Friday Night 4 Lyfe / Assorted Nuts

Splits are tough on the reviewer, especially good ones you want to just keep flipping back and forth. And of course they're also a really fun challenge. In this case especially, Old Gold found two distinct pieces of music that seem to sense the listener between them. If it is something that actively draws your listening brain across laterally, cycling back around for instant-repeats like this one does, you can count me in for sure, but fuck, it's hard to figure out how to zone-in on each contributor individually (and do so adequately, as is the reviewer's wont). I'm gonna give it a shot and attack each of these guys individually for a moment, let's see how it goes:

The sensory-scrambling sounds on the A-side come from what I can only tell is a rock and roll genius hiding within our midst. Never heard of the name Ben Lawless before, but after scanning the cover (yeah, THAT COVER. Look at it.) at closer range and spying the name Jib Kidder hidden there among the jumbled fonts (he apparently helped design the art), then reading elsewhere that the man played in Prefuse 73's live band, the puzzle pieces of this mindfuck psych-rock start to fit a little better. Or, it's like finding the corners, or something.

What you can expect here, if you didn't already guess, is what we like to refer to in the biz as "the unexpected." A rock record that feels both stitched together (in same way a sampler like Shadow used to, or, more appropriately, Jib Kidder's style on the mind-bendingly great Steal Guitars), while also like a live ensemble playing with the tightened, heightened and honed flair of Zappa and his band. Rock's mainframe is being heavily twisted here, or maybe beaten up, it's ass thoroughly kicked into a new, more pliable form of psychedelia. Since it's just one guy putting all of this insanity together, obviously we have a heavily-edited work for the end product. But Lawless took the opportunity to do real surgery on these takes, pasting up a cool collage structure in the process. Time-signature loops, whiz-bang changes and bent-shaped noises and clangs stab the mix like daggers. A 70 mph track could come to a screeching halt mid-measure -- you just never know. Thus, Lawless' grasp on a major key to enjoying music at a very basic level is here: Never under-estimate the power of the element of surprise. 

Quick reminder: Lawless played every note of music on this himself. It should be pointed out that that means gnarly guitar shredding, hip-grinding bass lines, scatter-brained synthesizers. Oh, and the drums? He's an in-the-pocket maniac. So not only did this guy edit his way into an interesting listen, but the bulky meat of each individual track is also to be listened to for those basic musical elements and especially his raw talent for the instruments. Hitting it all just-so like he does makes it not only easier to identify and understand the complexities of the music's composition, but it makes it easier to enjoy the music on a gut-level as well -  one minute you're in lounge-town with slinky 70s-porn soundtrack swagger, and the next you're heart is bouncing off a chunky guitar riff at triple the tempo like it's a trampoline -- perfect time for a sky-ripping solo, wouldn't you say there, Ben? Yeah, totally. And it works so well because you can trust that he's really going to nail it every time. The whole thing is a manic-panic, head-banging bash, and to top it all off, we end in a locked groove. A locked groove? If you were already starting to feel a little insane after those last 12-inches of wax, that last twist should finish the job nicely.

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OK, satisfied with that one now, so let's get to flipping here and this sparkplug of a thing called Squinchy, which is also (again, impressively) music done by one and one only, a guy named Dave Abel. It's another side of music with a pulse, which is something I appreciate right away. Squinchy's footing feels a bit left-of-center when compared to the tight snap of Lawless' breakneck blasts, though, and that's a good thing. We're easing back on our heels a little with the groove this time, which for sure has benefits; since we're dealt with more of a slithery-snakey-sneaky rock sound, it makes sense that the tracks would be executed with an intentonal sort of leisure, something that Squinchy's got down-pat. Keep in mind that we're not talking about "slow" here (and, hence, "boring") -- Squincy takes that feel by the hair and gives it a solid tug so that there's an attack to each song. And those songs excrete and ooze a certain confidence, almost something you can smell, dominance dripping down Squinchy's forehead like beads of sweat. 

Although this is another overdub-heavy mix, Abel's more bent on disguise than embellishment compared to Lawless, setting up a quartet-configuration group sound, and doing it so it really feels like full takes of full songs in the studio. The drums are another ear-magnet, but in a different way than the spritely spitfire of the flip-side. Splashy, heavy ride cymbal hangs like an umbrella over tub-thumping toms, a burly backdrop for the beefy bass and swirly guitar solos. About 90% of the music is instrumental which works great for the record, tracks setting off on wonky journeys to nowhere, instruments clinging to each other for dear life at each turn-around. Not a whole lot else to say about this, other than the fact that I really, really like what I'm hearing -- kind of a middle-ground between garage punk, krautrock, and a more straight-psychedelia approach that hits the sweet spots I think bands like Wooden Shjips or Moon Duo can sometimes overshoot or unintentionally cheesify. The very live, in-the-moment, rickety, knocked-kneed jam of this record feels super real, uncalculated, uncontrived, and therefore way more fun than your run-of-the-mill psychster-hip buzz band.

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Crawf

Old Gold Records
 

Thursday, May 21st, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)

An absolutely riveting, haunted piece of work from Eilean Records and Lee Chapman. Deep visual dives into bodily possession and economic/societal dispossession. A beautiful contrast of where souls go when they leave their homes. "Let Me In" is off of Chapman's gorgeous and equally haunted record The Common Silence on Eilean Rec. Chapman's use of almost-human sounding drones, ghost-moved clatter and heart-stopping build ups and drop outs are replete through the album. This video gives a perfect visual compendium for what is going on well below the substrate on this record. Stop everything you are doing and watch this. 

Purchase The Common Silence here

eilean rec. 22 : lee chapman - let me in (05.05.15) from M.V / EILEAN REC. on Vimeo.

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)
In Plain Speech

It is difficult to discuss Circuit Des Yeux without going straight to that voice. Haley Fohr sings in a deep, controlled baritone, which manages to range from a quavering hiss to an operatic belt, and even on the instrumental tracks it is at the forefront, the most striking thing in the mix. Antony Hegarty and Karin Dreijer Andersson come to mind, but without the frailty of the former or the icy menace of the latter. It is a powerful instrument, one that she seems to have fully mastered on In Plain Speech, her tremendous Thrill Jockey debut. It harkens to the warm, green English folk rock of Fairport Convention, even intersecting with Astral Weeks at times, but never abandons the spare intimacy of her previous work.

The claustrophobic pizzicato intro to the episodic “Dream Of TV” crawls out of a remote deep-jungle tent, but gives way to buzzing guitar drone and swooping flutes. Woodwinds bubble up on the brief introductory “KT 1” before the labyrinthine organ of “Do the Dishes” bridges the unexpected space between “Music in Similar Motion” and “Chest Fever.” On “Ride Blind,” she climbs the greatest mountain Physical Graffiti never conquered, the heavy riff tackled by multitracked violas rather than a bowed Les Paul. “Calling out to every rover/The path you seek will soon be over.”

Lead single “Fantasize the Scene” is the treasure at the heart of the record, worthy of a widescreen Hollywood montage. Desperate for something else, something better, something bigger, she pictures a “move out to L.A./Where the fires rage/Where no one knows our name.” Small town escape has been mined to exhaustion by lyricists, but this Hoosier takes an evocative and moving run at it. “Maybe I will meet you there,” she sings with a tinge of panic, “in a world where we can go all the way.”

In Plain Speech is a remarkable feat, inventive, eclectic, maddeningly short but satisfyingly complete. Along with a cast of musicians including members of Bitchin Bajas and Cave, she’s created a work that somehow feels at home in the avant garde and in your dad’s record collection. The classic rock references may abound in this review, but they are neither misdirected nor hyperbolic; Fohr has tapped into something primal and created a peculiar marvel, something from another time.

Nat Tracey-Miller

Purchase on Bandcamp

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)

AH! KOSMOS- Bastards (Denovali)

For her first proper release on Denovali, Istanbul-based producer/conjurer Basak Gunak creates dark, lyrical compositions that wrap acoustic and electronic instrumentation around Gunak's throaty baritone voice that ranges from a powerful croon to whispered spoken word passages the way the rings on trees tell a story of inward fortification and outward (perhaps painful) expansion. When we cut deep into the heart of these tracks, passing layers of electronic programmed percussion, lines of distorted guitars, dense near-eastern drumming, samples of snippets of everyday life re-contextualized and stacked in jittery, paranoid strands of audio we get into something that sustains these disparate elements and holds them in useful tension. What "it" is held very close to the chest. An overwhelming sense of hope with its corners darkened by paranoia and fear. A sustaining force that begins with Gunak's innate sense of melody - building ascending synth and guitar lines and slowly layering her vocal melodies until they become one in the mix - and then grows outwards, incorporating sounds from outside her window, musical ideas borrowed/lent from collaborators until the center holds but the peripheries are stretched thin and always searching for that next hit of inspiration. Bastards has my vote for one of the most rewarding discoveries of an already packed 2015.

Purchase from Denovali

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Demian Castellanos - The Kyvu Tapes Vol.1 (1990-1998) (Hands in the Dark)

After listening to these collections of home recordings by Demian Castellanos - founder of The Oscillation - one gets the sense that there are hundreds of tapes that could be released that are just as filled to the brim with incredibly moving, forward-thinking guitar compositions that sound completely at home with 2015's bumper crop of spiritually-minded guitarists using their instrument to reach a higher plane. In fact, these compositions are what I imagine are on a 24-hour loop in the brain of someone like Castellanos - as if someone stuck a stereo cable in and pushed record. What we have is a constant under-drones pulsing and oscillating, panning from ear to ear as Castellanos's heavily processed guitars either stack layers and layers of unsourced sound until all sound ever created exists between the peaks and valleys of a thousand oscillations or pieces the veil in Peter Walker influenced ragas or clarion-clear guitar solos that begin by floating on the same frequency but then begin to steer the composition into unexplored sonic terrain. Perhaps the most celebrated example of this is on "Lizard Raga" (one of the two "official" ragas on the tape) where Castellanos casts his eliding, sinewy guitar lines into a sea of oscillating drones and comes back with sounds and ingenious moves on the guitar that lie just outside of consciousness - like catching an weird deep-water sea creature in a relatively shallow river bed. Castellanos can also build upon structural and less-abstract material with similar effect. "Photon Waterfall" builds upon a minimalist ascending guitar line that accrues meaning each pass through the loop pedal. We somehow get the idea that Flying Saucer Attack was one of the few acts that dwelled on hazy, warm looped guitar passages when we reference acts from the 90's as direct influences on some of the directions that ambient guitar-based music has taken. Kyvu Tapes draws a straight line between  Castellanos' drone-based compositions and today's musicians coaxing guitar tones into the realm of the ethereal.

Purchase from Hands in the Dark

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China - Towards the Sun (Self-Released)

Raphi Gottesman's Signed, Noisemaker is one of those tapes that has never really left my player. In it, the multi-instrumentalist shows a sincere and humble knack for crafting melody and mood in compositions that are complete in every way. Gottesman, with China - a proper band-band EP with Michael Tapscott (Odawas) and Jason Quever (Papercuts - who donates some gorgeous strings here) - create perfectly sunbaked, Laurel Canyon country-tinged, free-floating deep-cut LP rock of the late sixties filtered through the modern day exodus out of San Francisco, a move directly tied to the 60's exodus into the city's loving embrace. This is music for hitching up the wagon and ho'ing out west into the land of displacement - the sun always on the back of our pioneers as they flee the bright, cultural wasteland of tech-industry wealth - not the diseased-gum gnaw of Midwest poverty and squaresville Dads. These are songs for the diaspora, and they are beautiful - the same kind of feeling of stumbling across a dusty LP of long-haired dudes and hearing some of the most transcendent melodies and harmonizing this side of Garcia. Fans of recent troubadours The Lowered, Midlake and Howe Gelb should find ample purchase in these five songs.

Purchase from Bandcamp

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Metatag - Surrender (Hel Audio)

All we have are our mistakes. Genetic aberrations unlock hidden potential to adapt and evolve. What wipes out large swathes of the population allows a small minority to develop resistance and flourish. But machines aren't supposed to make mistakes, right? That's why we built them. External brains that are capable of specificity unencumbered by consciousness that we could never even aspire to. But somewhere, knocking around in the hardware, are misfirings, loose connections and random events that create mistakes or half-formed, mutant children of a perfect system. Clocking in at 2-minutes shy of an hour, Metatag's second full-length on Hel Audio, does not shy away from displaying these weaknesses and flaws. The decayed tones of a dying synthesizer, the glitch of audio data spat through spools of wiring are written into these songs, creating moments of unintentional beauty and useful aberration. The Norwegian duo's commitment to creating 22 stand-alone, cloistered units of music is impressive. By rarely, if ever, changing tempo or melody once locked into a 2-3 minute groove allow Metatag to explore the rich underbelly of machine-created music, delving into tones that dissolve or sputter into productive decay while allowing the steady minimal synth lines to remain in the driver's seat. Surrender, at times veers into dark drone-based compositions instead of riding the arpeggio sine wave for an hour. The darkly cinematic quality of each track suggests a dystopian future that has been ruled by Vangelis's pulsing synthscapes in his Blade Runner soundtrack. Any attempt to not notice that influence is impossible, but Metatag manage to create something even colder and perhaps even a bit more futuristic. The seedy future-ghetto, Chinatown replaced by clean, symmetrical lines and curved angles: more Kubrik's vision of the distant future in A.I. than dystopian battledome made of recycled sports equipment. Perfect tunes for nighttime bike riding through the city.

Purchase from Hel Audio

Monday, May 18th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)
Beach Bodies: 2008-2014

Former teenage phenom Oliver Moss, whose band Evans The Death are becoming a thing in the UK, just spilled his guts and five years of composing and recording songs through internal computer mics and free software across 18 tracks of lovely downer bedroom pop songs. These songs, when one really burrows underneath the self-imposed fidelity limitations, get at some real compositional wonders that recall, without sounding anything alike, tUnE-yArDs' out-of-the-gate/straight-into-audacity debut in terms of surety and sheer force of will. A much more understated affair than that, however, fidelity often works against the inherent musicality of the album, instead of trying to mask the lack of it. While it may be difficult to decipher a detuned guitar and the warbled waves of digital feedback, the format does wonders for auxiliary instrumentation that pops up in unexpected places such as the underwater violin pulls on "Sarcastic Compliment", the serrated neo-psych guitars on "Lame". Most of the percussion is a lovely combination of live and programmed lock-step type with notable exceptions like the far off explosions filling in for snare hits on "Mild Detergent". The album is tuneful to a fault, seeping into the crevices of the swirling pastiches of droning, lanquid pop.

It would be interesting if we got some sort of chronological map of when these songs were recorded. Across 18 tracks, songs remain under a consistent, drugged and depressed pall. Perhaps, if we were more intimate friends with Moss, we could easily pinpoint musical influences by measuring how soon after Moss recorded a song after discovering something mind-blowing. If we had that we could construct a linear timeline that included Ty Segall and/or Mac DeMarco (Parish Council), Joy Division (Like Cures Like) or any of the heavy hitters in Britpop, Madchester and challenging experimental artists like Richard Youngs .

We don't have such a privileged look into the development of these past five years of music. What we do have is a brave collection of tuneful tracks that rise above the level of youthful experimentation or computer fuckery. These are self-assured and justified. Often when approaching  this hard-drive cleaning by an up-and-comer the argument between "can this be put out" and "should" or "does this need to be put out" become serious considerations. The answer is definitely affirmative of the latter. This holds up.

Ryan H.

Purchase via Memorials of Distinction Bandcamp

Thursday, May 7th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)

This video for Goat Lightning's latest work on Light that Blinds tips his hat that Goat Lightning is, like, really into space now. Previous work has explored the earthy ritualistic magic of crystal-gazing and terrestrial based science/folk-magic. However, Light that Blinds has wholly flown this coop and set its controls for the heart of the sun. This video, digital and analog feedback stuck between stations of space exploration aspiration (a greatest hits sort of compilation) and an ode - or justification - for leaving Earth behind, exude a sense of childlike wonder and adult heaviness. Goat Lightning's blissed out synths showering radioactive trailings as they streak through the sky on their way out of this plane.  

Purchase on Desert Home Recordings

CD on Ingrown

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)
Transporteur

Chicago trio Bitchin Bajas started as a side project for Cooper Crain from the mighty psychedelic rock outfit Cave, but in the last five years has become a formidable force in its own right. Their new Transporteur, a generous 33-minute limited-run EP, their first for the Besançon label Hands in the Dark, consists of four distinctive but cohesive extended grooves which zip by with deceptive speed. At their best, they blur the division between acoustic and electronic to the point of obscurity. For the most part, Transporteur eschews the far-flung sounds and ambition of last summer’s sprawling eponymous Drag City LP, choosing instead to make its statements simply before dispersing like dandelion fuzz on the wind.

Opener “Rias Baixas,” the longest track on the album, patters percussively in and out of phase for several minutes before descending into starry 45:33 ambience. With a quiet whoosh, it fades into “Planète T,” full of subaquatic reverse-tape organs gradually buoyed by blipping synthesizers. It is a strange, murky wonder, the most abstract of the bunch. It never really goes anywhere, but is filled with beauty and detail, and rounds side A out as a satisfying whole.

The rhythmic pulse that opens “Marimba” is the one most obviously indebted to the electronic krautrock of Kraftwerk, but things skew suddenly as Rob Frye’s flute enters the mix. Frye is Bitchin Baja’s wildcard, absent (to my ear) on the first half of the EP, but the crucial voice on this latter section. His woodwinds swoop and flutter, darting between the synthesizer helices. On closer “No Tabac,” the best piece on the EP, the melody notes scatter like a cathode ray, before the song settles into its floor tom groove and Frye’s heavily-processed saxophone blurts take over. The whole thing works itself to a droning, fevered climax over cheery handclaps until only the horns are left fading off into the inner groove.

The word “relaxing” seems rear its head in print every time Bitchin Bajas put out new music (the EP’s own press kit refers to the music as “utterly pleasant” and “timeless and spaceless”), but there’s a lot more here than blissed-out grooves. Sure, it can be treated as musical wallpaper (you’d be hard-pressed to find a nicer pattern), but closer listening reveals warm facets and juicy hidden nuances. Besides, Transporteur came just in time: spring is here. Crack open the windows, pour a drink, and turn it up.

Nat Tracey-Miller

Purchase from Hands in the Dark

Bitchin Bajas Transporteur Promo from brownshoesonly on Vimeo.

Monday, May 4th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)
Sonnet

Thomas Meluch (a.k.a Benoît Pioulard) has made a career out of mastering many domains. His work moves from spectral folk songs that fold into non-lyrical ambient compositions to unrestrained beauty of ultra-HD ambient-drone played through rusty, lo-fidelity radios. On Sonnet, Meluch steps into 2015 with a masterfully self-assured album that digs deep into themes of  compositional restraint and the unintentional harmony of everyday living. 

Much of the inspiration for Sonnet was taken from the recording and observation of everyday sounds that Meluch would make field recordings of. The wonderful thing about that sentence is that none of those field recordings make their way into this record in any sort of recognizable way. Instead, Meluch interprets these ostensibly non-musical sources into his compositions. Suddenly we hear it. The noisy marsh at dusk home to thousands of insects, the random industrial ambience, birds taking flight, busy summer meadows and the lurching, rhythmic churning of an overloaded washing machine. The act of field recording takes a certain kind of personality bent to attribute musicality, or at least tonal significance, to natural and man-made sounds. A sense of connection that is made solely by the observer. 

Sonnet is focused on restraint. A sense of addition through subtraction. By stripping most of the lyrical content out of the record and using no digital equipment, what we have here is an attempt to drill down to the essence of what makes Benoît Pioulard's work stand out amongst so many others we can compare him to. I'm not sure I am totally in command of what this is, but I know, when I hear that weary, far-off sounding guitar line that sounds like it was picked up in some freak aurora borealis time-shift or a unmissable Boards of Canada use of warbling, reverb-drenched tones chopped like rough seas rising in volume and intensity under repeated, simple melodies, I can see Pîoulard's mitts all over it. And that is what makes this album so damn good. The essence is not only there, it is laid bare. It is non-minimal minimalism. Ribs and joints out in clear view for our inspection. No gimmicks. This album sounds like it could be done live at the drop of the hat and still sound impossibly good.

There is a lot of beauty in this record. A lot of that feeling exists right on the edge of sadness and beauty, where you aren't sure if something is so beautiful it makes you sad, or you are sad because it is so beautiful. The name is on the tip of my tongue. No doubt some english major is screaming at their computer or trying to type it into my Chinese-hacked comments section. But there it is. The idea comes from the idea of non-permanence. That all of this beauty can only be grasped for a few seconds before it slips through your hands. That's what I love about this record. Centered around field recordings turned into simple melodies, this record is Meluch's attempt to make those beautiful moments - those fleeting seconds when you recognize a harmony running through everything - last forever. 

Ryan H.

Purchase from Kranky

Thursday, April 30th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)

The ghostly double-exposure of Paul Clipson's city footage for Ilyas Ahmed's ephemeral ballad lays out, in exquisite visual relief, the way that Ahmed's music - guitar and voice - settles upon you without any announcement of its arrival, much like the condensation of fog obscures images through car windows without the pitter-patter of falling rain. Some things sound like they've always been there. There is a certain sheen across Ahmed's musical output that casts everything in a soft focus silvery ghostlight. It is difficult to pin-point its source. It is in Ahmed's voice, an understated croon that frays at the edges slightly when it nudges up to the limits of its register, or Ahmed's masterful guitar work that weaves in and out of itself in open, circuitous conversation, it is also in the way the microphone picks up room tone, the fragmentary notes decaying softly in the silence between sounds. Ahmed's album I Am All Your Own, which "Come On" is taken from, sounds like it could have been recorded in any era, and like the video that accompanies it, feels ageless - like city sidewalks that were built long before the invention of chewing gum and cigarette filters. Highly recommended listen.

Purchase on Immune Recordings

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)
Fires in Repose

Fires in Repose was captured during Rivener's second jam-session as a new band. Caught right in that sweet spot between figuring each other out and exploring sonic space (each other's and conquering sonic territory together) and still having the brass-tacks laid down, Fires in Repose has all the magic and fireworks of a relationship in the very early stages replete with all the exciting, exploratory sex, acceptance of personality quirks and flaws, a generous take on sordid history (wow! what character!) before dysfunctional family dynamics and maladaptive coping strategies stop being quirks and start becoming hints of pathology. Luckily, recorded outputs, unlike relationships, can be frozen in time. Built on the telekinetic relationship between Connecticut experimental vets Michael Kiefer and Paul Belbusti on drums and guitar, Fires in Repose takes on multiple shapes throughout the three wholly improvised longform tracks. These range from bombastic clashes of no-wave skronk imploding into jazz-influenced breakdowns of polyrhythmic fury underscored by waves and waves of amplifier feedback, to straight cheesegrater shredding in long, distinct movements.

Belbusti's guitar work conjures rhythmic clashes of atonal blasts of noise comprised of sheer kinetic energy countered with long passages of hushed, improvised guitar lines that hang like low cloud cover over unsettling seas. The feeling is that winds could whip up in any moment. Ostensibly, those moments, those start-stop dives into controlled chaos are the driving factors here. The immediate, grin-inducing moments that are more than worth the price of admission. But then, often dictated by Kiefer's command over timing and pace these are strung together by passages of roiling, stormy calm before the next break. Kiefer is excellent at keeping the timing and tension just at breaking point before ramping into mutual instrument destruction.

One of the best examples of the level and true potential of the coalescence of this group is about 6:30 into "An Uneventful First Quarter" where an abstract, calmer passage - instead of breaking into a fully-formed freakout - begins to gradually nudge up the BPM and intensity until it reaches a natural crescendo full of minimal (but HEAVY) riffing and huge, 3-D symbol splashes followed by a frantic tour of the drum-kit before falling right into time. 

This album is heavier than most things this year. Perhaps listening to this while processing Baltimore leads this to be more emotionally relevant and necessary than ever before. In light of how much of a mess people are, this sounds straight-up easy to decode.

Purchase on Bandcamp

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015 | Add New Comment (0)