Guapo, "Five Suns"
When a band displays all the ferocity that could rip my muscles off my body sinew by sinew it gets my pulse going, and that's exactly what Guapo have on this, their fifth full-length. Recent work with Cerberus Shoal and the addition of a third member Daniel O'Sullivan have both taken Guapo down a new and risky path where they seem to let their hair down more, worrying less about the artifice and more about the art. These songs are almost painfully direct with less noodling and inherent distraction than previous work and the band is all the stronger for it. The one weakness is that Five Suns wears a bit thin in a few areas as a result of almost incessant repitition particularly on the title track, represented as one long piece with five track separations. As a result the album cannot be endured in one sitting, but the pure aggression and brave reaching is tantalizing all over. When taken in portions it is a delicious and fulfilling meal. The title track starts the record, and the first section features non-structured jamming with quiet keyboards and loud cymbals and gongs. Eventually the quieter moments are broken by louder drumming and guitar noise, then a full-out sonic assault is unleashed, with distortion and deafening percussion climaxing in a loud squeal. I was beside myself as the song moved to its next section, a more structured collaboration with driving bass and percussion and a playful keyboard. The piece itself put me in full-out sway mode, but here the internal repeating of the same parts grates a bit, then it all seems to start over but with more squealing. The third section redeems it, all jazz drumming and piano solos with touches of shred guitar. It is lengthy, but it never wanes once, with a steady pace and varied tempos. I let the sound embrace me, and the remaining suns made me secure, paranoid, and warm as the tracks progressed, ultimately devouring me in a wall of sound like a tidal wave. A brief intermission, and then "Mictlan" and "Topan," two tracks that share the same aesthetic but become far more melodic and structured. These were scenes in a hunter/hunted movie, with a relentless killer and a hapless victim in an elaborate game of cat and mouse. I felt closer to them than "Five Suns" and all its glory. There is a beauty in their simplicity that I enjoyed, and that I will reach for again and again even though they were a bit darker in tone. Overall, however, Guapo has created a sound for this record drenched in solidarity, and when they keep it simple they just soar. - Rob Devlin
THE HAFLER TRIO, "NORMALLY"
The voice of Blixa Bargeld of Einsturzende Neubauten is the raw material from which Andrew McKenzie constructed the sounds on the two discs comprising Normally. Disc one begins with silence. Silence is merely sound that lingers just beyond the threshold of audibility. Silence is unpotentiated space. Sound is the dissipation and usurpation of silence. When sound begins to gradually seep into the silence of Normally, the experience is akin to the onset of a hallucination. For Normally, McKenzie is not interested in language; any whispers or screams contributed by Mr. Bargeld are rendered indecipherable, and henceforth affect the listener on a purely subconscious, subliminal level. This is tellingly similar to the practice of talismanic magic, where the conscious desire is sublimated through a series of transformations into irretrievably esoteric codes and diagrams, bizarre correspondences and perverted anagrams. Magic and ritual are McKenzie's primary motivations on Normally. Like the hallucinatory state, where the mind is sometimes freed to make sympathetic connections between thought and manifestation, so too the sounds on Normally contribute to an unraveled head-state in which synchronicities are the rule rather than the exception. At various times during my first listen to disc one, as layers upon layers of meditational aumgns are gradually compounded, I heard the unmistakable sounds of descending piano scales, mewling kittens, distant muffled screams, even the sound of my front door violently being forced open. These were phantasms, no doubt, catalyzed by the abstract drones and ghostly monasterial choirs that McKenzie sculpts. By the 28-minute mark, the piece has taken on the majestic intensity of Gyorgi Ligeti's haunting choral works, sounding like the infinite vibratory intonations cascading from the void of space. Disc two, or "Sphotavado," deals primarily with the breath. Just as Aleister Crowley noted after a lifetime of study devoted to the tantric meditation, there is no better purgative than pranayama (breath control), and no better way to enervate the aspirant than the repetition of mantra. Using Bargeld's mantric recitations and breathy intonations, McKenzie provides a series of distinct, dynamic passages over the 65-minutes of the disc. Each passage fades in and out like breathing, and each takes the listener to a more remote, rarefied strata of magical conception. From the gentle, reedy abstractions of the opening passage all the way to the serpentine, metallic Kundalini brain-swipes of the final breath. At high volumes, many of these processed sounds vibrate portions of the ear canal in an unexpected way. I found that by moving my head back and forth, or changing my position in the room, I could radically change the experience of listening to "Sphotavado." McKenzie, therefore, has created a rare sound sculpture which can be actively engaged and changed by the listener. The enigmatic packaging and accompanying foldout booklet create a remarkable series of "blinds" that distract and mislead even as they lay bare the central theme of Normally; words create vibrations; vibration is the result of sound; sound is the articulation of existence; existence is created by a single word, vibrated. - Jonathan Dean
Sound samples for this particular release would not be appropriate or helpful. The liner notes state clearly that listening on headphones or compressing the recordings on Normally into MP3 format will render the music ineffective. I figured this was bullshit, but my attempts so far have supported this statement.
The Remote Viewer, "You're Going To Love Our Defeatist Attitude"
City Centre Offices
Maybe I'm getting too old, but I'm starting to suspect that some of these records that I like are imposters of records I should like. If I take a step back and look at what's going on in the disconnected quagmire that one might call a music 'scene' at the moment, it seems that there is a disproportionate number of bedroom knob twisters turning out lo-fi/hi-tech hybrids of guitar and clicky electronics that are actually worth listening to. This record by The Remote Viewer is a great case in point. It's short, maybe the length of an EP, and it's got a particular aesthetic that it sticks with: soft melodies, some effective guitar poking and proding, and a deep dubby bass that makes everything sound warm and full. This is a terrific combination of sounds and the tracks are produced with an ear for detail and for the emotive content of things like mic noise and tape hiss. The tracks with female vocals are absolutely outstanding, hedging just on the right side of the disaffected/melancholy vocal divide. In fact, the songs with vocals are some of my favorite tracks that I've heard yet this year, as the combination of clean, loud bass and particular drum programming works wonders under and sometimes over the distant, echoing voice. What I'm worried about though is the idea that these kinds of records are becoming too easy. It won't take long before bedroom electronic folk/pop is to the 00's what trip-hop was to the 90's: a good idea executed well by a few and then imitated ad infinitum until even the good examples of the idea began to lose their lustre. I hope I'm wrong about this, but I could easily hear this record playing in the background as people shop for smart knit sweaters and double mochaccino lattes. I heard Portishead once in a not-so-bohemian cafe and I thought "this has been reduced to cafe music." Well, Portishead survives, if just barely. I wonder if The Remote Viewer will fare as well? I hope so, because I can't shake the feeling that I like it.- Matthew Jeanes
yirdaw tenaw, "nahom favorite collections vol. 2"
Don't ever feel afraid to strike up a conversation with a friend/associate who's not from your country about food of their country, a reward might be in the future. I was talking to an Ethiopian person I knew about Ethiopian food and she told me that I must try a place that's sort of off the beaten path, somewhat hidden and in an odd location in Boston, a place I had been relatively familiar with but have never realized a good restaurant existed there. I had been to a couple other Ethiopian places in Boston, one I thought was dreadful but one I was quite fond of, however, when you get a recommendation from an Ethiopian (or an Indian about Indian food, or Japanese, Mexican, etc,...), you take them up on it. So I took Jessica out for her birthday and the food that night was fantastic. The place was full with plenty of Ethiopian patrons all talking with the staff like they were family, which is always a good sign. The music being played was excellent and by the time this one song came on, I had to get up and find out what it was. The slap-bass and looped drum patterns weren't much unlike old stuff from 23 Skidoo and I was completely in a trance. I went to the bar and the bartender wrote it down in a language I couldn't read and told me to take the sheet of paper to the South End Food Emporium and hand them the sheet of paper. The following day I did and ended up with this CD. It's not completely unexpected from a food mart: the sound quality is pretty shoddy (cassette tape "breathing" sounds can be heard), the packaging looks less than legal, and there's no web site coming up with the aforementioned URL. However, that song which originally stole my heart, "Wey Arada" (listen below) was well worth the trek and worthy enough to share. The disc is a collection of tunes from this blind singer, he carries a saxophone but it's hard to hear a real sax on the disc, as a number of the songs are poorly produced with cheap synths. The vocal style is completely un-Western, but not dissimilar to singers of the Middle East while the music is undoubtedly African in nature, with numerous interwoven time signatures, upbeat guitars, and keyboard instruments playing pretty tones. The songs are bright and springy for the most part and it should go without saying that I've got absolutely no clue what's being sung. A couple standout tracks, like the hypnotic "Tzta," is nearly ten minutes of sheer beauty which oddly enough has to get faded out (I wonder how long the band actually went on playing the repeated bars). Unfortunately without the web site for the label working, I've got no information to share about the musician nor any idea how to get it elsewhere, so, for those who find it as captivating I did, a quest in your own city might be in order. - Jon Whitney
Underground hip-hop allstars cLOUDDEAD either win people over in excess or lose them completely, and their sophomore full-length isn't likely to change that much. There is no compromise in this music: there is only with or against this interesting lot. Combining indie folk musical sensibilities with unique rhyme delivery and odd subject matter and effects, each track bubbles and builds towards a common understanding or ultimate light-bulb moment. It's not easy to stomach, and certainly doesn't go with the traditional concept of hip-hop, but it truly is forward-thinking and a worthy effort. I was listening and couldn't escape the mental image of sitting in front of the TV, watching as a child in complete disbelief, not knowing the words to express the emotions I felt. Catchy beats and melodies abound on Ten, though not always in the same place, and from time to time I heard complete brilliance. "The Keen Teen Skip" features a fantastic sample, then a multitude of voices speaking as one on such bizarre lines as "youngsters today are not prepared to buy plants or collect stamps" as a dirty beat and ringing bells provide the impetus to continue. Eventually the chants become harmonized simple singing, and skips and repeated words create awkward breaks, like an idea struggling to get out of the brain. And so it goes, the perfect formula that gets the point across through juvenile-sounding voices and simple tones and instruments. Sometimes it doesn't get there like on "Rhymer's Only Room," a chant and march that grated on my nerves but there's a consistent feel, a commentary on society that cannot be denied or even understood on occasion ("Strawberry in an ostrich throat"?). "Son of a Gun" and "Rifle Eyes" address real issues with an off-kilter bend, rapid-firing and driving the point into the mind with freight train force. That they get these points across through such an odd combination is commendable, and I certainly hope that their detractors are few. This is the new style, and may the collaborators and peers reign. - Rob Devlin
Though the policies of containment kept the political and geographical boundaries of free thought and fascist oppression clearly defined in the early 1980's, the strength of the iron curtain was not enough to prevent ideas from crossing into and beyond the bloc. Begnagrad is comprised of members who were all exposed to the burgeoning punk and progressive rock music scenes in their hometown of Ljubljana, Slovenia, then part of communist Yugoslavia. The band is the product of five daring multi-instrumentalists who combined Alpine and Eastern European folk concepts with modern rock, free-jazz influences and a distinct sense of whimsy. Their self-titled album, originally released in 1982, is a fascinating example of the creative minds and wonderful ideas that flourished in less pleasant times and circumstances. The tracks they produced are impressively intricate, with numerous instruments spinning off around each other in a complex weave of sound and rhythm. "Pjan ska / Drinking One" begins with a swirling arrangement, accordions and woodwinds etching out those alpine peaks as they rise and fall before launching into a full steam ahead horn sprint, as if James Chance were fronting a Bohemian (geographically, that is) dance ensemble. Finally spliced with the enthusiastic mock yodeling of the band members, "Pjan ska" spends itself in an amusing gasp of grinning energy. "Bo Ze (Ce Bo) / All's Good (Maybe)" is a relentlessly charming track, whose loping, oscillating bass rhythm inspires the urge to make jaunty, whirling circles, arms linked with another in the midst of coy, flirty dance. What makes Begnagrad such an engaging, satisfying listen is the pure joy that emanates from the music, a sense of deeply passionate humanism that can often be lost in experimental, fusion, and avant-garde music. This feeling is exemplified in two live bonus tracks that document the band on a European tour. "Tazadnatanova / Thelastnewone" is an intense, rollicking piece that is driven by a furious punk rock energy, squalls with saxophone riffage and sputters about on jagged, post-punk guitars, but ultimately is fully entrenched in the warmth and togetherness of the band's folk-troubadour roots. The band launches into a frantic jig, pushing themselves and their audience to clap along and dance with manic energy. The crowd can be heard clapping, whistling, hooting, and pouring themselves heart and soul into the song. Potentially the happiest record I have heard in a very long while, Beganagrad manages to be progressive by utilizing the past, finding the original motivator for musical expression: to entertain, to bring people together, and make them feel as if they are involved in something beautiful. - Michael Patrick Brady
Biota/Mnemonists, "Musique Actuelle 1990"
This 1990 live recording documents an interesting moment in the history of one of the U.S.?s most interesting and long-standing avant-garde collectives. Under the early tutelage of Chris Cutler, the Colorado-based group has, since 1979, produced a wealth of music rooted in the early admirer/member's progressive legacy, an elusive, genre-bending approach with a particular emphasis on rustic folk-pop and dark, frayed psychedelia. As with previous like-minded collectives, the studio environment has become, with time, an integral part of Biota's creative direction. While the group's core instrumentation is uniquely acoustic (including accordion, hurdy-gurdy, saxophone, viola, and the more exotic curtal, crumhorn, and shawm), their music requires a considerable amount of keen electronic processing to produce its dense, disorienting, often surrealist currents. There is no typical Biota sound; their records map a sound world that is impossible to summarize, touching on woody baroque pop, free jazz, contemporary chamber music, and ambient soundtracking, with plenty of extra space left to the band's always-inventive, never-gratuitous forays into industrial-styled noise. The constants that do exist in their output appear only in the music's more confusing qualities: the murky sheen that keeps even the most immediate or accessible phrases at a mysterious distance, the conscious effort to make the percussion slightly and perpetually off-beat, and the wobbly perch of particular instruments in the mix, hovering a few inches from their comfortable timbres as if ghosts of themselves. Much of the power and uniqueness in Biota's music comes from very specific in-studio manipulation of the various instruments, in ways that retain the earthen vigor of acoustic sound to the exclusion of all other comfortable associations surrounding its creation or place with the larger collage. For Musique Actuelle, their first live event in nine years, the band essentially recreated their studio setup onstage, utilizing no samples, tapes, or synthetic sound of any kind. The only amplified instruments are the electric bass and guitar, with all instruments played untreated from the stage, their acoustic sounds gathered via microphones and processed by three band members in real time. The resulting work is site-specific, composed for this particular event alone, and its holds up surprisingly well in comparison to Biota's previous studio recordings. The performance divides into four movements, spanning haunting, dirge-like chamber pieces, Celtic jig-inspired shuffles, a raucous, saxophone-led psych driver, and one massive, slow-burning hulk of ambient sound which ushers in the fourth movement's climactic and conclusive ascension into noise. Sound processing remains a continual presence throughout, at its most subtle supplying simple delay and pitch-bend effects, and at its peak of involvement, transforming the entire performing group into a writhing, fractured mess. The immediacy of the band's unique instrumental palette often gives the music a false simplicity, something quickly denied as skillful electronic manipulations uncover hidden layers of sampled sound or warp specific passages entirely. The complexity of Musique Actuelle is unbelievable for a live recording and almost as staggering when taken at face value. Biota's traversal of stylistic boundaries is in no way arrogant or awkward, and the group's ability, less than halfway through their long life, to transcend a base "fusionist" approach, creating music that sounds just as singular as their recent efforts, is remarkable.
- Andrew Culler
Iron & Wine, "Our Endless Numbered Days"
Sam Beam, the man behind Iron & Wine, has changed his approach on this, his second full-length album. The previous album featured Beam on his own, playing the instruments (primarily guitar and banjo) and recording at home on a 4-track. Our Endless Numbered Days finds him employing the help of the musicians who accompany him in live performances, playing a wider variety of instruments, and recording in a studio. Although this allows Beam to broaden his horizons musically, it seems that in the process his new material suffers from being less personal and more watered-down. Though Beam tends to wear his gently folky influences on his sleeve (i.e. Nick Drake and Tim Buckley), he succeeds in making the style into something which is unique. "On Your Wings," which kicks the album off to a promising start, soon peters out into the wimpy "Naked As We Came," which is musically along the lines of I&W's first records, but overpowered by maudlin lyrics. Unfortunately, Our Endless Numbered Days is hard pressed to recover the initial spark with which it began. That is not to say that the album is wholly without merit. "Teeth in the Grass" has an earthy charm, and "Each Coming Night" is beautiful, albeit brief return to form. Sadly, however, these are the exception and not the rule. - Jessica Tibbits
MIKE COOPER, "RAYON HULA"
Exotica has never quite grown beyond its initial renaissance of interest in the early 90's. Even among its most avid fans and collectors, it's still considered something of a novelty: mildly diverting, but ultimately disposable musical kitsch. Recent attempts at resurrecting exotica by John Zorn and Tipsy have been a little too reverent for their own good - studied facsimiles of 1950's exotica by Martin Denny or Les Baxter - largely academic with zero soul or sincerity. I've long felt that exotica deserves recognition as one of pop music's first forays into the integration of cutting-edge studio techniques, emerging hi-fi stereo effects and cross-genre hybridization. Exotica's melding of crisply reproduced, hi-fidelity cocktail jazz with exotic instrumentation, tribal drumming, ocean sounds, bird calls and a galaxy of ambient textures was years ahead of its time. Not until the dawn of psychedelia did pop music ever again attempt to be this evocative, using the studio as an instrument to transport the listener to other worlds. Mike Cooper's Rayon Hula is the first truly sincere attempt at 21st century exotica I've come across, a cool breeze of an album, experimental but eminently listenable. Cooper is a British expatriate, and for the past 40 years he has played blues, folk and improv with some of the Britain's best and brightest. For this album, he turns his attention to the strange, misunderstood world of exotica, specifically the Hawaiian cool jazz of Arthur Lyman. Rayon Hula is billed as a dual tribute to Lyman, the incomparable musician behind classics like Taboo and Hawaiian Sunset, and Ellery Chun, the inventor of the Hawaiian shirt. If the premise sounds dangerously kitschy, the album certainly does not. Constructed from a series of looped samples from Arthur Lyman's records, Cooper overdubs his own lap steel guitar, electronics and field recordings. The result is a densely layered album, where complex arrangements and gently circulating piano melodies float over off-kilter, irregular rhythms. Care has been taken to arrange all of the elements in a slightly askew fashion, so that accidental convergences occur between the whimsical, hypnotic loops and Cooper's added electronic noises and curling steel guitar. It's a marvelously under-produced album, as if Cooper knew just when to let go and let the music stand. Noisy, atonal passages give way to warm, tropical rushes of melody. Backwards-tracked memories cycle through forgotten vacation photographs of lei makers, coconut stands, midnight luaus with synchronized hula dancers gesturing on the blue sand shores of the Pacific. It's a shame that Cooper's Hipshot Records has no distribution to speak of. To buy the album, I had to send cash to Cooper at his home studio in Rome and wait patiently for the CD-R to arrive in its flimsy Photoshop sleeve. It's truly a DIY operation, but Rayon Hula is the first entirely rewarding work of modern exotica, so it's more than worth the wait. - Jonathan Dean
Sons and Daughters, "Love the Cup"
Ba Da Bing
Two former members of Arab Strap strike out on their own as Sons and Daughters, and if their debut is any indication they'll be just fine from here on out. Adele Bethel and David Gow are not necessarily well-known for their time touring with the Strap, but with their friends and bandmates they craft their own brand of country/folk/blues/rock romp and stomp that's just quirky enough to keep me coming back for more. With other singer and guitar player Scott Paterson, Bethel makes rather lovely harmonies over tunes that vary from all-out bombastic knee-slappers to tributes to Johnny Cash. It's tantamount to the best bar band I've heard in my life, where I'd be a regular singing along to all the songs, cursing the tourists who don't know what glory they're talking through. That's not to diminish their skills any, as any bar would be lucky to have an ensemble like this in-house. From the outset, I was ready to dance and shake with a beer in one hand and a girly in the other, as the steady rhythm of "Fight" has all the feel of a do-si-do gone wrong. "The lines are drawn, this is getting worse" immediately precedes a call-out of "Uh huh uh huh," and it's destined for call and response at any show. Bethel has a lilt in her voice that just beckons, but there's always a hint of something much more that can be unleashed at any moment. Paterson, then, is the perfect foil, all accented awkward thuds but still perfectly suited to the sounds beneath. It's the frenetic energy, that hesitation of what's next, that brings about the real power in this band. The tempos of the songs are very similar, but they take off in wildly different directions, so it's of no concern. Just like that, though, the record is over: it's seven songs of easy aggression and power harmonies, and hooks in my head for days. - Rob Devlin
Loop Orchestra, "Not Overtly Orchestral"
The first interesting thing about Not Overtly Orchestral is the black-and-white photo on back of the disc, framing two reel-to-reel tape decks, fastened to a bare wall about 20 feet apart and running a visibly stretched loop of tape across the expanse. Whether or not the six members of The Loop Orchestra actually perform using loops this large does not determine the success of their music; however, a healthy love of loops, odd juxtapositions, distorted layerings, and nostalgia might create the perfect predisposition. Loop Orchestra are from Australia, with members who've played in the oft-overlooked experimental/industrial/newwave outfit Severed Heads, and like that band's more challenging 12" platters, Not Overtly Orchestral is heavy on clipped, semi-nauseous repetitions, loops meant to define themselves as loops first and foremost, with any mood-making or illusionism purely secondary. The Orchestra work exclusively with reel-to-reel decks, a process that all but guarantees their primitive technique, by which various loops are slowly layered, fading in and out to create tracks that progress (depending on tact and intention) in a usually fluid, ever-changing fashion. While they lack most of the Heads' mechanical rigidity and long-windedness, Loop Orchestra's slippery sense of humor and interest in all things arcane and incompatible seems directly related to their fellow countrymen. I am hesitant to compare this disc to other loop-centric, antiquated technologists like (the now obvious) Philip Jeck because the appeal here feels more esoteric, more heavily reliant on the kitsch factor. Tape-loop composition is a tried, age-old technique, making The Loop Orchestra worthy of praise mainly because of the increasingly bizarre nature of the sounds used. The opening "Son of Not Overtly Orchestra" establishes its initial mood with a choir of hazy stringed instruments which are slowly and nervously assimilated into a factory noisescape, eventually locking into submission as a few wailing guitars initiate the track's calamitous end. The track acts as a pleasant preamble to the weirdness that will dominate the rest of the disc. "Radiophony" is a 15-minute piece created from, and in tribute to, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop's archival recordings. The Orchestra approaches this source material the way Stock, Hausen, & Walkman might, isolating the strangest of the Workshop's creations, from abstract animal voices to wonderfully dated space-age trumpet sounds and a library's worth of grainy, analogue atmospherics, stretching and piling each bit of tape into a surreal tour-de-force that those bearded Brits could never have dreamed up. The disc's real gem, though, is "Profiles," the longest of the four pieces and one that clarifies the Orchestra's devotion to camp and all things peculiar. It is a vast collage of vocal sounds, ranging from piercing screams to breathy grunts and warped speech, pieced together in a staggering, drug-damaged spew, rife with churning aquatic noise and other field captures. The track is a perfect summation of the group's interests, further into leftfield than they initially appear and completely capable of breathing freshness into tired styles and obsolete devices.
- Andrew Culler
SKULLFLOWER, "EXQUISITE FUCKING BOREDOM"
"Celestial Highway" is a massive, stomping heavy metal riff, a big hairy acid-drenched slab of fuzzy blues cribbed from the Blue Cheer handbook. The jacked-up shredding that twists around the central rhythmic stomp is directly inspired by the third-eye Satanic soloing of Glenn Tipton and Tony Iommi. That shit keeps cycling around, pulsating fuzzy tendrils of bombastic riffage, hairy to the Nth degree, lifting up to the clouds on a silver machine of over-amped guitar wreckage. And then it repeats. Over and over. For nearly an hour. Matthew Bower's newest album under the Skullflower banner earns its title. Not for the patience-challenged, Exquisite Fucking Boredom tests the limits of repetition. Applying the techniques of the avant-garde repetitive techniques of Steve Reich and Terry Riley to noisy psych-rock has been tried before, most memorably on Acid Mothers Temple's reading of Riley's monumental In C. But I must confess that Bower has done them one better with the four-part suite of "Celestial Highway," which sets a new record for trance-rock. Even more exasperating that Spinal Tap's wanky Jazz Odyssey, Skullflower is pushing the envelope of acceptability in terms of musical content. I think it pays off brilliantly, but whether or not the average listener will agree depends upon their temperament. The nuanced production is by Colin Potter, the genius engineer and producer behind some of Nurse With Wound's best work. Potter's technique is to add sheets of compounding noise run-off to each successive riff, alternately burying the cyclical guitars in a pile of audio rubble, or uncovering and highlighting them by pushing out the borders of distortion. It's not for the faint of heart, but over the course of the album, it ascends to a hypnotic level of transcendence. Like a lot of ethnic and avant-garde trance music, the eventual goal is for the listener to ignore the central repeating theme, which fades like white noise to the background, focusing instead on the gradual evolution of sound, or in the case of Skullflower's album, the compounding noise, distortion and decay that creep in over the course of the four-part suite. Patience is a virtue, and in the case of Exquisite Fucking Boredom, it's a virtue that eventually rewards the listener with some of the most bizarre and unconventional "stoner rock" yet conceived. - Jonathan Dean
Prurient, "Shipwrecker's Diary"
Newest addition to the most sparsely-populated of Ground Fault's three series headings (series III, the "harsh noise" category), Shipwrecker's Diary certainly justifies its placement. Providence's Prurient (aka Dominick Fernow) is a learned student in the brutal school of power electronics, but one whose intentions lie more in the head-cleaning, cathartic corner of the genre than in the kind sensationalism practiced by other notables like Deathpile, who has recorded for Fernow's own Hospital Productions. The noise on Shipwrecker's tends to occupy a high-frequency range with layers of crisp static making a thick cushion for most of the other activity and keeping the whole from sinking into the doom-y sludge that is a popular pitfall for others working in this medium. No sounds reach truly cringe-inducing, spectrum-piercing levels, making the disc highly listenable following a short adjustment period. Once inside, there's enough nuance and careful construction to make for a very rewarding noise record. It's clear that Fernow favors not the guttural thrash of people like Deathpile or the explicit, confrontational side of the genre, as embodied (still) by Whitehouse. Instead, he works with less-concentrated, incremental noise, using speed and a more gradual, swarming approach to achieve his desired effect, which is every bit as powerful as his peers' though less likely to get bogged down in bad posturing. It's interesting to try and divide the 33-minute Shipwrecker's into two conceptual halves. The first eight tracks offer the disc's grittiest noise, crumbling static waves and washes that develop patiently enough to sound almost capable of being touched or traced with the hand. This is unrelenting, physical noise, and Fernow knows it, naming each track after a part of the body, starting with "Shin" and moving up to "Elbow." There is, despite the sheer mass of sound bombarding the ears, a level of comfort available in the "material" quality of the noise during this half. However with "June 19," Prurient moves on, breaking the connection with the body and allowing the sound to bottom out considerably, leaving only a scorched whine and weighted hiss, allying him more with the current crop of Midwestern homemade noisemakers than with the stoic "power" camp. Following the track's interlude, Fernow's familiar face returns for the disc's most harrowing section, a 4-track blitzkrieg run through wildly punctuated bursts, quickly modulated pitch shifts and blasted vocal yelps. For titles, the artist returns to the body, but is now localized at the head ("Earlobe," "Jaw"), suggesting to me that, from the base physicality of Shipwrecker's first half, Prurient has moved now to a site of deeper mental anguish, hence the obsession with the head and the tortured quality of the music in the latter half. In my understanding, "June 19" arrives midway as bitter introduction to the world of the mind, like a repressed memory, foregrounding the naked emotion that arrives with the disc's closing tracks, two unaltered answering machine messages left by a young girl. They are late-night love messages, innocent, tender, and certainly in contrast with the hellish vision that preceded them. And while some may find Fernow's conclusion too "neat" or explicit as a thematic rendering, these tracks do help establish what was suspected before, that Prurient is, at least, one of the more introspective or "personal" noise artists working today, if not the kinder, gentler new face of power electronics.
- Andrew Culler
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