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Monday, March 30, 2009

GAMEHENGE 09 - downloadable album

As a policy, I avoid writing about things here that I'm actually involved in. But this is such an odd album, and since I was only one of 100 people to contribute some sound to this, and since you can download it for free*, I figured this was worth mentioning.

I also don't usually have any interest in Phish, or jam bands of that ilk, but here we have some kind of rare Phish concept album, covered in its entirety. Nat Hawks, mastermind of the Little Fury Things record label, got the idea to take a recording of this Phish piece, chop it into 100 segments of about 15 seconds to a minute and a half each, and get 100 different artists to cover each chunk.

I don't know about anyone else, but I have not heard much Phish and the chunk I heard sounded pretty indistinct. Random noodling without much of a tune to speak of, and some kind of rambling story being spoken over the top.

So it's kind of strange to me that the final result actually seems pretty cohesive and is a really enjoyable listen. I am willing to bet it's about a million times better than the source material. I don't know how much it turned out this way due to the selection of artists, or if everyone really did a decent job of keeping the vibe from the source material intact. Almost everyone is doing something experimental, ranging from loose rock to free-folk to electronic to ambient to whatever, but it all turns out pretty chill and trippy and a little edgy. Which happens to be the vibe of Little Fury Things in general also.

Many of the tracks blend smoothly into each other, some have distinct breaks in-between. At times I wish they were all merged and blended together a little more completely, but it would have been difficult since some artists seem to have covered their piece of music as though it were a stand-alone song, with a beginning and an end. I'm amazed this whole thing actually got completed, and I sort of suspect that several of the credited artists might actually be Nat under different aliases, but even if so, there are a huge variety of sounds and approaches at work here. Just a few of the credited names that seemed familiar to me: Scissor Shock, Holzkopf, say no to architecture, Teeth Mountain, Video Hippos, Robe., Yellow Crystal Star, Sperm Whales.

Anyway, this is a huge and totally weird project and I recommend checking it out.

Download it here.

Read more about it at Little Fury Things on MySpace.

And about that asterisk next to the word "free" above: Nat suggests that if you appreciate this, you might make a 5 or 10 dollar donation to Explore Charter School's (Brooklyn) trip fund

Friday, March 13, 2009

NARWHALZ (of sound) "Hardcore Beach Crimes" C30

Stellar 30 minute tape from Richmond, Virginia's Gameboy-freakout noise artist Brian Blomerth, aka Narwhalz. Having heard his earlier stuff, I can tell you that this tape shows a much more evolved and refined Narwhalz.

Maybe someone reading this has seen Narwhalz perform before. This reader may wonder how I can use words like "evolved" and "refined" to describe an artist whose performances involve rolling on the floor while punching Gameboy buttons, humping Pomeranian stuffed animals, repeated "technical difficulties," and periods of extended, rambling, semi-surrealist, self-deprecating monologues that approach a form of MySpace-culture beat poetry. Meanwhile, the music is a torrent of chaotic videogame sounds in a fast-forward jumble.

These points are noted. However, just listen to this tape. There is an ebb and flow to this chaos. Long periods (relatively) of repetitive sounds almost start to hypnotize you before things explode and insanity breaks out. Then there's some time to catch your breath, the music settles down and starts to sound almost pretty, or Brian shares some words of wisdom before the next round. Then you start to notice that the music has the same pacing and flow as everything Brian writes, and everything he draws as well. Nothing is quite as random as it seems here. A lot of care has gone into putting the sounds on this tape together.

For another thing, unlike earlier recordings I have, this one is all at the same volume level, or at least it gets loud only when it's supposed to get loud. I also like how the vocals are mostly obscured by distortion, letting you believe that maybe he's screaming about some truly HARSH power electronics shit. Then there's one very clear part where he addresses Snoopy and you realize it's actually the same bizarre nonsense it always has been.

Bottom line, if you have seen Narwhalz and you thought it was amazing then you'll love this tape. It edits down and distills all the best sounding stuff and most successful moments. If you saw Narwhalz and thought it was the most inane bullshit ever, this tape JUST MIGHT CHANGE YOUR MIND ... maybe. Probably not. On Flish Records, nice yellow tape and full-color illustrated art.

photo by Head Molt

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

DAVE SMOLEN "Flannel Injection" CDR

I really admire consistency of presentation. Dave Smolen's album is called "Flannel Injection," the disc has a flannel plaid pattern on it, it comes packaged IN flannel, and I am pretty sure Dave himself was wearing a flannel shirt when he handed this to me.

Strangely however, I cant find anything flannel-ey about the sounds herein. In fact, I'd be far more likely to liken the sound to things metallic, electronic, or alien. This conjures up H.R. Giger settings in my mind, much of it sounding like what you'd expect to hear as you made the descent into the heart of some kind of scary, bio-mechanical mothership.

The album starts and ends with more rhythm-based tracks, the first one almost sounding like a drum machine run through effects, the last based on a fast pulsing sound that goes through some very Mincemeat or Tenspeed-like changes. (You might note that, both Smolen and MMOTS coming from the same Philadelphia scene, the influence likely runs both ways) In the middle, the album comes closer to soundscapes, filled with grinding machines, lasers, dripping goo, and mechanical reverb. Rhythmic elements still crop up throughout in the form of pulses, flutters, and very loosely looped sounds. Like the soundtrack to a surrealist, industrial, sci-fi/horror film.

I really like how this is composed as an album, many different tracks with a different sound to each, just less than 30 minutes altogether, opening and closing with the more "catchy" tracks. Makes for great repeat listening. Dave Smolen's performance at I.N.C. was also fantastic, based on many of the same sci-fi sounds, but gradually layering them up into a complex mess.

CDR from Malleable Records.

Dave Smolen live video!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

AIDS Wolf "Cities of Glass"

Alright, so I'm not quite on top of my new releases, but I have finally caught up with the new one from AIDS Wolf, who are proudly carrying the no-wave/bad-vibes-noise-rock torch right now. AIDS Wolf use loud, dissonant, non-chord guitar parts, flailing drums and the caterwauling of singer Chloe Lum to assault the listener. (All of these are good things in my book)

The first thing I notice is that they're not going to shake the Arab on Radar comparisons with this record, especially starting the first song off with that fluttery guitar sound that opens some Arab on Radar songs also ... but from there things take a turn for the more difficult. In fact, the first track, "M.T.I.," is probably the most "out" on the record, just barely holding together and sounding like maybe, just maybe, it was an inspired improvisation.

I went back and listened to AIDS Wolf's earlier "Lovvers LP" for comparison, and this one is much denser (both in terms of production values and playing) and more complex. "Lovvers" is similarly dissonant, but the song structures are rather straight forward. On "Cities of Glass" a clear effort has gone into deconstructing the music-making blueprints, not just the guitar sound and tuning. For example, on "Ch-ch-chatter" the guitars and drums sound ALMOST like they're going to lock into a groove, but all the players are counting different numbers of beats and it never completely synchronizes. Most of the songs work this way, at least partly. (I'm guessing AIDS Wolf want this album to be their "Sang Phat Editor")

For me, this makes for a much deeper and more fascinating listen. There may be some direct cues taken from the aforementioned Arab on Radar and U.S.Maple (it would be appropriate to name-drop Harry Pussy here too), but seriously, since all of those bands are defunct, how many current bands are trying to advance new music composition techniques? I don't mean trying to advance new combinations of effects pedals, but trying to reconstruct "rock" music from the DNA up. (If you want to take that as a reference to the band, DNA, that works too!) I'm not going to go quite so far as to put "Cities of Glass" on a level with U.S.Maple's "Sang Phat Editor" but right now AIDS Wolf largely have the field to themselves.*

One complaint, I wish Chloe's vocals were clean, without that distortion on them through every song. I think they'd be far more expressive.

CD & LP on Skin Graft. Killer live show too, touring the States in March!

AIDS Wolf page at Skin Graft Records
AIDS Wolf on
AIDS Wolf blog

* Correct me if I'm wrong! I always appreciate musical recommendations!