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Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Butchy Fuego (Pickled Egg)

Whatever happened to this guy, anyway? Butchy Fuego is some weird visionary in Chicago who hung around with a lot of artrock/freejazz dudes, and made this beautifully designed solo record back in 2001 or so. And like most things on the vastly underrated Pickled Egg label, it failed to make much impact and thus, Butchy Fuego has disappeared into the pile of early 00s experimental CDs. A shame too, cause there's some astoundingly precise cuts here that run between spazzy neo-electro ('The Conquering of Planet Argotron') to Bügsküll-like collage mastery ('Music for Sarah's Film'). The opening would suggest that this is a very schooled bit of post-academy Henry Cow worship, but Butchy Fuego shifts gears constantly, with just enough cohesion to avoid feeling like a weird compilation. 'The Paleontologist' has some buried vocals, as the piece lumbers along in a sort of improv scuzz-rock, not unlike stuff like the Lowdown or Mouthus only a few years precognizant to them - the basement jam band returns in 'Menstrual Motorcycle', only significantly thrashier. 'Bumbleplight' actually sounds like Squarepusher at times, with a cut-up flitter-flutter that doesn't overdo the amp-buzz electronica, feeling again like a logical extension of the acoustic basis we hear earlier. 'Hot Balls' is my mixtape selection - it's an anthemic punch to the jugular that rips out of the speakers through it's lo-fi production, in a fairly calculated stance. But awesome nonetheless. I can imagine that Butchy Fuego is a fairly studio-based project, though the live instrumentation feels organic, not like samples. 'My Experience with Electronics' is maybe the centerpiece, both sequentially and musically. Despite the weak title, Butchy's throwing everything into the bag here and it gels nicely. The album comes to a polite close with 'Bunny', which is delicately sung like a Bedhead song, farting and wheezing until an accordion-driven 4-track indierock second part explodes. I shouldn't keep comparing elements of this CD to other artists, because Butchy Fuego certainly has eked out his own sound, one that should have found some fans. But fans of what? Eclectic, genre-bending art-rock, fractured songforms, complex compositions -- all things that sound great on paper but reveal themselves to be distinct and idiosyncratic when you actually hear them. But if any of those keywords tickle your fancy, then this is one to seek out, undeniably.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Burning Star Core - 'Blood Lightning 2007' (No Fun Productions)

I've always liked when a year appears at the end of a title, such as Death Race 2000 or Airport '77, and the 2007 is probably an essential component of this Blood Lightning, cause, after all, there might be a Blood Lightning 2011 in the works. Adorned by perversely wispy anime/erotica, this 51-minute slab is primarily C. Spencer Yeh on his own, at least until the fifth track which knocks the whole album out of balance somewhat with a big live jam. Taken as just four tracks, Blood Lightning 2007 is an amazingly consistent album, bookended by 'The Universe is Designed to Break Your Heart' and 'The Universe is Designed to Break Your Mind'. The former begins with some pause-button edit vocals or other such murmurings, leads into some electronic drone, and coalesces into the rain-on-gutter electroacoustic wash that is the signature Burning Star Core sound. It's almost like a reader's guide to Burning Star Core, and a good intro to the album. 'A Curse on the Coast' brings in slow, grinding pulses and looks most overtly at Throbbing Gristle's influence on Yeh, though in a somewhat more inquisitive manner than most TG I've experienced. 'Deaf-Mute Spinning Resonator' and the above-mentioned 'Break Your Mind' don't give as much breathing room, but instead work from what sounds like a collage of lo-fi recordings, slow movements, and vocal garblings. The drone is pretty immense by the end, which descends into unidentifiable springy gasps. It's like the perfect antidote to the first half, and a perfect closer -- which makes the fifth track, '10-09-04 Horrible Room, Lexington, KY' all the more jarring. It's a slow starter, all open-form poetics and open-mouthed jazz. It takes on a darker growl after about five minutes, and then the sea of unchanging madness begins to spread out. There's piercing electronics courtesy of Shiflet and Beatty, spazzing out but in very tight confines; Tremaine must be content to tap about on the cymbals while this absolute wall is mortared in. Once it's there, they get going again, but in a dark, punchy way, unlike the Operator Dead swing. If I seem a bit irritated by this live track, it's because it feels like a CDr or cassette release track, tacked onto the end of what's otherwise a very concentrated, focused and cohesive recording. Maybe Challenger is the record to go to for cohesiveness, and this is a more varying document.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Burning Star Core - 'Operator Dead, Post Abandoned' (No Quarter)

It's another big statement, a la Very Heart of the World or Challenger, except miniscule in it's CD format. A shame too, cause these are the huge sprawling sounds of a band, which by definition makes things somewhat less calculated than Yeh's intensely-focused collage solos. It's the massive thunderous group sound, perhaps the definitive recording of the Yeh/Tremaine/Beatty/Shiflet quartet that was most active around 2005-2006 (when this was recorded). Tremaine is the reason this record pulses so hard, and Burning Star Core has curiously chosen to stack the thick cards at the front of the deck. 'When the Tripods Came' maximises the swing elegance, a tip of the hat to swampy early 70s fusion records but fractured through the electro/flourescence of mid-00s murk. Because of this rhythm, everything breathes though it's all gelling together. Yeh's violin and the electronics of Beatty and Shiflet occasionally take punches at each other, but it billows into a grand breath more often than not. The title track comes second, another quarter-hour-plus, and it maintains a military snare rocket rail throughout. It rages and storms, but instead of petering out, it transforms, seamlessly, into the shimmer-shoegaze of 'Me & My Arrow' (not the Harry Nilsson tune). This is one of Burning Star Core's most transcendentally beautiful tracks, particularly because it doesn't play things safe. There's a backwards, retarded bumping that sucks out the bassline role from the inside-out, and trap drums are audibly present but more like gestures and afterthoughts. This could be total bliss-out but there's always that sense of unease and danger there - a delicate tension that makes this such a perfect short track (7 and a half minutes, only short in comparison to the first 35 minutes, I know). It ends on a tape splice, or whatever our digital equivalent is, and then a moment to breathe, reflect, pause - but then suddenly 'The Emergency Networks are Taking Over', based around an ascending modal loop, with thick string pads, and a floundering rhythmic logic. It builds to an erupting conclusion, which is a coda of its own on a track that is already a coda. And then another tape splice, or maybe it's just aural abandonment. Operator Dead, Post Abandoned is a demanding listen in a discography of demanding listens, though it's fluid enough - it's just the relentless energy and thickness of space that makes it such.

Burning Star Core - 'Let's Play Wild Like Wildcats Do' (Hospital/RRR)

Two tracks here, both long-form explorations separated into their identifying parts - rhythm on 'Mes Soldats Stupides (demo)' and density on 'Clouds in My Coffee'. Both are richly textural, with 'Stupides' taking some chances with the introduction of MIDI instruments - drums and horns, combining into a relatively danceable bit of Burning Star Core sound. This was 2003-2004, and Yeh's prolific tape output at the time spat this out, originally on his own Dronedisco imprint. The CD reissue puts these tracks into a clear plateau, though the murky organ/synth on 'Clouds' sounds unfairly compressed. When the whirring stormclouds take over, they bury the menacing, circular tone at the centre of the track -- but then recede. And then reappear. It's a nice detail in a fairly minimal composition. Across both tracks, there's a fairly limited palette at play here, given the diversity of Yeh's regular work, but the mid-range synth feels like some sort of statement-straitjacket. There's a bit of 'You Really Got Me' in the 'Stupides' bass riff, but ten minutes in, it's replaced by some haunting drones, a good transition before 'Clouds'. A minor release moreso than an experiment, but not a bad one at all -- and showing a rarely-explored side of Burning Star Core with the sequenced beat. Disc face is a lovely Pantone blue that suggests a brighter sky than any of the sounds do.