issue 10  october/november 2001
page 7



Reviews of
the FREEDOM FROM label

Nothing CD-R about it, this is an actual shrinkwrapped and jewel-boxed double CD released by Freedom From. Disc one is by Reynols, disc two is by No Reynols, a new band in which Anla and Moncho play not with Miguel Tomasín but Juan Manuel Acevedo, a different drummer/vocalist that has Down's Syndrome. When I first heard No Reynols I didn't know all this, and I thought maybe they were The Godz because I also had Third Testament in my disc changer. I won't forget it, that first time the drone-blues tenor of Manuel Acevedo filled up my room, singing a cavernous song in a voice seemingly twice as loud as the calm guitar-and-drums backing. Not yet overly familiar with either album, I thought only someone from The Godz could sing it that basically. The calm trance drumming could have also been by the Godz, but the more I listened to the guitars grinding and flickering along the song's extended pathway, the more I realized I was listening to something new.
      With Reynols, there is always something new going on, even when they seem like they might be doing the same damn thing they've always done. This is demonstrated on their half of the album, the first disc. Sure, there are meandering psychic rock jams (not a whole lot different than No Reynols), but there are also things like vocal suites that remind me of "Starsailor" itself (the track, not the album), a Johnstonian toy piano ballad, and a Jandekian guitar ballad...I would say that they have all the best influences, but I've hung out with 'em, and all they listen to is Alpha Blondy and "The Neverending Story" by Limahl. Hell, they sit around and hum songs like "Power of Love" by Huey Lewis & The News.
       Is No Reynols different than Reynols? Of course they are, everything is different from Reynols. Compared to the typically indefinable Reynols of disc one, the No Reynols of disc two strikes me as a 'blues-rock combo,' with a single vocal approach pursued relentlessly, unchanging instrumentation, and consistently groove-based song structures. I really do think they're playing the blues, but to quote Andrew Morrow in Freedom From's in-house magazine The Continental, "Reynols are not American rock musicians."

When Reynols played in Chicago last month in front of all of the scene's usual 'No Wave' stiffs, they pissed a lot of people off. Ya see, Moncho & Alan were in full drone mode, especially on their closing piece. No Wavers don't like drones, and they took one look at Alan Courtis's beard and long hair, concluded that they might as well be watching Makoto Kawabata duetting with Paul Simon, and ran home to listen to the Scissor Girls and U.S. Maple and dream about the good old days when everything was fragmented.
       If they'd stuck around, they might have noticed Reynols use the drone to channel not some hippie dream of homogeneity, but an almost gothic sort of melancholy. Not that they would've liked that any better, but I can dig it. Here's how Speeder magazine from the UK described this sound in 1999: "They make an unearthly, groaning racketónot directionless, always focused, droning mournfully." I've even heard people go further and describe them as "evil." After seeing them in Omaha on their first American tour, one friend commented that they came off like "Colombian drug lords" and that towards the end of their single 30-minute piece he thought "Satan himself was going to rise up out of the floor." Clearly some unusually strong forces are at work here. I can vouch for it, having just seen the mojo rise every night for a week on last month's USA tour. Between Moncho's Scorpio Rising look and Alan's evocations of Edvard Munch's The Scream, they were channeling, to quote a concert-goer in Chattanooga, some "dark shit."
       Don't get me wrong, some Chicagoans were impressed. The live show of Reynols has a way of impressing you a week later even when you didn't think you were impressed while it was happening right in front of you. Albúmina Blues, a solo CD-R by Courtis, is that side of Reynols, the sneak-up-on-you drony side. Hell, they might've been playing part of this album through the P.A. during their oft-devastating 'last piece'. It's a drone, but it ain't necessarily pretty, and it gets much louder than you think it's gonna, and maybe this should only be heard through huge P.A.'s or on headphones. When it's loud, you have the opportunity to get lost in it, but played softly, you're probably just gonna ignore it. (Update: just listened to it in the car driving around the city, rather softly, and it really worked. A great soundtrack when heavy gray clouds are moving by quickly above endless row-houses while city people scurry around intersections.)
       In conclusion, though I'm no Chicago No Waver, I think I do still prefer the Rock strategies that Courtis works when he's playing with Tomasin and Conlazo. The Reynols half of the Reynols/No Reynols 2CD demonstrates several of these strategies, and is really shaping up as my favorite thing by them. As Courtis said to me once, "Tomasin is very good drummer!" I think that's what the No Wavers miss when they see Reynols live, the kick that a good live drummer can supply, as it gives rockin' life to the more inherently 'new agey' drone side...but ultimately the two are inseparable. You're either on the bus or off of it.

A recording of solo voice performance by the leader of Reynols, mixed by his assistants Alan & Moncho for maximum 'sound poem' potential. One critic compared it to Dada soundtext performances from the 1910's, and that's exactly what it is (same truncated pauses and psychic echo effects). But hell, just like with No Reynols (see review) I hear the Blues -- with a capital "B", even -- in there too. Especially in the falsetto moan at the beginning (which I'm pretty sure Reynols were playing through the P.A. on the first U.S. tour), the rather excoriating black snake moan towards the end, and just the overall jive-talk atmosphere throughout.
      And, considering that these are 'sound-poems,' I can't help but wonder just how poetic this stuff might be to someone who can understand Tomasin's Spanish or Whateverish. Probably quite, judging from the translations of some of his statements that have appeared in magazines. On tour, Courtis explained it thus: "If there are four levels of understanding, most of us barely make it to the second level, even if we work very hard. Tomasin comprehends all four levels simultaneously." Outside the immediate camp, the stance has even been suggested that "Miguel Tomasin does not exist." I think the point might be that there isn't a whole lot of difference between the two descriptions. And yet there he is on the record cover...

The Wire-approved 'lower case sound' laptop movement simply cannot seem to get me excited, but here's a musician from Australia more or less associated with that scene, and this album is truly excellent. Just what I want to hear after a couple weeks on a harsh noise tour; music that has harsh noise buried somewhere deep within it but on the surface drones placidly and coolly, seemingly without any real agenda at all. As good as Jewelled Wings in its own way, though a little longer than it needs to be. You know me, if an album is over 40 minutes long, it'd better have 'epic' or 'career retrospective' stamped all over it. Hell, in the noise scene, any album over 20 minutes tends to wear out its welcome. This one still basically makes it 'cause all the tracks are good and long and monolithic.
The second-to-last track "don't fence me in" is one of the best ones one here even if it is eighteen minutes long and late in the disc.
       I can't help but think that maybe I just have too many noise records, but when you've got everything worth having by the Rolling Stones, Marvin Gaye, Judas Priest, Yes, and Billie Holiday, well shit, you gotta branch out. Enough to make distinctions between the music of Pimmon and Kevin Drumm, reviewed below, even if to 'the average person'
they of course would sound almost exactly the same. The difference I hear is that Pimmon drones -- in other words, uses melody, even if in its most base state -- while Drumm so relentlessly eschews melody that he won't even dare to drone anymore. Interesting, huh?

[Good evening, This is Elvis S. DeMorrow, of No Doctors. I enjoy your publication, and always devour the reviews, and enjoy them, especially things I've never heard of before. Which brings me to the offensive and quite possibly Slanderous slap to the face that I received upon reading the review of one "200 yr Old Wolf Pussy" cassette on Freedom From. In the review, it is explicitly written that this ominous sounding band is an early incarnation of No Doctors. THERE IS NO TRUTH TO THIS STATEMENT. We are already in contact with Mr. -------, the credited reviewer. I am hereby requesting that you respect our creative and economic interests and immediately remove this review from your web site. We are Busy People, and I shudder to imagine the necessity of Legal Action regarding this matter. Sincerely, Elvis S. DeMorrow.]
       They had one of the greatest band names of all time, but [UNIDENTIFIED MEMBER OF 200 YR. OLD WOLF PUSSY #1] and [UNIDENTIFIED MEMBER OF 200 YR. OLD WOLF PUSSY #2] had to leave behind their youthful noise aspirations. [UNIDENTIFED MEMBER OF 200 YR. OLD WOLF PUSSY #1] started singing, [UNIDENTIFIED MEMBER OF 200 YR. OLD WOLF PUSSY #2] became ["STEVE PERRY"], ["NEAL SCHON"] lended his devastating hard rock guitar skills, and with an intentional parade of irresponsible drummers 200 Yr. Old Wolf Pussy evolved. The new thing has perhaps an even better band name: [JOURNEY], who I can best describe as playing harmolodic cock rock. Having heard [JOURNEY] first, I figured the original band would have the same sort of noisy honky jive-talk mojo going' on, especially with their name lifted from an AfrAm 'playin' the dozens' routine (reproduced on the cover).
      Well, how funny that the music on this tape sounds not AfrAM, but almost exactly like AMM. And good AMM at that, at their long, austere, stretched-out peak. Initially I tried to picture [UNIDENTIFED MEMBER OF 200 YR. OLD WOLF PUSSY #1] and [UNIDENTIFIED MEMBER OF 200 YR. OLD WOLF PUSSY #2] doing this stuff and just couldn't, but a few minutes in, when the much-louder weird distant guitar-played-like-a-piano part comes in over someone elses brutal shaken slide guitar, I'm sold no matter who's doing it. Truth is, I dig the way [JOURNEY] can come out and rock a house, but they can say a mouthful in seven minutes, after which I think I'd rather listen to this tape. Except until about 20 minutes in, when their fidgeting starts to get a little too audible and the sparse cymbal hits a little too self-conscious.
      Once again, jack, it's a little too long, which makes me want to go back to [JOURNEY] after all, at least for a couple of songs. It could be like a club where [JOURNEY] plays in the big room and 200 Yr. Old Wolf Pussy plays in the chill room. After two more [JOURNEY] songs, I'd go to the chill room in time for the end of side one, when they do this rhythmic harsh noise thing that is nice and low-keyed. Then guitar comes in and it's actually pretty! What is this, Steve Tibbetts? Don't worry, it gets noisy again....damn, this is a long piece! Really noisy, in fact, with the tinny free-form noise guitar sounding like it came off a Big Black record and the cardboard drums tryin' to turn the proceedings into death metal but failing in a beautifully miserable way. It's too long, and it loses my interest, but interesting things keep happening. Damn, these kids got me, they're laid back enough to make me not care how long their tape goes on. I'm at the point where I might say "It's all good" and mean it. What were these guys, hippies?
       The crazy thing is side two features another jam that's just as long and just as AMM-ish, albeit with some noise turntablism goin' on. I don't think I'm ready to deal with it right now, but if I'd played this side first, I probably would've liked it as much as side one. I'm sure [JOURNEY] are really embarrassed about their art-noise past, so make fun of them about it at their next gig.

Side one ("Bara En Samling Ljud") starts like a couple minutes in the life of someone not having much luck trying to fix a screen door and/or get a station on his/her AM clock radio. He or she gives up and walks into the kitchen for a few seconds. Or the garage. Fixes a drink of water, or slams a car door, or turns off the microwave, or opens a car door. Occasionally their saliva-swallowing is audible. Every event has a distinct break between it, the edits that gave this kind of thing the name 'tape music' when it started about 50 years ago. It's abstract as all get-out, but there's a lot of curious, meditative space underneath this crinkled fabric. It's not a bad place to sit once you find it.
Side two ("Annu En Samling Ljud") has even more splicing and cutting to it, though after a rather cinematic intro it goes into a continuous blasting style that sounds more like a regular noise record. Different, though: it's that weirdly empty digital white noise that either fizzles and crackles or bellows through clenched teeth (I think 'narrow bandwidth' is the proper term), depending on which side of the knob you're on. Initially this put me off -- there's not a whole lot of 'way in' to this music, but yep, I'm getting somewhere with repeat listens. I don't know, in a seen-it-all town like Chicago, people feel the need to eschew melody and harmony to the point where even drones aren't allowed, not even for a second. I don't know really what to say about it, because I've bummed cigarettes from Kevin Drumm and talked to him about black metal. I'll keep this tape around, anyway. I really wanna hear his debut CD on Perdition Plastics and see if it's as good as everyone says it is. I have a feeling it might be close.


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