Saturday, January 07, 2012

The Renderers

A Rocket into Nothing
So brutal, so beatific, so brash and blatant. So good. This album is. Syntax falls apart. When one tries to discuss the otherworldly beauty. Maryrose sings a siren song, so beautiful, once you hear it you are lost for good, in a great way. The music is rawer than raw, colder than ice, and sharper than a sword. Words sting or break your heart, sometimes both.

“Down River” opens with some haunting wails before the drums and Maryrose's beautiful voice comes in. Guitar lines float about subtle drum beats. It is like a trip down into the heart of darkness, This is chilling and stunning.  “You’re still too screwed up, to be sane” is a devastating lyric. So sad and without hope. “The way back, is long, undignified and indignant.” You got that right. The second track, “Shadow & its Shadow” opens up with guitar screeches before a pounding drum joins in. Maryrose’s vocals soar above the propulsive beats as she sings “Daddy ain't your Daddy.” There are swirls of blistering guitar feedback all over the place while the drumming drives this jam into the ground. It is crushing, yet exquisite. “The Shining Life” is a change from the darkness -- “all we can do is shine.” I can not convey how much I love Maryrose's vocals. The soaring guitar lines and flock of tight drums sound like a train with loose cargo going down the track at a quick clip. It fades out with a burst of noise at the end.

“Restraint of Beasts” sounds like how 3 beers and two benadryl feels. Slow, groggy and warm, “the hallucinatory dark beast.” It sounds like, is that a banjo on the track? It sounds great, no matter. “I love you so much, there is no simplicity,” sings Brian. “Assassins” creeps in with lazy slowly curling smoke rings floating up to the ceiling. “The coffee is cold and left in limbo.”  Brian's lyrics are so basic and pure, stripped of everything except the necessity. All the while the New Zealand drone chug rumbles through, like a trolley down the tracks behind wooded suburban homes. “Castaway Bardo” is driving and dark. Maryrose’s vocals go from desperate to soaring.  It is pure rock perfection. “Typhoid Mary” is rough and unkempt in a beautifully disheveled way. “The first time I saw you I was lonely, drunk, and horny,” sings Brian. It has a more lo-fi feel, like it is being pulled down from the stratosphere like a distant AM signal at night. “Vanishing Point” feels like a dank motel room at night with trucks rumbling by on the highway as the streetlights shine through paper-thin curtains. The disc ends with “Hypnotized.”  Layers of guitar jangle pile up like a desperate snow, and Maryrose’s somber vocals sing of “turning this grave yard into a deep strip mine.”  “Even the demons need feeding” -- the guitar jangle now is dense drifts of guitar feedback snow.

This album is dark and resolute, heart breaking and stunning. 

(Ba Da Bing) (Dan Cohoon)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Caterpillar

Johnstown
The whole album is a work of art, from the hand silkscreened covers to the sea foam green of the vinyl. It is a stunning art object, and we have not even gotten to the music, which is excellent. This album is a “rock opera” about the Johnstown Flood. Caterpillar performed it in Johnstown this summer. It is not surprising that a rock band led by an archeologist would write a magnum opus to some historical disaster.

The Johnstown Flood or, as it was known locally, “The Great Flood,”
occurred May 28, 1889. Like other “natural disasters” the damage was made worse by human folly. “It'll Hold” seems to reference the dam that ultimately did not. There is a sort of swagger in the guitar line, with ominous undertones. This album is way jammier than previous efforts. It is obvious that a Neil Young and Crazy Horse influence weighs heavy on the tone. The slightly laid-back bass drum and bass stumble right under a current of prickly guitar showers of cosmic proportions. There is a bounciness in the heaviness, like a log hurtling down a flooded river.

The next jam is more dense. There is a voice, female; she is speaking German. The band is locked into one groove. You pick out the word “Philadelphia” from the German. When they performed this live once, they had Ms. Shannon Boweser read the corresponding English at the same time as the German for a hypnotic effect. She repeats “Johnstown,” again and again “Johnstown.”

The flip of the record starts with “Johnstown in the Flood.” It is a song about losing someone in the flood. “I was across town when I heard the dam would go.” This is Crazy Horse Caterpillar at its finest. The guitar solos are blistering. A frenetic frenzy of bent guitar chords and chugging bass and drums. “Momma said she is no good, one more gone my friend”. This is rageful sorrow. This is a masterpiece.

The next jam is channeling a more Spacemen 3 vibe. backwards drums and all. The guitar work on this record is great. Mike is the show boat but Dennis' skills should not be underestimated. John & Brenda are a couple and that is why the rhythm section is so literally tight. It is the sound of people’s lives being washed away.

The last jam has a hopeful vibe, despite the despair; it is called “After the Flood.” I love Mike's earnest unassuming vocals. He is the funniest archeologist you could ever hope to meet. The female vocal (not sure if it is Brenda) sounds beautiful. This is a beautiful coda to a classic album, belonging in the same canon as Neil Young's “Time Fades Away,” Spacemen 3’s “Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To,” Sonic Youth's “Bad Moon Rising” or even Bardo Pond's “Bufo Alvarius.” Classic. (Caterpillarlovesyou) (Dan Cohoon)

Friday, October 07, 2011

Wooden Shjips

West:
This band rides the riff like no other. They drive the rock into the ground in a straight line, never stopping, except for a guitar solo or two. This San Francisco space rock band is channeling the same tides of dark psychedelia that oozed out of the city in the late 1960s through the 1970s. Imagine, if you will, that Ray Manzarek was replaced in The Doors by Martin Rev, and the drummer never ever ever stopped.

Black Smoke” channels the same vibe of “We Ask You to Ride” off their last LP. Yes, The Doors is a touchstone, but without all the ego and general asshole-ness of Ray or Jim. They worship the riff. “Crossing” is fried like forgotten eggs on the griddle at a shitty greasy spoon at 3 am in Clifton Heights, PA. It is over hard, not easy. I was a bit nervous that they might just be re-jiving their past glories. The are definitely tapping the same dense ore of the last disc. But it seems to be tightly focused and unrelenting this time. It is heavy but controlled. They are still on the bucking bronco 8 seconds in or even 10 minutes in. “Lazy Bones” is totally tweaked out, like  a meth addict on a Tri-Met bus out on 82nd in Portland, Oregon.

The hit of the disc is smack dab in the middle of the record. “Home” is MEGA PEAKING. The drumming beats out the time in military precision, while heavy reverb floats over blown-out Crazy Horse guitar chords. In “Flight” the keyboards are riding the crest of the wave, while the drums chug underneath. Locked in, the groove is like a laser beam. Then the guitar solo hits. The bent guitar notes bleed out of the speakers, like a nice nick to the carotid artery.  The album ends in reverse; u-turned drum beats swish down one’s ear canal, chased by snaking guitar lines and backwards vocals. Time means nothing.
(Thrill Jockey) (Dan Cohoon)


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Azalia Snail

Celestial Respect
This stuff is woozy. Like 3 beers, two .25 xanies, and a toke woozy. It is psychedelic in the truest sense of the word, because the music seems to be recorded at a different speed, shifting and wobbly from slower to faster, so slightly that you can't tell if it is just in one’s head. It is out of tune with the harsh reality of the impending doom that squawks out of the fear-mongering cable boxes. It is a much better place where this music exists. This music is not lo-fi, but home-made; it is better than store-bought sounds.

Azalia’s vocals are an acquired taste, but like a fine dark draught the longer you spend with it and the slower you partake of it, the better you like it. Her vocals are not faltering but precise. She often double or triple tracks them all slightly out of time. This is not just psychedelic, but surreal; the clocks are melting off the trees.

Solar Riser” starts off the album. It features horns and a timpani and Azalia's otherworldly vocals. Her vocals seem to be escaping from a worm hole from a different dimension. There is also a sad organ that rides under the plaintive trumpet tones and slow drumming. “Celestial” is a short track of what has to be an intentionally cheap-sounding synth. It ends abruptly before the space cowboys ride in on “Space Heater,” a wonderfully weird mix of spaghetti western country and cheesy 80s synth, with a trumpet to boot. Layers of vocals are piled upon the soundscape.

“User System” shows that Azalia is not hiding a bad voice behind layers of delay. Her vocals are quite fetching when stripped bare. This is probably my favorite track of the album. It rides so close to the edge of being cheesy and overwrought that it makes it all the more beautiful and pure. “GTR GODZ” has an amazing fried amp playing low slow Crazy Horse chords. Unlike Crazy Horse, the track is only fleeting.

She must have been cracking up during playback. For example “Lovely Dove,” where she sings very earnestly, “You are my lovely dove.” That phrase is piled on top of itself until it forms a billowing pink fog that spills out of your speakers and across the carpets. This music is really funny, when it is not being devastatingly sad. “Saving Time,” which is almost so dramatically sorrow-filled it takes on a comical nature. “Respecter” has a darker and abrasive tone. “Death Gets in the Way” starts out as a mournful tune, but then militaristic drums join the fray. But still a little sparkling keyboard hovers above it all, and the tone shifts to something very hopeful. It sits there magically hovering between light and dark. Squeals of guitar feedback starts up. The tone shifts again. Horns, Horns??? come out of nowhere and the mood is now triumphant. This album is a journey, strikes and gutter-balls, ups and downs, much like life itself.(Silber) (Dan Cohoon)


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Caterpillar

S/T (e.p.)
Caterpillar is a band hailing from the greater Delaware Valley - namely just outside of Philadelphia & and Northern Delaware. This band has been around at least 18 years, if not more. They are as good as ever, if not better. Caterpillar played one of my first all ages show. It was upstairs @ The Khyber Pass Pub. I bought my first piece of Dead C on LP from Mr. Tom Lax himself. To me they all were rock stars.

I first heard Caterpillar on WVUD's “The Cutting Edge”. This program was an excellent education for my thirsty young ears. “Free Floating Freaks, Free Floating Exploding Heads” was my favorite jam in high school. I wore the cassette tape out, with the song recorded from a WVUD Show. There was something so cheerful, sweet and funny about this band. It always brightened me up, even on my darkest days.

If you told the high school me that I would watch an Eagles game with 3/4s of Caterpillar and Andy from Zen Guerrilla, I would have told you that you were crazy. But I did that over the hoildaze. What follows is in no way an impartial review. They were my boyhood heroes; now they are my friends.

Caterpillar took a break for a few years. But they have since reunited, and the original magical spark is still there, as well as a new maturity. The warm humor is always there, bubbling below the surface, sometimes spilling out of the pot.

4004” is one of Caterpillar's best songs, ever, in their entire canon. It is just that good. It is a beautiful tight little pop gem, “Every one is sync and it’s scary, at least they belong to the same tribe.” What follows is a blistering guitar solo up there with Neil Young with Crazy Horse. There is some serious face meltage by the end of the tune, and it is just the first one.

“Rise Above” is not a hard core song; it has a harmonica on it. It jangles and chimes like bands did in the early 1990s; it is a time warp, but it is the same people playing... just a little further down the hallway. This song is not one of anger but one of true joyous hope.

Wake Up Pass Out” is slow and building with a twang of sadness but with a mellowly floating feel. There is catharsis with the command, or is it a regret, “Wake Up, Pass Out”? This song is up there with anything off of Silkworm's classic Firewater LP.

Sargasso Sea” is not about a body of water in the landscape, but the body of water between one’s two ears. Mike's vocal is soft and bleating in a wonderful way. The reason why the rhythm section is so tight is because the drummer and bassist are partners in life as well. The guitar work can not be underestimated; while Mike is more showy, Dennis is solid.

Ptarmigan” has a great bass line, kind of ominous in an early 80s British way. It is layered over with Mike's uplifting vocals. The ominous feel slowly subsides and the sun comes out. The mathy rock comes in waves like that of a mirage on a sunny summertime street. “Loam Star” is another wonderful tune, “chasing American dreams, who knows what that means.” The last song is up there with the opening track for instant classiness. “Permanent French” is as heavy but buoyant as any Silkworm song. There is an uncredited bonus track; it takes place on the bus, and it is more magical than one could imagine - “Dialing up a Shooting Star”. This EP deserves its place of honor in the hollowed Caterpillar Canon. (CaterpillarLovesYou) (Dan Cohoon)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Notekillers

We're Here to Help
The Notekillers’ career trajectory is a strange one. They started in the mid 1970s. David First the guitarist was coming out of the free jazz tradition. He was joined by Stephen Bilenky on bass & Barry Halkin on drums. The Notekillers took the freedom they had found in free jazz and were applying it to the strictures of rock. They broke up in 1981 only having put out one single. 30 years later Thurston Moore made an off hand comment about the Notekillers single in a British glossy music rag. The band members got back in touch and decided to give the band another go. Instead of being an oldies no wave band, they ventured forth in exploration of sonic lunar landscapes.

The
Notekillers were playing what they termed free rock decades before post-rock. But this instrumental free rock is not all hard edges like no wave; there is a strict form. It is calculated but heartfelt -- something that was sadly lacking in math rock. It is far more human than the coldness of post-rock.

The album opens with Crazy Horse wails of feedback before switching into kraut rock/math rock. “Eyelash” refers to the act, not the biological component -- as in lashing one’s eyes. It feels as if Neil Young & Crazy Horse decided to do a jam session with Neu! and they were pissed off at each other.

Narrator” has a punky flair. “Modern Jazz” thankfully has little to do with the light, trite jazz that tries to pass as “Modern Jazz” -- I am looking you, Wynton Fucking Marsalis. “Waiting” is something I would not mind doing if this song was playing. It has the feel of walking out into the sun on a bright summer afternoon emerging from an air conditioned house. The Notekillers were playing songs like this 30 years ago. They beat Pavement to the punch a decade and a half before. “Goo Lab Brain” is one throbbing piece of flesh. It is unrelenting in its pulse. The clatter of drums and screams of feedback do not end. They only build, and build, and build -- like some secret tantra ceremony.

Considering the 30 year gap between recordings, the
Notekillers have not lost any of their original spark. To think that David First not only fronts a pretty killer free-rock band, but for the last 3 decades he has been composing music and making minimal drone recordings. My mind is melted when I think of what their musical canon would look like if they stayed together. It might be a good thing, the break. They still are butting heads, still not settling down. The Notekillers cannot rest on their laurels. They are too busy killing it ever single night they play.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sic Alps

Napa Asylum
This has been frying my car stereo for the last month or so. In that time, I have filled up three 20 yard dumpsters with thirty years of crap and bad memories from my childhood home. The fractured space that I have been inhabiting fits in well with the broken fried blues, feedback folk, sloppy rolling stone-ish, multitudinous muzz. Some songs are fairly brashly baked, while others have a sweet tinge of psych-folk, with a little New England early sixties boarding school garage thrown on top. This record is anarchistic & anachronistic. If one was forced to guess when this was recorded, it certainly would be in the last century. This music is old and creaky, but one is not sure where to place it. It could have been produced in the Lo-Fi 1990s or the Garage-y 1960s? It could be some cooked-acid-burnout country from the 1970s or coarse proto-punk rawk.

The words to the songs are wonderfully all over the map--did he just say Jackson 5 (and why am I okay with that)? These songs are almost as schizophrenic lyrically as they are their in their sonics. Each of the 22 tracks tumble and bump into one another like bubbles in a water pipe. This was a good record to listen to while my childhood was slowly emptied out by the car full & dumpster full. It is melancholy and wistful, and simultaneously weightless and full of relief. There is something oddly catchy about these songs, in a strangely discordant way. If one had to throw out all of college freshman year physiologically defying terrible life drawing studies and middle school art work (painting of the Traveling Wilburys, and a drawing of Matt Hoffman), this would be the album one should listen to. It is sad and sweet, a shamble, and a wonderful lo-fi mess. (Drag City) (Dan Cohoon)


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dead C

Patience
Patience is always a virtue when listening to the Dead C. If one takes the time, and listens closely, one begins to find order in the chaos. While the vocals are absent from this record, it is still song oriented, if more abstractly so. It does not totally forgo structure or form like the turn of the century Dead C was exploring. It still has hums and hisses, but they seem to have more intent and not just chance behind them. There is space on this record, along with the rock-ist rawk.

Empire,” the first jam, is sprawling and barely controlled, like the parking lot of an abandoned mid-west box store or the last stages of the British or Roman Empire. “Empire” is about as straight ahead rock as the Dead C get. The chugging guitars would not be misplaced in a Crazy Horse end-of-the-song train wreck. Robert Yeats’ drumming is solid, structured and tight. The driving guitar sits well with the atonal squawk. Like all empires, it seems to chug along sustainably, until you notice bits of thread beginning to fall off in strands from the composition, like retirement funds in the dying days of American capitalist empire in the 21st century. By the time you notice the shift to atonality, the form is already slowly collapsing, sliding slowly into the sea like the poorly built McMansion beach house in an earthquake zone.

Federation” comes in with cymbal clangs and reverberated-out space drone. It is over as soon as it finds its own expanse. “Shaft” features some cracked broken beats that could have easily come from the latest dance hit Gate record. The drum loop on this track, though, is thrashy and blown out, while the beats on the Gate record were warm, round and cushy. The drum loop dies out and form terminates.

South” inhabits a very Bardo Pond spiritual head space. The amp hum sounds of the early 1990s lo-fi, but I think it is deliberate rather than accidental. Space expands in this song, much like the universe is expanding. A simple rattling sub-surface loop provides the barest of tethers to solids before total evaporation. Something squeals, a mistake? It is stopped abruptly. The other guitar slowly strums, while the second guitar goes into an epileptic fit before coming to a very quick haunting halt.

(Ba Da Bing Records) (Dan Cohoon)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Gate

A Republic of Sadness
This Gate album is by far the most accessible and possibly the most interesting record that Michael Morley has done thus far. Gate records have a rep for being difficult; even for a dedicated noise-nook like myself, it took great effort to sit through previous entire recordings. When I did I was rewarded with a synapse-rattling brain cleansing like none other. This record takes elements of dance music, and combines it with Michael Morley's wonderful caterwauling to make something so shockingly good that one is dumbfounded. It should not work -- simple dance beats, a South Island drawl, and blown-out drone -- but it does. Could there be a Dead C dance remix album in the works? I hope fucking so.

It should go without saying that
Michael Morley is the last person one would expect to be making a “dance” record. To call it a dance record does this exceptional album a disservice. It is far beyond the sum of its parts. The LP starts off with a lush static drone on the first song “Forever”. A simple house beat comes in. The electronic snares whoosh by one’s eardrums. Michael Morley’s unmistakable vocal styling joins the mix. It sounds like a lounge singer on barbiturates -- this is meant as a compliment. The vocals themselves are as impenetrable as ever. It is slightly disconcerting how Morley subverts the dance element signifier to make something wholly other. “All” is a bit more concise. A tiny thudding drumbeat provides forward momentum. A backwards cymbal joins the mix before Micheal's vocals. He mutters and murmurs, and all the while the tinny drum keeps up the beat, bells join the mix, swells of sound gurgle up, and the backwards cymbal repeats. The simple minimalistic elements make up something greater than their whole. It is transcendent simplicity.

“Desert” is about as poppy as it gets for Gate. With a poppy guitar loop, and a driving drum beat, this track has all the signifier of a poppy dance tune -- that is, until the distinct vocals of Mr. Morley come in: “I CAN'T STOP THE WATER RUSHING IN HERE.” This is as strong of a tune as the Dead C classics “Power” or “Bitcher”.

The flip side of the record starts off with a tribal dance groove -- well, as close as you can get to a tribal dance groove on a Gate record. “Wilderness” features a propulsive drum beat, high pitched squeals and a wonderfully over-modulated guitar loop. Morley's vocals on this track are as blown out as it get. It sounds like whales mating; once again this is meant as a compliment. “Freaks” has a bit of bass and crunchy grooves. The groove hits hard on this track; Michael's vocals sound like they are coming up from below the oil slick on the Gulf of Mexico. The beat, with its poppy overtones, are subverted by Michael’s vocals making something that is totally original. The last track is plaintive, with waves of feedback, and distorted drum beats. A collaboration between James from
XIU XIU and Mr. Morley would be most fruitful.

I was a bit shocked to see a laptop on stage when Michael Morley played w/ the
Dead C in Philly on the last US tour. It seemed counter-intuitive to what the Dead C were all about. After hearing this disc I realize there was no reason to be concerned. The computer is another tool that Mr. Morley can use and abuse. It does not matter what Mr. Morley uses to make his sounds; it only matters how he uses it. This record demonstrates the great skill he has in manipulating any sonic material. (Ba Da Bing Records) (Dan Cohoon)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Amy Annelle

The Cimarron Banks
To compose her latest album, veteran singer-songwriter Amy Annelle stole away to a cabin in the lonely Cimarron Valley, a desolate region of Oklahoma that lies on the western fringe of No Man’s Land. The time-tested approach of self imposed isolation has resulted in more than a few classic albums, from Bob Dylan’s reluctant Woodstock output to more recent underground success stories like Devendra Banhart’s masterstroke Rejoicing In The Hands and Bon Iver’s celebrated For Emma, Forever Ago. Annelle emerged from her retreat with The Cimarron Banks, a semi-concept album that, while achingly beautiful at times, usually relies on subtle production touches to keep it from losing momentum.

As an album, The Cimarron Banks is solid, well recorded with an eye for fine details. With a few exceptions, the arrangements are consistent throughout, strong but understated, settling comfortably in a plaintive, relaxed folk-pop sound... think Laurel Canyon-in-the-early-70’s, peppered with modern indie flourishes like organ swells and vocal delays. Throw in a penchant for occasional lo-fi detours, and you’ve got all the makings of a modern underground folk record, one that tries to feel conceptually cohesive, yet retain a sense of variety and adventure.

Annelle is a gifted and confident singer. Tonally, she is at her most affecting in her lower range, and her haunting, tempered vibrato sounds wonderful on the title track, as well as closer “Streaking With The Lightning”. “Harden Your Blades” is a satisfying exploration of moody, spectral folk, a stirring blend of finger-picked guitar, spare piano, and tasteful vocal effects.

The downside to Annelle’s more reticent moments is the tendency for her phrases to smear lazily into one another, the clarity of the lyrics usually getting sacrificed in the process… it’s a problem that crops up all over the album, and songs like “Carrion Dream”, “Ode To A Lone Bird” and “Wounded Man” begin to blur together, though “Wounded…” benefits from the unexpected addition of some quasi-Mariachi trumpets. It’s production details like these that regularly swoop in to excite the material on Banks, whether it’s the processed, ethereal harmonies of “The Nightjar’s Blues” or the clipping vocal distortion on “Miss It More Than You Know How”.

Annelle’s busy yet somewhat aimless melodic sensibility seems to be the thing keeping many of these tracks from being true standouts, though a few of the quirkier numbers have a fighting chance. The jaunty piano of “The Hellhound’s Address” features an animated melody that bears more than a passing resemblance to songstress-of-the-moment Joanna Newsome, while “Wake Up Little Dark Eyes” possesses an indie-pop edge just begging for a soundtrack appearance (Juno 2, perhaps?) These tracks might just have the legs for AAA radio play, or maybe an iPod commercial… it might not be what Annelle had in mind, but it’s a testament to their more universal appeal, not to mention a little welcome levity in this somewhat heavy collection of songs. (High Plains Sigh) (Raymond Morin)


Friday, June 25, 2010

Mass Shivers

Contoured Heat
It is true when I was in seventh grade I liked Yes. My brother mercilessly made fun of me so much that I denounced progressive rock for good, or so I thought. Prog has been a dirty word around these parts for so long thatI am a little shocked that I find this disc so appealing. Normally,I have a no wank policy when it comes to guitar solos, but Mass Shivers seem to pull it off with aplomb. To pigeon hole them as a prog-rock band does not really capture the scope of this band. While their sound definitely resides in the 1970s, it seems to cover the total evolution music made in that decade, from hippie Grateful Dead-ish jams, full on funk, even a little punk, stoner jazz, classic rock, and yes a whole bunch of prog.

More Bumper than a Body Shop,” the lead off track, does indeed have a vast quantity of bumper beats. This band is tight, which I normally find distracting, but the tightness is in service of the rock and the tune is over before it becomes overly indulgent. “I got the Power” has a feel of a reved up Yes track. Complex knots of notes fly off the fret board. The rhythm section is precise and on point. This allows for the guitar to go out there,but it never ventures into free rock territory. “Outsider Erotica” is a hilarious title. The music itself seems rather jocular. The bass drums and guitar lock into a tightly controlled orchestrated dance. These guys obviously have chops, but the guitar wank-ery never become gluttonous.

Bilateral Dysfunction” is a nice spacey number. The instrumental number is a nice change of pace. This track is not as frenetic as the first couple of songs. The music floats away in purplish hazy fog. “Languid Liquid” is a beguiling elixir. The vocalist on this track sits in the back ground until the metal riffage comes in. Despite the slightly annoying nonsense chorus, the other parts of the song achieve a good balance between guitar heroics and vocals. The D&D dorkiness of the title “Odin V. Oden,” thankfully is not too much in the music. Actually it is a pretty great rocking number with out the blatant reference points. “Dusk” is an epic song that feels like a Grateful Dead-ish or Jackie-o Motherfucker spacey jam. The final track “Beneath the Sand” is the strongest of the disc. It feels the most emotional and spacious. It is the least musically self-aware. It is very clear that Mass Shivers are very talented musicians, if I do have a complaint, it would be a small one. I wish that they would occasionally ease up on the fancy guitar work and let the music itself shine through.(Drag City)(Dan Cohoon)

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Aarktica

In Sea:
This album of starkly beautiful (mostly) guitar tracks is perfect for the darkest time of the year before the sun starts it slow return. Jon DeRosa, the sole person behind this project, lost most of his hearing in his right ear in 1999. Like other musicians who have suffered this, he struggled to come to terms with it. The result was his d├ębut “No Solace In Sleep” in 2000. I am familiar with how tragic hearing loss in a musician can be; Jason Diemilio from the Azusa Plane (a friend to many of my friends) took his own life because of his hearing problems. This record marks the sixth release of Jon DeRosa's career; I am glad he has stayed with us because this is stunning music.

I was only familiar with DeRosa’s work because we both appeared on Silber Comps together. I listened to this album for a long time before I read the press release. I slowly formed my own opinion of the work. I knew it was about loss or mourning, but I did not know about what. When I read it was about Jon’s hearing loss suddenly the album became even more poignant and beautiful. The album title “In Sea” refers to the Terry Riley masterwork “In C.”

The album opens with “I am in Ice” sorrowful tones that move as slowly as snowdrifts across an arctic landscape. Layers of guitar build on top of each other, one never overpowering the other. It almost sounds orchestral. It ends with washes of reverb. "LYMZ" is a tribute to his teachers La Monte Young & Marian Zazeela, who helped him overcome his hearing loss by teaching him to develop new ways of hearing via sound vibrations in his instruments & vocal chords.

Hollow Earth Theory” is the first track album that features Jon's vocals, which has a sweetly baritone sound. It is one of the most anthem-ic songs on the album. Soaring vocals and back masked guitars meld into one. It is the “hit” of the record. “A Plauge of Frost (In the Guise of Diamonds)” sends listeners back into the frigid landscape. The title track “In Sea” reminds me of the bedroom minimalism of the early Roy Montgomery sound. Swells of sound and backwards audio build up dense and thick but not overpowering--more like chocolate syrup that has been left out in an unheated car overnight. “Onward” has the feel of “Hallow Earth Theory” strummed Mogwai-esque guitars with soaring tones underneath. Like the best Mogwai, it does not hammer you but waits, and is patient, and gets you with a sucker punch. “Young Light” builds on the energy of “Onward!,” and is even more hopeful. It is one of those great driving tunes that might cause if you to find yourself slowly pushing the gas pedal as you grin like an idiot as the trees and cars fly by. Autumnal” seems like another shift in the record. It slows down from the previous two tracks. No longer manic, it seems content. It takes a darker turn on “Corpse Reviver No. 2.”

What is most surprising about this disc is the last song which is a cover of Danzig. My house mate in college LOVED Danzig, along with such bands as Type O Negative. We did not see eye to eye musically. Anyways, it will probably shock her to hear me say this, but I kind of dig this Danzig cover. I am not familiar with the original work but Jon’s take on it is admirable.

This disc, while tending slightly to the over droney and ambient, has enough variety and changes of textures to keep things interesting. It never seems indulgent or aimless. It also features a not too shabby pop tune “Hallow Earth Theory” and cover by an artist that I would think that never in a million years I would appreciate, but his take on it works. (Silber) (Dan Cohoon)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Espers

III
Espers is one of these bands that existed in my mind long before I heard them. I was familiar with the excellent solo work of its members, including Meg Baird & Helena Espvall. I saw Helena solo many times and once even sitting in with the excellent Japanese band Ghost. I was familiar with Brooke Sietinsons from the excellent house shows she put on in her back yard and living room of her row house in Fishtown. But for some reason I never saw the full band or checked out their recordings. I think they went on hiatus shortly after I rolled back into Philly from the west coast. Their music took place in my imagination, wood nymphs and magical medieval elixirs. All the rapturous reviews don’t really match the beauty and depth of this band. I am sure my own blabbering will fall short, but I will try.

What surprised me about this disc was how rocking it was. It definitely has a feel of a lost 1970’s psych/folk rock record. Meg’s vocals soar above slightly proggy guitar lines on the first song “I can’t see Clear.” There is a heaviness to the tune but also a lot of air surrounding it. It feels like the sun comes out surprisingly during a light rain. It is bright and sunny but it is foreboding on the horizon. “The Road of Golden Dust” features the vocals of Greg Weeks along with Meg’s backing vocals. The electric guitar manages to be both blistering and sit in the mix in beautiful balance with the plaintive strings and a subtle but spot-on rhythm section. One notices how well these songs flow into one another. They say this album was designed with vinyl in mind, and it was recorded beautifully by Weeks @ Hexham Head in Philadelphia. It was mixed and had some additional recording done at the legendary Miner Street Studio by Brian McTear. While my promo copy is on CD, I can imagine how gorgeous this record would sound on vinyl.

“Caroline” features great strings and a vocal duet between Greg & Meg. A keyboard line floats above the babbling brook of acoustic guitars, strings and light percussion. The feel is buoyant yet wistful. “That Which Darkly Thrives,” as the title implies, is slightly ominous. The bass and drums are in the forefront this time, with ghostly wordless multi-tracks female vocals rising and falling behind the beat, before Greg’s strong voice comes in, the music swells and subsides like a tide on stormy beach. “Sightings” is more upbeat with stabs of strings and Meg’s most stunning vocal performance of the album. The electric guitar line that soars along almost matches the exquisiteness of her voice. “Meridian” has a great Fairport Convention, Pentangle vibe or even the late-era solo work of Mary Timony, who also managed to pull off the mix of prog and folk, which in the wrong hands can be a dangerous combination. The Espers pull the mix off wonderfully.

“Another Moon Song” is a sweet little tune with a loping bass line and glistening strings. I love the electric guitar tone on this album. It stands out but doesn’t overpower the acoustic instrumentation. Brooke’s acoustic guitar work allows the electric guitar to go out and explore soundscapes while keeping it firmly rooted to the mix. Brooke is also responsible for the layout of the packaging. She worked with the great visual artist Xavier Schipani whose illustrations show mysterious pre-Columbian rituals of the new world.

Espers mixes effortlessly the ancient into the modern. Their music exists outside of normal time and space. On the surface it seems all sunny, but there is a darkness and complexity held within. This is a stunning record that is as magnificently recorded as it was played.
(Drag City)
(Dan Cohoon)

Monday, October 05, 2009

Moodring

Scared of Ferret
Monte & Mae are best known for their work with Rollerball, an outfit that has been bouncing around the underground for nearly a decade and a half. Moodring is where Monte & Mae let their freakier jams reside, which is pretty freaking freaky considering the canon of material produced by the mother ship Rollerball. What started out as a side project for the couple has morphed into a full fledged band. In 2007 Jesse Stevens (OvO & Plants fame) joined the fold; he also acted as recording engineer on this album. Michael Braun Hamilton (Nudge/Momeraths) added some more spice to the secret sauce with his spaced out clarinet-ing & bass burbling. Strabage Hands (a.k.a. Shane “Bunny” De Leon a.k.a. Miss Massive Snowflake) designed the beautiful black & white packaging the CD resides in. Shane was in Rollerball for a good chunk of its existence.

“Scared of Ferret” is an appropriate name for this disc. That animal has always given me the willies. There is something spooky, visceral and feral about Moodring’s music. Moodring creates these great claustrophobic grooves that slither and slide between the cracks in the haunted basement of one’s mind. Mae’s vocal range can go from angelic to demonic (in a good way). Jesse’s drumming give form and forward movement to these spectral druid jams. The drumming allows Monte & Mae to go way out there in their “melting the cheese on the radiator” as Brother JT would say, while Jesse makes sure they keep on trucking. Monte Bass burbles & bleats while Michael adds to space drip-page with his sonic sloshing of his clarinet, much like the role that Shane had when he was in Rollerball.

“Pole Cat Intro” features some ghostly mumblings, keyboard blubbering, percussion clattering and spaced-out flute before seamlessly transitioning to “Rintin Fire.” The basketball percussion, washes of static and Mae’s disembodied vocals creep along the ground like a thick fog on some forsaken wasteland. #9 sounds like it could be a Rollerball outtake, with the gypsy accordion & Mae’s gorgeously delayed vocals. The clarinet gives an eerie eastern European feel to the song. “Shaker Tab” features the sound of a toy keyboard dying with a propulsive house beat; the discordant elements somehow meld into a slightly insane driving, maddening, yet pleasing mix. “The Weasel” is a kraut-rocking jam that features Monte’s stellar space bass grooves and Mae’s back-masked vocals, which seem to collapse in the black hole created by the heavy grooves. My favorite track on the disc by far is Into the Doom. A simple loop slides on down the path and is joined by clarinet, bass & drums. Mae’s vocal are soon too on the march. Another bird-like theremin sound floats above the mix. The song fades out as the parade finally passes.

This album is a great addition to the Moodring catalog. I think the guest performers add depth, space and movement to their other-worldly jams. The music is dense and complex, chilling yet pleasing. This music is perfect for autumnal nights when you want to get your spook on.
(Silber) (Dan Cohoon)

Soul Junk

1960
Glen Galaxy a.k.a. Glen Galloway continues his march through Psalms that he started with his album 1959 and his ever-evolving band Soul-Junk. This go-around he focuses on Psalms 119 which is the longest in the book. He breaks it down over 22 sections. Glen has always been full of surprises, from leaving the skronk-tastic Trumans Water to sing biblically inspired songs with Soul-Junk, to incorporating hip-hop, free jazz and noise, not only in the same album, but sometimes even in the same songs. The one thing you can count on with a Soul-Junk album, besides the biblical themes, is a drastic U-turn from his previous efforts.

This time he has the help of Daniel from the Danielson Famile, long time collaborator Brian Cantrell & Emil Nikolaisen who hails from Norway. He also has Todd Fadel sitting on keys; he is best known to me anyways as the man behind the great all-ages club Meow Meow around the turn of the century in Portland, Oregon. Jie Jin also contributes, who is a well respected classical musician from my own stomping grounds of the Delaware Valley. He has backing vocals from several of the Danielson Famile relatives and Glen’s own family members.

What is so surprising about this album, besides making ancient text sit neatly within a pop song context, is the fact that several of these songs are so poppy...or as poppy as someone who was in the noise freak-out band Trumans Water can be. Not all the harsh rough edges have been removed, but the jaggedness sits inside of a beautiful landscape of pure pop.

One of my favorite tracks is “[Lamed] Forever O Lord your word is settled in Heaven.” Despite the mouthful of a title, this is about as straight ahead has Glen has been. It sounds like a laid-back country-tinged Pavement tune, with of course direct quotes from Psalms, “I am yours, save me forth, I have sought your precepts Lord.” Glen is a tricky bugger; there is always one song that gets stuck in my head and I find my self mumbling bible verses to myself while driving around. Perhaps I would have remained a Christian if the hymns at church sounded like this.

From a musical context this album is very enjoyable listening. It gets interesting when Glen chooses chipper melodies to go with the bad ass old testament God, or conversely when he chooses ragged glory to spread the good news. Don’t let this God talk shy you away from listening -- “[QOPH] Scottish Yak” proves that being Christian does not mean you can’t linguistically have some fun, at least with the song titles.

When Glen said in an interview with me that he planned to sing the whole bible I thought he was joking; I now know he was serious. His sonic palette continues to evolve, and expand; this is probably the first album of his that I would use the word lush to describe. The one thing you can count on from Glen is change. I can’t wait to hear the next installment; I will be surprised if I am not surprised by the sonic shifts in future output. (Sounds Familyre) (Dan Cohoon)

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Beirut/ Realpeople

March of the Zapotec/ Holland
Beirut, the moniker that Zach Condon operates under, shifts from the old to new effortlessly, moving from pulsing electronics to south of the border horn music. The only other band that operates with such ease & style is Portland Oregon's Rollerball.

This disc was recorded in two parts. For the first half of the record called March of the Zapotec, Zach went down south to Oxaaca, Mexico. There, he employed 19 members of the Jimenez Band. The first song, "El Zocalo", sounds like a Mexican marching band. It is fleeting like the sound you would hear from a parade as you barreled down an over pass past a fair ground holding a fiesta celebration. "La Llorna" still features the horns but some crooning vocals are added on top. Despite being recorded in Mexico it definitively has an eastern European feel.

On a "Bayonet" opens with a more somber tone before shifting to more Lawrence Welk-ian polka fare, which I like btw. Once again Zach’s vocals are soothing. The rest of the band keeps the polka going underneath his lyrics before ending abruptly. "The Shrew", the last song with the Mexican band, is slow and stately. The tenor sax/ and horns have a tonality that is beautiful. Zach sings disturbing lyrics to cheerful tooting of the horns.

Realpeople is the moniker of Zach's original solo sound project, which features pulsing electronics. "My Night with the Prostitute from Marseille" is more explicit in its title than in the lyrics. I think the ambiguity of the lyrics & the specificity of the title create a nice tension. "My Wife, Lost in the Wild" features a driving beat and multi-layered vocals. While the first half of the record evokes the Tex-Mex music of 100 year ago, the second half has its roots in the electronic dance music of the 1980s. "Venice" is a mellow track that features the horns of the first half of the record with the electronics of the second half. "The Concubine" employs an accordion with what sounds like a toy xylophone or piano, before beats and horns join the music. It feels light and airy, perfect for an early spring day. The last song is my favorite of the disc with the pulse electronics & the thumping bass.

Zach has shown a lot a promise, and he has an innate ability to take on any musical genre in which he is interested. The separations of styles are not obvious on first listen. Only after reading the press sheet after listening to the album 20 plus times did I realize it was meant to be broken in half. I think if he keeps pushing the boundaries in both directions new vs. old he should have an interesting career. I almost wish both halves of this album were expanded to full length projects or both influences were combined on a third album. Zach, you have your assignment for your next project. If you do not like my review check out what some senior citizens from Fishtown in Philly thought of it here. (Ba Da Bing Records) (Dan Cohoon)

Paint & Copter

Damnatio Memoriae
This album is all the more touching because of the passing of Johnithin Christ one of the co-founder's of Savage Jaw Records. This album is testament to his good tastes. This album is dark, broody & beautiful. Andy Brown the main man behind this project is a veteran in the basement of the underground rock movement, harkening all the way back to his participation in Jessamine. This band appeared on the land mark Drunken Fish compilation, Harmony of the Spheres, an inestimably important album.

On this album, Andy is in good company. Besides the other members of Dave Tollefson & Jason Frank, the trippy magical duo of Monte & Mae (of Rollerball & Moodring fame) also grace this album. The album opens with “Rarefied Air”, which features swirling bass sounds & keyboard wails that channels the spirit of Kraut Rock. It is as fleeting as it is heavy. “Times New Roman” is still dour, even with the sounds of an accordion breaking the facade. The vocals come in with the lyric, “It is my last chance, give me one more year.” Mae harmonizes beautifully with Andy. It is as heart- breaking as it is beautiful. Suspira is a very different song. While I would not call it upbeat, there is a very tangible drive to this song. Mae sings, “In the Canyon” The wood wind instrument winds itself through snake like bass lines & drum beats. At one point the woodwind nearly goes into a free jazz freak out but still manages to ride within the waves of the rhythm of the song.

“Sacred Geometry” features heavily delayed vocals, keys, drums & a guitar letting out squeals of feedback. Mae's vocals are at their most ethereal and meld well with Andy's slightly monotone vocalizations. “Remote Viewing” features Mae in her full on lounge singer mode, if said lounge was on the banks of the river Styx. It goes into a nice tunnel of delay and feedback with the drummer keeping things moving until the abrupt end. “Cymatics” is a much more abstract piece. A thudding digital keyboard and Andy's swirling vocals create a thick fog that hangs in the air until a keyboard line starts leading the way out of this delightful morass. “Determinacy” is the most pop-y song off the album so far. It feels like dub caught in molasses, which is a surprisingly pleasant sensation. Listeners might catch themselves bobbing their heads or tapping their toes to this one.

“Wizard” is still dubby feeling, but this time it is entirely menacing. The blown out guitars ride over distorted drum loops. A squealing electronic sound swirls in the feedback, while plaintive notes from a wood wind is played. The ominous beginning resolves itself in a somewhat gauzey feeling ending. It almost sounds like The Cure at their earliest and most abstract. The song once again gathers a head of steam and starts pummeling forward. Andy's buried vocals tunnel through the mix. The last song & my favorite has a Spaceman 3 style vibe. Andy sings about getting “Back to Nature” With each new project Andy manages to explore new territory, whether it be the stoner/drone of Jessamine, the funk with Fontenelle, to the Baroque dark cabaret of this endeavor. Since it is such a change of pace, it might take a few listens for listeners to acclimate to these sounds, but once they do they will be justly rewarded.
(Savage Jaw Records) (Dan Cohoon)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hotel Hotel

The Sad Sea
This Texas band’s latest offering is as grand and sweeping as the state itself (full discloser, I am a native son... So O.K. I left when I was six, but still...). Like all Texans, these folks like to spin a yarn. This tall-ish tale tells of the search for the ghost ship “Marie Celeste.” It recounts a seafaring journey from Galveston Texas to Haiti in the middle of hurricane season.

From Harbor” is a pastoral piece with strings, minimal drums and guitars that gently lap along the surface. It sounds like early
Rachel's meets Mogwai's classic “Ten Rapid.” The gentle beauty of the piece might mislead the listener about the intensity to come. “The durac sea low tide” actually opens with what sounds like wind. The violins soar as the drumming slowly builds, first with cymbals then on toms and bass drum. It then pulls back before the expected crescendo. In “Marie Celeste” the strings seem thicker and more ominous; it almost enters a Tony Conrad type territory. It builds layer upon layer. Unlike Conrad there is variation in the drone; slight changes, while minimal, create a forward movement.

I am not sure what the reference to
Black Sabbath means in the song title “Equator in the mean time (Black Sabbath).” I am not as up on my Sabbath as I should be. Anyways, you can feel free to throw the horns or spark a lighter during this song if you would like. It is the most intense of the disc so far. Instead of Black Sabbath, this reminds me of the more eastern-tinged dirges by Bardo Pond.

“The shore line disappeared” is back to the pastoral beauty of the first song--piano and chiming guitars and what sounds like a saxophone-like tone, but I think is a violin fed through a pedal. The piano has suggestions of
Peter Jefferies’ playing at its most plaintive. It fades out with layered violins.

The Dirac sea (high tide)” also has the feel of early Mogwai. The drums for the first time are way out front. The Guitar and Violin tussle for dominance. There are electronic water-like gurgles in the background that end the song.

The song title “
The captain goes down with the ship (sinking)” gives you an idea of the somber tone of this song. The guitar drones ominous tones, while the violins rise and fall on an foreboding sea. If the ship is sinking it is sinking slowly. The last song “The captain goes down with the ship (drowning)” is noticeably more intense. The drums are fuller, and the guitar is also in front instead of supporting the violins. It builds and builds but before the release they pull back. The drummer starts pounding out a military march and the violins let out last sorrowful tones. Hotel Hotel have made an exceptionally beautiful record. One complaint, and it is slight, is that I really wish, maybe on just one song, they fully exploded. Otherwise no sophomore slump for these guys.(Silber) (Dan Cohoon)

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Brother JT3

Jelly Roll Gospel
Brother JT, the spiritualist of Blendrometry, is a comedic genius besides being a damn fine musician. One only needs to see his talent by doing a Google search for “Tripping Balls with Brother JT.” Or one could check out his pseudo (?) religion, “Blendrometry.” It is kind of like Zen Buddhism but it involves consumption of copious amounts of alcohol and illicit substances to achieve a nirvana.

Brother JT has been around the various underground music scenes in Philadelphia from the late 1980's to today. Back then he was best known for his band The Original Sins. He has been plugging away for a decade-and-a-half, making great music. All the hard work is clearly evident on this fine disc Jelly Roll Gospel.

Jelly Roll Gospel is the real deal; it has genuine soul along with Brother JT’s great humor. This is a summer album. You cannot help but feel the sun’s warm glow on every listen. It opens up with the upbeat “Lift You Up” which also mentions melancholy, making the optimism of the song so contagious.

“Accident Waiting” is a sad song but not without hope. “You are a fright, you are a sight for sore eyes.... you mad little thing, you are a fad, you are a thrush on the wing, And you are an accident waiting to happen.” The song ends with the declaration “We are all accidents waiting to happen.”

“Ribbon Driver “is a swampy bluesy stomp. White boy blues is an old trick, but a trick when played well can be quite enjoyable. Mr. JT carries it off effortlessly with aplomb. “Way Out” is an ode to “The Strong.” It is a reggae-ish jam that mixes in radio static that, if you are imbibing, might cause you to become paranoid that one’s speakers are about to blow up. This song has my favorite line of the album, “So have a drink, or maybe six, to find a way, find a way, find a way, to get away, get away, get away.” JT lays down bristling guitar solos while the rhythm section keeps up the rock steady beat. “The world is wrong, but I got me some, to get away.”

“Bad Vibrations” is straight up blues, which makes me, someone not normally a fan of such things, a convert. The cough from what I presume to be a bong hit lets us in that Brother JT does not take himself seriously, which is a problem with most white boy blues. The original blues I think always had a tongue firmly planted in the cheek. It also does not hurt to have an absolute crack band backing you up. “What You Make Of It” is an uplifting ska-inspired jam that includes cowbell. As we all know from the SNL skit you can never have too much cowbell.

“Belly Fat” is, you guessed it, an ode to belly fat. It is Brother JT's version of “Big Girls Need Love Too.” He might also be prognosticating about his own, um, girthy-ness as well. “There ain't nothing wrong with that, a little bit of Belly Fat.” Once again his backing band provides the structure for Brother JT to let loose in. There are some pretty slick guitar solos laid down. Normally I don't approve of wanky-ness, but since it is the JT I will let it slide.

“Do Ya Good” is probably the most straight up song on the disc. It has a breezy summer vibe going on for it. It starts with a rolling bass line and light touch of cymbal, and Brother JT provides his own vocal percussion. “There is milk and honey, oozing out of stuff, and sometimes there is even money, to buy stuff with, so you can feel funny, inside.” The chorus “I want to do you, really want to do yah, some good, good good,” is a little bit grating but the rest of the lyrics are great stoned stream-of-consciousness.

“Thank You For Being Me” is actually a really touching song. “I am sick of looking at the guy, the one with the me disguise, I would like to pull his head right off, and let you try it on for size. And then maybe I would see what you see in me.” When the organ comes on it truly does sound like a gospel, as Brother Jt belts out“Thank You for Being Me”

“Everything's Alive” is a great uplifting song to end the album with. This song is for driving down dark back roads on hot summer nights listening to the roar of insects. At times it seems Brother JT is channeling Jerry Garcia (that is not meant as an insult). As the song progresses things start to open up and get more like a Dead “Space” jam, while maintaining a forward momentum (okay so I had older siblings who were Dead Heads, is that a problem for you?). The jam continues to build and build and then it cuts back returning to the chant of “Everything” from the start of the song, shifting to an “Everything’s Alive” chant before fading out in cascades of bells, guitars, and bubbling bass. Each instrument dies out one by one, leaving the whooshing of a synthesizer.

It is a travesty that Brother JT is not huge; he should be making Harold & Kumar style stoner comedies, except he is actually really funny & profound. He as skilled as Ween at mixing humor with killer Jams. If Ween could trick the Dead Heads into liking them there is no reason Brother JT couldn't. Behind all the humor and slick musicianship Brother JT has a soul. He can save your soul too. Just watch the videos about Blendrometry. It changed my life; he will change yours. “Ohhmmmm, I don't want a hoagie.” (Drag City) (Dan Cohoon)