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A bunch of short reviews

Posted: May 20th, 2006, by Dave Stockwell

Okay, okay, I never have time write on this thing any more, and reviews get written about once a century with the free time I’m afforded these days. So I figured I’d rip off Joe’s post from last month and cut ‘n’ paste a bunch’f very short synopses about records that have been getting at my goat (in a good way) in the last couple of months. These were mostly scribbled at whilst poring over some boring spreadsheet at work, so apologies for any incoherence involved. There’ve been some goodies so far this year though…

Corrupted – “Llenandose des Gusanos” 2xCD (HG Fact)
Whatta band. For the uninitiated, Corrupted are a Japanese sludge/doom metal band who sing in Spanish for no discernable reason. Oh yeah; they’re quite possibly the slowest, heaviest band in existence. What’s more: this album may be their finest hour. Slower, grimmer, more dramatic and soul-sapping than anything else I’ve ever encountered. In short: fucking amazing.

Anton Batagov -“The Wheel of the Law” 3xCD (Listen Different)
A huge slab o’ work by this young Russian modernist pianist & composer. I can’t find out much info on him but I think he previously collaborated with Morton Feldman. Nice. This is an extremely minimal set of pieces performed by just three or four instruments – organ, glockenspiel, xylophone, piano and sometimes percussion all stick their heads up at various times. Apparently this work is based around the Buddhist quest for nirvana, and it’s certainly beautifully beguiling and wonderfully paced music that slowly lulls you into calm and meditation. I’m still getting to grips with the less lush and more ‘difficult’ middle piece, but the first and last movements are jawdroppingly good.

Liars – “Drum’s Not Dead” (Mute)
Good to have the Liars back and confounded some expectations after “…We Drowned” got so pilloried. This one seems to have received a much warmer reception, and is definitely a lot more straight-forward whilst retaining some of the last album’s ‘out-there’ spirit. Nice DVD with three visual interpretations of the album included too. For some reason, I still I think I kinda prefer “..Drowned”.

Flower Travellin’ Band – “Satori” (Radioactive – reissue)
A weird one: ’70s psych-riffing madness from Japan, apparently influenced in equal measures by Sabbath, Deep Purple and Can (well, their singer’s as out of control as Damo Suzuki anyhow). Dunno if it’s hippy-swinging fun or just bullshit right now. I think I gotta be in the right mood. Hasn’t happened yet, but you never know.

Andrew Chalk – “Blues Eyes of the March” & “Shadows from the Album Skies” (both on Faraway Press)
Now these are the fucking bollocks. Andrew Chalk has been making elegiac drone music from murky depths for years now, but these last couple of releases really hit the spot for me. Gorgeously vague shimmerings by instruments rendered almost unidentifiable by the extent of gauzy treatment smeared all over them. For me, this is as close to perfection as I could dream of. Sumptuous packaging on the man’s own label too, adding to the luxuriant atmosphere throughout. Best listened to whilst lying down on a hot day, bathing in the sunshine. You might need to wait until June for this to actually occur, given recent conditions.

AFX – “Chosen Lords” (Rephlex)
The Aphex Twin bounces back six years after a lot of people got confused/disappointed by “Druqks”. A return to analogue wibbling and more straightforward drum-machine manipulation, this collection of selected tracks from his recent flabbergasting run of “Analord” 12″s should be more than enough to restore any doubting Thomas’ faith in Richard D. James’ huge melodic and inventive programming talents. A real crowd-pleaser of a comeback that is as reassuring as it is just plain enjoyable to listen to. Even if (or because?) it all sounds like it could have come out at any time in the last 15 years.

V/A – “The Invisible Pyramid” 6xCD (Last Visible Dog)
A staggeringly thorough compilation of pretty much all the major contributors to the last few years of the burgeoning “freak”/”lo-fi drone”/”ambient”/”etc”/”whatever the fuck you want to call it ‘cus I can’t be bothered” movement, giving us gems by such established gods as Vibracathedral Orchestra, Birchville Cat Motel, My Cat Is An Alien, Charalambides, and even Bardo Pond; but also introducing us to a ton of people you’ve never heard of, whose contributions sometimes outweigh the usual contenders – check With Throats As Fine As Needles, Area C, Matt De Gennaro (okay, he’s actually pretty established but I’d never heard him before), Alligator Crystal Moth, etc. There’re seven and half hours of music to be found here, so needless to say I’ve barely scratched the surface of this sucker, despite getting it last year. I’ve got a feeling it’s gonna sit in my LISTEN TO THIS SHIT pile by my stereo for a good while longer yet. Essential listening if you’ve got any interest in drone elegy or any of the artists currently operating near the fringes of musical exploration.

Seht – “Federacy Boot” (PseudoArcana)
Seht is one increasingly prolific man from New Zealand called Stephen Clover, who specialises in tweaked-out dronescapes and experiments in layers of manipulated and time-stretched sounds. This is one of his latest, and as good as any of Clover’s others. My personal favourite so far is the church organ-driven pileup of “Nova Bonalbo” that came out on musicyourmindwillloveyou a month or two back, but this one’s just as worth tracking down. He’s also on the Invisible Pyramid box.

Paul Flaherty & Chris Corsano – “The Beloved Music” (Family Vineyard)
Three heart-stoppin’ sax/drums free jazz workouts here, recorded live in all their gut-bustin’ glory. Two modern jazz deities playing together at their best: Flaherty’s a master of his instrument, and if you haven’t had the opportunity to see Chris Corsano drum in one of the myriad of projects he’s embarked upon since moving to Manchester last year, I suggest you do so as soon as possible. There is some real joyful hammering going on here, and it’s just as good as their last one together, “Last Eyes”.

Steve Baczkowski, Paul Flaherty & Chris Corsano – “The Dim Bulb” (Wet Paint)
Flaherty and Corsano are joined by a baritone sax blower here, with Flaherty switching between tenor and alto sax as complement. This one is wilder and maybe harder to get to grips with as there’s so much going on. Still gloriously headswimming music though; well worth checking out if you’ve heard and enjoyed any of these fuckers’ other stuff. The last track’s almost half an hour long and will bust your skull open with gamma-ray intensity if you’re not careful. On Flaherty’s own label to boot.

Steve Baczkowski & Ravi Padmanabha – “Tongue Rust & Lead Moth” (Utech)
Here is Baczkowski collaborating with a fascinating drum/tabla player who takes a far less cacophonic and pounding approach than Corsano; instead taking the opportunity to explore gentler/abstract territories, whilst still finding time to rip shit up now and again. Whilst the two releases above mostly deal with 10-15 minute blowouts, this CD features far more concise and exploratory affairs. Perfect for when “The Beloved Music” has been blowing your brains out through your ears just a little too hard recently.

V/A – “Sound Surrounds Us” Vol.3 (musicyourmindwillloveyou)
Latest volume from an excellent underground label that collects disparate bedroom-based dronologists and freak-folk, uh, freaks and sticks them together to show beauteous harmony resonates around the world. 4 long-form pieces on display here, featuring the latest great white hopes of New Zealand-based oddness, the Brothers of the Occult Sisterhood (two siblings make spontaneous and really rather pretty murkscapes); the UK’s own promising ambient conquistadors, Rameses III (who have previously trod a thin line between prettiness and cheese but do a lovely 20-minute slab of groaning beauty here); some new crazed Finnish kids on the block called ffehro (more drug-crazed rituals in thick forests of broken instruments); and finally Foxy Digitalis honcho Brad Wood turning up in what might be his most musically aggressive outfit yet as part of Ajilvsga (just plain fucken wierd).

Dinosaur Jr – “Where You Been?” (Blanco Y Negro)
Okay, this is far from new or even recent, but my Dinosaur knowledge is potted at best and I saw this old ‘un on my flatmate’s shelf, so I had to nab it for a few spins and an update. Some amazing Mascis blowouts/solos on here, hoppin’ that fine line between cheese-fest and fuckin’ ROCKIN’ out. The best thing about this album is definitely the falsetto backing vocals though – so fricken sweet.

Jesu – “Silver” EP (Hydrahead)
In some ways this is a real turn-up for the books; in others it’s still the genius of Justin K. Broadrick enduring as he explores new pastures. The same huge downer grind of the first Jesu album remains, but the first two tracks on this EP will shock you with the amount of melody and unprocessed, actually sung vocals. The second track, ‘Star’, is even pretty fast, and almost sounds like mid-’90s post-hardcore straight outta the better output of Jawbreaker or something of that ilk. Except with supremely heavy guitars lathered all over it, of course. Christ, this is almost pop music. Whatever the case, it deserves to spend all summer at number one, with Broadrick’s guitar amps flattening the Top Of The Pops studio audience week-in, week-out. Really, really fucking good – if you’ve had any interest in Godflesh/Jesu/Broadrick in the past, you HAVE to hear this.

Moss – “Cthonic Rites” (Aurora Borealis)
I’ve never encountered a band’s self-description that’s quite so apt: “Nihilistic Extreme Doom”. Massively downtuned, bowel-scrapingly slow guitar and drums back some unearthly shrieked vokills for two songs in the space of about an hour. Impressively heavy considering they don’t have a bassist, and probably the most depressing record I’ve ever heard: really sucks the life out of you. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends entirely on your attitude.

James Blackshaw – “O True Believers” (Important)
Blackshaw’s only been around a short while, but with every release he’s been getting more and more impressive. This could be considered to be his first ‘proper’ CD album, and yet again it’s a winner. Blissed-out 12-string guitar ragas extend their tendrils into your soul and bathe it in light, with each of James’ dextrous fingers plucking your heart’s chords until you reach ecstasy. Well, something like that anyway. If you’ve been hearing about or digging folks like Jack Rose or Six Organs of Admittance, this guy is the one you should hear. [Plug alert:] Conveniently, James is playing the Oats & Groats Festival in a gorgeous country park Leeds this July, which sounds like extremely salubrious conditions in which to experience him. Check out www.oatsandgroats.co.uk.

Jonathan Coleclough & Lethe – “Long Heat” (ICR)
Coleclough is king of drone texture/manipulation if you ask me – previous work such as “Period” and “Beech for John and Miho” are evidence of such – and this is his latest collaboration, recording and processing some cavernous reverberations of Lethe working with pieces of metal in a huge room. The album proper is a surprisingly dramatic work, sporting ominously deep drones and some unexpected shifts and stops in sound that will shock anyone used to nodding out to previous Coleclough zen-like hymns. The second CD included with the limited ‘special edition’ is far more serene however, and I think I actually prefer it for that.

Steven R. Smith – “Kohl” (Emperor Jones – reissue)
Smith might be better known as part of the Jewelled Anter collective; or a member of the fantastic nature-driven droners Thuja; or by his Hala Strana project of reinterpreting old Eastern European folk songs; or possibly by his old rollickin’ psych-rock band Mirza. He’s also done a boatload of solo recordings down the years, usually in stupidly limited numbers. Thankfully, Emperor Jones have followed up their release of the third(?) Thuja album a couple of years back by making one of Smith’s most celebrated releases available for the masses outside the CDR fanclub; and boy, is it a doozy.

I find it difficult to describe Smith’s music to any satisfaction because I find his playing so evocative and affecting. When he plays under his own name it almost always is him playing an instrument solo – usually a guitar that may or may not be affected with distortion and/or delay, and always with a patience and lyrical style that immediately draw you in. Though he may not be as flashy or have the chops of someone like Rose or Chasny, I find myself far more emotionally involved with Smith’s carefully-chosen sparse pluckings, and this is sublime stuff. Oh yeah, Smith pops up on that fiendish Invisible Pyramid box too. The Bastid.

Sonny Sharrock – “Black Woman” (Four Men With Beards – reissue)
If you ever get the chance, ask Chris to tell you all about how amazing this album is. Awe-inspiring guitar-driven free jazz with some startling vocals by Sonny’s then-wife Linda, it really needs to be heard to be believed. Sometimes I think it’s a bit of a shambling mess; others I think it’s one of the greatest records ever made. The second half especially is flabbergasting, containing my favouritest bit of solo guitar playing in Sharrock’s signature tune ‘Blind Willie’, and the triumphant storming of heaven in the closer “Portrait of Linda in Three Colours, All Black”. You must hear this record, which has thankfully reissued onto some satisfyingly heavy vinyl with liner notes by Byron Coley. Get it.

Magik Markers – “For Sada Jane” (Textile)
Got this newest splurge from the Markers last week, and it’ll bewilder whether you’ve heard previous efforts or not. It’s still great stuff – four murky K-holed hymns of alienation, only one of which is performed by the “classic” line-up of Elisa, Leah and Pete. Numerous guests abound, and two songs are even acoustic ferchrissakes! Less Confusion Is Sex and more super-damaged outsider folk, I’m told. Pretty danged awesome though.

Stuckometer/Milk Teeth – split c30 (Hearing Aid)
Brand new and some hot fucking shit from two outfits currently laying waste to ears all over Manchester, which was never lucky enough to have such excitement when I lived there. Stuckometer have been going since last year and rip out a furiously insistent jam of heavy-hitting clattering drums, heaving bass and two splattering dischordant guitars going batshit on their side – if you’d seen them do this live you would’ve sworn they piss all over any other “free improv” (or “post-lightning bolt”, as I once saw them described) rock bands you might’ve seen in the last year. Really inspired/chaotic shit. Milk Teeth are a collaboration between Barry of Stuckometer and Smear Campaign (aka Stuart) doing some really fierce power electronics experimentation that comes across like a hot poker caressing your spine. I was really impressed by how harsh these fuckers are. Great stuff, and the spray-painted cassette comes in a hand-stitched denim sleeve to boot. Viva le Manchester renaissance!

Dave Stockwell

David can always be relied on to end his e-mails with one of those 'np: blah blah' things in order to remind us of how much more music he listens to every day than anybody else. His interests include rockin ' out in a major style as guitarist in Souvaris, throwing frisbees from tall buildings "just to see what happens" and simply kickin' back with his bitches in a gold-plated jacuzzi.


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