Clemens Denk

Clemens Band Denk

[LP; Totally Wired]

I was always the sort to latch onto those creepy in-between songs that were originally only supposed to be mood-creators or, more specifically, concept-contextualizers. For example, my favorite song on The Melvins’ Stag was “Soup,” two minutes of Metroid-style experimentation that most people, if you ask them, won’t even remember was on Stag. Or, to go back even further to my junior-high days, my favorite song on that first STP album wasn’t “Plush,” it was “No Memory,” that minute-long guitar dirge no one, coincidentally (NOT ironically; learn the difference folks), remembers now. Point being, my cult-classic-never-bestseller attitude hasn’t won me many fans… anywhere, and it’s also left me alone in the dark because the moments I cherish are so often the ones the rest of you discard. And with Clemens Band Denk it’s happening again because my favorite sections of their self-titled LP are the brief instances wherein they get not only weird but contagiously, clinically ‘gone,’ such as “Nebürd ad tsi ettim eid.” This track is but a minute-and-a-half long, with no vocals, and consists of, essentially, a lonely trumpet hovering over an unidentifiable mix of drum-machine churn and warped samples. Yet this is the song, in all its Idea Fire Company glory, that I connect with. And it’s not to say the rest of Clemens Band Denk is lacking. There’s a shitload of gloriously elusive idiosyncrasy to be devoured, akin to Can Can Heads, from the oppressively produced trainride of “Der Zusammenstoß mit der Wirklichkeit” to the No Nos-ish indie-rock/-punk of “Deine Zahnbürste” to the detached, inspirational strumming of “Deine Zahnbürste”… To put it another way, this is a wonderful record, whether you experience it from the inside-out like I do or through traditional, Side-A-to-Side-B means. No matter what language you speak (and I’m pretty sure all these lyrics are belted out in the Austrian mother-tongue), Clemens Band Denk will find a way to communicate with you.

Links: Totally Wired


The Thrall

[CS; Like Young]

From how I’ve been spending my recent free time, thralls have a more negative and frenzied reputation. So imagine my surprise of not being attacked by a horde of alien zombies when putting on The Thrall. From Portland’s Lubec, this classic pop-rock actually put me at ease. It has also made me reassess how I wallowed in front of a television rather than my tape deck (and record player and….). That’s rarely how I operate, so I have Lubec to thank for shaking me out of my brain rot funk. I’d rather it decompose due to honeyed melodies and bombastic harmonies. I mean, it’s all going to turn to mush someday and I don’t mind hurrying the process along when the opportunity presents itself. So now when I pry my eyes open to play a bit of a mindless video game, I will also duct tape the headphones to my ears, glue the volume control on the highest setting with Lubec in the player, and just let it all go into blissful meltdown.

Links: Like Young

Yankee Yankee


[CS; Unit Structure Sound Recordings]

Yankee Yankee is the solo project of Whitney Ota, who’s a hard-workin’ dude living in Calgary while running an excellent label/distribution center called USSR (Unit Structure Sound Recordings). This album follows a previous effort from a couple of years ago that had more of a traditional kraut-rock band type of setup to it, complete with live drums, electric guitars, and the whole shebang. Ota definitely was hitting an intrepid space cadet-glide vibe with that combo, but in all honesty the band-iteration of Yankee Yankee felt a little limited, great ideas and intentions left unrealized due to technical deficiencies. So this time around Ota’s only using electronics. This new direction is kicking his shit straight into warp drive, a hyper-space jump in quality, we’re talking. I think a big part of this album’s success is that this turn in technology takes his music into an entirely new terrain of tempo, using a lot of synth-oscillating loops and delay effects to speed things up to explore the wonders of melodies scrunched way in tightly on themselves, like they’re being sucked in with centripetal force while spinning in a centrifuge. Arpeggios climbing into the stratosphere and zapping rhythmic hooks delivered with such clockwork precision, such an unwavering gusto, that those swirling, nob-twisted effects and electrically-tenderized swooping of sounds hovering past your ears are given vibrant new life — mind-exploding, tangibly psychedelic new life — all while keeping centered, focused, and completely under control. By far the best work I’ve heard from him, and definitely a highlight in a catalog of really strong (and usually quite noisy) releases over at USSR, Segments is a tempered-but-sprawling leap for Ota and also one of the best synthesizer recordings of the year.

Links: Unit Structure Sound Recordings



[CS; Crudités]

Ooh! Aaaah! Oh! Tape-poppin’ fresh… D’OH??? Yes, that’s a Homer Simpson reference, employed to communicate the surprise I felt upon dropping Armure’s self-titled tape like an acid tab. This ain’t drone or experimental noise, this is NZ-style, drumless punk and yet another example of an underground artist that reminds me a lot of the unknown savant that is Timur Bimp Jones. If Siltbreeze hasn’t started sniffing around this entity a little then this brand of cracked sonics is more widespread than I thought, either that or no one’s signing anyone anymore and SDZ is basking in the fertile fruits. What I want to express more than anything is how unique this plodding, meandering cassette is. Just imagine it: The universe is stripped down to its base elements, all of us perish and the only one left is Tibo Padlock, armed with a four-track recorder, all the time in the world, and no one to share his music with but the god that has deserted him. What does he do? Why he gets the-fuck busy of course, albeit in a maddeningly deliberate manner. This is the closest thing I’ve heard to those old Ariel Pink recordings made with little but mouth-drums and a two-string guitar, but it’s truly a whole different dimension of sound. Old Kurt Vile (there’s no other brand of Vile in the Purdum household) also factors in on the lofi basement-folk tip, with just a shred of Pumice thrown in. It’s good to be alive, so let’s celebrate by sounding dead!

Links: Crudités


Projector Mapping

[CS; Phinery]

I like a good synth album that occupies neither space or time. One that doesn’t seem beholden to some concept of science-fiction. It’s getting harder and harder not because of artistic horizons shrinking, but because of hangdog ears and a synapses that associates synthesizers with the relics of retro-futurism. It hurt to type that word, I apologize. But before we crusade against such a nega-term (as we did with hypanogogic), may I suggest Projector Mapping as the music for our march? It’s adventurous and not of this era, though to peg it as some Kubrick nightmare or Hawking dream seems disingenuous to Opaline. What we have here is a ambient pop album akin to R.O.B. Proof positive that synthesizers are not tied to one specification of sound. And though there have been many synth crashes to scare off the masses, those of us who have stuck around to rebuild find new relics such as Projector Mapping by which to restore our faith in the versatile instrument. So those of you still stuck in some teenage idea of synth as sci-fi instrument, I present to you a reason why infantile thinking still makes you think misogyny and super cars are the best things since sliced bread (and you think that phrase is still awesome). Audi 500.

Links: Phinery



[CS; Pygmi Animals]

Ramzi is an odd bird. And I mean that it’s like she’s an actual bird from an alien world. Web-toed, a protruding proboscis, an un-fanned mane of neon pink and green feathers fluffing from her neck in a proud, vibrant display. It’s beautiful and intriguing to be certain, but don’t get too close! This bird’s aggressive, too. Nervous, jerky swings of the neck, threats to strike at any given moment. All this translates musically into a bulbous beat that feels like it’s constantly in reverse throughout this Bébites tape, brought to a rubbery boil in the humid, sweat-drenched tar pits of the planet from where our dear Phoebé Guillemot brings us her field report. Dance rhythms dirty enough to get all that unsavory alien anatomy positively sweating, oozing and secreting is intoxicating musk, its alluring stench, its mating call, hypnotizing everyone within earshot to sway and bob and wiggle the body about in weird ways. Everything is all squishy, like your ears can feel the synths and push back into them, change their shapes. You poke at this music almost as much as it pokes you back. You listen to it all through a microscope, observing the atoms of a synthesizer having their own little dance party. Oh, and some scrambled radio/TV-signal vocal samples thrown in there to really make you wonder… are these aliens spying on us, or what? Stealing our way of funk, warping the word and sound, molesting it with their toxic, perverted fingers?

All right then, so what, should I make an assessment about this? Some of Ramzi’s best stuff here, and I think there’s better yet to come. Scary good.

Links: Ramzi - Pygmi Animals

Persona La Ave



Can we finally be honest with each other? By this I mean, let’s accept the fact that: Most modern artists expect to never have to deal with criticism, not because they’re averse to it but because they’ve never had to deal with it in the first place and wouldn’t know it if they saw it. What does that mean for someone like me, who started delving into this madness around the turn of the century, back when everything didn’t get a four-star review (on this site and on every site) and rather than tell you about what’s good we, as reviewers, were charged with telling you what’s good but also what’s bad. That’s a key difference, and I can’t personally even remember the last time I trashed a band. These days I just avoid the shitty stuff because there’s too much out there; shining a light on the dregs only wastes valuable time as we hurtle ourselves at the void that is our inevitable death. Persona La Ave occupy a specific spot in the deep-Web universe, and have probably never been ill-reviewed. And while I definitely DON’T love Makonnen (bet you didn’t see THAT coming) I can tolerate what Temptation/Relation is attempting to achieve because it goes about its future-funk-in-the-age-of-robots-inculcated-with-strange-whiffs-of-hypnagogia with extreme care and skill. A lot of it sounds like a strange workout video from the 80s to me, but then again at least half of the videos we premiere on this very site sound like that to me so we’ll just have to deal with it. I think the extra ingredient that gets lost in the shuffle is the soul invested in this quirky, kooky material. It’s quite earnest and you can intrinsically sense the whole package means a lot to both the artist and the label (in this case I know this from experience, as MJMJ isn’t a label that will let you ignore it, never a bad thing!). I wish I had more for you on this one; the Persona La Ave machine is extremely well-oiled, and as a result I feel like it doesn’t need my lube as much as others do. Still, see that this un-squeaky wheel gets a little more grease, as I’ve listened to Temptation/Relation over and over and liked it a little more each time. That’s kind of what this whole thing is about…

Links: Persona La Ave

Zach Phillips

New Cartoons

[CS; Gnar]

For a guy whose label is releasing something like 13 cassettes and vinyls right now Zach Phillips knows how to search out the deepest corners of the cobwebbed attic that is his head, always allowing time for what’s important. New Cartoons is another sicker-than-sick tape from this fucker, and like each one before it, it’s my favorite-so-far-even-though-I-say-that-every-time and stuff. But you probably knew that already. But would it interest you to know Phillips’ lyrics and songwriting display more maturity this time around? Or that despite this progress, he’s still the edgiest piano-tinkling fool in the tape game, tweaking all sorts of nipples, often in ways I can’t rightly identify… It’s the most whimsical music you’ll find that also has a complicated, shot-out component to it, not to mention the fact that Phillips is well-versed in theory and teaches piano lessons and so forth. What’s scary to me is New Cartoons hews close to The White Album in spots; so much jaded beauty to be found, and I’m horrified many of you will never get the chance to hear it. Let’s change that, starting NOW: Listen to the sound sample doubtlessly included below, and visit good ol’ Phil-lipz himself over at OSR Tapes. He’ll be expecting you!

Links: Zach Phillips

Brother JT

Lo Bias Hi Noise

[CS; Summersteps]

A 15-year collection of lo-fi recordings that puts your right at home with the familiar 1980s typeset of Lo Bias Hi Noise’s cover. A cornucopia of festive rock music from the Philadelphia (non) fakeout. There’s not a (Cleveland) steamer to be found. Each song features a wallop to the back of the neck; JT delivering a donkey punch to the slumbering corpses of yore. Wake up! Get your heads back in the game! Rock is not dead, just a catch phrase for shock jocks and past-their-prime VJs to ask to musicians who no longer get it. But our Brother gets it. Each song on Lo Bias Hi Noise a daisy chain of ecstasy.

Links: Summersteps

Dylan Shearer


[LP; Empty Cellar/Castle Face]

My first instinct upon hearing Garagearray is doubtlessly going to be disappointing to those who read my rave-up on Dylan Shearer’s last record, but I have to put this out there: If it sounded like he was sinking in quicksand circa Porchpuddles, now he’s fucking DROWNing, and it’s tough not to worry just a bit. Is he OK? And while I think the music suffers just a smidge for the downcast mood, this is still, bar-none, the most beautiful solo-acoustic songwriting you’ll find, right up there with Damon McMahon, John Dwyer’s quieter work as OCS (don’t worry, it was before you were a fan), and a few others on my list of bluesy, sadly unrecognized post-millennium masters. And while Garagearray doesn’t contain the dizzying peaks of Porchpuddles, it’s more consistently engaging, buttressed by the presence of Petey Dammit and that guy that used to drum for Comets On Fire. Every single song is a weepy winner, evoking so much emotion you’ll have to stop and consider why his voice disturbs you so. I mean, yes, I think the sadness causes one to stop and listen closer, but there’s something more lurking in Shearer’s larynx, a powerful antidote to passionless living. I’m having trouble expanding upon this thought, and the best artists do that to me; all my tricks of the music-dude trade fail to stick, all my too-practiced descriptors and jargon falling by the wayside like ashes from a bobbing smoke cradled in a bike-riding San Franciscan’s mouth. Now, I told you all about how Shearer most closely resembles Syd Barrett (and I’ve reinforced this opinion through people I trust, blind taste test-style, so don’t fuck with me) last time around, and I noticed a few un-creative writers read that review and decided to present a weak rejoinder or two, tossing out names like Ray Davies (utter shite) and Kevin Ayers (damn, not so bad). In light of that, allow me to reiterate my original point: Shearer doesn’t sound like Barrett, he just happens to effortlessly channel what Barrett might have gotten around to if he had emerged at the other end of his trip. I think that just about sums it up…

Links: Empty Cellar/Castle Face

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