This is the absolutely flooring debut album of bassist/guitarist Adem Ilhan's own four-piece band, and of a truly unique and powerful voice all his own. Not that he's thought of as the quiet one or anything, but live and on record with Fridge, Adem rarely ever lets this other being inside of him be heard. His is a mannered but driven style of folk rock, prone to lush and full passages with varied instrumentation. It is the vocals that make this album's beauty, however, with clear and impassioned melodies from Adem and near perfect harmonies that embody the words and themes being conveyed. From the first track, where the line "Let this be a moment that you won't forget" is stated several times, I was hooked, with lyrics that pull everything around towards them and rhythms that crawl, sway, or jangle their way through life. A variety of subjects are covered in what can only be catharsis, from the argument that remains long after the voices are quiet to the end of a relationship or those tender moments that will always remain. The heart reaches out to these characters, as they continue to stumble and misdirect their ways around. "You tried to help yourself, but you got it wrong" is followed by the extended "Everybody needs some help sometimes" on "These Are Your Friends," the album's first single, and it could easily become the new "Lean On Me" of independent rock, as the song builds and builds to a full-voiced near stomp at the end. There are little touches that show a clear grasp of theatrics without melodrama or pretense, like the organ at the beginning of "Everything You Need," which leads in and disappears but has a lasting impression. The quirk of not often heard instruments, the uplifting as well as the crushed, and the lyrics of a true poet make this a record I will not soon forget. It also serves as a reminder to me of what an extraordinary group of talents Fridge is, and it makes me long for a new release from them soon. - Rob Devlin
This awkwardly named ensemble is the collaboration between three of Bowindo's central players and co-founders, Stefano Pilia, Claudio Rocchetti, and Valerio Tricoli. The latter's Did They Did I? is one of the young label's best releases so far, and his comrades are no strangers within the budding Italian scene, Pilia with a CDR of beautiful droning guitar pieces on the Last Visible Dog label and Rocchetti with at least one lauded recording as Kitano. And while it might not be appropriate to call this disc the work of a "supergroup," as the sixth and latest Bowindo release it feels, at least, like the label's first truly essential product, the trio matching each other's talents to create a seven-part cycle of radiant acoustic imagery. 3/4HadBeenEliminated's 45 minutes unfurl in a graceful, gripping sweep that combines the Italians' tendencies towards lyrical improvisation and colorful electroacoustics, with a grounding in the kind of baroque assemblage techniques championed by people like Dean Roberts and Jim O'Rourke. It is a roomy collage of found sounds, entranced piano and strings, featherweight percussion, and the small-yet-tactile electronic manipulations most Bowindos manage with the such grace. Whole tracks are swallowed within drones of unquenchable warmth, carryovers from Pilia's Healing Memories record but without as grand a presentation, suggesting rather the distant, saturated golds of a Klimt painting. As with previous Bowindo releases, field recordings get incorporated in such a way that they guide or introduce certain portions of the piece rather than float along as surface filler, a subtle but effective way of carving an environment from the work itself. The result is the same kind of unreal ambience labelmate Guiseppe Ielasi regularly produces, an unpredictable landscape that reveals, only in afterthought (or aftershock), the rigorous method of its creation. At points during the disc a beautiful chamber ensemble emerges, picking apart minimal, plaintive lines, as if at the cue of a particular broken glass or cheap electronic whine. The effect of this invented troupe of players, slinking ghostly between so many golden guitar drones, sheets of harmonium haze, and assorted earthen resonance, only to appear with the arbitrary quickness of a twig snapping underfoot, is simply breathtaking, many listens over. "Bedrock" travels from a tender, big-band shuffle sounding almost like the Bad Seeds at their most sublime, to a lengthy area of abrasive shatter and pop, garage ambience that still manages to feel like just another station along the disc's narrative. When the associative strains of guitar and percussive foundations disappear, more discrete patterning of electrical hums, engine turnovers, and minor tape treatments become attempts at maintaining the momentum and sonic density of a particular moment, a method aimed at continuity rather than clash, and one that helps to create an incredibly fluid sound-world, full of juxtapositions, but ones which provide an indecisive magical middle passage. It's rare that works this complex also succeed in feeling as direct, regardless of particular directives changing with each listen, a compliment that can be paid to most of the Bowindo/Fringes releases I've heard. Discovering this label has been a joy, and both of its 2004 releases will rank among my favorites for the year.
- Andrew Culler
Charles Atlas, "fabricate: worsted weight remixed"
Charles Wyatt is no stranger to collaboration. Before forming Charles Atlas, he played guitar for groups both in the USA and the UK. The fifth Charles Atlas release ironically slightly mirrors the debut Two More Hours as it contains remixes/reinterpretations of Charles Atlas music, however, this time there is nothing exclusively by Charles Atlas and the sources all come from the fourth release, last year's Worsted Weight on Ochre. For those familiar with Charles Atlas and the bulk of the contributors, there are no surprises: Fabricate is a fantastic collection of excellent music, each with a different new twist added. Sybarite's take on "Sun With Teeth" opens the collection with the high pitched shimmering sounds of a crisp morning dew before going right into the original trumpet melody, backed by artificially modified broken beats and a shuffling drum. It's direct, to-the-point, and sets the stage for the rest of the album. Many of these versions often feel like 7" remixes of the original songs as some of them are approximately half the length of the original tunes. Eric Kowalski's reinvention of "The Deadest Hour" as Casino vs. Japan doesn't even bother to try and attack the multi-movement 12 minute original, but this longtime friend and former Charles Atlas member opens with the sounds and vocal samples of the original before moving into a languid new movement with a new tune, steady beats, echoed guitar, and bubbling bass that could easily make any Ulrich Schnauss fan flip. Other contributions include a minimally changed "Strategies for Success Boxes" from Pram, one remix each from future Kranky superstars and Portland-based Audraglint family members Nudge and Strategy (retouching "Stone[d] in Brackish Pool" and "One Foot Under," respectively), and two from old friends Isan, who appeared on the first release, Two More Hours. One of my favorite bits would have to be from Signaldrift, as "Strategies for Success Boxes" is adapted into a more beefy techno-ish track, while it doesn't lose its ground For the most part, the remixes don't stretch or reinvent the music in any way, and this is a good thing. Charles Atlas music is calm and delicate but intricate and never dull, and at most this collection re-emphasizes how great the music is to begin with. It's too bad, however, that most people missed the boat and the earlier albums are deleted now. - Jon Whitney
Charles Atlas, "to the dust: from man you came and to man you shall return"
Some of the most rewarding music is worth being patient for, and Charles Atlas is one of the most patient and disciplined contemporary bands. After five releases, the ensemble returns with perhaps the most dense and developed album to date. To the Dust eases in on the opener "Neither Nor" with a hypnotic guitar, piano, and organ interplay before cello, drum machine, glockenspiel, and layered guitars build and build to some unexpectedly grand levels. Although the instrumentation hasn't changed, it seems like there's simply more depth than before. The cello and strings on songs like "Signal Flags" makes for a more cinematic, more climactic sound. Even when there's less instruments, a seemingly louder mix makes for a much more upfront and direct feeling despite some of the tracks being completely absent of driving drums or percussion. It's rare, but when electronic rhythms are introduced to songs, like the soothing "Corona Norco" or fast-paced "Chapultepec," they're kept simple, minimal, and thankfully primitive enough to avoid mimicking real drums. Although it's mainly instrumental and introspective, To the Dust is a very summery record. It's a fleeting summer, however, painted mainly by an artist who knows that summers don't last long. The music is uplifting and moves along rather quickly in places. Songs like "Photosphere" and "Chapultepec" are very scenic and could easily score images of children playing in the sun or the rushing rapids high in the mountains while songs like "Demus" conjures the comforting, relaxing and blindingly bright feelings of having a rewarding beer at sunset. The majestic piano on the nearly eight-minute simple piano/organ duo of "Primo Levi" is breathtaking while the album closes with the windy and wistful +10 minute closer "Dipole Moment," where sounds of acoustic guitar, organ, cymbal strokes, and sound effects mimic a temperate evening breeze with crickets in the distance. By the eighth minute, everything builds to a roar and then trails off just as calmly as it came in. Now on the sixth release, it confuses me how Charles Atlas hasn't become more popular, but I guess since they never toured with super popular Icelandic bands or played drifting festivals, it makes sense as they haven't been exposed enough to the people who don't actively seek out new sounds. While I hate comparing bands to other bands, I must make the point that fans of Pygmalion-era Slowdive, The Album Leaf, Labradford and Pan American, or the classic 4AD sound, Morr, Kranky, and Constellation labels who haven't heard Charles Atlas yet are severely missing out. - Jon Whitney
Fixmer/McCarthy, "Between the Devil..."
Not long after releasing their largely forgettable 'Big Hit' album in 1995, electronic body music pioneers Nitzer Ebb called it quits. Save for some work with Recoil, Alan Wilder's non-Depeche Mode project, founding member and vocalist Douglas McCarthy disappeared altogether from the music scene. A couple of years ago, Mute decided to capitalize on Nitzer Ebb's back catalog of label releases by issuing a series of 12" records featuring new and unreleased remixes of classic cuts like "Join In The Chant," "Let Your Body Learn," and "Shame." That successful endeavor brought about a partnership between McCarthy and remixer Terence Fixmer, a techno producer with releases on International Deejay Gigolos and his own Planete Rouge imprint, the result of which comprises the hour-long Between the Devil... Nearly every track here contains a throbbing, if not downright pounding, 4/4 beat, as should be expected by those familiar with Fixmer's prior work, much of which comprises his phenomenal Muscle Machine album. Previously released as the A-Side off a limited 12" single, "Destroy" builds up from a guttural whisper into a roar of focused rage, lashing out at a deliberately unnamed enemy in such a furious manner that it could accompany an actual beating. Similarly, the live-sounding vocal performance on "You Want It," appropriately accompanied by a menacing EBM-bassline, shows off McCarthy's tried-and-true repetitious lyrical minimalism. On tracks like "Through A Screen," and the incredibly catchy "I Run," the anthemic golden shouts that defined much of Nitzer Ebb's are balanced by a great deal of actual singing, showcasing a diversity that some listeners might find surprising. Inadvertently taking after Laibach's successful comeback pairing with underground techno figure Umek, Fixmer/McCarthy perfects the formula and offers a new vision for modern industrial dance music that many of the current scene stars and cookie-cutter goth club darlings should take their cues from. Surely Between the Devil will rank highly on my Best of 2004 list. - Gary Suarez
Asmus Tietchens, "SPÄT EUROPA"
Following Biotop as the third in Die Stadt's ongoing Tietchens reissue campaign, Spät-Europa shows Asmus Tietchens again preoccupied with a bizarre space-age pop sound, exceedingly retro even by 1981's standards. Tietchens' imaginary troop of antique synthesizer idiots return in the album's thoughtfully duplicated sleeve notes, ushering in the same twisted humor and bouncy melodies of its predecessor, with a similar, if not more dominant degree of mechanical (German?) remove. The distance that separates Tietchens' two-minute robotic jingles from virtually all electropop approximations past and present (save maybe the work of Felix Kubin) is the result of that rare, hard-to-locate, and thoroughly inhuman charm found in the grainy science fictions and forgotten prog records of decades past. Asmus seems intent on pushing the aloof cinematic edge that confused Biotop's buoyant flow to an even greater extreme on Spät, incorporating more alienating atmospherics to divide the album's fewer moments of jubilant Moog abuse and out-pop reverie. Songs become stiff, programmatic waltzes for robot retirees, conjuring images of obsolete stainless-steel models left to their own tired dinner parties, dusty veteran lounges, and silent card games. Tietchens' melodic style responds accordingly, toned down since Biotop and more in tune with the minimal, near-industrial percussive backing of many tracks. Repeated listens reveal a new harshness that was perhaps hidden within the previous album's spacious glide and will become more pronounced as the artist gradually lets go of the pop format. At least for now, though, the light-hearted Tietchens rules, and it's a great pleasure to visit this side of such a prolific, diverse musician.
- Andrew Culler
Tom Carter, "Monument"
Monument starts off with a barely noticable track entitled "Monument 1 (Memorial)." It only last for a couple minutes and sort of eases the ears into the following series whistles, whale calls, Japanese flutes, and chants . "Monument 2" is approximately 47 minutes of intensely warm, meandering, and amorphous guitar. Carter slips on ten or twelve different masks over the course of this song, each rendering his guitar a new kind of instrument. The song opens with a strange tremble that provides the illusion of multiple guitars phasing in and out of each other until reality finally syncs up and the sound rolls out into that air smoothly and harmoniously. As the guitars wobble to and fro, struggling and distorted roars reach out from behind the noise to speak of pseudo-melodies and breathless spaces stretched out wide and indefinitely. The lap steel is a wonderful instrument in Carter's hands; his manipulation of its signature sound renders the instrument a far more diverse one than I thought possible. At times it sounds like a bell being struck slowly and in the distant, in other places it sounds like lasers beaming through a science-fiction film, and at other times it could easily be mistaken for a heavily edited piece of keyboard trickery shaking in and out of earshot. Only at certain points does the lap steel make itself known as such and this allows Carter to refocus his composition and lead it off in new directions. The song is very busy at times and, at others, it is quiet and marked by pockets of silence. The first time through I listened to the music with the volume turned down quite low, but turned way up all sorts of intricate gestures became obvious and the record took on a more physical and carnal attitude. The quiet rings from the first time around suddenly became consuming bellows and hypnotic waves full of whales and deep breaths. Carter switches back and forth between formless stretches of sound and rhythmic stroking that vibrates and bends wildly out of control at times. I could go on at length about all that sounds Carter manages to pull out of his lap steel, but I'd be ignoring a special something that makes this record so beautiful. For all of its wanderings and lack of structure, Monument is full of melodic moments and genuine heart. The exploratory nature of this record does not eclipse the emotional pull of the music. When the sound tightens up and nearly bubbles over with energy, I feel a tightening in my chest and anxiety takes me over for a minute. When the sound opens up and breathes deep and sensuous breaths, I get butterflies in my stomach and sway forward with the music before the release eases itself away. Forty-seven minutes might seem like an exercise in patience, but when the record is over with it doesn't seem nearly long enough. - Lucas Schleicher
Bardo Pond + Tom Carter, 4/23/03
While both Bardo Pond and Tom Carter should be names that everyone familiar to The Brain should recognize, perhaps it's a bit of a shock to see the two of them listed together. Although Bardo Pond and Charalambides contributed tracks to the seminal Harmony of the Spheres compilation released in the late 1990s on Drunken Fish, this is the first time that the two groups have collaborated together, and the result is an hour of psychedelic improvisations whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Throughout the disc, Carter's guitar weaves in and out of Bardo Pond's music, adding his patent e-bowed and reverberated sound to the textures created by the band. Carter's guitar doesn't stand out abruptly against the other sonic elements as much as it adds an additional dimension to the multi-layered sounds and textures that Bardo Pond creates. Of the disc's five trackswhich are simply labeled by their lengthonly one is shorter than ten minutes, with two tracks clocking in near the 20-minute marker. This gives the improvisations ample room for development, with ideas being fully fleshed out and all possibilities explored. Fans of the two groups shouldn't be disappointed by this release, as both Bardo Pond and Carter retain their unique sounds while creating a release that has a singular character. - Carter Adams
EYVIND KANG, "VIRGINAL CO-ORDINATES
As a violinist, Eyvind Kang has played with the likes of Sun City Girls, Bill Frisell, Secret Chiefs 3, Laurie Anderson and many others. As a composer, Kang has carved out a unique position for himself, releasing a series of studio albums drawing on his concept of the NADE (a concept which I won't attempt to explain here, mostly because I don't understand it). The albums combined elements of disparate ethnic music forms with esoteric spiritual ideas, and sudden, unexpected transitions into fully-formed pop songs or long passages of pastoral ambience. I've liked most of his work that I've heard so far (especially 2000's The Story of Iceland), but it appears that Kang has outdone himself with Virginal Co-ordinates, a beautiful recording of an ambitious live performance staged in Italy last year. Kang composes and conducts a 16 piece ensemblecalled the Playgroundaugmented by himself on violin and several guest musicians, including Mike Patton on voice and electronics, Michael White (former Sun Ra Arkestra violinist) and Tim Young on electric guitar. I suppose the inclusion of Mike Patton is the only reason this album has surfaced on Ipecac Recordings, seeing as it's otherwise entirely different from the label's usual output. It's quite an impressive work, split up into ten movements of varying lengths, each gently joined to the next with gossamer instrumental threads. The title of the work evokes images of untouched glacial expanses, secluded valleys and mountains untouched and unadulterated by the progress of manVirginal Co-ordinates in which the mind and spirit are free to find connections with nature beyond those limited ideas inculcated in us by the artificial strictures of society. The album artwork is pure white, the color of virginity, with a white cobra in the center, appearing poised to strike. The cobra is a perfect symbol for the current of hidden menace that runs through much of the music. There is a spiritual yearning throughout, but it is often joined by vibrating undercurrents of dread. "I am the Dead" transforms into a full-blow orchestral pop song with echoes of Brian Wilson, but its lyrics presage the death and rebirth rituals of the Bardo Todol. Mike Patton's voice lends an ethereal beauty to certain passages, and Walter Zianetti steals the show with his acoustic guitar solo on "Taksim." Elements of Spanish guitar, Indian raga, tonal Oriental scales, film soundtracks and American pastoral symphonies all weave their way into Kang's work, culminating in the majesty of the title track, a magnificent, shape-shifting wall of orchestral noise in which musical phrases from earlier movements are recycled and juxtaposed to hypnotic effect. At 73 minutes, Virginal Co-ordinates is never boring, which is something that cannot often be said for works of modern composition. In fact, its appeal goes well beyond the usual modern classical crowd, and I imagine it would be enjoyed by anyone interested in the transformative and magical possibilities of music. - Jonathan Dean
Chris Brokaw, "My Confidante + 3"
It is sometimes interesting to know the motivations behind things, and that is certainly the case with this EP from the multi-instrumentalist and member of at least half a dozen stunning bands over the years. When I read the spine of the CD, I thought "Wasn't this a song off his last record?" Indeed, it was, but Brokaw was inspired to re-record it and update it to an electric, full-band status. Accompanying it is his tribute to female songwriters, as he records songs by former bandmate Thalia Zedek, Liz Phair, and Holly Anderson and Lisa Burns. All of this, apparently, is due to the inspiration of Greg Weeks, who discussed a compilation of men performing songs written by women with Brokaw a year ago. Now, perhaps this comes off as Brokaw rhyming on the idea a bit, but it's no matter, as it is easily the most electrifying work Brokaw has ever produced. His interpretation of these songs is full of strong choices and a clear vision, with his own twists and turns thrown in just for fun. The update of the title track is the way the song was meant to be heard: multi-tracked guitars, powerhouse drums, and a confident yet slightly flawed vocal. It blows the previous version away easily. Brokaw has chosen artists he greatly respects as well as songs that he loves, and his partnership with Zedek in Come produced some great songs and records, so it's a fitting choice as well as a straightforward interpretation. On Zedek's "1000 MPH," a punked-up energy level suffers only slightly without the vocal presence of its author. "In Love With Yourself" predates Phair's seminal Exile in Guyville and it shows, as it's a cheeky and almost corny song that's just clever enough to be amusing, which she'd never dare approach today. It benefits from this re-envisioning of just guitar and voice, and it even shows a little sense of humor on Brokaw's side. It is the last song that is the cornerstone, though, as "Across the Blue" is grandiose and labored, with a relaxed performance with great guitar lines and atmospherics. Brokaw has a new solo album due in 2005 and a soundtrack later this year, but it just may be that he does his best work with other people's songs. If that's the case, it's hardly a negative if the results are this good. - Rob Devlin
GLENN BRANCA, "LESSON NO. 1"
Frequently name-checked as one of the most influential works of postmodern composition, Glenn Branca's Lesson No. 1 is nothing less than a completely successful amalgam of avant-garde composition techniques with dissonant post-punk rock n' roll. Glenn Branca had previously been part of the brief No Wave scene with his band Theoretical Girls, and several other solo and group projects, but this short album was his first commercially released recording. When 99 Records originally released the album in 1980, it was clear that it was not without precedent; following as it did in a clear line of evolution from LaMonte Young and Terry Riley. But Branca's use of rock n' roll instrumentation, heavy duty percussion, unorthodox guitar tunings and over-amplifications and minimalist repetition makes "Lesson No. 1 For Electric Guitar" an essential influence on all of the avant-garde rock music that has come since. The eight-plus minutes of the title track are absolute perfection: a glossy, propulsive patchwork of chiming electric guitars, hypnotically riffing on three chords, ascending and descending, falling in and out of sync beautifully. Its simplicity and power recalls Terry Riley's majestic synthesizer classic "A Rainbow in Curved Air," even as its trance-inducing, minor-chord refrain unmistakably evokes vintage Joy Division, apparently a notable influence on Branca in the early 80's, if I am to believe the erudite liner notes by Alan Licht. "Lesson No. 1" is ground zero for all of the avant-leaning rock music that came after, clearly influencing Sonic Youth ("Expressway To Yr Skull"), Boredoms (Vision Creation Newsun) and even Acid Mothers Temple, who attempted their own merging of Terry Riley and [acid] rock with their cover of "In C." Following from "Lesson No. 1" is "Dissonance," certainly less accessible, but no less masterful, a chaotic mass of overdubbed guitar shredding, complex drumming (periodically punctuated by the metallic clink of a sledgehammer) and an insistent sense of drama, continuously building but never finding its full catharsis. "Bad Smells" is the third and final track, a 16-minute rock epic originally released on the flip side of John Giorno LP released on the Giorno Poetry Systems label during the same time period as Branca's Ascension. Originally composed for a Twyla Tharp dance performance, the musicians include, among others, Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore (soon of the aforementioned Sonic Youth). The track unfolds in several different "movements," opening with galloping beats and heroic guitar melodies, then quickly transforming into an angular punk-funk jam, before taking a sharp left turn into high dissonance and stop-start, No Wave-style spastics. Also included on the disc is a fascinating Quicktime video of Glenn Branca conducting his "Symphony No. 5," shot in 1984. It's quite a possessed performance, Branca casting himself as the physical conduit of the music, jumping and thrashing around with wild abandon, expressing the music's intensity. Acute Records has done a good job re-issuing Lesson No. 1, solidifying its place among the most influential rock albums of all time. - Jonathan Dean
Rachel Goswell, "Waves Are Universal"
Fans of Slowdive and Mojave 3 can rejoice: this debut proves that the loveliest member of both bands indeed has the talent to carry a project all her own. Not that this is a complete surprise, as anyone involved in the aforementioned groups has to have some serious chops, plus an EP released a couple months ago let the cat out of the bag already. The fact that Goswell can carry a whole album ostensibly on her own is news, though, and it bodes well for the chanteuse's future works both in bands and on her own. The finer moments of English folk and American country are paired together with field recordings and a taste of rhetoric to make these songs to live, and the voice of a fallen angel to command them to do her bidding. Goswell knows her stuff, letting in the right amount of every ingredient and then taking the song to wonderful heights. She also lets them all breathe just enough, not taking the idea to an extreme or longer than it needs to go. These are concise and fully-realized tales, perfect in their time and place. Shifting styles in the songs also show a willingness to explore new territory, whether accordion or pipes and whistles, and though some of them don't add much to the proceedings it's nice to hear the attempt at loftier heights. There are more than enough moments where those heights are attained, from the gorgeous double-tracked vocals to the infectious melodies, to heartfelt lyrics about missing the one you've discovered who makes life worth living ("No Substitute," easily one of the album's best tracks). Not every song is a gem, but there's more than half a great album to be heard, and that's impressive for a solo debut. The songwriter within is finding the right elements and the perfect mixture. With the initial awkwardness past her, Goswell now has the ability to improve on the concept and find all the right stops. - Rob Devlin
The Room 40 crew has amassed an impressive list of names for this two-disc set billed as "meditations on sound in sleep," and the prospect of new tracks from Oren Ambarchi, DJ Olive, DJ/Rupture, Scanner, David Toop, and Janek Schaefer ought to be enough to sell the disc on its own. Really everyone here brings it, with solid tracks from lesser-known artists that are equally impressive and often more inventive than those from their well-known counterparts. The theme is broad enough as to allow a wide range of interpretations without dictating any particular mode of composition. The two basic approaches to the idea seem to be physiologicalthat of capturing or recreating sound as heard through the muffled filter of sleep, and psychologicalthat of playing with the noises and music of dream states and the subconscious. There are the expected slow, sleepy drones and dreamy chimes (Al Yamamoto, Steinbrüchel, Zane Trow, Barret, Musgrove & Sinclair), but the project also offers some more out-there takes as well, such as Skist's shrill whine accompanied by non-sequitur female vocals, Timeblind's ridiculously time-stretched speech, and David Toop's spooky dream narration. John Chantler starts disc two off with a delightfully fun recording of his microwave that transforms into a cheeky beep-beat before giving way to drums and guitar: not something I would have expected on a disc devoted to experimental musicians composing tracks about sleeping sounds. Philip Samartzis turns in a location recording, while Martin Ng & Tetuzi Akiyama give us the obligatory microtonal sine wave ear workout. If i never hear a piercing sine wave composition again, it'll be okay with me. Scanner gives up a synth-heavy piece with some instructional voice-over through delay that recalls his Spore-era work, while Frost plays with fuzzy dream guitar and simple piano figures that are understated and beautiful. DJ/Rupture takes the path least travelled by producing a mix of beats and samples that implies that what he hears while sleeping are the muffled, fractured pieces of his record collection banging together into a mix. In the realm of experimental music, these kinds of collections too often offer artists a chance to pad an already overstuffed discography with throw-away pieces and under-realized mixes. Not so, here. Room 40 manages to wrangle up some top talent at the top of their game for an engaging and repeatable listen. - Matthew Jeanes
Coelacanth, "Mud Wall"
Loren Chasse and Jim Haynes make a very strange breed of murmuring and throbbing music. Where other sound-sculptors might keep a consistently harmonious shift at work in their music in order to provide a sense of change and movement, these two are content with adding glitches, static, and faults to their instruments in order to affect a drift in the music that could be almost unnoticeably small, but might also turn out to be radical in degree. Mud Walls originally appeared on the Mystery Sea label in an edited form. Rereleased by Helen Scarsdale with twenty additional minutes of music, it is a consistently alien and confusing recording. There runs throughout the duration of this one-track, fifty-eight minute record a noticeable hiss that becomes a bit annoying at times, but it also serves as the central element of the music and is about the only thing that holds the album together as a whole. Two distant points on the record share a similar trait: the sound of jewelry or glass rolling about in a jar. Outside of these few elements, Mud Walls sounds like a bit of muddled sound-collage to me. This is part of what makes the record so confusing. I know that, at certain points, the music suddenly shifts direction and introduces a new sound to focus on, but that sound always seems to succumb to the hiss that is so aggravatingly omnipresent. Going back over the record and skipping in between various points in time, it is quite obvious that Coelacanth has a good variety of tones, found sounds, and strange samples that are strung together by a universal mystery. Something happens in between these sections of diversity, then, that make the album sound all too samey. This is another confusing aspect of this record: I didn't like it at first, its immovable and fixed nature simply didn't appeal to me the way other droned-out records did. I listened to it twice, anyways. By the time I'd become frustrated with myself for not being able figure out what disliked about this record, I'd probably gone through the record ten times. A few more listens and I was able to pick out the small details that weren't so quickly obvious. And here I sit now, wondering why it took so long to figure out the obvious. The different sections of this record are, in hindsight, obvious. No matter how many times I repeat that to myself the music ends up feeling too monotone by the end of the album. The actual process of listening to the music turns everything into a homogenous wall of sound where very few heterogeneous elements can stand out. Knowing now what my source of displeasure has been, it's hard for me to not recommend the music. The trick the music played on my head through subsequent listens was frustrating, but it was also entertaining enough to keep me listening and to keep me finding new elements on the record. There's a fantastic series of ideas or quotes that serve as liner notes and one of them is particularly descriptive of the music: "I can describe it in no other way than this: in that moment, I was certain there were ancient forces listening... in a silence like fossils." The silent transitions and changes on this record can only barely hide that there is something more happening behind the inertia. - Lucas Schleicher
Sex In Dallas
After only seven months, the Berlin-via-Paris threesome of Adrien Walter, Mohini Geisweller, and Juste Faileux have managed to create a barrage of press in Europe's fashion and music industry. Following the release of their first two 12"s, "Berlin Rocks" and "Everybody Deservers To Be Fucked" (both of which are included here on their self-titled full-length), Sex in Dallas managed to snag an exhibition at the venerable Parisian design store and boutique Colette and were hailed as the next new thing in magazines from Technikart to Fashion Wired Daily. With most of this exposure due to their fashion sense and penchant for binge-drinking and clubbing, I couldn't help but ask myself where their music falls into play in all of this. With the release of their first album, the group seems to demonstrate that their main priorities are fashion and image before music, though there are signs that point to a gifted young band that shows promise. The first track, "Crazy Dogs," lays samples of barking dogs over a spare electro backbeat. When the synths enter at the one minute mark, it's easy to see the comparisons that Sex in Dallas receives with the Hacker and other big names in European electro. "Songs of the Beach," "5 O'Clock," and "Lost in La Playa" are reminiscent of a more minimal Lali Puna, with Geisweller singing in a soft, French-accented English. The standout track on the album, however, is "Everybody Deserves to Be Fucked," a four minute electro romp espousing the band's view on hedonistic equality. While Sex in Dallas may be a band hyped for their image more than their music, the indications are there that with a bit more maturity and time they may emerge as major players on the European electro scene. - Carter Adams
"SO YOUNG BUT SO COLD: UNDERGROUND FRENCH MUSIC 1977-1983"
This collection, highlighting obscure underground post-punk and new wave from France was released on Tigersushi Recordings, the record-label arm of the Tigersushi website, devoted to cataloging and tracing obscure connections between underground, post-punk, dance and avant-garde music. Previous compilations from Tigersushi included K.I.M.'s superlative Miyage CD, as well as No More G.D.M., which together contained more leftfield classics and unjustly obscure artists than anyone could shake a stick at. So Young But So Cold, compiled by Volga Select, is a bit less generous with its treasures. Perhaps the chosen time period and geographical area narrow the field too much, forcing Ivan Smagghe and Marc Collin to include many tracks that have a hard time living up to "lost classic" status. However, the disc still includes its share of tasty nuggets, chief among them a pair of stunning tracks by a group called The (Hypothetical) Prophets. Like most people, I'd never heard of this early-80's French new-wave group until this compilation. Their single "Person to Person" seems to have been influenced by The Human League, but takes off in its own idiosyncratic trajectory, lyrically and musically. Male and female singers describe their romantic fantasies in a monotone, proto-HipHop style: "I want a middle-aged, plump and cuddly, distinguished, hairy-chested, double-breasted, gray-templed, tall attractive, rich and active father figure." This against a minimal rhythm-box beat decorated with analog detritus and electronic drones, with occasional Beach Boys-esque expansions into vocal harmony. The Prophets' other appearance, "Wallenberg," is a dark synthscape intertwining mutated vocals narrating stories from World War II, with frequent blasts of saxophone, eerily evoking the later work of The Legendary Pink Dots. The first track on the compilation "Suis-Je Normale" ("I Am Normal") reminded me of Broadcast (or Broadcast's forerunner The United States of America), with its minimalist synths and Jane Birkin-esque vocal delivery. Mathematiques Moderne's "Disco Rough" has a raucous beat, but its chorus is unfortunately reminiscent of Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton's excruciating "Islands in the Stream." The Metal Boys were an offshoot of underappreciated electro-punks Metal Urbain, but their track "Carnivale" proves that the talent didn't come along for the ride. Charles de Goal's "Synchro" bears an unmistakable resemblance to The Vapors' hit "Turning Japanese." Was Moderne's "Switch On Bach" meant to be the French response to Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus"? It's hard to say, but at least this collection ends on a fairly strong note, with a row of Kraftwerkian space-rock and proto-techno tracks. Best among them is Nietzschean scholar Richard Pinhas' funereal, Tangerine Dream-influenced "Iceland," a densely atmospheric foray into the ice-cold nether regions of arctic tundra. A more inconsistent collection is not likely to be found, but Tigerushi's So Young But So Cold still has much to recommend. - Jonathan Dean
Mike Fellows, "Limited Storyline Guest"
Keeping it simple and writing good music go hand in hand quite a lot. The guitars, drums, vocals, and other instruments on this album speak that rule clearly and demonstrate that excellent music doesn't always have to be radically new or different. Mike Fellows writes rock music with just a bit of folk and country influence. His guitar picking and harmonica playing is simple and structured around smooth song structures fronted by a broad and gentle voice. Bits of piano and electronic drums highlight this otherwise straightforward attempt at writing a good album. There's no flashy production, no outrageous arrangements that call for ten-plus instruments to flood the mix simultaneously, and, most importantly, there isn't an air of pretentiousness surrounding anything Fellows has to say. All of his lyrics recall stories told on the front porch with a cold one in hand and a beautiful, moonlit sky up above. So what is left if there isn't any of the extra stuff mentioned above? All that's left is really all that matters: good song-writing and a clear sense of direction. While Fellows never draws his voice out like some famous country crooners might, his instrumentation is clearly a throwback to when country and rock weren't opposites at all. This love for acoustic instrumentation, easy rhythms, and clear, distinct melodies could've gone terribly wrong if it weren't for the fact that Fellows never lets a strong stray too far away from its origins and never bothers trying to extend songs beyond their proper range. Limited Storyline Guest is just over a half-hour in length and of its nine songs, only three break the four-minute mark (and just barely at that). The songs open strong and stay strong from start to finish, expanding on the themes that Fellows open them with. Besides all of this, the songs are simply gorgeous and have a whimsical edge to them that makes them all the more attractive. "Way I Love" and "AM" have, in particular, unforgettable melodies that have stuck in my head since I first played the CD. I might be able to chalk my appreciation of this album up to nostalgia, but repeated listens have proven that the songs can stand repeated listens and, in most cases, the tunes become stronger after being given a few chances. There's not a bad song on the album and after awhile Fellows' voice becomes one of the most addictive elements of the album. I'm going to take this outside with me and play it while I watch the world go by. It's a good relaxing album with no extras added because no extras are needed. - Lucas Schleicher
Lawrence English, "Ghost Towns"
While the debate over what is or isn't 'real music' is tired, there are still releases now and again that call that nagging question to mind, just as a reminder of the very far extremes of music that exist beyond even the peripheral vision of most CD-buying folks, and this is certainly one of them. For roughly 18 minutes, English treats us to what could be a foley recording session for a major motion picture if some of the sounds weren't layered and overlapped through time. There's little emotional or psychological reward for making it through those 18 minutes, and the theme of "Ghost Towns" isn't explored in any significant way that stuck with me, but the disc works like a training guide for careful listening. While some of the mixing techniques are a bit obvious (a humming sound slowly pans from stereo right to left; distant sounds slowly fade in while closer sounds pop into the mix), most of the time the sound isn't drawing attention to its manipulation, and that's a good thing. In a very traditional Music Concrete sense, this work is about the sounds themselves in space; sound as an object to be perceived. To that end, the record can be enjoyed vastly differently in different settings where gongs, distant trains, tortured pianos and chewing potato chips aren't usually familiar. The only traditionally musical timbres included are a gong and some muted percussion at the beginning and a piano that is being banged on and plucked at ferociously towards the end of the piece. The bookend instruments hold together a string of recordings from amplified room-tone to all of the scraping and crackling sounds that these kinds of records generally include to keep listeners guessing. I can imagine Lawrence English performing this piece on a stage full of seemingly random objects and tape machines with loops of field recordings. I can see him scurrying back and forth between the pile of leaves, the bird cage, and the broken crash cymbal as a well-dressed art crowd looks on and wonders "is this really music?" The wonderful point of music like this is, however, that none of it matters in the end. The sounds are objects, you are free to browse them at your leisure. There will be some you find quite pleasant and others that are objectionable, while still others may leave no impression at all, and if you have any comments please leave them with the curator. - Matthew Jeanes
METAL BOYS, "TOKIO AIRPORT"
When financial ruin, explosive internal tensions and abortive, drug-fuelled recording sessions finally claimed the life of French electro-punk group Metal Urbain, Metal Boys rose from their ashes Phoenix-like and went on to a celebrated and influential 20-year career, applauded by critics worldwide for their originality and daring. Well, not quite. In fact, the Metal Boys only lasted a couple of years, they are celebrated by no one, and they could only muster one album, recently rescued from total obscurity by Carpark subsidiary Acute. Acute smartly released a career-spanning retrospective of Metal Urbain earlier this year, but they not-so-smartly follow-up with two lackluster latter-day efforts by Metal Urbain refugees (Dr. Mix and the Remix's inessential Wall of Noise is also due out soon on the label). It's hard to say what the problem is exactly with Metal Boys, the project of Eric Debris and Charles Hurbier from the original lineup of Metal Urbain. Perhaps it's their curious lack of identity, as they schizophrenically shuffle through a handbook of genres, unable to settle on anything. The opening track shares the energetic, motorik stomp of Metal Urbain, but its quickly followed by "Suspenders in the Dark," a blind stab at the Suicide/Throbbing Gristle sound that borders on parody with ridiculous English-language vocals such as "The rain stops my tits from growing" and "I saw my mother fucking a nuclear missile." It's unclear why British singer China didn't alert the French duo to the grammatically awkward, hokey lyrics they were asking her to sing. Other tracks (and even the album's sleeve artwork) seek to emulate such electro-dandy outfits as David Sylvian's Japan or early Duran Duran, but the songwriting is stunted, songs are often far too long, and the stylistic inconsistencies all conspire to make Tokio Airport one of the more laborious listens I've had in a while. Amateurish, Kraftwerk-esque synthesizer ditties like "Carbone 14" might be charming on some work of outsider bedroom-electro, but from musicians who used to be involved in creating challenging, enduring rock music, it seems rather unfortunate. The pessimistic, cold-war futurism of the album's lyrics and the group's angular, dandified bearing are conceits directly lifted from their new-wave contemporaries. A pair of bonus tracks originally intended for release as a 12" single, "Disco Future" and "Outer Space," sound like low-rent versions of classic TG tracks "Adrenaline" and "Persuasion." So, the Metal Boys are not the logical continuation of Metal Urbain, but rather simply an odd historical footnote that may appeal to borderline-autistic completists, but are generally unremarkable otherwise. - Jonathan Dean
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