TRANS AM, "LIBERATION"
In 1948, George Orwell painted a bleak image of a future world. While 1984 may have looked somewhat extreme, in the 1980s, the world did seem rather bleak with the cold war, the seemingly richest and greediest leaders the world had seen, and threat of total annihilation. The more popular of the somewhat underground music played on these fears, as futuristic synth music from people like Fad Gadget and Gary Numan were hardly utopian. It's been exactly 20 years since 1984 and the future is now and it could easily be the future people have worried about for years. The power of money and greed has corrupted the systems worldwide beyond reasonable solutions; violence permeates everything; terrorism is ubiquitous; countries are merging; and the press is controlled and censored by the government. The separation of wealth and middle class grows exponentially where the urban wastelands are not so unimaginable as the onset of middle class poverty accelerates. Even the president speaks a dumbed down version of the English language! Most relevant to the review of this album: people in the country which claims to be the most free can now choose to detain people under without due process. Liberation is quite a weird concept. As the superpowers decide to "liberate" other countries, it seems their own back yard is hardly liberated. Nowhere is this more apparent than Trans Am's residence, Washington DC, where armed military guards protect the gateways to the capitol. A collage of fire, violence, and the home-grown billionaires who are fucking this world up beyond belief cover this album, where, inside, the music is probably one of the most angry, intense albums Trans Am have recorded. Fans who hated TA will be pleased to know that the immediate urgency and intensity of older Trans Am has returned with a vengeance. The sung on the album are few, thankfully, and are clearly there as elements to the songs as opposed to the driving hair band aesthetic that was TA. The album opens with the lound, thunderous "Outmoder," and continues on with a cut up from George W. Bush on "Uninvited Guest" where the "president" speaks the truth thanks to rearranged words. It's almost an homage to Consolidated's Friendly Fa$cism album from 1991 where Bush Sr's words were cut up on the album's second track to portray similar truths. Trans Am compete with the madness as cars, traffic, sirens, and other city ambience can be heard outside as the band recorded much of this album with the windows open. It does take a few side steps to keep it varied, including the gorgeous "Pretty Close to the Edge" which opens with an acoustic guitar riff and flows gently into a smooth drum machine ending before seamlessly jumping into the next track, "Is Trans Am Really Your Friend?" The album is arranged for the vinyl medium, almost exactly 45 minutes (remember 90 minute cassettes?), with two versions of the song "Divine Invasion" closing each side, where the band (probably unintentionally) essentially jams on the closing riff of the Beatles' "I Am the Walrus," which in my opinion is perhaps one of the most apocalyptic riffs of its time. Like any effective piece of artwork, it's not the ability of the talents of the artist which makes the piece of art great, it's the way in which the artwork makes the observer think for themselves and make up their own mind. Trans Am aren't going to break out in any show-offery to prove they can play their instruments, they'd rather present something that will hopefully be enough of something to react to. - Jon Whitney
THE ONE ENSEMBLE OF DANIEL PADDEN, "THE OWL OF FIVES"
The past few months have seen the dispersal of a clutch of side projects by the four members of Volcano The Bear, including Songs of Norway (Aaron Moore and Nick Mott), Earth Trumpet (Laurence Coleman), Guignol (Moore, Coleman and Jeremy Barnes of Bablicon) and El Monte (Mott solo). However, none of these projects have been as immediately enjoyable and as consistently rewarding as Daniel Padden's work as The One Ensemble. The Owl Of Fives is Padden's second full-length album, a collection of composed pieces run the gamut stylistically, but maintain an integrity that makes all of it unmistakably the work of the same talented musician. Padden freely borrows Oriental melodies, Fahey-style revenant blues, Indian classical, plaintive piano ballads and outsider folk traditions to create a platter of tuneful exploration that captured and held my attention for its entire length. The One Ensemble's arrangements are cleverly sparse, using as little as possible to convey the fragile melodies that populate the album. This compositional economy is the key element that allows The Owl Of Fives to achieve its stylistic shifts without seeming calculated or overwrought. In fact, as the album progresses from start to finish, the compounding of disparate music strategies gets better with each track, rather than becoming tiresome. The loose exotica of "Farewell, My Porcupine" welds Kyoto folk to Arthur Lyman piano jazz, replete with multitracked non-verbal chanting. Elsewhere, stately medieval melodies are created in the coversations between Padden's violin, acoustic guitar and piano. "Early Music of the Morning" takes its cue from the "morning raga," a term used in Indian classical music to connote a languid, relaxing melody appropriate for morning ablutions. Against a hazy drone, Padden pulls gently bending tones from his cello that brilliantly mimic a sitar. The recurring musical theme of "Still Flinging Clowns" most closely resemble the Bear, with its shambling, whimsical atmosphere and vocal glossolalia. The intimate production captures those tiny flaws - the scrape of cello strings, the clearing of throats - that lend an organic, present-tense quality to the music. With The Owl Of Fives, The One Ensemble of Daniel Padden has created a work of understated, melodic brilliance. - Jonathan Dean
Liars, "They Were Wrong, So We Drowned"
With their first full length release, They Threw us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top, Liars made their existence known to the world outside Williamsburg as the most interesting product of that gentrified province, more intriguing than the achingly deliberate sleaze of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and decidedly darker than the goofy warble of the Rapture. A few years down the road sees those latter two bands consorting with Carson Daly and the buzz bin, while the recently shaken Liars lineup (minus the formidable bass and drum duo from the first LP) holed up in a New Jersey basement with their recording equipment and a notebook of audience-alienating ideas. The bands' prevailing neuroses have shifted from bombast and bravado to paranoia and claustrophobia, which reveal themselves in oblique chants about witches and magic. "Broken Witch" (perhaps the shortest Liars song title to date) opens the album with a deep electronic pulse that sidles ominously alongside the staggering drum kit. Though intentionally hook-less, the song's offbeat, hypnotic fluctuations are as engaging as anything the band has done previously. The track sets the intended mood perfectly, conveying that this album is not going to be pretty, and that it may not be danceable, but can still be compelling enough to want to know where the rapidly accelerating incantations are leading. "There's Always Room on the Broom" mixes distorted voices and fuzzed out samplers with a creepy falsetto sing-a-long chorus that eats away at the defenses like a malevolent earworm until the song has completely seized control of rational judgment and begins to appear on the mind at its own volition. Combined with the hysterical strobe-animation video included with the disc, the song is a devious and extremely successful attempt at reprogramming listeners and viewers to find the unlistenable listenable. "They Don't Want Your Corn, They Want Your Kids" is the closest to the early Liars bass lines and kick beats, a brief reprieve from the murky fear of tracks like "We Fenced Other Gardens With the Bones of Our Own," with its desperate cry of "We're doomed! We're doomed!" that pierces through the indiscriminate chanting about cauldrons and evil spells. These songs capitalize on the darkness and spooky atmosphere that were hinted at in earlier efforts that were obscured by the snap of a dance-punk bass line, driving the band (and their audience) into more and more unfamiliar territory until much of their sound and style are unrecognizable. They Were Wrong, So We Drowned is a reactionary record, forged in the glare of the spotlight thrust upon the band in the wake of their catchy debut. Rather than linger in the comfortable bed they made for themselves, and potentially reap the benefits of a wider appeal, they chose to start from scratch and challenge themselves. In the end, the adventurousness of this decision will benefit them far more, as Liars have demonstrated that they are a capable, inventive band with more than just one trick up their sleeves.
- Michael Patrick Brady
Meerk Puffy, "Nung"
Meerk is, if the bizarre pseudonym didn't give it away, one of the founders of Providence's Fort Thunder collective as well as a member of the most firmly-entrenched of FT musical incarnations, Forcefield. Those discouraged by the willfully obtuse nature of that group's recorded efforts could do worse than rough up this dirty gem, Puffy's first non-cassette release and one that plays off Forcefield's talents for lo-fi squelch-tronica in welcome fashion. Meerk (aka Matt Brinkman) shoulders the arsenal of bleeps, blats, and digital farts that made Roggaboggas such a throbbing fun time, but he adds a backbone of rhythmic chug and swirling, claustrophobic phase-out, owing as much to the psychedelic skronk aesthetic of early Boredoms as to the cassette noise underground. If patrons were merely startled by Forcefield's stoic army of woolen mammoth-men at 2002's Whitney Biennale, this is the kind of audio program that might have created a legend. Puffy keeps a healthy fascination with vomit-pitch levels of neon-inspired noise sizzle, but here he has eliminated any silence in between, running serpentine loops ad nauseam through the kind of minimalism that, instead of motivating intricate sound analysis or a part-for-the-whole meditation, exists only to the numb the brain into open-mouthed submission, synapses stuck on continuous, receptor-scorching misfire. This surely has roots in early industrial and primitive electro, but the psychedelic influence should not be underestimated, for as claustrophobic, strangled, and unrelenting as Nung can get, the record seems to continually revisit sections of acid-headed clarity, spacious clearings amid the hiss, where modulated phase effects commune for brief flights into the radioactive sunset, and everything seems, for a moment, peaceful. Even some of the pulse-drowned, intensely repetitive sections contain potential for an accidental mysticism, a grainy, hypnotic charm that would find Meerk riding his desk of cracked electronics down golden country lanes in search of Barrett and Beefheart and other fellow problem children. As a bonus, Nung contains two lock grooves willing to prolong the head-cleaning bliss indefinitely for anyone well adjusted enough to tune in. Always in character, Puffy has placed the grooves strategically, helping them to slip under the needle without warning, a trick that proves a perfect resistance-shattering mechanism and had me bobbing away like a catatonic idiot for longer than is probably healthy.- Andrew Culler
Minotaur Shock, "Rinse"
Knowing that this is a collection of music from previous EPs (and then some) makes the joyous and erratic beauty present all that more enjoyable. David Edwards knows what he wants to do with his music: there's not a moment of sound that isn't somehow strangely beautiful, sweetly smooth, or surprisingly fluid. Instruments come together in flirtatious ways and rhythm excuses itself from predictability to usher in the kind of melodic surprises that early electronic bands managed to pull out of their hat through variation in repetition. "Don't Be A Slave To No Computer" clicks and bubbles with the kind of percussive pillow-noise and sizzling, seemingly random, and jumpy melodies that makes programmed music sound so human. There's a daring glimmer in their souls that suggests caution but favors the extremes and the rawness of jumping into the middle of a power that can't be controlled. "Let Me Out" grinds with the sound of aquatic organs and forests bathed in silver, the electronic sounds becoming tangible and sensuous instead of alienating, industrial, and altogether cold. The middle portion of Rinse (tracks five through eight) have a more digital sound, but don't suffer for it. The cut up pieces of live percussion mix well with the horn-like synthesizers on "The Downs" while "Albert Park Music" rolls along the tunnels of abandoned highways with hidden pianos and omnipresent percussion. The only thing suffering here is the relatively straight-forward pop music emerging out this section of the album; the stuttering and awkward time signatures that made the first part sound so fresh are absent and replaced with a sound that almost sounds geared toward a live performance with instrumental musicians. This is how the album ends, on something of a slick note. I'm a fan of the raw and unpredictable, so I'm not so inclined to enjoy the relaxed vocals on "Lady Came from Baltic Wharf" or the easy-going flutes on "Rockpoolin'," but the music is no less remarkable for that. - Lucas Schleicher
VOLCANO THE BEAR, "THE IDEA OF WOOD"
That familiar spirit of playful chaos, randomness and intuitive group improvisation I've come to expect from Volcano The Bear is in fine form throughout The Idea Of Wood. Even though VTB have been releasing music since 1996, this LP on Textile Records is only their third full-length studio album. The bulk of their work is scattered across a clutch of live cassettes and CD-Rs, 10" vinyl editions, EPs and compilations. The Inhazer Decline and Five Hundred Boy Piano showed what the Bear could do when challenged to make a coherent album - tightly produced and concise, yet accurately reproducing the almost accidental, improvisatory feel of their live shows. This is not an easy task. Consider other free-folk improv ensembles such as Jackie-O Motherfucker, Sunburned Hand of the Man and No Neck Blues Band; their albums tend to be hit-or-miss affairs dominated by unfocused meandering with occasional eruptions of senseless cacophony. In stark contrast, The Idea of Wood is a study in controlled chaos. VTB's singular grasp of group dynamics lends itself to the album format; their loose, disparate improvisations are consistently reigned in and alchemized into instant skewed pop. Comparisons to The Residents, Faust and This Heat spring to mind, but the Bear form their own unique clearing in the woods in which to shit. Itchy, atonal violin scrapes and insect buzzes flit nervously on "She Whistles, I Cough Like A Tiger," a clattery improv that happens upon some genuinely riveting moments of pure outsider weirdness. There is clear vibe of woodland ruralism that pervades The Idea Of Wood, as if it were the product of tree-dwelling hermits communicating through a primitive language of acoustical phonetics. Aaron Moore's hushed vocals whispered over the warm buzzes and banjo scales of "Golden Hotbite" sound eerily similar to Robert Wyatt's muttering hobo delivery. "Woman Who Weighs Out The Wood" immerses the listener in an organic sound environment where a gentle bed of cathedral chanting and medieval percussion cushions the processed squawking of crows. It's John Renbourn's Sir John A Lot Of as produced by Yamatsuka Eye. "Curly Robot" is this album's beating heart, a 10-minute excursion that begins with muted jazz but transforms into a simmering invocation of the pastoral gods of Frazer's Golden Bough. Miles ahead of their free-folk contemporaries, Volcano The Bear's The Idea Of Wood is teeming with life and coursing with sympathetic magic. - Jonathan Dean
Force Of Nature/Hospital
Among those in the know, Deathpile stands out as one of the finest power electronics acts in the United States today. This incarnation of the project, consisting of founder Jonathan Canady and keyboardist David E. Williams, is as menacing and unsettling as ever, setting its sights on the true crime story of Gary Leon Ridgeway, ultimately known as the Green River Killer. From the rumbling tones of the opener "Genesis," it becomes painfully clear that G.R. is a dark and gruesome journey into the sick heart of a serial murderer. Not suitable for the weak of heart. the subsequent tracks crank up the intensity and the aggression one hundred fold.. Riding the crushing waves of hot guttural noise on "Addicted" is the inhuman monologue of Canady's roaring first-person narrative mixed with snippets from an actual survivor interview. Taking this type of hideous reality-as-entertainment a step further, "Known Victims" painstakingly chronicles Ridgeway's fourty nine known victims over the course of twelve and a half minutes, with an ironic and ominous female voice monotonously reciting vital information as if off a checklist. However, the next track "All You'll Ever Get" claims that there may have been as many as eighty more murdered women, keeping in with the type of depraved gloating Canady has already exhibited throughout this personification. Refusing to let up even after capture and arrest, "Kenworth" displays the murderer's defiance and sense of accomplishment, augmented by the track's nauseating mantra of "Who's laughing now?" By the time the curious and vulgar unanswered questions of "You Will Never Know"arrive, Deathpile's aural and psychological assault has left its mark, and the uncertainties reverberate endlessly in the murky pool of phasing electronics. While the inclusion of a lyric booklet may result in some snickering among the jaded types, the overall quality of these tracks cannot be overlooked. Concise and to-the-point like all power electronics albums should be, G.R. represents a powerful and memorable moment in not only Deathpile's musical career but also in record labels Force of Nature and Hospital. As the possibility of a final Deathpile performance looms (tentatively scheduled to take place in March in New York City), this album may very well be one of the final chapters in the history of this project, an ending that is as uneasy to swallow as that of Gary Ridgeway. - Gary Suarez
Brandlmayr/Dafeldecker/NÉmeth/Siewert, "Die InstabilitÄt der Symmetrie"
dOc / Grob
The next addition to in increasing collection of music by these fantastically driven sonic players (see: Trapist, Radian, Dean Roberts) marries some of the free jazz tendencies with an affinity for retro noisemaking devices. Whereas the Trapist album reviewed last week would appeal to a number of Talk Talk fans, this album will probably find a warm place in the heart of many Wolf Eyes fans. While the liner notes describe the process of recording with respect to a room's atmosphere and space, my own mental image of the record is quite different. I see a very alien world. A world where the physical laws of nature that we have grown accustomed to on this planet do not necessarily apply. New colors, new landscapes, and a new language, all of which are neither describable nor translatable, but something which has to be experienced first hand to truly appreciated. Recorded in 2001 and 2002, faintly tapped drum kits and timid guitars provide stability and recognition while outbursts of analogue static and high frequency communication lines blur the electromagnetism in the atmosphere. The planet and its characteristics are brilliantly established through "Part 1" and "Part 2," while by "Part 3," actual beings are seemingly introduced. Like the utter bizzareness of the film Fantastic Planet, these foreign beings do not take recongnizable forms nor communicate in the same way humans understand. It's on this track, "Part 3," where it's almost as if a conversation is taking place between the aliens. Whether or not the quartet is imagining such a world during their recording is a different story, but the music created between the members is very conversational, simply without words as we know them. "Part 4" is much like a human contact would be to this new world. The alien landscapes have been established but the guitar introduces itself, and at first, tries to mimic the electronic hums, drones and squeals. As the contact between explorers and natives develops, each take turns in demonstrating what each species can do: the guitar and bass begin to play more familiar lines and between riffs, seems to alternate with the electronics for attention focus. This continues and escalates to the point of everybody playing together in a audio soup of sorts, where everybody has let down their guard and has grown a fondness for sharing themselves with new found friends. If Die InstabilitŠt der Symmetrie is like a visit to an alien world, the final track, "Part 5" is much like the sorrowful departure, as the melodies and tunes form in a very concluding manner, with low bass notes in a melancholy motion as the new found friends must say goodbye, perhaps forever. The ship drifts off into space as the whirry hums quell in the end. Fade to black. As a viewer to my own interpretation of the album as a fictitious documentary, I hope the explorers and natives will meet up again some other day for another rewarding adventure. - Jon Whitney
Electrelane, "The Power Out"
Okay, already, I take it all back. The EP from this Brighton foursome released late last year didn't light me up, but this record is a delight from first track to last, and in between it has just enough touches of brilliance to guarantee a place in my CD player for weeks or months to come. The single, "On Parade," doesn't even scratch the surface of the planet they've touched down on even though the album gets its title from the track and playing the whole record on repeat won't duplicate the atmosphere they breathe, but the downloadable pictures of the topology are a sight to see. This is the real girl rock, with the members firing on all cylinders every note and beat. There is an eighties influence for sure, but Electrelane are deft as well as daft in the way they intertwine their various styles, sometimes all in the same track. A driving bassline and French vocals open the album with a swaying rock number to make the shoegazer set proud. After the punk angst of the single, a soaring choral number takes over the speakers, and I'm immediately more impressed by this band than I ever was before. The hits keep coming, one after another, with the quiet infection of "Birds" and "Oh Somba!" being balanced by plenty of bombast and energy as well as almost strategic experimentation and space-out rock of the album's closing instrumentals. In fact, it's been a long time since I've heard a more calculated and coordinated release, where one can listen to the whole record start to finish and not skip one track. The growth of the band from their earlier releases is astounding, and the record reveals more and more with repeat listens. Where before I wasn't sure about Electrelane, I am now a converted disciple, and I cannot wait for the next sermon. - Rob Devlin
Secret Mommy, "Mammal Class"
Andrew W.K. and Pink have never sounded better. Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake can be enjoyable! So long as the combination of apples being gnawed up, pigs snorting, children laughing, and elephant-speak is processed, destroyed, and turned into a headfuck of an album; then bad music can be made beautiful. Secret Mommy specialize in the annihilation of all that sucks (including French educational records) and all that can be used to make the pain of bad music less excruciating. The thirteen tracks on Mammal Class are composed of the dead bodies of pop stars, the flucuating and decaying breath of large mammals, and various instruments that may or may not be readily indentifiable; but who cares? This sort of thing has been done for a while, now! What could possibly make me want to spend money on this record? First of all, "Bottom 40" features a speak n' spell alongside Britney Spears and the mating calls of cats and turns out to be one hilarious and nerdy ride through funkdom. Second of all, the whole of this record is hilarious! "Shania Twang" is the best combination possible of cowboy screams, mouth harp, Shania Twain samples, pigs, chickens, and off key banjo. "Andrew W. Cake" is catchy, spontaneous, and makes the best use of Andrew W.K.'s outrageous music all while serving as a therapeutic means of getting back at all those celebrities I've come to hate by using them in ways that would make certain record companies jealous. Besides the funny aspect, a lot of the music here is just plain fun to listen to; it's the best synthesis of creativity and accessibility that I've found in a long while. What isn't cool about frogs, guitars, and girls being used to create rhythms that would send any dancing feet into the stratosphere and would also happen make certain "IDM" provocateurs red in the face for their academic journey into blandness? Incessant giggling, good tunes, and a real live imagination is the name of the game; this is the most entertaining time I've had listening to a record in forever. It's extravagant, lushly melodic, and a real benchmark for other purveyors of the strange and wonderous to test themselves by. - Lucas Schleicher
Camera Obscura, "Underachievers Please Try Harder"
It is nearly impossible to discuss Camera Obscura without mentioning their fellow countrymen and kindred spirits Belle & Sebastian. The cover photograph of the former's second album was taken by B&S frontman Stuart Murdoch (which alone screams of his own band's retro / twee stylings), in addition, he has produced one of Camera Obscura's earlier tracks. While CO might seem to owe a heavy debt to them, it is interesting to note that both bands formed in 1996, and although their overall aesthetic is similar, the two clearly spring from different minds. Underachievers Please Try Harder puts the band squarely in the realm of jangle-pop, and primary vocalist Traceyanne Campbell's gentle, breezy, inobtrusive vocals are perfectly complimentary. "Suspended from Class," "Teenager," and "Keep it Clean" are all classic examples of the genre with their sunny, simple construction and topped off with twee lyrics. There are, however, a few unexpected twists in this overall sound. "A Sister's Social Agony" has echoes of the angelic, dreamy pop your parents might have danced to at their prom, while "Your Picture" has a suprisingly melancholic tone. The latter may be the result of the Morrissey-esque male vocalist who takes over for a few of the tracks. It is ultimately Camera Obscura's lyrics which seem to save them from lapsing into a saccharine overload. They are marked more by a pensive reflection on adolescence than by mere nostalgia. And although they aren't breaking any new ground with their music, they good a fine job of carrying the torch passed down to them by their C86 forefathers.
- Jessica Tibbits
Giuseppe Ielasi, "Plans"
Ielasi will be best known for his label, Fringes, which has been brightening the Italian improv community for the past six years with a slew of successful releases. Starting out as a guitarist, he performed in several bristly, tense ensembles (even playing acoustic at times) before easing into electronic improvisation, a transition that introduced a more understated method of expression and produced works that, while full of the scrape and bounce that characterize Ielasi's guitar-playing, contain new attention towards careful sculpting of the smooth approach and weightless hover of each piece. Such concerns have exploded with Plans; at only thirty minutes, the piece is a major addition to Ielasi's already-intimidating catalog and marks a considerable stylistic shift for the artist. Not a work of pure improvisation, Plans was actually created over a sixteen-month interval and is of remarkably dense construction, including everything from layered field recordings, thick accumulations of vinyl surface noise, and a toy museum's worth of clatter and acoustic tinker, to the surprisingly "present" accompaniment of live drums and Ielasi's narcotic strumming. Not only does Plans travel through a succession of movements, but the music transitions with rare, effortless stride, captivating in its joining of contrastive sounds and playing styles, over passages that not only sound perfectly-aligned but maintain an emotional current that remains close to the surface. This is the power of Plans; its immediately palpable, almost nostalgic beauty becomes a catalyst for forgetting just how intact Ielasi leaves his sound sources. Plaintive chordal phrasing lines up neatly next to the most atonal, asymmetrical bits of sturm und drang, all sounds recognizably different, even (it would seem) in direction, but down to the slightest of details each one fits and seems created with full knowledge of every foreign item that will graze its path. Like the artist's recent improvisations, Plans lifts dense assemblage to airy heights without the sacrifice of the sounds' material qualities. One particularly illuminating moment comes in the third or fourth "movement" when out of breezy, layered surface noise Ielasi introduces a pristine recording of keys fumbling and heavy metal doors being swung open and shut. These harsh, solid sounds immediately take their place within the airborne whisper of the whole, an explicit representation of Plans' achievement, iron doors swinging between the clouds. It is not hard to believe that this relatively short piece took so long to create. Even the improvised elements appear intricately placed, often spliced via electronics to fit the multiplicity of layers and the "larger," more demanding compositional structure. This music demands repeated listening, and its rewards, I've found, are almost limitless, such that I cannot even muster predictable criticism of the disc's short length. Plans is an easy favorite from the new crop of Sedimental releases and leaves me hoping Ielasi's next work will continue in similar stride. - Andrew Culler
The Elected, "Me First"
Though odder and odder this one becomes with each listen, I think I've finally found the piece of my heart that loves The Elected. With one foot planted firmly in the indie psyche-rock weeds and the other in the more low-down country aspects of life, this Los Angeles ensemble plays with genres and styles in an effort to find their niche, but the truth is they needn't try so hard sometimes. Me First is a well-paced and structured debut with funny, intelligent lyrics about classic themes but with clever twists. All the while, there's plenty to swallow whole, as savoring it instead of devouring it won't make it any more logical or understood, like the finer moments of the Flaming Lips or the Shins. This is the road trip record for driving through the dusty south and southwest, with pure Americana and short stories to keep the feet firmly on the ground, though the mind is free to roam. Blake Sennett, principal songwriter and guitarist in Rilo Kiley, is also the mastermind behind The Elected, and certain similarities can be found in the two bands. Sennett seems to have some ya-yas to get out about relationships, though, and that's where these songs have their strengths. Whether it's failed romantic relationships or hiding the secrets from family and friends, the subjects of the songs are lived-in, and that's the the real appeal of The Elected's debut. In the age of vapid and vacant pop stars who steal the beats and basslines of classic songs to try and duplicate the stardom or revive a genre bigger than them, it's nice to hear a band that can just do their thing and sound like they've been around forever making music with the bands of the age. This is record I will be listening to all year, I can just feel it. - Rob Devlin
Kaffe Matthews, "cd eb + flo"
CD Eb + Flo marks a number of departures in the work of one of today's most interesting sound artists. The double-disc is Matthews' first solo release using theremin as primary sound source, following her retiring of the violin which had formed the core of her excellent first three discs (recently reissued as a trio). The artist's method remains somewhat constant on Eb + Flo, involving the live sampling and laptop manipulation of sounds created with the theremin and projected via quadraphonic soundsystem throughout a particular room. Matthews sets up a system of microphones in each performance space (five in total for these discs), enabling the pure tones of her instrument to feed back in a manner unique to the architecture of the room. Environment plays the biggest role in the artist's music and has never been as much of a factor as it is on this release. As with previous recordings, Matthews has placed additional microphones around the room to gather specific pockets of sound, influenced by audience movement, noise from outside etc. However, where on her debut, CD Ann, the artist credited these "hidden" mics with only "the essential wild card," Eb + Flo is more sympathetic, the blank purity of the sine tones allowing for uncluttered, even languid compositions that seem to evolve with an ear trained, more than ever before, on the details and happenings of a particular space. The release's double-length is perhaps indicative of new patience and openness in Matthews' work. The sine tones could not be further from the frayed, "comfortable" strains of her violin, and the individual pieces on Eb + Flo are drastically minimal compared to the warm, droning pile-ups that fill earlier releases. But while these pieces are more demanding, they also maintain a grasp on the ingenuous nature and simple luxury that separates Matthews' work from many similar-minded artists, such as fellow sine-stress Sachiko M. Several tracks take on a playful air, such as the two pieces that open cd eb, "Long Line Starting" and "Clean Tone Falling," whose titles seem to poke fun at the solitary pure tones jetting across both in comical animation. Others bearing titles like "Hallo Vera" and "For Mama" echo Matthews' commitment to keeping personality, and a level of immediacy, in her increasingly abstract style; the latter with its mournful drones and captured bird-songs (via open window?) is particularly subtle and rich with sentiment. Played at a volume high enough to register the intricacies and unique spatial referents of each sound, Eb + Flo manages a unique and fulfilling sound environment, full of movement and mesmerizing activity, and it is an expertly restrained effort as well, allowing the most intimate picture to date, of the artist's process, her degree of involvement and particular response to what a space might offer, or give back. - Andrew Culler
ARANOS/EL MONTE, "ALLIED COOKING BUT NOT AS YOU KNOW IT!"
Aranos is a unique musician, a classically-trained cellist and multi-instrumentalist whose resume is not filled with the usual chamber music ensembles, modern composition or minimalist drone work that one might expect. Instead, he has become noteworthy based on a series of uncategorizable collaborations with Nurse With Wound that sidestep all of the usual implications of avant-classical composition. Aranos' peculiar style is based in the Eastern European gypsy songs, trad-folk and rock music of his childhood in Czechoslovakia. From his collaborations with Steven Stapleton, he absorbed the techniques of dislocated psychedelia and surrealistic composition. Those techniques were in full display with the Irish jigs, skewed gypsy fiddles and cracked experimentation of his first two albums for his own Pieros label. For this album, Aranos collaborates with El Monte, the nom de guerre of Nick Mott of Volcano The Bear. Allied Cooking But Not As You Know It! is a collection of eleven improvised tracks, utilizing an array of instruments including the usual strings, shakahuchi, trumpet, saxophone, gongs and an array of homemade instruments. In a technique worthy of Eno's Oblique Strategies, each improvisation is based upon meditation on a nonsensical imperative "Think Like Warm Intestinal Being!" or "Think Like Madly Projected Fleshcups!" Their collaboration results in a series of low key tracks, meandering around a series of subtle conversations that scrupulously avoid musicality entirely. Several tracks create the abstract mental imagery of dark jungles and damp marshes, with the slowly rubbed cello strings creating an creeping atmosphere of dread. At other times, the music is decidedly more hyperactive, Aranos jumping over his strings like a frog in a frying pan. On "Think Like Veering Toads and Rude Proons!" an odd speaker glitch creates a brief piece of minimalist electronica worthy of the Raster-Noton label. Apparently, this was all recorded and mixed in the span of a week that El Monte spent in Ireland with Aranos. Unfortunately, this really shows, as the whole affair seems to suffer from a severe dearth of well-executed musical ideas, attempting to compensate for this lack with an overdose of creepy atmospherics, exclamation points and surreal gobbledygook. - Jonathan Dean
Not Breathing, "Carrion Sounds"
Dave Wright's approach to music serves as his greatest strength and the hinge upon which his weakness rests. Near every song on his newest release has a soundtrack quality to it, coming across as if it belonged to any number of gritty sci-fi movies from the past twenty years. There are layers upon layers of jumbled drum tracks, erratic signal chaos, computer malfunctions, and muscular bass melodies. I can see the floors of abandoned houses soaked and creaking from numerous leaks, the light of candles flickering across the walls, and the awkward crawl of shadows jumping across the room with the sudden gusts of air billowing through the rooms; but what's missing is some element that keeps me wanting to come back. Carrion Sounds feels so thematic that I find that I have difficulty maintaining interest throughout the album. By the time "Worlock Radar" drops its black breath over my head, I'm feeling rather removed from the music and there's little making me want to get back into it. Some of the songs just over-extend their welcome: seven minutes of insane drum programming and strobe-light special effects is difficult to sit through unless it's done to perfection. With that in mind, "Bebe Barron's Panties" (featuring Mr. Meat Beat Manifesto) is a real standout: it isn't one of the longest tracks on the disc, but the space that Jack Dangers provides in between the sounds improves the formula that Not Breathing works with throughout the duration of the album. Carrion Sounds is unique, however, many of the sounds have a life all their own and don't feel overused or familiar. David Wright certainly provides interesting rhythmic and melodic combinations, but overall fails to keep my attention for a long stretch of time. I find the record pulling at me every now then for a quick and heavy dose, but the record is best taken in steps: Wright certainly has a lot of talent, just a little refinement and this record would be excellent. - Lucas Schleicher
Stylus Remixed by Experimental Audio Research, "Exposition"
The meeting-of-the-minds approach is extremely popular in the remix realm, bringing a new edge and almost rebirth to the music. It's almost designed to backfire on occasion, where the new work is different enough from the original works of the two main ingredients that fans of either are not impressed. It can also be magical, where the new work transcends the original. Unfortunately, this "remix" of Stylus tracks by EAR lies in a third area, where the new work becomes so convoluted and strange that it's almost better used as a cure for insomnia. Though the music does bear a new signature as well as familiar sounds, it doesn't really represent any brave or new shift from the original material, and it tends to reduce the music to a static lull. In fact, I don't really feel like this is a remix at all. The CD is one long track, clocking in around fifty-two minutes, and moving through different Stylus tracks with various additions and effects applied as well as samples, field recordings and other manipulations. The long track approach is not a new one, but where on other remix CDs there's too much happening to split it up effectively, here the tracks could be split as major shifts occur. As it stands, Exposition is a virtual snoozefest, with few peaks and valleys. EAR is led by Spacemen 3 alum Sonic Boom, and it's regrettable that this release is not really all that experimental. The works of Stylus, aka Dafydd Morgan, are usually experimental enough on their own, and the title holds the promise of moving it all to new heights. By reducing those works to their least dynamic elements, EAR has a work of little consequence. - Rob Devlin
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.