ADEM, "THESE ARE YOUR FRIENDS"
Adem Ilhan, best known for his bass work in Fridge, showcases his prominent talents as a solo singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, arranger and producer on this four-song EP, recorded in what he refers to as his werehome. The lush instrumentation and warm progressions on the rootsy ballad "These Are Your Friends" highlights Ilhan's acoustic guitar work, tender vocals and emotional lyrics such as "You've thrown yourself/Into the flames 'cause you're covered in cold." In context, they can bring a tear to the eye. The acoustic strumming of "After the Storm" accompanies a delicate vocal melody which provides the narrative of a father's loss of his son to the sea, nicely filled out with banjo and a hummed chorus. Musically, the eerie "Let It Burn" focuses on the arpeggiated chord progressions of a kalimba, augmented by Ilhem's ebb and flow vocals which at times are doubled-up with xylophone. This EP is a very rich and pleasant surprise from what I would have expected from a member of Fridge, knowing the more electronic direction that bandmate Kieran Hebden has gone as FourTet. With his full-length Homesongs disc out, a four-piece touring band and a great video (which can be found on the Domino website) it won't come as a surprise to be seeing a lot more of Adem this year. - Gord Fynes
David Cross, "It's Not Funny"
David Cross' album Shut Up, You Fucking Baby! was a smoldering volley of incensed, seething rage, recycling the negative energy that had piled up in our society in the last few years into a colossal release of tension and anger through sensible humor. On that disc, Cross took a catalogue of indignities and frustrations and turned them into weapons against themselves, and calming an equally annoyed audience by showing them they weren't the only ones thinking about these things. A year later, a slightly calmer but nonetheless intense Cross is back to not let anyone forget. Cross' track titles, which still have no actual bearing on what he is talking about on a particular track, take thinly veiled jabs at other comedians like "A rapid series of comical noises," "My immigrant mom talks funny," and "My child is enthralling, especially when it says something unexpectedly precocious even though it doesn't understand what it just said!" Surprisingly in light of that last title, Cross begins the set with a rumination on his friend's newborn children and how they bore him with their stories. He takes this topic into deviously dark places, though, and makes it a palatable opener with a few quick bursts of brilliantly crass stabs. Throughout his comedy, Cross positions himself as the underground town crier, pointing out the foibles of mainstream society that seem absurd to all those who pride themselves upon being literate, informed, and quite possibly too haughty for their own good at times. When he is truly on, this side of Cross is a blistering, riotous, sneering champion of common sense. In the space of three minutes, Cross hits upon consumer catastrophes, what passes for traditional entertainment, and the banality of mainstream rock music. The examination of the 'electric scissors' treads much of the same ground as his look at the "squagle," or square bagel, on his last album Shut Up, You Fucking Baby!, but lacks the pure, seething vitriol and expert setup that that story had. He quickly segues from that into a cute mocking of Family Circus, admittedly an easy target, but well mined by Cross to elicit laughter. From there, he engages an audience member in a discussion of Evanescence, Staind, and P.O.D. For a moment, one might imagine cross standing in the corner of a dark club, drinking his Pabst Blue Ribbon and holding court with a gaggle of shabbily attired hipsters, dispensing of these immaterial offenses in rapid succession-describing the aforementioned bands as "corporate" and "phony." He's right, of course, though here he edges between disseminating important cultural information and preaching to the choir, finally saving it with another savage slice, claiming that he would "rather hear the death rattle of my only child," than listen to their music. Cross is at his peak when frothing at the mouth about something so obviously apparent that everyone should, but doesn't, realize. Like on his last album, he touches on the Bush administrations mangling and dumbing down of our global situation by merely stating the facts in a straightforward and exasperated way that makes it all the more powerful. While there is less shouting in these passages, there is just as much weight behind Cross' incisive sarcasm and satire. It's Not Funny is an apt title for this disc, not because Cross doesn't provide plenty of laugh out loud moments, but because the topics he is musing over are of extreme gravity. Thorough his craft, Cross is showing us the failings that are before everyone's eyes, that are being missed by a dazed public. Showing them in an approachable and humorous way, he is waging his own little war on complacency, and giving everyone a good time while doing it.
- Michael Patrick Brady
Carl Henry Brueggen, "Cinzano & Cocaine" and "Idler"
Sometimes it's from the most unlikely of places that emerge the sweetest sounds. Carl Henry Brueggen, guitarist for Chicago-based noise band Mount Shasta, has self-released two EPs of luscious, cinematic exotica that would make Martin Denny and Ennio Morricone both blush. Each clocking in at an all-too-brief ten minutes or so, these discs capture the authentic spirit of bossa nova in a way that I have rarely seen amongst modern musicians working in the retro-lounge genre. What is most impressive about Brueggen's work here (and furthermore what distiguishes him) is his use of real instruments and musicians, thus forsaking the more prevalent sample-based methods. Brueggen himself helms the guitar, creating the centerpiece around which bass, conga drums, piano, flute, trumpet, pedal steel guitar and airy female vocals all circulate.
Cinzano & Cocaine and Idler were recorded in 2001 and 2002, respectively. While C&C is chic and jaunty, as the pert, smiling model on the cover suggests, Idler is appropriately languid and mellow. "Sea-Sprite Hula" conjures images of mod mermaids frolicking at an underwater cocktail lounge, while the tropical twang of "Rum Toddy" recalls lounge forefather Arthur Lyman's Hawaiian soundscapes.
To be perfectly honest, these EPs leave me positively begging for more. In a day and age where all too often elements of bossa nova and other Latin styles are thrown together haphazardly, Brueggen has truly done masters of the genres such as Deodato and Marcos Valle proud.
*These EPs turned up at Brainwashed headquarters rather mysteriously, and Mr. Brueggen provides only a postal address as contact information on the sleeves. However, should this review prompt you to seek them out, they can be obtained from the fine folks at Dusty Groove in Brueggen's native Chicago.
- Jessica Tibbits
Two discs worth of altered train and tunnel sounds makes for good music. Bernd Schurer went and made some field recordings of various tunnels, train stations, portals, and etc. and then arranged them into 94 tracks of noise, gloom, and the openness of great spaces. Those sounds were then handed over to the likes of Balduin, Drumpet, Fennesz, and Monolake. The results on a majority of the best tracks are rhythmic and (surprisingly) melodic interpretations of Schurer's work. When popping in the second disc I expected the hushed vibrations of wheels pumping away in the distance, the steam of and hiss of brakes, and the chaotic chatter of voices to coalesce into broad explorations of the sometimes busy, sometimes silent disc A. What I got, instead, was a meditation on how found sound can be used to create familiar music. I don't want to say anything on Construction Sonor is typical, but the structures of the songs are nothing I haven't heard before and, in all honesty, nothing revolutionary or evolutionary happens. But the some of the songs, like Balduin's "Creative Constructed Tunnel Session" and Drumpet's "Fierabig," are incredibly catchy and utilize sound sources in an impressive imaginative way; imaginative enough for me to crack a grin and pay close attention, anyways. There are slower pieces, though, and they also feature an intelligent and careful use of the available palette of sounds. Monolake's "Drift" is a storm of water drops, speeding trains, and the boom of wind, but keeps things together with a subtle and catchy beat. On a recording where any of the musicians could've easily created a mass of droning and typical sound, most of them decided to keep their compositions tight and to the point: every song is under 8 minutes and most are under 5. This keeps the album rolling and the fun of guessing how sounds are going to be used a quick and excellent game. In addition to having two great discs of sound, Construction Sonor features a host of people I've not heard of before and nearly all the material is, at the very least, intriguing. The liner notes say this is supposed to be a concept album and I suppose the theme of travel or conduits of travel is prevalent. But, to be honest, I've not bothered reading more than a few sentences of the booklet and the album has been enjoyable, anyways. - Lucas Schleicher
TO ROCOCO ROT, "HOTEL MORGEN"
It's been a few years since this German trio, comprised of brothers Ronald and Robert Lippok and Stefan Schneider, released their Kölner Brett and Pantone EPs, although members have been busy with other notable projects such as Tarwater and Mapstation. For the better part of their latest disc, Hotel Morgen, they appear to have fallen back on their unique compositional style and structures, use of instrumental and electronic-based sounds and space, which has made them one of my favorite groups, but without the type of sit-up-and-take-notice advances I expected after such a hiatus. That said, it's also probably what still makes this disc interesting keeping it fresh without rehashing much of what's worked well in the past. Leading off the disc, the rhythmically punchy "Dahlem" shuffles along to bright and airy synth and Wurlitzer progressions that cushion Schneider's signature melodic bass play in the upper register with a touch of tremolo. "Feld" builds into syncopated, reverb knob-twirled machine rhythms, resembling a train going over a bridge complete with Doppler effect, which links up with a simple bass riff that grows menacing with each repetition to provide the foundation for textural synth soundscapes to float over. The aptly titled "Sol" is the most unique track in that it has the brightest feel, thanks in part to the percolating electro-rhythm augmented by live drums and major key progressions from the vibraphone which is woven with more upper register bass. The solid groove of "Miss You" moves along to choppy beats, bubbling keyboards and smooth low end, adding layers of electro-percussion, synth trickles and bass melodies. Comprised of fourteen tracks, four of which I'd consider interludes due to their brevity, this disc didn't exactly grab a hold of my ear at first, due to my noted expectations from not hearing anything from the band for sometime. However, after a few more listens and getting past thinking of it at times resorting to glorified minimalism, Hotel Morgen is chock full of all the stuff I like about To Rococo Rot, presented in such a way that it's kept crisp, which is what makes it good. - Gord Fynes
Rob Mazurek, "Sweet and Vicious Like Frankenstein"
Rob Mazurek descends further and further into the realms of the electronic on his impressive new album, a noise experiment rife with complicated sounds and intricate environments. Where Mazurek is used to working with others he's a regular contributor in several ensembles and his first solo album featured guest musicians on Frankenstein he goes it completely alone, eschewing all instruments even for a completely electronic sound. All sounds are created and manipulated using a computer, minidisc, and a tone generator, mixing warm tones and burbles with field recordings and loud distortion. Mazurek also seems to understand fully the importance of silence, as there are quite a few moments where quiet is king. It's a welcome break from the more grandiose moments, where deafening noise that could shatter walls fills the speakers, so it doesn't detract from the overall experience. It would have been amazing to hear what Mazurek would have done with some live instrumentation with the electronics as a base layer, or even if he'd manipulated music in the same fashion as the other sounds; but perhaps he felt he's done that enough elsewhere. The only other complaint, if it can be called that, is that two tracks at over sixty-two minutes makes it difficult to zero in on a specific part for a repeat listen. As a straight-through experience, though, I was hard pressed to think of another recent ambient noise record I enjoyed more. There are abrupt and delicate shifts, brilliant moments in mixing, and sounds that can cause head turning or seizures when heard on headphones. The throughline is appropriate for the title, as there is a touch of violence, just below the surface, in every track that may seem like a lamb more than a lion. Quiet drone melodies are augmented by clicks, whines, and hums, and the sounds of the outside world are joined by the manic whirl of machine noise and occasional screech tones. The pieces are exquisitely organized and orchestrated, and invoke many emotions. As far as boldly going where he's never gone before, Rob Mazurek succeeds in spades, even though I half hope this is a one time occurrence. It would be a shame for such a talented musician to leave it all behind for digital noise, even if it is this good. - Rob Devlin
Rivulets/Marc Gartman, "Split"
This meeting of two everyman singer/songwriters captures the individual sound of each perfectly, and reveals just as many intricacies as it does similarities between the two. First up is Nathan Amundson's Rivulets, who honestly could drunkly wail into a garbage can and set it to a drum machine and I'd still give it a listen. The songs included here have never been released elsewhere in this format, though fans of the last Rivulets record will recognize "Cutter II" as a slight restating of the track from that record with more guests. There's also a "Cutter III," a remix by Aarktica, and both succeed in re-generating the eerie feeling I had when I first heard the original, as well as improve on the piece in their own way. His other three songs are gems all their own, from the delicate beauty of "Keep You From Harm" and the sweet wished in "Happy New Year." "Wind is Howling," however, brings out what I love best about this band, with a chillingly simple guitar and violin line that succeed in making the hairs on my neck rise. Amundson is a soul at war with his dark and light sides, and the struggle continues to be produce fantastic songs. Marc Gartman, on the other hand, is a talent I am not all that familiar with, and listening to his contribution made me regret this deeply. Gartman is a soft-spoken man with a voice not all that different from Amundson, with just a bit more James Taylor, and with a talent for playing just about any instrument around. I've heard him on other records Low, Rivulets, Pale Horse and Rider but never playing and singing his own songs, and it is there that he truly shines. His songs here are piano-based, and Gartman has a very easygoing flow and amble on top of the music, always with his heart on his sleeve. He sings about mistakes, about regrets, about the past and the future, about love, and about Mom and her influence on his life. Even though it seems somber at first glance, there is an overriding hope and desire to get out of this mess that highlights every song. The one instrumental, "Roswell," is a gentle stride, with a very simple repeated melody that doesn't stray far, but it's my favorite track on the CD because of that. It doesn't try to be more than it is, and I think that is the perfect way to describe both men. Simplicity is best, and through it Gartman and Amundson continue to make music that always excels. - Rob Devlin
Margareth Kammerer, "To Be an Animal of Real Flesh"
Listening to German-based Margareth Kammerer is almost as difficult as attempting to read German without some kind of pocket dictionary. Her style is pale and remote, her attitude near the border of nonexistent, and her references obscure. It's to my benefit that B. Fleischmann, Philip Jeck, and Chris Abrahams are all over this record because, as interesting as her poetic deliveries can be, the semi-charming resonance that marks this recording simply wasn't doing it for me by itself. There are points in Margareth Kammerer's songs where the music feels a bit recondite; I get the impression she's singing about some esoteric practices or feelings that only she can know. As far as mystery goes, this is a nice tough because Kammerer's voice and acoustic guitar sound rather secluded themselves. On the other hand, I feel distanced from the music at points where I feel like being closer to the warmth of the songs would be a far better thing. "I Carry Your Heart With Me" sounds like a stone wall; whatever is behind the wall is what's important, but there's no way I can get to it. Even the trumpet that's included on that song does little to remove the lifeless aura that surrounds the music. There are, however, times where Kammerer's voice really carries through and makes for an interesting mix with the music. Unfortunately these instances seem to occur only when she is accompanied by another musician. This isn't true of every song "Facing It" is a nice folkish tune that actually demonstrates Kammerer has a vocal range but there's no denying that the remix by B. Fleischmann is a better song. Perhaps it's the dichotomy on this record that is really bothering me. To Be an Animal of Real Flesh switches back and forth between lush and full instrumentation and Kammerer's bare voice and repetitive guitar. Had the latter been totally isolated and left seperate from the other, warmer songs, perhaps I'd be more of a fan of Kammerer as a solo artist. But, as it stands, Kammerer is far more interesting when people like Philip Jeck and Fred Frith are around. Ultimately this ends up sounding more like the collaborators' album and not Kammerer's. It's a decent record with some great songs on it, but there's just too much bland space that needs to be filled up before I can come back to it for anything more than those few gems. - Lucas Schleicher
Seachange, "Lay of the Land"
This is the sound of a band searching for its sound, tossing out a number of tricks they picked up in the hopes that some will click and form together to make something coherent. Seachange has the elements to make a coherent statement, but on Lay of the Land they are not distilled, mixed in with any number of ideas that don't quite fit the band like a glove. Seachange's vocalist delivers his lyrics in a trim British accent, neither sloppily spitting them out nor laying them down in sharp bolts, but rather reciting crisply, and skimming along the top of the overdrive pedal-laden riffage that comprises a fair amount of Lay of the Land. For despite the attempted utilization of abrasive chords and effects, the music on Lay of the Land is rather polite. "The Nightwatch," like nearly every other song on the album, uses an incessant strum on every beat technique that leads one to believe that if they didn't strum on every beat, they'd lose their tempo and the song would collapse into an amateurish confusion. Ironically, their use of effects and noise seems to indicate that the band wants to appear as if they are a reckless outfit, hell bent on kicking up dust and just inches from exploding into chaos. "The Nightwatch" features a particularly annoying crescendo of static that materializes in the middle of the track and then hovers over it like a miasma of numbing fog. The static is merely ornamental, tacked onto an unremarkable song in an effort to give it punch, instead rendering the band's case less credible. "Forty Nights" is one of the few moments in which the band seems to be accomplishing what they want to, and all the squalling and shrieking here make for an intriguing few minutes. The song seems fully conceived of with a particular idea, unlike the other hybrids on the album. When they are not trying to gussy up their indie pop songs with noise rock affectations, Seachange manages to make some pretty decent indie pop, such as on the opening track "Anglokana," which builds a tension greater with less guitar scraping and more grace. "Carousel" takes that politeness that was such a liability and turns it into a catchy premise. Lay of the Land is at times exasperating, but shows evidence of possessing more potential than may be evident upon first listen. It's there, once separated from the flashy chaff that threatens to smother it. - Michael Patrick Brady
Turn Me On Dead Man, "God Bless the Electric Freak"
A critical theory professor (whose classes I do not miss at all) once ripped me a new one for making light of The Self-Positioning Statement, that warning sign of gutless scholarly writing that lets all of your readers know what a horrible sexist oppressor you are before they expose themselves to your thoughts. 'Cause, you know, those same words would have a -totally- different effect on their readers if they were coming from a Trobriand Islander. This is my indirect way of 'fessing up to the fact that I paid very little attention to the capital-A alternative rock scene in the mid-to-late-'90s, and that I won't be able to tell you exactly which Jane's Addiction album God Bless the Electric Freak sounds a lot like; indeed, it's even a way of saying that I've never heard a Jane's Addiction album, and that the comparison only came to me via press blurbs on the band's web site. Taken together, all of this might even say that, if you got sick of bands with fuzzy guitars in the mid-to-late-'90s, you might be inclined to give this one a miss. You'd be passing up on an entertainingly mixed bag of ideas, though: "Sunshine Supercreep" weaves effected sitar highlights through guitar lines that would have been entirely at home on whichever local radio station was called The Edge in 1996, and tosses in some vocal harmonies and UFO-addled lyrics to weird things up a bit, only to give way to what could easily be My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult trying to hack it as a Metallica tribute band on "Apocalypse Rock" four minutes later. There are a couple of clunkers along the way ("Astrophobia" is dragged down by its stupid space-hippie lyrics, and the dull pair of instrumental interludes really just have me reaching for the track-forward button about 30 seconds into each one), but the generally high standard of production, combined with a feeling that the people involved actually took the time to write and refine their musical ideas, elevate God Bless the Electric Freak well beyond the space-rock silliness that it could otherwise have been. It's not academically rigorous by any means, but it sounds like the output of the people who were actually worth knowing when you were at university, which is a better deal for my seven bucks. - Taylor McLaren
Giardini di MirÒ, "Hits For Broken Hearts and Asses"
The cover proclaims "this is not Italian prog rock" and I guess I can understand why they might want to put a warning on here: there's nothing progressive or impressive about this record at all. I've never been so worked up and then so let down by an album before. The ambitiously titled "A New Start For Shoegazing Kids" launches the record in a fantastic way. Full melodies drone in and out of the mix and guitars fuzz in and out of existence with them until everything coalesces and leaves a drug-addled and emotionally tainted phospherence about the room. It's a great first song and one that should've introduced a great record... And then there was "Penguin Serenade" and everything beautiful about this record quickly died. What had come to my ears in the shape and form of strong dynamics and raw power suddenly distilled itself into the sounds of pathetic keyboards and predictabled phrasing. It takes four songs and way too much time for the record to regain any of its first-song glory and by then I was too damned callous to even care what the rest of the record sounded like. In fact, even the best songs on this record made me want to move forward. The band sounds like they've played together for a long time, but it doesn't seem like any of them know how to move beyond the most basic ideas. The music just drags sometimes; the melodies could be outrageously gorgeous but I would simply yawn at them because of the way they moved. I'd be surprised if this group had a pulse to be honest. "Pearl Harbor" sounds like it's supposed to be raw and gripping and maybe even a little angry at points, but all I hear is the dull thud, thud, thud of the drums and the wank-away guitar feedback buried way too low in the mix. Maybe the reason I dislike this record so much has something to do with the way it was produced, then, but that doesn't change the fact that I wouldn't bother picking this up, no matter how much all the cool kids on the block say it sounds like all that other instrumental music so many have come to know and love. Yes, I remember hearing "Hallogallo" and "Paperhouse" and all that great music for the first time, but I don't want to hear the same damn thing done more horribly than before over and over again. I know this isn't an album proper, but a collection of older tunes released prior to their first album - that doesn't change the fact that there's little, if anything, to like on this release. It takes more than a pretty melody to make a good tune and Giardini di Mirò proves that.- Lucas Schleicher
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