Thursday, October 12, 2017

Auxiliary Out Radio Programme 2.0: Episode #2

On tonight's episode: A Cassette Store Day ripper, processed skronk, vintage Charlie McAlister, a cassette headtrip through the early 2010s, copious use of the word "incredible" and more!


"ESG Song" Megabreth Ultra High Noise [Field Hymns, 2017] (CS)
"Lust of Result" Merx Twenty Sq. Ft. [Skrot Up, 2013] (CS)
"Removal" Peter Kris Rim of the World [Spring Break Tapes!, 2015] (CS)
"Bog Man" Charlie McAlister Country Creme/Victorian Fog [Feeding Tube, 2011] (LP) REVIEW
"4th of July/Bright Costumes" Creeping Charlie Clicking Tocks & Darking Bogs [Squirrel Energy Now!/Mighty Feeble Lo-Fi, 199?] (CS)
"Bardo Nectar" Prana Crafter MindStreamBlessing [Eiderdown, 2017] (CS)
"GQ DQ for Clarinet and Tape" More Eaze wOrk [Kendra Steiner Editions, 2017] (CDr) REVIEW
"The Haggard Gaze of the Caged" Moth Cock 0-100 at the Speed of the Present [Hausu Mountain, 2017] (CS)
"Victory for the Overlord" Matt Carlson Gecko Dream Levels [Gift Tapes, 2011] (CS) REVIEW
"Birds Fucking Outside My Window" K.P. Getting Rid of the Glue [Pendu Sounds, 2006] (LP)
"Stolen Bike" Brian Ruryk KSE 11th Anniversary Album [Kendra Steiner Editions, 2017] (CDr)
"Mariner's Hymn" Odawas Mind of Christ [Tired Trails, 2010] (CS) REVIEW
"Side A (excerpt)" Mortuus Auris & The Black Hand Freiheit Ist Immer Freiheit Der Andersdenkenden [Stunned, 2010] (CS) REVIEW
"B - Departure" Kanukanakina A - Arrival B - Departure [A Giant Fern, 2011] (CS) REVIEW
"There was the Ruby Glade" Foton Omega [Field Hymns, 2012] (CS) REVIEW
"Snow Walking" Glochids Originals [Weird Ear, 2013] (CS)

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

More Eaze - wOrk [Kendra Steiner Editions]

I've got a nice little stack of Kendra Steiner discs keeping me warm at night, and I'm gonna have to design a little round-up to get some words out on the bulk of them but I just couldn't wait any longer to inscribe some thoughts on one disc in particular. It's one I'm still processing and, let's be honest, I'm going to be processing it for a while. But if I waited until I "processed" something, I'd never write a goddamn thing.
After such a long hiatus and being out of the game, so to speak, I've been turning to trusted agents to guide me toward the truly essential stuff I've been missing out on. (Acquainting myself with the hulking morass of new labels and artists has proven just a tad overwhelming.) One morsel of advice I got was 'you gotta check out the More Eaze dude, he's the real deal.' Apparently, More Eaze--otherwise known as Marcus Rubio--is continually changing up his style, even from release to release. I can't vouch for that as wOrk is the only transmission I've been privy to, but that notion doesn't surprise me in the least. More Eaze seems like the type who is never content to occupy one zone for long.
In a woeful attempt to put too fine a point on it, wOrk encompasses synth bloopery, noise/jazz acoustic textures (via bow and reed) and a bit of ambient drone gussied up and spit out via an acute collage-y compositional aesthetic. And it fuckin' rules.
What befuddles me most is how More Eaze manages to go so totally out and yet capture a certain accessibility. I mean my mom's not gonna listen to this, but Rubio has a knack for finding little melodies and rhythms, sometimes forthright and sometimes subliminal, in whatever aural alchemy he's conjuring.
"GQ DQ for Clarinet and Tape" marries an early 20th century-era classical clarinet with vocal and cowbell samples you'd find in early boom bap, all stirred up into a mystery stew. And it doesn't sound hacky or attention-seeking in the least, the sounds marinate surprisingly well together. Yet before you know it, the track has morphed into a groovy jazz duet for clarinet and sampler. Additionally, the opening and closing tracks of wOrk highlight ongoing sonic contradictions: blank, deadpan drones bristle and quiver with life on "Trio for Bowed and Object and Sustaining Instruments" while the modular synth/feedback loop doohickey "N3v3r 4fit" transacts randomness into form.
Silence is also prized in wOrk. Don't misunderstand me, this is not a quiet album. Quite the opposite actually. But Rubio understands silence is an oft-overlooked tool at the musician/composer's disposal and exploits it to the hilt. Creating a milieu lit with the sonic approximation of chiaroscuro, Rubio delves deep into hi-contrast sounds (silences included). Sometimes those silences manifest in very long forms as on the aforementioned "Trio" but more often the silences are scaled way down intermingling with various flurries of sounds.
A quartet of brief pieces under the title "Bagatelle" is possibly the pinnacle of the disc. Each piece is roughly around a minute, containing a specific idea of its own which also resonates in context with the other three. The first brews air blown through a non-vibrating reed with synth tones which is opened up in the second of the pieces, where a jazz drummer discovers a drum machine for the first time and a cello groans incessantly. Throughout the disc, it's often hard to distinguish the origin of a given sound, whether synthetic or organic, and the third piece features twinkling chimes that reveal themselves to be sourced from electricity and not kinetic energy. The final of the four pieces, the most well-formed by traditional definition, splits its time between an uptempo jammer and glistening orchestral swell; of course, the time we are talking about here is maybe 75 seconds.
To me, one of the worthwhile tests of an artist's powers is whether he or she can fully express an idea in a minute, or other similar small scale. Expansive vision relayed in compact form demonstrates true mastery and the "Bagatelle" movements are all fine examples. Rubio does not panic in light of his constricted time frame and overplay his hand; this is not a situation of simply overloading/whelming the listener with sound. As frenetic as wOrk often is, there's an underlying patience and refinement in its construction.
All told, wOrk integrates elements that I love (rich textures--electric and acoustic, adventurous compositions), which is cause for excitement, but that those elements are integrated with such finesse and aplomb is cause for celebration. The sounds described here are just the tip of the iceberg.
I think this disc may be out-of-print but it's definitely worth checking with Kendra Steiner about it and scoping some of the other excellent wares.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Auxiliary Out Radio Programme 2.0: Episode #1

Decided to reboot the Auxiliary Out Radio Programme which retired back in March of 2010. We'll see how it goes. Still trying to figure out the best way to do this, or if it is even really a good idea, so all feedback is welcomed and encouraged (both positive and especially negative!) Excuse the warble during one of the "air breaks," the tape kept jamming on me.

On tonight's episode: Canada, computer music, women on the mic, So Cal beatz, Richmond weirdos, troubadours, belated Load Records eulogy, psychedelic organ ridin', percussion, scuzzcore, jazz & shit. Enjoy!


"Morbid Rhapsody" Man Made Hill Intercourses [Orange Milk, 2012] (CS) REVIEW
"Death" Surveillance Man [Various, 2015] (7")
"H.pelepr" Bret Schneider Model of a Garden Scene with Watering Can [Avant Archive, 2011] (CS) REVIEW
"Nulled Lobe Pachet" Scy1e Body Lag/Craedle Calls [Phinery, 2017] (CS)
"I Wanna be your Stranger" The Marshmallow Staircase Gunfighters [Summersteps, 2012] (CS) REVIEW
"Fastblood" Metalux Waiting for Armadillo [Load, 2004] (CD)
"Touch" Svet Gloomy Swamp, Breathless Mud [Rat Tail Tapes, 2017] (CS)
"In the Sound" Freelove Fenner Do Not Affect a Breezy Manner [Fixture, 2013] (CDr)
"Skate Heaven" White Glove White Glove [Field Hymns, 2011] (CS) REVIEW
"Untitled" Junior Pande Tape Two [Spring Break Tapes!, 2012] (CS)
"Spaceship_Players Opus/Outro_You're Welcome" Mr. Abstract Butta Fingas Invictus [Bonding Tapes, 2016] (CS) REVIEW
"Transport to Beta Sector/Wild Mchan Spacerider" Igor Amokian Green Tape [zYPHER, 2016] (CS) REVIEW
"Fold Pollination" Bryan Day & Bob Marsh Crumpled Partials [Green Tape, 2013] (CDr)
"Journey to the Center of Something or Other" Angst Hase Pfeffer Nase Split with Bhob Rainey [Sedimental, 2008] (7") REVIEW
"Anatomize" Dane Rousay Anatomize [Kendra Steiner Editions, 2017] (CDr) REVIEW
"There You Are" David B. Greenberg You are the Greatest [No Label, 2014] (CS)
"Recluse" Need Need [Crippled Sound, 2013] (CS)
"Hoppaloppa" Apuh! Två [Pälsrobot, 2015] (CS)
"White Out the Blue Monk" Klondike & York Klondike & York [Weird Forest, 2002] (7")

Friday, September 8, 2017

Mr. Abstract Butta Fingas - Invictus [Bonding Tapes] / Igor Amokian/ABF - Green Tape [zYPHER]

Here's a couple of SoCal orgs boogie-in' for a beatdown, Bonding Tapes from San Diego and zYPHER just down the 134 in Pasadena. The common denominator is Mr. Abstract Butta Fingas a.k.a. ABF. The mister rolls solo on the Bonding tape Invictus and teams up with Igor Amokian for Green Tape, another installment in their color-coded cassette series on zYPHER.
Immediately after Invictus's spools get spinning, Mr. Fingas announces, via sample, that he's a "bigshot" on "The Trip_Penance." The album's namesake "invictus," while conjuring unfortunate memories of Matt Damon with a South African accent, is actually a Latin word that translates to "unconquered." So "bigshot," "unconquered," I think we have a theme here. But Fingas embraces the hype and backs it up so it's all good. Now that we've gotten your Latin word of the day out of the way...
The aforementioned "The Trip_Penance" bounces a bunch of synths off of themselves while "Disintegrator_Redeye" relies on a beefy synth-bass line to rule the roost. I find myself leaning toward the tracks that indulge in more classic hip hop impulses like "Bass Loner" and "The Builders," the latter of which marries a killer, heavily processed and panned brass sample with an almost 8-bit burbling synth counter melody. Brief but a killer.
The rubbery groove of "Vampire!" moves at a drunken shuffle, wobbling its way into your heart with an accordion-esque patch coughing up an ersatz wheeze. Mr. F gets a little more crunk on "Dilated" with heavy bass chords and tittering hi-hat. "Spaceship_Player Opus" hits on a nice little looped melody--Primo-esque but with a predilection to keep things off-kilter--that takes the tape to its peak before wrapping things up with the also-bangin' "Outro_You're Welcome".
I haven't been able to nail down whether this series of tapes sees Igor Amokian and Fingas splitting the sides (which the info on bandcamp for the series's first installment Red Tape states) or if they began collaborating as a duo at some point during the series's lifespan. Since the j-card itself doesn't provide any clues one way or the other I will cautiously move forward under the belief that this is the same format as Red Tape with Amokian on the A side and ABF on the flip, although please note the caveat that I may be completely wrong.
(If this is a split then) the two artists are amazingly in sync because Green Tape (no relation to Illinois-based weirdo outpost Green Tape) feels pretty seamless. The first cut "Alien Signal" finds Igor Amokian's rough and tumble electronics pulsing and thumping. A quick bit of google searching on Amokian will lead you to a whole bunch of references to his circuit bending. What's less prominently mentioned is that he can bang too. "A Trillion Stars" settles into a slammin' boom bap style loop after a while, galvanizing the noises around it. "Cellular Cyborg" is majorly repetitive but it totally hooks me with this hi-pitched, nearly percussive melody. Amokian seems to favor more straight ahead time signatures than Fingas and "Cellular Cyborg" and "Ill Electro" are unflinching and relentless in their patterns. "Transport to Beta Sector" is unexpected but entirely welcome as its loping pace and mournful tone would be extremely effective even without the element of surprise. Could easily see it used to score some dystopian sci-fi flick.
While Amokian cuts his side into seven slices, Fingas (here billed as simply ABF) sticks with five cuts as he did on Invictus. "Liqid Chrome Aladdin" is a perfect transition into the ABF universe: languid funky bass, these great swells of a synth with the resonance turned way up and a killer little arpeggiated counter melody that drops in for a bit. The Fingas side is off to a hot start. "Angel Wings" always catches me off guard with its clean-toned lead vibraphone that sits surprisingly well among the drum machines, speedy synth patterns and agitated circuits. Well done. "The Vast Abyss" zags in the opposite direction brewing some tension between a host of melodic parts that aren't quite comfortable sharing a zip code.
"Martian Baggage Check" is the counterpoint to "Transport to Beta Sector" on the Amokian side with a very cinematic vibe. It's less of a fugue with more of an air of mystery and sense of mounting excitement via a chugging bass loop. ABF opens the track up midway through with a confluence of melodies via voice samples and percussive sequenced synth. If this ain't a collabo then Amokian and Fingas must have patch cables running between the CV ins/outs of their brains, Green Tape feels totally of a piece.
Both tapes are real nice, I probably lean a little toward Green Tape because I love how the two artists fuse their sounds whether directly or indirectly, and I always dig that grimy science fiction-inflected sound, but you can't go wrong. Bonding Tapes is wryly slangin' copies of Invictus for (TR-)$6.06 that can be grabbed here. Green Tape is hyper-limited but a few copies remain. Hustle to get those here.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Crytearions - I See What it is and I am Scared [No Label]

The opening riff of "A New College Suburbia" very clearly indicates what I See What it is and I am Scared is. A fuzzed up electric guitar and that signature thin, "home-recorded" mix. Hailing from a dude's bedroom in Ireland, The Crytearions are kinda just what you want in this sort of thing, the name rides the fine line between clever and stupid and the sounds feature zero frills.
After the rockabilly-infused "Gross Situation", "Early Retirement Plan" and the instrumental title track close the first side in spectacular fashion. Whether it's the hooky aggression of "Plan" or the wailing of one bleeding note over and over on the title track, the louder the tracks get the better they are. The thick swagger of "Masses" supports this point as well.
"Permanent Vacancy" recalls early-GBV--but with a speedy drum machine grumbling in the background--and seeing as it only lasts 44 seconds the case for GBV-inspiration is that much stronger. "Be a Good Little Girl and Get Your Daddy a Beer" sounds a little like an even more lo-fi Black Orphan, which previously didn't seem all that possible. At 2:36, the finale "FGM" qualifies as the default epic with somewhat unintelligible spoken bits during the verses and killer riffage.
The appeal of The Crytearions is simple: they're catchy, workmanlike and won't waste your fucking time. This tape rocks.
Tape comes packaged in a tobacco pouch which I can't say I've ever seen before, so props for ingenuity boys. Tape is sold out but give the bandcamp a look.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Dane Rousay - Blip [No Label]/Dane Rousay - Anatomize [Kendra Steiner Editions]

Dane Rousay is a San Antonio, TX-based percussionist who was unfamiliar to me until a month or so ago. I love solo percussion though so I was more than happy to get acquainted with this double dose. The opener "Blade" keeps things relatively conventional (if solo percussion can ever be considered conventional) with a thumping bass pulse and a clanging melody on a bell of some sort. Over the first few tracks, Rousay lulls you into a false sense of security that you're jamming a reasonably consonant drum tape when he drops the harsh clatter two fister "Tusk" and "Clear" like an ice pick to the temple, the bowed cymbals on the latter are particularly nasty. This all leads into Rousay's finest moment; he really kills it with "Most Broad" bowing a drum (or maybe he's got a cello mounted on his kit???) in addition to traditional short attack/short decay percussion sounds. Slowing things down to a crawl before a truly beautiful snap & squelch freakout, you'll be hitting the REW button many times over. Oh, did I mention that Rousay recorded all these jams live? So he's got a bit of octopus DNA in there somewhere.
On the eponymous--and by far the longest--track, Rousay works in a guitar looping pedal into his arsenal, using it, for instance, to keep a bell ever-rattling while he works the toms. The track runs over ten minutes and it's actually kind of great to hear Rousay sprawl over a larger canvas (three of the prior tracks clock in at 71 seconds or less). Nice way to slip out the door and into the empty hiss.
My qualm with the tape is not about the sounds but the old pet peeve of unbalanced side lengths; there's a long stretch of empty tape after Side A's program concludes. Considering the brief lengths of the tracks, grouping more on the A-side would have assuaged some of the bother, and considering Rousay's statement that "these tracks/sides are not required to be listened to consecutively" it seems a track re-sequencing could have solved the issue altogether without sacrificing artistic vision. It's a minor complaint seeing as how the sounds are awesome, but just sayin'.
Moving onto the Anatomize disc on Kendra Steiner, "Systems" focuses heavily on bells/chimes forming a rather pleasant archway to enter into the album. However, Rousay follows it up with "Tissue" which is a bit testier from the get go. Some of Anatomize is made up of compositions for percussion (rather than live improvisations) and "Tissue" appears to be a good example of that side of Rousay as it features stereo sweeps of cymbals and multi-tracked rattling chimes. The latter effect appears on "Bent" as well as Rousay appears to be dueling with himself creating quasi-melodic rim rolls that come at you from both channels. "Interactome" finds Rousay attacking his drum head with just his fingertips and it's sweet fuckin' music to my ears.
Taking a page out of the Hollywood playbook, Rousay reboots "Most Broad" as "Most Broad: For Two" with Svetlana Zwetkof in tow, contributing layers of vocals. The more spartan, abrasive version on Blip gets my vote but it's interesting to it hear it re-worked as a duo piece. "Aloof: Voice, Drum, iPhone" takes a long, goofy detour into a zone of vocal drones, sporadic percussion and a choir of iPhone ringtones including that 'reactor meltdown alarm' one laying down the back beat. The stellar title track closes the disc as Rousay clanks, rattles and rolls into the sunset.
Blip sold out it's initial run but lucky for the world, there's a second pressing (well dubbing) of the cassette. Buy it here. Anatomize dropped last month on Kendra Steiner Editions and can be purchased here. Both get my vote.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Toarch - This is Me [Bill Murray Tapes]

From Dallas, TX label Bill Murray Tapes comes This is Me by Toarch, a brief 3" CDr and zine combo release (8 minutes/24 pages). It features a zine filled with photos of serial killers and occasional text, while the disc is intended to provide a soundtrack while the zine is leafed through.
I'm not up on my serial killers, or at least their faces, so without the label description I may not have known the ugly mugs littering the pages belong to serial murders (other than a couple pages which makes things pretty explicit). The intent of the zine is to contextualize the serial killers differently (from "glorification from Goregrind bands and such") and to reveal their vulnerabilities. Some pages achieve this better than others (namely the text accompanying a face relaying the common everyday enjoyment of listening to the radio and reading newspapers). Though I'm not necessarily familiar with serial killers' portrayals by Goregrind bands, so it's quite possible I am missing the point. That said, your mileage will probably vary based on how interesting you find violent white dudes.
Aurally, This is Me is heavy heavy heavy on the low frequencies. It's hard to make out exactly what's in play, it's likely electronic in origin (perhaps with a filter cutting out all but the bass frequencies). There is a certain texture, however, that seems like it could be a bowed bass (electric or otherwise) perhaps that's the source material before electronic processing. The track isn't particularly dynamic over the course of its 8 minute run time but it does have presence, which was its goal in the first place as it is supposed enhance the readers experience with the zine. But if you're one of those sonic texture hounds like me you'll probably dig it.
If you're interested the disc/zine is available from Bill Murray Tapes

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Blues - "Sings the Blues" Vol 5 [No Label]

Who love da sax, baby?
It's amazing how much the concept of the cassette tape has changed in the decade plus since I discovered underground tape music. At one point, a release like "Sings the Blues" Vol 5 used to be what you thought of when you heard "new tape release." A tint of green spray-paint and a hand-cut b&w text printout crammed into the spine. Now the assumption is pro-dubbed, high-quality artwork with a 50/50 chance it's shrink-wrapped. Neither is better than the other and the presence of both makes for a healthy tape culture. Still, it's nice to get a "throwback" once in a while particularly when it's as enjoyable as this.
The Blues is Marissa and Max and they both play saxophone. If you don't like saxophone--and nothing but saxophone--you will not dig this tape. The volume number suggests Marissa and Max have been at this for a while and I think it shows.
I love saxophone but even I am a bit apprehensive when I come across a homedub tape of a saxophone duo. It could be fucking great but it could also be a couple jackasses who can't play, squealing ad in finitum. Thankfully, Max and Marissa can play, and they can play together. Not sure if these are complete improvisations or semi-rehearsed but either way the duo seems to get each other. Sometimes they double each other, sometimes they spiral off in their own directions but they always find their way back. The style is certainly free but they're more Coleman than Ayler, pushing back and forth between consonance and dissonance, rather than basking in sheets of dissonance alone.
One of the unique features of the tape is there are bits conversation left in before or after they play. It's not meant to be funny or weird or ironic--with the exception of the tape's final moments. It's just brief bits of candid conversation, sometimes even about getting set up to record. It's nothing intrusive but adds some warmth and intimacy to the experience. Sounds to me like the material was probably recorded via handheld recorder (you can hear wind blowing by the mic at times) which furthers the sense of sound temporarily occupying an environment. Plus, the first track is titled "Our bodies are the Germs logo." You gotta love that!
Now, the real shame of it is, I have no idea how someone can obtain a copy or otherwise hear this. All my internet searches have proven fruitless and there's no contact info on the insert. This is a really great tape if you have the taste for it, so I recommend you snag it if the opportunity ever arises. If anyone has leads on how to track down a copy, contact me or leave a comment.

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Marshmallow Staircase - Gunfighters [Summersteps]

At the risk of offending one or many of you, I think the name The Marshmallow Staircase kinda, sorta, you know, sucks. (Though it does sound delicious.) I wasn't too sure what a band called The Marshmallow Staircase would actually sound like--the whole Western visual theme only compounded my confusion--my first inclination was cute electronic pop or something like that, then on second thought it seemed more like a psych band that jammed out to Puf 'n Stuf projections. I was wrong on both counts (though the second was closer) and I'm actually happy I was.
This tape is pretty sweet and The Marshmallow Staircase's sound is in the vein of Chrome, Six Finger Satellite and Brainiac, though more lo-fi, more krautrock, more blown out and with way more bass. And to be honest, the world needs a lot more bands with that DNA.
Thick, swaggering basslines rule the day, seemingly mixed higher than the vocals and every other instrument. Unorthodox, but a move that pays off as Gunfighters manages to feel muscular and slick at the same time. While the kraut-y basslines cut through the synth lather on the jams, The Case snakes little instrumental interludes around the songs sans rhythm section, such as the phenomenal organ-led ditty "Creepy Street" which segues into the rollicking blast of "The Diplomat" forming one of the cassette's pinnacles. Gunfighters closes on a high note too; "I Wanna Be Your Stranger," is sort of a Brainiac covering The Stooges or The Animals type of affair. They dial back the heavy fuzz to rock a lean organ-driven, future-60s jam with oscillations drizzled all over the goddamn place.
Sweet tape, I dig this band. Grab it here!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Mea Culpa

My apologies to the readers and those who sent me music over the past few years. I took a detour into grad school and that didn't leave much time to focus on other things, quite obviously including this blog. I'm not exactly sure how much time I'll be able to dedicate to this endeavor on a regular basis, but the goal will be to achieve regularity even if it is limited. In the good old days, I spent hours and hours working on a single review (not that you could tell) and, unfortunately, that just isn't feasible anymore. Instead, I'm going to work on practicing restraint and keep reviews much shorter in the hope of actually writing more reviews. There is lots of good shit out there (or more specifically, in my apartment) deserving of a few words and my aim is to write a few for as many records as possible. Concision should always be a goal anyhow.
I'm going to start writing when possible, as well as exhuming some unfinished drafts I started years ago, and hopefully have some reviews out in the next week or two.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

In Brief #8: The Slashies

I'm grouping these cassettes due to their excessive back/s/lashes in their mon/i/kers. In a welcome bit of serendipity, they aren't so far off sonically either.
Q///Q - Azores Azul [Skrot Up]
Q///Q - Jardim [Self-Help Tapes]
Q///Q - Crude Gourds [Singapore Sling]

Q///Q is the project of Peter Kris (of German Army infamy, not Kiss.) Q///Q is slightly more clear-eyed than its Germanic brethren. The first two tracks on Azores Azul are charming, Casio-style jams. The second titled "Whimsy" is particularly rad. It's the kind of song that transforms a routine walk somewhere into something cinematic. The third track "Intuit Nature" would blend in imperceptibly on a German Army tape. It doesn't have the same dingy, dirt-caked atmosphere, but sloshed vocals reign over a cleaner-toned tangle of synths. "Forms" bops along with layers of sequenced blips--not totally dissimilar to the types of interludes Devo would create.
The first track off of Jardim, "Gom Gom," embraces both the dance club and vocal slobber factors present on Azores Azul. "Tamarisk" continues this and puts a driving beat behind the slow synth glisten. Perfect distillation of skewed, minimalist dance-pop. I can't confirm this due to Self-Help Tapes's habit of including no info aside from artist/album and track list, but I'd guess this was recorded after the other two tapes in this discussion as there seems to be a little more refinement or comfort in its own skin.
Crude Gourds comes to us via Singapore Sling and any label named after a cocktail is a-okay in my book. Like "Forms," "House of Exile" features roving, percussive melodies via sequencer. "Cake Walk" also recalls Devo, but stripping things down to such a point to exclude guitars, bass or live drums--any human touch save for voice--truly a man and his machines. The title track paraphrases "My Sharona" via propulsive sequencer creating an unexpected John Carpenter-like soundscape. Synths reinforcing the fatalistic, infinite nature of whatever predicament our protagonist finds him- or herself in. No escape until the clock strikes zero.
Any fans of German Army (and everyone should be a fan) that hasn't checked out Q///Q ought to. It's simple but imagine one of the two warped minds behind GeAr striking out on his own and you got a strong approximation of Q///Q, now it's time to listen and discover the nuances for yourself. The quality of each tape is pretty much uniform, pick any or all. You can't make a wrong move.
Buy Azores Azul HERE
Buy Jardim HERE
Buy Crude Gourds HERE (cassette sold out)

D//VV/D - Terminal [Chaos, Sex & Death]D//VV/D (apparently pronounced "Devoid") may sound like a thrashy 80s hardcore band but that presumption would be incorrect. The project, hailing from the Netherlands, instead trafficks in crusty grooves and the occasional sample. Rhythm is central to the affair. D//VV/D's main objective seems to be to get your head nodding. Though instead of smoothing things out, sanding down the rough edges, D//VV/D tweaks the gain a little higher than necessary, samples shards of feedback and emphasizes any bit of saturation. "Sex on TV" is a perfect example of the tape's sound. Thick grooves rolling in the gutter. The grooves on "Phantom" are a little more chill but echo-laded keyboard plinks and delay pedal oscillations skirt over top. In contrast, the final track "Burnin" spreads the deep bass fuzz on thick. For fans who prefer their grooves dank and lo-fi.
Buy it in cassette or CDr format HERE

Sunday, July 12, 2015

In Brief #7: The Prodigal Blog Returneth (sort of...)

Whoa, I've been gone for a long time. To the joy of perhaps no one at this point, the prodigal blog has returnethed (sort of.) Time commitments to personal and professional pursuits the past two years have lead to Auxiliary Out rotting in a roadside ditch. At this point, there is a vast archive of unreviewed material and as I prep a move back to the West Coast (LA this time,) I am cataloging numerous releases with the hopeful intent to write at least a little about them. I am not kidding myself in thinking I will be able to write the bloated reviews of all (or any) of them that became this blog's signature, nor am I deluding myself that this blog will ever return to the kind of productivity it once had many years ago. That said, I don't want it to die completely--or at least I want to give it an honorable death without a litany of unreviewed materials to its name.

There's no good place to begin, or maybe every place is a good place. I have a few vinyl entries next to the turntable so perhaps that's as good a starting point as any. Dragging amplified metal across polymers always seems to excite the public.

Ssleeperhold - Ruleth [Holodeck/Light Lodge]
I pretty much lost my shit the first time I heard this (and the 2nd, and the 3rd...) It's not a perfect record, the second side is not as strong as the first BUT man, do I just love fucking jamming this. This was my actual notation while listening for the first time "The first side especially fucking, fucking great!" Yeah, I really felt the need to modify "fucking great" with another "fucking" that's how fucking great this is!
This record is lean and beastly. It sounds incredible. Now what does it sound like? It's mostly sequenced synths and drum machines. I don't know if this actually qualifies as "new" but to my ears not enough people are making enough synth music like this. Jose Cota, the brains behind the operation, limits himself to two maybe three melodies per track but makes sure they're 100% solid melodies you want to want to hear on repeat for 4 minutes. He'll embellish them, maybe remold them a little over the duration of the track but the real dynamics (and despite the repetition this thing is dynamic) are achieved through the drum programming and its interplay with the repeating synth lines.
As I alluded to earlier, the first three tracks on Ruleth are all walk off homers. The title track sets the tone with a positively thundering synth. The laconic bassline lays the groundwork for even more thundering drums. All the while the hot-headed hi-hat ticks away and a few brave trebly tones try not to get squashed. The record can't start any better. If I were forced to single out a favorite it might be "Beatsslave" which features a simple but amazingly invigorating bassline (and fragile counter-melody to match) but features Cota's best work behind the drum machine. "Timeghosts I" is addictive; a dancefloor throbber with swagger to spare but coated in this ethereal sweetness that oddly evokes an emotional reaction. I didn't expect this from such a stone-faced killer. I'm not sure how he did it but Cota really got inside my head with this one.
The remaining 5 tracks are in no way bad, some are quite good but they don't achieve the same potency of the opening trio. They carry the torch but don't affect as profoundly. The exception is "Dreamwaves I" which exhibits a softer sensibility. It doesn't betray the framework of the LP but as the title suggests gives you clearance to drift and sink into the most plush textures on the record.
I don't even want to get into influences or reference points here because, while there are so many, they're all vague and distilled into something so spartan that it hardly seems constructive.
Totally fresh and totally bold, this is one of more exciting pieces of instrumental synthesizer music I've heard in a while.
Buy it HERE
David Lackner - In the Well of Eternal Living and Dying [Newtown Creek/Galtta] 
Anyone who has heard David Lackner's various tapes on his Galtta Media label knows the guy plays a very distinct style of jazz. Seemingly unlike just about everyone else who plays jazz and releases it on cassette, Lackner's work is very melodic, very consonant. That isn't to say it's traditional exactly. The title track of Lackner's debut LP encompasses it's entire first side. And dare I call it a 20 minute "song"? There are vocals, there are lyrics (provided by collaborator Gabrielle Muller,) there is a chorus. Lackner, working with saxophones, Rhodes, flute and synths, spins a very intricate web with the help of Dominic Cipolla on electric bass and Derek Vockins on drums. Melodies are doubled by various instruments, they crash and cascade into one another but all in accordance of a specific structure. This goes back to that line about the chorus. The structure is not all that dissimilar to a pop song but Lackner stretches it out and opens it up, mutating it slightly with each go round. Always the same, always different. It makes the pieces feel like a trance, but not one reliant on drones or constant repetition. "Eternal Living" is a colorful, vibrant piece of work. Cipolla and Vockins support Lackner's clouds of notes with the perfect propulsion, instilling, not only energy but structure into his endless bag of catchy melodies.
The flipside is a five song suite entitled "Music for Regular People" which I'm guessing is a joke(?) This side is a perfect pairing with Side A as it juxtaposes Lackner's divergent shades. "Eternal Living" sees Lackners work in a live trio setting while the second side is nearly all Lackner (Cipolla chips in on electric guitar.) It has a different demeanor than the first where Lackner was cramming many ideas under a unified umbrella. "Music for Regular People" is a bit anarchic by comparison, bizarre voice samples stain the fibers, frenetic drum samples thump and sizzle and crunch and spit. If "Eternal Living" is a silently breathing in a temple performance, this is stumbling your way through a wacky carnival. Senses are accosted from all sides, sounds connected in their strangeness but little else. For instance, the title track features the voice of a robot in a therapy session, the clash of drum programming, melody lines which veer from tragic, loopy and beamed in from a dancefloor in an alternate reality. Lackner whisks you away over the album's first 20 minutes and grapples with you incessantly in its second. Perhaps the most important track of the entire album is "A Semiperfect Number" as it coheres the erratic elements before it into a piece of the same cloth but this time cut, sewn and structured into a pleasing, even a little gorgeous and certainly intoxicating swansong for the album.
If you haven't checked out Lackner's music, In the Well of Eternal Living and Dying is actually pretty great place to start; it's delivers the variances of his musical pursuits in the most coherent form yet. An album can bear its author's signature no more clearly than here.
Buy it HERE

Those Howlings - Paid For You/Dip It In [Swear Jar]
This was my first experience hearing this Austin, TX pop trio. The A-side "Paid For You" translates the vibe of those surf-ingenue ballads David Lynch is so fond of into a peppy 90s college rock-style number. Bassist Jolie Cota Flink (great name) can coo with the best of them. The track totally feels like the pleasant surprise of taking a chance in the clearance section on a single pressed in '94 by a tiny little imprint you've never heard of.
Now, in classic 45 single fashion, I dig the B-side "Dip It In' so much more. Guitarist Kyle Fitzgerald grabs the mic and his boorish sneer drools perfectly over the polite guitar jangle and buoyant thumping drums. So so easy to drop the needle over and over.
There's nothing profound to say about this single, it's just two crisp songs you'll enjoy listening to.
Buy it HERE

Nathan Bontrager & Christopher Riggs - Moleman in the Morning [Holy Cheever Church]
When I originally drafted this (a couple years ago) I wrote:

Rejoice! Cheever has been resurrected! Christopher Riggs, in addition to being one of the best guitar players around, was the proprietor of the Holy Cheever Church cassette label. Incredibly focused on improvisational music, many of the releases featured Riggs's work on electric guitar (though occasionally other instruments) plus work by other like-minded weirdos like Chris Dadge, Andrew Royal, Bill Corrigan and Gino Robair. Always a fertile and grimy bed of interesting sounds the Church seemed to vanish as quickly as it had sprung to life, leaving sixty-some releases in its wake. If you missed out on the many spraypaint splattered tapes that HCC rapidly issued over a couple years you can check out some of the Riggs solo releases here.

Since that time Cheever has gone back underground (though Chris Riggs's website is still operational and recommended.) However, a few whispers have indicated the Church's reemergence is possible. At the time, Riggs, high priest of Cheever had emerged with a few new CDrs under the revitalized HCC imprint.
My favorite of the CDrs issued during Cheever's resurgence is certainly Moleman in the Morning--a feature length duel between Riggs's groaning, guttural guitar exhalations and Nathan Bontrager's freely wandering cello. At times, the duo mirrors each other in scratchy friction studies but mostly Bontrager is bowing long tones or plucking out odd melodies against the aural machinery of Riggs's electric guitar preparations. Somewhere between a field of crickets and a rusty door hinge, Riggs's guitar excavates a junkyard making a nice gravesite for Bontrager's quasi-classical notions to recline in for the rest of their days. Can't recall hearing a guitar/cello ensemble like this one. Totally awesome.
Not sure if there's any way to hear this at this point. It was limited to 30 copies and the bandcamp has slipped into nothingness. Worth a bit of googling or at least a prayer for the Church's reestablishment though.

Monday, August 26, 2013

In Brief #6: Totally Tired in the Dark at the Summer House in Blood Plaza

An eclectic bunch here of various releases that have made an impression these past months...

John Swana, David Lackner, Mark Price - Smooth End of Summer [Galtta]

I'm really feeling this tape by the new (I think) trio of John Swana, David Lackner and Mark Price. Swana and Lackner have worked together plenty but I don't recall Price's presence on their previous works. Maybe I'm wrong, I'm a forgetful man. Anyhow, Smooth End of Summer is a really nice slab of space jazz--emphasis on the space.
The first full piece "Shades on Shades" introduces itself with a clattering hip hop beat but gives way to relaxed scales by a robo-Coltrane on muscle relaxers. Swana sticks mainly to his signature EVI, while Lackner handles saxophone and drum machine duties. The aforementioned new presence in Price contributes work on sampler and MIDI keyboard. It seems like Price is an important cog in this machine, take "Loner Tan" for instance, one of the most appealing traits is this thick electric mist pervading everything. Maybe its actually the EVI and I'm mis-attributing it but whatever it is, it sounds great. Sprinkled among the longer tracks are some great little interludes and short pieces. I wish the mere fragment of "Calm Palm"--18 seconds of gangly tribal drums--had been extended into a full piece--though considering they drop the track on both sides of the tape, the trio obviously knows it has value. The one minute "Seltzers Around" makes for a perfect transition between longer pieces as well. Among the longer pieces, the finale "Hot Noon/Avocado Shadow" must be my favorite as it leads you down the center of a dense whirlwind, then in the middle of the track the clouds part temporarily bringing into focus a great trip hoppy breakdown with a surprisingly infectious keyboard lick. This concludes the "Hot Noon" portion transmitting no omen of the demented melodies that will follow. "Avocado Shadow"... I'm not sure what's going on here, synthesized puppy barks, off-balance drum programming and more all in service of something I don't fully understand but I know is fully awesome. What a way to go out.
This is perhaps my favorite thing to arrive off the Galtta assembly line yet. Check it out here

Good Stuff House - Untitled [Indian Queen/Holodeck]
A recently discovered pleasure of mine is Satyajit Ray's The Music Room. It's a 1950s Indian film about a faded aristocrat sinking every last rupee of his dwindling fortune into his one true pleasure--inviting musicians to play for him in his "music room"--while his estate falls into ruin. Maybe I'm just in a raga state of mind but this LP by the trio of Scott Tuma, Matt Christensen (Zelienople) and Mike Weis (Kwaidan, also Zelienople) is sounding really good. This record with no name has been rescued from limited-run CD-r obscurity by the good folks at Indian Queen as well as Holodeck who has reissued it on cassette. Originally released on Time-Lag back in the heyday of this Appalachian raga sound (think GHQ etc.)
The opening piece is still probably my favorite, the trio employing a hypnotic banjo melody, jagged zither strums and a sitar-y instrument of an unknown origin (bowed electric guitar?) making the air extra smoky. The track sounds, at once, like a frantic jig but also like its flowing in slow motion before blurring into a haze of warbling piano strikes and drawn out whistled tones. It's hard to pick out specific tracks as this feels very much of a piece--probably a good guess why nothing is titled aside from the ambiguous Good Stuff House moniker. That said, the fifth piece may be the hypnotic epitome of the record, locking into a mesmerizing zone almost instantly--three notes and hand drums become the truth. The whole record is drenched in atmosphere with a rare vitality and warmth that's easy to get lost in. This record turns an ordinary room into your own personal "music room."
Absolutely a lovely piece of work, certainly worth the change. You can nab the LP here and, if you're into portability, the cassette is for sale here.

Kwaidan - Make All the Hell of Dark Metal Bright [Bathetic]
Speaking of Kwaidan, they have a recent release on Bathetic called Make All the Hell of Dark Metal Bright. Despite the title there's no metal to be found here. The trio of Andre Foisy (guitar/moog/piano), Neil Jendon (synths) and Mike Weis (percussion) concoct an interesting mixture of drones, rhythms and melodies. The record is placid in nature yet always teeming with energy. For instance on "Gateless Gate," Weis contributes steady, syncopated thumps that would drive a dancefloor in the context of another band but here cement themselves as a key support to the piece's minimalist architecture.
For the most part the record does not prove be as ominous as its cover (or title) suggest but things get pretty gnarly on "The Iceberg and its Shadow" which can hold its own with the iciest of John Carpenter themes. Foisy uses his chops honed in Locrian plucking out a simple piano melody dripping with dread while Jendon slowly swirls supernatural synthesizers around it like a fine fog (or poison gas.) My only complaint is the track is way too short, even at 3 minutes its not long enough. Seriously, I kinda have to recommend the record if only for this unassuming monster. But that's only the highlight of an album that's fucking solid through and through. Own this poison pen letter here

Back Magic - Blood Plaza [Pilgrim Talk]
Basement scuzz jams from this brotherly duo. The first side of this CD-sized 5" lathe cut features two takes of the title track, a straight ahead rocker. You can check it out below. I doubt it's intentional but there are a couple rad locked grooves on the first side of my copy. The first side is not the reason to buy this however, that would be the b-side. "Cough Syrup Buzz" is fucking awesome! Seriously fantastic punk track, monstrously catchy riff, bitchin' palm mutes and devil may care attitude to spare. Absolutely killer to a ridiculous degree! I hope this track makes it on to a more widely available release, it should be heard! Classic!
For the time being though, you can nab the limited lathe here. I do have to say that lathe cut is probably the perfect format for the rugged hairiness of the Back Magic sound.

Mavo - Mavo [Fixture]
Last year I had a lot of complimentary things to say about a pair of 7 inches from Montreal's Fixture Records. This debut by Montreal-based Mavo makes good on the promise those earlier records gave. The trio's sound is really jangly and "classic." Very much in the vein of 80s independent pop. The two tracks on the first side, "Mock My Accent" and "Horrible Brit Pop Haircut" are quite nice. The former is a little more innocuous than the funny title suggests and its second half drizzles on some extra fuzz--kinda like if all those New Zealander pop bands played their guitars like The Dead C did. The latter track is particularly fun as it features the Japanese-born singer/songwriter singing in a mock Brit-pop accent over jangling chords, organ keys and rattling tambourine.
The real gem of the single is the lone B-side track, "Totally Tired." (Not sure why it didn't end up as the A-side--I would have swapped it with "Mock My Accent" on the track order but no matter.) Making lyrical references to both The Fall (obviously) and Velvet Underground, it also proves to be the catchiest tune on the record. Thumping drums right out of the Lou Reed/Mark E. Smith playbook propel the track along with a wordless two note refrain sealing the deal. Nice!! Grab the record here.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

In Brief #5: Late for Class

Sorry for the tardiness of this post, it somehow got stuck in 'draft mode' or something for a while. So if any jokes seem a slight bit dated or the links are not au courant you will know why. Silly me for trusting the internet...
Before we get into the post I want to give a shout out to Cassettivity, a recently minted cassette-only distro! (Tape power!) While it's true that pretty much any cassette-centric distro will get my support, the founder, Dave Sandifer, has done some really fresh things with his site including my favorite feature "play random stream." You can just click it on while browsing and sample all the tapes carried by the site, it's like a Pandora for weirdos! Plus, it's an easy way to check out artists and labels you've never heard of. The site also has a feature that makes me chuckle called "sort by ease of listening" ha! There's also plenty more that's cool about the endeavor, you can tell Sandifer put a lot of sweat (and brains) into the operation and he's come up with something very innovative. Follow that link and give it a look. Now's all we need is a Cassette Pride Parade!

German Army - Holland Village [Dub Ditch Picnic]
German Army - Sedentary [Hobo Cult]
German Army - Tarsier [Nute]
The GA continue their travails around the world, conquering every country in their path (and securing a highly coveted spot on the AO year-end thing.) Having already made mincemeat of the US and Denmark, not to mention the UK, the Army has since set its sights on Canada (Dub Ditch Picnic,) French Canada (Hobo Cult) and Ireland (Nute) emerging victorious once again.
I fucking love this band. 
My favorite of the three, Holland Village, on Dub Ditch Picnic is fortunately still available to get yr mitts on. "Colony" is a surprisingly mellow and friendly first step but things quickly get hoppin' on "Abbasid Golden Age." A favorite of mine, the drum machine really thumps along with a great two-note melody/counter-melody combo. Rather than live vocals, the GA slice up some samples to construct quasi-dual vocalists while the beat just builds and builds. The "proper" vocalist shows up on "Fetal Change" in his signature disaffected style with a thick, chugging loop of junk, halfway between Suicide and DJ Primo, backing him up. Groove monster for sure. "Eyes in Front" is another slammer, really working the two-note bass throb with a super-fuzzed unidentifiable lead "instrument" at the tail end that I really dig. "Sultan Skin" shows up practically club-ready, a creepy club but no matter. A synth snare rat-a-tat-tats loudly from a distant corner of the room amid a brooding molasses-mix of synthesizers and a sharp point melody. "Harem Diseases" on the other hand shows up, sequencer in hand, ready to rock. Vocals via sample hiss over pre-programmed bass lines and beats for a new "techno" look from the crew. An instant standout, "Deep Wall" features an infectious sample that sounds Turkish perhaps? It's a brief sample and my ethnomusicological identifiers have gotten rusty but that's the vibe I'm getting. The closer, "Holocene Epic" brings back the sequencer in aggressive fashion merging the relentless beats with their sampling techniques and cheap keyboards. Holland Village shows the GA forging some new territory within their well-defined bleary-eyed, dub-fried corner of the sandbox. Nice stuff!
Sedentary announces itself with echoing percussive taps and a sampled musical phrase. Shuffling along, swimming through muck, German Army come up for air on "Two Dogs" with an actually beautiful keyboard melody and follow it up with a repeated guitar melody on "Babylon." Has the German Army gone soft? What is this friendly consonance I am hearing?! Fear not GAcolytes 'twas nothing but a bout of temporary sanity--the ol'boys have not lost their edge. "Love on Loaf" really rolls with an infectious rhythm pushed hard upfront dominating over shards of harmonica and vocal murmuring. As you might imagine, GA gets dubbed out on "Kingston Brass," an easily consumable intoxicant. Oh shit though, cause "Pulling Lashes" brings you down hard. Totally discomforting, trudging through unintelligible, yet still depressing, lyrics with a quiet but oh-so-effective forlorn horn yearning deep in the mix. This is the dark side of dub, the feel-bad hit of the season. Love it. "Turkish Bath" follows it up with a lethargic swirl of synthesized horns and a looped guitar arpeggio.
Tarsier, released by Trensmat's cassette subsidiary Nute, may be the most sloshed of the German Army tapes I've heard--now that is really saying something. The sounds seem like their bubbling up in a vat of goo rather than simply emanating from amplifiers. The tape mostly eschews the pop formats engaged in on other tapes instead diving deeper down the rabbit hole of electronically-farmed gunk. One of the album's rare identifiable 'songs' "Human Limbs" thumps like a Suicide military anthem underneath disinterested vocals while "Miles Davis Catalog" buries an infectious synth-funk bass line deep under radio static and a smattering of electronic percussive hits. "Ely" sounds like a voodoo-infused poetry reading in your intestines, what the fuck is this? "Ox Cart" balances tribal drums, foreign guitar pop and skewed samples from musicals on a knife's edge. As a bonus finale, Whirling Hall of Knives distills the preceding half-hour into a 10-minute "reconstruction" which to me sort of sounds like German Army with a fistful of uppers in 'em.

Brian Green - Milltown [A Giant Fern]
Headquartered in Portugal, Carlos Costa is always doing something interesting with his A Giant Fern imprint. Bringing heavy duty psych burners, unusual bedroom pop concoctions, icy drones and complex, environmental avant-sound-constructions in equal measure, Costa is a real renaissance man. (he's even helping the aforementioned Germany Army plan an upcoming hostile takeover of Portugal.)
Milltown recalls the excellent and underhyped Kakukanakina tape released in 2011 by A Giant Fern (which is surprisingly still available.) Brian Green's tape was inspired by--and created from recordings of--an old South Carolinian textile mill. As one might expect, it sounds very environmental, a sonic tour of sorts of the dilapidated mill. It certainly sounds dank and rotting as you drift threw it, clanking, crunching and burbling all along the way. Green does do some delay fiddling and creates some smoother drones as a base to guide you along, while working with the raw field recordings to provide a percussive element. A little bit one-note but certainly an enveloping experience. For true fans of the soundscape. Nab it here
You can take a video tour of the mill here

Hare Akedod - Gripgevest & Kling [Hare Akedod]
Kicking things off with some unexpected scrape and clang, this improvisatory duo--David Edren (synthesizer and electric guitar) and Bent von Bent (no way that's a real name!) on flutes, acoustic guitar, zither and the vaguely described "voice effects"--smooth things out quickly. Hailing from Antwerp(en) Belgium, these guys bring the weirdness as their cassette-armed forefathers did a few years ago when Antwerp seemed to be the weird music export capital of the world. A little reminiscent of a pared down Silvester Anfang, Edren and von Bent build a surprisingly full spectrum of sound for two people while still feeling unmistakably "live." This stuff is hard to pin down because there is usually no discernible structure yet it doesn't feel decidedly "non-musical" as many improv'd drone-type acts do. Melodies will just suddenly appear and alter the dynamic without diminishing the atmosphere which seems to be the overall aim of the project. Perhaps my favorite moment on the tape is the latter half of "Ondergronds Geduld" where a gentle, swelling melody materializes for the final minutes bringing the entire side to a satisfying conclusion. After getting a touch raga-ey on "Sermoenstonde," the duo brings a lot of chilly synthesizer to the party on another highlight "Polykrill" which would not have been out of place in some late 70s European art-horror movie. The extended finale "Graafarde," despite being 10 minutes in length, actually feels the most focused and structured of all, settling into a fertile bed of synth tones. This is a really nice outing by these guys, showing a lot of growth since debuting with the first release on the label last year. There's a ton to like here. Grab it here

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Troller - Troller [Holodeck/Light Lodge]

It has been exactly one year since I originally posted this review. Frankly, I was blindsided when I first heard this. Troller was once an awesome tape, then became an awesome LP and, on June 4th, Holodeck is rolling out a 2nd LP pressing after the first flew off the shelves earlier this year. If it's more your fancy, Handmade Birds is dropping a proper CD a week later as well. It's not often that one gets so many chances to own a small-press masterpiece. If you don't have this record, get it. I'm not fucking around.
This is one bad ass little tape right here, one that's been hogging a lot of decktime since I first received it. Looking at the cover of this cassette, I don't blame you for thinking that this sounds like some weirdo Finnish metal band. That's what I would have thought if I hadn't read the press release. However, Troller is a trio from Austin, TX and the sound of the album is somewhere between mainstream synth-scores of the 70s and 80s from the likes of Pino Donaggio, Giorgio Moroder, Jack Nitzche etc. and the recent wave of icy disco acts like Chromatics or Glass Candy and that sort of ilk. Though Troller has just a slightly darker viewpoint.
Just about every sound on this tape sounds like it could be (should be? will be? is?) in a movie. I don't just mean the instrumental or ambient passages; the songs themselves sound like they should be soundtracking montages of important shit unfolding. As a huge cinema fan, I mean this as a great compliment.
One wise choice that achieves this result is that the vocals are directed to become part of the ether. They stake out their territory and certainly have their impact but they aren't necessarily the focal point as is usually the case in song-based material. This makes for a hellishly heady listening experience.
The opener "Milk" isn't the strongest composition on the tape, but it's the right choice to start things off. It establishes the mood of the tape instantly. That mood is seductive dread; this is some enticing black widow shit that can be none too good for your soul. A sinister synth bass line anchors the track which somehow manages to be slinky and looming. They unleash synthetic ghouls and ghosts in a disconcerting cacophony and sprinkle in a little trip hop seasoning for flavor.
Talk about attention grabbers, when "Tiger" entranced my speakers for the first time, I dropped everything--I was literally spellbound. Blogging is a quite egotistical endeavor, there's no discussion, no average user rating, no academic distance, not even an arbitrary grading scale to share with and compare to other writers. I think something's great simply because I think something's great. And I think this song is great. The song does everything I want it to do and goes everywhere I want it to go. From the nostalgic and chilling introductory synth line to the propulsive drum programming at the chorus to the extended bridge/synth solo near the end; every move "Tiger" makes satisfies my needs and desires to the tee. It's impeccably composed with an incredibly evocative emotional heft; the portal into a transcendent new world. Utterly perfect. I can't get enough. (Feel free to disagree with me, the song is embedded below, but I dare you to not be captivated. Good luck with your new addiction.)
Troller generates ambient interludes between the six songs on the tape and the interlude after "Tiger" is surprisingly friendly, foggy electronic burble. The interludes were a great choice because you are never permitted to exit the world of the cassette. Each song is only a movement in a grander piece.
"Best" is another great one. The track sort of twists and winds, writhing with tendrils tensed. It's structure and melodies are hard to put your thumb on it, it seems to continually worm its way just out of your grasp but you continue to follow anyway. It's a strange but potent composition. And oh man, "Thirst" is so bad ass. Deep fuzzy bass, eerily woozy synthetic chimes/voices and the relentless ratatat of a programmed hi-hat. It's reminiscent of earlier John Carpenter scores but significantly more lush. So great yet so unsettling. You can't take your ears off it.
On "Winter," Troller edges just slightly more into pop territory, mainly because they lift the fog a bit and create a less foreboding environment. More notably, the vocalist unleashes her pipes, making for a few moments of lovely catharsis that arrive at the precise point the album calls for it. It's a glorious and beautiful track. The following interlude takes you back down into the dank, swampy depths prepping you for the closer "Peace Dream." Coming full circle, the finale features a similar vibe to the opener "Milk," this track is more propulsive though. An uneasy bass-synth riff churns and churns until a beautiful bridge floods the track with a little light. Man, the vocalist really earns her keep on this one as well, she nails a series of perfect melodic counterpoints, playing off her heavily synthetic surroundings and imbuing the track with so many emotions. It's a great note to go out on.
This record is phenomenal; as far as I can tell this is their first/only release which is ridiculous because everything is so well-executed from the production to the performance to the composition of the material. There are very few flaws which is staggering. It's mind-boggling to think how good their next record could be. This is simply one of the best tapes I've heard this year and I think "Tiger" has to be my favorite song so far, I can't think of something that surpasses it right now.
Holodeck has also slated Troller to drop on vinyl sometime in the future, which is a good thing as there's no way a hundred copies will satiate everyone's appetite. For the time being though, the cassettes are available now and I see no reason why anyone should sleep on this.