Any hip hop record that references Aqua Teen Hunger Force, The Neverending Story and Street Fighter II in the first ninety seconds without sounding absurdly corny has something going for it, and Black Dialogue just improves from there. Possibly the most heavily anticipated Boston hip-hop release of the past 10 years (ironically released on New York-based Definitive Jux), Black Dialogue represents what is hopefully the once-and-future identity of hip hop: witty, exuberant, politcal, playful and thoughtful all at once. There is also remarkable balance between the players: not once does either Mr. Lif, Akrobatik or Fakts One unfairly steal the stage or fail to shine when called upon, not even when dueting with Boston legend Guru and the notorious big nosed Humpty Hump (!!). Black Dialogue opens with the brash thumper "Let's Move!!," a bombastic call-to-arms that combines the aforementioned dorkiness with the skillful and cerebral rhyming that have served Lif and Ak so well in the past. The two MCs share the spotlight, rhyming line on line, occasionally spitting back and forth, sometimes dropping verses at a time, keeping Black Dialogue's tempo and energy up at all times. Along with hilarious diss couplets like "This ain't no fraternity step-show/ wait, you'll be traded upstate like Bledsoe," Black Dialogue also has social consciousness worthy of Public Enemy. "Memorial Day" decries the war in Iraq and the spurious weapons of mass destruction while honoring those who serve, and the title track is a relevant and timely statement on the status of visible black America, offering a stinging rebuke to the one-dimensional MTV and BET set: "I walk the path my elders laid out/cause acting like a monkey for white folks is played out." Black Dialogue isn't perfect. The attempted ballad "Love Letters" falls flat on its face from the goofy opening lyric "You don't even know I exist/But I want you to/ That's why I'm writing you this love letter," and there's a few too many tracks dedicated to hip hop for hip hop's sake that sound vapid in the face of the heavier fare. But while "Blo" and "People 4 Prez" could be seen as breezy overindulgences, the guest spots provided by Guru on "Party Hard" and Humpty Hump on "Career Finders" simply tear the roof off, more than making up for any shortcoming and sealing the deal on Black Dialogue, a rare combination of relevance and enjoyment - Chris Roberts
Hrvatski, "Irrevocably Overdriven Break Freakout Megamix"
There are nine albums worth of material on this one disc; Keith Fullerton Whitman just doesn't bother sticking to any one idea, there are too many new places to go for that. The Hrvatski debut for Entschuldigen records is 91 songs in 40 minutes. This insanely hectic mix of various breaks, noises, jumbles, and explosions unapologetically moves at the speed of light. Averaging roughly 26 seconds per track and recorded live in 2004, Keith Whitman is assembling, abusing, and throwing away themes, ideas, melodies, rhythms, and effects so fast that it is sometimes hard to keep up with what's happening. Thankfully, the Irrevocably Overdriven Break Freakout Megamix album develops over a series of tracks, letting some melodies and flurries of intergalactic noise doom sink in before they are slapped around and left for dead in the wake of Whitman's playful attitude towards his own brand of electronic grooviness. Up until track 50 or so, Whitman stays pretty loose, not letting many rhythms repeat themselves whatsoever, but playing around with unified sets of samples. After track 50, Whitman seems to have indexed many of the songs by which rhythm he was choosing to use underneath an already established arrangement based on instrument timbre and mood. In fact, tracks 50 through 58 run around a brass-like horn born of the pits of hell, but by track 59 Whitman has ditched that theme altogether and arrived at some odd crossing of video-game music and tin percussion static. Out of nowhere track 61 opens up a keyboard melody that dots across a hazy and smoky series of buzzed out samples and iron crashes. At every turn Whitman is moving into new territory. Sometimes his breaks sound familiar, like something that might get a few people dancing, but before any four-on-the-floor action can get going, Whitman tears the music to shreds with the sound of wrecked civilizations and damaged electronics. Irrevocably Overdriven is a limited run disc (though the site doesn't say just how limited) and is likely to be snatched up quickly and for good reason; music this much fun is rare and the quality of Whitman's live work on this disc is just as good as anything he does at home or in his studio. - Lucas Schleicher
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-la-la Band, "Horses in the Sky"
Godspeed's caterwauling Efrim pummels out another Silver Mt. Zion release complete with an elaborated band name. Each subsequent release appends another piece on the original A Silver Mt. Zion appellation. Among the other things that have been augmented since the first release is Efrim's vocal presence, which at this point is pretty ubiquitous. In the lower registers, his voice is a fairly stable countertenor which over-pronounces the lyrics disarmingly. But Efrim can warble his voice and destabilize it when he reaches and extends it slightly. The effect is purposeful but perhaps not always pleasant. The Mt. Zion music rises and falls behind the vocal wanderings, creating either an impressive mountainous background or an insufficient mole-hill which leaves the music unguarded and vulnerable. In either case, the socio-political critiques and commentaries of the vocals take center-stage on the album, sometimes supported by glittering beautiful music and sometimes left out to dry like so many of the disenfranchised subjects of the septet's lyrics. The album's opener "God Bless Our Dead Marines" begs the question, "Does Canada have Marines, or is he talking about America's?" In either case, someone is putting angels in electric chairs, according to Efrim, and the band marches through six disparate and disconnected movements describing a collection losses or deaths, none of whom sound very much like the few and the proud. "Mountains Made of Steam" is the best song in the album, elaborating quietly on the theme of "My Favorite Things" in its first half. Mt. Zion's chorus backs up Efrim in this first half, eventually yielding to a reverberating guitar which itself gives way to the more fascinating cello bridge between the final movement. The choir sings over the cello, "The angels in your palm/ sing gentle worried songs,/ and the sweetness of our dreams/ like mountains made of steam" while other strings casually but importantly join in. The violins' melody over the cello lilts hypnotizingly and too soon the song dissipates without any hint of a departure. It marks one of the most graceful exits ever for a song. The title track is a quiet, contemplative song marked more by restraint than most of the album. To see an example about how the music can throw the vocalists under the bus, you need only listen to "Hang on to Each Other." "Ring Them Bells" is the most Godspeedesque composition, while "Teddy Roosevelt's Guns" is the most thematically and lyrically interesting (think of it as Canadian national protest anthem outfitted thoughtfully with the obligatory apostrophe "Oh Canada"). Horses in the Sky is a very holistic album, comprising and even colliding various sounds of the Constellation Records family under this one, though admittedly rambling, band name. If the rambling can be weathered, there are some worthwhile moments on the album which are not drowned out by the equine stampede of the band's thoughts. - Joshua David Mann
The first disc of this two CD set contains a live recording from 2003, originally intended for studio completion, while the other contains some of Ivan Pavlov's first recordings as Coh from 1997. In 1997 Pavlov seemed content to let a consistent rhythmic pattern remain unchanged for nearly four minutes, as evidenced on "Fracture," however, with 2003's "Untitled Smash Hit," the skeletal groove transforms into a techno-esque pattern that most of the preceeding tracks were remotely hinting at. An entire set of this type of solid 4/4 groove would wear thin quickly, but by gradually building the set to this point, it is a welcome release of the tension that has built up during the rhythmically ambiguous first half of the set. "Dynamo Babe" seamlessly keeps up the pace and sees Pavlov weaving layers of interlocking 16th note patterns that build up to a distorted ending. The newer set works better because the tracks build off of each other and have a better sense of cohesion. Much of the early set has a similar feel to his recordings released between 1998 and 2000 on Raster-Noton, exploring the intricacies of single tones and pulses for minutes on end. Hearing these two sets back to back it is clear that he has since become skilled at combining these base sounds into more structurally and compositionally advanced pieces, which have become more enjoyable for me at least. The recent tracks are also noticeably shorter than their 1997 counterparts, showing that he has learned how to distill the important information into a tighter composition, and not waste as much space. While the crisp, digital textures Pavlov was exploring in 1997 still sound fresh texturally, his subsequent development as a composer and arranger is what will allow him to remain relevant in the future. - Jim Siegel
Magnolia Electric Co, "What Comes After the Blues"
Jason Molina seems to be getting all the wrong kind of attention. Pegged as a follower and adherent of any number of past songwriters, Molina's distinct voice and his band's broad musical range often goes ignored in favor of unnecessary name dropping and undeserved, negative comparisons. The Magnolia Electric Co showed Songs:Ohia taking off into a full sound that covered epic guitar-driven pieces just as well as old-time country feelings. Molina was certainly pulling spirits out of the past, but his own mark was clear and distinct on every track. What Comes After the Blues continues the varied character of Molina's last record and sees Molina and his band emerging from whatever lines were drawn between them and other performers. The album begins with the rush and force of "The Dark Don't Hide It," a song that's appeared on the road for some time, now, but sounds incredible in the studio with the new band that Molina has decided to record with. The arrangement is fluid, crossing in and out of acoustic and electric instruments and building with a hidden intensity that culminates in one of my favorite lyrics on the record. Molina's delivery might seem restrained, but the resignation in his voice and the chorus make the intensity greater than it would've been with simplistic volume increase or dynamic explosion. The slide-guitar playing stands out on several songs, but nowhere more than on "The Night Shift Lullaby." Its warm tone literally bleeds all over Jennie Benford's lovely vocals. The first four songs on the record are incredibly strong. "Leave the City" is one of the more unique songs in Molina's catalogue. The trumpet playing takes center stage in front of a cast of country guitars and piano, but cannot seem to escape Molina's lament over leaving his hometown. Magnolia Electric Co have never recorded anything as beautiful as "Hard to Love a Man" and the easy disposition of the entire second half of the album is simply blissful. Both "Hammer Down" and "I Can Not Have Seen the Light" are maybe two of the best Molina has written; they're simple and naked lyrically and sonically. Molina might be compared to a whole slew of people, but nobody sounds like him and there's only a few bands that can touch on Magnolia Electric Co's soulful delivery and power. - Lucas Schleicher
The third album from one of my three favorite Rune groups makes the second essential Rune release of the year (after Food's Last Supper). The title does not describe a new modus-operandi for the duo; it is instead an abstracted definition of Alog's unique position since their first record. Apparently a specific reference to Turkish miniature paintingwhere artists are subject to a rigorous structure demanding no perspective, no shadow, no uniqueness of objects, etc,...the album is the group's most beguiling work yet, emphasizing ideas that define their sound: that no track is merely a sum of its parts, that arrangement is central and will not be led by predictable dependences or pattern-for-pattern's-sake. Like so much of John Cage's work, Alog music is necessarily un-improvised but stands firmly on the side of chance, suggestion, and natural lopsidedness. Their technique remains a rather straightforward computerized cut-loop-paste-repeat of warm digital flicker and the disassociated instrumental sounds of guitar, organ, string, bell, and percussion, though to call the duo's music fragmentary is to miss something. Theirs is not an Ovalian world of compositions realized through faulty connection or breakdown, but a similarly electrified domain in which sounds approach an abstract (if not pure) reverie, repeated only enough to erase the temporal nature of their origins, lent only enough open space to wind themselves out, and given momentum only through a kind of forced contact with contrastive elements. While on past releases this kind of directive-less song-building could sound amateurish or at times even grating, Miniatures feels uncommonly graceful after only a few listens. The probability of a track's ending entirely unrecognizable from its beginning will always be a reason to give Alog a chance, one that is justified immediately here with the opening track, "Severe Punishment and Lasting Bliss," which served also as the attractive start for the latest Rune sampler, Runeology. A virtual hour in ten minutes takes tiny, plastic synth smears through a fuzzed toy guitar, growing miraculous and soon to steam engine, then to 4-track feedback harness attempt, and on to the anticlimax that in Alog fashion comes forward to claim my whole climactic memory of the track: a penetrating, fat ass-end of a drone, bottoming out and out until reeled in to simple, sleepy strings, a miniature quartet all along. Another of the disc's longer tracks ("St. Paul Sessions II") appeared as the lead-off track on Rune compilation/mission statement Money Will Ruin Everything last year, but such previous exposure need not be a deterrent as the album is completely solid, both patchy and fluid in the best ways. For the Alog-familiar, plenty of surprises wait inside, like the duo's increased incorporation of ambient sound (more on-the-surface and populated with voices) and a pleasant favoritism of live, clatter-heavy percussion over drum machines. As usual, listening is less involved with marveling at just how different sound is shifted into the mix than with the experience of drifting forward with each newly abstracted noise and uncovering the powers of suggestion latent in each.
- Andrew Culler
SUNBURNED HAND OF THE MAN
This disc reissues a live LP from Sunburned Hand of the Man that was originally released in 2003 in a small edition that was immediately snatched up by collectors. It is part of a trio of digital reissues of limited live LPs by the Wabana label (the other two are from Acid Mothers Temple and Wolf Eyes), all of which come packaged in generic purple digipacks with a skull on the back and a clear sticker on the front. I'm not exactly sure why Wabana decided to forgo reproducing the original sleeve artwork and liner notes, but I suppose it's the music that matters most, and all three of these discs reissue highly sought after titles, so it's hard to complain. This untitled live album by Sunburned is only one out of a veritable storm of limited CDs, LPs, CD-Rs, DVD-Rs and other ephemora released by the ensemble, all of which, if I'm not mistaken, are recorded live. I confess that I'm not even close to having heard everything, but I can say without reservation that this is one of the best out of the handful that I have heard. It's far better and more focused than meandering, shambolic affairs like Headdress and Magnetic Drugs, more on a par with the fiery intensity of my favorite SBHOTM album Jaybird. Because all Sunburned music is the product of improvisation and spontaneitya free jazz ensemble that plays on the collective memory of white jam-band psychedelia rather than black bluestheir performances and albums are hit or miss. It is precisely this air of risk and unpredictability that I suspect has won the band such a devoted cult following, and made them the darlings of The Wire's critical intelligentsia. Indeed, it can be satisfying to hear a mess this unstructured, aimless and chaotic gradually coalesce into coherence, as the ensemble locates a hypnotic groove and chases it to its natural conclusion. As usual, this recording is not a crystalline example of crispness and fidelity, and there is a lot of the reverb, distortion and room sound that have become de rigeur for Sunburned recordings. This seems to be an intentional part of the Sunburned aesthetic, however, and it adds another level of interest to the music itself, which might not have the same subterranean atmosphere of vague menace without it. The first of the four untitled tracks on the album takes a queue from Agartha-era Miles Davis, with an overdriven Kraut-funk bassline forming the backbone for searing horn bleats and dusty clouds of fuzz guitar. The second track is an extended meditation on war, in the general tradition of Sun Ra's "Nuclear War," with the lead vocalist repeatedly shouting the key three-letter word as the rest of the ensemble form a complex web of echoplexed tribal drumming, flutes and weaving saxophone. The fourth and final track contains over 18 minutes of some of SBHOTM's oddest music yet, a series of twitchy, nervously sexual conversations between voice and brass, drums and drone. Sunburned seem to hint at the kind of high magickal ritual achieved by Can's "Aumgn," but there is a seething undercurrent of apocalyptic dread that keeps things from getting too blissed out, just in case you might have been lulled into the mistaken notion that Sunburned Hand of the Man are peaceful hippies, instead of the hardcore thugs they really are. - Jonathan Dean
ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE, "BORN TO BE WILD IN THE U.S.A."
This was originally issued on LP in a run of 1000 copies, released to commemorate the Acid Mother Temple's tour of America in the year 2000. Wabana's digital reissue in the generic purple digipack reproduces the exact same tracklist as the original, with no extras: just five tracks excerpted from live shows at various venues across the land of the (mostly) free. The recordings that comprise this album could only be described as dodgy, often sounding not much better than a fan-recorded bootleg made on a wobbly old cassette deck. As per usual, AMT push their noisy space-rock contortions into the red zone, which together with the low-fidelity, high-distortion recording quality, makes for an album that will be unappealing to all but the most committed listeners of blistering, atonal noise rock. Personally, I prefer other AMT live documents to this one, most especially the superlative Live in Japan released in 2002. Because of its relative brevity, this album must cut short certain songs, which in the case of epic, monolithic tracks like "La Novia" and "Pink Lady Lemonade" is truly unfortunate. "Pink Lady Lemonade" is to AMT what "Dark Star" was to the Dead: they perform it at nearly every gig, and there are as many variations and permutations on the song as there are times they've performed it. The relatively brief variation included here only hints at the full power of the song, excerpting an eight-minute maelstrom of churning guitar noise and squealing synthesizer from what was most likely a much longer performance (it's not at all rare for performances of the song to last 45 minutes to an hour). AMT's longform adaptation of the Occitainian folk song "La Novia" is also included, with Kawabata Makoto pulling some particularly fierce, ephochal solos from his much-abused electric guitar. However, without the enraptured vocal harmonies that normally begin the song, this version feels stunted and incomplete. The Japanese psych-rockers' insane rendition of "Acid Tokion 2000" is probably the only track that recommends this album over past live documents, a heavy, acid-drenched wall of chirping, twittering electronics matched with Kawabata's senseless, masturbatory improvisations, falling over himself as he races towards the song's orgasmic conclusion. Even with this inclusion of this killer cut, I'd say it's a safer bet to seek out Live in Japan. That is, of course, unless you are a completist, in which case you should consider getting a life. - Jonathan Dean
WOLF EYES, "FUCK PETE LARSEN"
This particularly cruel, sustained assault on the senses was originally issued in a run of 600 LPs in 2002. After listening to Fuck Pete Larsen through several times on headphones, then on my stereo cranked up loud enough to scare the entire apartment building and prompt a police call, I've come to the conclusion that it's probably not a good idea to piss off Wolf Eyes the way Pete Larsen must have. As a way of expressing their violent distaste with he-who-shall-not-remain-nameless, Wolf Eyes launch into a lengthy, aggressive, speaker-cone obliterating storm of electronic noise and senseless junkyard scrap metal percussion. High-pitched squeals and grating, piercing shrieks and monstrous screams echo through a maelstrom of cheap junk electronics that have turned against their masters, shooting out showers of sparks and shrapnel that embeds itself into your cranium, sizzling your scalp like hot battery acid. The sweet, putrid smell of protein burns, decaying flesh and cross-wired electrical smoke fuse together, burning nasal passageways faster than a gram of dirty bathtub crank. A demented, jerry-rigged post-consumer junkyard cyborg lumbers through a dystopian future cityscape that resembles what Escape From Detroit might have looked like if John Carpenter had ever made such a film. Far in the distance, contract builders hired by the occupational government drill giant holes in the ground in order to erect a giant rusty watchtower that transmits a 24-hour tinfoil-hate-penetrating brain scramble frequency to keep the street gangs in line. The cold, biting wind howls and the moon is blotted out by smog that chokes the life from every living thing not equipped with industrial-strength breathing filters. Sure, this is well-worn territory, and it could be argued that Wolf Eyes don't stray too far from the imperatives first set in motion by Throbbing Gristle and their ilk more than 25 years ago. However, Wolf Eyes are very good at negotiating this territory. Their noise assaults are narrative in their scope, building fascinating dramas from junk electronics, air raid sirens, homemade distortion boxes and other assorted stuff. Though there is, obviously, a dark streak of nihilism running through the sounds on Fuck Pete Larsen, there is also an atmosphere of a few guys having a lot of fun making a big, scary racket. It's this punk-rock attitude and playfulness that has earned them a place in the Sub Pop roster (not to mention their more structured, rhythmic work on Burned Mind). I'd be lying if I claimed there was anything particularly unique about this album over many of the other limited LPs, cassettes and CD-Rs by this very prolific band, but it does the job nicely, and sometimes that's all you can ask for. - Jonathan Dean
Fog, "10th Avenue Freakout"
Tired of hip-hop's limitations, onetime club DJ Andrew Broder went into his basement with a slew of second-hand instruments that he didn't really know how to play. What came outa mishmash of keys, drums, turntablism and an army of odd sounds, organic and otherwisebecame his one-man band Fog. Most of the compositions on his first two records, though nothing like the jams he used to spin, had recognizable breakbeats and vaguely similar song structures to the very music Broder wanted to abandon. On his third effort and first on Lexicon, he makes a clean break, coming very close to making a pop record. 10th Avenue Freakout still displays Broder's talent as a sound collagistthe album's thirteen tracks are simply brimming with patchworks of different noises: horns, woodwinds, blips, beeps and even the stray turntable. The arrangements are alternately sparse and low key and cacophonously busy, providing the perfect backdrop for Broder's pleasantly thin, reedy voice that takes the stage when it needs to, but sometimes fades into the sea of noises and becomes just another pleasurable sound. The record starts off strong. "Can You Believe It?" subtly layers organs and strings over a distorted broken drum and ends with horns flourishing. Broder's songwriting is strongest on "We're Winning," an apocalyptic warning that is nearly lost in the staccato backbeat. Unfortunately, nowhere on the record do Broder's lyrics and music work better together. While 10th Avenue Freakout is more accessible and easier to hum than anything Broder has done before, the end result feels like two distinct entities vying for attention at the expense of the other. In the end, the music wins, and 10th Avenue Freakout is the better for it. Broder is capable of beautiful harmonizing, and 10th Avenue Freakout is full of bizarrely wonderful duets. He is probably the only person on earth who can make a song out of a telephone call, white noise and a car-wreck and actually do it well. And his lyrics aren't worthlesshe's wonderfully charming to listen to, especially when his soft tenor emits couplets like "and as for today/ I've had sneezes with much more to say/ with tiny little novels in every fleck of snot." 10th Avenue Freakout will never be mistook for The Postal Service, but that doesn't detract from Broder's accomplishment: a uniquely charming and sonically challenging record. - Chris Roberts
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