[CS; Thrill Jockey]

If there’s one thing we can all count on, it’s time. Right? We know that one-Mississippi will always take exactly one-Mississippi long to get through all those syllables. Maybe it’s intentional-irony, then, that music composed for and performed in a very specifically time-centric space (the clock room of the famed Bromo Seltzer Tower in downtown Baltimore) would wind up being the unpredictable exercise in chance and freedom that it is for much of its running length. The duo known as Peals (William Cashion and Bruce Willen, bassists of Future Islands and Double Dagger, respectively), took the opportunity of scoring an art installation by Zoe Friedman called “Time is a Milk Bowl” to grind away at bass frequencies and flick at glittery electronics amid a backdrop of the nervous ticks, tocks, clicks, and cracks of the surrounding space’s machinery. The duo hooked their setup into these mechanisms via contact mics, essentially making their physical space an instrument as part of their performance. You can hear each piece of this sonic puzzle acting somewhat independently on its own internal clock (if you will), while contributing to a larger temporal melting pot swirling with all kinds of different ever-shifting tempos, like a musical version of a Dali painting — different sized time-pieces scattered about an enclosed area, melting. As harmonics softly scrape across one another the frequencies begin to rhythmically beat the eardrums until things smelt down entirely into a more homogeneous mix of beautiful and dense ambience. Things finally snap into place when the piece settles into a familiar feeling 60 beats-per-minute toward the end, the glockenspiel clanging its joyful melody and the piece resolving in a gallant G Major. It all feels very final at this stage - like an affirmation that, no matter what kind of timing trickery may be afoot, ultimately we can still count on that one-Mississippi to keep us on track. Side B follows up on the whole time-theme by collecting disparate home recordings from throughout the collaboration’s history and arranging them into a suite of sorts, traveling through some nice material that reminds me of a more pop-oriented Brokeback, although nothing nearly as fully-formed or engaging as Side A’s intrepid journey through space-time – a nice consolation prize for getting through Seltzer’s main course nonetheless.

Links: Peals - Thrill Jockey

Sea Witch

As Above… So Below

[2xCS; Small Doses]

As Above… So Below; shit Sea Witch, that’s the name of my favorite Forced Entry (80s thrash) record, and FE’s singer went to my junior high allegedly, so… Awww fuck it, yr all good, so long as you continue to hurt my ears every time you step into a studio to slam a tape track down. This nifty double-cassette never surges above a crawl ‘far as I can tell, save a quick dip on the second tape, and I’m a huge flip-flopper on this topic. Back in the day I was all about bands that try to do everything, the multi-tasker’s approach to music listening, and now I know the truth: The best shit is specific almost to a fault. Sea Witch hone in on the churning, slowww side of the doom genre so hard it’ll drive you nuts if you thought the celebrity guest spots on the last Earth record kicked ass (you dumb pieces of shit). Luckily you have me here to break it to you that they didn’t, and that As Above… So Below doesn’t bother with any of that garbage. No vox, no worries, as far as I’m concerned, and there’s not a single point at which I’d argue a singer is necessary. Hell, I don’t even want Sea Witch to speed up. I’m willing to slide through the slop with them and steam-clean my ears afterward. I’m a huge supporter of the Slow Doom movement, and I think you’ll find a lot of solace in these symphonies, many abetted by strings, despite the booming heaviness inherent. Don’t sleep on Sea Witch even if you’re a little doomed-out.

Links: Small Doses


Snow Stained With the Blood of Traitors

[CS; Prison Tatt]

I’m not sure what it is about Snow Stained with the Blood of Traitors that has stayed in the back of my mind since it arrived on my doorstep, but its blackened lofi metal appeal is unmistakable. What really stands out about Intolerant, however, is the synths. They’re all over this compilation, and they’re cheap and sloppy, too, not always a recipe for victorious warfare. It comes together in a messy manner, and from a distance it looks like a sandstorm, whirling in on itself and causing chaos unto anything it touches. Get closer and the chaos remains; in fact, as with a lot of those older Striborg recordings (and infinite others), half the fun seems to be figuring out what’s actually going on beneath the layers of crop-dusted fuzz. Intolerant probably recorded these ‘tunes’ into a cheap jukebox and called it good, then years later threw some synths overtop; strangely, even if that were the case, it wouldn’t matter to me. I realize I gush every time a scrap of metal meat gets thrown onto my plate but DAMN, it’s tasty right down to the bone. Motherfucker, listen to metal (sometimes).

Links: Prison Tatt

Henry Plotnick

Qualia (Blue Fourteen)

[CS; Blue Tapes]

Henry Plotnick sits at a freakishly talented thirteen years old, but his music can somehow feel even younger. That’s not a jab at whether or not he sounds “experienced,” or “practiced.” Actually, he doesn’t at all, which is precisely what makes his work so distinguished and engaging. Each piece Plotnick encounters is something that’s born, travels through infancy, childhood, adolescence… and by its end, like when the hisses, steams, bells and clangs of opening title track “Qualia” all converge, the music really knows what it is, who it is, and what it’s doing. Which could very well mean senile and bat-shit crazy. But in those early stages of each individual work, it always feels alien from the get-go, which is perhaps what sets Plotnick’s style apart from minimalism before it. Unlike Steve Reich’s work for example, Plotnick purposefully sounds like he’s stumbling into a semblance of regularity with regards to rhythm, melody, and harmony. “Mechanolatry” begins with what sounds like five or six acoustic string voices blindly feeling their way around one another, as if just opening their eyes for the first time, blinking and squinting to adjust to the light of a new world… Born into song. And by the time of its chaotic climax, the confusion is as palpable as ever - like all these once-children are now members of the crazed elderly, jabbering back and forth and over one another in coherent-nonsense.

You hate to pin an artist’s age to them as a defining feature, and indeed it’s not some kind of explanation as to why I’m sitting here writing about its novelty. It just happens that the elements of Plotnick’s music – his cleverly incorporated melodies and unique phrasings, the textures he so naturally pairs with one another – sound so much like wondrous discovery, frustrating trial-and-error, and ultimately hands-throw-in-the-air exasperation, that its association to age is hard to ignore. But while I don’t invite folks to point and stare and gawk and giggle at the boy-genius that is Henry Plotnick, at the same time I also can’t help but wonder what he’ll be up to in the decades to come.

Links: Henry Plotnick - Blue Tapes



[CS; Habitat]

Expect envy as I relay the conundrum of the music reviewer: A plain package shows up from an unfamiliar address. Thankfully not addressed to Tom DeLay, but to yours truly. I let the cats sniff it, the toddler gently shake it. Sounds like a cassette. It’s not from the label and as far as I can fathom, not from Michael O’Dwyer and Aaron Wallace who fancy calling themselves Boquillas. It sits on top of my stack for a week – perhaps two (it’s a large stack – apologies for the “brag”). It finally meets my tape player. It rings, loudly. It buzzes, furiously. It resonates, triumphantly. Much like the secret world from which this tape came (thank you kind stranger or clever pseudonym), Boquillas was recorded in a tunnel a world away from my humble Usonian knock off, coming from the depths of the unknown to create a feeling well worth discovering. And much like the toddler that inhabits my space, its roars from the tape player through the hallways and angled doorways are signals to the imagined portal through the center of the earth. As if Boquillas and I are tied by a taut string at direct opposites of the Earth. They pull and I fall; I tug and they crash into their gong, only for the din to travel that mythical rope like words spoken in a can between treehouses. No matter how the message came to me, I am hearing it as it was intended for me to hear. I apologize for ignoring it for as long as I did. But Boquillas’ mature rumble finally cut through the childish boom that often inhabits my home. The distance between Melbourne and Indianapolis doesn’t seem so far these days.

Links: Habitat

Great Valley

Lizards of Camelot

[LP; Feeding Tube]

Zach Phillips’ participation was a dead giveaway, but I still didn’t anticipate how much bear-hug love I’d have for the special vinyl ‘tour’ version of Lizards in Camelot (the tape having dropped on NNA previously). I’d even go so far as to say the progression of the tracks that inhabit Side A form one of the best sides of music I’d heard in, hell, what seems like a long, long time (maybe since that Big French record?). And it’s not that other audio hasn’t measured up necessarily, it’s more that Great Valley are hitting a spot in my brain I didn’t know existed. They’re not hitting it once, either; they’re zoning in on that shit and pounding it until my endorphin receptors feel like they’ve been sucking in hard drugs all day. It’s not a healthy process but it’s healthier than the alternative (not feeling the bliss in the first place), and it beats listening to the refried junk that seems to land in my Inbox every day. Lord, look at me! I haven’t even properly introduced you! Great Valley is essentially the duo of Peter Nichols and Jo Miller-Gamble, along with a rotating cast of Vermont weirdos. While Lizards of Camelot carries with it the weirdness we’ve come to expect from that corner of the country, Great Valley aren’t content to just weird you out. They also want to dazzle you with their mellow melodies and wrap their synth ribbons around your head… And the guitars, oh the guitars! “Lakey Lady” is so lovably loopy you’ll almost be beside yourself with glee when you first turn it on, and that’s coming from a guy who shoves aural delights into his ear 17 hours a day. I’ve pitched outsiders to you in the past (Carey Mercer, Zach Hill, Tonstartssbandht) and that turned out well for everyone, right? Good, so we’re agreed: You’ll plug this sucker in and let its hot air fill your body, then WHOOSH!!! You’ll fly around the room like a balloon with its mouthpiece just a lil’ bit open. Less than a hundred copies of this left from the source so move yr ass, pilgrim.

Links: Feeding Tube

Problems That Fix Themselves

Which Is Worse

[LP; Already Dead]

I didn’t realize how programmed I was to expect certain things from certain aesthetics until this record came in the mail. Problems That Fix Themselves? Probably a post-emo band. Then the record spins and… while that clarifies the experience a bit, I’m still not sure exactly where these guys are at. It could be a slight identity crisis, or it could be a misdiagnosis on my part. In any event Which is Worse turned out to be a refreshing record that, as I alluded to above, dodged my expectations from start to finish. Both sides of the LP follow a similar pattern: Drone, drone, drone yr boat, gently down the stream, then start flippin’ the formula like electronic flapjacks, from several of the ‘DM’s to ambient to violent sound-drilling to some almost Anticon-ish (circa Odd Nosdam) shit. I’m all for it, too. I’m sure someday PTFT will settle into a nice, green genre pasture and have a permanent picnic (prove me wrong fellas; prove me WRONG!); until then, why not adjust to the needs of today’s eclectic experimental listener? In fact, the detour into noise on the flip is one of the best sections of Which is Worse, oscillating and dive-bombing into tubs of black electric guck. For those about to never, ever rock (but roll a shitload), Problems That Fix Themselves salute you.

Links: Problems That Fix Themselves

Various Suspects

MPLS MMXIV: Minneapolis Noise Circa 2014

[3xCS; Fuck Mountain]

I’m well into my thirties, and as such am finally growing used to being victim/rare beneficiary of cyclical underground fashion. While I’ve adjusted to some of life’s disappointments in the face of fashion and “progress”, there are still some things I can’t not mourn: videlicet, the dearth of solid noise comps in the post-internet era, let alone anything approaching the scattershot weirdo brilliance of, say, Hanson’s Labyrinths and Jokes or something from the Bananafish extended family (I glance over at my old copy of the Patchouli and Echoes double CDR and shed a tear for times past.. has it really been over a decade?). Ever since micro-genre codifying became something other than a joke (or at least, other than an intentional one), it’s been really hard to get freak stragglers together in a way that might resonate outside of one dude’s basement, and the popular adoption of the cassette format amongst pizza punx and twee-ners has made it even harder to separate wheat from chaff. As such, I feel that we need solid comps more than ever.

Bless, then, Minneapolis and the Fuck Mountain label, who have assembled a triple cassette (!) compendium of fucked moves from their own backyard (probably literally, in some cases, as I understand that Fuck Mountain was a house venue until recently). I was honestly expecting a largely harsh/wall noise affair (I’ve had some… experiences), which I wasn’t sure I wanted to sit through, but F.M. have cast the net significantly further afield, deigning to include everything from the rainbow-blanket drones of HACK to the unpredictable idiosyncrasy of (personal long-time fave) Growth Spert, making room along the way for the “heterophobic” power electronics of Straight Panic and some classic-style industrial anxiety from Dead Actress, among a couple dozen more. In what might be a nod to the medium’s last golden age, once-ubiquitous veteran gnarlers/comp-contributors Cock E.S.P. even make a brief appearance.

The sequencing is A+ here, never giving you enough time to get bored with one version of brain-wiping electronic goop. It goes every which way but bland, and while it doesn’t reinvent the noise comp wheel, it rolls it admirably. Maybe noise isn’t over, after all.

Links: Fuck Mountain

Jam Money

Blowing Stones

[LP; Spillage Fete]

The cover of Blowing Stones came ripped on top, but it wasn’t until the moment needle hit vinyl that I found out why. The music from Jam Money’s odd pop consortium was desperately pushing outward. Its long journey across the Atlantic made it antsy. It bubbles from note one, ready to unleash a torrent of minimally conceived but blissfully rich tunes into your ears. It rips at the fabric of convention, playing both sides of a music detente: of course we can be coy and quiet, but we also like loud and aggressive. And it’s often a combative affair occurring in the same song (“Gauzy Wing”) where the deliberate pace of isolated contemplation is hurried along with forceful pulls at the nag’s reins. I feel as if this is not new information, even if you’ve never heard Jam Money. The cover tells its story: a large swatch of white canvas, barely touched. But those moments when an impression is made, the brushstrokes bleed into blotches of vivid color; little ideas that are collected as they come. Inspiration literally drawn as it hits. Blowing Stones is more art project than musical composition, which is why it bursts forth from its paper sleeve with such power. It does not care for art as a concept but as an action. So I wonder if that rip – which I will lovingly stare at with each listen – as some sort of psychic tear I caused because it was my anticipation for Blowing Stones guiding it feverishly to my doorstep.

Links: Spillage Fete

James Fella

Weak Left Input

[LP; Gilgongo]

It would be reductive to suggest the tape scene as a sort of training ground for eventual full-battle vinyl, but the trend of pressing formerly cassette-only releases onto wax continues unabated. From my experience, the process also works toward a thinning-out of the herd. If your CS48 sucks, it will disappear forever as it should once its 50-copy run manages to sell out; if it’s something special, there’s a decent chance a guy with a beard somewhere will pick it up and take it to a pressing plant. Or maybe you’ll do it yourself, like James Fella’s Gilgongo Records did when Weak Left Input sold out a few tape runs (I believe a CD also came out at some point last year, earlier than the vinyl version). It’s only logical to assume that success on one platform will lead to more plaudits on another, and so the format wars rage on, the listener a true benefactor. Weak Left Input fits the profile of a sturdy dronoise cassette, but its features emerge more highly defined on vinyl, the bass bobbing deeper underground and the treble snapping harder. The flipside (forgive me to skipping straight to it) in particular barks a lot more menacingly too, stacked with pitch-bent globs of guitar plucks (real high or low on the neck maybe? I can’t guarantee the veracity of this assumption) and several noise signifiers fighting with one another. It all retreats soon, leading you to believe it’s time to drift off into space, then SNAP>>>>>>>}{<<<<<<<<< BANG, NOISE-BREAK FOOL!!! Albeit in another dimension, buffalo grunts sucked into a solar vortex, accompanying us on our descent to a calm, forgiving heaven that won’t churn our bowels to sawdust; at least that’s what we’ve been promised. Was it worth it? Again, YES.

Links: James Fella - Gilgongo


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Cerberus seeks to document the spate of home recorders and backyard labels pressing limited-run LPs, 7-inches, cassettes, and objet d'art with unique packaging and unknown sound. We love everything about the overlooked or unappreciated. If you feel you fit such a category, email us here.