Friday, February 27, 2009

Gown | On The River

Upon a first listen this dude struck me as somewhat different than the rest of the people in the trailer park. The vocals are prominent in the mix, and there's some very traditional elements going on with the guitar work, but there's also plenty of scuzz and weirdness going on as well, which balances everything out nicely.

Gown is Andrew Mcgregor, who messes around in Bark Haze, owns a burrow owl, and hooks up with Thurston Moore, so you know he's got the creativity going on. On The River came out last year in a limited edition Cdr of 130, and might be hard to find now, but I've solved that for you, so there's no excuses. Trust me, this is well worth taking a few minutes out of your day to check out.

stop, collaborate and listen.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Crazy Dreams Band | ST

A truly unexpected going against the grain with just enough grounding in tradition to keep the entire ship from blowing off course and sinking at sea, Crazy Dreams Band mixes Siouxsie type beauty and eeriness with Elizabeth Fraser type ambiguity, Devo-ish type geekiness, and Janis Joplin style abandon. And while there are tons of comparisons to be made, and while Lexie Mountain grooves to the sound of an all together different synthesizer, these anachronistic qualities in no way detract from the overall originality of this album.

Bridging the gap between the hippies and punks while making inroads with the new-wavers and post punks, Crazy Dreams Band produces mostly fun, but in some places haunting dance tunes which might play well at a break dance full of schizophrenics tripping on kif or with a classroom full of attention deficit disorders who've been without Ritalin for a few days while being forced to watch Richard Simmons videos.

Weaving its way through a maze of space junk, waxing and waning like a killing moon, and seeing through a looking glass which peers back into a different time and place while also gazing into the future, Lexie and crew provide utmost listening pleasure for those who are willing to slightly alter their perceptions of what music has been and what music can be. For me this is a refreshing change of pace from some of the minimal musics that are monopolizing the sound scape today, and it's no surprise that the eclectic, but consistent Holy Mountain label has put this doozie out for us to enjoy over repeated listens.

You really should purchase this, because all things considered and comparatively speaking, it's pretty darn cheap.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

W=O=R=D | Kurkov - Death and the Penguin

A sentimental story of a penguin named Misha, and a young girl named Sonya is horrifically complicated by human and adult machinations such as burglars being dismembered by land mines, fateful obituaries written by the protagonist Viktor Alekseyevich Zolotaryov, and Russian Mafia hits, which all help blur the boundaries between Viktor's total denial of his precarious position on this planet, and his fondness for pet Misha, Sonya (a co-conspiritor's daughter), and newfound friend Sergey.

On the most obvious level, Viktor's dealings with his work, and the subsequent problems that arise from that work, make up the meat of the book. On another level, the penguin Misha, who just happens to appear waddling through the madness and "pops" up at the most opportune times creates a surreal comedic relief, while the precocious, endearing character of Sonya helps keep us warm inside, despite the cold Russian winter that seems to seep into the story and off the page with an unrelenting chill.

As we fear for what may be in store for our newly formed and curious family, the story edges closer to the thin ice, and we hear a creaking, but as with all good literature, things are probably not what they seem, and endings are not so tidy. Death and the Penguin is a fairly easy read, but don't let that fool you, as there is much going on between the lines, and it says just enough about the human condition and human nature to foment reflection without being didactic.

Vineland has also been on my reading list for a while, and I'm currently winding my way through it's "out-there" maze. This is not Pynchon at his best, but a fun read as usual. I would actually rank it 3rd on my list of Pynchon novels I've read so far, with Gravity's Rainbow first, followed by The Crying of Lot 39, then Vineland and then Mason & Dixon. I'll have to reserve final judgment until I completely finish it.

Oh yeah, also just picked up Patrick Mcgrath's Blood and Water and Other Tales, and read the first story, The Angel, with it's killer ending all bizarre and fucked up and meaningful and which has me all excited to get to the next story. I got the paperback for $1.00 + shipping off Amazon Marketplace. That place is amazing, and you can find just about any book you're looking for on the cheap. While the pages are yellowed, it's still in good condition and who really gives a fuck about that anyway, as the content is what it's all about.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Skullflower | Rift

I went through a period in the early 90's when I was grabbing the most obscure shit I could find through mail order. At that time, obviously, Al Gore hadn't invented the internet (at least as we now know it), thus there weren't any blogs, and I lived in southeastern Oklahoma, so there weren't that many, actually, there weren't ANY folks interested in listening to noise rock, so I did what I could to find the coolest shit I could.

At the time I dug this record for it's "out-there" qualities, but it sounded like pure noise, and I never really delineated the instruments/voices etc. in my mind. Over time I've grown to appreciate it much more, and it frequently finds itself rotating through my play lists, so here's to some good old fashion psych-noise to get your toes a tappin'.

Track one, Rift, is good in it's own right, but Avalanche kicks out the fucking jams with some endless psych soloing and morphed vocal insanity all layered over, under and through some killer riffage and rumbling undercurrents of turbulent harsh noise. The improv-noise end of the underground spectrum has come a ways since the early 90's, but you will be hard pressed to find anything that comes close to this shit now.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Real Ale Sisyphus

I have thoroughly enjoyed all the previous Real Ale brews I've tried, and I approach this one with much anticipation. This 2007 vintage pours cherry red with some orange hues. The head grows to almost one finger in height, but not until the very end of the pour, and it recedes quickly with some disorganized spots of lacing left behind. The smell of very sweet caramel and resiny hops mix as some dark fruits, yeast and grain move around underneath. A faint musty earthiness is detected.

The hops don't hit upon the first sip as much as they linger throughout the palate. There's a good amount of fruity tanginess and bready sweetness which balances things perfectly, and doesn't keep the barley and pine resin from surfacing toward the end. The body lies toward the medium to heavy end, but it's goes down smooth, without much alcohol (11.5%) being noticed, and without weighing too much on the stomach. This is an exceptional barleywine that doesn't seem as extreme tasting as it's alcohol content would suggest, and whose components work in concert without individual extravagances.

Hijokaidan | Noise from Trading Cards

For some reason this one seems to be conspicuously absent from the blogosphere, and seeing how it's apparently OOP, I figure it deserves to be listened to just as much as any of the other million downloads out there. Do you ever feel like this shit is just too easy these days? I don't know. I'm on the fence. On the one hand I'm so stoked that so many great sounds are available, but on the other hand it seems like the availability is overwhelming, and a bit too easy. I've got a word pad list as long as my arm with stuff I've downloaded and need to listen to, which isn't a big problem, but it is what it is. In the long run, I suppose there will always be value in the actual physical product, especially with the limited edition stuff. So maybe I should just enjoy the music, and quit over-fucking-analyzing everything.

Hijokaidan's most popular release (which might not be saying much) may not be as relentless and unwavering as some of their other fine exhibits of noise, but it's a good punch in the gut or flick of the balls that creates that long, drawn out ache that seems to linger somewhere between extreme pain and an unyielding and highly bothersome disturbance of comfort. And despite issues of desensitization, this music is, has been, and probably always will be food for the soul of masochistic noise fans.

This type of noise seeks out the sensitive parts of our psyche and body as a sort of psychosomatic virus coded to invade and conquer our better sensibilities while belying the mask of convention and betraying common-sense. That is, rather than putting on something sane you continue to hear/listen to the insanity, and rather than following that wise voice in your head that says "turn that shit down", you continue to turn it up.

Individual Japanese noise outfits seem to create (and seemed to have created) from a common thread/goal/method, while also unraveling that thread with each destruction of expectation and every minute of ostensible senselessness, going in a thousand different directions, eventually somehow resolving their fits of chaos, turning them into manageable textures and sounds, eventually engendering unique sound through chaos. Hijokaidan seem to be the paradigm of this model, which is not surprising, as there is an incestuous ancestry in Japanese noise of this type.

Noise From Trading Cards came out in 1997, 16 years after their first release, so it is fair to say some sort of realization, but not exactly progression had been made in that time. And despite the unspoken ethics of noise, which are not so much concerned with progression or maturation as with experiment and form, it can be safe to assume some sort of development in sound was sought after, and achieved, as that is the nature of the artistic beast. That being said, do not fear that Noise From Trading Cards in any way softens the blows or moves too far away from the intensity of sound that Hijokaidan is known for, because the only thing to fear in this realm of sound is that the aural kick in the balls just might rupture something.

Bleed your ears.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Left Hand Chainsaw Ale

I have always been a big fan of the Left Hand Sawtooth Ale due to the fact that it retains drinkability (not the Bud Light kind) while maintaining a hearty taste, so I've been looking forward to getting my hands the Chainsaw Ale (or Double Sawtooth). Here I'm reviewing the 2008 vintage.

There's a good amount of sediment in the bottom of the bottle that mixes up after a little bit the usual before pour handling. The pour is a hazy ruby red that is finished off with a one and a half finger, quickly fading light tan head. A few splotches of lace are left on one side of the glass. The aroma is big on sour cherries up front, then comes some figs, yeast, and burnt sugar. The aroma is deep, bold, and somewhat gnarly. The taste involves some toasted malts, dark fruits, subtle hops, bubblegum, and taffy. A bit of astringency exists. Mouth-feel is medium to full-bodied, and goes down just a little uneven, but nothing too extreme.

Left Hand makes some great brews, and seeing as they're one of the first Craft brewers I really started following, I have a lot of nostalgia for them. That being said, some of their bigger brews, while getting high marks on complexity and taste, lack just a little too much in the balance department to get them to that next tier of brews.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Emeralds | What Happened

As you read about What Happened across the blogosphere, and you hear about it (and hear it) on podcasts galore, and now reviews of it are popping up like ads on a porn site, you realize that Emeralds most recent release might possibly be the most buzzed about underground album of the year so far. I don’t know if that is necessarily saying much, as things seem to be taking off kind of slow in 09’, but if trends in Emeralds history hold true, all the buzz is probably warranted. I guess there’s only one way to find out though. So let’s give it a listen.

Track one, Alive in the Sea of Information floats on a bubbly and active sea of electronics, moving in many directions, and is less static than most of the Emeralds earlier output; although there still exists an undercurrent of drone ambience that makes itself more palpable about half way through the track. One of the first things I notice is the clarity of the various sounds/elements of the track. They are separate and distinct, as the production on What Happened is clearly moving toward a cleanliness is next to godliness aesthetic. Toward the end of the track there is a reflective moment where all is contained in a slow fading out of the sounds, and I am moved. Damaged Kids creeps us out and continues restless through a spacey weirdness which pulsates through depths pierced by clicks and blips and synth-waves that grow in power and feed on themselves, layer building upon layer until all their energies are expelled. This is an uber-planetary-prog exploration which traps us in sheer moments of bliss, but eventually lets us float away. Up In the Air and Living Room create an indelible laser-etching in our minds eye of the beautiful abstract landscape painting which is What Happened, and form the almost pure ambient backbone, mixed with some subtle post-rock like guitar wanderings, upon which the rest of the album rests. Disappearing Ink ends the journey with even more dream-like guitar which lightens the mood and eventually meanders back into a sanctuary of psychedelic light which shines through stained glass etched with saints as well as sinners.

In a recent Tiny Mix Tapes interview, Steve Hauschildt (a member of the trio, along with Mark Mcguire and John Elliot) states, "It’s good to be prolific, and it’s good to always be playing; however, I think you’ve gotta have a lot of discretion." So what exactly does this mean, and why the change of heart? Have Emeralds slowed down in their old age? No, it can’t be that, as they haven't (comparably speaking) been around that long. That's not to say that by looking at their already vast discography, you might be guilty of thinking they are godfathers of the new avant-drone. But actually, the answer probably lies somewhere between a good sense of career history trajectories of previous artists who have managed to stay alive in a vast underground, while also maintaining artistic integrity over time, mixed with a good perception of place, a good sense of personal artistic progression, and also a moving toward minimizing output, at the expense of excess, while focusing all their creative energies on releases that make stronger statements not only due to their content, but also due to their new-found salience in smaller numbers. This is a rise to prominence of content and form through diminution of releases.

Now, all that being said, fucking watch them go out and release 20 cassettes this year. Even if that were the case, releases such as What Happened and last years excellent Solar Bridge will always stand out if not just for the larger scale of the release numbers wise, but the format (CD) of the release. That being said, can we say "discretion" is the better part of valor on What Happened? And does it deserve all the buzz it's getting throughout the webosphere? Well, the answer is a resounding yes, and I'm not going to make any apologies for or against fan bias or bandwagonning, as What Happened is not only a positive step forward for Emeralds, but for current underground music scenes in general. What Happened is a reworking of the old with a good injection of new sensibility. A good ear for tradition, and a good mind for exploration and progression have served Emeralds well.

Overall, What Happened reminds me more of Hauschuldt's solo Rapt for Liquid Minister than Solar Bridge, but it's still distinctly Emeralds, and as we proceed through what is likely going to be a rough, uneven, and possibly even painful year ahead, we can take comfort in knowing some folks out there haven't forgotten how to make us feel better through exceptional art.