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Thursday, 31 May 2012

DENT - 'Stimmung' (Magnetic)

I have already confessed my love for Camper Van Beethoven earlier in these annals, but we have yet to investigate the weird side projects that I also love. Don't worry, we'll have our dalliance with Monks of Doom eventually, and just a warning - Meridian is gonna get the Golden Cinderblock Award. But what about the lesser-known offshoots? Sadly, I don't have any Hieronymous Firebrain records apart from some old dubbed tapes, but shit, what I wouldn't give to hear 'Waning Crescent Love Spit' right now! (Thanks, Bandcamp, for making this possible). DENT is J. Segel and V. Krummenacher, and a cadre of friends, all under silly pseudonyms like 'Stands-Naked-In-Moonlight' and 'MC Salmon'. DENT is where these guys let loose and make weird, improvisatory music with an experimental edge, except it's not that wild -- there's an organic, instrumental quality to almost everything here. The vocals are largely extemporized and when the porny guitar leads (a tendency evident in later Monks of Doom records, for sure) take over, it's undercut by the babbling vocals and music-box overdubs ('April Fools' and the opening track 'Make Me 1 w/everything' are great examples of this). Stimmung, which has nothing to do with the Stockhausen work, as far as I can tell, was a strange record for me to listen to when I was 16. I enjoyed the songforms most of all - the subtle pop hooks, the almost-too-far excursions into dance and hip-hop forms, and most of all the mystique. My deep love of all things Camper Van Beethoven certainly helped, and the spirit of irreverence remains throughout this even if the ha-ha is absent. The epic jam here is 'Manchester Mystery House', a long techno-influenced maximalist overture, but my pick is 'Some Grey Clouds', an eerie, discordant experiment that lets the space take over - a sea of isolated vocal snippets and tentative string plucks, with a tidal ebb and flow beneath. Sure, Stimmung is tossed-off, but after listening to it now for the first time in a decade, I'm enjoying it far more than I would have ever imagined. There's a tension between the more lyrical, Krummenacher-driven tunes ('Paris? New Mexico' is a wonderful psych-folk jam, reminding me a bit of CVB's 'Form Another Stone' from II & III) and the (I assume) Segel-drievn freakouts. There's an untitled bonus track, because everyone putting out their own CDs in the mid-90s was obsessed with this possibility, and it's the most straight-ahead folksong imaginable (even against 'Won't You', which has a Holy Modal Rounders-style warp to it), a rant about then-California governor Pete Wilson. Dated as it may be now, it's a voice of countercultural protest that needed to go somewhere, though I understand why they left it off the track listing. At just over an hour, Stimmung slightly wears out its welcome, but it's interesting to wonder why these musicians feel so free here and not as free on their other Magnetic-label projects. It's not like the goof quotient is shocking or uncommercial; but then something makes this out of step with indie music of 1995, indeed. 

Warn Defever - "Remixes" (Time-Stereo)

This CD-R compiles 18 different remixes by Warn Defever, released some time in the late 90's during this brief period when indie artists were getting into "remixes", clearly an attempt to reclaim the creative dub-act from popular R&B artists, rappers, etc. This is a mixed bag and not really attributable to Defever, but where else do I file it? It ranges from really raw, amateurish pop/folk (courtest of Deonna & Laura who appear twice) and more abstract, dance rhythms. Warn's remix of Astor Piazolla's "Unauthorized" is the real centerpiece of the CD, turning the tango master into a slowed-down trip-hop meditation that barely resembles any tango I've ever heard. Thurston Moore's 'Roots' is likewise a hissy, hazy set of bumps and bruises. My taste for Defever is generally for his Harry Smith-influenced tracks, and the total powerpop - his more "urban" aesthetics often leave me feeling a bit uneasy, and the 90's electronica vibe that infuses much of this disc makes it less than enthralling for my ears. But when he's remixing his own projects, or projects he is close to (Control Panel, The ESP's, Flashpapr) it's at it's best - taking on the wax cylinder vibe that infuses the 100 Years disc recently reviewed here, it's an otherworldly midwest distance that I totally love. Not being familiar with any of the original tunes except for Run On's 'Don't Go' (except it was called 'Go There' when I first fell in love with it). Said track gets a warbly, dubby jam which is lackluster until the Alan Licht guitar slaying comes in, super-processed here into an insane computerised sludge - but just for a second! I'm not sure to what extent Warn is actually intervening -- Happy Apple's 'Sad Song' is a total classic country strum, with weird domestic noise overtop, sounding almost like he just played it through a boom box and then re-recorded it with room sounds. The effect, though, is mesmerising anyway, at least to these ears. I'm not wild about the needless electronic percussion in much of this, but then Godzuki takes on a power-pop/twee side I don't remember about them at all when I saw them in 1995. If I had an unlimited budget I'd probably buy everything on Time-Stereo, but this I just picked up when I saw Defever live at the show I mentioned in the last review. A vanity project, sure, but that's what CDr labels are for. I almost decided to toss this when I started listening to it, but the charming twee/Americana tracks are worthy enough to keep, and besides, what would I do with it?

Monday, 21 May 2012

Warn Defever - 'I Wan You To Live 100 Years' (P & C Lo)

When we get to the H's, you'll discover my deep love for His Name is Alive and Warn Defever in general. He's got a lot of great non-HNIA projects, chief among them probably the New Grape cassette, but I'm not sure if this is one of them. Recorded at the peak of Defever's Americana nostalgia, the twelve songs on this disc were recorded on a wax cylinder, or maybe just played back through a static-drenched radio, or maybe just run through a VST plug-in. Either way, the distant, 100-years ago fidelity attempts to conceptually tie together the record, which is rooted in an old nostalgic turn-of-the-century aesthetic. It also has the advantage of masking, at least partially, some of Defever's terribly off-key singing. I have a big soft spot for this album, which begins with a Willie Nelson cover ('Sad Songs & Waltzes') and proceeds through even more countrified originals. These tracks occasionally touch the cute/sad dichotomy of this era of HNIA ('One Year' turns up later, I think) and the naievete is of course the whole idea. The guy started getting really into organic freejazz sound explorations soon after this, which led to some wonderfully unappreciated music, but this is still Defever deep into his ESP-summer thing, and I for one enjoy it. Though I'm not completely sure how much it works - I like listening to it, but it's been years since I pulled it out, and for so much thought put into the concept, a bit more could have gone into the execution. 'Cheatin' Heart' is not a Hank Williams cover but could as well be; said organ is mentioned in two titles, as 'Heart Struck Sorrow' involves Defever banging away with confidence on his axe.  I saw him live on this tour and remember this song distinctly, and also an audience wondering why this guy thought he could sing. There's the same little musical interludes that appear on the best HNIA records (Stars on ESP and Fort Lake, if you're asking), sometimes between the songs and at other times just between the verses. The whole disc ends with an ancient recording of a song proclaiming the great state of Michigan, and you know what? Defever doesn't even mean it ironically.

Debris - 'Static Disposal' (Anopheles)

This 76-minute collection of Debris' lone 1976 private-press LP + all sorts of rehearsal materials is a window into a warped vision of music coming from Chickasha, Oklahoma. 35 years ago I like to think the South and Midwest was producing the freakiest freaks of all, whose geographic isolation makes them all the more special. Historical excavation has given us gems such as the Pataphysical revue CD from Tuscaloosa, Alabama and whatever the Reverend Dwight Frizzell was doing in Kansas. Debris are somewhere in-between these outer limits and semi-local peers like the Embarassment, except in that proto-punk way. Static Disposal is a great bit of fun, though it's the first eleven tracks, comprising the album proper, which are at least remotely polished. This is closer to the ramshackle rock of Pere Ubu or Chrome than anything too exploratory, as everything is grounded by the guitar-bass-drums, though with synths, saxes, and a vocal delivery one part glam, one part asylum. Part of the joy of Debris is their obscurity and unlikely surroundings - we can only imagine what they were aspiring to be, though I guess it's all laid out in the 32-page booklet that I got bored reading. Some songs like 'One Way Spit' and 'New Smooth Lunch' are utterly brilliant in their cracked grandeur. In other moments, the affected Bryan Ferryisms of the vocalists (either Johnny Gregg or Oliver Powers) achieve actual empathy, such as in the bluesy 'Tell Me'. A Lizard King even appears in 'Flight Taken', perhaps the most sci-fi and drugged of these tunes (though you have to wonder what you could score in Chickasha). There's no rock pyrotechnics here, not much improvisation - instead a warped cry of misfits from a true East ga-bumfuck. After track 11 we start to get into rehearsal tapes which are of course much more fun, though harder to listen to. We get a better sense of the band as a unit here, as on 'Zebra Ranch' where there's actually a pretty cohesive bass/drums groove at points. 'Gun' is the longest and freakiest workout, with damaged Echoplex guitar noise, and a monotonous rhythmic bed behind. It's a testament to one-take magic, and the wonder of the CD format means we can experience it today,