Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Halfway Point: Best Missed Albums of 2009, Part 1

Whelp, I’m back after a week’s vacation in Minneapolis (wonderful). Obviously I have been sporadic enough in my posting as of late to not be too sorely missed. However, I have, at this most wonderful mid-year junction, prepared a list of sorts. I’ve gathered up some of my favourite albums that I missed in 2009 and heartily, though belatedly, recommend them now, in 2010. So here, without further ado, is part one of the best albums that I should have be blabbering about last year. Enjoy!

Bill Orcutt - A New Way to Pay Old Debts

Bill Orcutt
A New Way to Pay Old Debts
(2009, Palilalia)
RIYL = Derek Bailey, Ekkehard Ehlers, Stefan Neville

How to explain the epically insane solo guitar dirges of Mr. Bill Orcutt...? Somehow – I don’t know how honestly – Orcutt has twisted and contorted the neck, strings and body his guitar into a manic blitz of hyper fractured blues instrumentals that obliterate not only everything you thought about what it is to play the blues, but what it is to play the guitar. His playing is so violently virtuosic, so prickled and cuttingly sharp, one imagines that sliding a white piece of paper underneath his frets would produce the same results as would a paper shredder. The playing is maddeningly aggressive and incredibly unique to the point of Orcutt meandering into some new invention of guitar splatter; some sublevel of blues guitar that scrapes away at the gutters ceaselessly, harsh and relentless, noodled straight into the psyche. On the opening track from the B side, “My Reckless Parts,” Orcutt even adds his own brand of vocals to the mix in the form of some birdlike caws. Such a blur of great ideas, intense playing and hardcore musicianship fashioned through a labyrinth of fingers and strings. At just over a half hour, A New Way to Pay Old Debts is an ungodly revelation of mammoth proportions and definitely worth digging into. Astounding.


Ahluechatistas - Of the Body Prone

Of the Body Prone
(2009, Tzadik)
RIYL = Battles, Hella, Lightning Bolt

Ahluechatistas are veteran musicians, Of The Body Prone being their fifth full length (at my count). That can be a good thing and a bad thing. The good, of course, is experience, potentially producing a tighter band with tighter songs and better skills. For many bands, longevity also means reaching a plateau in terms of originality and then a slow decline. Well, if the latter is at all true of Ahluechatistas (this is the first record I’ve listened to), then their first couple of albums must’ve been, out-and-out, the best instrumental rock albums ever. Somehow, though, I doubt that Ahluechatistas fall into that latter category. I mean, I’m sure their earlier records are good (something I’ll find out more about in the very near future), Of The Body Prone is just too superb to qualify as a decline. The band, a trio, are mathematical noise jazz stylists of the highest caliber. I know I already covered some free-jazz-noise-rock with OffOnOff (also a trio), but this is from a whole ‘nother angle. Ahluechatistas are less free flowing in their audio muggings. Everything feels a bit more calculated, even songlike, though with plenty of room for a million drum fills and a bajillion forays into boisterous stringed menace. Think Battles with a bit more grit and you’re getting closer. Of the Body Prone opens up with a propulsive 8+ minute build that provides position from which the rest of the album can amply dive, crushing everything in its path. The percussion is also, super inventive. Perhaps some of the most inventive I’ve heard this side of Ches Smith. There are blessed moments of melodic reprieve scattered throughout as well, to tempter and tame any chance that a listener might go insane trying to conjure the mental power necessary to soak everything in from Of the Body Prone. In fact, that is part of why this album is so successful, everything is paced perfectly. Ahluechatistas never try to fry your brain. However, this does make me consider the term Intelligent Rock Music (a nod to IDM, no? You’re right. I’m sorry.). Super proggy and rockin’, Of the Body Prone is a phenomenal instrumental free rock album with oceans of depth in every track.


Black To Comm - Alphabet 1968

Black to Comm
Alphabet 1968
(2009, Type)
RIYL = Eluvium, Sean McCann, Mark Templeton

We live in an age where the construction of sustained, droning tones is no longer a difficulty. The market is flooded with pedals and laptop software and, well, I’m not really immersed in making drone music so I don’t have all the specifics, but suffice it to say, everyone and there mother seems to be making an experimental drone album (and half of them send them to the Forest Gospel inbox). Realizing this, I made the grave miscalculation of overlooking Black to Comm’s, AKA Marc Richter’s, Alphabet 1968. But that isn’t what this is at all – a drone record. Well partially. But really, Alphabet 1968 is much more than something so simple as a drone album - a subtle beat pulsing through the refrain. Alphabet 1968 is a hybrid of electronic and organic means settled in the most gorgeous and successful ways that I have perhaps ever heard. Sure, plenty of classical musicians or electronic musicians have melded the two worlds with exciting results, but never have they melted together so wonderfully as they do on this Black To Comm release. So, 1) it’s beautiful. And 2) It’s concise. Not too short, but (and this is the important part when dealing with experimental albums hinging on drone) not too long. You know how Prefuse 73 (or more recently Flying Lotus) meshes hip hop and electronica together at hyper speeds with terrific results? Black To Comm does the same here, just in a measured way that is more befitting of the “home listening” experience that these luxurious tones dabble in. Truly a marvelous record (and one, I suspect, many readers will already have listened to by now).


OffOnOff - Slap & Tickle

Slap & Tickle
(2009, Smalltown Superjazz)
RIYL = MoHa!, Zu, The Ex

On the follow up to their extraordinary free-jazz/noise-rock debut, Clash (another album that slipped through the FG cracks), OffOnOff offer us the marathon blockbuster Slap & Tickle. The album consists of two enormous tracks the band recorded live at some awesome jazz festival in Norway and proves that OffOnOff are not only instrumentally proficient (an understatement), but are endlessly inventive and intelligent and have the physical endurance of a Herculean athlete. Consider that the opening track, “Slap,” is over thirty-two minutes in length. A lesser band (read: any other band on earth) in a similar improv situation would flounder and sink, but OffOnOff seems to flourish. Where another band would require the stamina of the listener, OffOnOff are so agile, so conscious of their creation, so good, that the shoulder any and all stamina that might be had at their expense and allow listeners the pure joy of simply absorbing the kaleidoscope of noisy twists and turns, the scamper and pummel of drums, the squalor. Slap & Tickle simply owns it all. So tight and concise and hectic and frenzied and beautifully rockin’! Incredibly good stuff.


Black Mold - Snow Blindness is Crystal Antz

Black Mold
Snow Blindness is Crystal Antz
(2009, Flemish Eye)
RIYL = Kemialliset Ystavat, Squarepusher, Dan Friel

I didn’t miss out on Black Mold last year due to not knowing about it. As an avid fan of all things touched by Chad VanGaalen, I was well aware of this release. Nor was it because I didn’t listen to it. The album was simply too much. It absolutely overwhelmed me with the sheer volume of ideas. Honestly, even with a cursory understanding of the genuine awesomeness that popped up on the few listens I did give it, something about it short circuited my brain and I had to distance myself for rewiring. After completing my bachelors degree this spring, I rediscovered Black Mold, and now, with full mental faculty, I’ve found this to be quite the underrated enigma. It still short circuits my brain frequently, but, growing accustomed to the occurrence, I now welcome the experience as part of the instrumental soup that VanGaalen has prepared with this side project. Both electronic and not, I’ve found it a bit difficult to categorize or compare Snow Blindness is Crystal Antz to anything. There are a few elements of everything lodged in there, but there is a whole lot of newness – some genuine world-making – as well that makes this something you’ll not want to sleep on. It’s a whole new…thing! Of course, VanGaalen’s fingerprints show through quite a bit, but it’s a wonderful thing to experience a creative vision so unique and personal, especially after coming to know VanGaalen so well through his pop records. Oh, and the music videos (also illustrated by VanGaalen) are insane.

- Thistle

Monday, June 21, 2010

Ghost To Falco - Exotic Believers

Ghost To Falco
Exotic Believers
(2010, Cape and Chalice/Infinite Dront)
RIYL = Dragging An Ox Through Water, Castanets, Gowns

A buzzing, gothic sermon, hammered into place over a wobbly cello, specked at the edges and then into a heavy, multi-stringed, minor chord reprieve – that’s how things begin on Ghost To Falco’s Exotic Believers and it’s absolutely invigorating. Like a perfect splash of cold water to renew your sense of feeling and place, the operation of your fingers and feet. Swimming about amongst the wonderfully productive experimental scene brewing about in the northwest, Ghost To Falco plays a dark Americana that does a lot to fill the inestimable gap left, just this year, by geographical neighbors, both in location and sound, Gowns. Those are big boots to fill (in my eyes), and no one is claiming that Ghost To Falco is trying to fill them, but in his own way, this project, this album, Exotic Believers, fills that void for me. The irony here is that Ghost To Falco fills that void with another void. Exotic Believers collapses country into a barbed, black hole that sucks you in, body and soul. It’s no surprise that the man is good friends with Forest Gospel favourite Dragging An Ox Through Water. Both employ a variety of sound bending/destroying effects to their music, though to results unique to each. Suffice it to say, if you like one, you’re likely to enjoy the other. Ghost To Falco’s songs do feel, in comparison, to have a bit more muscle, a bit more guitar control, which flexes at different points throughout the album. The vocals are strong, often multi tracked, lapping one upon another. And there is a couple loose, noise-punk freakouts waiting around the edges. So, slightly more aggressive, but not overly so. With all these elements in play, you won’t be surprised to learn that Exotic Believers is certainly one of the better albums I’ve heard all year. Do yourself a favor and give it a listen – you won’t be disappointed.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Bushman's Revenge - Jitterbug

Bushman’s Revenge
(2010, Rune Grammofon)
RIYL = Shining, Battles, Elephant9

I am at a bit of a loss in trying to categorize Bushman’s Revenge. On their sophomore release, Jitterbug, the trio have created a blissful, catatonic, mischievous, rocking, jazzy record that ties together post rock riffage with free jazz syncopation, sallow, bluesy guitar passages with out-rock song contortions and, well, everything else in-between (what is in-between those things?). It’s a wild ride really. And, despite being on Rune Grammofon and dabbling in jazz histrionics, Jitterbug is a decidedly more rocking record than anything else. So, that's it: it's a rock record. The band is super technical, but don't let their intelligent, instrumental proficiency keep them from locking down a multitude of awesome, mindless grooves. Jitterbug just seems to be that rare melting pot that manages to produce something totally exciting rather than pale and boring. From 60's psychedelia to 70’s prog to 80’s metal to contemporary out-rock noise bliss, Jitterbug combines them all. Bushman’s Revenge evoke all the best in rock nostalgia without whimpering into the more embarrassing moments and always managing a contemporary air. As far as instrumental rock records go, it doesn’t get much better than this.


Listen to selected tracks at Rune Grammofon's website

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Millipede - Full Bloom

Full Bloom
(2010, Install)
RIYL = Yellow Swans, The Goslings, Fennesz

Loud. It’s a term whose description is most notably a reference to sound produced at high levels of audible volume. That the term feels uncomfortably lacking when used as a descriptor for Millipede’s latest album, Full Bloom, is telling. This album isn’t simply loud, it’s is deafening. This is one of the few albums that demand a parental advisory sticker (remember those?) for audio abrasiveness alone (notifying Tipper right now). It's the tangible threat of Millipede’s thunderously noisy guitar jarring loose components of one’s inner ear. Despite having listened to the album well over twenty times now, whenever I start listening to Full Bloom, without fail, the sheer audacity of the recordings require that I turn the volume to its lowest level and then slowly ease myself into the uproar. Otherwise, I fear the unbridled raucousness of Millipede’s guitar will cause my headphones to sprout teeth and consume my ears whole. Like boiling a live frog, or something. What? I don’t know. However, the fact that Millipede’s latest (and might I add at this juncture, greatest) album is indisputably, to put it ever so lightly, loud, is not to say that the tonal architecture here is ugly. Do not be fooled into thinking that something so vociferous cannot also be intensely gorgeous, because - my friends - that is exactly what Full Bloom turns out to be. Once you’ve peeled through the oniony layers of this dauntingly strident album, what you’ll find running underneath is almost beyond description in terms of its depth and beauty. Up front, the guitars are shattering like crystal, but the refracted vision that these fractured tones illuminates something wholly unique, and gorgeous. There sits deep within these recordings, that, I’m sure, to 99% of the population can be simply qualified as unbearable noise (“kids these days!”), a Zen that isn’t manageable at softer, more contemplative tones. Full Bloom achieves what all those minimalist drone kids are aiming for, but can never quite attain: something concrete, compelling and enlightening, all at once. Don’t get caught in the crowd that will flippantly label this as just another noise album. I promise, it is so much more.


Millipede on MySpace
Full Bloom via Install

Monday, June 14, 2010

PaperNoise update - call for entries

A bit of promotion for my other, geekier side project. It's a zine of art, comics, short fiction and poetry, all inspired by music. You can find more details here: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The call for entries is due this Friday so if you're interested, click on that link up there for details. I mean, what else are you doing with your time this summer? (Probably a lot.) More album reviews shortly!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Peeesseye & Talibam! - S/T

Peeesseye & Talibam!
Peeesseye & Talibam!
(2010, Invada/Smerladina-Rima)
RIYL = MoHa!, Ahleuchatistas, Zu

Talibam!, the wacky, jazzy, noisy rock duo, have never quite hit a bull’s-eye with me. I love ‘em, sure, but they’ve only managed second tier adoration from the past efforts that I’ve heard. And Peeesseye, well, I’ve never listened to them before, so I can’t really say anything about how this album represents them. However, what I can say is that the two of them together are absolutely positively supercalafragalisticexpialadocious! Oh bliss. I do love my noise rock splatter, those improvisational, manic drums, the geeetar, and Peeesseye and Talibam! bring this all together in spades of wonderful noise. I think what has really pulled it all together (from the position that I previously mentioned, one that is familiar solely with Talibam!) is the toning down of the overt wackiness (though it is still pleasantly, grinningly there) and the dynamic movements from the smirking-yet-groovingly rocking “You Tried (to Eat It),” to the near-heavenly clatter of “New Vitality in the Biomass,” to the straight out diabolical noise of “Everything for Everyone” (though it should be noted that the grating, metal-esque vocals that appear in the middle of this track are perhaps the most hilarious, even if they weren’t meant to be). And that’s not to count out the blazing, aerobic, deconstructive rock glory of “A Grey Mountain of Human Shit” or the all-out epic closer, “Year of the Moral Orgy.” The album is simply epic in its own right. Absolutely consistent from beginning to end, and we’re talking consistency in epicness. 2010 continues to deliver and Peeesseye and Talibam! is just another example of its wealth and diversity. Definitely one of the best albums of the year.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Masayoshi Fujita & Jan Jelinek - Bird, Lake, Objects

Masayoshi Fujita & Jan Jelinek
Bird, Lake, Objects
(2010, Faitiche)
RIYL = Uh, Jan Jelinek, Chihei Hatakayama, Sawako

No disrespect to Masayoshi Fujita, because whatever his contribution is here, it’s a good one (considering the results as a whole), but this is essentially, for me, a Jan Jelinek record. To which I say, it’s about time! It’s been about four years since his best-of-the-decade Tierbeobachtungen was released, and I’ve been itching for something new. Bird, Lake, Objects is the approximate fulfillment of those wishes. And, to be polite – because me and Mr. Fujita, we were just introduced – let me share with you a bit about Jan’s collaborative partner. Turns out my man is a vibraphonist, which is certainly recognizable over the course of the record, plinking and resonating, lightly puncturing Jelinek’s lapping electronic current. The interplay between the two here is seamless. A perfect meshing of live instrumentation with looping electronic manipulation, allowing for a stream of consciousness meditation on the jingle and hum. While Jelinek could be marked specifically for the subtlety in his craft, Bird, Lake, Objects delves even further into interiority, strained pacing and micro evolutions. The tender static, reverberating vibraphone ring, the oscillating minimalism; artistically, this may not be a revelation for the two, but that familiar echo can still evoke a rapture that is strictly Jelinek.


Monday, June 7, 2010

Splint! - Intelligent Design

Intelligent Design
(2010, FMR Records)
RIYL = Supersilent, Arve Henriksen, Miles Davis

If you are considering a trap with which to lure in and capture a real live actual witch, I submit to you this as a plan: carve out the insides of your house and lop off the roof. You’ll want to have full view of the open sky. Let it be on a night where the sky is painted with tar. The interior of your residence should be rife with the debris from your carving; add soil, preferably Indian clay, and stir (this is what a witch uses for bedding). Then, lock the volume parameters for your stereo system to the toppest notches of its volume capacity and play Splint!’s sophomore record, Intelligent Design. If that doesn’t attract ‘em by the busloads, nothing will (note: the capturing part, something which I am unfamiliar with, will by up to you and your own personal research; whatever happens, this will be an apt soundtrack). Following up their absolutely delicious debut, Moro, on the now-dormant Lampse record label, these Scandinavians have only grown more controlled and deeply disturbed in their particular mode and manner of electro-acoustic free jazzness. Intelligent Design begins slowly, minimal and serpentine, glumly flexing its muscular frame as the brassy bleatings sing morosely among the electronic bleeps and blips and pinging reverb. They way they build tension reminds me more than a little of a jazz oriented Ben Frost. It’s a free floating, brothy soup; a haze of roaming instrumentation. Cantankerous and carnivorous both, Intelligent Design breaks away briefly on “The Brick” into something less witch-luring and more bewitching. Acting as the album’s centrifuge, “The Brick” adds Malin Dahlstrom’s soulful vocals to Splint!’s characteristically dark beauty. The results are revelatory amidst the disorienting-yet-delectable mess of tracks that fill the rest of Intelligent Design. Really, it is one of the best singles of the year. Yet it doesn't outshine the record as a whole. The album is perfectly weighted, rigorous and ascetic, accumulating a steady rumble of static-based percussion that clicks and pops relentlessly into its penultimate track before breaking into a blithely realized ascension for the finale. It’s good. It’s that good.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Sean McCann - Chances Are Staying

Sean McCann
Chances Are Staying
(2010, DNT Records)
RIYL = Emeralds, Caboladies, Axolotl

Forest Gospel loves Sean McCann. Not simply because he is handsome (something we have yet to verify), but because of the handsomeness of his be-a-utiful recordings. Chances Are Staying is no exception. Pure loveliness and all that. And, to add to the excitement, this is the first time the man’s work has been pressed to vinyl. Read: essential. This is an essential recording my fledgling Forest Gospleateers. I will make this quick and easy (if you need to know how silly McCann makes us, simply check our/my reviews here and here). Two sides rumbling on this sucka. Side A is an expansive 16 minute plus drone fest – McCann’s specialty. This slab is bubbling and elongated, slithering, lapping waves. Violins and saxophones mapping things out, flowing, building and releasing. It’s classic McCann without the edges. Everything is smoothed out a bit, but still muscular. A moxie of constricting layers. Gorgeousness prevails, of course. Side B is three pieces congealed into one. It starts up with near ten minutes of the jagged, noisy bliss that similar to that which swam about on Open Resolve and Midnight Orchard, all set to a loose drum beat that seems like it falls off a bit at times, or is that an audio illusion? This is followed by “Stasis,” a brief two minutes of minor key tones that change shades glowingly and then into the finally, “The World He Left Behind,” which reminds me of a mix between Caboladies and Axolotl. So, like I said, essential.


McCann on MySpace