musical tropes of the Blues is absolutely spellbinding, grasping onto a thousand phantom spirits as her voice quivers, pokes and penetrates each precisely enunciated syllable. John Lee Hooker's "Burning Hell" is transformed into cubist Blues a fragmentation and reassembling of the song that lays bare all of its emotional truth, drains its blood and leaves it for dead. Her "cabaret grotesque" performance on a pair of Screamin' Jay Hawkins songs "Frenzy" and the perennial "I Put A Spell On You" is an absolute joy to behold. Her own composition "Baby's Insane" from The Sporting Life (the collaboration with John Paul Jones), is sweet but deadly. The free jazz vocalizations on her cover of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" recall the unhinged improvs of avant-jazz screamer Patty Waters. In Diamanda's hands, the country melancholy of Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" becomes a terrifying, multidimensional shriek of pain, regret and despair. Perhaps the most beguiling and transcendent of all the songs on La Serpenta Canta is the heartrending version of Diana Ross and The Supremes' "My World Is Empty Without You," with its distorted piano rumblings and Diamanda's dynamic vocals alchemizing the true essence of the song's fragility and pain. Like Nico's haunting The Marble Index, Gal?' beautiful collection of post-apocalyptic torch songs shines darkly with ravishing beauty and a haunting sense of loneliness that threatens to surround my heart completely. - Jonathan Dean
Muslimgauze, "Red Madrassa"
There's a letter in this month's Wire about a snarky review of a Muslimgauze disc, and predictably, the argument is all about politics. Inflammatory track names and liner notes, though, seem like lousy things to base a review of instrumental music on, particularly in a world that's able to shrug off Snoop's lyrics for the sake of Dre's beats. As for the -music- on Red Madrassa, there's a lot of stuff that Muslimgauze fans have heard before: the peacocks are back, as are some of the more prominent vocal samples and dub rhythms from the albums released in '98 and '99. Basic elements of two new tunes are mixed and matched with the old favorites to create 68 minutes of gradually shifting material, and it works pretty well as active-listening or background music. Jones' signature (jarring) rhythm changes, bursts of distortion, and the head-nodding grooves that can go on forever are all here; this far into the process of mining what's left of his tapes for viable albums, though, it's also not surprising to find a couple of moments where it sounds like he was just pissing around with his gear. Red Madrassa won't change anybody's mind about his music, but if it's been a while since the last fix, this one should be pleasing. - Taylor McLaren
Nanang Tatang, "Muki"
Those who have heard the gorgeous music coming from Ida are already primed and ready for Nanang Tatang, and chances are will find plenty there to appreciate. Muki is the latest music coming from husband and wife Daniel Littleton and Elizabeth Mitchell, Ida's core, and is laden with the same elements that make their music so compelling, as well as some interesting additions here and there. Nanang Tatang's debut features downtempo songs and beautiful harmonies with quiet and sparse compositions, as well as wild tracks and a new appreciation for drone and an often electronic pulse. Gladly, for these two, it's the simplest things that work the best, and Muki is a welcome addition to their growing catalog. Glitch beats and processed instruments create a lovely bed for Mitchell and Littleton to play around on, and whether a song features one or the other solo or both singing their trademark gorgeous harmonies, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up in awe of it all. Even though the format hasn't really changed all that much, there is a freshness to some of the arrangements and a forward-thinking stance that shows their passion for trying new things hasn't dimmed. This appears to be a very personal record for the couple, almost a renewal of vows to each other, where they are the only collaborators needed not out of necessity but desire. Mitchell sings "You saved me from myself" and there's a sincere respect, not a desperation, in her voice; and the only time the lyrics address the downside is in retrospect, as though those times are long gone. It's a lush and sanguine recording, and even though complainers would have the same nitpicking joy here (too mellow, not enough percussion, etc.), let them stay away. This one is almost custom-made for those who would appreciate this at face value: a love letter to someone who supports you like no other. - Rob Devlin
Andrew Liles, "All Closed Doors"
The art of the sound collage and drone music has a group of key members. Mirror, Christoph Heemann, Andrew Chalk, William Basinski, and perhaps just a few more are known and loved and create music that invokes images from other worlds; be those images frightening, sublime, or esoteric, it is impossible to deny their visceral impact. Andrew Liles has been added to that list of elusive and wonderful musicians with this release. From the first moment All Closed Doors submerges me into a universe I'm unfamiliar with and perhaps slightly scared of. Furniture drifts through the air, children laugh and disappear down long hallways, shadows scream and laugh at eachother when there is nothing to cast them, and the echo of something ancient pours down over me in the form of a vacant sky. The impact of Liles' sound worlds on this disc is unavoidable, his imaginative and spectral cadences whisper and glide through the air in ways that effect the brain; scary stories are told without the aid of a voice, heaven spills over from the speakers into the room even though such a thing is unthinkable. There's a strange light that bounces and reflects off of everything in this world; there are oceans of singing fish and mountains bellowing their hate onto the helpless below. I can't stop coming up with images, it's as if my mind is flooded with an invisible light that forces it into overdrive, into a creative process that can't stop, that wouldn't stop if the album didn't end. Very rarely do I find an album so immediate and compelling as this; I often have butterflies while listening to it. It is perhaps the equivalent of a sexual release extened over fifty minutes of sound. None of the overtly sexual material from Liles' Aural Anagram/Anal Aura Gram is here, but there's that mysterious and ancient something looming over the whole of this release. It's a tension that can't be avoided, a physical tension created in the presence of an erotic and secretive resonance. - Lucas Schleicher
310 are back with a new album for Leaf that sees them taking a turn that may leave fans of their previous work out in the cold. It's always good to see artists making strides and tackling new challenges with their work, even when they are primarily working from a relatively accessible base as 310 are. However, 310's new direction seems to be one aimed at a larger audience, and as such suffers from an awkward directness. Processional finds the group adding vocals to their established aesthetic of slow beats, smooth basslines and melancholy. The result is a record rooted much more in the pop tradition than their previous outings, and to some degree the familiarity of pop music dulls the edge. The album is slickly produced and has a clear, separated sound that other indie downtempo producers often strive for but fail to achieve; this could be major label material if it was trying. While much of the album is still instrumental, I can't help but come back to the vocal-rooted tracks as the ones that define the album's tone, mood, and direction. The instrumental pieces are nicely constructed and layered with bits of real-world ambiance, guitar, and polite rhythm programming but they never rise and fall with dynamics enough to make them especially memorable when they are placed up against the songs with singing. Whenever a human voice takes over, the songs seem more fully realized and the interaction of various sounds and timbres seems more deliberate. The album's more melodic and 'songy' moments are finely crafted and could be prime examples of a new kind of electronic pop music that inherits the sincerity and feel of synth pop pioneers without mining old records for ironic cues. However, despite the space-age production, dead-on playing, attention to detail, and obvious sincerity that 310 has for this material, it still feels at times a little flat. This is Pop Noir being created by able hands, but as with so many artists who make the leap from instrumental work to songs with singing, the vocal material overwhelms the rest and it all fails to fit into a smooth whole. Andrew Sigler croons more than sings over tracks with enough melodrama that it is sometimes difficult to listen to him without picturing a disaffected lounge singer in a velvet tuxedo. The Robin Guthrie-esque guitar is terrific in the background of "Pacific Gravity (Vocal Version)" but the voice pulls me out of the song too often. I'd love to hear this record without the few vocal tracks to see how it would flow as a pure instrumental, but that's not the record that 310 made. - Matthew Jeanes
Boy Robot, "Glamorizing Corporate Lifestyle"
City Centre Offices
Sometimes being straightforward and relaxed is the best thing a musician can do. Forget all that maniacal drum programming, ridiculous sound sequencing, and use of hyper samples featuring chipmunks on cocaine: let melancholia sweep up and over the horizon like a silk blanket and drown the world in night. Boy Robot does just that; their excellent song-writing combined with slick rhythms and just the right amount of surprise makes Glamorizing Corporate Lifestyle a hypnotic and delectable trip. Burning keyboards rebound and stretch across space under the influence of drifting or lurching melodies that hum and soar slightly out of reach. Imperial horns sound just beyond the next hill and the march of toy soldiers breaking the edge of sight sound monstrous as the clutter of sound swarms over the hills. But these soldiers aren't out to destroy; "Don't Panic It's Organic" is a bouncey little piece more than a hounds-from-the-gates-of-hell wave of doom. The excellent melodies buried and transformed under reverb and echo mesh into each other and give birth to a firey piece of dance-alicious pyschadelia that neither could have produced alone. Boy Robot doesn't always need a solid beat to sound wonderful, though. "Loving You Makes Me Nervous" sounds like a children's junkyard full of defunct jack-in-the-boxes, miniature train sets, and plastic flutes. Yet, it's so very simple. Nothing here is overdone, there's nothing outrageous taking place: melodies fade in and out of eachother, rhythms chug along, and deep, sensuous tunes are born out of simple and natural movements of sound. It's the use and choice of sound that makes a difference; bells, electronic xylophones, rubber band bass slaps, and the cranking of gears all blend into eachother effortlessly; it's all as gentle as a taking a slow breath. Beginning with the welcoming "Likely Silly and Waterfull," progressing through the cyber-epic of "Old Habits Die Hard," and ending with the ghost-house story of "When Broken Consider It Sold," Glamorizing Corporate Lifestyle knows no boundary and sinks right into my bones. Everything should be so playful and resplendent as this. - Lucas Schleicher
Boy Dirt Car, "Winter / F/i Split"
With the homemade aesthetic as marketable as ever, and luminaries of the cassette noise underground priming for the next JANE magazine feature, it's a surprise the 80's industro-punker annals have not yet been thoroughly stormed for reissue. Digitizing the past can be fun and will sometimes produce a posthumous legend, but all too often the process does nothing more than make undeserving, even undesiring heroes of the old, and uninspired imitators of the young. At present it's hard for me to listen to a Wolf Eyes record without hearing a co-worker rattle on about the glory days of SPK, and my enjoying SPK gets complicated by a guard against someone else's glamorization. My salvation comes with reissues that can show me "new" things, like a lost inspiration or the missing link in the evolution of a style, but with an added suspension of recognition. In other words, the best music must allow me to lose myself, must first lead me astray, or wipe the slate clean, before revealing its true character.
Luckily, this Boy Dirt Car reissue, containing the group's best full length and their side to a split with fellow Milwaukians F/i, is forged of such rare steel. Winter shows me a time when bands playing indulgent static dirges or whistling through vocal effects formed just another dark corner of the local hardcore scene, a time when anyone could plug in a broken keyboard, start mumbling about the highway at night, and become genius for a day. Formed from a couple members of Die Kreuzen and some like-minded, Branca-inspired youths, Boy Dirt Car was fertile ground for a marriage of punk and industrial philosophies, coming to climax in '86-'87 with these two releases. The unfortunately-named band took its blueprint from the slowed-down doom punk of bands like Flipper, shattering it to include the open spaces and electrified edges of early Neubauten. One of the most striking qualities of the music is how little the group relies on anything more than guitars to construct their elaborate tapestries of noise. Songs like "Forms Forced Surrender" and the brutal title track show evidence of either several moments of collective brilliance, or several dozen painstaking overdubs. Elsewhere, tracks range from the Null-ian meltdown of "Invisible Man" to the opening "Smear," a delicate wound of crisp delay, amp buzz, and metallic percussion. While the homemade vibe exists throughout, it never encourages a preoccupation with process, instead reinforcing a sense of youthful exuberance in the music. Listening to Winter, this exuberance and a kind of punk-ist abandon are hard to ignore, making the few moments of lyrical cheese, bad poetry, and guitar wank easy to swallow. As with any great punk band, clich? and indulgences soon become part of Boy Dirt Car's rather addictive appeal, and ultimately these humorous missteps help to form more of an accessible foundation for the group's frequent excursions into righteous, blistering noise.
- Andrew Culler
F/i, "Blue Star/Merge Parlour"
Blue Star/Merge Parlour, the last in Lexicon Devil's series of F/i reissues is less essential than Winter only because it pales in comparison to previously re-released pieces of the F/i catalog, notably the full lengths What Not Now??Alan! and Space Mantra; however, like the Boy Dirt Car reissue, this disc goes beyond a nostalgia trip or an attempt to cash in on recent trends. F/i were entirely unique in their ability to rock as hugely as the great European psych bands, while sounding at the same time like a very exact product of the Midwestern wasteland. All the bombast and ascension in their often sprawling songs feels tempered by layers of gloom and suburban malaise; any futurism comes with an equivalent expression of disdain for an automated, static culture. The F/i sound could be described as industrial psychedelic, with most songs taking off on repetitive, kraut-influenced grooves and then treated to a healthy glossing of dirty space-age electronics. A clear touchstone would be early Chrome, but F/i is less claustrophobic, more prone to slip into the trance-inducing drone epics than barbed sci-fi theatrics. Their approach can feel tired at times, and is certainly more successful on the aforementioned albums, but this disc includes some of the band's great moments too, like the hard, swinging psych of "Blue Star," sounding like Guru Guru blasted through a silo, or "Om Twenty-One," where guitars fizzle and bend around grossly modulated synth tones like a punker's homemade homage to Ligeti's 2001 score. Merge Parlour, F/i's three-song side from a split with Vocokesh, shows the band moving in an increasingly electronic direction. "Pleasure Centres/The Beach," the standout track from the split, and the best song here, is one of the most intense and abstract F/i songs ever, with steady torrents of feedback and distorted samples forming the backdrop for more of the familiar guitar squeal, waves of industrial percussion, and droning synths. That the band's original lineup dissolved quickly after Merge Parlour proves they must have had excuses other than a stagnancy in the music. Lexicon Devil has done a nice job with these reissues, sticking to the original material and liner notes without weighting them down with extraneous crap (my guess is there was more than enough). If anyone is to be canonized, it will happen, as it should, by merit of the music alone.
- Andrew Culler
Milton Mapes, "Westernaire"
If you've never heard of Milton Mapes, it's no big surprise. Just don't show up to their live gigs expecting to find Milton: the band takes their name from lead singer/songwriter Greg Vanderpool's grandfather. Their songs are straight from the dustbowl heartache fused with a country-rock sensibility that any bartender in a small town saloon would be glad to have playing on the jukebox. Theirs are songs not about people or places or situations, just the moments that we all go through in our lives as we strive to find that perfect place to belong. Together with stalwart Roberto S?chez and a host of guest musicians, Vanderpool spins his songs into a golden second album, easily sticking on the mind and in the heart. The album opens rather slow and deceivingly on "Great Unknown," a somber note about giving it all up to look for the love you've never had. On the next track, betrayal takes over, and for a moment it sounds like a veiled threat: "maybe you're gone, ready or not/maybe you're here, maybe you're not." The harmonica and pained vocal over a crunch Wilco had but lost almost do it alone, but the harmony on the second verse just slays. In fact, the album settles in for a good six songs of perfection before it hits a misstep, and even then the song in question ("Palo Duro") isn't so much bad as it just sounds like filler to make up time before the next great song kicks in. It does and they do on "This Kind of Danger" and "The Sad Lines," my favorite song of recent memory from an artist I've never heard before now. Milton Mapes, you see, is as much a character as he is a namesake, and his integrity, weakness, loneliness, and history are all over Westernaire. This time in his shoes is a ride of ups and downs, and I hope there's more tales in this vein saved up for next time. - Rob Devlin
Wingdisk, "Time Is Running Out"
This is a weird and psychadelic EP from Ian Masters (Pale Saints) and Mark Tranmer (Gnac) that fits almost nowhere in my record collection but is still somehow intriguing. Wingdisk combine simple drum machine patterns with hanging, wistful synth chords to create obvious, almost naive arrangements for Masters to sing over. Everything sounds very home-recorded and it joyfully spits in the face of the trendy laptop production that almost anyone else would have put these songs through. The songs are all stitched together with location recordings of public places in Japan which to Western ears makes them all sound a little odd and out of place. I imagine the duo couped up in a Tokyo hotel Lost In Translation-style and recording a handful of simple jams that were later sequenced into this EP. I'm sure it didn't go down that way, but that's what is interesting about this release. For all of its composers previous experience with making bigger records, this seems like a deliberately left-field, tiny record meant to be enjoyed by only the smallest circle of friends. It shares a reluctance to be categorized with later His Name Is Alive material and at times sounds like the work of a couple of high-school friends trying their hand with a four-track tape recorder. For that mystery alone, it's worth a listen. - Matthew Jeanes
Buck Jam Tonic, "Buck Jam Tonic"
Wild Disk/BJT ltd.
The NYer privilege of being able to see a zillion interesting shows on any given night has always made me jealous, but rarely so much as it did when Painkiller was resurrected for a couple of nights with Hamid Drake on drums earlier this year. Thankfully, the Japanese have released the next best thing on this pair of CDs: an hour and a half of Painkiller's fatter, funkier brother, the terribly-named Buck Jam Tonic. The two discs make a neat set: the first was mixed by drummer Tatsuya Nakamura, while the second features three Bill Laswell interpretations of the same sessions. An obvious result is that there's some overlap of source material between the discs (see the samples of "Nu," from the Tokyo mix, and "Tzu," from the New York mix), but where Nakamura's tracks are rough-sounding little nuggets of rock, Laswell's are denser epics that build and ebb dramatically (across a wider spectral range, too) over the course of 20 or 30 minutes. Furthering the variety, John Zorn actually played alto and soprano sax that day instead of just honking, and Laswell pulled out some monstrous "boWAAAAAAAOW" noises to really get the blood flowing; the effect is a lot like the ugly muscle of Execution Ground, only with way peppier drumming. Hearing it through two different sets of ears gives BJT some replay value beyond its fist-pumping qualities, too, so it's more than just a replacement for a concert experience. Get past the awful name and hideous cover, and there's plenty to enjoy. - Taylor McLaren
Ghislain Poirier, "Conflicts"
Intr_version continues its winning streak with the fourth release from unclassifiable French-Canadian maverick Ghislain Poirier, showing him moving more towards a pure hip-hop sound, while keeping a foot firmly placed in the minimal, beautifully melancholic electronica that filled earlier releases like his 12k debut. Conflicts, however, is more a product of contemporary politics than any logical progression for the artist himself. Of the twelve tracks, only three include rapping, but the entire disc bears urgent witness to a series of protests, struggles, and reconstructions. Poirier's music has never been texturally complex, working instead through the juxtaposition of a few bold layers to create absorbing, cinematic spaces, but where before a calm, meditative mood was achieved, Conflicts is anxious and pensive. On almost every song, thick, unadorned breaks take the foreground, often lacking more than one or two accompanying layers. Poirier's sonic palette has taken a turn towards grittier, more tactile sounds, like groaning feedback and plodding double bass. The hollow resonance of a plucked bass-note could represent the whole of Conflicts, not thematically vacant, but a record that, on the contrary, suggests the bombed-out spaces of the industrial skeleton on its cover. Hooks and melodies emerge in fragmented form and feel barely afloat on the thin strains of stringed instruments and feedback whines that create the rarely comforting backdrop of most tracks. The album's lyrics are outwardly political, something obvious to even the non-French speaker, and Poirier's delivery is unique; half spit and half spoken, his words are as confrontational as they are musical. The most impressive parts of Conflicts, though, are the instrumentals covering the disc's second half. Poirier has a thing for off-kilter beats that skip around, hitting and missing, but he uses them in a way that is never overkill, managing to keep focus on the physicality of the beat itself without slipping into self-parody. He also loves to send rhythms, and entire songs, sliding arbitrarily into silence, only to bring them staggering back out for a big finish, a habit made possible by the rich and often formless nature of his backgrounds. From a few layers of droning feedback, Poirier is able to construct an elaborate cradle for the rhythms that front each piece, creating music that sounds at times like the high frequency squeal of Nurse with Wound's Soliloquy for Lilith, put to a skipping backbeat. If Steven Stapleton is really considering hip-hop for his new direction as he claims to be, he might do worse than check in on Poirier for some inspiration.
- Andrew Culler
Twelve, "First Album"
I sometimes like music that floats effortlessly from drone to post-rock knob twiddling to electronic beats of fancy, all over the same album, and still makes it seem normal, like it isn't driven by some mental illness or other after all. Twelve's First Album is exactly that kind of record, custom designed to infect the brain and never let go, and for the most part it accomplishes this noble, perhaps impossible, goal. In quite possibly the trippiest framework since the self-titled For Carnation album of three years ago, Twelve move effortlessly from genre to genre without so much as a breath of fresh air. Six.By Seven's Chris Olley is the brainchild of the proceedings, bringing along vocalist Tee Dymond and Six.By's drummer Chris Davis to fill it all out. The album starts with a twenty-four guitar drone track of stunning but simplistic beauty before settling in to the slow core epic "Talkin About." Clocking in at over eleven minutes though it doesn't ever feel like it the track starts off quiet enough but eventually soars in two glorious crescendos of guitars and programmed strings. A lovely, earnest beginning; then, it all just goes awry, but not in a bad way. "Travelin' Light" is funk bass electronic madness with a bit of drone mixed in that sets the album on its ear, and the polyrhythmic wonder of it all takes over half the record. The slow rock returns on "Never Let You Go" and "Now," but this record belongs to the grind and grit of the programmed tracks. It's a complete record, there's nothing missing, and a combination of the styles might have made it all implode. Flawed though this may seem, it serves the record perfectly for a solid debut that previous work merely hinted at if at all. - Rob Devlin
400 LONELY THINGS
With a name dually inspired by Francois Truffaut's The 400 Blows and a sudden, tragic drop in seratonin levels, 400 Lonely Things is clouded in a nebulous haze of sadness, brought on by doubt, aggravated by melancholy. The beautifully packaged limited edition LP of the debut album offers no information on the instrumentation or personnel involved in its creation. The idea, I suppose, is to isolate the listener in the same way the artist imagines himself isolated. The cover artwork shows a badly drawn, dejected cartoon dog sloppily torn from a newspaper, sitting in the middle of a giant lacquered wood plaque. I can't think of a sadder image, really. The 18 brief songs on the LP feel as if they were all conceived and created in solitude, like a slightly less neurotic, slightly more talented Jandek. Most of the tracks are built around lonely minor-chord guitar, or haunted loops, distorted and mutated for maximum spiritual emptiness. 400 Lonely Things use a gallery of effects pedals and keyboards to add the desolate atmosphere redolent of driving slowly along empty roads at twilight, in the middle of nowhere. Many of the tracks have a washed-out, faded nostalgia, like the somber loop that comprises "Tagiri." It's a bit like Boards of Canada, and a bit like early Edward Ka-Spel solo works, but really it's like nothing other than itself. There is a certain hypnotic coherence to the sequence of songs, although each track is a molehill unto itself, a lonely piece formulated to pull you deeper into a reflective sense of regret. "Stuff Found In My Wings" adds gentle organic clicks to a barely-there roomtone. At times, this frustration becomes positively hallucinogenic, as in the disturbed sound collage of "Out Of Phase" and the swirling, ritualistic drones of "Catching Falling Stars." The seventeenth track is composed of 400 very lonely seconds of silence, which segue into a locked-groove impasse, obscuring the final track "Very Lonesome," a Moondog-meets-Daniel Johnston campfire sing-along that slowly slides backwards into a pit of haunted echoes. 400 Lonely Things is a quietly impressive debut, and the perfect antidote to all those fucking happy pills everyone is on. - Jonathan Dean
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