Category Archives: REVIEW

Human Adult Band – ‘Trash Pickin’’ [Review]

Trash PickinThe Butthole Surfers of the East coast are at it again. Not that region matters all that much when you’re living the dream of what punk could have been. This two song 45rpm 7” hits the perfect pitch of post-punk grunge which had the smart ones shouting ‘the Americans are coming!’ in 1987. Think of The Surfers, The Cows, Truman’s Water. Maybe not something you’d expect to come out of New Brunswick, but maybe I’m overthinking it for you. Albini-meanie but foremost about rock and roll like San Diego’s fluf, Trevor Pennsylvania sings about his muse on “Garbage & th’ Trees.” It’s got AmRep brutality and Subterranean Pop irony. “Night Terrors” is suitably darker, splicing anthemic verses with a steely-cold spasm in between – a rare moment of instrumental freedom for the Human Adult Band, and the only place no trace of humor can be found. Sometimes dreams can be the harsher reality. On black vinyl with a sleeve and sticker. On the cheap for a limited time!


Shingles – ‘God First Planted a Garden’ [Review]

a0139537481_2For a couple months now I’ve been cycling through the first trio of tapes produced by Dave Doyen’s newly rebooted 2AM Tapes. Colorful, cartoonish yet highly-defined, each is fully-realized to assemble a formidable new discography. Though a duly triumphant return, a stifling schedule kept me listening but without a chance to write these thoughts to paper. Rather, I would absorb these electromagnetic figurines in the blurry figure-eight of my auto-reverse dual tape deck while doing chores about the house and the segments in between. Having earlier picked a couple which I was keen to write something about, I returned in search of the pair last night: listening now intently, I recognized little from the blur. Instead, I ran directly ashore when I cued ‘God First Planted a Garden’.

The latest longer-playing release from Shingles (Jesse DeRosa from Baked Tapes), ‘God First’ features nine tracks woven into two flowing sides of EVI, synthesizer, and bass – and a typewriter; the last one matters enough to the structure to be stated, but it is really the first, the EVI (electronic valve instruments) which really steals attention across the board. That watery, wavery sound sets the baroque tone to this dystopian journey, supposedly premised on Shelley’s Frankenstein. DeRosa composes cathedrals from these bare instruments. Ballasts, busts, buttresses all emerge ornately from the fugue. Side A would seem to deal with conception (“Spark (from my clay),” “Opening Title,” and “To Himself”), and presents a few unrelated themes which surge and swell with life in a Vangelis detachment. Side B then deals with travels, making a number of shorter stops in heavily affected sketches, less articulated than the themes on the flip, but nonetheless fully-rendered. The bass guitar features most heavily in these dawning moments, consuming the story with the film of media – dusted, pulpy, and static. A tale made doubly classic by this mesmerizing vision. On pro-pressed cassettes in pink bismuth. Highly recommended.

2AM Tapes cassette
sold out

Cyclopean Wall – ‘Demo 1’ [Review]

a0539993018_2‘Demo 1’; first draft. For whatever a demo or draft is worth in our current mediated state, this first from Cyclopean Wall (Noah Gadke, Toronto) is full of promise and big muff. The C40 is a wall-to-wall of broad, droning doom metal guitar in a wash of brown noise. Four songs, each nearly 9 minutes on the nose, demonstrate the form is not the issue. The point is the texture, the space, the echo-location of new sonic masses in new soundscapes. Stephen O’Malley, Andrew MacGregor, Steven R. Smith, Andre Foisy – good company to be in. On orange tapes with glossy color sleeves. Recommended (for consumption and further development.)

self-released cassette

Seth Kasselman – ‘Mmediate Rolls (for clarinet)’ [Review]

sethart (2)Seth Kasselman must see something in me. Or maybe he’s never read the hapless, impressionistic blathering of this website. Whatever the case, the two long-form pieces of his ‘Mmediate Rolls (for clarinet)’ C30 stand to stifle whatever oxygen-rich air I might have transcribed to a review. First – and I know this for fact – this has nothing to do with the syncretic, endeavoring, and totally comprehensible (to me) post-rock of his California band Warm Climate. Rather, as he explains it, this pair of avant-improvisations rely on “chance operations,” which, taken out of the context of Noise, seems to mean a lot more than “doing shit that sounds good?” (the question mark is audible in that statement). But since it is one man, one “song” (done twice, natch), one stream of thoughts transduced to the reedy dribble of a clarinet, I suppose I should at least try to throw my body in front of it and say something. ‘Theme’ is important here, as it takes the phrasings as consecutive and on the same plain, demonstrating if nothing else that these two pieces share a kernel of a node from which, by deliberate chance, they quickly depart. It seems the soloist is inclined toward quotations as phrasings – I couldn’t say of what, but I’ve heard some of these patterns before. However, these quotations are not stated in the vernacular of either the original, or an offshoot of the original, as I am familiar with quotation; rather, the quotations – and to me this is the major contribution of this tape – the quotations are stated with a sort of brain damage. We get slurs and stutters, “verbal” tics, conniptions, and repetitions. The way these themes unravel, it’s not homage, but it’s not satire either. It means what it is saying. It’s queer, in the truest sense of the word. Pro-pressed in an edition of 200.

UR Sounds cassette

Q///Q – ‘Crude Gourds’ and ‘Azores Azul’ [Review]

Oh yes, we’re into something different now. After that frontal assault by German Army, a sort of cavalry rolls in in the form of Q///Q. In this tribe of Excepter, the godhead, beats that walk are the currency, and emotion is gauche. It’s a new no wave: sometimes rotten, sometimes downtrodden, but always optimistic like James Ferraro without the east coast chip on the shoulder. And what makes this the cavalry besides the hats? Well there’s something to those hats – in the fact of wearing a hat – that denotes sophistication of form. Unlike German Army’s shock & awe/divide & conquer approach to vaporous music, Q///Q allows more time for themes to develop, thereby generating an accessible song structure upon which to convene and respond in equally formal terms.

a2553274506_2More refined than a militia, less refined than their travel mate, the seven percolating pieces of the ‘Crude Gourds’ C20 have the bounce and flare to match Sun Araw’s tropicalia, but rendered in bolder colors more sterile and asthmatic. Plots unfold like Aeon Flux. The romantics disillusioned, we’re reliving the angst of ex-new wavers The Creatures and Dalis Car as they wash up on various meridians, achy from sun, sex, and colonization, returning quickly home with horror stories of Burmese Days. Except now it’s all Burma (they knew it then too, but still). Reframed by the modern tape game, this cynicism is more potent in all globalized ways except one, the tape itself in a time where tapes too much, too much. You kind of have to have a heart to make these things. But you don’t have to act like you like it. Queasy, a vocalist mumbles through tissue on most the tracks, a Poesie Noire parallel to the Suicide of Mattress. Countless stairs ascended in absolute black. Recommended.

a2165736487_2The ‘Azores Azul’ C27 is a double A-side – so more like 14 minutes of music – with five tracks all 2-3 minutes. The sound is a subtle muddling of Psychic TV/Psychic TV-era Coil and the Psychic TV-era Coil-era sounds of the Southern Records post-rock scene – Pajo, Tortoise, Ui – the tones and timbres are all modular-cynical grocery aisle kitsch, but crashcading down a American West sulfur yellow freewayscape. Some vocals, some nifty sound effects. Like the finger weaves demonstrated on cover, these bold lines of programming cross elegantly into another, forming contrasting hot & sour transformations. The effect grows over time, as the full complexity of these synthetic thought exercises reveals itself to the listener. Edition of 60 copies. Also recommended, only slightly less. 

Singapore Sling cassette

Skrot Up cassette

Christophe Bailleau – ‘Sonic Pool Hypnose Club’ [Review]

coverIt might be hard to tell at first – what with the sleeve’s abstract-cool graphics, the title string of ineffectual buzzwords, the artist’s proper name and all – but Belgium’s Christophe Bailleau is not playing coy with ‘Sonic Pool Hypnose Club’. True, an ergonomic backpack’s worth of digital and analog synthesizers are all we have here, and the vibes are objectively pleasant, soothing, cooling – but the consummate effect of these sounds is not resembled in its parts. The A-side addresses us in the first person, and that person is very in touch with his sensuality. “Put My in Your” and “Welcome to My Stereo” both wordlessly convey a bedroom synth geek eager to be more than just friends. In the first quarter of track one, Bailleau throws everything at us, in an almost clumsy bottleneck of tinselly treble and rippling waves; at midpoint the throb begins, respiratory in a half-danceable/half-asthmatic kind of way, clearing the path for a final onslaught of terminated finger-pokes and cresting anxiety. Track two takes a more tested, IDM-inflected approach to first sequence figures from the ground with a raver’s optimism, then transforms suddenly into a most pleasing sequence of padded tones and angelic streaks of light. The appeal of this Club is growing apparent. Following the same structure (and indeed, each of the four tracks follow suit), the track returns in the final moments to the first theme, juxtaposing the two halves if only to say, “see, they’re the same song!” At this point we should address claims that these tracks were originally designed to be heard in a swimming pool. Aside from the content, which invites both revitalization and rejuvenation, what is it about this A/B/A+B structure that lends itself to listening in a dip? I’d invite you to listen and figure it out for yourself, though I would venture to guess it’s Bailleau having his way with us. 100 copies.

Sacred Phrases cassette

German Army – ‘Barrineans’, ‘T’rung’, and ‘Millerite Masai’ [Review]

German Army. Such an odd namesake. Certain punctuations in history make it a loaded reference. But depending on which side of history the reference falls, we are encouraged to imagine drastically contrasting entities. Unfortunately this Inland Empire duo is not big on encouragements, but appear more interested in remaining obscure behind a sheer barrage of tracks, begetting releases, begetting labels. After a blitz of submissions from the band, I can now say I know even less than I once did (having speculated), and the German Army project seems to extend well beyond the sum of its recorded, mostly plastic, parts.

R-150-5532197-1395791889-7436As with most of their albums, the ‘Barrineans’ C30 features more than ten tracks (with over ten releases in the last two years, you might appreciate how the details start getting lost). Seeking out “singles” is a fool’s errand, though on the flipside, nearly all the material is radio-friendly. Of these three tapes, ‘Barrineans’ is the most neatly electronic: the beats are clean, evenly paced and spaced, allowed to resonate in a way that make them syrupy, at times even danceable. It’s what would have happened if we had Excepter with no !!! as counterbalance. This is the clearest demonstration of tribalism infused into all of these releases, with their cadres of respectable labels putting in elegant screen prints, glossy photos, and fancy support materials.

R-5468953-1394143756-9657In purely musical terms, the ‘T’rung’ C40 evokes the most evidence of a tribal sound. The whole thing lives in the middle range – I have yet to hear something from the band that wasn’t decidedly low-fidelity – and sounds as though it was played mostly on homemade instruments and recording equipment on its last legs. A peak behind the process would be fascinating, especially if it could answer where, exactly, are these sounds coming from? The structure of these tunes evokes Peter Murphy at his most endeavoring (and least committed to tape), only helping to hone the era of this synthetic genre.

R-5438020-1398617878-1308The Army’s most recent release, the ‘Millerite Masai’ C45, is for me the most compelling – literally, compelling, by the prominent inclusion of guitars which force the music along with a common, steel-wound thread. The (alternating) drives and dirges of bass and lead guitars often veer close to the relentless new Industrialism of Vatican Shadow, with even more secretive plans in mind. Brought together with the song titles (each release is littered with semi-coherent names – make that provocations – which beg contemplation independent of the sounds in the machine), we get an anthropologist’s fever dreams stitched together in heavy yarn, perhaps some new dawning ambient music for our recursive musical economy.

What is the over-arching lesson? Beats me. Throbbing Gristle, Coil, a bit of Gate. The lowest common denominator is often a wobbly, minimal beat and some incoherent murmurs from a de facto vocalist. The beats often disaggregate from the rest of the music, spinning the listener into an ambivalent chaos. Perhaps the biggest surprise about this German army is their occupation of a place not in days of blood and subterfuge, nor the current state of green and centrifuge, but right in between, in the Cold War. There are definitely strains of Stasi paranoia, and deconstructive rebellion (a la Einstürzende Neubauten) from the heart of the home of the battle; but so are there the residual effects of Francophone cold wave, anti-Thatcherite dub, and Reagan era nihilism. The suburbs of San Bernadino are, after all, still riding that belly-flop wave of American fear and loathing, loaded on McDonald’s and bankruptcy. Perhaps for this Germany Army in the midst of mass murder and economic devastation, asking for lessons learned is asking for too much.

Lava Church cassette
sold out

Lighten Up Sounds cassette

Yerevan Tapes cassette

Laube – ‘Schwach gekerbt’ [Review]

R-150-5284830-1389574974-5209First off: Fuck Tom Wheeler and the F.C.C.

Second: sorry for the wait.

Third: way to go Justin Wright and his Sonic Meditations label for bringing us ‘Schwach gekerbt’ from the German trio Laube. The band plays a powerful slowcore in the vein of The For Carnation and Codeine – something rarely endeavored for no good reason since the time of The For Carnation or Codeine. Light on the electronics/heavy on the bass, Rhodes, and floor kit, these five instrumentals are laminated under a thick clear coat of steel-door thud, paid in homage to the final years of American automobile supremacy under an overcast, rust-belt sky. But this isn’t driving music, or even music for a car culture. Every note sags downward with weight. Rather, it is fetish music for design, the fetish of Prometheus told in gold flecked hoods and piped bench seats. And like the catalogs from which they are ultimately inspired, these monoliths do not move, but pull with gravitational primacy. Bass plumbs resonate for hours like a pig’s orgasm, swept from below with bristled sticks. “Dove Gray,” “Classic Cream,” “Formal Black” – the wavery current of the organ offers the only visible waves across these fine finishes. Averaging about 10 minutes a track, these are glassy waters. The briefest (at six minutes), “Pewter Gray Metallic” is the only to not feature drums, though you would only know it by the well-placed coughing fit in the final moment. Even the flaws are under control. Mastered to perfection by Plotkin, in an edition of 80 copies. Very recommended.

Sonic Meditations cassette

Stefan Christoff & Osama Shalabi – ‘родина’; and Sam Shalabi – ‘Music for Arabs’ [Review]

rodina‘родина’ (‘Rodina’) pins together two edges of the Montreal improvised music map. Stefan Christoff (St. Laurent Piano Project) and Osama Shalabi (aka Sam; the Shalabi Effect, Land of Kush) present two duets and one solo each for piano and oud. Having previously contributed a duet for Christoff’s ‘Duets for Abdelrazik’, the pair ease-off the hot tempos of that epic track and spread-out in two solos bookended by double-digit shared performances. On “Vadar River Song,” Christoff’s piano strikes a series of blue notes evoking the melancholia of Mike Oldfield and the PAL-vision aesthetic of ECM Records. Mourning in flourishes, these tinklings of piano shatter to the floor only briefly until the gauzy web of the oud begins netting these tones, cradling them like crystals. Earth and water, each hammered point is made resonant in the cross-talk of Shalabi’s strings, garrulous and often gaudy by comparison. From this overlay of grid and rhizome, “To Sophia” practically demands its own space: reigning in the affect, the solo semi-composition is to-the-point but self-paced, impressing upon someone some inside point which we the audience can only presume to exceed us (though I would have liked a bit more of a chance). Shalabi in turn responds, somewhat sheepish but mostly more sincere. From the modesty of the title, “One Oud” uses the same four minute space as Christoff’s solo to make a series of assertions in the way of melodic phrases. They are neither overly-ornate nor as atmospheric as the previous piece, but slur along with a calligrapher’s deft ease and an improviser’s will to always be building. As if now in sync, the second and final duet emerges seamlessly from Shalabi’s oud into a more harmonious dialogue. For nearly 20 minutes, the two prepare and compare themes – at times with the magnitudes of a martial art – and synthesize a very optimistic ascent out of these scrapbooked pages and into the stratosphere to which such difficult love-letters aspire.

MAJMUA021CD_PRODTake a hyper-leap across this classical musical space and we find Sam Shalabi in the so-called “field” compiling his ‘Music for Arabs’. Recorded in Cairo, the six tracks serve as a half-filed cabinet of curiosities from a modern archivist in a thick diaspora. With a resemblance to Luc Ferrari’s great piece of nostalgia concrète, ‘Son Mémorisé’, Shalabi captures soundscapes particular to Northern Africa. As the one-sheet aptly puts it, ‘Music for Arabs’ is “like Music for Airports for taxi drivers.” However, as the title suggests, included is the music of this place, a medium of agency which compliments the aural histories captured when we take such absorbent musical sheets outside the studio cube. This includes of course the alien sounds of Arabic instruments – including Shalabi’s skilled playing of the oud – but also the odd and avant-garde of the local musical enclaves, like the weird Casio-pop of “Luxor Dance,” the dissonant dialogue-collage of “Revolution,” and the dramatic book-ends “Music for Egyptians, Pt. I & II.” Fittingly, no-fly flâneur Alan Bishop (Sun City Girls, Sublime Frequencies) joins the handful of Shalabi’s local collaborators to entrench an American counterpoint with his familiar tenor of impassioned absurdity (seriously, he’s like the David Attenborough of the anti-world music scene). Besides being the most coherent, the ballad “The Enemy of My Enemy” is also the most comprehensive of the tracks, yammering its way through psychedelic quotations in Arab disco parlance, sooty broadcast voices, and the algebraic structures of Islamic spirituals. Though never an easy listen, readers will find the report most engrossing when approached as a concrète methodology.

Howl Arts CD

Majmua Music CD

Bobb Bruno – ‘Black Gel’; Uton – ‘Kun Korallit Puhuvat Pilville’; and DJ DJ Tanner – ‘Home Entertainment’ [Review]

I regret not arriving sooner to welcome home Tynan and his Doris Nordic Tribute records. Let’s take a look at what he’s brought back with him: 

dnt064_400wAn apt ambassador, Bobb Bruno (The For Carnation, Goliath Bird Eater, Best Coast) returns with ‘Black Gel’, which accompanies the re-issue of his ‘Clown’s Castle’ CS, also on DNT. The short-to-medium pair of sides span Bruno’s synthetic sounds from left pocket to right, where the title track drones and raves in the near-field with both rhythm and ambience, and the b-side “Year2” burns like a Krautrock blue flame with searing guitar by Cameron Stallones and a steady expansion by Sheridan Riley on drums. Certainly an odd pairing, as opposed to more coherent releases like ‘Dreamt On’ – however, the tape more so resembles the scope of Bruno’s solo creations, and in turn only reaffirms the commitment by artists like Bruno and labels like DNT to preserve the space for abstraction, demonstration, and open expression in an ever weirder music economy. 100 copies pro-pressed with hand-numbered cards.

dnt066_400wBridging DNT’s before and after, ‘Kun Korallit Puhuvat Pilville’ by Uton (Finland’s Jani Hirvonen) was originally slotted as a bonus to the label’s long-player, but has been refigured as its own release. Not a bad managerial decision. The tape is bold enough to stand on its own as seven tracks of cosmic concrete – though it too carries with it the original sin of bonus material, which by its lonesome evokes an alien and alienated soundtrack, full of sci-fi abstractions and organic drones. Across these cold expanses we encounter tendrils of music – human music – though the mysteries of this place are never revealed. Edition of 100, hand-numbered, on purple tapes.

dnt068_400wIf writing about tapes can be called a trade, we can say that every so often in this trade, you come across an album which immediately signals its rerelease in a more elaborate format. That format is often vinyl, and today that tape is ‘Home Entertainment’ by DJ DJ Tanner. In spite of a name which will never not be ridiculous, the tape is never not engrossing, thrilling, emotive. These twelve or so tracks come tribute to the sample-based methods of hip hop as an oral form – orality here pertaining to the form, and less the individually-voiced content of storytelling – where a certain ear for lost sentiments expressed through music can recapture a human moment in sheer aesthetic terms otherwise unrepresented by the musical structure which carried it forth. Drawn purely from the crates, we hear bebop and early vocal hits, ballroom staples and seedy funk soundtracks – all looped into new, crystalline figures which refract with a mathematical wit the simpler geometries of the originals. In this regard, the editor joins other archivists, such as Black Swan, The Caretaker, and most specifically, the fantastical Lilacs & Champagne. Similar in spirit is the nostalgia-tinged rock of Zoo Kid/King Krule, Lower Dens, and certain Grails projects (indebted to the same pairing of Lilacs & Champagne). All this, and wrapped in a self-erasing punk swaddle which one need respect, but also lament without the radicalized portions of one’s brain screaming “fetish!” Limited to 100 copies with paint spattered inserts. Highest recommendation; my new prized possession. I look forward to the pressing.

DNT cassettes