Guided By Voices, "Half Smiles of the Decomposed"
After months of waiting, the final album from legendary rock band Guided By Voices is now released, no doubt provoking water cooler discussions about the band's career in the offices of entertainment magazines everywhere. Fans have been divided for some time, too though many buy the records on principal despite misgivings particularly about Pollard's higher fidelity obsession since 1997's Mag Earwhig!. The record, then, has the unfortunate position of having to provide a closer for over 20 years of music in just fourteen songs, and for the most part it accomplishes this goal. There are plenty of tracks that feature the classic Pollard lyrical strangeness ("You're gonna fuck up my make-up/you're gonna make up my fuck-up"), and a full complement of mixing styles, so there's a summary of the band's style and functions. Sadly, it just doesn't have the magical realization that everyone hopes for in a final album, but these sort of things rarely do. To expect a band to be able to sum it all up in those songs the highs, lows, strife, stress, exhilaration, and passion is a bit much, but there should be some hint of why this is the end. And there isn't here, that I can find. What there is to be found is another quirky and catchy group of songs, right out of the gate with "Everybody Thinks I'm a Raincloud (When I'm Not Looking)." Chiming guitar, Pollard's double-tracked vocals, and solid backing make the song a rollicking good time, and there is an overwhelming feeling of being let down and lonely by choices one has made. Perfect opener. Then the murdering darkness of "Sleep Over Jack" takes over, and it's even more delicious than the opener, an almost modern day Sweeney Todd. It's this warring personality that consumes most of the record; a struggle between the light and dark sides of emotion, with no clear winner. Not that there has to be: to choose between "Gonna Never Have to Die" or "The Closets of Henry" and "Tour Guide at the Winston Churchill Memorial" or "Sing For Your Meat" would be impossible, anyway. That's the mark of a truly great album, where every song carries the whole album's weight and doesn't buckle. In that regard, this is the best legacy Pollard and Co. can hope for, including returning member Tobin Sprout, who recorded parts for the record, as well. This is what they were adept at providing for their fans: whole albums of great songs. Once again, they succeed, and though it's not the last we'll hear of the band's members, it is this band that will be missed. Farewell, GBV, and thanks for the memories. - Rob Devlin
BOBBY BROWN, "THE ENLIGHTENING BEAM OF AXONDA"
The California of the 1960s was a breeding ground for eccentric characters: psychedelic prophets, cult leaders, crank scientists, charlatans, fringe artists, bizarre self-taught musicians and psychotic burnouts. Some individuals, it seems, were able embody all of these archetypes at once; and of these, at least one managed to record and release an album. Bobby Brown's 1972 LP The Enlightening Beam of Axonda is a holy grail for collectors of rare psych, and one of the most idiosyncratic works to emerge from the West Coast petri-dish of psychedelics and self-motivated outsiders. The LP was originally issued in a small run on Destiny Records, and today trades hands for absurdly inflated prices, which makes this deluxe digipack CD reissue on Italy's Akarma label a particularly welcome release. Bobby Brown has the misfortune to share a namesake with the notorious R&B artist and Whitney Houston/crack abuser, making Google searches problematic to all but the most persistent. This Bobby Brown was a blonde, blue-eyed flower-child surfer from Sacramento who traveled up and down the West Coast throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s, performing live at acid-drenched beach parties and hawking his records from the back of a van. Brown played more than 50 self-built instruments harps, bells, zithers, woodwinds, sitar and percussion all arranged into an ingeniously constructed series of cross-triggered racks that surrounded him during live performances, making it possible for him to play several instruments and sing simultaneously. His voice stretches across six unusually expressive octaves, vacillating lysergically one moment and perfectly mimicking the sounds of a theremin the next. It's tempting to try to fit this "Universal One Man Orchestra" into a framework including other outsiders such as Harry Partch and Moondog, but the Axonda album resists such easy categorization. It's a concept album, relating the journey of a spiritual adept named "Johnny" from his pastoral Hawaiian home, across the globe and eventually into the cosmos. Johnny makes contact with the God-machine Axonda and its clear beam of consciousness light, which reveals to him the future of mankind the reconciliation of all world religions and a merging into pure, perfected Godhead. It's undeniably hokey and quite often banal, but Bobby Brown's sincerity sells it, hypnotizing with trippy, beatific melodies and an unorthodox marriage of exotica, island music, Indian raga and African rhythms. Brown's speaker-vibrating bass and oceanic tenor coos perfectly express his impossibly utopian philosophies, coasting along with multi-tracked instrumentals and overdubbed vocals, pausing between songs for spoken-word narrative transitions. Brown's painstakingly scribed liner notes are reproduced in this edition, full of hilarious boasts about his explication of the fictional scientific concept of "the Bray" "an original contribution to the field of Religion & Science...not yet discovered by other humanoids" that will one day "lead to the most significant change in the history of humanity (plus total religious unity)." Perhaps Bobby's ambitions were ultimately unrealistic, but The Enlightening Beam of Axonda is an original and uncompromising work of art, and a valuable contribution to the field of outsider art. - Jonathan Dean
DAMENBART, "IMPRESSIONEN '71"
The latest in a long line of excavated rarities from the golden age of Krautrock (1968-1975), Damenbart's storied and obscure album finally gets a proper CD reissue on the Psychedelic Pig label. Though the album, true to its namesake, was recorded in 1971, it never saw the light of release until 1989, when it was issued on the DOM Elchklang label. The tapes for the legendary unreleased album were given to Dr. P. Li Khan and Christoph Heemann of HNAS in 1987, after being discovered in Spain by a former associate of the band. Damenbart was a trio consisting of Erwin Bauer on synthesizer, organ and guitar; Bernd Barth on synthesizer, effects and vocals; and Tina S. on lead vocals. Their sound was unpredictable and mercurial, characterized by thick, amorphous atmospheres formed by layers of droning synths and stacks of overdubbed vocals, with intermittent forays into rhythm and frequent left turns into cavernous, echoplexed noise. Impressionen '71 is the literal wet dream-cum-reality for fetishists of German progressive and kosmische, encompassing all the outre' musical elements that collectors yearn for. "Innovative Schwingungen" (trans: "Innovative Oscillations") begins with a loop of Tina S. intoning the song's title, as scattered drums fly around the stereo channels and stacks of oppressive synth and keyboard are compounded, with excessive phasing and metallic flanging lending a consistently drug-damaged air to Damenbart's psychotic invocations. At about the six-minute mark, aggressive blasts of battering-ram noise signal a brutal descent into a barrage of industrial rhythms. It's actually amazing how much Damenbart's proto-industrial noise has in common with the later strategies of 80s underground artists like HNAS and others. In fact, their gothic-tinged synthesizers sound positively anachronistic at times, forcing me to wonder if Damenbart were somehow able to get hold of prototypes of technology that wouldn't be on the market for at least a decade hence. "Blumen im Haar" ("Flowers in Hair") uses synthesized panpipes, flute, gently strummed guitar and a galaxy of production gimmicks to create a sinister fireside magickal rite in Germany's Black Forest. "Marihuanabrothers" is positively terrifying: a nine-minute wall of amorphous noise with undifferentiated blasts of mindbending distortion. In addition to the four long tracks of the original LP, the CD also includes four bonus tracks unearthed from the same recording sessions. "Space Invocation" finds the band in full Tangerine Dream mode, and "Baum der Erkenntis" is a twisted, chaotic explosion of multi-tracked insanity. Impressionen '71 certainly earns its reputation as one of Krautrock's long-lost gems, not least because the whole thing is a very ingenious hoax perpetrated by Heemann and Khan. HNAS are, in fact, the true musicians behind the album, and they created everything from photos and biographies of the band, to extensive press notes, in an attempt to put one over on unsuspecting Kraut enthusiasts. Way to go, guys. - Jonathan Dean
Minit, "Now Right Here"
I first became aware of Minit through a 7" on Tonschacht, a label whose uniform white-on-black sleeves have since become trusted markers of short-form, lo-fidelity electroacoustic works from a new vanguard of international artists. "Bootleg" was the label's first release, and it captured my eye mainly because of the note: "inspired by and conceived for Chicks on Speed." Based on the starkness of the sleeve design and artist name, I had expected a darker, more cynical version of Chicks' jaunty, metro-centric electro. I wanted to hear a song like their "Night of the Pedestrian" stripped of its role-play humor and taken into the streets for real; I wanted Minit to take electroclash from hot pink heels back to Suicide country, back to rhythms cold and gritty, stuck against the city's pulse. This did not happen exactly. Minit sound nothing like Chicks on Speed. Instead, they play densely textured, drone-based music structured generally around trad Minimalist ideas of simple and understated melody. Latticed field captures, robust organic loops, and stacked synthetic vibrations combine to create immersive environments of certain constancy, but within which textural breakthroughs do occur. Like most works with a tendency towards explicit Minimalism, a part-for-the-whole aesthetic is available here, and any section of these four lengthy songs has potential to reveal a small, shimmering world of harmonic variations and sliding, evaporating tones. To contradictory effect, the music (especially the title track) also seems to move towards specific melodic ascensions, approaching, at several places, throbbing arabesques fit for a full orchestra. These betrayals of subtlety, these breaks in the level planes created by so much textural detailing, create the unique paradox that helps Minit stand out in a glut of like-minded musicians and becomes the only plausible parallel to Chicks on Speed, a group whose success certainly relies on paradox and odd juxtaposition. For all its stasis and flat expanses, Now Right Here does not shy away from easily emotive forms, often leading songs into the kind of swelling, post-rock flirtations associated with people like Godspeed You Black Emperor!. Bits of Now Right Here remind me of the overpowering-yet-concise melancholy of William Basinski's Disintegration Loops. However, rather than keeping these moments of catharsis contained behind the ever-widening sense of loss and distance that is unavoidable in the Basinski pieces, Minit works through a kind of reverse process in which the grandiose sections are slowly pieced together almost like by-products of the music's droning surface play. The peaks or "destinations" in Minit's music are always anticipated though never quite required, a special quality that keeps their records fresh for revisiting and more than makes up for the relative familiarity of the group's sound. (It's worth mentioning also that two of this disc's four tracks appeared on two recent Australian-scene compilations, Variable Resistance and Motion, though this one is probably worth checking out for its 20-minute title cut alone). - Andrew Culler
ml, "Man Is The Warmest Place To Hide"
With this year's eigth Piehead release the Oregon-based ml have curiously decided to crank out a full-length homage to the music of spooky film director and composer, John Carpenter. Many may not know that Carpenter often likes to write the music for his films, giving campy classics like Big Trouble in Little China and Dark Star their appropriately stiff and synth-heavy backing. ml, on the other hand, are more known for their tricked out beats and goofy sense of humor that place them firmly in the west coast new electronic psuedo-dance family these days, so while it's not what I expected from the former Thine Eyes guys, it's not hard to imagine either. I'm not sure how noble it is to crib someone else's style so deliberately that it becomes a tribute, but somehow Man Is The Warmest Place To Hide manages to be both fun and faithful to the source without ever sounding cheap. Well, it's no cheaper than a John Carpenter score so it seems to be working on that level. The music is all a series of simple themes with a filmic overtone that makes them moody but not overly complicated. While the sounds don't come from a Carpenter film, it's easy to see them working with one. Most of the timbres are lifted straight from vintage synths (or vintage synth emulators as may be the case) and the sound design is intentionally not clever or obtrusive. The few places where the guys resort to more recent sounding filters and patches actually take the songs out of that full-on Carpenter world and help bridge the gap between goofy experiment and music that's actually enjoyable on its own. Ml have never established a firm style to my ears over the years. They tend to blend in with other acts from the Pacific northwest who trade in quirky, laptop-fueled post-industrial beat making and so it's a little ballsy for them to put something like this out that gives most of the stylistic cues up to unseen source material. I'd like to see more people try this sort of thing, if only to see what talented musicians can do with an artificial but well-understood set of limitations. The obvious question is: is the record worth listening to outside of the context of the John Carpenter angle, and I'm not sure about that. I suppose the answer lies in how much you like John Carpenter's music. It definitely feels a little cheesy if you take away the idea that it's an homage, but if you know going in what it's all about, it's quite a fun thing to spin. As it stands though, this is my favorite batch of ml songs to date, and I'm not sure what that means for the rest of their discography. What it means for now is that Piehead scores again with another release we're not likely to have seen without this special series, which is pretty awesome. - Matthew Jeanes
The Twilight Singers, "She Loves You"
One Little Indian
Greg Dulli has always been able to pull off an entertaining cover now and then when he takes his traveling band on the road. For their latest release, he's decided to record a whole album of songs he didn't write, and, based upon comments on his website, some of the choices might be wholly on dares from friends. It's a refreshing collection, as Dulli doesn't stay just in one genre, or interpret the songs all in the same fashion, which makes for some real gems and a few missteps, in true Dulli tradition. The album opens with a rather mellow number in "Feeling of Gaze," a Hope Sandoval tune that could easily have been sultry with her, but Dulli makes it his melancholy own. Then it's "Too Tough to Die," which he also manages to pull off despite occasional cracks of voice, and the record starts to move into "I can't believe he's a man, and he's still killing these songs by women" territory. The next one is the real killer, though: "Hyperballad" is not exactly a song that would seem well-suited to his style, but with the Singers it's a proud, soaring, and glorified take on Björk's tune of self-destruction. "Hyperballad" is also the first complaint, as the mixing on the chorus is almost ruined by the distortion coming through the speakers. Somehow, the whole package is not ruined and the song rises above anyway. As does "What Makes You Think You're the One," even though Dulli's vocal sounds just a twinge off for the whole song, calling back to "Band of Gold" from the Uptown Avondale EP. That's part of the reason to admire Dulli and his effort, though, as he doesn't seem concerned with sounding like the best rendition of the song ever, just sounding passable and putting out a version of the song he likes, even though it may tweak the ears a bit. It's all worth it on something like "Real Love" yes, the Mary J. Blige version or "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair," which was released on a single all its own last year, but its inclusion makes the set complete and a little sweeter. By the time Gershwin's "Summertime" comes around, the album takes a real sharp dark turn. That's Dulli's style exactly, and though these songs may jar here and there they do make a mark. - Rob Devlin
Coti, "Lido Lato"
Though I've heard the formula before, it's impossible to disregard this album. Despite being another quiet and minimalist approach to electronic soundscaping, there's something special about the way these songs play themselves out and, in some cases, the integration of just a few key sounds adds up to startling beauty. Lido Lato is a double CD release from Greece's Poeta Negra label. The CDs differ from each other in slight ways. The first disc is a purely sound-oriented amalgam of synthetic pops, hisses, hiccups, and blurs while the second disc sounds like it could be performed live by a group of individuals (given the right equipment). "Amymoni P." and "Shaker S." begin the first disc with a wavering blend of distorted plastic expanding into infinity and a churning series of pseudo-melodies that barely escape the speakers. They're a perfect statement of intent and while I've heard similar compositions before, Coti has a unique way of arranging the sounds so that they play with eachother in ways that are unavoidably hypnotic. "Beben G.," for instance, rolls along in exactly the same way from beginning to end, but Coti adds a whole spectrum of sounds over this radiating harmony and ends up producing the illusion of movement. The manner in which the crystaline pops and hums fall in and out of existence is somewhat breathtaking and repeated listens only add to its beauty. There are numerous examples of excellent aural trickery to be heard throughout the first disc. It would have, by itself, stood comfortably as a great album with many highlights, but the second disc is the most attractive thing about Lido Lato. "Neige P." is the more rhythmic cousin to disc one's "Amymoni P.;" where one moans and bellows, the other skips along in staccato before loosening up and bleeding away in a whisper of piano and reverberation. The mixing of acoustic and electronic sound sources on disc 2 is absolutely superb. "Partito Per Sempre" coughs and eases along with the sound of escalating whines and old upright pianos hooked up to life support. The instruments never stand away from their buzzing counterparts, but they add an element that would've made the first disc even more exceptional and unique. "Beben P." stands out in my mind as one of the finest and most endearing songs I've heard this year. A simple melody played on what sounds like a toy keyboard gallops along clumsily over the sound of a baby attempting to sing and playing with wooden or plastic toys. I found myself pressing the back button on this song more than a few times before moving on to the final two pieces. "P. Strtch" closes out the album with the purity of strings moving like water over a faded and delicate ringing that escapes into the atmosphere. The way the violins and cellos take over the synthesizers and laptop productions is as elegant as can be and it serves as the perfect ending to an album that showcases the depths electronic music can reach. - Lucas Schleicher
Hardman, "Shirts and Pistols"
I can't shake the feeling that Shirts and Pistols is Hardman's version of "Shits and Giggles," as this album plays like a collection of oddball in-jokes and quirky jams thrown together for fun. Toying with pop song melodies and structures, Hardman wrangle up convincing electro-pop tunes that owe less to the punk ethos of electroclash than to psychadelia and surrealist non-sequiturs. Songs about superheroes share the disc with tracks that juxtapose the various meanings of "Hardman" using porn and preacher samples with equal gusto. When they want to, as on "100 Years," the duo can craft hypnotic, organic electro-trip pieces that hum with strings and reverb and repeating vocal phrases that drift out of consciousness. On the other hand, tracks like "50's Fabric" touch on a kind of groovy, digitally-enhanced folk that's full of free verse poetry, acoustic guitars and vibes. Whether they are playing with bluesy tones, straight up electronic pop, or something a little more leftfield, the songs are always tight and short, leaving the album with a bit of a compiled, schizophrenic feel. In fact, a few of the tracks just kind of stop dead, as if the experiment that spawned them was suddenly brough to a halt. This is, if ever there was one, a studio album where accomplished producers and musicians have afforded themselves the time and means to jot down whatever ideas might strike them. With that approach, there are inevitably a few tracks that could be trimmed without losing much, but nothing is so long as to overstay its welcome. It sounds a bit self-indulgent at times, and borders on being too intentionally weird, but somehow Shirts and Pistols manages to stay endearing and interesting for 17 tracks. - Matthew Jeanes
Luther & Toby, "Karny Sutra"
Providing less variation than this election year's candidates are, a piano/organ player and a drummer play music that, with few exceptions, relies on a formula of presentation and peculiarity to succeed. The first thing that caught my eye is the rather distinct and beautiful painting that adorns the cover of this album. It is painted by the Clayton Brothers of L.A. and has a carnival appeal to it. The hands and faces of figures are distorted and bring to mind visions of a more focused Ren & Stimpy or maybe just a slightly less disturbing Mark Ryden. The music is reminiscent of the ways carnivals have always been portrayed in the movies. For the most part an organ dominates the melodic progression of the album and steady, almost military-like drums undercut this dry movement of cheap thrills and train-wreck amusements. When the opening track began I was fairly thrilled; the obvious musical reference to freak-show attractions promised quite a lot, but Luther & Toby deliver very little. Slowly the over-simple combination of musical elements becomes lackluster. There are moments when nothing happens despite the fact that I know an organ is emitting a series of notes. Towards the end of the record, on songs like "Aluminum Lady" and "144,000," Luther & Toby manage to strike just the right mood by moving away from their love of the strange and absurd. Gorgeous melodies and shifting rhythms sweep together in a dramatic fashion and conjure up a need for repeat listens. But two or three songs aren't enough to save an album that tried too hard to present a particular image. No matter how engaging an initial idea can be, it's hard to make a record based on that idea alone or at least it's very difficult to do so without the music becoming samey in very quick fashion. While the photographs in the booklet and the promise of "Lucrezia Borgia Waltz" made it seem as though Luther & Toby were going to ride down a long, untrampled road, the majority of the album simply meditates on a superficial and ultimately uninteresting image. If there are circus oddities and strange twists of genetic code to be found in the world this album only hints at them. At the last moment, on the closing "Oh Sore Sore Song," there is a vast emptiness opened up and a group of voices sing a tune that could've only been heard in local taverns and for just a moment there is something truly engaging about the album that suggests a past or a history of someplace unique. The song is, unfortunately, only a minute and six seconds long. I don't want to say Luther & Toby are a one-trick pony, but there's no difference between dressing an album like this in rich pictures and loosely developed concepts and dressing up a bunch of rich boys, giving them bad haircuts, and calling them "rock n' roll."- Lucas Schleicher
Julian Fane, "Special Forces"
I had been wondering when we'd see the first of the post-Sigur Ros releases to emerge. It's been several years since Iceland's finest wowed listeners just about everywhere and I always imagined that the result would be an avalanche of artists trying to recreate the feeling of being swept up in the epic, weepy tones of bowed guitars and reverb-drenched organs. Julian Fane, a 21-year old Canadian solo artist is the fist thing I've heard that immediately and unquestionably calls forth that otherworldy music from the north, but he does a lot more than that. The release is a bit odd for Planet µ, a label that's made its name more on dancey and not-so-dancey but still beat-centric eclectic electronic artists like Venetian Snares, Jega, Bit_Meddler and so on. Still, there is an undercurrent of strong electronics throughout Special Forces that tips Fane's hand as someone familiar enough with the glitch-beat sound of his contemporaries to know how to pique the µ-Ziq fans' interest. The beats certainly don't take center stage though, as they click and thump under waves of rich and fuzzy synth tones, manipulated acoustic instruments, and occassionally Fane's own voice. It's at this point that my opinion of the record is decidedly split. For most of the tracks, the wintery strings and crackling percussion work well and provide moments of real (and not just emulated) beauty. But when Fane steps in to sing in an unintelligible falsetto, the album tends to derail for me into a place where just sounding like other people's records turns in to trying to recreate them. The first two songs with singing are actually pleasant and well-balanced. While the high-pitched whiny vocal style so reminiscent of Thom Yorke and Jónsi Birgisson isn't my favorite, it doesn't detract from the lush soundscapes into which Fane plants his voice. However, successive songs with vocals deteriorate quickly into what sounds likea parodythis is Jimmy Fallon's impression of Hopelandic and it's funny, but it's not supposed to be. Thankfully, the vocal tracks are far-outweighed by the rest of the album's solid instrumentals. I can certainly forgive the young composer's few vocal missteps on an otherwise excellent debut on which he has created another perfect winter soundtrack for the broken-hearted. - Matthew Jeanes
Blow Up Hollywood, "Fake"
Blow Up Hollywood
The melodies might be vibrant and the arrangements lush, but nothing can fix the feeling that there's a lot of counterfeit sentiment being tossed around this album. I'd like to say I felt something while listening to this record, but the vocal delivery and the sappy, over-romantic instrumentation simply sounded too much like a bad radio drama to be interesting. Fake opens up with the seven minute creeper, "Born." The vocalist sounds like he is trying hard to say something that is emotionally draining and utterly important, but he comes across sounding like a 10 year old boy convinced that he's in love. Speaking of 10 year old boys, the lyrics sound as though they're meant to convey all sorts of meanings (it's the delivery of the singer that makes them sound so important) but I'm not sure I understand what he's singing about on "Born." I'm not sure I know what's going on in any of these ten songs to tell the truth. Blow Up Hollywood are obviously reaching for some lofty concept that will lift them up above other bands and into the realms of "important" and "socially conscious;" one look at their website and it seems like they've got this grand Zen-influenced statement to make. This teenager-symptom (self-importance?) ruins what talent the band has. That self-importance isn't just in the singer's head, though, otherwise I might have been able to enjoy the album for its music. The music sounds like a half-assed attempt at mixing the grandeur of orchestral music with the glossy sheen of popular rock n' roll radio. There's absolutely no grit anywhere on the record, that's what makes it sound so damned self-important and phony. There's absolutely no sign of anger, no sign of confusion, or any hint that maybe pain could take part in these sappy meanderings. That slick and prosthetic production accounts for 90% of what's wrong with the music. There might be room for this somewhere in a bad movie where the boy finds the girl and they fall in love all over again despite the fact that, while she was away, he was busy with about 10 other girls. Right, suddenly jackass is in love and everything's going to be okay and in the end there's going to be a white picket fence, little crying bastards everywhere, and a dog attacking the mailman in the front yard. Forgive me for being so angry, but when a mediocre album entitled Fake crosses my path and then tries to play itself off as an anti-establishment or somehow spiritually fulfilling record that eschews all pretense, I tend towards a complete lack of faith in the honestly rebellious spirit and begin to think that maybe the last 10 years of federally sponsored media mergers has completely killed any real chance of music inspiring righteous indignation and civil disobedience ever again.- Lucas Schleicher
Delivery Room is a bargain-priced sampler of new and upcoming releases from the Leaf Label, and reflects the eclectic, modern aesthetic of label boss Tony Morley. Unfortunately, as is often the case with collections such as these, there is a fair amount of substandard material by bands the label hopes to promote, as well as songs that suffer from the lack of context inherent in a compilation. The trio of Bill Wells, Stefan Schneider and Anne Whitehead contribute two tracks from their mini-album Pick Up Sticks. These three musicians (and the uncredited keyboardist Barbara Morgenstern) form an avant-jazz ensemble with trombonist Whitehead improvising over Wells' spacious, textured laptop-glitch backdrops. Mexican IDM artist Murcof is virtually indistinguishable from every other artist of his ilk, and Sutekh's mix adds merely another level of boring pseudo-sophistication. In my view, Icarus is one of the more overrated electronica artists currently being heralded by scads of post-hip laptop enthusiasts, and the two cuts included here from his Leaf album I Tweet the Birdy Electric (Walt Whitman puns are oh so clever) don't do anything to change my mind. I know a lot of people who would slap me for saying this, but I'm also not altogether convinced that Manitoba's Up In Flames was an amazing reinvention of the avant-pop wheel (is there an avant-pop wheel?), and the pointless song fragment "Crayon" included here is nice, but disposable. A Hawk and a Hacksaw is the new project from ex-Bablicon, Neutral Milk Hotel and Guignol member Jeremy Barnes, and the self-titled debut is another collection of songs composed and recorded in the French countryside. The two tracks included here are richly detailed, piano-led folk songs with gloriously uncomplicated melodies and a natural sense of development, with interesting touches of outre' production. Perhaps the best reason to buy this compilation is the inclusion of a previously unreleased (outside of Japan) track from Asa Chang & Junray, whose Leaf album and subsequent EP were two of my favorite experimental releases of the last two years. "Parlor," taken from the Senaka EP, is a typically ingenious mix of hicupping, laptop-treated tabla rhythms, trumpets and recordings of Japanese slot machines. 310's "Exumix" is a jazzy sort of downtempo number that might appeal to fans of the Ninja Tune label, but holds zero interest for me. Colleen's "Ritournelle" tried hard to convince me that it was anything other than a looped kindergarten glockenspiel with extraneous glitches and pops, but failed. Japan's Riow Arai contribute one of those instrumental hip-hop things where they keep interrupting and/or mutating a random beat using ProTools presets, thereby producing something that is sure to be labeled genius by someone balder and more European than me. Clue to Kalo sound even more dreadfully dull on "Ignore the Forest Floor" than they did on their first full-length; more Four Tet beats with emo vocals. Ending the collection is a fascinating unreleased track by A Small Good Thing, a tantalizingly indescribably work of evocative cinematic ambience, sounding not unlike a spaghetti western taking place at night in a German POW camp. - Jonathan Dean
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