MAJOR STARS, "4"
Major Stars are Boston's best-kept secret, as anyone who has witnessed their live performances over the years can certainly attest. By day, under the auspices of their basement record shop Twisted Villagetruly a Boston institutionWayne and Kate are purveyors of psychedelic rock and hard-to-find underground sounds from around the world. By night, under the auspices of their group Major Stars, Wayne and Kate are equally enthusiastic purveyors of hard, loud and ferocious nonstop rock n' roll ecstasy. They've opened up for Comets on Fire on tour, even though their brand of high-octane, often instrumental rock is heavier and more substantial than the Comets' most wishful daydreams. This is not to suggest that they are superior; rather that they are more pure, unadulterated and outright, unashamedly rawk. People who like to name things call Major Stars a "psychedelic" rock band, but they're no more "psychedelic" than the sludge at the bottom of your Turkish coffee. What they are is kick-your-ass, balls-to-the-wall, energized freeform rock, full of big fat hairy riffs and powerful dynamics, rapidly switching gears to chase the next monstrous pummeling chord progression. The foursome gel perfectly on stage, and this record, their first to be recorded in a state-of-the-art 25-track studio, captures the group beautiful, and is perhaps the best reflection yet of their live sound on record. The only things missing are the flying sweat droplets and the heady breeze created by Kate's headbanging, hair-tossing stage theatrics. There are only four tracks and about 40 minutes of music, but when the rock is this meat-and-potatoes, it can't help but leave me satisfied, even though I certainly wouldn't turn down seconds. "How To Be" wastes no time introducing their particular brand of crashing, resounding guitars, sounding exactly like Lester Bang's hyperbole-filled description of a Who gig, rather than what The Who really sounded like. The background is filled with a solid wall of guitar runoff, Casey Keenan's caveman rhythms, forming a backdrop for Wayne's soul-shredding post-Hendrix guitar performance, pulling far more sound out of his instrument than should be physically possible. "Song For Turner" is long and lyric-less, a study in reigned-in rock chaos if ever there was one, pausing for some detuned guitar noise every now and then, shifting to another rhythm and key when it suits them. It's totally accessible and totally grandiose, leading into the album's power-pop pit-stop "All Or Half the Time," which rivals The Bevis Frond for pure, pleasurable rock songcraft. Ending things brilliantly is the 15-minute "Phantom #1," which starts out as slowly shifting modal guitar drone, totally thick and hypnotic, before introducing rhythm and rapidly upping the tempo until the song has become a roof-lifting heavy metal beast, grinning and majestic. No bullshit: Major Stars is just damned good rock music, so how come you haven't heard this yet? - Jonathan Dean
Bohren & der Club of Gore, "Geisterfaust"
Nothing can stop this band from forcing me to participate in the most sinister of feelings. They're soaked in evil, sex, and those lonely and terrifying sensations that only open, dead spaces can convey. Bohren und der Club of Gore associate themselves with doom metal via their own website, were formally a self-described "hardcore" metal act, have all the mystery and intrigue of the best David Lynch films, and yet none of these descriptions get to the core of this quartet's sound. Geisterfaust, translated as "Spirit Fist," is broken up into five long floods of keyboard, sparse drums, and atmospheric sludge, each named after one of the fingers on a human hand. Never heavy or loud in the way that a metal act might be, Bohren manages to flatten everything in its path with its rather morose and morbid disposition. At the same time, having sex to this record seems to add a certain personality to the act, a kind of intimacy in the round, smooth edges of every sound that slow every sensation and motion down to near nothingness. It's appropriate to say that the song index on this record serves as a map to the movements of the entire record. Instead of having five completely distinct songs, there are simply five takes on a theme that is presented by "Zeigefinger." As the music moves forward, the quarter oscillates between moods, but never takes the tempo beyond its initial sluggish pace. Silence dominates the music just as much as any sound does; when the band goes quite there's an anticipation for the next chords or notes to strike. The structure of Geisterfaust builds up a sweaty uneasiness that pulsates almost maddeningly throughout each track until "Kleiner Finger" reaches its final moments. It's like knowing a monster is just around the corner, its thumping feet crunching forward ever so awkwardly, but having nowhere to run or hide. It's a long, hysteria inducing wait for a terrifying end. And, speaking of ends, the final two or so minutes is remarkable. The most simple of additions draws the album to a close and makes the barren wasteland that was paved before ignite with a lustfulness that can only be sparked by absence and resignation. - Lucas Schleicher
Mitchell Akiyama, "Small Explosions That Are Yours To Keep"
I wrote about Akiyama's last record, describing him as a kind of accidental hero of the instrumental glitch musicians. His newer recordings, alone or with Desormais, channel the same tugging, emotive baggage and fragile tension as other real-time deconstructionists (clearest touchstone: Christian Fennesz), but Akiyama's are most complex, less dependent on a single instrument or one's traditional referents. They reach past deconstruction as a means or an end, entering new space, a labyrinthine logic all their own. A lot of this probably has to do with the artist's favoring rounder instrumental combinations: strings of a chamber ensemble sort, bare piano, brass, metal percussion. Akiyama's last, If Night is a Weed..., inspired Fennesz comparisons because of an ambitious textural grandeur, though this came obscured by spare compositional style and a temperament informed by the deliberate pacing and structural rigor of classical music. One of If Night..'s pieces was dedicated to Steve Reich, and Akiyama's music does reflect an attempt to carry the pure variants and divine gravity of Reich's Phase or Ensemble pieces into digital interpretation. If the last record was ambitious in striking a solemn, Reichian pose against the computer's pixilated shimmer, then Small Explosions is ambitious in a new way. Still in chamber-glitch mode, Akiyama works within much more scatterbrained, dissonant territory, sketching disquieted spaces through overlays of what sound like largely improvised events. The coalescence of fragments here is the artist's most subtle, often stratified by atonal counterpoints and layers of at-home ambience. Sounds of sleepy breathing in the first track indicate Small Explosions's increased interest in sound-travel and the unreality of dreams. Several of the string heavy sections recall, for me, the Waking Life soundtrack in their floaty circularities and spirited-away atmosphere. Akiyama shows also a new reliance on bell tones which give the music a sense of distance and foggy boundaries that was not present within the intimate, single-room simulacrum of If Night.. and previous works. Despite being probably the artist's most pared-down and silence-ful music yet, with even a reduction in the field recordings that colored other records, Small Explosions feels the most far-out and heavily transporting of all. - Andrew Culler
"Drums of Death"
I was skeptical about the potential clusterfuck of a record featuring DJ Spooky, Dave Lombardo (from Slayer), and Jack Dangers, but the presence of two of my favorite MCs of all time, Chuck D and Dälek, pushed me over the edge into "I've got to at least hear this" territory. Often, pairings like this come from well-intentioned musicians who want to work together, but don't realize that the sum can never equal the parts, so I braced for the worst. Happily, Drums of Death manages to avoid most of the cliches of supergroups and celebrity musical pairings of this sort, and instead boils down some signature elements from each artist involved into a quite listenable whole. Jack Dangers' production is well balanced with Spooky's turntable antics, while the MCs simply do their thing over the rhythm section of Lombardo on drums and Dangers on bass. The Meat Beat head honcho proves that he's still one of the best groove bassline generators on the planet, and DJ Spooky's cuts and sample selections work well to enhance rather than drag down the proceedings. It's Lombardo's drums that I can't swallow all of the time, as they have an unshakeable "rock" sound that doesn't always serve the songs the way a more nuanced sounding kit might. The grooves are tight if a little clangy on the cymbal end, but it always sounds like a metal drummer slowing down into a hip hop groove rather than just an accomplished drummer gelling with his bandmates. That's not to say the drums are badin fact almost every track gives sample hounds a free shot at an unobscured drum loop from the session, but I just wish the drums were somehow more processed and fitting with the primarily dub-leaning vibe. Chuck D and Dälek enhance the record with vocal performances straight out of their standard playbooks and there's enough guitar noise and metal riff sampling to possibly draw the the long-haired set out of their comfort zone a little, which I have to imagine is the point with a lot of this. Skipping past the embarrassing Spooky on turntable/Lombardo on skins call and response piece, and the oddly-lifted Jack Dangers sci-fi soundtrack pieces, Drums of Death winds up as a suprisingly fun amalgam of styles and sounds that manages to overcome the threat of novelty, even if it never elevates to the heights of its contributors' individual accomplishments. - Matthew Jeanes
Colin Potter & Paul Bradley, "Live"
There is now a live document of this duo that actually rivals their studio output. Two live recordings from October and November of 2004 compose this record; both have the timeless feel that Potter and Bradley's music almost always has, but now the live environment is transformative, cohesive, and wholly coherent. Both recordings center around a metallic center that floats, sometimes soundlessly, through every shift and turn. Haphazard sounds often leap and stutter in perfectly flawed ways, unannounced, but appropriately and not without a certain dynamic effect. Listening to the November recording, I'm struck by the sound of rainfall, giant caverns, low mist hissing like a snake, and the images of monstrous architecture long forgotten populate every hollow shuffle of electronic vibration. I'm tempted to say that Potter and Bradley went somewhat psychedelic that day, their time-laped sound photography catching all manner paranormal phenomenon and, in a lot of ways, it is hard to escape that idea. The low rumble and sitar-like blosoms that shapeshift on each song sound completely cosmic, betraying their computer and electric origins. Most surprising, however, were the symphonic flourishes and wooden bells that hit at the last moment on the November piece. Bradley and Potter have found a way to take their best studio work and translate it into a live environment without sounding entirely too busy or far too worried about any one sound. It sounds as though they went into these performances almost entirely naked, armed only with the notion of some textures and a nice, solid theme. The minimalistic and generally open feeling of this record set it apart from their other work, but also show that a live experience such as this can be just as good, if not better, than what's done in a studio. Only 200 copies of this release were pressed, each coming in a hand finished sleeve and signed by Potter and Bradley. It's an amazingly vivid and unfortunately rare recording of this duo at their finest. - Lucas Schleicher
ISLAJA, "PALAA AURINKOON"
While I wasn't paying attention, Finland seems to have become the new Iceland. All the new underground acts worth knowing about these days seem to hail from the sub-arctic climes of Helsinki, Tampere or Jyvakyla. Instead of the likes of Mum and Sigur Ros, I must now contend with decidedly more difficult names to spell like Kemialliset Ystavat and Paivansade. The music itself is a bit more difficult as well, varying expressions of an idiosyncratic, indigenous folk music, all of which seems to share a sense of organic looseness and a fractured, experimental nature. The scene has recently gained international momentum because of a predictably bandwagon-jumping feature in a recent issue of The Wire, but Finland's interest in homegrown experimental psychedelia has an inheritance that reaches back to the 1960s, with Pekka Airaksinen and The Sperm, all the way to more recent years with bands like Circle. Tampere's Fonal Records has been the main outlet for the Finnish underground since the mid-90s, and this beautifully packaged new album from Finnish psych mainstay Islaja is a great example of the kind of quality on offer from the label. Islaja is a singer who draws on elements of traditional Finnish song, but shares with her labelmates a penchant for whimsically esoteric arrangements: fractured melodies, complex layers of shambolic percussion, sampled birdsong, droning bits, enticing compositional fragments and overlapping, multitracked vocals. At first listen, Palaa Aurinkoon sounded unstructured, underproduced and generally unfocused, but slowly, over the course of the album, I latched onto Islaja's hauntingly childlike vocals as a guide through the sub-arctic wilderness, and came to understand the unique ways in which the disparate pieces of the puzzle fit together. Throughout the album, there is a lovely sense of gentle chaos, with instrumental parts, percussion and vocals placed willfully askew in the mix, without overly massaging them to fit a specific, rigid song structure. This looseness shares much in common with the Incredible String Band or any number of newer psych-folk acts, but Islaja's expressions are uniquely affecting, the exotic timbres and phrasing of her mother tongue, as well as the dense evergreen forest that the players seem to inhabit, lending a peculiarity all her own. Everywhere there are the signs of a winter coming or winter just passed, a communal group of musicians squatting on the permafrost soil to rifle through a bottomless bag of stringed and woodwind instruments, harps, keyboards and assorted noisemakers, trusting instinct and a momentary impulse to create impressionistic arrangements around Islaja's warm, whispery vocals. The music is top-notch throughout, but perhaps because of a compounding effect, the album seems to get stronger as it goes, reaching an apex with the last four tracks, each of which are particularly emotionally affecting. The swansong "Rukuos" ends the album on a wistful note, an enchanting vocal duet matched with harmonium drones and ravishing flourishes of flute. Palaa Aurinkoon justifies the hype surrounding the Finnish scene, a gorgeous and fragile souvenir from a strangely inviting sub-arctic forest wonderland. - Jonathan Dean
PHARAOH OVERLORD, "#3"
Though they are also from Finland, Pharaoh Overlord have scrupulously avoided getting lumped into the "Finnish Underground" category typified by Es, Kemialliset Ystavat, Avarus, etc. This is largely because their brand of churning, plugged-in post-Krautrock shares little in common with the often amateurish, willfully obscure acoustic noodling of their geographical contemporaries. Pharaoh Overlord is the so-called "stoner rock" side project of legendary Finnish post-rockers Circle. With their three albums thus far - #1, #2 and a live album called Battle of the Axehammer - Janne, Tomi and Jussi have indulged their penchant for progressive psych-rock that had previously only been hinted at in their work as Circle. Where those previous albums were notable for their hypnotic guitar riffs and the frequently caustic wall of feedback and reverb a la Acid Mothers Temple, this new full-length is marked by its relative tameness (except for "Autobahn," which I'll get to later). Instead of blistering electric solos, the album emphasizes the trancelike rhythm section, creating a series of propulsive motorik jams that enforce the primacy of rhythm, structure and the infinite beat. Tomi Leppanen's mesmerizing drumming is highlighted on this album, the inheritor of a tribalistic simplicity first honed in on by Jaki Liebezeit. Tomi's incredibly drums form a complex counterpoint relationship to Jussi's virtuosic bass and Janne's subtle, dynamic guitar melodies. In many ways, this album is the closest that Pharaoh Overlord have gotten to the sound of their other project Circle, creating a post-rock amalgamation that traces its evolution back to Neu! and Kraan rather than Tortoise or GY!BE. Rather than partake in a lot of showboating stylistic shifts or wanky guitar solos, Pharaoh Overlord instead concentrate on a group sound, building an unstoppable forward momentum with the canny (and Can-y) use of extreme repetition. "Test Flight" and "Blackout" are both outstandingly trippy and trancey, but both exercise restraint to such a degree that when a fuzzy, third-eye guitar solo bursts forth into the mix, it creates an adrenaline rush of sound. Quiet restraint and focus are pretty much the watchwords of #3, until the 13-minute polyrhythmic excursion of "Laivaus 17" gives way to "Autobahn," which switches gears and brings the album to a grinding halt, a ten-minute wallow in the sort of metallic grind, subharmonic bass frequencies and crawling doom made infamous lately by Sunn O))), Boris and their various copyists. It's an odd stopgap in an album that is otherwise bright and energetic, full of precision, dynamism and sparkling production. Where Pharaoh Overlord shine is on tracks like "Octagon," when the seemingly effortless creation of rotating, interlocking concentric circles of rhythm and melody resembles Terry Riley or Steve Reich's rhythmic explorations, with a newfound sense of stoned bliss and psychedelic awe. - Jonathan Dean
Thankfully Autechre have slowed down the rate of their output to one album every two years, with less EP releases in between. This has helped allow them to create albums with only minor adjustments to a formula that has made them one of the best acts making electronic music. Untilted is heavy on fractured rhythms and has very little of the whirling ambient sounds that featured prominently on some of their previous releases. The eight tracks on work well as rhythmic studies, with repetitive patterns shifting gradually, sometimes several times within one track. The opener "LCC" rushes out of the gate with rapid-fire beats sputtering out of the speakers, only to switch to half-time shortly after the three minute mark. This tactic recalls the shift from straight 4/4 to a pronounced shuffle feel that took place half way through "Cipater," the opening track on 1997's Chiastic Slide LP. While some tracks, such as "The Trees" and "Fermium" recall the more straightforward feel of their early work, others are almost arrhythmic and are similar to their recent work, sounding like their machines are careening out of control. "Augmatic Disport" is a case in point, and begins with four minutes of beats made up of successive fast rolls, which is followed by three minutes of more sparse, disjointed phrases that sound as if they are being hiccupped up by the machines. The one and a half minute section that concludes this track is one of the albums truly divergent passages. During this section the jarring rolls and bursts of activity fade away to reveal a straight 4/4 pattern that clearly references the techno of their past. This is the closest Booth and Brown have come to creating chilled out techno since 1994's Amber LP, and the fact they only hint at it after eight minutes of heavy rhythmic bombardment makes it all the more effective. Naturally, the following "Iera" sends us swiftly back into 2005 with its stop-start, slightly off kilter kick and click patterns. The fact that more than a few of these tracks bear titles that are actually in plain English (some of them even common words) is another noticeable reference to their past, as this practice has not been used this extensively since 1995. Although Autechre tracks often create an image of a straight faced duo, 15 minute closer "Sublimit" shows that they do possess a sense of humor. After several minutes of repetitive beats, a section ensues during which downright silly sounding horn stabs are introduced. These, plus the low, thuddy snare sound with which they are duelling, obviously reference the nascent days of hip-hop. While Booth and Brown have been vocal about the influence of early hip-hop on their music, I can't help thinking they're having a laugh here. Although they are no longer breaking new ground, Untilted is still an enjoyable listen due to the sheer talent the duo possesses. - Jim Siegel
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Colin Potter/Diana Rogerson/Steven Stapleton
Friday, May 6th, Anatomical Museum / Narrenturm, Vienna
The organization of the event was perfect, from the presonalized tickets to the special CD-R.
The show took place in a little room on the 3rd floor, no real skeletons
there, just same bizarre black-and-white drawings about deformed skulls
etc. on the wall. The Little Dipper Minus Two (Echo Poeme Sequence 1), the special CD-R is
one track, less than 20 minutes, with a black-and-white cover by Babs.
After the first listen I would say it's the usual quality expected from Nurse With Wound: amazing,
but at the same time without any big surprises.
Colin Potter started. I was totally unimpressed with his show. His set consisted of some
drones, strange sounds etc, with ocassionally totally pointless beats dropped
in. There were only a few good moments and lots of commonplaces, without
direction or sense. He was standing behind a large electronic rig, and the only
visible performing was when he occasionally touched the cymbal-like thing or
moved his hand around it (a bit like around a theremin). During his set
a window made very annoying sounds, but later the organizers removed it.
Andrew Liles was pretty amazing. He was sitting behind a little table with
some electronic stuff and a cymbal with a microphone. He played a lot of
prerecorded stuff, but was very busy turning knobs for filtering and
effects, and made nice drones with his little synth. He sometimes touched his
cymbal and scratched the arm of the mic with a stick. The music was very
much along the lines of My Long Accumulating Discontent: very nice, clear
yet strange and disorienting at the same time.
After a 30 minute break the NWW members took to the stage, all dressed in medical coats (so the Potter/Liles duo didn't play
contrary to what was announced). The line-up was Steven Stapleton, Diana Rogerson, Colin Potter, and Matt Waldron with Andrew Liles (him being the bonus to the announced quartet). Stapleton was sitting next to Potter's large
rig behind a table with a discman and a what looked like a Pioneer DJ CD playersometimes with the latter and sometimes adjusting things on Potter's equipment. Steven didn't appear to do anything spectacular, it was Potter
who behaved more like a conductor, but these two talked a lot, so who knows.
Diana played the accordion in the beginning, then read something from a
paper, than made sounds with a dish, which I couldn't tell if there was water in it or not. Matt Waldron
played tabletop guitar with lots of kitchen utensils and other things (including a yellow ballon at one point) while
Andrew Liles did basically what he did in his own show. A film of ocean waves was projected behind them, but it was very
The music was droney with the amazingly (un)structured noises Waldron and
sometimes Rogerson and Liles added. There were other noises, squeakings,
etc. from Stapleton and/or Potter; sometimes it seemed that they used
noises recorded during the show itself. There were a few technical mistakes (feedback etc.), a
few surprises, but mainly they sticked to the drones and noises structure.
For the first few minutes I thought that "it's good, but I have heard
music like this hundred times before," but then I found myself totally
immersed in the sound, and realized that I could listen to it for hours.
It had a strange, subtle, elongated cathartic effect on me. It lasted
about an hour.
A lot of people were taking photos, I saw one guy recording the show with
a mic on minidisc and one on video. Colin Potter also recorded it (as he
told Diana not to start playing the accordion - "I'm not recording it
yet."). I took photos as well: see http://ra.underground.hu/nww_main.htm for my set.
On the ground floor there was a merchandise table with black & white
T-shirts made for the occasion, lots of NWW, Potter and Liles-records (I
had to spend a lot of money on them...) and some of Klanggalerie's
releases. All the people were very nice.
- András Rónai
Friday, May 6th, Crawdaddy, Dublin
The last time I saw Thighpaulsandra was as a member of Coil in the their
last ever performance in the City Hall Dublin. On the night he played a
background role sculpturing sound with Sleazy for the howlings of Jhonn
Balance in a set that will thankfully be immortilised on the much
anticipated DVD box set. The City Hall concert was powerful and magickal.
Thighpaulsandra's set last Saturday in Dublin was also powerful and magickal
in a different though not unrelated way. It was not the prog-rock wankfest I
had hoped it wouldn't be.
There were two support acts whose prolonged sets I suspect ate in the time
available for Thighpaulsandra as the house lights came up rather quickly
after they finished the initial set and thus no encore. The set lasted about
a hour of uninterrupted music with instrumental tracks blending in
percussion led vocal tracks. Given the nature of Thighpaulsandra's body of
work I cannot give any definite song titles for the instrumental parts which
may or may not have been improvised out of recognition. Snatches of dialogue
were mixed deep down into the instrumental parts. Vocal tracks I did
recognise were The Angelica Declaration, Slammer, Black Nurse, and His Royal
Highness The Prince Of Wales Breaches Reality. There were at least two other
tracks with vocals I cannot put a name on.
Thighpaulsandra had divided the band into two factions. The burqa faction
were dressed in fetching red burqas and played guitar/bass and percussion.
The Barbarella faction were dressed in gold shorts and little else. They
played electronics and can-on-a-string. Thighpaulsandra wore a long regal
gown with a curling antenna. His pecking order was indicated by his gold
sandals; all the other members were barefoot. It was kind of weird seeing
him without trauma makeup. He played around with some of the synths and sang
vocals where applicable. There were other instruments too, a couple of Macs
and quite a lot of instrument swapping but that was to be expected.
The show was choreographed like a Derek Jarman movie and I'm sure he would
have loved it had he been there. One of the Barberella guys (the one off the
Double Vulgar II cover) acted as a muse ministering to the inspirational
needs of Thighpaulsandra and the some of the other members. He also fixed up
the burqas where they went afray and played the can-on-string. During on the
tracks, one of the burqa wearer's played a melodica. Given that his mouth
was hidden, the tube emerged from beneath the veil like some Stellarc
appendage. Lest to say if the show was put on in Dublin 15 years ago, they
would probably all have been arrested.
At just about an hour, it was probably too short, and we didn't get to hear
'Michael Publicity Window' but that was probably down to the venue as
mentioned. I definitely want to see him play again.
- David Heney