Embryo
Message from Era Ora [12-inch; Sound of Cobra]

Message From Era Ora is exactly what this column needs; a fresh aura, something to zone out to in an entirely different way. Embryo recorded this tight little son of a bitch in 1976 at various live venues, and while the group birthed 20 albums or in its heyday, if you haven’t been paying attention I don’t hear any reason you shouldn’t consider Message a decent Square One. It’s amazing to me that a recording from 1976 can sound so pummeling during a tom-tom rape while a lot of the records I spin from NOW don’t carry the same gut-sucking punch. Beyond that, if you get inside these compositions and stay with them from top to bottom it becomes apparent there are wicked forces at work here, and nothing short of a tractor-beam pull is required to put jammy jazz-prog, drenched in Fender Rhodes, like this across. They nail it, and have fun doing it. The solos don’t hitch up or anything, but I prefer the sections wherein the players lock horns together and thresh out intense clusters of activity together the most. I’m reminded most of fellow travelers like Sun Ra, Magma, Art Bears, Gong and the like, along with AMT and other psychedelic jamsters. There’s a shitload of other stuff that factors in, which I’ll let you suss out once you inject Embryo’s Message for yourself.

Links: Sound of Cobra

Various Artists

Frozen In Time: Music to Accompany the Films of Ingmar Bergman

[3XCS; Black Horizons]

Have you seen the lineup for the Frozen in Time: Music to Accompany the Films of Ingmar Bergman triple-cassette? Insane: Persistence In Mourning, Fear Konstruktor, Swamp Horse, Terence Hannum, Ryan Unks, and King Dude (retroactively scoring six Ingmar Bergman films, respectively: Persona, Face to Face, Wild Strawberries, From the Life of the Marionettes, The Serpent’s Egg, and Summer with Monika); if not even one of these names wrinkles your nose, you’re not reading the right column (and I’ll have you know there are penalties for that kind of thing). Quite an ambitious, illustrious project that pays off in spades if you’ve got the time to spend with it. Swamp-Ho (nom de plume of Husk Records dude Josh Lay) get the first at-bat and play things pretty safe, to these ears, but keep in mind I’m experiencing the audio without the visual accompaniment. Multiple layers of drone support what almost sounds like an impromptu choir singing through a synth, with guitar swipes eventually taking centerstage for the remainder of the production. A pounding, timpani-style instrument also makes a bold appearance, rounding out a fairly wondrous mixture of light-psych bliss and reverence for the material he’s creating a soundtrack for. Hannum’s contribution simmers peacefully at first before warping and boiling over into a dark-drone nightmare that mysteriously disappears down the drainpipes of your dreams. A throb kicks in soon after and we’re back where we started. Luckily, it wasn’t so bad in the first place. King Dude, if I may skip around a bit, turns in a side I wouldn’t have suspected he had in him, though he’s spewed a lot of releases I haven’t had the fortune of hearing. Very misty, cold, and dark until a fragile acoustic sound source emerges and a foghorn (or didgeridoo; or whatever) joins it. From there I’m not even sure where this is going any more, and that’s half the thrill. T.J. Cowgill whirls together a wind tunnel or two, blows on that horn, sets back in the gloom and pretty much owns shit. He claims he recorded his contribution with but an acoustic guitar, hand drum, two gazelle antlers, and a pen, but that’s… fuck brother, can we call the fifth instrument studio trickery then? Agreed. It would give me pleasure to recount the other three sides of music for you here, and yet I’ve already gone much longer than the Cerbs charter allows so we’ll have to part ways now. Frozen in Time is limited to 200 copies and replete with the aesthetic sense you expect from the lofty Black Horizons label.

Links: Black Horizons

John Bellows

Fast Hits

[CS; Teen River]

John Bellows is officially invited to all of my birthday parties from now on. I just think he’d make a good presence there, getting into the food and booze, goofing around with all kinds of funny voices and impressions, and making a general drunken mess of himself while causing a scene. And I’d want for him to do all that, because that is something that must be done at a birthday party. Because it was going to happen anyway. Someone has to be the asshole, screw things up a bit. It is as inevitable as rock and roll itself, and that’s why there’s Fast Hits. Fast Hits is a karate kick in the teeth. It’s a cartoon cat & mouse chase. It comes out of nowhere, it smarts like a motherfucker, and it is kind of a circus. There’s tastes of everything from Sebadoh to Kiss to Tom Waits on this highly enjoyable cassette tape, and more, and it’s all lined with a fuzzy notion of that word that is best when it exists as a noun, “gnarly.” Yes, John Bellows’ raging assault of power chord craziness is gnarly, but it is also a gnarly. It hasn’t showered in a while, it’s got patchy stubble all over its face. It just took six 5-Hour Energy™s, it is off to the races and you are in its way. And it will run you the fuck over. Even what is passed off for as a ballad here in “La La La La La” will kick your ass, and you’ll thank it for the favor.

Links: John Bellows - Teen River

Men Of Bissau

Club Baraka

[CS; Nostilevo]

Finally we get a Nostilevo release folded into the delicate belly of Cerberus, Men Of Bissau serving as the perfect entrypoint for the imprint’s unique black-on-gray-on-black aesthetic. Club Baraka deals in the best brand of drone, the variety that provokes the mind and somehow dazzles the ear despite what could be construed as fairly traditional ideas. Side A, comprised of “P.M.,” lays flat organ textures over harsh squealing then pulls the rug out, pairing coastguard Doppler blips with radio static, followed by super-slight synth gurgles. Lost at sea in the rain, the ear can do little but drift. “Club Baraka” is almost cruel as it slaps your face and throws you down the stairs without a word. CLUNK-dunk-dunk-dunk BANGSMASHHHHHHHH!>!!>!? Before you know what bull gored you, a feeble alien signal pleads for your attention as what sounds like a sampled xylophone tolls for unknown souls. Evil stuttering cricket chirps and a growling, unidentified source of bass join the fray and bring it all home. By the time the timpanis come in you’re already aware of your impending death, and you don’t care. Fucking righteous, man.

Links: Nostilevo

Sam Gas Can

Baby, Am I Trippy?

[CS; Singapore Sling]

Sam Gas Can might have written this album with just whistling. Maybe he used some hand-holding and possibly skipping. Saturday morning cartoons. Cookie Crisp® cereal crumbles on the corners of his lips and milk dribbling down his chin is how this album might have been created. But for as little-kid as all that sounds, Baby, Am I Trippy? is still PG-13, at least (for light drug-related humor and questionable language). He’s sort of grown up and he sort of knows exactly what he’s doing, forming drums, keyboards, and voices into a little gang of miscreant musicians. What Sam Gas Can’s actual voice sounds like, we’ll never know. Whether or not he’s a sane, rational human being - a mystery. We listen and wonder. We wonder how “fly off the handle” means interjecting a tune with Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” as rendered on a Casio keyboard. We wonder about the weirdo rapping, and who this “Anthro Rex” person might be. How the soundtrack to an 80s sitcom managed to fit so well on this cassette. And we wonder how in the Sam-Gas-Can-hell Russian label Singapore Sling manages to continue its home-run derby year of almost entirely US-based artists with ace tapes like this one.

Links: Sam Gas Can - Singapore Sling

Plankton Wat / Expo 70

split

[12-inch; Debacle]

It’s almost not fair. Both of these acts have appeared at the Cerbs HQ before, and both, to my knowledge, have never missed. We all know this is going to be good, is what I’m implying here. Even with expectations bated, however, Expo 70 and Plankton Wat impress with this split by way of their distinct, idiosyncratic methods. Plankton Wat’s side delivers more of those bittersweet acoustic riffs, augmented by electric guitar ghouls that float in and out of consciousness as if on the edge of sleep. That’s “When I Remember Her Name,” at least. “The Oracle” exists on the edge of Byrds country, abetted by percussive accompaniment that swipes the flies away like a horse’s tail. Swish. “Land’s End” reminds me of a solo Zach Cale between-songs jam, extended a bit, while “Faded Postcards” seals the deal with a rustic, ride-into-the-sunset jam with wobbling rhythms and the most solid foundation on offer here. Rich; oak-y. Expo 70? Couldn’t be further away stylistically. “Subtle Afterthoughts” builds its prog foundation slowly, almost painfully so, a la Bitchin Bajas/etc., and as the tones turn into zones of thick vibration an almost sinister feeling threatens to emerge and stamp out the peaceful bliss. Never happens though; instead a mystical loop, spaceship-button synths, and bird-call squiggles spin it all around and down the drain cleanly. From there it’s not difficult to predict what comes next. What strikes me is the effortlessness with which Justin Wright wields his considerable power. No signs of autopilot, either. Just steady craftsmanship. Make sure you put some thought into investing in this split before it goes the way of the limited-run buffalo.

Links: Debacle

Mold Grows on Baby

Mold Grows on Baby

[CS; Unit Structure Sound Recordings]

I keep thinking that I’ll only be reviewing this or that ONE, SINGLE free jazz release of the year. But lo- 2013 seems to be rife with some solid stuff in this category, so either there’s more of it happening lately, or you just don’t read about it very often. Or I have no idea what I’m talking about. Or (most likely) it’s a combination of all three. From Sheldon Siegel to Nick Millevoi, and now here there appear to be a couple in USSR’s recent batch of tapes, so be it I say, especially since each and every one of these has been unique, interesting, and quite good. In the case of our friends from Vancouver (Matthew Read and John Brennan as Mold Grows on Baby, which… yeah, the name), we have a tenor sax and drum duet treading through a number of improvisations that take each instrument to textural extremes while never coming off as incessant honking or interminable banging. Granted, there’s some downright eye-squinting squelches of saxophone and bone-rattling thumps going on at various moments of dynamic climax, but still, all inflections are done with a light, artistic stroke of the sonic brush, there to counteract the real melodies and rhythms at play within the core of this duet’s sound. And those are indeed the real sweet spots on the cassette, when that great Trane tone is out front and center. Playfully improvised fun that wanders its way through a number of tempos and dynamics… It’s free jazz, kids. I think you know whether or not you like this. (Hint: you do).

Links: Unit Structure Sound Recordings

Merx

Twenty SQ FT

[CS; Skrot Up]

I thought I read somewhere that Merx is an offshoot of some sort stemming from the German Army family tree, which would be awesome. No matter: Twenty Sq Ft stands on its own at the summit of randomness, flitting from disguise to disguise until they barely recognize who’s staring back at them in the mirror. They can be muscular and threatening or, as “Swim Job” attests, quite funky, or at least as funky as a limited-run tape band can be. I suppose gloomy post-punk would have to be brought up in the conversation if you were trying to describe this cassette to a dipshit, but umbrella terms aren’t going to protect you from the unrestrained, infectious enthusiasm pouring from the pores of these sketchy tunes. Let them do their work and Merx will reward you in a perplexing manner. Which reminds me: Do you have the proper documentation to be listening to Twenty Sq Ft? Write Skrot Up to secure the appropriate paperwork.

Links: Skrot Up

156

A Life Lived as if In Hell

[CS; Out-of-Body]

A Life Lived As If In Hell is a sick one, indeed. Literally. We’re talking ladies crying in hospital beds, gagging and probably spewing into the air as all manner of experimental electronic detritus clutters the room. Not easy listening, to say the least, and that’s exactly why you must stick around. Whether 156 are creating rhythmic jams out of mysterious sources or rat-tat-tat-ing on a garbage-can lid or sampling the voice of pure suffering, they keep their boots on your neck from start to finish in a cinematic display of pace-setting and mangled porn-noise showmanship. As a fellow who cringes at the thought of ever hearing another Mama Baer tape, it seems out-of-whack for me to recommend a dick-splitter like A Life Lived, but this isn’t torture for torture’s sake. It’s evocative and will-testing, but only because, and when, it has to be. I sat on this one for awhile but it’s still available over at Out-of-Body so there’s still time.

Links: Out-of-Body

The Christmas Bride

(He’s Not a) Mongreloid

[CS; Teen River]

Remember cassingles!? Now they’re back, in cassingle form! The Christmas Bride embrace the medium that I so treasured in the early 90s, before 99 cent MP3s and [even] after I got a CD player. I figured cassettes with “Bad Boys,” “A Girl Like You,” and “100%” meant eclectic taste. The sort of taste The Christmas Bride display twenty years after my last dalliance with the cassingle. Now everyone can share a love of Revenge of the Nerds and Rolling Stones references and a lot of Teen River in-jokes about 80s teenage culture that millennials seem to slurp up like chicken soup of the retro soul. But this is more than a brush with the classics, as The Christmas Bride somehow hit on the untouched fun of pop. Not the bubblegum or rock/country/R&B variants but of simple, no frills kind. It’s why a cassingle is perfect for the title track and it’s B-side, “D.I.Y. Hi-Skool.” It’s playful and fleeting, a feeling that is sure to erode as quickly as the tape upon too many listens. But that’s the brilliance of pop, it keeps you coming back for more and when you hit the bottom of that saccharine tub, there’s someone or something else to fill the empty void in your rotting stomach. Even with my arms crossed and my cynicism keen, I can’t deny being caught up in Christmas Bride fever, if only for a blink-of-an-eye. Then it’ll join the ranks of my dusty pile of relics but oh what a triumphant pile of momentary bliss it is.

Links: Teen River
  

In this ever-expanding musical world, there's a wealth of 7-inches, cassettes, CD-Rs, and objet d'art being released that, due to their limited quantities and adventurous sonics, go unnoticed by the public at large. Cerberus seeks to document the aesthetic of these home recorders and backyard labels. Email us here.