Saturday, January 28, 2012

Blancmange - Irene and Mavis (Blaah, 1980)

Blancmange formed in Middlesex, England, 1979, is Neil Arthur and Stephen Lunscombe. They recorded this short run EP of synth pop, eastern rhythms and no wave aesthetic. The simplicity of this release makes it beautiful. Its a light-hearted romp through laidback yet dancey, goofy yet elegant off kilter pop.

They did manage to get included on the Some Bizarre album with Soft Cell and Depeche Mode, and they did get a single up to #7 on the UK charts a bit later, but not much else was to come. This is a fantastic little record though. Lots of fun.

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Adem - Takes (Domino, 2008)

Adem Ilhan is not a household name like his bandmate in post-rock band FRIDGE, Kieran Hebden (aka Four Tet) is, but after listening to this album, you'll probably remember him.

This is the best pop cover record I've ever heard. I'd like to talk so much about it but I'd prefer you hear it the way I did, listening to each track play and slowly recognizing the songs as they come. Its exciting and quite emotional.

I will say this: Imagine trying to transcribe acoustic guitar for an Aphex Twin song.

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Pete Swanson - Man With Potential (Type, 2011)

I can't help but think the mop-headed militant character on the album cover is a tongue in cheek jab at French noise enthusiast Vomir, who always performs his noise sets hidden underneath a kaffiyeh. Ironically, this scarf has become more recognizable as the fashion of a 22 year old hipster girl than the original image of Yasser Arafat and the PLO.

There are three types of listeners that will drop the needle on this one: The Drone / Noise fans of Swanson's now defunct project Yellow Swans, fans of elegant and classically-minded instrumentals typical of the Type label, and then there are those dance music fans who are as surprised as I am by beats surfacing as a newly integral part of the avant-garde Ambient / Noise / Drone world.

None of these three are remotely prepared for what happens on this album. Swanson decided to fuck with everyone here.

With a hynosis-like approach, he sends you back in time to that really bad tripping experience at the warehouse party in Detroit circa '95. You remember, the one where one of the dj's was walking around shaking hands with people, and later all your friends were talking about how he had dosed his hand with more liquid acid than you could possibly imagine.

By the time you were peaking you saw no reason not to accept the offer for some ketamine. Shortly thereafter, the lights were sizzling your brain like you were staring into the sun, and you were pulling on the side of your head trying to remove that drill bit that was furiously burrowing into your cranium.

All that to say this: Here we have blistering noise-laced techno. This is Jeff Mills, Muslimgauze and Vatican Shadow buried under 6 feet of Prurient and Wolf Eyes.

Remember to take your Dramamine and keep that gallon of oj on hand just in case you want it all to go away.

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Friday, January 20, 2012

The Blue Angel Lounge - Narcotica (8MM / A Records, 2010)

One of the greatest tortured genius assholes in the music business has been hard at work, not with his own band, but with several others under the guise of his own label A Records.

Anton Newcombe of Brian Jonestown Massacre has produced and mastered the work of Germany's own, The Blue Angel Lounge. They haven't had quite the internet presence that Iceland's Dead Skeletons (Newcombe's new band) has worked so hard at marketing but they do bring a similar gothic bluesy psychedelic shoegaze sound. The difference here is more control. There is a definitively post-punk / new wave / Nico bent, as opposed to the straight Jodorowsky psychedelic psychosis Dead Skeletons work in. I appreciate the idea of the "in between" presented here, the working within the margins mentality akin to Warlocks work on The Mirror Explodes. Keep your eyes on this one.

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Vestibule - Hell Loose in a Gen X (Mixtape, 2011)

Heavy ass Psych mix straight out of the Book of Thoth. Don't worry, after you vomit the trip is nice.

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Amen Dunes - Through Donkey Jaw (Sacred Bones, 2011)

Its extremely rare that I hear an album without having preconceived notions. Its even rarer that I am positively stunned by what I'm hearing. Acid folkster Damon McMahon stunned me today. With his blatently hallucinogenic and jangly, off kilter tunes (don't even think about assuming he sounds like Syd because its not that simple), he conjures spirits and levitates around metaphysical lyrics that always retain a sense of cohesion.

Yes, there are a few cliches. Nearly infinite reverb and occasionally sitar-like guitar lines abound but I never find them annoying, possibly due to the structure of the record.

The first few songs are disturbed and effected folk tunes, after which he begins to experiment, alternating between psych-pop themes and spiritual feeling sounds that feel genuine but never over the top. There is also a subtle tribal element to the predominantly floor tom-based drumming that really suits my fancy.

Ultimately, I can't help but describe this as the best hypnagogic pop / folk record ever recorded... and possibly the only one. If that term doesn't fit your snooty criteria, just forget I called it that and download / buy the fucking record anyway. Everyone should own this one.

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Zombi - Escape Velocity (Relapse, 2011)

Zombi is a space rock duo from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, consisting of Steve Moore on bass and synthesizers and Anthony Paterra on drums. The group makes use of looping to create multi-layered compositions in the progressive rock and dynamic instrumental arena. What separates them from the current crop of "any kid with a korg can make arpeggios" revivalist phenomenon is that they've been doing this since 2002 and they have a fucking sick live drummer. Everything they do sounds, feels, and actually is analog. These two monsters sound like a four piece band from '79. Delicious.

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Virgo Four - Resurrection (Rush Hour, 2011)

This compilation of unreleased original tracks from 1984-1990 showcases the brilliance of Chicago deep house producers Eric Lewis and Merl Saunders.

In opposition to the jacked house of the time, Virgo Four's beats and bass were more ethereal and they incorporated ambient sounds, all the while keeping it minimal and grasping at the negative space. Many of the parts were played by hand, which makes it warmer and also works well with the borrowed krautrock vibes.

They could've been huge but Stricltly Rhythm didn't have the faith to sign them. This is really impressive stuff except for some of the attempts at lyrics. The vocals are a bit silly. Also check out their first release Virgo Four EP.

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Friday, January 13, 2012

Zomby - Dedication (4AD, 2011)

Its been almost three years since Zomby released his debut album Where Were You in ’92, a rave album paying homage to early 90′s dance culture. With antiquated gear such as the Akai S2000 and Atari ST, he impressed critics with his production skills as well as his enthusiastic authenticity.

Most Americans may not know or care but its an exciting time for UK musicians with the onset of the post-dubstep environment. Burial’s brilliant hybrid of jungle, two-step garage, dark breakbeats and ambient jump-started a stale club scene in 2007, creating an alter ego of dubstep. Artists like Shackleton, Demdike Stare and Zomby took this as their cue and began pushing the Dubstep envelope further into the realms of sci-fi, fantasy, ambient and exotica.

Dedication is an antithesis of sorts. This is not only a departure from the party aesthetic but a quite cerebral and melancholy outing that may not set well with most. Zomby has lost someone important in his life and this really feels like a dedication to that person.

“Witch Hunt” opens the album with a surprising and quirky DJ Screw style crunk number more appropriate in Houston circa 1993. This screwed and purple dranking track leads into “Natalia’s Song”, one that feels like early bedroom dubstep. He chops ethereal female vocals and quickly delves deep into ominous terrain. “Alothea” feels serious and thought provoking with its somber and introspective shuffle that abruptly gives way to “Black Orchid”, the first cut on the record that really jumped out at me. His synth stabs are incredible here. It feels like a tasteful Nintendo music segway.
“Riding with Death” reflects the best in ambient and minimal dub techno a la Basic Channel / Chain Reaction. As soon as this gets deep, he drops out into another sick and twisted hip hop number that just skitters around my concept of time signatures. Shortly thereafter, a gunshot fires and the star child himself, Panda Bear, appears from nowhere in what is sure to be a hit at the top of many lists this year. The unfortunate part of this “Things Fall Apart” equation is that Panda Bear will benefit from this collaboration far more than Zomby. Its a great song that could have been just as good with another vocalist.

Following “Salamander”, a brief encounter with Arthur Lyman, and “Lucifer” a lovely fifty-seven second ballad, he returns to the dj booth with “After the Rain”, one that pumps and confuses the dancefloor. Is it dancehall? Is it house? Is it hip hop? This is the best production work on the album.

“Vanquish” is the extremely dark and depressing fifty-nine seconds before “A Devil Lay Here”, a beautiful piece that really profiles this artist’s vast array of influences and recording techniques. “Florence” is interesting because its technically an intelligent jungle piece in under two minutes. I wish I’d heard this in 1996 when I was really into that genre.

I truly love “Haunted” and “Basquiat” because I’m a sucker for the classic house piano and string tradition. It still touches me in a nostalgic way incomparable to anything else. “Mosaik” is a great dancefloor cut that could have been more enjoyable had it been placed somewhere else in the mix. After the vibe he seemed to be going for, it seemed awkward to end the album on an upswing. That being said, this is a startlingly mature and accomplished album.

Zomby has been signed to 4AD. Some will scoff, some will approve, but I applaud the label for giving more exposure to such an interesting sound. Can’t wait to have this one on wax.

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Crone - Endless Midnight (Translation Loss, 2011)

Ever wonder what happens when an intelligent post-rock/metal outfit runs out of creativity? They disband, that’s what. ISIS realized it was time to stop and thankfully so. I think they realized it a bit late but “better late than never”. Much to the dismay of their dorky young male cult following, the first related project release is not metal in any way. The web is abuzz with these childrens’ negative comments about this release from ISIS bass player Jeff Caxide.

Newsflash, people, talented artists mature. Veteran musicians with evolving and expansive tastes cannot continue performing the same genre of music their entire life. And, since I see drone as the new indie rock, I’m impressed with Caxide for changing with the times.

This is a drone record but there still exists a sound akin to his previous work. Guitar based loops and echoes reverberate through a gloomy film-like soundscape with additional instrumentation from ISIS members Aaron Harris and Bryan Clifford Meyer (drums and keyboards, respectively). My first reaction when listening to the second track “The Silver Hammer” is that ISIS is all grown up. This is the cut that most resembles their catalog, slow and sweeping epic guitar lines paired with e-bowed swells eventually cross paths with Aaron Harris’ giant kick drum and washed out cymbal work.

An interesting aspect that separates Caxide’s first solo effort from much other drone music floating around is one that may only be noticeable to other musicians. It is quite apparent that this is music made by someone that was in a rock band for many years. The precise execution of everything presented here screams the experience of staying in time with other players. Add to this his background as a sound designer and it all begins to make sense.
Caxide also manages to give us thirty-nine minutes of multiple moods and often shifting emotions as opposed to some drone that can be flat and devoid of change. This record leaves me feeling fulfilled. My musical and intellectual hunger is completely satiated.

I also appreciate that a not too surprising finishing touch of the release is a DVD style package designed by ISIS vocalist / guitarist Aaron Turner. Its nice to realize that it wasn’t a textbook example of band demise. They definitely didn’t break up because they hated each other.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Porter Ricks - Biokinetics (Basic Channel, 1996)

Type Records just celebrated their 100th release with the reissue of this 1996 classic from Basic Channel. It was the first of the Chain Reaction imprints, in which the label birthed a subgenre of deeper, buried techno sounds.

Contrary to what you might think, Porter Ricks is not the warden from the tv show Flipper. Its actually multimedia artist and dark ambient pioneer Thomas Koner along with mastering engineer Andy Mellwig (Mille Plateaux, Klang Electronik). Together they produced an atmospheric style of techno, often with an underwater aesthetic that’s exemplified by song names like “Port Of Call” or “Nautical Dub (Tidal Mix).” Biokinetics simultaneously plunges us thousands of fathoms under the sea and light years into space. Womb-like pulses are dark and buried but always dance-floor friendly. A notable characteristic of much of the music is that even when certain more experimental tracks deconstruct the four on the floor aesthetic, they still have a film score affectation.

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Le Lendemain - Fires (Home Normal, 2009)

David Wengrenn and Danny Norbury have previously worked together under the guise of Wengrenn's "Library Tapes". On this album, recorded as Le Lendemain, Norbury's multitracked strings interact with Wengrenn's piano structure like never before. The tracks presented here are a doorway into the composer's minds, an initmate journey that feels like watching their mutual creative processes.

These are relaxing tunes in the vein of Rachel's, Jóhann Jóhannsson, and Richard Skelton, very thought-provoking and introspective material.

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Thursday, January 5, 2012

No More - 7 Years (Rustblade, 2010)

No More is yet another German band from the 80's I just discovered that is now blowing my mind.

They were formed in Kriel, Northern Germany in 1979. After their wildly successful 7" single "Suicide Commando", NME was prompted to state that they were "suitable German Electro fashion". The song was so big that a Belgian band named themselves after it.

It was a typical setup of vocals, guitar, bass, synth and drums but they really had their own thing going on. This was an fascinating blend of minimal wave, electro and edgy post-punk with early Cure, Joy Division and Bauhaus all over it. Several of their tracks broke barriers as well, seeping into the techno scene.

Most of their really good material was on on singles so here is a fantastic compilation of their work from 1979 to 1986.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Labradford - Mi Media Naranja (Kranky, 1997)

I've owned this record since 2003 and have listened to it well over a thousand times. This is in my handful of records that never gets old. On my deathbed, when I'm compiling my Top 100 albums of all time, this will be pretty high on the list.

Richmond, VA-based Labradford creates lovely ambient music. Incidentally, they were making these sounds long before the birth of the "drone" tag. With twangy western electric guitars, waxy organs, subtle string arrangements and tasteful vibes and percussion, they create hypnotic and accessible drone that actually borders on pop. If I were turning someone on to the genre, I would surely start with this. Using thematic elements reminiscent of anything from Morricone's soundtracks for Leone to Badalamenti's scores for Lynch, This duo have been turning heads since the early 90's.

This is one of the most beautiful pieces of music you'll ever hear.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Rachel Grimes - Book of Leaves (Karate Body, 2009)

Unforgettable band "The Rachel's" piano player herself, Rachel Grimes, offers us a full-length recording of solo works.
you'll know her distinguished sound within the first bar. This veteran of the iconic Classical / Rock crossover act retains the vibe of the band's earlier albums such as Selenography, my personal favorite.

This is not to be missed.

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25 Essential Albums to Get You Through the Winter

1. Nagamatzu - Sacred Islands of the Mad
2. Demdike Stare - Forest of Evil
3. Ezekiel Honig - Folding in on Itself
4. Fluxion - Bipolar Defect
5. Ulver - Shadows of the Sun
6. Morton Feldman - Rothko Chapel
7. Chrisma - Chinese Restaurant
8. Coil - Guide for Beginners
9. Cocteau Twins - Garlands
10. Tindersticks - Can our Love...
11. Death in June - Burial
12. Villages - Grey East
13. Lurker of Chalice - S/T
14. Legendary Pink Dots - 9 Lives to Wonder
15. Deaf Center - Owl Splinters
16. Brian Eno - Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks
17. The Chameleons UK - Script of the Bridge
18. Christian Death - The Decomposition of Violets
19. Angels of Light - How I Loved You
20. Arthur Russell - World of Echo
21. Asunder - A Clarion Call
22. Earth - Hex:Or Printing in the Infernal Method
23. Boards of Canada - Music has the Right to Children
24. Bohren and der Club of Gore - Black Earth
25. David Sylvian - Gone to Earth

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Psychic Ills - Hazed Dream (Sacred Bones, 2011)

Since 2003, these New York psych rockers have been offering spacious sonic explorations. After three albums and a slew of EP's and singles, they've made they're most accessible recording yet.

This one is pretty straight-forward, a hybrid of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Brightblack Morning Light, Mazzy Star and the most mellow tracks from Wooden Shjips, Hazed Dreams is a mature and focused trip down tremory lane so faded you can't even think about criticizing it.

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