Monday, June 28, 2010

American Bandages - (1984,2002)

American Bandages is an album of American rock classics as interpreted by Nash. He enlisted the help of his former FM collaborators Cameron Hawkins (keyboards) and Martin Deller (drums), and the album was released in 1984. The album was aimed at the US market, but due to distribution and management problems, including a change in record labels (to MCA, after Quality Records folded in 1985), it never got the exposure Nash thought it deserved. For all it's rock'n'roll flash, the music is still alive with chittering oddities and sneaky synthi-shorts. The up-front drum programs put a commanding final touch to it all. Expertly crafted gut-gripping stuff.

Into The Vortex - (1994)

If Hammerhead's debut was to alternative rock what Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer was to independent film — a harrowing glimpse into the cold, hard heart of darkness — Into the Vortex is more like Quentin Tarantino's equally violent, but more sophisticated Reservoir Dogs. On their sophomore release, the band applies a greater degree of finesse to their bloodthirsty din. Although the record pummels as hard as their 1993 debut, Ethereal Killer, vocals have become a bigger part of the equation and the pace isn't quite so unrelenting. Comparisons to fellow Amrep outfit Helmet, before they went off into a more metal-oriented direction, would not be misplaced. The song "All This Is Yours" has come to define the now-Minneapolis-based trio with lines like, "I wash my hands of this dirty world/It makes whores out of pretty girls." Guitarist/vocalist Paul Sanders sounds as if he's channeling the Laughing Hyenas' John Brannon (one of the top throat-shredders of the 1990s, if not all time). Other numbers, like the opening track, "Swallow," explore the roots of violence ("My mother she hates me/Turned my father against me"), while "Zesta" ("Live alone/Die alone") is nihilism boiled down to its purest essence. "Galaxy 66," on the other hand, proves that these three ordinary-looking Midwestern cats could kick the jams out just as hard without any lyrics at all (and without getting too "proggy" in the process). Into the Vortex indeed.

Duck Stab/Buster And Glen - (1978)

Sandwiched in between Third Reich and Roll, Eskimo, and The Commercial Album, Duck Stab/Buster & Glen hasn't always received the fanfare of other late-'70s Residents material. It's one of the few that isn't a concept album and probably the least experimental of the bunch. Still, it's quintessential Residents' rock — which is to say, it's like nothing else on the planet. Few of the songs last longer than a couple of minutes, and only a few instruments can be heard at any given time. Rather than relying on guitars, the Residents stick to the relatively primitive synthesizers and electronic gadgets of their time. Chorus chants on "Bach Is Dead" meet with a melody that sounds like a cross between a sixth grader playing recorder and someone scratching on a balloon. Snakefinger's nasally vocals fit in all too well with their high-pitched electronica, which then somehow merges with funereal marching percussion. It seems annoying and stupid at first, but over time you feel compelled to listen again and again. Such is the glory of the Residents!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Steamin' With The Miles Davis Quintet - (1961)

Although chronologically the last to be issued, this collection includes some of the best performances from the tapes which would produce the albums Cookin', Relaxin', Workin', and ultimately, Steamin'. A primary consideration of these fruitful sessions is the caliber of musicians — Miles Davis (trumpet), Red Garland (piano), John Coltrane (tenor sax), and Philly Joe Jones (drums) — who were basically doing their stage act in the studio. As actively performing musicians, the material they are most intimate with would be their live repertoire. Likewise, what more obvious place than a studio is there to capture every inescapable audible nuance of the combo's musical group mind. The end results are consistently astonishing. At the center of Steamin', as with most outings by this band, are the group improvisations which consist of solo upon solo of arguably the sweetest and otherwise most swinging interactions known to have existed between musicians. "Surrey With the Fringe on Top" is passed between the mates like an old joke. Garland compliments threads started by Davis and Coltrane as their seamless interaction yields a stream of strikingly lyrical passages. There are two well-placed nods to fellow bop pioneers Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie on a revision of their "Salt Peanuts." Philly Joe Jones' mimicking cymbal speak — which replicates Gillespie's original vocals — is nothing short of genius. This rendition is definitely as crazy and unpredictable here as the original. Thelonious Monk also gets kudos on "Well, You Needn't." This quintet makes short work of the intricacies of the arrangement, adding the double horn lead on the choruses and ultimately redefining this jazz standard. Although there is no original material on Steamin', it may best represent the ability of the Miles Davis quintet to take standards and rebuild them to suit their qualifications. (

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I Am Come - (2005)

Nothing warms the earholes like a seemingly endless avalanche of white noise, which is precisely how Part Chimp kick things off on their 2005 sophomore full-length, I Am Come. Comparable to a jam session between Sonic Youth (especially the guitar work) and Lightning Bolt (the high volume and drum bashing), these U.K. noise mongers obviously enjoy pushing sonics to the max. Rising from the ashes of an obscure band, Ligament, the group has earned quite a few accolades back home (including the praise of Kerrang magazine), has performed on a John Peel BBC session and XFM radio, and was signed by Mogwai's label, Rock Action. But I Am Come shows that there is more here than just mere hype. A constant onslaught from beginning to end, standouts include "War Machine," "Punishment Ride," and "30,000 People," the latter of which is best described as if the aforementioned Sonic Youth were fronted by a hardcore barker.

Black Noise - (2010)

Since his second full-length as Pantha du Prince, 2007's truly sublime, duly acclaimed This Bliss, Henrik Weber has gradually expanded his profile beyond the traditional confines of the minimal electronic realm, turning in remixes for the likes of Animal Collective, Bloc Party, and the Long Blondes and, in 2009, making the surprising shift from Hamburg's Dial Records to venerable indie rock label Rough Trade, hardly an imprint known for its electronica output. Black Noise, his first album for Rough Trade, bolsters those indie credentials further with a couple of guest spots: !!!'s Tyler Pope plays bass on one cut, and Noah Lennox (Panda Bear, Animal Collective) sings on another. "Why stick to the things that I've already tried?," Lennox muses in his drippy, hazily harmonized fashion on the typically lovely "Stick to My Side" — and indeed, why shouldn't we expect Weber to branch out a bit? As it happens, though, Lenox's vocals are about the extent of the overt musical innovation on offer here. (For what its worth, Pope's bass on "The Splendour" fails to leave any impression, although the track manages to acquit itself of its rather aggrandizing title quite nicely.) Partisans of the Pantha of old needn't be too concerned (and, by the same token, those intrigued by the possibilities of a more indie-infused Pantha record may be disappointed) because Black Noise does overwhelmingly stick to the tried and true. Which is hardly a cause for complaint. Weber is truly a master of mood and texture, one of few techno/minimal/microhouse producers working with an unmistakable signature sound, and all of his hallmarks are present and accounted for: the shimmering chimes and bells, muffled clicks, woozily atmospheric synth, and deep, dubby bass, set against sturdy but subdued pulsing house grooves, all of which make his music, almost uncannily, equally well-suited to dancefloors and dreamscapes. He has a few slight sonic twists up his sleeve — "Abglanz" introduces a figure played on what sounds like a steel drum, and "Behind the Stars" brings on the grinding electro keyboards and dark, distorted vocals, recalling the "micro-goth" tag sometimes applied to his earlier work, while the brief, beatless "Im Bann" is all languid guitar strums, thick hypnotic haze, and a muffled crunching sound like footsteps in the snow — but nothing here would have sounded out of place on This Bliss, and a few tracks, like "Bohemian Forest," whose melodic twinklings feel a bit like Pantha-by-numbers here, could well have been standouts on that record. With its generally well-conceived but vaguely non-committal-feeling gestures toward expanding Pantha du Prince's musical range, Black Noise can't help but feel ever so slightly like a letdown after the consistently mesmerizing rapture of its predecessor. But make no mistake: Weber is still making some of the most enchanting electronica out there, and if this album brings him the increased exposure for which he seems well-poised, there are few producers more deserving. (

Monday, June 14, 2010

You Made Me Realise EP - (1988)

You Made Me Realise was the circa-Isn't Anything EP that made critics stand up and take notice of the brilliant things My Bloody Valentine were up to; it developed some of the stunning guitar sounds that would become the band's trademark, and features tracks which (while more pop-oriented than those of Isn't Anything) are just as innovative. Thankfully, both You Made Me Realise and Feed Me With Your Kiss (the band's other Isn't Anything single) aren't as difficult to find as their earlier work — between the two of them, there's practically an album's worth of work. Each of the five tracks on this EP are worth hearing — standouts are the incredible title track, "Slow," and "Thorn."

Halo - (2009)

Formed in Berlin, Germany, in 2008, Celan is a sort of experimental rock supergroup and side project formed by members of other bands: Chris Spencer from Unsane; keyboard player Ari Benjamin Meyers from Einstürzende Neubauten; Franz Xaver and Phil Roeder, the rhythm section from; and guitarist Niko Wenner from Oxbow. The group announced its existence by posting tracks on its Myspace page ( Exile on Mainstream Records released their debut album, Halo, on September 1, 2009, and they launched a three-week tour of Europe later in the month.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Sexy Pee Story - (1993)

With an album title that sounds as though it was made up by a four-year-old, this follow-up to Cunning Stunts showed the Cows hitting their stride, producing another terrific, noisy, clamorous record stuffed to the gills with pure punk rock excitement. Never ones to miss an opportunity for humor, included on this disc is a great cover of "39 Lashes" from Jesus Christ Superstar, lyrics ("1, 2, 3, 4...") included. (

The Bride Screamed Murder - (2010)

At this point in the Melvins career, they can do pretty much whatever. Even if this means starting an album with a call-and-response track in the style of Adam Ant, complete with military cadence vocals and an extended drum solo. At the same time, withstanding some strange experimentation — including a steamy a cappella version of the Canadian folksong “Peggy Gordon” and a sludged-out, seven-and-a-half-minute cover of the Who’s “My Generation” — The Bride Screamed Murder is surprisingly accessible. Their 20th (or so) studio album ranks right alongside Senile Animal and Nude with Boots, the two prior full-lengths completed with Big Business’s Jared Warren and Coady Willis. "Inhumanity and Death," "Evil New War God," and "I’ll Finish You Off" feature some seriously meaty grooves, with dual drumming and drop-D powerhouse chunk alongside classic metal yells and moonlit howling. When things start going off the deep end in the group’s ventures into abstract realms, brightly sung vocal melodies smash through and accentuate the gloomy comic book noir with splashes of fiery red. Sure, the Melvins are brutish, but they’re having a lot of fun. (

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Secret Base - (2010)

The Secret Base starts up at full throttle, straight into a raw-sounding live outing, with Mick Flower's overdriven guitar occupying the same sonic space that gives his Japan banjo / shaahi baaja workouts with Chris Corsano their urgency. The sound is dark and rough, almost Xpressway-like in its claustrophobic atmosphere. The percolating Krautrock stylings of 'If You Can't Smoke 'Em' chugs along hypnotically for over 13 minutes to close out the side. The entire B-side's 20+ minutes are devoted to the clanging free sound of 'Eyes of Wood,' where gamelan-like metal percussion dominates the proceedings.

2x4 - (1984)

This is a first-time CD issue of live material from Einstürzende Neubaten's early-'80s European concerts. This entire recording was performed prior to their U.S. debut in 1984. The presentation is effective in capturing their organized chaos. Not only their effect on industrial music, but their premonitions in applying ambient and world music voices can be heard here. Surprisingly compositional and collectively whole, it is obvious why 20,000 copies of the cassette edition were sold. A darkly beautiful, orchestrated collision of deep rhythms and debris are pressed into service as music.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"Stranger Than Paradise" Music From The Original Score - (1985)

John Lurie has never minded throwing curveballs at crowds, and his filmmaker pal Jim Jarmusch has made a career of doing so. When they got together for Lurie to act in and compose music for Stranger than Paradise (and, of course, Down by Law), the combo worked like magic. Lurie's aloof distance on screen was well matched with his own music for string quartet, much of it crossing wires between the eerie and the aloof. There's a sense of strangeness in the music, played wonderfully by the Paradise Quartet, with Eugene Moye eking every burnished texture under the sun from his cello. When it comes time to tackle the 16-minute Resurrection of Albert Ayler, the Paradise Quartet's violinists Jill Jaffee and Mary Rowell help set an atmosphere not unlike Ayler's Live in Greenwich Village band. With two percussionists, a kit drummer, Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, Arto Lindsay on guitar, and himself on alto and soprano saxes, Lurie imagines Ayler's supersimple melodic sensibility correctly, as a launching pad for improvisation and expression. That said, Resurrection doesn't ultimately soar like Ayler but instead generates drifting clouds of low strings and percussion.

The Gentlemen Losers - (2006)

For its inaugural release, the City Centre Offices subsidiary Büro introduced the Gentlemen Losers, a peaceful post-rock duo from Finland. Past the short walk-in "An Empire of Coins," one immediately thinks of Mogwai and Below the Sea — for the laid-back feel, the slight melancholia, and the medium durations — with a touch of Low's post-Morricone twang. All these elements are found in the first few tracks, "Gold Dust Afternoon" and "Slow Guitars" standing out as highlights (and the guitars are not the only slow instruments: piano, glockenspiel, and bassoon also crawl around in that particular piece). Further down the track list, the Kuukka brothers remind listeners of their Scandinavian roots; the pastoral hymn "Laureline" and the particular melodicism of "Light Fandango" evoke Bo Hansson and the duo Sagor & Swing. Samu Kuukka's keyboards and Ville Kuukka's acoustic and electric guitars are backed by beatboxes, real drums, and mallet percussion, all providing a diverse and changing sound palette. Even though the Gentlemen Losers' debut clearly operates within the limits of a specific style, it offers a lot to like, from seducing melodies to intelligent arrangements — and it is less bleak than most albums in that vein. A strong first effort from a group worth keeping an ear toward.

De La Soul Is Dead - (1991)

On their notorious second album, De La Soul went to great lengths to debunk the daisy-age hippie image they'd been pigeonholed with, titling the record De La Soul Is Dead and putting a picture of wilting daisies in a broken flowerpot on the cover. Critics and fans alike were puzzled as to why the group was seemingly rejecting what had been hailed as the future of hip-hop, and neither the reviews nor the charts were kind to the album. It isn't that De La try to remake their sound here — Dead keeps the skit-heavy structure of the debut, and the surreal tone and inventive sampling techniques are still very much in evidence. But, despite a few lighthearted moments ("Bitties in the BK Lounge," the disco-flavored "A Roller Skating Jam Named 'Saturdays'"), a distinct note of bitterness has crept into De La's once-sunny outlook. On the one hand, they're willing to take on more serious subject matter; two of the album's most powerful moments are the unsettling incest tale "Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa" and Posdnuos' drug-addiction chronicle "My Brother's a Basehead," both true-life occurrences. Yet other tracks betray a brittle, insular state of mind; one running skit features a group of street thugs who ultimately throw the album in the trash for not having enough pimps, guns, or curse words. There are vicious parodies of hip-house and hardcore rap, and the single "Ring Ring Ring (Ha Ha Hey)" complains about being harassed into listening to lousy demo tapes. Plus, the negativity of the bizarre, half-sung "Johnny's Dead" and the hostile narrator on "Who Do U Worship?" seemingly comes out of nowhere. Dead is clearly the product of a group staggering under the weight of expectations, yet even if it's less cohesive and engaging, it's still often fascinating in spite of its flaws. (

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Psychic Hearts - (1995)

It was inevitable that Thurston Moore's first solo offering would sound a bit like Sonic Youth, considering how integral his guitar playing and singing are to the band's sound. What is surprising about Psychic Hearts is how Moore twists his standard lexicon of detatched vocals, dissonant guitar lines, and deliberately obscure musical/lyrical references into something resembling pop music, which is something Sonic Youth has rarely been able to achieve. Fourteen of the album's 15 tracks are built around concise, angular guitar hooks complemented by Moore's unashamed, nearly melodic vocals. "Elegy for All the Dead Rock Stars" is a 20-minute instrumental, which is measured and evenly paced, surging toward a gentle conclusion. Psychic Hearts displays a softer, more reflective side of a musician known for his passion for disguising his emotions and ideas in noise.

Big A Little a - (2004)

Aa is a musical project from Brooklyn, New York. The core members are Aron Wahl, Josh Bonati, and John Atkinson each of whom play percussive instruments and synthesizers. The group has released three full-length albums, and appeared on several compilations. Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore wrote of them "Aa (Big A little a) has a very swank one-sided LP out on Narnack. It has a very beautiful way of shifting its center in unexpected ways. The single side of music is a fat tableau of the kindsa sounds that young people should be making and enjoying in bistros from here to Kalamazoo. Here they club out bite-sized hunks of neo-no, new-wave-electro-murk, disco-noise readymades, French duck calls and a buncha other stuff. And it sounds quite pleasing!"

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