#15    SUMMER 2003



MR. MLITTER: New Dance Manipulator CS (ANIMAL DISGUISE) Mr. Gary Mlitter also records as Mammal so what's the difference between Mammal and Mr. Mlitter? The liner notes might make you think not much because they feature slogans like "New Dance Manipulator" and "Thank You. This Is New Dance Trax." Those almost sound like Ziegenbock Kopf jokes, except the real joke is that the tape starts with this really dead-sounding beat that's like someone alone in a room just clapping their hands. Oh wait, there's some static! And eventually the track turns into some lost murk that reminds me of Earth and The Thrones as much as anything. (Is this Mammal played at 16 RPM?) Side two features a small slew of excellent solo electro-prog tracks. (Eight to be exact, with such classic Mlitter wordage as "Tobe Globe," "Static Leppard," "Shrouded Man," "Steel Phase" and "Tube Tied Body Beat" for titles. More prog than Mammal, that's for sure. Bit of a Neon Hunk influence? Or was it the other way around? Very good cassette.

Now that's a band name! Actually, aficionados will recognize Ms. Mukai Chie as being from the PSF band Ché-Sizu, and Mr. Yamamoto Sei'ichi as being from the Boredoms and Omoide Hatoba. As for the mysterious Lamones Young, that's a new band from Japan that only joins the Mukai/
Yamamoto duo for the last of three tracks here. The backgrounds of all these folks are well-described in the generous liner notes by Alan "Who Else?" Cummings and Kosakai Fumio of Lamones Young. The first two duo tracks are super-spacy, clattery, with mega-delayed guitar, lost vocal moans, and Ms. Mukai sawing on an "er-hu" ("a traditional two-stringed bowed Chinese instrument") and knocking around on some drums. Actually, it sounds a lot like the Charalambides. The third track starts as pretty much more of the same -- I don't think the Lamones have joined in yet. While we're waiting I'll regale you with some funny stuff from Kosakai's liner notes: "After many long discussions (though some preferred to term them 'drunken parties'), the three members arrived at their basic concept of performing a Ramones' song in the style of La Monte Young. The song they picked was 'Blitzkrieg Bop.' The plan was to extend this one song as long as humanly possible. The members hoped that by the end of the first hour they would have completed the famous 'one, two, three, four!' count." Alright, in the time it took for that anecdote, I'm pretty sure Lamones Young entered the fray, as some additional background cloudy space-vibe is apparent. Still kind of tentative, nothing too exciting yet -- at its best it sounds like the intro to "In The Evening" by Zep. Ah, now during the last half a heavy drone is worked up to and the band really gets somewhere. It's worth the wait, but if you already have records by the Taj Mahal Travellers and Charalambides . . .

This is good violin/amp drone jam, especially because of the ultra lo fi wobbly 'cassetteness' of the sound and the title/artwork (the front cover is the front cover of a book called The Debauched Hospodar, and the back cover is a page torn from the book, see image). Naturaliste may weigh a little heavily on the 'the harder you hack at the musical instrument the better represented is the human condition' metaphor, but there are enough good sounds/crunch pockets throughout to make this a good listen.

Here's a band that kinda lives up to its name. It's weird that I like it because this music sounds surprisingly close to an 80s downtown NYC vibe -- I'm talking Material, the Golden Palominos, 80s Fred Frith solo albums, My Life In The Bush of Ghosts, that kind of shit -- which is shit that I NEVER listen to because, well, you know, right? (Laswell=Garth Brooks.) It's like avant-funky grooves with all kinds of electronic slurpage going on o'er the top. Not my bag on paper, but what makes me like it is simply that it's NOT from downtown NYC in the 80s, it's from RIGHT NOW in Portland, OR and it's released by a label that is wicked underground and has a good name to boot: White Denim. (Of Allentown, PA.)

Why even review an LP that costs $35? At that price, you'll already know why you're getting it, and my opinion matters not. But, if you are listening, I think it's kind of a bummer. It's like if I want it, I can either pay $35 now or $235 in a year -- what is this, goddamn health insurance? A warranty offer at Best Buy? Well, I did see a copy of this at Reckless Records, and the cover sure looked and felt nice. I read on the Aquarius Records catalog that the printing expenses of the cover were what drove the price up so high, and I've gotta say, it looked and felt INCREDIBLE. But the only reason I'm listening to it right now is because a "kind brother" made me a CDR of it. And it is pretty damn good. It's very good. (See Rettman's review, he's exactly right.) But if you already have a few NNCK platters and don't feel like contributing to the e-baying of the entire fucking world, be like me and pick up the Letters From The Serth reissue instead, for a mere $12.

NOGGIN: Listen Not To Vain Works Of Empty Tongue CS (UNREAD)
I've always thought Noggin were a little boring. Maybe it's just because I like Cock ESP and I saw a video where they literally urinate on a Noggin 7-inch. Or maybe it's because I bought an LP by Noggin with a messy-painted paste-on cover (Space Needle?) 3 or 4 years ago and I haven't even listened to it twice. When I did listen to it I kind of admired it, or respected it, because the attack and timbre of their guitar/violin combo is indubitably commanding. Unfortunately, the resultant music never seems to go anywhere at all. This cassette starts with yet another pretty powerful bang, the violin and guitar just going nuts playing long drawn-out explosions. The approach is basically harsh noise, I don't know how else to describe it, because the duo never really change up their approach from Total Pummel. That could be just fine, of course, except that this particular T.P. is played on 'jazz' instruments (the guitar is hollow body), which I just don't think quite works. It's always too apparent who is doing what, which keeps it from being a hypnotizing mass of sound. I think side one is a concert in Seattle and side two is a concert in Sacramento. Sounds like a good crowd in Seattle, and they seem to like it, but that's because they're the 70 hipsters who read the right zines. And YOU, buddy, are reading the WRONG one.

NOXAGT: Turning It Down Since 2001 (LOAD)
I was a little surprised to see these guys doing something on Load, because bassist Kjetl Brandstal releases drony stuff on Corpus Hermeticum and Ecstatic Peace and gets written up in The Wire. Then I pushed play and I was like, "Oh yeah, these guys should have totally done something on Load." In other words, it's not drony, it's not artsy, and it IS ass-kicking heavy rock. (It's not No Wave, though, it's Nor Wave, because these guys are from Norway.) Super-heavy power bass-and-drum grooves and, get this, the thing that makes 'em great is that the third member of the trio isn't a guitar, it's a fucking viola. King Crimson's Bartok strain as played by the Melvins or a 16-Style Jesus Lizard. Hell, you can tell they're 'fine artists' just because their e-mail is hotmail@noxagt.com, and that's, well, funny as shit. Swank/eerie 'bubblebath' cover photo. Funny liner notes by Stefan Jaworzyn. Produced by Billy Anderson, which was a good choice -- he did Sleep's Jerusalem! -- as well as High on Fire. And, the album is under 30 minutes long!

Noxagt bilder fra konserten på cementen 08/09/2002.  Photo by Kevin Foust.

NUTRITION FUN: Barring Any Future Indiscretions CS (UNREAD)
The Unread label of Omaha likes two things: lo-fi folk music and lo-fi noise. Well, some people have said that noise IS the new folk, so there. I don't know who Nutrition Fun are but I think they're from Omaha, and they do both the noise-based folk and the folk-based noise, and they do both pretty well. Some of the songs on here are totally submerged in glorious home-recording mystery and thus sound all the more like teenage symphonies to god. On other songs I sense a possible emo-trained whine. That's okay, we all have our dark pasts. The noise, i.e. the tracks that aren't songs at all, is good. You can always depend on Unread for bedroom gunk and xerox murk.

OCS is Orinoka Crash Suite, or something like that. The liner notes are minimal, but this is a solo project by John Dwyer. You know Dwyer, the guy who's done get-laid garage rock in The Coachwhips, get-laid gay techno in Ziegenbock Kopf, and masked duo no wave in Pink + Brown, and now he's doing . . . Fahey?? Plus noise??? What is this, his laptop folk alter ego? What's next, an IDM project, and then a prog band with mellotron, and then an all-midget Kiss cover band? (Oh, never mind, too late.)
       Well, shiver me timbers, this is actually a great release. It's partly due to the Tumult touch -- they are a FABULOUS label -- but mostly due to the music. Dwyer's a really good guitar player, surprisingly bluesy, which sheds a new light on Pink + Brown. But it's not like Fahey, that's merely the knee-jerk comparison; this is more Pop, more throwaway, more like snapshots, more short attention span. Dwyer doesn't just play guitar, he throws in overdubs on organ or noise effects or whatever. There's even some vocals if you're paying attention. Reminds me of both Mississippi John Hurt and Alistair Galbraith. Hmm, according to the "New Weird America" article in The Wire, free folkies and no wavers were opposites, but OCS is bridgin' the gap!
       The second disc is labeled as "white improvisational," and I take the "white" to mean not Dwyer's race but "white noise," as disc 2 has also been described as a "noise" CD. And it pretty much is, although also quite varied and short-attention span, with 18 tracks that come from different directions, some of it folk-based noise, some more rock-based noise, some of it like Merzbow and some like Flies Inside The Sun. And, damn, track 17, now THAT'S plunderphonics. Crazy. Good double CD.

File another in the New Prog section! Here we have a New York City band featuring a heavy and hard-rocking drums/bass rhythm section supporting what sounds like a phalanx of keyboards. Okay, just looked at the credits and it's actually a trio -- this keyboardist (Dan Friel) either overdubs in the studio or maybe he's just a busy beaver up there on stage. Anyway, lots of crunchy keyboards-through-distorted-guitar-amp vibes, playing classic rock chords really loud over sprinting rock rhythms. The music is feel-good without sacrificing the grit and energy of the best of today's No Wave.

PENGO: A Nervous Splendor LP (HAOMA)
For all the rave this rec was getting, I thought it started on a slightly dubious note, with what is officially the 1,014th combination of post-Siltbreeze "atmosphere" and post-Fahey "roots music" on record, but it's really short and you quickly realize that it's just a bookend, a fanfare, a prelude, or whatever, and the record immediately begins to rule when an extended sample emerges, of a chipper young fellow, who is obviously a narc, telling a story, fragments of which include ". . . and then I met some Christian brothers" . . . "I was really surprised at all the love they had!" . . . "So that night I asked Christ into my life, and it's been a joy ever since."
       And then, track two, "The Ill Fitting Tourniquet," fully turns my appreciation from tentative to full-fucking-on, as the Pengos take a one-chord folk pattern and soak it in the very mud of, well, Hades! (Y'know, the muddy banks of The River Styx?) Loudness, distortion, overbleed, "the red," it's all here. This is Doom. Side one stays great, finishing out with some free jazz freak-flutter and more samples of people talking, some sort of weird-ass phone stuff.
       And side two is where the Nervous Splendor really gets a chance to roost and lay mutant pterodactyl eggs in your mind's eye. Of course, it takes time for that sort of incubation period, like at least 20 minutes, and when side two of any band's record is just one song, you know something's up. Pengo pull it off with another brooding jam, kill zone bystander music. Lead vocals by Idi Amin Dada.
       So everybody's right: great record. Definitely better than the not at all bad Pengo Climbs the Holy Mountain. By copping the BYG Actuel design for the cover, they predict with complete accuracy their own shit-hot appearance as 'token white freaks' on a theoretical JAZZACTUEL-type compilation to be released 30 or 40 years from now.

I was planning on liking this album just 'cause of the not-fucking-around B&W design. And I do. I never know what to say about noise CDs because I like all noise music but I almost never like noise albums. They're always too long and samey and I always have to quit listening to them (stop paying attention to them) just to get through 'em. But if someone was changing up different artists every two to five minutes I'd listen all night long, and they should definitely drop anything by Pig Exam in that changer. Besides the album isn't too long, not even quite 40 minutes, and the last track is 15 minutes of deep scary echoed space that definitely changes things up. Pig Exam, and the SNSE label, are from Kalamazoo, Michigan.

PINK + BROWN: Shame Fantasy II (LOAD)
I was skeptical of Pink + Brown, like I'm skeptical of any blatant duo mask-rock. Isn't it kind of a convenient move? Who wouldn't want to rock like Lightning Bolt? It's too obvious, right? Nowadays anyone who's been playing guitar for two weeks puts on a mask and suddenly they think they're "saving rock and roll." But then again, I missed 'em live when they came to town with, well, Lightning Bolt (and the short-lived Subtonix -- remember that tour?) in July of 2001, because I arrived too late, and most of the people who told me how good Pink + Brown was were referring to seeing them on that tour. The records seemed like an afterthought. Well, it's a couple years later and all the dust has settled -- I only heard 'em ONCE on college radio -- so now I can finally just put this platter in -- their entire recorded history assembled onto one disc -- and decide what's up. Well, shit, I was wrong: they aren't doing this out of convenience at all, they're working their masked asses off. As the OCS disc shows, Dwyer isn't just fuckin' around on the guitar so that his band is weird, his knowledge goes deeper, and that skill heavily informs Pink + Brown. The length of the disc is a little wearying, but that's because, again, this is everything the band ever recorded -- a CD called Final Foods released on Toyo Records, one side of a split with the ad hoc band Death Drug, and 5 never-before-released tunes -- and even with all this stuff it's not THAT wearying because the duo's energy level is constantly inspired.

ROBERT POSS: Distortion Is Truth CD; Crossing Casco Bay CD (TRACE ELEMENTS)
These two discs came with a press package that wasn't a one-sheet so much as a novella. It ended up being pretty good reading, with all these essays heavy on composerly electric guitar theory, with titles like "The Cult of Tone" and "The Myth of Sonic Neutrality" and yet another inspired grocery list of influences that went [excerpted] "...the connections I came to feel, often with the help of Susan Stenger, existed between Fred Rzewski and Fugazi, Tom Verlaine, Sam Lay, Joseph Conrad, LaMonte Young, Chuck Berry and David Tudor, David Bowie, Julius Eastman, Blind Boy Fuller, Garth Hudson, Javanese gamelan, Patti Smith, Poly Styrene, Bollywood pop, the Standells, the Kinks, Ma Rainey, Joan Jett and the lives of Ava Gardner and Malcolm Lowry, not to mention the magical syntax of Zimmerman/Osterberg or the fractured poetics and overloaded mic pre's of Mark E. Smith or Willie Dixon." Righteous, more lists!
        From this press kit I also learned that Poss, who I'd never heard of, was a founding member of Band of Susans, who I had heard of, and even listened to, once or twice, many years ago, at a record store or something. I also learned that Poss was even in P.I.L. for a few days once in 1983, which made an interesting story that you can apparently read online here. And also that the guy had developed a fairly rigorous quasi-academic approach to the cult of electric guitar tone, and that he had some Phill Niblock connections. After all this is I figured I was in pretty good hands, and made me expect some fairly heavy wall-of-guitar stuff.
       In light of that, Distortion is Truth disappointed me. It's a long compilation of "facets of [Poss's] recent musical interests, some of which catch the light more than others." As such, it goes from short guitar drone pieces to fairly normal space-rock tracks and even tracks with vocals that almost come off like shimmery trip-hop Madchester numbers. These latter experiments are kind of dreamily heavy, and would make a worthwhile 7-inch single or CD EP, but overall the album just doesn't really cohere. Poss is clearly a guy who takes guitar and overtones and distortion really seriously, but somehow guitar never really takes center stage of these "facets."
       That's where Crossing Casco Bay comes in. The track sequencing alone promises good arc: a 20 minute track, then an 18 minute track (recorded live at Phill Niblock's Experimental Intermedia space), and then three shorter tracks that add up to just 10 more minutes. It could almost fit on an LP, so I automatically like that better because of my training as a record listener during the LP era. And, longer tracks just seem more suited to what Poss does. Sure enough, the opener/title track lays down a thick slab of feedback that actually aspires more to early solo/duo era Heldon than it does to, say, Branca or Sonic Youth. If you're interested, start here.

This guy wondered if I'd want to review a CDR packaged in garbage and I was like sure, expecting some kind of grand Witcystian concoction, but jeez, he sent it to me packaged in a folded-over section cut out of a used frozen pizza box. It even smells noticeably musty. That's kind of gross, dude. I shouldn't complain, it's not like he sent me cassettes packaged in dead fish, right? (See Muckraker #7, review of Smell & Quim's Chariot of the Cods cassette.)
       Anyway, I think the return address on this was Portland, OR, but it was recorded in "El Dorado, IL," but maybe that's an imaginary town just like the original Eldorado because I live in IL and I haven't heard of it. Musically, it could certainly come from Chicago, IL because this is actually some pretty involved No Waviness and this town is still one of the nation's centers for No Wave. Heavy bass player keeps things moving, the drums clatter around it (rather lo-fi so you can't fully hear the oomph of the rhythm section, more just the overall movement of the clatter, which is cooler than some big Albini-esque rhythm section anyway), while the rather excellent guitarist freaks it like Keith Levene or something. Vocals are, naturally, histrionic, but not overdone. Of course the band works with a vocabulary that can be traced back to Trout Mask Replica, but it's surprising how assimilated their grasp is. This music could also fit on the Bulb Singles #1 comp reviewed elsewhere, right next to Cornelius Gomez or Prehensile Monkeytailed Skink. And then it ends with a hidden psychedelic noise jam track influenced by Sun Ra.

Takes a while to get going beyond just heavy atmosphere and silence. Right now my baby monitor is hissing louder than this jam. Okay, now a sax has entered, playing searching flutters, and the rest of the group is picking up around it. Someone saws some wood in space and then that sound trickles off into nothing. A music box dancer seems to be occasionally twirling somewhere in the mist. Aw, heck, we're already on track two. Track four mixes bad and loud drum machine programming with scattered . . . ukulele? I don't know what's going on, and that's the way I like it. No dry/pristine recording fetish, no scale-chasing tail-chasing improv games. Pushovers keep things mysterious.