Sunday, September 20, 2020

Music Reviews

Artist: Martin Taxt
Title: First Room
Format: CD
Label: Sofa
The debut solo album from microtonal tuba player and composer Martin Taxt, a duet with Inga Margrethe Aas on viola da gamba and double bass, sits in a middle ground between classical solo and drone. It’s melodic, but many of the notes are so long and so sustained that they start developing their own drone-line textures.

It’s a single 35-minute piece that layers up live and studio recordings, with a reactionary concept at the core where the performers respond to the previously recorded layers. Perhaps the most striking parts are the pauses- while some drone works deliberately avoid stopping for breath, this work has several points where the tone ebbs away into silence or near-silence before gradually returning for another, different wave. Exposing the creaking tones of studio furniture adds extra texture at the top.

Taxt recently finished a masters degree in Music & Architecture, and this work is described as a tribute to the Japanese tearoom and the tatami mat- but if anything it seems to describe slightly larger, emptier rooms, studio spaces, or some kind of geometric cave. It’s a lovely nuanced bit of work that brings character and a sense of storytelling with tones normally used in flatter, more open drones, and it does it all rather nicely.

Artist: The Post Spiderhole Ensemble (@)
Title: False Alarms and Excess Baggage
Format: Tape & Digital Download
Label: Kitchen Leg Records (@)
Rated: *****
There is something alluring, at least to me, about a cassette-only release of well-constructed noise. The Post Spiderhole Ensemble is just one dude, a German named A.K. (Andrew Kemp), but damn if Herr Kemp doesn’t make some delicious and decidedly beautiful sonic trouble here on False Alarms and Excess Baggage. The word “collage” comes to mind as you dive in here. There are bells and whistles and motherfucking melody, too. “Precious Fragments” kicks things off with some nifty little indie rock (imagine a bunch of super stoned music nerds holed up in a basement somewhere doing bongs and making magic) walled in by killer sad clown horns and buzzy machinery. If you dig old Fly Ashtray, you’ll love it.

As the record progress, Kemp adds in touches of goth-y drone that is reminiscent of the kind of babies Tones on Tail and Coil would have had if they were on a codeine binge. So good. I really like this cassette a lot. It’s got that familiar lo-fi buzz crackling all through it that reminds me of an old Sears stereo I had growing up. Everything I listened to on it sounded warm and loving and imperfect. False Alarms and Excess Baggage has been in the making for the past 15 years and that both bums me out and makes me smile. I’m bummed because it tells me I could have been enjoying some of these nuggets for the past decade and a half and I’m smiling because Kemp cares enough about his art to be thoughtful in how he releases it.

“Shattered Knees” is all bassy throb, weaving in and out of distorted treble heavy guitar-ish noise. The vocals add to the hypnosis of it all and lend to the languid head bobs I can’t help but do as I listen. A.K. gets you moving on this record. I wish there was a chronological order as to when the songs were recorded because there does seem to be progress here as around track 8 (“ShipsIn The Sand”), which is one of the few slightly forgettable tracks on here, there does seem to be a shift in production values.

It would also be great to have information as to how A.K.’s influences expanded over the 15 years these songs were being made. “Grin At The Sun,” for example, sounds like a deconstructed Strokes song. Was he listening to a lot of Strokes when he made this? I’d love to know! The rock and roll ecstasy that is “Trust The Dollar” is all new wave, fuzz, and we’re back to the indie rockers in the basement, although the weed has worn off and the caffeine has kicked in here. Is there anything better than a great riff that is kinda backwards and weird? This song is kinda like something corporate Beck, not young, cool Beck, would have written and then thought, “No, the record label won’t go for this.”

Perhaps the greatest thing about this cassette, though, is that it gives hope. It is filled with hope, really. The hope for more of The Post Spiderhole Ensemble music in the future. The hope that anyone with some good ideas and the patience to learn some tech and put it all together can make a wonderfully fun and clever record. The hope that it will never end, even though “Paris, With the Same Age On His Bathtub” ends this cassette perfectly.

Artist: Etrusca 3D (Spencer Clark & Francesco Cavaliere)
Title: Etrusca 3D
Format: 12" + Download
Label: Pacific City Discs / Discrepant
There’s a curious concept behind Etrusca 3D, where Cavaliere recites the names of various deities from the ancient Italian civilisation, at various intensities, and then the two loop them and use them as the core of electronica compositions that attempt to add further instrumental narrative to the chanting.

The result, however, isn’t nearly as reverential or ethereal as it is pitched as. Instead, it has to be described as playful. Pitching the voices up and down in a sampler has an old-school, 1980’s, ‘joy of sampling’ feel to it and in pieces like “Il Demone Blu” it feels like it’s channelling the early work of JJ Jeczalik more than it’s channelling any ancient Gods. This is reinforced by the analogue synths used for some of the melody lines in tracks like “Tuchulcha”, and the somewhat lo-fi treatment of the vocal sounds at times.

When it’s at its weirdest, such as in the lengthy textured dialogue of “Velathri”, is actually when it’s at its least successful, but when it gets a bit of a groove on, such as in “Vanth”, or lets the instrumental music meander in the foreground a little more such as in “Fulmini”, it’s a very enjoyable, almost foot-tapping listen.

So in terms of its conceptual target, it does seem like something of a mis-fire, but as a short (37-minute) playful album of light electronica, it still has a lot of merit.

Artist: Edoardo Cammisa (@)
Title: Flux
Format: Download Only (MP3 + Lossless)
Label: LINE (@)
I was on the point of writing this review while listening to this release by Edoardo Cammisa (also known as Banished Pills), when I realised I had to stop typing to follow the suggestions by its author in order to appreciate the listening experience as much as possible. He or maybe Richard Chartier, mentor, curator and owner of LINE imprint, warmly recommends doing nothing but listen, as "Flux" is purposefully “aimed at contemplating nothingness and its manifestations”, so that it's recommended to do nothing while using a good pair of headphones and listen to the release at a mid-low volume level. The nine minutes lasting incipit "Towards a Flux" begins by one minute of snapshots rendered through field recordings, preceding a ghostly haze of distant pads, where other entities and field recordings of distant voices or physical actions resurface little by little (some of them sound more like captures of hydrophones), as if they were moments getting out of a mnemonic pool, before getting dissolved in the above-mentioned nothingness. The full-fledged "Flux" is a sonic trip of more than 40 minutes, where the suggestion by the author makes sense as its immersive effect cannot be really appreciated if you're doing anything else that could distract your mind from the sonic source. A rough reminiscence of a loop can be rendered by a sort of buzzing noise of some electric system, permeating the first third of the track, but many changes and many seemingly weird entities will appear within the fences evoked by this hypnotic buzz. The low level of volume of the first minutes can make you feel noises generated by your own body or slight noises from the environment and their apparent merge with Edoardo's "Flux" (forged by this list of tools, as reported on Line introduction: hydrophone, binaural and contact microphones, magnetic tape, broken walkman, sine and triangle waves) can be part of the listening experience as well. The frequencies, that will appear and draw cycles around the listening sphere of the audience over the track, can be imagined as fibrous parts that gradually detaches from the main core to wrap the listeners by other mental images and feelings. Do nothing and listen then!

Artist: Lovexpress (@)
Title: The Million Year Girl
Format: CD & 12"
Label: Furry Heart Records (@)
Rated: *****
I had been alerted to receiving this record from Furry Heart in Italy by label head Edwina who began to panic when it seemed like it wasn't going to show up because of my change of address. Lo and behold though it did, and both Edwina and I are very glad about that. Lovexpress is an Italian avant garde rock band, with three members, one of which I know. Luca Collivasone - prepared guitar, synth,vocals; Daniele La Barbera - drums, vocals; Lorenzo Chiesa - synth, samples, vocals. It's obviously Luca that I know as I recently reviewed his 'Rumpus Room' release. The one-sheet (actually a two-sheet) I received on the band and the album was rather minimal on band bio concentrating on the band concept and the present album. I did find out online they had a previous release back in 2017, but more than that, I dunno. Lovexpress (aka LUVXPSS) is an unusual sort of rock band. For one thing, Luca plays prepared guitar, the instrument lying on a flat surface, using a non-standard tuning, and played with a multitude of objects, lending a certain unpredictability to the music. Not that it doesn't sound like a guitar, but often more of an avant garde jazz sound than rock, although the music is still rooted in rock. Synths are (mostly) monophonic and generally minimal, with lots of quirky analogue sounds and not used in a typical synthpop way. Drumming is somewhat jazzy and punchy (certainly came across as punchy on the vinyl) and the songs...well, they're out there but not so far as to lose their effectiveness.

I think I can attribute the overall flavor to Mr. Collivasone, who seems to handle most of the lead vocals. A good portion of his vocals are spoke-sung, more like hipster poetry than any conventional pop singing, but he does melodic at times as well. 'The Million Year Girl' is eight tracks in the span of 41 minutes, fairly average for an LP. The opener, "Cracking Knuckles" sets the tone for the rest of the album- somewhat languid with abstract guitar, farty synth bass, modified half-time shuffle rhythm, and Luca's semi-deadpan delivery - "What in the world's come over me? You show me things I should never perceive. Holding your face mock(?) integrity, the unicorn leaps over crystal dreams...Bubble childs look after, double aromatic caster, cracking knuckles, disaster, goddesses of alabaster..." and more to that effect, with a good amount of guitar improvisation in the mix. I especially enjoyed Luca's "hibbity-bibbity-bobbity-boo" (at least what I call it) descending guitar riff on this song. The most memorable thing about the title track (The Million Year Girl) was the euro-siren synth , although the song is part straight-ahead rocker and part art oddity. "Summer of Love" works better, sounding very much like a psychotic psychedelic rocker at first with a very catchy, simple chorus. Gotta love the wah-wah on the guitar too. Where things fall apart a little is when the sampled broadcast material about the Manson murders comes in. Uh, that technically wasn't the Summer of Love (it was a couple years later), but whatever. I'm not keen on extended sampled dialogue anyway.

Moving on, some of "Do What To Do" reminded me a bit of Dali's Car, that Peter Murphy/Mick Karn 1984 collaboration, and that's not a bad thing. "Nothing" recalls the minimal wave of '80s bands like Ruins and Savant, not that many people remember them; largely instrumental and dancey. "Expanding" is like Per Ubu meets Revolting Cocks in the Butthole Surfers' basement. "Too Many Hangups" is perhaps the most normal song on the album, and consequently the least interesting. It all ends with "Voodoo," which seemed reminiscent of Stan Ridgway's Drywall project, and of course, he was Wall of Voodoo's original singer. Still, I liked the song a lot and it provided a satisfying conclusion to the album.

Although I found 'The Million Year Girl' to be an uneven album, there is a lot more good stuff on it than just okay, and as a limited edition on 180 gram vinyl (100 copies only), it's a worthy buy. When Furry Heart runs out of that, there's always the CD. Just one question for Luca- why no cacophonator on the album?


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