The Pen Test


[LP; Moniker]

My wife loved the pen that accompanied the latest Pen Test LP that she stole it from me. As penance for my greed at coveting the object myself, I ‘punished’ myself by listening to Interstate on repeat, searching for a stray though to connect a previous review to a new one. But I felt that would be wrong, because Interstate stands on its own. Not an easy feat when your head is swelled 20 minutes long with the titular track. It’s a hypnotic and not entirely too removed from the dreamlike stasis of the band’s recent 7-inch and yet it sounds like reveille. But where the head is heavy with deep thought, the album’s feet are locked in strident movement. The four quick steps post-“Interstate” are dancers. They unpin the wallflower, and force it into spastic candor. A band proving itself to be unafraid of deep thought and indulgent pleasure.

Links: Moniker

U Sco


[12-inch; New Atlantis]

GAAAAH! New Atlantis, I’m so sorry we lost touch because you recently made my month. So much top-tier stuff in 2014 alone, much less the last few years. I always wonder where they find their talent. U Sco? What the fuck kind of band name is that? All is answered once the needle hits the crevices of Treffpunkt and those churning piles of bass, drums, and guitar rip through your pulsating woofers. I don’t want to oversell the aggression, because U Sco can go softer and even a littly jazz-ish, but the modus operandi is absolute peanut butter-jelly SQUISH-SQUASH with these fellas. Lots of little flourishes and playful winks, with a hint of speed-dose up and Up and UPPP!!! I hate referencing Don Caballero twice in one week but there it is; also Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (old solo stuff), Upsilon Acrux; you know, the regulars. I figured Mick Barr would be a good call as a reference, guitar-wise, though this guy plays his six-string closer to the vest, investing in linear riffs and breaks while fulfilling his rhythmic duties aptly. The bassist gets a little flashy, but I’ll forgive it because I’m a drummer; if I were a bassist I’d be suckin’ this guy’s dick. Oh, and that’s the thing: The drummer absolutely SHREDS up his kit like a chopped lettuce salad and tops it all off with atmosphere when need-be. These Portland boys, they just don’t stop, it seems, as every time I turn around there’s another noteworthy metal/indie/noise/etc. band emerging from the rainiest damn city I’VE ever dealt with.

Links: New Atlantis


Ensemble Faux Pas

[CS; A Giant Fern]

Imprinted in your cerebellum are the moments most worth a memory. Tied in a bow of emotion and senses, those instances set free from their wrapping by a familiar smell or minute glimpse of déjà vu. I want to impress this upon you because it’s bound to happen when listening to Micromelancolié. There is no happenstance in the name or the idea behind it. Ensemble Faux Pas emits confusing yet pleasurable signals to the brain. These remembrances are best as happy accidents. A gathering that goes against the plan, establishing its own set of standards out of the ruins of what was expected. The sound of a distant dog’s bark; the cool breeze blowing in a distant melody from wind chimes. It may all be the things of poetry but when you find a scheme that speaks to your situation, you clutch it dearly. Do not grasp Ensemble Faux Pas too roughly, because it does have a fragile container. But if it should break, you will still have those fond, but faint (and fading) recollections of day passing into night. That first love. That first child. That first dance.

Links: A Giant Fern

Hakobune / Oliwa / Former Selves / Panabrite

Oceanic Triangulation

[2xCS; Inner Islands]

Not sure when the last time I said something like, “Man, it’s been a great year for four-way splits” was but… man. I was a little wary of taking on the task of telling you about some of them. I mean I have, what, 200 words to describe four different artist to you? Impossible, right? I’ve already used, like, almost barely just even a quarter of them already (or something)… But I guess I just don’t need a lot of them. All four of these guys are so perfectly matched on this tape it’s obscene, and the release’s title, its simplistic, stylish artwork — it all comes together into the blue and yellow, night and day, ebb-and-flow, tide-timed, super-mellow slice of psycho-spiritual relaxation that is as expansive and wide open as the very oceans each contributor’s music so effortlessly represents for your imagination’s drowsy eye. All sides present us with the proverbial drift — smooth planes of celestial plain created by delicate swathes of synthesized major chords… in other words, what each of these people does completely the best of anyone else out there today. What I like about this split is how each contributor is distinctly themselves while at the same time you very much get the vibe that they know their neighbor. When Panabrite, for example, finds a few minutes in the middle of his piece to let the crystals of melody melt themselves down for a minute or two, he can sound a helluva lot like Former Selves. And that kind of stylistic queue makes this release seem like such an essential document of the state of synth-based ambient. A prism of disparate players, each with their own takes and approaches, each aware of the incredible beauty going on around the world. These are terrific times, dear readers, and Oceanic Triangulation is one of the age’s true gifts.

Links: Inner Islands




After a wet, wild intro, the trapdoor opens and the true Nun shows up: Uptempo coldwave with modern flashes of pink, green, and yellow. Smears of synth and signs of drum-machine damage (though it might be a dude playing an electronic kit, in neon sunglasses) apparent; no motive for the gruesome squelches of “Kino” offered, either. The future is grim, lives are going to be lost, so let’s play these cartoon instruments until they melt… Can you dig that? Can you dig Nun, by Nun? Then (stay with me) you’re dancing impossibly fast and you wonder if Dark Entries is having a house party. And you forget, for just a second, that the singer is talking about political, real-life shit, and there it is: The contrast between causing a serious ruckus with lyrical persuasiveness coupled with dance-drive beats that NEVER-EVER stop: That’s what makes Nun tick as a unit. Whether they’re going fast or slow, they sink their teeth in and ride their drumz hard. The keys/synths need to be emphasized as well. Darkwave can be a cold, clinical practice, and the synth systems of Nun offer a lot of balancing warmth and aural allure. So who’s going to want to show up for this one, you ask? Wierd people, for one; Geometrik folk, for two; there’s a lot more to that I’m sure, but I feel I’ve provided a contextual framework for you to capitalize on/mine the gems of. (HA!) Another AVANT! joint you’ll want to hit up, hard.

Links: AVANT!

$.99 Cent Dreams

Spei Res

[12-inch; Draft]

The beauty of a flea market is the selection. Dusty treasures in need of some elbow grease sharing space with artifacts best left to rot. Adam Diller and Matt Crane scoop it all up; it’s all goods made for re-purposing. If the spate of post-apocalyptic pulp has taught us anything, it’s that those good with their hands and quick with their minds will rule what is left among us. Diller and Crane, you are our proven overlords. Spei Res truly reflects the hope of its title – an album brimming with kitchen sink aesthetics but much like the playful creations of Pee Wee Herman, the science behind $.99 Cent Dreams can’t be explained yet is fully enjoyed. It just works when it seems it shouldn’t. Songs that fill up with junk become antiquities to hoard. The duo have picked cleaned every bit of Americana arcana. I’m really floored by this, so much so that I’ve found a sander and have begun to clean my floors to make them proud again. Next will be the ceiling fixtures that, despite their appearance as King Midas’ nipples may in fact be the $.99 cent cache I desperately seek. All I know is that I can’t look at objects as they once were, as I can no longer hear music through the same prism I once occupied. How dare this come too late into my life? I should have been a searcher earlier in life. But better late than never.

Links: $.99 Cent Dreams - Draft

Katie Gately

Pipes (Blue Eight)

[CS; Blue Tapes]

Katie Gately unlocks both the beauties and horrors contained within her own voice, as if her throat were Pinhead’s puzzle box, opening up the gateway to a brain-busting nightmare of obsessive-compulsions. Pipes is composed entirely from her own processed pipes, chopped/screwed/chiseled/mashed/smashed/smeared into jigsaw pieces and reassembled into a series of bizarre sonic sculptures. The music’s pacing is obscenely rapid, so it can be difficult to grasp the various hooks and passages in passing, an impatient composition with sections of rhythmic bounce dissolving quickly into eardrum-crushing drones, then onto streaks of distorted harmonic bliss and then exotic/erotic melodic-minor meandering, then pummeling barrages of vocal shrapnel. Maybe in that order? I can’t be sure. Notes ping-pong between different textures and stereo channels, whirligig swoops of sound jump off of plodding bass like an aerobic trampoline, and me…? I’m in the middle of it all, completely fucking exhausted. Gately distinguishes her work between “sound designs” and “music,” on her website, but if you ask me, Pipes is an indication that more often than not, she’s doing both at the same time. A truly inspired, utterly unique musical approach, Gately’s vocal collages reconfigure the instrumental qualities of the human voice in ways I don’t think any of us are really ready to fully comprehend yet. Music that has evolved two generations beyond what we know. Maybe we’ll call this a masterpiece in a billion years, but for now it’s an astounding anomaly we can neither categorize, nor juxtapose with anything else happening today, so I’m not even gonna try. But I’m willing to say this much: Pipes is absolutely amazing.

Links: Katie Gately - Blue Tapes


In the Shower

[LP; Sinderlyn]

Homeshake’s In the Shower fits Cerberus like a glove because whether principle (i.e. only) player Peter Sagar plays guitar with Mac DeMarco or not his solo stuff is fascinatingly OUT, maintaining an artistic distance, and if you remove the slight funk overtones it’s more along the lines of that lone, wonderful Vincent Gallo record or a Niobe excursion than anything. Plus, if Alessandro Cortini can play with Nine Inch Nails and retain underground credibility and cut LPs for Important then, yadda-yadda… PLUS, Sagar released a tape on a Cerbs fixture, Fixture. Truth be told I came close to referencing Gary Wilson before pulling back and feeling disgusted with myself (even more so now that I went and actually mentioned it), but I don’t want to go too far pushing the ‘outsider funkist’ angle because the fallout of Sagar’s mind goes deeper yet, into the realms of minor-key madness and pitch-bent nightmares. It’s rare to immerse oneself in an album so surprising from top to bottom; around every corner there’s an OOH or AHHHH waiting to stifle the yawns you had ready because you’ve come to expect the worst from today’s confused, ultra-competitive John Q. Artiste. Then he starts mucking around with those cotton-candy synths and funk guitars that soar so much higher than funk guitars normally do, and then, and then, and then FUCK it’s all too much. I’m stoked. And this is before I even got to “Slow,” perhaps the sweetest, purest cut on this entire record, like a latter-day ‘cocktail jazz’ Doors jam or maybe something Blind Melon would have come up with if the singer hadn’t died after the second album. A lot of IF, and it’s all open-ended anyway. You dig deep and you keep going until you’ve dug yourself through the entire world, digging in circles and plowing a path for the rest of us. Yeah, I get it man, I really do. I tweeted it before and I’ll say it again: Homeshake are fucking with my head, and sometimes I need my head to be fucked with. (Sorry about all the ‘fuck’s.)

Links: Homeshake

John Dikeman

The Double Trio

[CS; Astral Spirits]

Wow, I was wroooong about that, wasn’t I? You see, about five years ago when my musical tastes started to really fall into the depths of underground extremity, I figured I’d soon be awash in submissions just like John Dikeman’s The Double Trio and reviewing Talibam! between breaths while I straddled a few Owl Xounds tapes and a No-Neck-a-thon or two. JESUS I was not only incorrect but very possibly challenged in some way because that simply has not happened. Hell, the last time I reviewed a skronkfest was probably back when Weasel Walter’s label was still ug-XPLODE-ing all over those nuts. Where are the post-jazz improvisers, and what is their collective email address, I ask you? Now that I’m done asking readers for things they can’t technically submit to me (I come and go, in the shadows, as I please; call me TMT’s Gandalf) unless they’re crafty, allow me to finally begin to speak about The Double Trio and its amazing cycles and mating habits. While Dikeman is the frontman for this operation, his supporting cast is easily enough to get TMT followers in titters and tatters (Jeb Bishop, Jason Roebke, Joshua Abrams, friend-of-Cerbs Frank Rosaly, and Mike Reed ring a bell? I thought they might.) on its own. And I know I don’t even have to say it, much less spray it like these fuckers do, but this is a quintet you don’t wanna fuck with. There’s so much energy afoot I get a little shock every so often if I close my eyes and listen to this tape for 10 seconds and touch something. I don’t know what each guy does unfortunately (I’m assuming Rosaly is on percussion?), so I won’t be able to relate individual exploits other than to say the bass and trombone, to me, lead the charge and provide the most provocative punch. This is some truly sick boning, too; Fishbone’s Dirty Walt would be proud, as would Bill Watrous. What I dig the most is the fact that these folks jam for about 60 minutes or so on each side and never seem to tire of each other, and the connection is not only cosmic but contagious. My record room just became a fuckin’ jazz den, man. This is what the tape format was resuscitated for; our jazzheads need room to stretch/spool out.

Links: John Dikeman - Astral Spirits

Amanda Feery

Spells from the Ice Age

[CS; Fort Evil Fruit]

Improvised piano compositions seem so rare. Perhaps it’s the shock that such a stately instrument is being used so carelessly, and even the most savant and adventurous feel that to proceed with a record of such improprieties is akin to the first step in a virgin snow. A singular footprint turns into a stampede of untraceable soles lost in a rush toward nothing. Bravo to Amanda Feery for planting her left foot down, as Spells from the Ice Age is a lush, organic expose of piano as tool-to-fool. There is very much a stately air to be found, but it does not preclude Feery to dally around, as if searching for a particular discordant moment to ruin the black tie stiffness. This is not Mozart composing songs concerning flatulence in a royal court, but there is hardly any stoicism to be found. Music is a plaything, and though its power to carry ideas through language barriers and artistic critique allows it to maintain its lofty residence in pop culture, it is meant to be freely explored out in the open. There is no right process and Feery’s fearlessness proves that if there is, its merits are in finding and exploiting those flaws until the right process becomes whatever works best. So beat away on that piano until your fingers bleed and the stigma of coldness is thawed.

Links: Fort Evil Fruit

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.