R. Stevie Moore
Ariel Pink’s Picks vol. 1 [12-inch; Personal Injury]
Given that this Bandcamp page for R. Stevie Moore has upwards of 300 releases you can listen to, we should all feel lucky to have an astute gentleman such as Ariel Pink to pick out some of the key tracks for us. There’s gotta be some kind of a trimmed primer to start with, although let’s be honest, with that many albums who the hell knows what all this guy was capable of putting down to tape since the 50’s(!). And he’s still making music. Lots of it. Nevertheless, this 2xLP collection of 17 hand-picked popsters could do just the trick if you don’t have the two-to-three lifetimes you’d need to check out the entire catalog and are willing to zone in on a specific period of his career. We’re focused on material released between 1973 and 1984 here, tracks that, as you might have guessed, double as explanations of Ariel Pink’s approach to music on the whole: that lo-fi, into-the-past-peering punk rock, slightly updating (i.e., having fun with/obliterating) the British invasion’s cheerful bally-hoo with more adventurous forms while clinging tight to the sweet harmonies and jangly bounce of something like the Beach Boys. Add to that a dollop of Moore’s uncanny sense of humor, the goofy self-deprecating commentary belted out in mousy falsettos to the tap of a solid backing band, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what you can expect with this one. But what you might not expect is just how genuine it all is, or the sweet sensitivity of some of the softer numbers, like the beautiful “The Winner,” tucked away on side 3. Not even 30 seconds into this record and it’s apparent how criminally insane it is that R. Stevie Moore is still the mysterious outsider he remains to be in 2015 (I only became aware of his existence within the last 12 months, if that’s any indication) – why, after all this time, and especially after having produced the decade of music this excellent release paraphrases for us, is this guy not a fucking millionaire? Or, maybe he is? Your guess is as good as mine.Links: R. Stevie Moore - Personal Injury
Entropy [CS; 5CM Recordings]
A world of what ifs now summarized in Entropy, though the biggest may be what would have happened had Ozzy joined Rush and crashed CBGBs in 1975. But that reads like PR fodder and does Nostromo’s blend of fleshed out hard rock no favors. It doesn’t capture the hurried frenzy of these songs that somehow last longer than we expect, yet end at the right point to induce further listens. It’s a bunch of riffs that would be monoliths in mono. Turn down one speaker and play along to the brutish melodies in the summer heat. There is complication and precision behind Entropy – it’s hard to hear as the wall of heaviness immediately falls on your body like Dorothy’s house but the technicolor reveal with each press of play is a gasp of fresh air somewhere under Blackmore’s Rainbow.Links: 5CM Recordings
Empty [7-inch; self-released]
Most drone-trippers neglect the 7-inch vinyl format because they, I’m assuming, find it limiting. What’s the point of getting a good lather going if you can’t sustain it for as long as the moment demands? Bulgaria’s Mytrip don’t think this way at all. They see ambient music as a weapon, and wield it well on Empty. I’m not sure if I’d be able to tell the difference between these two six-minute exercises, even after listening to each two-dozen times, but that’s part of the appeal of dro’; nothing strays far from the motherboard, and as such each body of sound is connected, if not uniform. Like in the matrix. “Wait for Me” is endowed with some serious low-end that tore my speakers a new one, and there’s a whole other world thriving up above, enchanted by an ongoing swirl of effects sewage whose source I’m not even going to attempt to pinpoint. It’s a strong piece of work though, tunneling far beneath the earth, where only the chosen will notice (which is kinda what this whole thing we’re doing represents, no?). “Wherever You Are” seems a mellower monster until a flash flood of drone doom begins to sour souls. Mytrip pressed 250 of these; the rest is up to you.Links: Mytrip
Attention [CS; Self-Released]
Stepping outside of the Honey Radar costume, Jason Henn seeks your Attention. But not through any sort of lackadaisical pun of the quality I just unraveled. Frankly, Attention is a misnomer. A play on words and actions that eclipses any joke I could create. A man and his guitar just playing with thoughts and space. Longer statements of circular logic; a fixation on an idea until it begins to sprout rather than cutting it off before the negatives creep in. There are moments of quiet contemplation – a bit of meditation. Then the unleashed fury of an idea gone haywire takes hold. We can only isolate ourselves for so long, as evidence by Henn’s willingness to share the final product – even if it’s just in a batch of 20 moments of minimalism. Because the white space and those black letters matter. It all matters to someone. Make it matter for you.Links: Jason Henn
Medium Strong [CS; Book End]
I have the suspicion there is something to do with memory at the heart of this cassette. The tidal washes of synth combine with spectral vocalizations to create an inner-thoughts oriented space. Here are memories or dreams, or some combination of the two, because who can say they absolutely know the difference? The A side is “Awake” and the B is “Retrace,” like an amnesiac’s morning routine: get up, have your coffee, try to parse out dream from reality, the subjective experience from the objective occurrences.
Even for those of us with a “normal” sense of memory, when an actual event has passed by and been locked away in the winding hallways of recollection, it becomes hard to piece together exactly what took place. Just for starters, consider this list of memory biases on the Wiki, which is the tip of the iceberg. All of that is captured succinctly here; the un-centered drifting, the individual notes like points in time peaking out and then dipping below the drone once again. That’s really the core of it: we can revisit our past, but it’s intangible, fleeting and almost futile. Even when awake we can only retrace by proxy.Links: TALsounds - Book End
Freak Heat Waves
Bonnie’s State of Mind [LP; Hockey Dad]
Bonnie’s State of Mind is another one of those albums that might as well not have a Side A or B; for me, it all starts with “Melt in Your Home,” and that’s that. It’s a beautiful ode to SY that treats arpeggios as they used to be treated, before OPN and the analog set (ha, not that one of course) turned it all into a computer-generated feat of programming. But then there’s “Sinking in a Pale Cloud” too, and that’s a slinky, deceptively brilliant cut, half abrasive highs, half cool, shades-on-at-night flow. Freak Heat Waves should give their bass player a raise, as they’re hard to find in this condition; also, FHW tweak around with experimental tropes more than your average indie-rock band. Therein lies a bit of a rub-a-dub: I mean, that’s just dandy fellas, the noise-isms, but what does it mean? Musicians shouldn’t feel like they have to delve into noise and the like. It’s been done, and we all are expecting it at this point. I like bands that know what they want, bands that bring home the goddamn bacon. Freak Heat Waves? Fuck, despite my little rant there, actually do pull the pork quite well. Bonnie’s State of Mind manages to establish their template while playing the seeker role, searching several different portals for sounds to suss out. These guys might be The Boggs all over again, a band with the chops to do anything (literally other than rap both of these groups seem capable of almost magical flexibility) but no clear direction. Then again, I dig/dug The Boggs, so no logic in discounting this approach. Obviously I’m a conflicted individual with a lot of issues to iron out, projecting all over these poor fellows like a bad movie director. Check out the record for yourself, it’s a trip that’ll leave you stuttering and yammering.Links: Hockey Dad
5 Pieces [CS; Posh Isolation]
How important is it to understand the process of how something was created? Certainly context is good, but how does one weigh the results of an effort with the process of the effort?
The results on Jacob Kierkegaard’s “5 Pieces” are breathtaking. Three cassettes of manipulated field-recordings and experimental drone, finely-tuned for auditory exploration. There is so much space in which to get lost. Focus on one curiosity-inducing sound in each piece and try to follow it through a forest of alluring ambient sound or just allow the whole fog of noises to engulf you and pull you down.
What pushes it from just “extremely good” to “fascinating” is the liner notes about the process. We are given descriptions of the creation of each track; where and when it was recorded and the exact way the sounds were produced. It gives the listener mental toys to play with, like the prompt for an act of improvisation.
Do we need this though? Well, “need” is a strong word, but I can’t honestly say I would be as enamored if that information were not provided. It adds a richness, making the music not just exciting listening but exciting to think about.Links: Jacob Kirkegaard - Posh Isolation
Debre Damo Dining Orchestra
Debre Damo Dining Orchestra [7-inch; self-released]
The Debre Damo Dining Orchestra are a Copenhagen-based Afro-jazz ensemble who’ve just self-released their debut single, a gleefully anachronistic two-sider that blends the raw tenor slink of Hans Dulfer, plugged-in Ethiopian jazz of Mulatu Astatke, and drone-heavy psychedelic processionals. Fronted by saxophonist Søren Lyhne Skov, the group as it is on this record (there is some variance) also features organist Peder Mertner Vind, bassist Andreas Halberg and percussionist Matthias Arbo Klein (F.W. Smolls). One usually thinks of jazz and improvised music as the realm of LPs and CDs, at least when we’re talking about documentation, but in Scandinavian jazz EPs and singles have been a pretty common medium since the Fifties.
Skov’s tone is hard-bitten and sinewy, with a graininess that wouldn’t sound out of place on any number of avant-garde releases; alto and tenor are overdubbed in the thematic sections and as an accent in “Yesega Wat,” and in three minutes there’s not a ton of stretching room, but Skov certainly establishes himself as a heavy blower against a steady and condensed rhythm section. After a bit of heel digging, Vind enters with brief and particulate organ flourishes, but the piece wraps up as quickly as it began. The flip, “Minem Aydelem,” is a fuzzy analog down-tempo number, dry laconic beat and vibrato-heavy organ pulses augmented by pillowy saxophone lines, with Klein’s array of cymbal clatter in sharp contrast to a heady stew. Steely tenor rises out of the murk for a few brief yelps, and this isn’t an entirely atmospheric piece by dint of its audible tautness. The music on this single wouldn’t have sounded at all out of place in a Scandinavian basement club nearly forty years ago, and it’s heartening to know that there’s probably quite a bit more where these tracks came from – consider your appetite whetted.
(NOTE: Video is NSFW)Links: Debre Damo Dining Orchestra
A Tape [CS; Handmade Birds]
I’d like to personally thank Helena Hauff and Handmade Birds because I could have SWORN I was getting into another drone debacle with this one. I could smell it. And once again, care of the label (and don’t forget, it’s run by that guy from Pyramids, another project that astounds me) that always mind-fucks me, I’ve got another burner on my hands that resists easy shelving. A Taperawks it with big, bouncy beats, synths that tell time, hand-clappage, and, as with most electronic musics, manipulations that spare us the redundancy of too much robotic thinking. It’s vexing because I know of a lot of electronic acts in the same vein but none that make sense in the context of this particular review. Helena Hauff meddles with her wares too much like a noise musician to be considered a traditional DJ, which is… actually a great problem to have, especially when, near the end of Side A, an angelic cloud of sound hovers through and drips some drone and pin-prick synth sequencing on us; heavenly.Links: Handmade Birds
Across That White Plain [CS; Absenter]
Should have saved this one for a cloudy day I guess, but I swear the chilly whispers of Gossimer are enough to banish Spring to a black hell on their own. It’s cold, I tell ya. Cold and fragile, and like an ice carving, Gossimer is also a sparkling beauty, tears streaming down its melting face beneath the March sunshine. Across That White Plain brings us the latest spook-folk tunes from Jennifer Williams, an aching collection of ballads so delicate, they nearly crumble under the music’s emotional weight. It’s all carefully etched into a palette of wax paper, spare arrangements of vibraphone, piano, and percussion laid down like straw bedding for Williams’ mousy voice circle around, like a house cat nervously exploring new terrain, wondering if this is indeed the safe spot to sleep that it appears to be. The songs center around a fingered guitar/vocal underbelly as sampled instruments interject like horror-holograms, swooping in to cast a cloud of uncertainty over otherwise quite lovely and optimistic sounding melodies. It’s the type of feeling you get when you’re not quite sure if you’re having a wonderful dream, or a terrifying nightmare, music that can turn on you in an instant, figuring the listener with the inexperienced eyes of a young child – curious, but maybe a little skeptical, of the beautiful things presented by the world.Links: Gossimer - Absenter