Saturday, November 10, 2018

Dead Can Dance's "Dionysus"

I got started down this rabbit hole after hearing Lisa Gerrard's contributions to The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices' album BooCheeMish earlier this year. Then my wife and I got into a conversation with a random stranger about Gerrard's band Dead Can Dance (and their '80s 4AD label mates the Cocteau Twins, whom a friend and I had listened to just a couple of days earlier), and we started streaming Anastasis, DCD's 2012 reunion album, their first since 1996, on which Brendan Perry's voice, from the opening lines of "Children of the Sun" (not the Billy Thorpe one) onward, hit like a fuller, richer version of his fellow Aussie Ron Peno's (of Died Pretty fame), in striking contrast to Gerrard's ethereal, keening arc. My wife was impressed by the confluence of African, Middle Eastern, Celtic, medieval, and Eastern European influences; I was swept away by the lush, cinematic torrent of beguiling sound.

DCD's new album, Dionysus, was composed entirely by Perry, inspired by an ecstatic experience he had while drumming at a local festival in Spain back in the '90s. Rather than a collection of songs, it's a unified work consisting of seven movements, divided into two acts, with instrumentation that includes Mediterranean folk instruments, others that mimic sounds of nature, and a vocal ensemble that blends Gerrard and Perry's voices with computer-generated sounds from a library of choral voice samples, singing in an invented language. The music manages to sound both ancient and very modern, ritual and celebratory, with a strong percussive element and those distinctively powerful waves of choral harmony.

"Sea Borne" opens "ACT I" with a grand flourish, all skirling melody over a captivating dance rhythm, then "Liberator of Minds" slows things down to conjure the expectant mood of a quiet forest, with a recurring three-note motif that recalls Coltrane's "A Love Supreme." "Dance of the Bacchantes" reaches the heart of the matter here, achieving catharsis through undulating rhythm and exultant vocal interjections. At the top of "ACT II," "The Mountain" juxtaposes Scottish reels (same ones Richard Thompson based his guitar solo style on, my wife points out) with Gregorian chants and Slavic-sounding scales. "The Invocation," with its droning polyphony, revisits some of the same territory Gerrard did with The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices, before "The Forest" introduces EDM elements into the mix. "Psychopomp" closes things out with a soothing but still highly rhythmic evocation of a sheltering rainforest. Dionysus is a sound world to get lost in.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Sarah Ruth's "The Shape of Blood To Come"

Sarah Ruth Alexander is a performer with a unique sensibility, formed by growing up in the desolation of a West Texas family farm. Classically trained at UNT, she's become a mainstay of the vibrant experimental music scene that germinated in Denton and in recent years has taken root in Dallas venues like Stefan Gonzalez's Outward Bound Mixtape Sessions at RBC, Run With Scissors' evenings at Tradewinds Social Club, the peripatetic Dallas Ambient Music Nights (currently in residence at Oak Cliff's Texas Theatre), Chateau Virago, and Top Ten Records. In person, the austerity of her sound -- which juxtaposes Western gothicism with electronic noise -- is undercut by goofy humor (often heard in her Tiger D radio broadcasts on KUZU-FM).

Sarah Ruth's willingness to collaborate has occasionally led her to settings where her signature strengths -- the ethereal voice with a jagged edge, sometimes processed into welters of electronic chaos; the folkloric instrumentation that recalls something from the plague years -- were subsumed in directionless ensembles. Her two previous releases, 2015's solo autobiographical Words On the Wind and 2016's Far From the Silvery Light with They Say the Wind Made Them Crazy (a duo with Monks of Saturnalia/Decoding Society/Unconscious Collective/Habu Habu guitar shaman Gregg Prickett), were haunting documents of her expression. Her current release, The Shape of Blood to Come, surpasses both.

The album -- available via Bandcamp as a digital download or limited edition cassette -- is a collage of tracks with different instrumentation and collaborators. An epigraph from William Carlos Williams establishes that this will be an exercise in theme-and-variations. Three tracks feature a full band that teams Sarah Ruth with Pinkish Black's dark-and-heavy duo Daron Beck and Jon Teague and Wire Nest guitar minimalist Frank Cervantez. (Pinkish Black's new record is mastered and amazing; they also have a collaboration with Yells At Eels in the can, awaiting completion.) Denton eminence J. Paul Slavens contributes meditative piano to three others, while Dim Locator guitarist Will Kapinos joins in spectrally on two more. To these feedback-scorched ears, however, the most affecting tracks are those where multi-instrumentalist Beth Dodds splits the difference with Sarah Ruth on dulcimer and harmonium. Uneasy music for uneasy times.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Things we like: Quarto Ensamble, CHORD

As fraught as social media can be, what with targeted disinformation and the prevalence of asshole culture there, it's still the best way I have of keeping tabs on musos I dig, and hearing new music that's worthwhile (although Tape Op magazine and KNON-FM have also been good to me this year). In fact, two of my favorite guitarist/composers -- Marco Oppedisano and Nick Didkovsky -- both entered my consciousness via Facebook posts about The $100 Guitar Project, a 2010 recording venture to which they both contributed.

Both men live in NYC and come from rock backgrounds. Oppedisano's an educator and electroacoustic composer whose improvised solo guitar videos are a particular delight. Didkovsky's a familiar of Pauline Oliveros, Fred Frith, and the Alice Cooper Group who's led bands including Doctor Nerve, Hasslicht Luftmasken, and Vomit Fist, and designed music composition software. Both have new music available.

In Oppedisano's case, it's a recording of his guitar quartet "Good News" by the Chilean group Quarto Ensamble on their album Musica de Quarteto de Guitarras Electrica. I'm not sure the CD is available outside Chile right now; you can contact the group via their website. Oppedisano's piece is gently ruminative, with crystalline textures that recall Ralph Towner's '70s collaborations with Larry Coryell and John Abercrombie. Elsewhere, on Javiar Farias' "Cuarteto 1" and "Cuarteto 2," they dig deep into Red-era King Crimson heaviosity, while on Dallas-born ex-Village Voice scribe Kyle Gann's "Composure," they weave their way through a spacious sound field. Worthwhile listening.

CHORD is Didkovsky's new collaboration with his friend and fellow guitarist Tom Marsan, and it's an orgy for the ears of guitar freaks everywhere. Opening track "loc. 10" starts out where the Velvet Underground's "White Light/White Heat" finished up, with ringing harmonics and feedback from the two heavily amplified guitars skirting Metal Machine Music territory (but with more midrange thickness). It's cleansing as well as bracing. "extinction event" uses more negative space between chords that have the density of concrete blocks, but still sound like a system on the verge of overload. "not home" is all slashing treble, a kind of operational definition of "heavy metal" minus the riffs. "penultimate" is a quiet piece, but one which features shuddering dissonance at its core of gradually mounting intensity.

CHORD reminds me of Amiri Baraka's description of Coltrane's Ascension as "a soul rinsing," and as Baraka said of that august album, you can use CHORD to heat up the house on cold days. CD copies are available via Didkovsky's Punos Music label, digital downloads via Bandcamp. So there.

Monday, October 08, 2018

The Ballad of the Occasionals

After the collapse, at the end of 1998, of the blues band I'd put together to get out of the supporting-the-bar-for-three-hours-to-play-three-songs rut of the jams, I had this instrumental R&B band for a minute. I wanted something that could gig small rooms where my being on DUI probation would not be problematic, and I knew the woman who booked bands for Borders. Instrumental because I'd had some static with the previous band's frontman that I wanted to avoid repeating. (When I first proposed the idea to Professor Robert Cadwallader -- whom I met sitting in with Tiny & the Kingpins in Dallas, before he went on to spend many years as James Hinkle's ivory-tinkler -- he exclaimed, "We can't go out there without a singer. They'll kill us!"). R&B because it wasn't rehearsal-intensive, and there was already a bunch of guys who jammed at my duplex in Benbrook every Sunday.

Ron "The Velvet Hammer" Geida taught two of my kids guitar and had played in a rock band called the Civilians. He was from Springfield, Mass., had a nice touch and lots of melodic ideas. He went on to tour Europe with country rockers Jasper Stone, and serve as the resident Jeff Beck simulacrum for years of Wreck Room and Lola's jams. I don't remember how we found Dan Bickmore, who was a corporate attorney from Oregon but had drummed in a Tower of Power-type band there. Later on, Dan and I played alt-country and rock in bands that never got out of the shed before he disappeared back into the ether. Bass was the hardest position to fill. We started out with a guy named Bill (I forget his last name) who was obsessed with Kustom amps. I'd met him sitting in with Dave Anderson's band in Dallas. After timely pause, Bill was replaced by Duke Nishimura, a superior technician with whom I butted heads over his desire to cover the Yellowjackets. Duke in turn was replaced by Ron's buddy Layne McConnell, who'd been in the Civilians.

Besides Borders, we also played one gig at a coffee house in Cleburne, and an audition at 8.0's where Ron was inaudible due to his reluctance to hump a Twin downtown and the foldback weirded us all out to the point of falling apart in the middle of "Pick Up the Pieces." Ron subsequently hustled us another audition at the Flying Saucer, for which Layne was unwilling to rehearse due to the Cowboys being on TV, so I broke up the band after 13 months. Several months later, we regrouped at an open jam hosted by the frontman from the aforementioned blues band and played "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" -- which we'd learned very laboriously over the summer when Ron and I saw the Allmans play it with an extended intro that we copied -- cold. Almost made me wish we'd stuck together. And learned more material.

I ran into Ron a little while ago, and he told me he had some tapes of the band he'd been thinking about digitizing. Daron Beck very kindly consented to do the transfers, and Ron and I were left with the task of listening to four shows, seven sets (one of the sets wasn't recorded) of ourselves, almost 20 years ago -- an exercise that feels a lot like brainwashing. The first show, with Duke on bass, was clearly the best, recording quality-wise, with a good balance between instruments and a definition the others lacked. You could even hear the tonal differences between Ron's 335 and my Telecaster. (Ron solos first until the last three songs, when we had the good guitar bat cleanup.) I realized, listening, that I played a couple of these songs ("Cissy Strut," "Chameleon") with Lee Allen years later at the Wreck Room, and one ("Rock Me Baby," although not this arrangement) with Lady Pearl Johnson at the Swing Club. Days gone by. Anyway, now there's a little digital home (on Soundcloud) for a band hardly anybody heard, who only lasted for a minute. So there.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Things we like: Self Sabotage Records

Ordering my copy of The Young Mothers' Morose via Discogs, I blundered into the online store of the distributor for awesome Austin indie Super Secret Records and their experimental arm Self Sabotage Records, some of whose wares we carry at Panther City Vinyl, and was rewarded with a stack of other releases I'm just now going through.

On the recent LP Wires, guitarist Jonathan F. Horne and cellist Randall Holt use all the tonal, timbral, and textural possibilities of their respective instruments to create a cinematic music based on density, depth, and repetition. The cello is the predominant solo voice, but both instruments take turns looping arpeggios and ostinatos or daubing colors from an electronic palette. On Knest's Honorary Bachelors of Arts CD -- Self Sabotage's inaugural release from 2015 -- drummer Thor Harris adds his crash, thump, funk, and scintillating tuned percussion to this mixture. The sounds on offer run the gamut from crushing rock to invigorating modern chamber music. Among the latter, my jam is the beguiling "Motes Skate in Shafts of Sun-Raking the Table," which sounds pretty much like what its John Fahey-esque title describes. The propensity for verbose titles carries over to Holt's solo CD, Inside the Kingdom of Splendor and Madness, on which his instrument's lyricism and penchant for long tones come to the fore. Horne also plays on Call It In, a CD of noir-ish rustic rock tunes (really!) by songwriter Sean Morales that we like real much around la casa.

En Las Montanas de Excesos is a half hour plus space rock improv marathon combining the estimable talents of drummer Chris Corsano, bass colossus Ingebrigt Haker Flaten, pedal steel virtuoso Bob Hoffnar, and experimental guitar stalwart Henry Kaiser for a session that's out to lunch -- same place Sun Ra and Hawkwind eat at. Side one of the LP starts out in oddly metered syncopation before heading into galactic meltdown. Side two reintroduces pulse over a gliding Hoffnar ride through an electrical storm and into a celestial drone that hits like Pete Cosey sitting in with Neu! The bassist also has a solo outing, Hong Kong Cab, under the rubric Ingebrigt Haker Flaten's Time Machine that showcases his facility on acoustic and electric instruments as well as apocalyptic noise freakouts. Finally, Victor Lovlorne's eponymous debut CD is all lugubrious melody, sounding for all the world like a minimalist Leonard Cohen as he applies the most skeletal electronic background imaginable to his soul's-dark-night ruminations. I still need to check out the self-titled debut LP from exhalants, who come highly recommended by a Fort Worth muso I respect a lot. But now I'm hip that Self Sabotage is an imprint to watch.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Obnox's "Bang Messiah"

Genre mashups are the thing today, with dub production techniques popping up on pop-country records, and young bands conflating surf, garage, and punk like they were always one thing. Thus, it's unsurprising that Obnox mastermind Lamont "Bim" Thomas has used his prolific solo project away from This Moment In Black History to fuse garage rock and hip-hop. As Living Colour once said, "You ask me why I play this music / Well it's my culture, so naturally I use it." Or as Oliver Lake would have it, "Put all my food on the same plate." It just makes sense for musos to use everything they know, every time out of the gate.

I saw Obnox win over the young Denton crowd -- I realize I'm superannuated for club shows, but this felt like the Children's Crusade -- at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studio my last time there before it closed in 2016, in between Bukakke Moms' improv free-for-all and X___X's stately punk jazz (for whom Bim kicked the traps that night). In between sets, he hung out making friends with the young fans behind the club. No star trip here, just DIY-ism at its purest.

Working with producer Steve Albini on Obnox's tenth full-length release, Bang Messiah (after MFKN RMX the Bang Messiah, who provided beats and programming here), Thomas crafted a sonic setting that swaths his live act's lo-fi immediacy in clouds of hallucinatory ambiance. From the jarring disorientation of the backwards groove that kicks open the door on "Steve Albini Thinks We Suck," Bang Messiah juxtaposes P-Funk falsetto vocals with riffs that alternately snarl and thump, veering into sinister video game music ("Baby Godmother") and creepy Barney the Dinosaur referents ("Cream," awash in keyboards), simultaneously evoking Eddie Hazel and Tony Iommi in a single solo ("I Hate Everything") before the "Cosmic Slop" groove of "40th St. Black" reminds us of how far we haven't come since the '70s.

Turn the record over, and "Enter the Hater" bowls you over with retro punk pounding before "Find My Way" carries you off to the arena with its synthesizer hook. "Rally On the Block" pulls you back down to the ground with its super heavy funk, leading into the pulsing throb of "Wake and Quake" and its evocation of '70s Blaxploitation soundtracks. Then descend into the maelstrom of "Off Ya Ass" and its Godzilla-groan cacophony before "Fluss" takes you out with a backwards groove like the one that brought you here. It's a different trip than, say, D'Angelo's Black Messiah, but one worth taking.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

King Brothers' "Wasteland"

Consider the fate of Japanese garage rock in the US: Guitar Wolf, the 5.6.7.8's, and Shonen Knife ghettoized in Noveltyland, and mighty Thee Michelle Gun Elephant -- signed to a major at home, where they played stadiums with ambulances on standby -- releasing their product via obscurantist indies and consigned to slogging around the rawk dumps.

King Brothers have been treading the boards since '97, and while they're unlikely to become as perennial Meercun faves as their countrymen in Boris and Acid Mothers Temple, their new elpee, released by estimable Berlin-based indie Hound Gawd, comes loaded with enough garage grease and grit to enthrall anyone who owns the entahr Estrus Records catalog. (Indeed, the out-of-control slide guitar showcase "Bang! Blues" could be the handiwork of the late, lamented Immortal Lee County Killers.) I'd had it for several days before I was working in the record store, Ted Stern threw it on, and my ears perked up.

A bass-less trio with instrumentation reminiscent of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (whom they namecheck, along with Guitar Wolf, in Wasteland's liner notes), King Brothers have the audacity to rip off the 'orrible 'oo's "Generation" (in "No! No! No!") and close their album with an unironic, harp-driven cover of the Stones' "Sympathy" (somewhere, Brian Jones shakes his blonde locks and laughs), but they're a lot closer to Boris' punky side than they are to Spencer's garage-blues or anyone's idea of "classic rock."

The real story, though, might lie in their lyrics -- sung in Japanese, but helpfully translated on the inner sleeve. They range from the pure nihilism of "No Want"'s "I DON'T WANT ANYTHING...EVERYTHING IS SO DAMNED PRETENTIOUS" to the more nuanced expression of "Break On Through" ("The time you've lost / Did it become a good experience? / But in the end / It doesn't mean anything / If you haven't changed") and this surprising call to action from the aforementioned "No! No! No!":

You can't forgive if you can't forget
If you think it's wrong raise your voice
Stupid things won't change
If you let it go that's THE END. 

Amen, brother. Amen.