= JULY 2006 =
|Simon Lewis (Editor)||Jens|
|Six Organs of Admittance|
(Cd on Kranky http://www.kranky.net )
I guess that I might as well admit what already might be obvious to some of you. I have always loved Charalambides, and just like a love affair colored by respect for one another’s oddities it’s a relationship that has continued to develop over the last fifteen years. Other bands and artists have come and gone but Charalambides have always stood strong, and every time I’ve started to question their ability they’re outdone themselves with a new masterpiece or with treading into unfamiliar sonic terrain.
”A Vintage Burden” is no exception from that rule as it displays a blend of the band’s celebrated folk/noise classic ‘Market Square’ (Siltbreeze, 1995) and their more recent guitar minimalism. Like the title of the album might suggest, it seems to have been a bit of a struggle for the Carters to return to their roots. All sorts of long out of print CD-Rs and LPs have been reissued in recent years but it’s still pretty much impossible to get your hands on “Market Square,” and it’s only recently that they finally have decided to play material from that very album in the live setting.
Given this background it might not come as a surprise that ’A Vintage Burden’ despite its powerful, beautiful and painful characteristics is surprisingly melodic. Dark guitar meditations are placed next to mind-melting guitar explosions with introspective whispery folk tendencies binding the whole thing together to a cohesive whole. Christina Carter’s vocals are excellent throughout, in one moment gorgeous and devastating the next. It’s tempting to describe ’A Vintage Burden’ as some sort of concluding document, somehow signaling that things might come to an end, but given their past I am positive that all involved are going to continue to surprise, challenge and fascinate for as long as they live. (Mats Gustafsson)
(CD from Secret Eye http://www.secreteye.org)
I already knew that Chicago's Spires That in the Sunset Rise is an amazing band, but I was still blown away by their sheer brilliance at the recent Terrastock festival in Providence, RI. Given that, it was with great excitement that I received another solo disk from Kathleen Baird, this time dropping the Traveling Bell moniker she’s been using before.
Fans of Spires That in the Sunset Rise’s eclectic, Comus-inspired free folk meanderings will enjoy this but ’Lullaby for Strangers’ is despite its bleak tone not quite as disturbingly dark and fractured. Let’s just say that this gently meandering slice of mystical folk for the most time has more to do with Incredible String Band than Comus and Current 93. Baird takes the late 60s work of ISB as a starting point and adds her own unique voice in the form of various exotic instruments (bells, mbira, guitars, flutes, synthesizers and more) as well as ocean deep female vocals that honestly is worth the price of admission alone.
There’s something deeply spiritual about Baird’s droney folk arrangements and evocative lyrical phrasing that somehow completely transcends what we think we know. Her stories and worlds aren’t just trapped in another time; they’re born from another dimension. The end result is temple-like bliss of the highest order, easily ranking with the brightest hopes in the genre. (Mats Gustafsson)
Eschewing his surname (Unosson) for his sophomore solo release, The Spacious Mind’s keyboardist delivers a semi-concept album, with long, leisurely-paced tracks in the 6-8 minute range, loosely centered around a variation on the theme of the Prodigal Son, with many tracks dealing with separation and attempts to bridge emotional gaps. Jens seems to have reworked the biblical tale, recasting himself as a Prodigal Lover trying to rekindle a relationship, or simply a son trying to reconnect with his father (the album is dedicated to Jen’s dad). These downbeat tales of death, love, loss, and forgiveness (let’s just say this is not something you’ll toss on at your next backyard barbecue) also seem to suggest that the pangs of guilt have come too late and that the relationships described (with a lover or a father) are irreparably damaged, whether through the relocation of the former and/or the death of the latter.
Once again, Unosson invites his co-workers to help him out (including TSM guitarist Niklas Viklund and drummer David Johansson, along with his Holy River Family Band/Cauldron partner Arne Jonasson on just about everything else, including guitars, sitar, hurdy gurdy, and tablas). ‘Trying To Save A Life’ opens the album on a pensive note, with Arne’s collection of wyrdfolk instrumental staples (saz, cumbuz, darbouka) creating an ethereal phantasmagoria within which Jens’ harpist/flautist/co-vocalist Linnea weave their mystical tale of love and memories inspired by the discovery of a decade-old letter written to Jens by his grandfather.
Linnea’s lilting flute and soprano adds a fine counterpoint to Unosson’s gruff monotone on ‘The Same But Carved Out Of Stone,’ a heartfelt tale of separation from one who was once so dear, but is now apparently lost forever. Some nasty fuzz guitar solos propel ‘Leave It To The Rain’ along its merry way. A tale, once again, of broken relationships and missed opportunities gallops along at a leisurely pace for nearly eight minutes, but never loses momentum or becomes dull and uninteresting.
The listener is encouraged to remain patient and take the time to absorb these compositions as one welcoming back an absent lover or relative would be eager to hear the details of their voyages and experiences away from the fold, as it were. Recent Spacious Mind albums we’ve reviewed have suggested more than a passing influence of The Grateful Dead, particularly with their extended jams. But ‘If You’ve Seen Me Lately…’ is more emotionally wrought and draining than those works, with Neil Young’s mid-70’s output (‘Tonight’s The Night,’ ‘Zuma,’ and ‘On The Beach’) frequently tickling my memory banks. And while the album does impart a low-key, lonely, empty, nearly depressing air, Unosson wisely employs Linnea’s soaring soprano and upbeat flutework to lift tracks like ‘You Came In The Shape of Gold’ out of the depths of despair.
This is a physically and emotionally draining experience, and Unosson’s dedication to his father suggests he may have recently experienced his passing. The album’s closing tracks, ‘Passing Song’ (“Written for my Grandfather, sung for my Dad”) and ‘This Is Just A Wake’ (with gorgeous harmonies from Linnea) seem to support this theory, but they may also ease your own pain if you find yourself in similar circumstances. Highlighted by Linnea’s flittering flute and Unosson’s rising organ lines, the latter suggests that there is hope and peace at the end of a long, fruitful life. (Jeff Penczak)
Pickled Egg Records www.pickled-egg.co.uk)
A mellow introspection is the order of the day for “Shake Hands” the
relaxing improvisation duetting with brushed percussion and laid
back vibes, allowing the listener time to digest the sound and look
forward with anticipation, until “Ringa Roga” rewards us with some
groovy electronics full of twisting synths and wailing sax, you will
Just as you start thinking “Can it get any Better?”, it does, the outstanding “Where Are The Casualties?” distilling the perfect blend of Zukanican magic, including a wonderfully realised change of head space (about 5 minutes in ) that opens up space in the song creating a blissful sound that slowly disperses into nothing.Penultimate track “Vague And Nebulous” is an abstract and drifting track perfectly summed up by it’s title, whilst “Leak Winks” is a fine way to end the feast,as inviting as a warming brandy, leaving you happy and contented with the thrill of it all. (Simon Lewis)
|(no cover provided)||
(CD from www.subpop.com)
The last three albums by
Comets On fire have been ear-bleeding assaults on the senses,
guitars fuzzed-up and fucked-up in an attempt to drown you in a
noise-storm of epic proportions, and boy, were they good at it,
although after the brilliance of “Blue Cathedral” (2004) it was
difficult to see how they were going to progress with their
particular brand of chaos. Frankly my friends, I don’t know what I
was worried about, this album contains all the sonic destruction you
could wish for, but this time the band have welded it to a glorious
melodic structure that displays the band songwriting skills and
allows the vocals to climb out of the mix and take their rightful
place in the songs.
opener “Dogwood Rust” is the perfect blend of old and new, the
guitars suitably distorted with a frenetic rhythm section fighting
for control of the tune. However, there is a clean freshness to the
noise, the melody taking precedence, giving the band the sound of
those early Sub Pop singles, full of energy and messed up pop
sensibilities. Amazingly, “Jaybird” is even mellower (in a relative
sense) with some sparkling guitar lines that have an almost jazz
flavour, I use that term loosely! If that is not suprising enough,
then the third track “Lucifer’s Memory” will stun you completely,
sounding like a seventies prog ballad, with twinkling piano and
moody guitar creating the sound of a long-lost classic, the vocals
perfectly suiting the desolate mood of the song.
listened to this opening trio of tunes it is obvious that the band
have developed tremendously, harnessing their unique power and
infusing it with a delicate intensity that burns with emotion, the
musicians all treading the same path, seeing the same visions.
this devastating statement of intent the band just let rip on “The
Swallow’s Eye”, which capture the chaos of the previous albums and
is a slice of rock terrorism that glows with passion, before the
three minute amphetamine rush of “Holy Teeth” lets you know that the
band have not gone soft, as it speeds out of your speakers with
of voodoo funk trickery,”Sour Smoke” is a mean and dirty Santana
tribute, grinding it’s way through the undergrowth in search of your
soul, full of magical power and laced with some righteous keyboard
playing that adds a twist of sunlight to the song. Finally the band
bring us back to land with the gentle “Hatched Upon The Age” which
has shades of Procol Harem or even Aerosmith lurking amongst it’s
seventies groove, at least until the guitar takes the song to pieces
at the end in a blaze of distorted joy.
Overall this album is a radical stylistic change for a band famed for it’s noisy tendencies, but it really works, offering a varied and beautiful album that is rapidly becoming one of my favourite albums of 2006. (Simon Lewis).
(CD on Alien8 Recordings)
Tanakh's fourth full-length recording finds
Jess Poe and fellow travellers besotted with the psychedelic
diaspora, recalling everything from 'Forever Changes' to Neil Young
and Crazy Horse, with some nods in the direction of contemporary
freak-out guitarists like J. Mascis and Nick Saloman.
I must admit to a degree of surprise at the accessibility to be found on 'Ardent Fevers', since their last self-titled work headed off from the folk-psych pastures of their first two releases into mystical temple drone along the lines of Pelt and Double Leopards, but I'm glad Poe is back following the song-lines. 'Ardent Fevers' is arguably Tanakh's finest work to date, and its very real mainstream cross-over appeal is something all the more potent for seeming to grow organically out of the song writing and performances, rather than being engineered into them for cynical reasons. (Tony Dale)
THE NORTH SEA AND RAMESES III – NIGHT OF THE ANKOU (TYPE - Type Records, Apt 151, Quadrangle, Lower Ormond Street, Manchester, M1 5QF UK )
This reissue of the transatlantic collaboration between Tulsa, OK’s Brad Rose (aka The North Sea) and London trio, Rameses III (originally released last October on the Finnish Lattajjaa imprint) adds a bonus remix track (courtesy Type chief, John Twells, aka Xela) to the original CD-R’s two side-long tracks. Opener ‘Death of the Ankou’ (a legendary spirit variously described as the personification of death or the collector of the souls of the dead) occupies the same head space as krautrocker’s Popol Vuh and Tangerine Dream, with its collage of multi-layered electronics and guitar drones. The prominent strains of violin-like guitars drags the track around the muck and mire of your subconscious mind, stumbling across fragments of discarded musical furntiure left behind by the likes of Snorecore specialists Stars of the Lid, Aarktica, Windy & Carl, and early Flying Saucer Attack and Azusa Plane. It’s as subtle as lying in a sensory deprivation tank and as glacial as a cloud swallowing the noonday sun. Tinkling bells suggest chimes flickering in a summer breeze and soft woodwinds add an oriental flavour to our dusky revelrie.
The second track (side B if you will) is even more reflective and relaxing. ‘Night Blossoms written in Sanskrit’ bears the New Age-y stamp (in a good way) of the work of mystical electronic composer, Aeoliah, with Rose’s softly-strummed guitar weaving in and out of Rameses’ speaker hum drones. The nearly religious imagery of Popol Vuh also occasionally peers in the window. The release concludes with Xela’s remix, which combines the cinematic ambience of the originals into something completely different via glitchy electronics, disembodied vocals, crackling percussives and other disorienting manipulations that, in my opinion, tramsforms the pensive nature of the original work into a more aggressive, dissonant creation that’s as removed from the original’s mood as, say, the disgracefully destructive mood at Woodstock ’99 was from its 30-year-old progenitor, or today’s hi-tech, high-commerce Galstonbury blasts are from the hippie hangout that emerged 35 years ago. But, perhaps that’s the price of doing business in today’s music scene. I would have preferred a straight reissue, but it seems that part of the negotiation required Xela to be literally “hands on.” The fact that this release is now available to a wider audience almost makes up for that. (And as the last track, you can always turn the CD off after the strains of track two waft out of the room.) (Jeff Penczak)
These nine instrumental experiments from Low’s guitarist were improvised live in the Sacred Heart Church where Low occasionally records their material. (Two of the tracks even bear the church’s name, ‘Sagrado Corazón de Jesú.’) They are as varied in length (from 38 seconds to nearly 18 minutes) as they are in texture (and interest). Those looking for Low’s (and Sparhawk’s) familiar Snorecore crawl may be disappointed. Although both use textures, silence, space, and warped, elongated time signatures to create melodies to explore a range of emotions, these tracks lack the warmth imbued by the Sparhawks’ vocals. Here, Sparhawk’s improvisations use the guitar to create those textures and emotions thorough effects pedals and manipulations of his delivery systems, i.e., amps.
At first, the titles, which are typically sentence fragments, suggest placeholders for identification purposes only, e.g., ‘How a freighter comes into the harbor,’ ‘How the weather hits the freighter…,’ ‘… in the harbor,’ ‘How the engine room sounds,’ ‘How the weather comes over the central hillside.’ But they actually do serve to create mental images that the music begins to emulate…if you listen close enough, you can almost hear and see the freighter slowly pulling into the harbor, slicing through the rain and disappearing and reappearing in the fog. There are passages of sustained notes that reminded me of Gyorgy Ligeti’s ‘Requiem’ for voices and orchestra that Stanley Kubrick used so effectively in ‘2001:A Space Odyssey.’ Midway through ‘How a freighter comes into the harbor,’ there were goosebumps crawling up my spine and I began to feel cocooned within a cold, wet steel that had me scurrying around the house, hiding all the razor blades. This is tactile, frightening, horror film music that wouldn’t have been out of place on the soundtracks to such visceral classics as ‘Blair Witch Project’ or ‘Saw’ or the early experimental films of a Stan Brakhage and Kenneth Anger. In fact, I’d love it if one of our present day surrealists, such as David Lynch, or especially Guy Madden would co-opt some of these tracks for their next film project.
Sparhawk continues to use the space between the notes to play an important part in setting the album’s tone on the lengthier tracks (‘Sagrado Corazón de Jesú (Second Attempt)’ and the epic, 18-minute ‘How a freighter comes into the harbor’), but the short fragments leave us confused, wondering if they should have been excised or grafted on to the main tracks. (An option would have been to cut those segments and release the disk as an EP, focusing on the more “completed” tracks.) So while not an easy listening experience by any stretch of the imagination, fans of Glenn Branca, Loren Mazzacane Connors, Roy Montgomery, and fellow Minnesota guitar experimentalist Paul Metzger will find a lot to digest, disect and ponder over. Just don’t come expecting to hear a Low album with Mimi Parker’s vocals lopped off. (Jeff Penczak)
(CD on Strange Attractors Audio House)
Here is a disc I've been playing to death lately - a CD that could
well end up being one of the year's finest (whether it is recognised
as such or not in the fickle world of neo/freak/folk is another
matter). Nick achieved some kind of breakthrough on 2005's "Further
From Grace", which I summed up elsewhere to be "the kind of album
that refuses - and is in fact demeaned by - easy reference points in
the present and past, existing as a sui generis masterpiece of new
acoustic music, and a model for what might fly in the future to
replace to already tattered and stained flag of freak folk. British,
American and Middle-Eastern traditions are respectfully drawn
together, and its difficult to imagine improving on any decision
made on the record". On "Further From Grace" Nick was backed by "The
Poison Tree", which included Josephine Foster and members of Espers.
For "Come Into Our House" he has gathered "The Young Elders" - a
fine assemblage of musicians including John Contreras, who is so
effective on the latest Current 93 CD; B'eirth, driving force behind
In Gowan Ring and Birch Book, and various members of Cul de Sac and
Damo Suzuki's Network. This new line-up has allowed Castro to
achieve a vision that is cinematic in scale and faultless in
(CD-R on Aztec Records, http://www.aztecmusic.net)
For the third in their commendable series of Buffalo reissues, Aztec take us back to the band's bone-crunching 1972 Vertigo debut, a record that set the pattern for Buffalo releases thereafter: parent-baiting artwork, howling vocals, daft lyrics and uncompromisingly stygian riffage, phase-shifted by psychedelic production touches. The line up for Buffalo at this point was premium indeed - Dave Tice (vocals and later vocalist for The Count Bishops), Alan Milano (vocals), Paul Babli (drums), Peter Wells (bass and later guitarist for Rose Tattoo) and John Baxter (guitar) – and they delivered thuggish, swaggering sound for 'Dead Forever'. One of Buffalo's finest moments leads off the album in a style that mixes acoustic, metal and progressive modes in a way that still comes off as tectonically significant. 'Leader' starts with hushed acoustic guitar and angelic harmonies before the riffs kick over the top of weirdly echoing drum patterns and massively reverbed, multi-tracked vocals from Tice, before the track heads off into frenetic fusion territory. It's a striking initiation, and one can easily see why Vertigo rated this band enough to make them their first Aussie signing. The uncomplicated 'Suzie Sunshine' pays tribute to their pub rock constituency, being spectacularly retarded in a really good way, though one senses the band, and particularly Baxter on guitar, really preferred more sprawling, progressive, and definitively non-12 bar workouts. A mass of Hendrix damage introduces their cover of the Blues Image's 'Pay My Dues' but when they get to the actual song, the results really mark the track as a period piece only. Their 10 minute demolition of Free's 'I'm a Mover' moves back to core Buffalo territory - cavernous, brutal and severely mutated blues with progressive leanings like blue murder and spittle launched from a distance of about an inch from your face. 'Ballad of Irving Fink' is fine 70s progressive blues and 'Bean Stew' demonstrates that they must have been listening to USA rock from below the Mason-Dixon Line as well as Sabbath, Heep, el al – it has a real Doobies flavour though with more teeth on the saw and a propensity for extended heavy psych jamming. A good metal album always has a "sensitive" ballad to mix things up, and "Forest Rain' fits the bill here, albeit with a heavy dose of carnage added for the soaring chorus. With trippy effects and vortex-loads of swirl, this is probably as close as Buffalo got to unadulterated psychedelia. Unsurprisingly it's one of my favourite tracks from the period, standing comparison to other classic Aussie head extrusions like Blackfeather's 'Seasons of Change' and The Master's Apprentices' 'Because I Love You'. The album closes out with the silly but seriously entertaining zombie-lurch of the title track.
Five bonus tracks round things off. Both sides of the ultra-rare 1971 single 'Hobo' by Head, a pre-Buffalo band with Tice and Wells on board, are included, with the track 'Sad Song, Then' being one of Baxter's finest compositions. Three 1972 Buffalo non-album tracks culled from various singles included for completeness, though they are less than essential, being more along the lines of record-company pleasing good-time R&R. As with all of the Aztec reissues to date, mastering, packaging and liner-notes are of the highest standard. (Tony Dale)
(LP/CD from Drag City, PO Box 476867, Chicago IL 60647 USA)
It wouldn't be going too far to say the Ptolemaic Terrascope "discovered" the Six Organs of Admittance. We were certainly one of the first magazines, anywhere, to review the band; and Ben Chasny's appearance at the Terrastock 4 festival in Seattle was one of his very first live outings as a working musician. How times have changed. Five years later, the Terrascope's considered to be so far down the indie-rock food chain that we're reduced to begging to be sent copies of their new album to review. And when it does eventually turn up, we're sent a fucking CDR of the thing. Apparently, this (pictured left) is what you are meant to look out for in the shops - or at least, that's what we're being told it looks like. Nice, eh?
If it weren't for the fact that I subsequently went out and bought myself a copy of the LP (from Sister Ray Records in Berwick Street, London - they have it in stock for just £9.99, and come highly recommended) I'd still have no idea of the full majesty of this release. Ben himself would, I know, be stunned if he knew how poorly he was being represented - I have no issues with the band; only with a system that sees fit to shit so royally on the hand that feeds it when it's young.
As for the music itself, well needless to say it's worth hearing. Ben Chasny’s had this album inside him, screaming to be allowed out, for much longer than many give him credit for. I seem to remember his first mention in the Terrascope was in a review of the Plague Lounge LP put out by New World of Sound back in 1996, an album which at the time drew favourable comparisons with Skullflower - a far cry from the folk guitar strum and mystical backwoods chant of the early Six Organs of Admittance records subsequently self-released on the Pavilion imprint. Which wasn’t to say that we didn’t love those too in equal measure; all I’m pointing out is that Ben’s membership of Comets On Fire, and even more recent touring and recordings with Current 93, haven’t necessarily influenced or in any way changed the direction of his main project, the Six Organs of Admittance. The black squall of feedback and blistering guitar has always been an undercurrent; the vocals have always been there despite the band so often being throught of as primarily instrumental.
‘The Sun Awakens’ is though the album where it all comes together – vocally emotive; musically sophisticated; electronically charged. It’s also, and this perhaps says more about myself than it does about the band, perfectly suited to the LP format, with six songs on one side, and just one (yes, one) on the other. There were times when I’d lie awake at night worrying that the days had long since passed when bands would see fit to fill the side of a record with a solitary number. You have to love Six Organs of Admittance for that alone.
Following a short, open-chord guitar interlude the album quickly plays a brilliant opening hand, one which you immediately wonder if they’re going to be able to follow. ‘Bless Your Blood’ finds Ben Chasny accompanied by Noel Harmonson on drums, Tim Green on a tone generator, and John Connell on an instrument described as a Persian ney (presumably the fact that the former Persia is nowadays known as Iraq is not seen as a particularly strong selling point…). Ben’s primary instrument on here is his voice; chanting, exhorting, somehow European sounding - and providing the perfect accompaniment to the droning instrumentation. ‘Black Wall’ is the song which most closely resembles what listeners have come to know and love from the Six Organs of Admittance; with the chanted vocals, tribal beat and fiery bursts of screaming guitar it could hardly be by anyone else.
The odd one out on the album is, for me, ‘The Desert Is a Circle’, which consists of acoustic guitar and percussion laid over wordless vocals around a tune which bears a passing resemblance to earlier works by the Black Sun Ensemble (before they disastrously incorporated vocals into their albums, something I personally never forgave them for!)
Two brief guitar-led instrumentals which again hark back to earlier Six Organs releases follow before the album's undoubted stand-out, the sprawling 23 minute long ‘River of Transfiguration’. It’s this masterpiece that takes up all of side 2, for those of you civilised enough to purchase the vinyl version of the release. Effects-laden washes of temple sounds swirl from speaker to speaker until the actual tune starts somewhere around the 8 minute point, whereupon the band kicks in with drums, basses, electric guitars, and a chorus of wordless chanted vocals that build to a crescendo without ever quite going over the edge into mayhem. It’s at once spiritual and dramatic and quite frankly awesome, in the more traditional sense of the term. Their best yet? Only time will tell. It’s a bloody astonishing piece of work by any measure though. Find yourselves someone to run you off a copy, or find a site that'll let you download an MP3 of it, but miss it altogether at your own peril. (Phil McMullen)