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.