MÉTAL URBAIN, "ANARCHY in PARIS!"
The world was probably not quite ready for the french electro punk group Métal Urbain in 1977. Not only were lyrics in French probably a hard sell outside of their native country, but a punk rock band with a drum machine couldn't have been the most popular sound with traditional punk rock nor anti-punk crowds (too many guitars for the Throbbing Gristle/Suicide/Cabaret Voltaire fans and too electronic for Sex Pistols/Wire/Clash fans). However, with gritty, blistering guitars and brutal confrontational vocals, it's a sound and a formula echoed in the 1980s by early Pop Will Eat Itself records, Pussy Galore, and especially Steve Albini's Big Black. Still, no efforts were made by people like Shimmy Disc or similar labels to curate obscure tribute albums making Métal Urbain cool again. In fact, even their second release, the 1977 7" single of "Paris Marquis"/"Clé de Contact," (Rough Trade's catalogue number 001), has ironically yet to appear on any of the bazillion Rough Trade "punk"/"post-punk" compilations released in the last few years. Thankfully neither the group nor Carpark's new sub-label Acute aren't going to let them be completely forgotten. The group reformed last year and played dates in both NYC and Montréal and hopefully plan to play some more this coming year now this collection has surfaced, collecting everything the group released before their split along with some unreleased tracks for the first time in North America. It's always interesting to find out which band's release was so strong that it made somebody launch a record label and when I heard of this reissue, I pulled out my record of Les Hommes Mortis Sont Dangereux, an LP +7" collection released posthumously in 1981, to find the US Celluliod release catalogue numbers CEL1 and CEL2! Anybody who owns Les Hommes will probably note that this disc is almost a complete reissue with the same cover artwork. Groups like this who chose not to sound like the rest of the pack (there's two guitarists, no bass, and a drum machine), while didn't achieve the widespread popularity in their day have a unique ability to sound completely fresh nearly three decades later. Catchy tunes like "Lady Coca Cola" and "Hysterie Connective" are perfect examples of how this band had the ability to be both vicious and infectious at the same time. Even the unused tracks like "Little Girl of Love" could easily pass for a bitchin' Sigue Sigue Sputnik prototype with its fuzzy rockabilly guitar riff. This is a fantastic reissue that can serve as an example for well thought-out reissue projects, spanning their entire recorded career on one disc with a booklet of fascinating stories, pictures, and details of each of the 24 songs. In 2004, Acute is threatening CD reissues of two post-Métal Urbain projects, Dr. Mix and the Remix and Metal Boys. In the meantime, it's never too late to play catch-up with the original lineup. - Jon Whitney
Kites, "Royal Paint With the Metallic Gardener From The United States of America Helped Into an Open Field By Women and Children"
2003 ended too abruptly for me to get in a review or even a mention of what has slowly become my favorite noise record of that year, thus named because it resists any academic sub-classification, remaining highly listenable, though irreducible. The delay was due, ironically, to my inability to describe Royal Paint without making it sound entirely derivative. I could compare Mr. Kites, whoever this solitary and staunchly anti-technologian (no computers, keyboards, effects) abuser of arcane electronics may be, to Amps for Christ as he does incorporate his share of garbled folk and naïve pop references. It would be easy, also, to write about the layered engine drones that characterize several tracks, and while these are impressive in their assemblage, and charming by way of a persistent one-dimensionality, there is nothing to make Kites stand out against so many artists who've treated the same sounds to more elaborate, deeply involved investigations. Kites' exploits the code of homemade ethics by dismissing obsolete technologies that even the most whitebread of DIY-ers have grown to accept, but he does this without coming off like the Jandek of his particular niche. Royal Paint includes some of the blind Jandekian resilience, but it's also a compelling listen throughout, neither in spite nor because of its simplicity. The nine-minute opener, "Staring into the Sun," works as a kind of purifying ritual, a screaming match between feedback generator and prickly static (Kites' weapons of choice), my ears as helpless mediators. Seven minutes in and the disc's ragged logic begins to take shape; these fluctuations and skewed intervals trace the skeleton of a pop song. The following three tracks, moving from a neo-pagan campfire stomp through a bit of faux-Celtic acoustic plucking with a few sheets of white noise to cleanse the palette, only support my suspicions; the songs offer the directness of pop with none of its easy rewards. While labelmates Hair Police use traditional instruments to destroy the "song" from the inside-out, Kites works through his own bizarre primitivism to reconstruct it. This is not noise for noise's sake. The comfortable or recognizable moments on Royal Paint do not allow for a sarcastic tone or some humorous bent, dampening the truly painful parts, of which there are many. The occasional sing-a-long bit and melodic tinkering set up bizarre juxtapositions to make their shrill counterparts seem more complex and hard to ignore. It might seem easy to dismiss Kites as just one more jaded punk cashing in on the homemade renaissance, but Royal Paint gives this "simple" music a colorful and intimidating face.
- Andrew Culler
SONGS OF NORWAY, "DESPITE THE CLOAK"
Songs of Norway is the duo of Aaron Moore and Nick Mott of Volcano The Bear. The two musicians actually formed six months before the formation of the Bear in 1995, though they have just now gotten around to releasing their first album. For their debut LP Despite the Cloak on the Beta-Lactam Ring label, Moore and Mott employ their intuition for improvisation across seven tracks of minimal free music, utilizing guitar, violin, trumpet and assorted percussion. "Good Morning Great Legend" is filled with atonal pulls of the bow which bend, curve and swoop unpredictably while randomly struck gongs and drums form a percussive response, of sorts. On "Miles of Beef," the mosquito buzz of the violin flits ponderously over Moore's senseless drums, until the track takes a sharp left turn into primitive scrapings and tumbling found percussion. This willfully messy non-formula continues for the duration of the album. Sometimes, as on "Would I Witness Crustacean Evolve," the players seem genuinely collaborative and their conversations yield interesting results, but the overwhelming majority of Despite the Cloak sounds disparate, as if the Moore and Mott were completely ignoring each other, each trying to voice their own separate agendas. "Leopard Hairs" adds weird esoteric textures with odd whispers and the vibrating aumgns of guest Stewart Brackley, who also contributes double bass and trumpet to a few other tracks. Daniel Padden's clarinet adds interest to "Inner Arms and Necks" which takes a few minutes to get anywhere, and when it does finally arrive, I was forced to ask myself if the wait was really worth it. "Partridge Carnival" ends the disc with Aaron Moore's high-speed drumming, which rolls energetically while Nick Mott attempts to coax some Derek Bailey-isms out of his strings. While Despite the Cloak might appeal to hardcore improv enthusiasts, I couldn't be more indifferent about it. I realize that free playing has a built-in defense against accusations that it lacks melody or harmonic sense, but Songs of Norway's purposeful unpredictability is all too predictable. As a duo, Moore and Mott lack that essential spark of collaborative energy and dramatic compositional intuition that makes Volcano The Bear's music so impressive. It's the same problem that I find in a lot of new music going under the banner of "free music" or "free folk" groups such as Sunburned Hand of the Man, No Neck Blues Band and Jackie-O Motherfucker I sometimes get the nagging sensation that these musicians just aren't trying very hard. - Jonathan Dean
GUIGNOL, "ANGELA, DAVID & THE GREAT NEAPOLITAN ROAD ISSUE"
Guignol is French for "puppet," and the word is often used to connote a classical theater form involving large marionettes enacting heroic or comic tales. It's a name that perfectly describes the music on Angela, David & The Great Neapolitan Road Issue, which is vaguely theatrical, strangely comic, and largely informed by an odd concept involving French instrumentation and dadaist lyrical tactics. Lest we forget, surrealism as an aesthetic, theatrical and literary movement began in France in the early 1900's, and Guignol's music, though modern, seems a bit stuck in this time and place, perhaps because it was recorded over a summer in the French countryside. The group is comprised of Jeremy Barnes (of Bablicon), Aaron Moore and Laurence Coleman (both from Volcano The Bear). Assisting on a few tracks is Aaron Moore's VTB and Songs of Norway cohort Nick Mott, and Korena Pang. It's a mysterious little enigma of an album, seeming at once intimate and detached. Much of the album seems primitively recorded and loosely improvised, but the beauty and intimacy of Moore's vocals on the opening track "Of Houses and Canals" recalls the fragility of Robert Wyatt's on Rock Bottom. The lyrics are disjointed and surreal, bringing to mind the spaced-out whimsicality of solo Syd Barrett. Much of the instrumentation is minimal, with clattering percussion and warm organ tones. Its idiosyncrasies are beguiling, and much of the album washes over like a gentle afternoon hallucination. Even the occasional areas of tension and noise seem oddly pastoral. Jeremy Barnes brings with him that same intuition for seemingly accidental psychedelia that has made every Bablicon album so engaging. "Angela and David" and "Discover Guignol's Band" are the same track, repeated twice, one after the other, and as strange as that sounds, it seems rather charming in context. The spare production and carefully chosen instrumentation lends many of the tracks the atmosphere of medieval France, enhancing the music's anachronistic tendencies. Though its charms are ephemeral, Guignol's album is an enticing ambiguity. - Jonathan Dean
Nice Nice, "Chrome"
There's nothing more refreshing than being deceived by music. I thought it was going to be an electronic-fueled record of funked up rhythms and some glitched guitar; but it, like a chameleon, slowly changed into other creatures. There are only two musicians in this band and there are no overdubs or machines that makes all the fabulous noises. Chrome is a live album of bone-annihilating rhythms, sharp and precise playing, and spaced out jams that would make Can and Neu! quite proud. "Look, You're On TV" and "Cold Sweat Part XVI" start the album out with some snappy drum chops and drugged-up guitar playing that falls somewhere between firmly psychedelic and absolutely jarring. What follows gyrates between cavernous soundscapes and mathematically designed metal screams. It's in the middle, where the drums sound like a steam engine chugging down the line and the strings hum like massive bells, that Nice Nice is most captivating. Sure, there are a wide variety of sounds here and it's amazing that just two guys are capable of doing it all in a live environment, but they both have a knack for melody and rhythmic tension that make jam sessions like "Nein" and "On Neon" so unrelentingly beautiful. Where Nice Nice stick closest to their melody and their sense of beauty, they succeed the most. That's not to say it isn't fun as hell to have my head beat into my shoulders by their wild changes in style, but their ability to craft narcotic melodies and hypnotic rhythms (see "We Go Towards," especially) stand out as their best trait. That being said, Chrome comes away feeling like an amazing treat. There's a variety of music here that fits together well as a record; it's a cohesive experience without feeling dull or repetitive and yet it manages to move between sonically opposite poles. If two people can make such a variety of music on the same record without sounding too scattered, it leaves me wondering what all these other duos are doing with their silly guitar solos and amateurish rhythmic capabilities. - Lucas Schleicher
Most, "Most Most"
Genre names obviously come to stand for different things over time, usually by becoming broader and broader as they go. What happens, though, when they start to encompass sounds that are pretty much antithetical to their own roots? It's hard to know what to make of Most for exactly that reason: this bunch of 40-something musicians is way too good at playing its instruments to really carry the amateur charm of old punk rock, but it can also belt out throat-shredding bulldozer songs like "Shikaku" (from their self-titled first album) on a moment's notice. Curiously, now that they're specifically identifying their music as "punk," key and tempo changes and other conspicuous signs of capable musicianship have started creeping into the works, and there are even a couple of choruses on Most Most that could have been lifted from a Blondie album. (Now that I think about it, that probably says something about how Most fits under the punk umbrella, too.) The results of my distracted first listening keep telling me to say that Most Most is a mellower affair than its predecessor, but it really isn't: it just isn't compressed to hell and mastered at the same ear-splitting levels. Phew manages to rip it up far better than she ever did as a star of the '70s Japanese punk scene; twenty-five years on, she's given up the dorky beret while keeping the howling just enough under control that she doesn't sound like an aging member of some therapeutic drum circle. She's far deadlier and more focused than Debbie Harry now, and while she'll never exude death like Patti Smith always has, Most have become more than just impressive... they're almost inspiring now. - Taylor McLaren
Z'EV, "live 1993"
Crippled Intellect Productions
Strange that Z'EV, probably the most recognizeable name in the avant-garde solo-percussionist ranks, with a relatively extensive string of records behind him, felt the need, in 2003, to release a 3" disc of live recordings from 1993. If nothing else, Live 1993 is a lovingly recorded document, captured by friend, collaborator and brilliant musician in his own right, Fast Forward, at the Performing Garage New York City. The disc is two tracks, each featuring Z'EV beating on a variety of objects, ranging from sheets of metal to what sound like large industrial canisters. Both pieces are dominated by ringing metallic hits, with the drummer's complex overlays creating an equally elaborate lattice of quivering drones, the negative space surrounding each action nicely accented and enlivened. Z'EV's skills as a polyrhythmist and a composer are apparent here, as on all his releases; each track is a concise and expertly controlled example of his unique tribal-industrial sound. For a solo performance, the focused, hypnotic effect achieved is very impressive; however, I see no reason why this music couldn't have been left in the heads of those in attendance. In the context of Z'EV's output thus far, this disc is beyond inessential; as a 3" disc, it is not long enough to successfully approximate the live experience, something that, for an artist like this, is nearly impossible anyway. New listeners could do better with one of Z'EV's many studio full-lengths, chances to see him working non-percussive instruments into his always-interesting sonic palette.
- Andrew Culler
Charizma & Peanut Butter Wolf, "Big Shots"
This is one of those albums that is bound to prompt a zillion reviews that tell the big story of its history: how it was recorded over ten years ago, how the artist (in this case, the MC, Charizma) died before it could be released, and how a friend (the DJ and label founder, Peanut Butter Wolf) eventually put it out as a memorial. It's a nice story, and there's really no way around it, because there's no other way of explaining the sound: Big Shots sounds old, and The Arsenio Hall Show can almost be heard bleeding out of the speakers when it's on, which is a good thing, because it conjures up warm memories of the time right before most rap got stupid. There's no gun-waving or bitch-slapping going on here; instead, there's a photo of the title big shots eating cookies in someone's kitchen, and the lyrics match it. Charizma practically sits you down on the front steps of his house to tell you about all of the amazing -stuff- he's seen: ice cream trucks, the neighbourhood drug-dealer getting what's coming to him, the dating scene...! (Yes, an MC that goes out on dates!) Ten years on, the world doesn't seem nearly as friendly as it did, and albums as wide-eyed and enthusiastic as I Wish My Brother George Was Here are in short supply, making this bright, kind-hearted tribute to a good friend all the more timely; the fact that the deckwork is fun and the vocals are deft (Charizma got around the fact that "Explicit Lyrics" stickers still meant something in '92 by cutting his own curses off mid-word without breaking flow) just seems like a bonus. - Taylor McLaren
PS: There are plenty of other samples at the Stones Throw site.
troum, "tjukurrpa (part three: rhythms and pulsations)"
Troum's final part in their Tjukurrpa series comes with its own warning right in the title. Those familiar (and fond of) the powerful drones this German duo is famed for might be taken aback by the prominence of both rhythms and pulsations all over the record. From the opening "Ignis Sacer," the percussion takes the center stage, with a harsh and abrasive loop. Throughout the disc, the rhythmic loops get decreasingly harsh, lending more to the open drones the group is known for. Like the first two in the trilogy, part three was recorded over a period of time, which may account for somewhat of an uneven sound between tracks in comparison to last year's Siquan. The firt two tracks go on painfully long and are sadly lacking in a depth I have come to expect from Troum due to a sound that is primarily in mono. By track three, "Saiwala," the rhythms have become less piercing but provided by pounding drums in a very Non/Death In June vein. However, at least Boyd and Doug knew how to end a song quickly (at this time the tracks are going on way too long). It isn't until the fourth song, "Wáian / Moys," that the music truly connects with me by the inclusion of faint vocals by a girl named Nina and a motioned progression that is quite the opposite from the somewhat painful first three tracks. It's at this point a good stereo separation also takes place. Slight pitch bends and thunderous echoes are hypnotic and warmly welcomed. Time seems to stand completely frozen. True melodic movement comes through in the haunting follower "Reigen Taumelnder Geister," the reverse rhythms of "Wheaio," and mystical moonlit midnight music of "Airpeins." Perhaps some of the Eastern themes present could be a nod to Muslimgauze or Rapoon, or the group is getting ready to score an epic. Either way, for a disc whose opening half I completely hated, it surprisingly goes out fantastically well. - Jon Whitney
Sealey, Oddie, Spybey, "SOS"
There is a point where sound collages become something else. Drones stop being merely drones and the cinematic passing of sounds build into an architecture without shape or form. Christina Sealey, Richard Oddie, and Mark Spybey have consecrated the air about my ears and formed around it a liquid curtain of sudden memories and vague communications from the mystical side of dreams. SOS isn't a drone record and it isn't just a collage of sounds, it feels more like a movie meant to convey some central ideas. Drowning bells, all-knowing monks, and the enchantment of sirens act as a thematic marker by which ventures into the unknown take place. The sounds are never reduced to a pure humming, nor are there any moments where the flooding of sound meshes into an unidentifiable mass. Sounds act as individual instruments; whether it's the beat of a heart or the rotation of blades on an enormous fan, there's always a sense of general organization between sounds. The group isn't afraid to include familiar sounds in their landscape of the strange. Everything from distorted radio signals and the cold delivery of a news anchor's voice to what might be a digeridoo can be found somewhere in the haze of sonic manipulation. Melodies unfold for small portions of time and rhythm can be picked out of certain pieces, but nothing on SOS relies on either. I'm incredibly taken by this disc because I find it to be more than impossible to catergorize. Noise, drone, ambient, blah, blah, blah; none of it fits this disc in any way conceivable. Calling it a sound collage ignores the precise way the sequence of tracks played with my head and provided at least an illusion of structure and insight. I wouldn't say this is something drastically new or unique; considering Spybey's long history with sound, I doubt that there aren't some familiar themes or ideas at work here, but the entire record sounds and feels fresh. It deserves and, by way of mystical suggestion, demands repeat listens. - Lucas Schleicher
USAISAMONSTER, "Citizens of the Chronic"
No doubt in response to the reception of last year's Tasheyana Compost, Infrasound has reissued USAISAMONSTER's previous two vinyl releases on a single disc. Anyone pleased with Compost's muddy conglomerate of duo-blasted noise rock and prog-metal will feel equally at home in the arms of this beast, the lager-soaked pilgrim to its successor's war-weary Cherokee. The slick guitar chops are still there, each song still a many-armed mini-epic, but Citizens preserves every piece of fudged riffage, every rhythmic stumble, and every indulgent stomp-a-long bit, imbuing each with uncorrupted conviction, a metalhead's glee. It's not that these early releases show the group in crude or undeveloped form (they are tighter than ever), or even that their newer full-length represents a "softening" of their sound; Citizens merely proves that these guys were thrashing to the SST catalog long before they discovered Hawkwind. The disc offers the more accurate and more thrilling picture of a band whose reputation has rightfully developed around a blaring, overblown live event. The guitars are a little less likely to dip into the angular jazz-ist patterns scattered throughout Compost, preferring close-cropped riffs and assaulting repetition, breakdowns occurring only when the tension and release of the figures buckles under the speed of each song. Songs themselves cater less to the wayward theatrics of the succeeding album, and while some acoustic troubadouring does crop up, these songs (especially those from 2001's Citizens of the Universe) are more like spliced chains of 2-min. thrash anthems, worked together with the occasional staggered metallic breather. I feel comfortable saying that if Compost was not your air-drums record of the year, this surely will be. For all of its force, Citizens stays fun throughout and should be welcomed by new fans who were dismayed to find the original records unavailable.
- Andrew Culler
Rising from the brittle crust of the same Northeastern coast that birthed labelmates USAISAMONSTER, Eloe Omoe is a duo of considerably less refinement. While their aesthetic is likely to find support in the Ruins/Lightning Bolt camp, the band comes off sounding so elemental that I worry they have compromised themselves by cutting a record at all. This 12", their first release, contains five live tracks: mere snippets or little windows into what seem less like a few scattered shows between '99 and '01 than random stops along an un-halting, nomadic traversal of New England, powered by a vaguely primitive impulse, unseen, unknown, and nearly lost on these recordings. The music is a tumbling, thoroughly abstract mess of effected bass rumble, draped with drum parts that descend, deconstruct, and fall apart to invisible cues. All five pieces sound improvised, the two players rarely coming together for anything "thematic" to emerge; the only clear indications that they are not playing in different rooms are a few abrupt stops and a unified effort to keep the songs in a kind of perpetual collapse. The recording is understandably of poor quality, and, while bands like Lightning Bolt and USAISAMONSTER might have rigorous structures or goofy posturing to compensate, Eloe Omoe suffers more openly. Theirs is really more of a jazzist take on the noise rock game, and as such, the music's visceral, performative nature becomes a large part of its appeal, lost on such a recording. Again, fans of a grassroots noise aesthetic will appreciate the record, Sam Rowell's squalling bass in particular, though I'd be interested to see how a little studio tweaking would effect the group's sound, for better or worse.
- Andrew Culler
- not available (hint to labels who send vinyl: include CD-Rs so we can make samples easier
We know that our music picks may be somewhat challenging to find, which is why we have a community section which can be used to obtain nearly everything available on this site.
beginning of the year bitchings
Subject: 2003 poll
another year, another radiohead album in the best of list.
-V03I27 - 07302000
-MAJOR LABEL BOYCOTT
-Until further notice, brainwashed will actively -ignore major label music.
thanks for sticking to your guns.
We still will not feature reviews, but decided not to remove options. There were some decent major label releases in 2003, Radiohead wasn't one of them, however. Regardless, removing things like that would be censorship and we'd rather exhibit poor taste than censorship.
Subject: poll coments
Comment: Am I the only one who is sick of trying to be convinced by Factory
that Happy Mondays are anything but complete and utter shite? : Absolutely not.
Don't get me started.
Subject: kranky komment
Just because people didn't vote for the Kranky releases doesn't mean they didn't do an amazing job last year. Keep in mind, while they only had 4 releases, seven fantastic albums came out right at the tail-end of 2002. A number of those bands toured and did awesome things, keeping tons of music in people's players.
Agreed, but it's still going to be a category removed from public vote next year, since people seem to be voting more for history than for any of their releases. I'm just disheartened that nobody gave their releases m uch of a chance for 2003. Additionally, Matador, who had 3 of the top 5 placing albums didn't crack the top 15 labels according to readers...
Subject: comment comments
You know what would have been a great entry for annoying trends of 2003?
"Bashing Warp Records". While Chris Clark may not be a trendy gabber jockey
who releases one good album, followed with several horrible albums (i.e.
Tigerbeat alumni) He is one of many artists on that label who produce amazing
music. Shame on you, Mr. Suarez.
Gary writes: Shame on me? Shame on YOU for still latching on mindlessly to a once-great label that has been releasing inexcusably subpar work for years. With some of the out-and-out garbage I have heard from 2003 alone, Warp does not deserve your passion or your fanboy praise or even your currency. In my opinion, Warp needs to trim the derivative fat and sign more challenging and exciting artists like Sote, and you, Sir, need to find more challenging and exciting labels. The only thing I heard from Warp this year that truly did anything for me was the FANTASTIC AND WOEFULLY OVERLOOKED Satanstornade album (the Merzbow / Russell Haswell collaboration). Only on this one album did I see the progressive thinking that once was the spark of Warp's success. Mouldy dough from LFO and Plaid wont cut it anymore. More digital noise and aggro-techno (ATT WARP: PLEASE RELEASE A SOTE FULL LENGTH)!!! Good day, Sir!
Jon adds: I think Gary actually -wants- Warp to be a great label again, at least as significant as they were in the 1990s. I think they're doing a good job on the rock stuff like Broadcast and !!!. On the techno side, German labels like Bpitch Control, Kompakt, Shitkatapult, and Morr seem to be excelling in leaps and bounds with electronic music while going completely ignored by Warp fans who'll buy and agree on anything they put out. On the TB6 note, they released some awesome records from The Bug, Nudge, Matmos/People Like Us, Numbers, Electric Company, Pimmon, and a ton of other things that blow Chris Clark out of the water. The mere mass of things that came out is staggering, despite still carrying a reputation of a gabber mashup label.
Thank you for the year end review. Now I know what to download from Soulseek without having to read through all your poorly written reviews. I use the year end issue of the brain to download all the things that slipped past me throughout the year and I appreciate the effort you go through to make it SO DAMN EASY for me.
Subject: Gary Suarez
I heard his ID on Brainwashed radio and was laughing so hard soda came out of my nose.
Today is my first time listening to your excellent radio. I really just wanted
to show my appretiation, great alternative to listen to you at work. Would love
it if you played more Coil, my all time fav´s/heroes/inspiration.
We play enough.
Subject: brainwashed radio
I'm very want to hear Steven Stapleton!!
what time can I hearing he??
Every day when the clock strikes the fish.
Tour dates for RUOK please. I'm in Atlanta and would love to know when I can
see MBM again. :D
So would we!