Music Reviews

Jess Rowland: Spambots

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jan 14 2015
Artist: Jess Rowland (@)
Title: Spambots
Format: CD
Label: Edgetone Records (@)
Rated: *****
Jess Rowland is an experimental electronic musician/composer from San Francisco. Here on this recording she is joined by drummer Pete Stalsky. 'Spambots' is not Jess's first walk in the park though as she has a number of releases preceding this one. Let me quote from the accompanying one-sheet "The Spambots have been tagged and released into the sonic ruins of consumer bliss point singularity... With! Many text-to-speech Spambots, Corporate Mascots, Smooth Jazz Damage, Data Mines, Foundation Pits, Melodies without notes . . . . and then the spambots attack." That might give you a better idea of what you're in for...sort of.

Opening track makes copious use of 'Mittens' Romney's infamous "corporations are people, my friend" soundbyte juxtaposed with the bizarre Chinglish "Exterminate Capitalism Lobster Package" phrase rendered by a female voice, both diced, sliced, slipping into an off kilter semi-melodic rhythm, and mixed with a cacophony of babbling voices towards the end. "Whose Pockets" features alternating two-tone bass, chewy electronic noise, weirdly melodic random sample & hold and another cacophony of babbling voices towards the end. Transmuting pop culture soundbytes into incoherent babble offset with quirky rhythms seems to be Jess's modus operandi here evidenced to the max on the title track, "Spambots". Hmmm...a new musical form out of media garbage? Maybe.

On "Plastiglomerate" Jess gets down to some serious electronic composition. Bass tones take the melodic lead in whalish sort of way while other echoed sonic effluvia bounces around it. Kinda psychedelic. "Invisibility" is an eerie, minimalistic piece with bass again taking the lead against a slow, repetitive sine wave tonal phrase. Minimal drums just sort of marking time from middle to end. Nice! "Hot Dog Acid" repeats the sampled phrase "I first dropped acid..." amidst a choppy, chaotic free jazz improv. We hear more of that acid story as the piece goes on. Part2 of "Hot Dog Acid" samples a loungey instrumental version of "Satin Doll" which morphs into an aural LSD trip as the acid hot dog story continues. "Satin Doll" makes a cameo reprise on the outro.

This kind of musical mayhem - cut, paste, staple, fold, mutilate, speed-up, slow-down, repeat, add weird electronics, abstract percussion, etc., carries on for the rest of the album, but you get the drift. It would be an interesting experiment (and I'm not advocating you should personally try this) to play this CD at a party where the guests are all imbibing hallucinogenic substances and see what reaction you might get. But perhaps 'Spambots' is hallucinogenic enough on its own, no drugs required. Interesting in small doses, unpredictable when swallowed whole.

Peter Van Zandt Lane: Hackpolitik

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jan 13 2015
Artist: Peter Van Zandt Lane (@)
Title: Hackpolitik
Format: CD
Label: Innova (@)
Rated: *****
Peter Van Zandt Lane is an American composer of acoustic and electroacoustic music. He has composed music for numerous classical and chamber music ensembles as well the Cleveland Orchestra, among others. 'Hackpolitik' is a ballet composed for and premiered by Boston-based Juventas New Music Ensemble and Brooklyn-based contemporary dance company The People Movers. Based on a series of cyber-attacks between 2010 and 2012 linked to the hacker groups Anonymous and LulzSec, the ballet depicts the rise and fall of Topiary (hacktivist) and Sabu (hacktivist) through a combination of 'electroacoustic music, modern dance, and video projection" and "examines how the Internet blurs the lines between activism and anarchy.'

Of course, we have only the music to go on here, no ballet, so one has to use their imagination. To an extent the music of 'Hackpolitik' falls into the avant garde, eschewing romanticism for action and functionality. Not to say the work is devoid of emotion, for it surely is not, but the emotion rises out of intent of purpose, anger, determination, humiliation, betrayal and consequences rather than matters of the heart. In many passages the music is quite lively, and often angular and oblique punctuated by percussion, and in others less so being quiet and contemplative. Sometimes woodwinds and xylophones weave complex arpeggios like a spider spinning a web. Other segments feature only a couple of instruments seeming to do there own thing, but there is still an intertwining relationship.

Often it sounds more like incidental film score music, meant to heighten the dramatic tension and interplay between characters and situations. One exception is track 5 - Scene III- Laurelai emerges" with reflective piano and a melancholy violin. Another is track 7 - "Scene V: The Jester" where a good segment of this passage seems to tell a story in its own right. While most of the instruments used in the compositions are orchestral, the use of electronics, although often incidental, plays a definitive role in the proceedings. In track 11 - "The shaming of HBGary Federal" sounds like a cacophonous thrash-metal freakout and I'm not sure what they're using on that but distorted electric guitar has to be in there somewhere.

'Hackpolitik' is modern classical music at its most challenging, not because it's difficult listening (for me it wasn't), but because it forces you to think outside the box, and that can be difficult for many. While undoubtedly more effective in the context of the ballet, Peter Van Zandt Lane's latest work still makes for engaging listening for the dauntless who appreciate provocative, experimental music.

Reconnaissance Fly: Flower Futures

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jan 12 2015
Artist: Reconnaissance Fly (@)
Title: Flower Futures
Format: CD
Label: Edgetone Records (@)
Rated: *****
Reconnaissance Fly is an avant garde outfit led by Polly Moller (voice, flute, bass flute, heat sink); Chris Broderick (c-melody sac, clarinet, bass clarinet); Amanda Chaudhary (electric piano, piano, organ, electronics); Larry the O (drums, percussion); and Tim Walters (bass, computer). The concept of the album, 'Flower Futures' involved taking what Polly thought was the best Internet spam poetry (or "spoetry", as she calls it), narrowing it down to 10, divvying them up to band memeber to set them to music. The result is a very mixed bag of eclectic strangeness, with some of the music being cabaret style, some jazz, some mild prog-rock, some semi-operatic, and a healthy does of the abstract. The result is the kind of peculiarity you might expect if Kurt Weill, Alfred Jarry and Frank Zappa got together and wrote a musical starring Mrs. Miller. Actually, it might be weirder than that. There is a point in track 5- "The Animal Trade in Canada" where the woodwinds actually sound like a flock of seagulls (the birds, NOT the new wave band). Polly sings most of the spoems in that faux operatic vocal style often found on early Mothers of Invention albums. Sometimes she speaks them with a dramatic flair, tongue stuck firmly in cheek. Mind you not all the music is abstract or even avant garde, but sooner or later it will go there. Compositions are divided between Polly and individual band members, so you're getting a lot of variety here. Mainstreamers won't care for this one iota. Dadaists will rejoice though. Recommended for buffs of the bizarre.

Tri-Cornered Tent Show: Welcome to Psychoville, Population 4

 Posted by Steve Mecca   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jan 08 2015
Artist: Tri-Cornered Tent Show (@)
Title: Welcome to Psychoville, Population 4
Format: CDS (CD Single)
Label: Edgetone Records (@)
Rated: *****
Tri-Cornered Tent Show is Philip Everett - electric lapharp, clarinet; Ray Schaeffer - electric basses; Anthony Flores - drums; and most recent member - Valentina O. (O. for Osinski) -vocals and FX. On this album they call themselves "Daliesque Cabaret involving Appalachian-style Murder Ballads filtered thru and reflecting on the many levels and degrees of Musical Improvisation in the 20th Century." Well, here it is well into the 21st century, Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech is long gone, and some groups are still doing what Captain Beefheart was doing (sort of) 45 years ago. Not that
there's anything wrong with that. So what is this really, anyway? Yes, the content (lyrically) is somewhat based on Appalachian murder ballads, but there is plenty of idiosyncratic embellishment courtesy of Miss O., so this isn't at all like hillbillies singin' on the tragedy of the ter-bull thing that happened to pur Daisy Mae. This is grade A bona-fide avant-garde with a cap'tal A, mon frere, and as such may not be wholley appealin' to the general masses. Lots of improvisational free jazz (is there any other kind?), as well as blues-oriented psychedelic weirdness. To some degree, this is reminiscent of the less accessible works of Carla Bley and Annette Peacock, Cathy Berberian and Diamanda Galas, but even further out. Beefheart fer sure, and others of their kind, but much more. Without Valentina this might just be another
(likely ignored) avant-garde outfit, but she brings plenty to the table with her versatile, multifaceted and powerful vocals. Then again, since she's also performed coast to coast in both San Francisco and New York City Opera companies, I suppose she should. The 8 tracks on this album are a carnival of madness, a freak show phantasmagoria, a circus of controlled chaos, an electro-acoustic alien funhouse. It's not easy to take in one sitting, but it managed to maintain my interest. There are
places where it's almost accessible, just slightly left of normal, but eventually will always veer off into strangeland. The ensemble works well together to achieve their off-kilter vision with nice interplay between all participants. Still, you have to be prepared for their bizarro intensity. Zappa would have dug it if he was still around. I do too, albeit in small doses.

Death Shanties: Crabs

 Posted by Vito Camarretta (@)   Experimental / Avantgarde / Weird & Wired / Glitch / Noise / Field Recording
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Jan 05 2015
Artist: Death Shanties (@)
Title: Crabs
Format: 12"
Label: Bomb Shop
Rated: *****
I remember Alex Neilson's name as well as his "encroaching" sticks on "Camber Sands Sunday", one of the countless live record by Stelring Richard Smith's Jandek, while I've never heard before the names of Sybren Renema (alto and baritone sax) and Lucy Stein, whose painted projections play an important role during live sessions and embellishes the cover artwork of the debut album by Death Shanties by means of food residues, images whose immediacy could surmise cave painting, and her own hair. Some people who saw them playing on live stage report really incendiary free-jazz sessions and besides this aspect, this debut dazzles in its originality for a bizarre melting pot of free-jazz and 6oies psychedelic fire music with references to sea shanties (songs like "The Life Of A Wave" could render a pirate ship in the middle of sea-storm), legendary standards (it's almost heart-rending the reversed tribute to legendary New Orleans drummer Baby Dodds on "Baby Dodds Is Dead" where Neilson seems to emulate some of his unforgettable drum improvisations), Medieval folk music, field hollers and work songs ("Come Sunday", "Stumps") that reaches their acme on the lovely final "O! Where Is Saint George". Crabs manage to catch listeners in their pincer by a vibrant nd somehow original (in the field of free-jazz) style that they wisely described as "mixed media balls-to-the-wall free-jazz" which deserves some attention.

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