The North Sea
Grandeur & Weakness [LP; Rubber City Noise]

Grandeur & Weakness is apparently the final North Sea voyage, and what a long, strange trip it’s been; or at least I imagine so. As seems to happen all the time, this act was right under my nose for years and I never so much as sniffed. Now I’m trying to snuff up all I can before it’s closing time and it’s a little overwhelming. Back to Grandeur: Not to cliche-fuck you, but what an appropriate album title. Brad Rose (nee North Sea) strings together a slew of aural victories that all stand apart. “Empty, Fragile Shell” had me thinking of that Riceboy Sleeps album (aka spiritual drone) while, say, “Vagrant” and “Violence Is a Cleansing Force” ring of Panicsville holding up a WZT Hearts track in Starving Weirdos’ backyard. There seem to be a lot of lazers in today’s experimental records, and this one is no exception. I embrace that, along with the more extreme elements at play here, fully. It’s rare to hear a dronoise album that doesn’t beg for anything. Nothing is left off the table; the tectonic plates shift fairly regularly, but you’ll never lose footing if this crazy brand of music has had any impact on your life. Records like Grandeur keep our little pumpkin patch in the sun alive, teeming with fresh energy and wild, zesty ideas. No reason to quit now, far as I can hear. Three-hundred copies and you don’t know what hit you.

Links: The North Sea - Rubber City Noise

JD Emmanuel / Evan Caminiti

Contrasts

[CS; Preservation]

Calgon Emmanuel, take me away! The A-side to this latest Contrasts pairing is amazing. And then it drops! But it returns lusher than ever. I am in its grasp, the sudsy bath enveloping my senses as I let my body go limp into the fade out…but I open my eyes to a new world, one underwater with magical creatures singing to me in docile tones. A full-body feast as I dive deeper into my Cousteau fantasy, only to come to find the Mariana Trench is a portal to the Earth behind the sun, outer space lovely this time of year. But Earth 2 is not the magical world I was expecting, Evan Caminiti’s dismal splash of acid rain on a world in ruin waking me from my Magellan cruise. As I desperately seek shelter, I find eves and overhangs impossible. When I encounter a shop or coffeehouse, thinking it a fine place to hide until the drenching rain subsides, I am skirted out the door. The world is turning dark and the gutters begin to swell. But I realize I am not in a fantasy, nor am I on Earth 2. This is the world which we have created, shunting Emmanuel’s beautiful forward progression for Caminiti’s gritty noir. We are a society growing cold, at odds with the Utopian idealism of the Golden Rule. I will endure this cold, pounding rain because it is the punishment I deserve for a fool’s errand. I fall asleep in the gutter, naked and exposed for the world to kick.

Links: Preservation

Den

Electric Eyes

[7-inch; Retrograde]

Might be the best record of a sturdy batch of late. Den’s Electric Eyes 7-inch is mean, mighty, quick with the sword; they can rumble slow and hard or they can jam it a bit. Either way the sturdy James Plotkin (who engineers every record I review now) mix allows the project to digress without losing the buzz. These guys are super-stoned without being annoying about it, angry without being melodramatic about it, and heavy as shit-balls without being all ‘metal’ about it; it’s like Sleep/OM and Melvins with Acid Mothers Temple sound effects sprinkled over top. Curiously satisfying, it is. When those trippy effects flutter in you wonder why they don’t just drape a few layers more just for good measure, but that might be why it works in the first place; they don’t milk it to death. I don’t like the hippy-dippy jam-bam of “Spectrum Shock” initially, and the Muppet vocals don’t do anything to change my mind (though the track gets pretty crazy later on, I must admit). Hey, they can’t all be winners. An interesting new band, Den are. With them, the force be.

Links: Den - Retrograde

Nose Bleed Island

True Story

[CS; Singapore Sling]

Hello and welcome to my review of the best tape of 2013. Let me show you around. First, this is where we take a look at the J-card, with the insanely cool retro-future space scene cover artwork by someone called Olga. Inside the card there, we’ll find an insert which gives a brief biography of Nose Bleed Island, detailing the exploits of one Joey Pizza Slice and his band of a cardboard Dracula, a robot, and an 11 year old named Zbear. The story is replete with tales of drunken debauchery, Nazi ass-kicking and an undying and immaculate love of all things pizza. Over here is where I tell you about the perfect little pop tunes that pepper themselves about this retrospective collection of tracks, one of which dates back almost a decade. And here I write about twee in a real general, non-specific sort of way, just to give the review some kind of referential grounding. And then I mention a few bands like Guided By Voices and Beat Happening and early Built to Spill and Sebadoh, and how Nose Bleed Island would probably sneeze on, and then puke over all that stuff after taking a big bite of a rotten piece of pickled pepperoni. Over in this area is where I use the word “infectious,” although I feel bad about using that word, since it is so cliché. So I conclude that Nose Bleed Island is less infectious and more like a serious infection. It’s bruised all black and blue around it, scabbed over and kind of painful, actually, but you can’t seem to quit picking at it, which is gross but in that fun, silly and immature kind of way. And then there’s a bunch of junk in the corner over there. A drum machine, and a Casio keyboard, and a diorama of the solar system, and pizza, a bag of marbles, and getting stood up for the prom, and Obama, and dirty dishes, a VHS copy of “Waterworld” starring Kevin Costner, and drawings of dinosaurs, and poodle skirts, and a pop quiz you got a D- on, and a keepsake from your family’s Disney Land vacation when you were nine. And I guess that’s it, so thanks for coming.

Links: Nose Bleed Island - Singapore Sling

Fluorescent Heights

Tidal Motions

[CS; Constellation Tatsu]

Oh what magnificent heights! I am bathed by the sun, wings melted by the heat like Icarus. But I ignore reason for the sine waves lift me up higher and higher. Fluorescent Heights has cut me loose. Gravity means nothing. The oceans rise with me; I am swimming among the Great Barrier Reef in the stratosphere. I jump beside Felix Baumgartner but do not fall to earth. This is my new home, enveloped in heavenly clouds and the synthesizers of angels. I am rocked to silver lining sleep on a bed of Tidal Motions. The moon is my reading lamp, the sky my window. I never want to feel terra firma with my feet again. The beach and the mud and the stone and the grass are all up here anyway. This is better than The Rapture because anyone can come. No sin exists in weightlessness. And if it does, Fluorescent Heights will absolve it. This will make it right. I lay my head on the bosom of a star. I rest my feet on the edge of Olympus Mons.

Links: Fluorescent Heights - Constellation Tatsu

Sohrab

Between Strangers

[7-inch; Touch]

It says on the jacket that one of the melodies used on this 7-inch is pulled from a lo-fi recording at a refugee camp in Germany. Damn Sohrab, where do we go from here? And Sohrab will answer your question with another query: Where won’t we go from here? Between Strangers is experimental thought-crime on the highest order, obsessed with waves, open ear space, unconventional rhythms, and woozy soundscapes. “Endless Spring” is a crowd erupting then slowly settling into perpetuity, after which each participant wanders into the desert and gets lost in the void. That’s actually the flip; “Hejrat” leads off and follows a sitar and sampled siren singing into a temple of super-subdued drone. Water is burbling in a fountain as the chanting holds our gaze, a shuffling half-beat keeping time. More liquid drift drips into a drone funnel before a stuttering static edge hints at a locked groove. But it is not to be; relax, the end is near.

Links: Sohrab - Touch

Matthew Dotson

Excavation

[CS; Self-released]

This tape by Matthew Dotson is probably not the most ideal choice for review in Cerberus, since it’s my understanding that these reviews are supposed to be pretty short in general. But the Chicago noisenik packs so many different ideas, textures, and inflections into this incredible collage of sounds and styles that I’m going to struggle to keep my thoughts on Excavation as brief here as possible. My understanding is that Dotson records most of his work live, with sound sources culled from collected recordings of his world travels (notably Japan for the A-side of this tape, which features some pretty prominent Koto playing somewhere in the first half). But a lot of this stuff feels more than just live tape mixing and manipulating of found sounds — everything feels very performed, from moments of break-beat/noise that reminds me of some of Mouse on Mars more free-form mind scrambles, or maybe even Aphex Twin, to some drowsy extensions of electric guitar tones that drift into downtrodden post-rock, like outtakes from an older Tortoise LP strung together into a medley of beauty, intrigue, and general craziness. Aside from the sheer variety of sounds, and the complexity with which everything is woven together (truly excellent pacing through all of this, by the way), dynamics and solid understanding and exploitation of the stereo space are also some of Dotson’s stronger suits. Both sides are deep and compelling excursions into environments that remain hopelessly musical. That is, Excavation is a real album to be listened to for those basic musical elements in addition to being a tapestry of noises giving us something to awkwardly stare at in confused wonder.

Links: Matthew Dotson

Terminator 2

s/t

[CS; Handmade Birds]

You can’t just go ‘round killing all the other bands, Terminator 2! Love where this Denton, Texas, three-piece’s doom-obsessed heads are at. It’s not brain surgery: Slowwww basslines that never stop, ever; occasional guitar sludge but not all the time; copious effects that do so much more than take up space… if you like those Hell records (I and II, plus a split with Thou) and/or Gravity Records you’re all set on this. The singer barks so convincingly even the death-metal legends seem trivial in comparison. He really gets down there, to the depths of his very soul. You can’t argue with that kind of passion, and he’s got a band behind him that fuckin’ stone-owns it. Deep and disconcerting, dark and disorderly, deathly and demented, dour and dim, damned and dismembered, destructive and dogged in their pursuit of doom holiness, Terminator 2 take on intriguing shapes when they’re at their best. I’m shocked at how much I dig this, perhaps more than even the material demands. Just right up my alley I guess, to the point where they’re almost stealing ideas I never had. Asunder, Dead And Gone, Unsane, Bloodlet… so much wonderful history.

Links: Handmade Birds

Hazel’s Wart

Together We Didn’t

[LP; Skrot Up]

Shit, I know the most important influences on the Together We Didn’t LP hailed from Seattle circa the early 1990s, but what’s with that opening riff? Are Hazel’s Wart aware that it’s the riff from “You Could Be Mine”? Way out of line, boyz. I forgive ye because thine stabs at a pre-grunge revival hit these ears as fairly promising, also reeking of the old SST stable. The melodic vocals balance out the soft-garbage buzz of the guitars, and the speaker-raping qualities present for much of the record can’t escape a quick mention of… ahhh fuggit, I won’t even go there. Mostly Together We Didn’t just rocks (save for when it’s not; there are a few soundtrack-style flourishes) it’s motherfuckin’ ass off, and I can’t tell you how much I need that in my life right now. Can’t stop; won’t stop; don’t stop.

Links: Hazel’s Wart - Skrot Up

William Basinski

Shortwavemusic

[7-inch Reel; Auris Apothecary]

Pleasantries first: Auris Apothecary and Cerberus entered the world the same day in the same year. I consider this no coincidence, for we are all particles connected to one another by hippie bullshit that doesn’t matter in the end because we’re all screwed up. AA transmits that and we report it. And for more than a decade, William Basinski has had to be swallowed by the same damning press all because his masterwork happened to find its completion as the twin towers of the World Trade Center sadly crumbled on the same day. Irony isn’t always fun , but AA’s twisted smirks and Basinski’s fragile compositions can make it so. Shortwavemusic’s latest reissue (of many from the 1982 composition) came in the midst of New Year’s in the guise of a 1/4-inch tape on a 7-inch reel. Without purpose, I hunted eBay to find a working reel-to-reel player for which to listen. I read, I studied, and I coveted. And here it is a pile of tape on the floor after heart and soul has been poured into such a centerpiece. But music isn’t for show, it’s for hearing. But AA does not heed such consequences, for it embraces both (always for the better). They knew what a clumsy but adventurous shell would do armed with 7-inches of reel. I’m sure many have framed and hung theirs by the chimney with care, but I sledgehammered it down to obtain the precious and put it through its paces. And it sounds good–oh so good. I’ve wrapped myself like a mummy in its discards, trying to contemplate where AA begins, Basinski takes over, and Cerberus ends. It all comes out too Donnie Darko for my tastes, so I try to ignore the coincidences. I try to focus on what each of us does and in that, I find solace. Shortwavemusic is an empowering piece, triumphant in a time where shows of aggression or talking loudest win fights. AA and Basinski take no such course. We shall oblige.

Links: William Basinski - Auris Apothecary

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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.