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Sunday, 17 May 2009

Amps for Christ - 'Circuits' (Vermiform)

The "British Isles trad meets the Terminator" sound of Amps for Christ was like a burning meteor hitting my crust, especially as my introduction to them was their first LP Thorny Path which was all homebuilt electronic buzzing sounds. Combining these schematics with beautiful classic vocal melodies was a stroke of genius and this album is one of their finest efforts. There's some non-traditional covers as well -AFC's take on Nico's 'Janitor of Lunacy' shatters it's haggard precedent (blasphemy?  then start your own alphabetical blog!!) - and Donovan's 'Colours' gives the yin to Van Dyke's yang. There aren't any credits but I think a few of these are originals. The male vocals remind me of a teenage argument with oneself and the female voice soars over the groaning instrumentation. Beautiful and traditional can be new and strange. Even more awesome is that I first came to Amps for Christ because they were a Man is the Bastard side project. You can hear it certainly in the pulsing murk, with all the sticks and twigs and Cornish pies slowly turning grey.  So it's the soundtrack to grindcore kids cashing in their Spazz records for Maddy Prior; ain't nothing wrong with that, cause there's a vicious side to lots of these tunes too.

Friday, 15 May 2009

American Analog Set - 'Through the 90s: Singles and Beyond' (Emperor Jones)

AmAnSet's final release for Emperor Jones has the slight feel of something you might release into a tissue, though I'm not sure why this is. The material is high quality enough - when it appeared on the 7" format, it worked really well, especially on songs like 'Diana Slowburner II' and 'Magnificent Seventies'. This is a long compilation that chops up the original chronology no doubt in an attempt to make it feel more like an 'album'. But instead of a Slip n Slide of Analog Set fun, it can't avoid sounding like an odds and ends collection (which, to be fair, it is). That early Fun of Watching Fireworks feel is a flaming stone away from the band's last few records, and it gets its last gasp. The organ-driven tension drives ahead with the tap-tap whirr, especially on songs like 'On My Way'. If the 'sounds the same' phenomenon was more applicable to the earlier material, compiling all of these tracks together really makes it apparent. The cover photo is a bit of a departure too, though a very visually enticing (almost candy-like) rollerskate pile it is. If I knew how to program the cheap portable Discman I use as a CD player I could try putting these tracks back in sequence and thus pretend I'm listening to all the AmAnSet 7"s I don't actually have; maybe that would feel a bit more cohesive. I gotta mention the rejected jingle 'Dr. Pepper' (as I sampled the beverage just yesterday) though I think they were lucky because it's way better as The Golden Band's 'The Wait' (for a time, probably my single favorite AmAnSet song, though now I give that award to 'Aaron and Maria'). I just love using the abbreviation AmAnSet but this is probably the last time as I dont have anything else to review by them here.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Maryanne Amacher - 'Sound Characters (making the third ear)' (Tzadik)

Actually experiencing a Maryanne Amacher live performance is one of those life-fracturing events that I'd recommend to anyone ready for the next level after Initiation.  This disc sat on my shelf for almost a decade before said experience, getting a few plays. But after I experienced It, I thought "Well, I'll never listen to that again."  You see, there's certainy frequencies she can send through a decent PA system that cannot exist on compact disc form.  Tzadik tried anyway, and actually pulled it off pretty well.  But it's nothing like Being There.  Her 44.1khz-ised 'Third Ear Music' does work if you have a decent stereo and you can play it LOUD - like, neighbor-annoying LOUD - but it's completely pointless played quietly or on headphones (as Amacher confesses in the liner notes).  The other pieces (which actually make up the majority of this disc) are very site-specific, with frequencies and speaker placement chosen to respond to a particular physical space.  Again, you gotta Be there, otherwise you're basically getting a bunch Xeroxed stills instead of seeing the film.  So what you're left with are some deep, droney rumbles, not half bad to listen to on their own as they really play with the dynamic range of a recording and move between dense and barely perceptible, and from thick to wispy.  I've never been sure if her name is pronounced AW-mak-her or AM-mak-her so I've always gone with the fancier Aw-mah-CHAY.  When you see her in person, with her weird little aviator hat on, it just sorta works better if you say it French.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Alva - 'Slattery for Ungdom' (Menlo Park)

I've always wondered about this record cause Alva was of course Thomas Edison's middle name, and Menlo Park, NJ is where his famous laboratory/inventionworkshop was -- so it this just coincidental that a label called Menlo Park released a CD by Alva? This was Alva's last gasp and only 12 minutes long at that, but it packs the soundspiral of their first disc into a quick demented cockpunch. The medieval aftertaste is still present, as are the ghosty child vocals, bursts of slapstick chamber music, and weirdo atmosphere. If anything is different maybe there's a bit more confidence, some bangers and mash freejazz moments ('Ooon Ong' and the end of 'March to Underneath') and some blatantly 'straight' tracks like 'Happysick' which are actually the strangest of all. In 1999 we were all worried about the y2k bug but we shoulda been morning the demise of Alva, though I don't know if more material would somehow damage their 'legend'. A buddy of mine emailed one of 'em a few years back offering to release any leftover material that might have gone unreleased, but received no reply. It's better off that way, we keep telling ourselves ....

Monday, 4 May 2009

Alva - 'Fair-Haired Guillotine' (Avant)

Source: Bought from Paul's in the late 90's for (I think) around $20, new (Japanese import)

Some records exist outside of any conceivable time-space continuum and Alva's two compact discs are as magnificent as a 7-11 Slurpee overturned on the saddle of a racehorse. Those weirdo Czech Tom and Jerry cartoons might have done better with Fair-Haired Guillotine's bouncier moments insteada whatever freejazz they had. But it's not all animated: there's some amateurish guitar strum, tin whistle and church organ that would creep out any impressionable tyke. These gals could be compared to any number of precedents: LAFMS, Futura records, Ralph label, Very Good Records -- but the comparison would be imperfect. Cause Alva's music is more baroque, more constructed, and recorded with more panĂ¢che than most others. For tracks as simply constructed as this - the instruments are clear, there are few mysteries as to what is generating the sounds - there is a world of strangeness in every second. They weren't the first band to paint a sky of looped mumbled vocals, renaissance violin, and melting honkytonk fumes but this is both hi-brow and no-brow at the same time. Obviously these ladies made quite an impression on me so maybe I've put them on some sort of pedestal, but the sounds can speak for themselves.