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Monday, 8 April 2013

Earth - '2' (SubPop)

I'm no stoner and thus I never got hip to the whole wave of bands like Sleep, Sunn O, Corrupted, etc. Not that I dislike the style - these pages will show I'm no stranger to minimal epics, heavy guitars, and glacially-paced records. I guess it's the rock edges that always got me - I'd rather trance out to a Terry Riley or Phill Niblock monolith than feel the residue of heavy metal, or whatever I imagined is there. But like most genres I have one or two entries on the shelves, and this Earth 2 CD is one I very much treasure, because it out-stoners all the stoner rock I've ever heard, and isn't really rock. It's just guitar and bass, often imperceptible from each other, in three very long tracks, with not much changing. It's the record I think Earth's reputation rests upon, or should rest upon, as it's an almost unparalleled statement especially given the time (1993) and label (SubPop, post-Nirvana)! The value in here is not just the sheer immobility of it, because there's actually quite a lot of motion and genuine riffs that return, too - but in the overall atmosphere. Put on Earth 2 and you'll spend the next 70 minutes trapped inside a spherical chamber over which you have no control of your senses. It works quietly as ambient music and it works very loud too, because there's a lot of magic happening in these guitars. 'Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine' feels unending cause it is, but there's a small universe of swirling, buzzing atmospherics on top. And the final cut, 'Like gold and faceted', is over a half-hour with some crashing percussion in the background here and there (but not too much) and it's essentially an endless slow roar. It's exactly like the time I saw Tony Conrad play live, except a meathead version. Meathead minimalism is great, though! Who cares if they have the history of 20th century composition under their belts (and maybe they do)? If Carducci taught me anything it's that intellect has no bearing on great music. These guys are still around but they reinvented themselves as a post-rock band with British folk leanings, and what I heard I really liked; but this is something special, something so simple it's actually quite difficult. 

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Chöying Drolma & Steve Tibbetts ‎– Chö (Hannibal)

Drolma is a Buddhist nun who sings devotional melodies over Tibbetts's guitar ambience, and it's occasionally mesmerising; 'Kyamdro Semkye', for example, has her voice shimmying in every direction and threatening to pull itself apart, while a plaintive, plucking melody of strings rotates underneath. Throughout the numerous short pieces on this disc, the duo keeps establishing an unreliable sense of stability; with the language impenetrable to me, I can only focus on the abstract qualities, which is what we like music for anyway. I guess this is really experimental for a Buddhist singer; though it's mostly an organic core, there are accents, such as backwards skipping studio trickery and searing, post-newage guitar melancholia which would surely be out of place in a traditional setting. Without any real background in whatever traditions are being dismantled here, I'm unable to say much of value. But with a background in the 80's 4AD label, I can hear a lot of similarities; 'Ngani Tröma' is basically an early His Name is Alive cut with a Tibetan vocalist instead of a Michiganite. I put this on every once in awhile without really knowing how to feel about it. I'm not so interested in it from an ethnomusicological standpoint, so it becomes ear candy to me. It's delicious ear candy, but ear candy nonetheless; I try not to approach this intrigued by the exotic 'other', but it's a presence I can't escape from. Tibbetts is clearly in the driver's seat and his textures run the gamut from pedestrian to curiosity-inducing. He doesn't overdo anything, but I don't know why he would, except that I have a bias against these hybrid "world music" projects, so I'm always on guard in defense of good taste.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Arnold Dreyblatt - 'The Sound of One String' (Table of the Elements)

It's not every day that a composer releases an Incesticide, to refer to that Nirvana collection yet again. The Sound of One String serves two purposes - it can function as an introduction to Dreyblatt's work, presented chronologically - while also collecting rarities for the fans. There's some familiar pieces here - 'Nodal Excitation' appears twice, in different forms, including an early solo performance from 1979. And there's a live version of 'Propellers in Love' which is a bit brighter than the studio version. Live recordings of Dreyblatt are great because you can really get a sense of the room, depending on the recording - on the more spare moments, like the aforementioned solo 'Nodal Excitation', you get a bit of room noise and while it's maybe not the most accurate way to reproduce the very specific frequencies, it's a wonderful document of 'being there' that only brilliant sound recordings can convey. By the time this version of 'Propellers' ends, the whole disc has been an ecstatic bit of buzzing beauty. And 'Damping Influence', a more subdued piece, works well to bring down the energy, with it's toy piano cutting through like a bizarre gamelan. And things start to pick themselves up again here, building up towards the steady electric-guitar drone of 'End Correction' and then 'Music for Small String Orchestra', a stunning experiment with traditional instrumentation. It's still just-intonated, of course, and changes slowly from overtone to overtone, and feels like an epic drone composition - like a more austere Lou Harrison, perhaps. The whole disc (and it's a packed 79 minutes) ends with 'Dirge Relations', which looks ahead to the sound and lineup of Animal Magnetism. This does that slow 'walking' thing that is all over Animal Magnetism, suggestion a modular music that is nonetheless cohesive. I admit I haven't kept up with what Dreyblatt has been doing for the past 20 years or so, which is a shame because I love his music this much. Such an reinvention of acoustic instruments doesn't feel dated at all, even though some of these tracks are 34 years old; for this listener, at least, it's a direction for further exploration.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Arnold Dreyblatt - 'Animal Magnetism' (Tzadik)

This is one that blew everything wide open for me. My impressionable teenage mind heard this for the first time (i think) in someone's car, on a cassette, and even still I was quite affected by the power of microtonal music. This is rocking 20th century classical composition, an album to make anyone sit up and take notice. But it's not aggressive, macho, or posturing - it is pure energy, an open, celebratory exploration of sound with a pulsing momentum and a driving urgency. It would be easy to try to read the sound of post-wall Berlin into this, and were I a Greil Marcus type maybe I would try to say that this music celebrates the eclecticism of a new Europe. But I'm not, so I'll just again repeat that this fucking 'rocks'. It's that drum on the opening track, 'Point Rotation', that sets the tone, but it's not a snare - it's a Basque string drum. Yes, even the drums are tuned microtonally and would you expect anything less? There's such a passion behind this ensemble, compared to the more sedate Propellers lineup (only cello/tuba/electric bass specialist Jan Schade remains) that when a deep bowing sound (maybe Schade's cello) saws through the mix, its accelerating rather than retarding. Interesting recording techniques mean that on some tracks, certain instruments are not properly in the mix, so it feels like someone is tapping a bell or block right over your shoulder, as opposed to with the other musicians. The piercing, sharp staccato notes are the brightest sounds on here and work really well against the horns. Everything is distinguished, and it's a composition to celebrate. I know this work like the back of my hand, making this a rare work of classical music that I sing along to. Like 'Propelleres in Love', it ends with a slow, spacious statement, just a note, a rest, and the note again, repeated. Very little gets better than this.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Arnold Dreyblatt & The Orchestra of Excited Strings - 'Propellers in Love' (hatART)

Arnold Dreyblatt's music really speaks to me; he might be the minimalist I feel the strongest emotional connection to. This work from the 1980s is given a disclaimer in the liner notes, from the get-go, that it's 'extremely difficult to capture on tape' and we can imagine even moreso on CD. This takes the formula of Nodal Excitation but with a slightly different compositional feel. It's easy to dismiss Dreyblatt's compositions from this decade as basically being 'dung-dung-dung-dung-dung-dung' but that's far beside the point, and not particularly true -- this disc is a very obvious midpoint, compositionally, between Nodal Excitation and Animal Magnetism. Even on CD with my lousy stereo I'm able to feel slowly emerging, thick blanketing overtones building up on every track, and the louder I turn it up, the more there is. A propeller is a good metaphor because this music is propelled along by the incessant beat, though it's often more linear than circular.  One thing I love is how infinitely relistenable Dreyblatt's music is. Yeah, it's all overtones, but they sound different every time, and there's no chance of a segment of this music getting stuck in your head like a pop song. This might be true 'eternal music' to borrow a term from LaMonte. The most subtle variations in rhythm make a movement incredibly distinct from the last one. The longest segments of 'Propellers in Love' are  'Odd & Even' and the title track, both almost ten minutes, and the duration benefits the feel; it's really easy to get lost, making the code ('Lucky Strike') all the more amazing, with it's sparse, ringing chords. This is a beautiful composition. As a bonus track, hatART gives us the 15 minute 'High Life', played by just Dreyblatt and Paul Panhuysen. This is a total drone piece, and a lovely one, surely constructed from many of the same frequencies that his other work utilises. It's meditative and anything but throwaway, but definitely of a different state of mind entirely.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Dream/Aktion Unit - 'Blood Shadow Rampage' (Volcanic Tongue)

With gatefold-CD artwork painted to recall the "video nasties" of the 1980s, Blood Shadow Rampage sets its aesthetic loud and clear before the disc even starts. Consisting of Thurston Moore, Heather Leigh Murray, Chris Corsano, Matthew Heyner and Paul Flaherty, it's totally twisted and free, as you'd expect. But it's not just a big ball of noise - there are improvising musicians, not in-the-red noiseniks (for the most part) and there are some really sparse comedowns, particularly during 'Your Missing Foot' and 'Brutal Lust'. Corsano and Heyner are an interesting pairing and they serve to really make this recording distinct from other Corsano/Flaherty projects - they often hold back, playing around rhythm  and letting the unusual assonance of Moore and Murray's strings create what are sometimes quite psychedelic toneclouds. It's not always clear to me what's Flaherty, what's Murray, and what's Moore, especially when there gets to be more high-pitched frequencies. But there are moments, such as on the closing track ('Here Come the Fucking Dead') where Flaherty amps up the vibrato and there's no doubt you're listening to a saxophone. You can get a sense of the musicians pushing and challenging each other, and there are moments that scream against the identity of free music, with the swirling gasps of feedback and other tinnitus-enhancing treats. When Corsano does kick in, it's often cathartic, and Moore (whose guitar is the most elusive animal here) occasionally steps in to remind you that, yes, he's Thurston Moore. This is a live recording from Stirling, Scotland and the crowd responds appropriately. 

Monday, 1 April 2013

Dräp En Hund - 'Be Yourself' (Slottet)

There's not much out there (in English) about Dräp En Hund, a band of two 13-year old Swedish girls bashing away on electric bass and a drumset. One of 'em is Mats Gustafsson's daughter (I think) and I'm not sure who the other is or what else they've done, or why I have this. My calendar indicates that both of these girls are about 20 now and are possibly embarassed by this disc, but they have no reason to be. This is surprisingly sophisticated and occasionally quite heavy, with good (by which I mean dirty) production and a fun vibe. It's over in a half-hour, but not before first taking us through songs like the title track, the introspective 'God Damned Destroyed' (with the lyrics "I do wrong/my life is totally destroyed") or the cautionary tale 'Don't Drink'. This is far from novelty music, though I don't think I would be super interested in it were they adults. They sing in English, and sing well - the whole disc feels incredibly influenced by 90's "alternative" rock, though I don't know if it was. I'm not expert on that genre but I imagine Babes in Toyland, L7 and Hole sound not unlike this, at least in terms of vocal delivery. There's a minimalism to this that is commendable; the fuzz pedal and a slight bit of feedback provides just enough that it doesn't feel thin or needy; the occasional odd percussive element pokes out (is that a cowbell in 'Hey Ho Let's Go!'?). I daresay Dräp En Hund stand up against the majority of similar bands with much older members; this completely transcends any novelty value.