Friday, September 28, 2012

Radiation 4 – Wonderland

September 9, 2003 • Abacus Recordings

Anything tagged as "avant-garde metal" really should just be a warning sign to me at this point. Maybe it's just that I've never really been a fan of this sort of music in the first place; still, there's almost nothing about Wonderland that really appeals to me.

The album is basically a textbook example of avant-garde metal—heavy and angular mathcore-esque guitar lines, some unconventional instrumentation (music boxes and xylophones and things like that), and a mix of screams and dramatic singing. It's high on technicality for sure; the music is all over the place with dissonant melodies and odd time signatures, and the song structures are equally abstract.

What I hate about this album is that it's so thoroughly balanced between bad and good. There are some really awesome sections, like parts of the ending of "Love Through Tapeworm Hooks", but it's all sandwiched by this bizarreness that doesn't fit together at all. A lot of it feels like it was just being weird for the sake of being weird. Listening to it is like going through a buffet where every other pan is full of garbage (and that's not the kind of buffet you go back to).

Personally, I blame the vocals; I don't know how many people do vocals, but the lower-pitched screaming parts are just horrid. The guy has no idea how to control pitch and it sounds comical (in a very bad way). Without him, it might have been a passable album, but it ruins the music so much that it's barely worth trying in the first place.

It's definitely the sort of thing I would have enjoyed perhaps back when I was in high school and anything weird like this would pique my interest. Today, though, it just sounds kind of... well, stupid. If you don't mind some atrocious singing and screaming, try it out, but I'd stay away.

3

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Bernard Günter – Un peu de neige salie

1993 • Selektion

Shh, quiet for a minute. Do you hear that? The sound of your own breathing, maybe the hum of the fluorescent lights above your head... or is that just your tinnitus acting up again?

I decided to check out Un peu de neige salie solely out of desire to try something incredibly new and different, in a genre I have almost no experience with: microsound, music essentially composed of sparse, miniscule electronic samples. It's more or less the first microsound release I've ever heard, and while I love these kinds of fresh, almost alien experiences, at the same time that makes it difficult to know how to approach a work like this. Even after a good handful of listens, I still don't have a very good idea of what to think of it. At the very least, it's a damn interesting experience.

One of the most important things about this kind of music is that it requires the listener to really listen carefully—in fact that is the only way to listen to it; you cannot just passively put on and let it sit in the background, because you'll miss absolutely everything. (I've done this, unfortunately.) Without that hold on your attention, it sounds like just random noises and static, but if you let it, it can really pull you in to its bleak, monochromatic world. There's something a bit unsettling about that, but I can definitely appreciate it.

The music—or sounds, rather—are difficult to describe. It's mostly high-pitched tones and subtle glitches and static, almost sounding like playing a slightly dusty record with some bad wire connections in a canyon during winter. It's abstract, murky, and above all else very cold, almost like it doesn't want to be heard. The sound sometimes fades in and out, and can do so for quite a long time, leaving me wondering if I just need to turn the volume up louder or there really isn't anything there. (But even turning it up isn't always the best idea; the occasional loud, screeching stab of noise can be, well, almost painful.)

It's just so strange. Something about the opening of "Untitled II/92" opens with that low, sputtering, visceral noise is strangely both captivating and unnerving. The whole album has this odd sort of foreboding to it; it's like there's a bare glimpse of... something... just behind the static, but you'll never see what it is. But that's just how I read into it, I suppose.

But onto business: Is Un peu de neige salie any good? What's the point in my answering that? It depends on you entirely. This kind of music is not for everyone (or most people, probably). It requires a lot of patience, thought, and likely multiple listens. All I know is that I am glad I found this, as it's given me an incredibly rewarding listening experience. That won't be the case with everyone, but you'll just have to try it to know, won't you?

(Okay, fine, if you must know.) 8

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Naysayer – Down but Not Out / No Remorse

2011 • Reaper Records

I'm really not sure how I ever found out about Naysayer; this sort of music isn't something I'd normally get into. Now that I've heard this compilation, I guess I know why. While they're really not a horrible band, their music is simply not something I care for very much.

Essentially, Naysayer's music can be broken down into two essential elements: fast, thrash metal-style riffs, and slow, heavy breakdowns. I suppose you'd call it thrashcore or beatdown hardcore if you had to; I don't know much about those specific styles so it's hard for me to say. That's about all there is to it, though; if you like something extremely simple and straightforward, that's what you'll get here. Nothing showy, nothing unusual or surprising; just riffs. (Not that it's impossible to do simple and straightforward well, of course; that's what punk is about.)

But probably because of their over-simplistic sound, and even despite there being the occasional neat riff and many of the songs are catchy, overall the album is just not very interesting. There's too much of that muted-open-string playing style going on; it all feels very lazy and uninspired, like they wrote these songs very quickly without thinking too much about it. Technically, it's mostly alright aside from the odd vocal quirk here and there, but what good is solid drumming skills if the songs you're accompanying are really dull?

I dunno, maybe it works better live (then again, Hatebreed, who is a bit similar, was one of the worst shows I ever saw, so who knows?). All I know is that something about this comp leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I feel like I should be wearing a sleeveless shirt and a ballcap while lifting some weights when I listen to this. Not my thing.

4

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ephera – Home

August 18, 2012 • self-released

As always, here I am trying to expand my horizons in the wide world of electronic music. Today's destination: Ephera, an Australian duo who have created a surprisingly diverse collection of sounds with Home. And, well, it's pretty nice; a little something for everyone.

Home puts on display a smorgasboard of different electronic styles—mostly IDM, but ranging to ambient droning, a bit of house, wonky, and future garage, among others. On every track you get something a little bit different, yet rgardless of style the album is still consistent and coherent. The abundance of melody helps quite a bit, and every track is driven by solid, upfront synth melodies that keep things moving along.

The production itself is pretty good; it has this spacey, glittery, yet still somewhat technical vibe to it that reminds me a lot of Clark (albeit a little slower and simpler). There's a huge variety of drum and synth voices in addition to some neat spoken word samples, so things stay relatively fresh throughout the album. Going from glitchy, cut-up, sampled IDM one track to slow, plodding brostep on the next can be a bit jarring, but that's still miles better than everything being totally monotonous.

However—and this is probably more of a personal thing—many of the tracks don't really have a lot of staying power with me. While the album is definitely solid throughout, there isn't much on the album that sticks out as being particularly memorable, especially in the middle of the album; rather, every track is simply "okay". I suppose after all it is a bedroom project and my expectations are a little off; for what it is, it really is pretty high quality.

I see a lot of potential in Ephera, and I hope the project continues on. It will be interesting to hear what happens as their musical ideas mature and grow.

6

Monday, September 24, 2012

Woe – A Spell for the Death of Man

July 2008 • Stronghold Records

Sometimes you want something fresh, original, brand-new; and then other times you just want to hear the same old stuff and enjoy something that will sound familiar. If that's the case, Woe is definitely bringing it. It's by-the-books black metal, but with a quality you don't get much these days.

Woe's debut A Spell for the Death of Man is very straightforward black metal, more or less in the same vein as the second-wave Norwegian bands of the '90s—lots of tremolo guitars, blastbeats, and the occasional groovy riffing. A Spell... reminds me a bit of earlier Darkthrone or Emperor, traditional black metal with a bit of a thrashy edge (good comparisons to make, of course). Speaking of blastbeats, I have to mention that this album has some of the best drumming I've heard from a one-man band—it's not synthesized, for once, and there's something about its sound I really like. Maybe it's those snare-heavy fills or something; there's something very satisfying about them.

But if A Spell... has the advantage of having something of a "canonical" black metal sound, it has the same thing as a disadvantage. While the songs are pretty good, the performances are very solid, and it is fun to listen to, ultimately there isn't much to remember it by. Each song is more or less the same thing, so after about three of them I begin to get a bit fatigued as the album slowly gets more monotonous. For a quick fix of one or two songs at a time, it definitely hits the spot like no other, but listening to the whole album all the way through (even at a reasonable forty-three minutes) gets to be a bit of a chore when it's the same thing over and over again, even if I do like it.

However, again, it's still a fun album to listen to and it is good (good enough for me to want to look into Woe's newer album). It simply doesn't have a lot of lasting power. But while it does, it's definitely worth a listen or two, especially for any fans of that older, traditional black metal sound.

7

Friday, September 21, 2012

Cloudkicker – Fade

August 2, 2012 • self-released

Another year, another Cloudkicker album. While the project's debut was admirable—in fact one of the best prog-metal albums in recent years—time has shown Sharp running out of ideas and his music has suffered a bit for it. Fade isn't a bad album by any means, but it has its problems.

One of the things that drew me to Cloudkicker in the first place was the incredibly catchy yet technical math-metal riffs of The Discovery and the way they complimented the album's uplifting mood. Fade is still very much a Cloudkicker album in that the same major-chord riffs and floaty atmosphere are always present, in addition to plenty of really great rhythmic sections, though presented in a more post-rock style instead of straight metal. The performance is solid all around—lots of neat layered guitars, nice gritty bass, and good drum programming. The production is getting slicker as well and everything is very clear and audible, so if nothing else the album is technically pleasing to listen to.

I suppose that, at least for me, nothing about Fade is as memorable or interesting as The Discovery or Beacons that makes it stand out. Sure, it has some nice riffs but in general the songwriting is simply a bit dull. Either some sections drag on so long as to become boring or the songs jarringly jump around between totally different styles. On the other hand, the second half of the album is a major improvement over the first half (tracks 5–7 specifically); for some reason the songs seem more consistent and enjoyable. So it's worth sticking through to the end, even though the first few tracks pose a bit of a barrier to me.

I still wish Cloudkicker would venture back into the math metal realm, but as far as things go Fade isn't bad. It's not something I'm probably going to ever listen to again, but I'm hopeful that this album marks more of a stepping stone for Cloudkicker into something that will be a little better.

6

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Propagandhi – Failed States

September 4, 2012 • Epitaph Records

I'd been a mild fan of Propagandhi after I heard Today's Empires, Tomorrow's Ashes but never really bothered to look into them beyond that. That is, until I decided to try out their new album Failed States on a whim—and boy am I glad I did. They've only gotten better in the last ten years and have put out an absolutely fantastic album, one of the best to come out this year for sure.

Punk bands usually get softer with age, but Propagandhi has fortunately played with the trend a bit. Failed States has has a bit more of a prog-rock flavor to it here and there, but they still play heavy and fast punk rock throughout and the overall mood is just as pissed-off as the band ever was. The music may be a bit more proggy than I would have liked ("Note to Self" sounds a bit like later Tool in parts, which is really weird), but they still slam as hard as ever when they want to: take the title track, which starts and ends as a blur of punk riffing that rivals their heaviest stuff on Today's Empires. As usual they still manage to be melodic at the same time, and I really love their melodic lines. That's more of a personal thing, I suppose, but I've always liked their melodies—they have a very distinct feel to them that just fits so well. The song absolutely solid throughout; the writing and playing are more or less perfect. (And check out those crazy bass guitar licks in "Status Update" and "Unscripted Moment"! And everywhere, really. I love me some bass.)

If I had to make any one complaint about the album (and of course I do), the last four songs on the album seem to just overshadow everything else—they're so good, and the beginning of the album is just okay. So listening to it straight through, I feel like I spend the first five tracks or so waiting to get to the end. But I guess that's just a testament to how much I enjoy those last four songs—seriously, "Unscripted Moment" and "Lotus Gait" are two of the best punk songs I've ever heard. No exaggeration.

If you're still reading at this point and haven't at least gone out and listened to one or two of the tracks by now, what the hell are you doing? I suppose that it might not be the most accessible album, even for people who like punk, but if you can get on board with what Propagandhi has been up to... well, for me at least, it's one of the most refreshing things I've heard yet from this year.

8

Note: Epitaph has been kind enough to put up the whole album on YouTube! Check it out!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Tigon – Infinite Teeth

August 11, 2012 • The Ghost Is Clear Records

Is it metal? Is it punk? Is it math rock or emo... or what? I dunno, but all that matters is whether Infinite Teeth is any good. It's a bit of a strange album, to be sure, and takes time to get used to but I think it's pretty good.

Stylistically, Tigon is doing a lot on this album—there are as I mentioned elements of math rock (most prominently) but also emocore, sludge metal (mostly in the guitar riffs), and even some mathcore ("Whale Maker" and maybe "Plague Apparatus"). Somehow it doesn't feel totally disorienting, as the band manages to meld everything together well into their own unique sound. It's a sound that may take a bit to get used to and some elements tend to not gel terribly well—mostly the spoken, atonal vocals alongside the heavy, gritty guitar lines, and the very dissonant and even random-sounding melodies. The album's aesthetics weren't at all appealing whatsoever the first time I heard it, but they grew on me and I'm enjoying what they're doing here.

but the mood and atmosphere of Infinite Teeth is definitely good. The melodies and rhythms can get very tense and depressive, making the music seem very burdensome (if that makes any sense). But it can also become uplifting, with hints of that twinkly indie-emo sound (or is that post-rock?) during more quiet parts. Nothing ever sounds out of place, though, and though the album throws the occasional surprise at the listener it still all fits together well.

It has its flaws, of course—few of the songs are particularly memorable, it's a bit anticlimactic, and as I mentioned the vocals don't always fit the music well—but all things considered it's not bad at all. It's probably not going to top anyone's list of math rock or emo albums anytime (the songwriting is good but not fantastic) though Infinite Teeth is an impressive start, and hopefully we can see something improved in the future.

6

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Dog Days – Via dolorosa

July 10, 2012 • self-released

I've always had spotty experiences with metalcore, even though it's not something I listen to often. It seems as though in order to be good, you have to mix it with a bit of something else—progresive metal, sludge metal, or something else—but Dog Days don't really do that. Consequently they wind up sounding pretty average, though that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Via dolorosa showcases a pretty typical version of metalcore, so unfortunately there isn't really much to say about what they're doing. You have the typical fusion of metal and punk riffing, breakdowns, harsh vocals, and so on—basically a less-technical Botch (there's nothing technical at all about Dog Days, really). They do have the occasional powerviolence-ish blasting here and there, which is pretty cool, though I would have liked to see more of that.

But it's still decent, at least in the sense that they do metalcore well. It probably appeals to me more than usual because it tends to lean more toward the punk side than the metal side a lot of the time, because the metal bits tend to sound a bit silly (see the beginning of "Rain Shadow"). There are plenty of catchy bits and the breakdowns are nice and moshable (so I assume).

But yeah, like I said before, it's decent but there isn't much of anything that makes it stand out, so it's not really recommendable to anyone who doesn't already love the genre. Personally, I won't be revisiting it much (if ever) in the future, but for what it is, it's not bad.

6

Monday, September 17, 2012

Krallice – Years Past Matter

August 25, 2012 • self-released

I gotta say I have no clue why I decided to review the new Krallice (other than the fact that it's "new"). I heard their first album and thought it was pretty decent; I heard their second and was disappointed because it was basically the same thing as the first. So I skipped the third, and went straight to Years Past Matter. And it's the same thing, again. Once you've heard one Krallice song, you've heard them all, really. This album is just another continuation of their same old sound, though admittedly it hasn't gone down in quality.

If you haven't, it's basically like this: Take your average second-wave black metal style—blastbeats, tremolo guitars, and all that—and turn it into a wall of sound, focusing entirely on texture over actual notes and rhythm. Do this for an hour, and you have Krallice. It's not quite as monotonous as it sounds, but really that's the best way to describe it: blast away on some random-ish notes, maybe do a short fill or bridge here and there, repeat. The songs have very little in the way of any sort of structure, as the songs just plow their way ahead without repeating themselves much (if ever). I wonder how they manage to remember what to play next—it often seems like there's no time signature or anything to gauge where they are in the song. This is also problematic for any listener trying to keep up with where the song is going.

To be fair, this album seems a bit more diverse than their older stuff (from what I can remember). Though they don't come very often, there are a few actual discernible riffs that aren't just straight one-note tremolo. And for being a one-trick-pony kind of band, they do what they do quite well. If you happen to be in the mood for a huge slab of monolithic music like this, then Krallice is your go-to band for sure. That mood doesn't strike me often, though, but when it does Years Past Matter is still at least somewhat entertaining. When the note progressions are less random-sounding they can get really cool—the opening and ending of the third track are actually quite beautiful, for instance.

Just go into this album knowing that there isn't anything on here Krallice hasn't already done before, and it's just an excuse to listen to some blasting for an hour. That said, for anyone who hasn't heard them before, this is a fine place to start as it's still just as good as they've ever been. Its appeal to me personally is a bit limited, as I'm not a huge fan of the band, but anyone who is should definitely go for it.

5

Friday, September 14, 2012

Celestine – This Home Will Be Our Grave

2008 • Molestin Records

Yeah, more of that dirty, filthy hardcore sludge stuff! Apparently it's all I listen to these days. (Granted, it's good music for this time of year.) Anyway, Celestine is an Icelandic band who started playing this kind of music a few years ago, and this—their debut album—is actually pretty impressive.

If you've heard any of the mathcore-sludge fusion stuff that's been put out lately (and that I've been reviewing lately), you'll already have a pretty good idea of what Celestine sounds like: it's heavy, dark, angry music, with quite a bit of diversity in the kind of riffs they play. There's your obligatory chugging sessions, progressive polyrhythmic sections, and quite a few breakdowns. There's a good handful of pretty catchy sections, too, but that still doesn't stop it from being an ugly album at the same time. Both the guitar and the vocals sound very tortured, straining to get themselves out, and I say that in the best way possible. It can sometimes make the album a tense listen as well. The drums and bass just kind of hang out in the background and support the drums and vocals, which is okay but I would have liked to hear them having a bigger role in things.

Still, I won't pretend it's anything particularly special—I feel like I've been hearing a lot of the same gritty, math-rock-fused style lately. (Maybe I've been reviewing it a lot by coincidence.) This makes it really difficult to give an unbiased opinion of this album—sure, maybe it's good, but I just feel so jaded right now.

So don't listen to me. If you haven't worn yourself out on this kind of stuff, give it a shot. Just don't expect to have your mind blown or your presuppositions of what sludge should be shaken to their foundations. It's a solid album, nothing more.

6

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Æthenor – En form for Blå

January 2011 • VHF Reocrds

Despite being yet-another-sideproject courtesy of Stephen O'Malley, I particularly enjoy Æthenor (Betimes Black Cloudmasses is great, and my favorite by them). En form for Blå is particularly interesting, though, due to a bit of a lineup change, most notably the addition of Kristoffer Rygg (of Ulver). So how can I not check out this album? Ultimately, the band hasn't really changed much and this album isn't quite as good as Betimes Black Cloudmasses but it's still pretty decent.

En form for Blå still has basically much the same elements that make Æthenor what they are: minimalist droning soundscapes, some light background guitar, the occasional abstract synth melody here and there. It not the most original act but they do a very fine job of creating a very alien sound (the metal clashing and bleeping synths make it very deliberate-sounding), though it still has its moments of beauty (especially the shining drones of "Vivarium" and the appropriately-named "Dream Tassles").

Steve Noble's drumming—a major addition to the band's sound—is a bit of a letdown, though. In my review of St Francis Duo I noted how the drumming clashed badly with the guitar, and it's basically the same thing here. While there's some sparse droning and electronics and some light noodling guitar, the drums are still mostly spastic and formless; I simply don't like the way they are integrated into the compositions at all. Fortunately the drumming is quieter here than St Francis Duo and seems to follow the intensity of the music for the most part, so it's definitely not as bad.

Despite being an ambient album, En form for Blå works best with focused listening. Even in its quieter moments there is still a lot going on in the various layers of atmospheric noise, electronics, and percussion. That said, as a whole it's pretty directionless and does tend to drag a bit near the end (probably especially so for people not quite accustomed to Æthenor's sound), so I tend to prefer taking it in as background music and only occasionally really listen during the more interesting bits.

I'll still take Betimes Black Cloudmasses over this album (and probably other ambient-improv bands like Supersilent too), but for what it is it's pretty good, especially considering it's a live album. Nothing to get too excited about, but I'll still keep an eye on Æthenor in case they put out something else neat anytime soon.

6

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Gaza – No Absolutes in Human Suffering

July 31, 2012 • Black Market Activities

I have no clue why I tried out this album; I generally have no interest in mathcore / metalcore and haven't liked most of what I've heard in the past. Gaza may be a turning point for me; while they may not be too different from other extreme metalcore bands they do seem to have something pretty cool going on with this album.

No Absolutes is, first and foremost, really ugly and dirty music—the guitar is downtuned to hell and has a grimy tone to it; the raw, guttural vocals have a distorted edge to them, and the drums are absolutely monstrous with trading off between punkish grooves and some pretty damn intense blastbeats. I've heard plenty of extreme music in my time, obviously, but as far as stuff in the punk family goes this is sitting comfortably near, if not at, the top of the list.

At the same time, they'll pull out a calmer and more emotional moment now and again (comparatively speaking, of course). These sections really mesh with the faster parts well—both contrasting with and accentuating the album's normal intensity and standing up on their own as good examples of sludge/doom. Take "When They Beg"'s slow and brooding end, or the title track's churning sludgy sound, or the slow doomy end of "Not with All the Hope in the World"—especially the way the latter calms the listener down a bit, only to basically smack them in the face again once "The Vipers" starts up. It's pretty great.

You might need to be in the right frame of mind for Gaza—one that is prepared to accept some pretty high levels of brutality—but it is definitely worth the ride and has helped rekindle my interest in the genre a bit. Not for everyone, but I'll definitely take it.

7

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Field Engine – Engines

August 11, 2012 • self-released

The world is out to get me with these free improv artists. I swear I was searching for "jazz" on Bandcamp, and this is what came out. I suppose Field Engine does have something of a jazzy twist to them, and even though ultimately it's still free improv, they manage to pull together something relatively coherent and I have to say I'm actually enjoying myself for once.

Engines' sound is pretty interesting to start, and unlike a lot of improv I've heard it sounds quite well-structured. There is something of a minimalist noise rock band setup—drums, fuzz guitar, various electronics—though the electronics take center stage most of the time. There's a bit of composition to it, some buildups and teardowns, and the band definitely feels like they are trying to move as a group instead of just doing whatever they please, which is quite refreshing.

Instrumentally, it's a bit hit-or-miss, maybe. The drums are doing some very jazzy things; it's all still improvisation but it's the kind of stuff you'd find in a typical jazz solo. There's definitely a lot of competency behind it and it's not just random blasting; the drummer sounds like he knows exactly what he's doing (unlike a lot of free improv drumming I've heard before) so it's actually pretty decent to listen to. There's even the occasional nice groove set up (such as the beginning of "IV") which is neat to hear.

The electronics and the guitar, on the other hand, are a bit spotty. Some of the electronics sound like they are being triggered by the drums directly, which is pretty neat and makes things feel a bit more cohesive, but most of the time they're doing their own thing. Fortunately they're kept pretty minimalistic so they don't overwhelm. The guitar, though, is the definite weak spot. Although the guitarist knows when to shut up or quiet down, when he does play it's often a mess. Unlike the tight soloing style of the drums, the guitar is all over the place in terms of style and rhythm, sounding like someone who's never touched a guitar before just messing around.

Still, though, it's a huge step up from most free improv I've heard: appropriately consistent, not too overbearing, mostly well-played. It's a glimmer of hope for me in my free-improv-listening career. Maybe I should stop being so pessimistic about it. Maybe.

6

Monday, September 10, 2012

Tomasz Stańko – Music for K (Polish Jazz, vol. 22)

January 1970 • Polskie Nagrania Muza

I don't know what it is with Europeans and jazz, but they sure can make some nice tunes. Music for K seems to be some sort of tribute (at least in part) to the legendary Krzysztof Komeda (his album Astigmatic is still one of my favorites), and it continues the apparent Polish jazz tradition excellently (not that I'm anywhere near a jazz expert, but you know).

Music for K really hits that sweet spot between bebop and free jazz—it goes well beyond the relatively stale confines of '50s bop (not saying I don't still enjoy that kind of stuff, of course) without going too far into the super-improvisational ultra-artsy avant-garde realm that I never really was able to enjoy. Even if everyone is improvising all at once, they still manage to keep themselves on the same page as far as a consistent mood, never going off into pure free-improv mode but still having things interesting enough to keep the listener on their toes.

Another great thing about this album is how dynamic it is—things are constantly moving and changing, with rapid-fire trumpet and sax improvisations quickly shifting into a more minimal drum solo and then building back up to a noisy climax in "Czatownik", for example. Or the shift from the fast-paced and dissonant opening of "Cry" to its slow and somber ending; on the way you'll never notice the transition, as it always comes very naturally. The "theme" in the opening and closing moments tie everything together into a nice package, leaving the listener neatly right back where they started.

Being this sort of jazz it does have its fair share of long stretches of solos, of course—Stańko has to have his time showing off his trumpet chops. Fortunately he doesn't go too overboard with the soloing; in fact, when I get tired of the solo in "Nieskończenie mały", it shifts into a unison theme just in time. Focus almost always seems to be on group texture and atmosphere and rarely on individual performance, something I prefer in jazz (and everywhere else, really), so it never feels like I'm getting bogged down.

I'm probably way underqualified to review stuff like this (even having played in my share of jazz bands) but it's still exciting to discover old records like this that are really quite good but slip past most people's radars nowadays (at least, in my demographic). Definitely worth trying out even if you aren't a huge jazz fan.

7

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Record store haul: September 8, 2012

Sorry for no post on Friday, here's a bonus to make up for it! Went to Used Kids Records (as usual) today and spent too much money (also as usual). Sadly there were no good cassettes that I saw, but the selection of colored 45s was pretty nice.

Dag Nasty – Can I Say (LP, $12)

What better way to start my trip? This was in the first section I checked out (the "new arrivals" bin, naturally) and I was excited to get it. I like just about everything that came out of the Dischord D.C. scene in the '80s, and this is up there with the best of them. It's basically an extension of the Minor Threat sound, so for people who are craving more of that (like me) it's a must-listen.

The album itself is pretty damn good condition (at least for being from 1986)—both the disc and the insert look mint, while the sleeve is just a tiny bit dinged. (There was a re-press of the LP in 2009 but I don't think that's what I have; I got the purple cover and the reissue is green. Or so I understand.)

The Residents – The Third Reich 'n Roll (LP, $15)

I'll be honest, I don't particularly care for this album at all. But at the same time I could't resist picking it up—seriously, how often are you going to see something like this ready and waiting at the store? And how often are you going to buy something that makes the cashier suspect you're a Nazi?

That aside, this wasn't really the greatest deal and I might never actually play this since it's old and I don't really like it that much—it's an interesting concept, to be sure, covering old radio hits with their particular brand of eclecticism and bizarre arrangements, but not as well-executed here as their other stuff. Maybe. I don't listen to them as much as maybe I ought to in order to make this kind of assessment.

Bauhaus – Gotham (2×CD, $7)

Bauhaus is one of those bands I know I like but never listen to for whatever reason. Time to change that. This caught my eye, being a double-thick digipak set, so I grabbed it without even knowing what it was. It's a double live album, and normally I'm not a fan of live albums as I prefer studio material, but it is actually quite good. I don't know most of the songs, that's probably why it sounds fresh to me.

Aesop Rock – Boombox (12", $3)

Used Kids' hip hop section is always so disappointing, about 50 records total and half of them are copies of "Rapper's Delight" and the other half is utter crap. Today I finally found a couple artists I like, but I decided to go with the Aesop Rock single over the Roots single. It's from Labor Days, one of his best, and it's even got a track on there I haven't even heard of before.

Unfortunately the A-side is pretty dirty and beat up, with lots of crackles and the occasional skipping where there's gunk I couldn't clean off. I guess it's gotten its fair share of love... it is over twelve years old at this point, I guess; maybe some DJ used to spin it a lot. I dunno. On the other hand, the B-side is pretty clean and sounds much better (fortunately, that's where the better tracks are). Still a good find in my mind.

Silver Daggers – Silver Daggers (7", $2.50)

I don't know a single thing about this band. I just found this EP in the 45 bins and it caught my eye due to the marbled blue vinyl and the elaborate packaging. It's not your standard 45 sleeve: it's got a full-size booklet stapled in and a flap sewn down to hold the white record sleeve, all wrapped in a thick sort of particle cardstock (I don't know what it's called). The booklet is your typical artsy DIY black-and-white photo collages / sketches; nothing fancy but neat to have.

The music matches well: it's basically very amelodic noise rock with a slight punk edge. The kind of thing hipster punks would like. (Yeah, that's a bad way of putting it, but you know what I mean, right?)

Bluekid / Duster – The Lunar Chronicles vol. 2 (7", $2.50)

My justification for buying this split was that it was two Ohio bands, and it was on marbled orange vinyl. Fortunately I got lucky and the music itself is actually pretty good—sort of a garage rock/punk sound. Bluekid is a bit slow and generic; Duster is a lot more entertaining and has a bit more edge and soul to them. They're pretty darn good.

Earth / KK Null – Dexamyl / Andromeda (CD, $3)

Not much to say about this one except that I find it totally weird to see Earth—during their stoner rock stage—doing a split with KK Null, the harsh noise artist. Anyway I'd heard this before but didn't remember if I liked it or not, and for only $3 why not? Another little nondescript glossy sleeve from Important Records, and I can usually trust them to put out good stuff, so yeah.

Ghosting / Robedoor – Rivermouth / Roving Shaman (7", $3)

I have always been pretty ambivalent to Robedoor's stuff but I got this anyway—mostly for the white vinyl, of course. Both sides are pretty average noisy drone kind of stuff, nothing to write home about (actually exactly what I expected from Robedoor, to be honest). Ghosting's track was a bit better; maybe they'd be worth checking out sometime.

Salem – Asia / Dirt (7", $3)

Yep, it's that Salem, the prolific witch house group that was all the rage in 2010 even though no one seemed to like them. I thought they were alright. The really plain packaging on this single is a bit disappointing—plain white sleeve, plain white labels with little stamps on them—and the music is just as plain. Typical Salem, really. To be honest I'm not totally sure why I got it.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Climax Denial – The Absolute Bottom

2008 • Husk Recordings

Sometimes when I hear an artist like this I have to wonder if they were the kind of people who hear something and thing "heck, I could do that" and proceed to totally screw it up. Maybe Climax Denial is one such artist. Okay, it's not bad, but it's a pale imitation of all the good noise I've ever heard and feels very amateurish.

The Absolute Bottom is fairly typical power electronics: cold and clinical one-track noise with incomprehensible distorted and shouted vocals. Nothing your average Sutcliffe Jügend or Whitehouse album doesn't do. The noise textures can get quite harsh, almost wall-like at times, with the occasional pain-inducing high tones that I suppose you can't do power electronics without. (I'm not joking about the pain—don't listen to this with headphones. It's not fun.) Other times things are a bit quieter, like the more ambient and distant last two tracks, so there is a little bit of variety overall.

But The Absolute Bottom doesn't do a whole lot to excite me. It's alright music but it doesn't bring much new to the table—compared to my review of Genocide Organ's Remember, at least there they brought some variety and other influences to the party. Climax Denial is more "pure", you could say, most prominently in the longest track "Just a Body", thirteen minutes of basically the same harsh noise sound. Other tracks have a bit more going on, like the screeching synth noise in "Tapeworm Agility" that complements the grinding background noise well, but it doesn't get much more diverse than that. Some people will like that and others won't, of course. For me, it makes the album off as more of a novelty than anything.

No matter how many times I listen to it, Climax Denial just doesn't grab me. It simply exists, filling up the empty space but going nowhere and doing nothing. So it makes okay background noise but I really don't see a lot of reason to listen to it otherwise.

4

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

House of Low Culture – Submarine Immersion Techniques vol. 1

November 2000 • Crowd Control Activities

I've never like the concept of "side projects" much—how could House of Low Culture ever be as good as Isis or Agoraphobic Nosebleed or Sunn O)))? And one can't help but compare when hearing projects that are so tightly connected, almost as if Submarine Immersion Techniques was an Isis album. Even trying as hard as I can to take it on its own terms, I find it severely lacking, though it isn't terrible and has okay bits here and there.

It almost feels like you could call this release a remix album of Oceanic and Celestial, as it's loaded with Isis references and more than a few tracks are based around sampled guitar riffs from those albums. This gives it the benefit of immediately being familiar to anyone who's heard Isis before, and there's plenty of original guitar and other sounds as well to round things out.

You get two different kinds of music on Submarine Immersion Techniques: guitar-based tracks, and sample-based tracks. The guitar-based ones are by far superior: they consist of long stretches of repetitive and simple riffs, often with some sort of ambience and light noise going on in the background. It sounds a bit dull, but they do it pretty effectively; "Another Tragic One" is a standout example of the noise and guitar supporting each other. The more sample-based tracks, on the other hand, I'm not a fan of. Conceptually they mostly feel very inconsistent and out-of-place, especially with some of the more out-there sampling (AOL dial tones? really?).

So the wildly varying quality of the album makes it feel aimless and even a bit sloppy—very much like an experimental work that was basically thrown together without much thought as to what the end product would actually sound like. That's probably not very fair—I'm sure there was thought put into it—but I still find it difficult to find anything memorable or even worth relistening in this album.

I guess it's key to take in this album a bit differently than I normally would—take it as an excuse to hear Isis as run through an LSD filter and space out for forty-five minutes. It's not my ideal listening experience, but that's okay.

4

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sun Devoured Earth – Sounds of Desolation

July 4, 2012 • self-released

Never leave it to a band to categorize themselves. I found Sun Devoured Earth through Bandcamp listed in the black metal section, but Sounds of Desolation is about as far from black metal as you can get; instead it's some sort of shoegaze thing. False advertising aside, it's a fairly decent album, although not really for me and not something I'm going to be coming back to often.

"Shoegaze" is a bit unfair, as Sun Devoured Earth clearly takes influences from all over—post-rock, contemporary folk, ambient and drone, gothic rock, etc. The end result sounds a lot like many "bedroom" post-rock bands I've heard (the combination of machine-like drum and piano lines contributes to that), albeit a bit more polished and professional-sounding. The atmosphere is nice—very floaty and ethereal, drenched in reverb with lots of echoing post-rock-style guitars and piano, topped off with enigmatic vocals buried deep within the mix. In very simple terms, it almost sounds like some sort of The Cure + My Bloody Valentine collaboration.

So it's decent-sounding, but it suffers from a significant flaw: all the songs are incredibly short. It's a weird complaint, but with this kind of music I feel like the tracks don't get any time to develop and move around—it's just one quick idea repeated a few times and then they're on to the next thing. So the album winds up as a very fast-paced listen, which I think ends up sounding a bit bizarre and consequently the album isn't terribly memorable for me.

Even if I'm not very enthusiastic and Sounds of Desolation doesn't come close to the top of the heap in terms of quality or originality, I suppose it does have its moments here and there. I can't see anyone going crazy for it, though, except perhaps a very limited audience.

5