ISSUE 14   WINTER 2002/2003
page 15 of 27



reviews by

Originating out of the criminally under-documented Lal Lal Lal scene, Kemialliset Ystävät's first full length, widely available release is not simply one of the most essential things to appear as of late, it is also one of the most mind-boggling. As if it took 30 years to construct a proper response to the Faust tapes, Kellari Juniversumi replies in a similar incomprehensible babble, such that you know upon really hearing it that a thousand bands shall follow in its wake.
Yes, the instrumentation reminds me of Faust, the vast array of instruments, mostly acoustic with a few electronics; but the reply to Tapes could never be made by Faust. They tried that and failed utterly. They just made more Faust. But Tapes was not about any one band. It was an idea. It was an entire world of music in microcosm--a microcosm which deconstructed music to make something absolutely new. It bounced between almost chaotic exploration, degenerate song structure, composed yet totally alien pieces, jazz, whatever. Tapes was really the most brilliant thing Faust ever did, though I don't know if they ever recognized that. Yet whether consciously or drawn by something altogether foreign to consciousness, Kemialliset Ystävät seems to play with that very knowledge.
The contents of Kellari Juniversumi are obviously quite varied, yet let's not kid ourselves. Most of them are so alien that even the songs that clearly are 'songs' don't sound like anything you have ever heard before. Sure, it sounds quite ethnic, but you would be hard pressed to say it belongs to any one place--especially given the addition of subtle electronics along side of primitive instrumentation. It isn't that this sort of thing has never been done before, but bands such as Atman speak in a language we understand. There remains a certain safety that I cannot credit to Kellari Juniversumi; belonging instead to that slender catalog we might rightly file as 'Terra Incognita'! Yes, this is precisely why I draw that connection to tapes. Both albums belong to an unclassifiable, dangerous non-genre that could so easily launch a thousand other bands. Your first listen will provide nothing to latch onto. No familiar territory. This is truly new music while sounding like it could have been made 40 years ago!
What really sets Kellari Juniversumi apart from Tapes is that ALL recognizable structures are gone. There are no rock songs, no jazz. Most tracks have some resemblance to ethnic music you might have heard, and some resemblance to the more primitive (and contagious) elements of Amon Düül 1, yet never sounding like anything except something utterly new--and that can be, in a way, terrifying. This is definitely an album to humble anyone who thinks they have heard it all.
I have to admit that I've heard very little of the Psychedelic underground of Finland. If Kellari Juniversumi is any indicator, we may be seeing the beginning of a new movement no less important than the Japanese and New Zealand scenes. Perhaps something to rival the legendary days of Can and Faust? All I can say is that if you consider yourself in anyway connected to modern psychedelic music, than there is no way you can avoid purchasing this album immediately!

MAINLINER: Imaginative Plain CD (PSF)
While Mainliner's new one may not add anything to the identity of Mainliner (I'm not sure what there would really be to add anyway), PSF's release is a fantastic rectification of the near unavailability of Nanjo's legendary band. 'Mellow Out' and 'Mainliner Sonic' (both on Charnel House) are so out of print that I could probably sell mine on Ebay for fistfuls of green. 'Psychedelic Polyhedron' (their third) released on Fractal Records seems equally out of print, and short of bootlegs or weird 10 cd-r collections, that is about it for this 'Psychedelic Solid Free Attack Group'. A grave misfortune since it seems that any one in the know should at least own one Mainliner album; they're just as worthy as High Rise, and in my opinion a good step above the prog nonsense of La Musica. Thus, moving to PSF seems a sound move given the label's dedication to keeping its burgeoning catalog in print.
But what of the album? Oh hell, half my reason for reviewing this one is it's a no-brainer! High Rise bumped up half a dozen notches. Stupid, insane, all in the red, rock and roll perhaps at its most indulgent. Stylistically it is somewhere between surf, punk, rock and ground zero atomic holocaust fun! I'm trying as hard as I can not to make any drug references here...coz isn't that just too obvious? For anyone who's heard the threatening din out of the East, this is hard-core Japanese psych rock; and that isn't psych as in hippies and flowers. It is psych as in if all the metal bands had decided to become improv units, turned all their amps up, and decided to really hurt us with rock and roll. Is that psychedelic? I'm not going to argue with Nanjo on this one, because whatever Mainliner is, it clearly isn't going to change, and Psychedelic is just as good a word as any.
With a running time around 35 minutes, it will wrap up just before you're wrapped up. It is always good when bands know just how much you can take. Their former releases showed the same brilliance, and realistically, this is probably the only Mainliner release you need unless you're collector scum (join the crowd). As good if not better than 'Mellow Out', this is an obvious recommendation for anyone who's tastes exceed what's on the radio. Rock on!

PELT: Ayahuasca CD (VHF)
Pelt is one of the survivors from that explosive mid 90's underground explosion that resulted in Drunken Fish's glorious Harmony of the Sphere's box, yet Pelt was too radical still to appear on that lavish collection. At first a seeming US counterpart to the NZ free noise scene, Pelt quickly mutated into something altogether different, culminating in their landmark 'Empty Bell Ringing in the Sky' CD. Empty Bell is an awe inspiring work of what I would unfortunately classify as 'drone', when in fact the album defies classification. Closer in spirit to the incredible Gold Blood release by Fushitsusha; cacophony melds into higher order consciousness, or perhaps it is something other than consciousness. Whatever it is, this is new music; no less innovative than the likes of Ligeti or Xenakis.
        Having climbed that mountain already, Pelt does not make the mistake of trying to repeat itself. The masterful Ayahuasca, while perhaps not the landmark that Empty Bell was, is nonetheless one of the most satisfying things I've heard by the band. This time 'round, the 'hillbilly theatre of eternal music' have indeed broken out their banjos, and when the band is not exploring uncharted territory, it exploring an equally interesting Appalachian folk music/Pelt amalgamation. If you think that Pelt has gone completely native, a quick listen of The Black Twig Pickers (a Mike Gangloff spin-off project) will tell you that the Pelt songs here are not -quite- true to form (even if they are traditional numbers); though you might have come to the same conclusion given some of the instrumentation.) This bizarre hybrid of folk, drone and noise makes for what may be among one of the most original albums I've heard in years (really, what should you make of a Fahey-esque number with scraping violins and tibetan bowls?)
        Elsewhere we hear the Pelt sound we've all come to know, but now with distinctive eastern-tinged harmonies -- something that softens the impact of Pelt's normally mind-altering experience, but next to folk numbers, that is probably a good choice.
        At two discs in length, Ayahuasca has a LOT to offer, and the fact that it is able to put this length to good use without repetition says a great deal about what Pelt has to offer. Although at times I'm not sure whether this is more a collection of various Pelt tracks or just one incredibly diverse album, it is nonetheless a very rewarding purchase that easily justifies the slim price tag ($12 from VHF) even if you've never heard Pelt before. Go out and buy!

When Julian Cope wrote his field-guide to Krautrock back in the mid-90's, he couldn't possibly have grasped how much he turned the meaning of the term into just 'music Julian Cope likes'. Until books like 'Crack in the Cosmic Egg' and 'Cosmic Dreams at Play' appeared on the scene, it was (at least to the uninitiated) as if Krautrock only spanned the experimental electronic artists, while missing wholly the expansive cosmic folk musings that were prevalent during the period. There is no question about it, the Germans were hippies, and if you've ever found Robbie Basho's singing a bit on the silly side, there is record upon record of German hippie ramblings that are no less embarrassing. Of course, you like embarrassing. You love to hear Robbie Basho sing. I do too.
        The collection I'm reviewing here was used for $8 at Twisted Village (who can pass that up?), and given that three of the four albums sampled here are more or less unavailable, it seemed like a good buy. Witthuser & Westrupp probably had some minor mention on the part of Cope as I recall. Their album 'Trips and Traume' is legendary, merging silly folk tunes with heavy electronics. It never takes itself too seriously, and it's actually fun! Most of the great songs from that album are here (over half the album) including the now famous cover of 'Don't bogart that joint'. But that isn't the real treasure here since Trips und Traume is easy to find on CD. Rather, it's the four other albums collected here, Lieder von Vampiren, Bauer Plath, Der Jesuspilz and the live set that really make this a fantastic find, especially in a used bin!
       The tracks from Lieder von Vampiren, Nonnen und Toten are pleasant enough, but pretty standard folk numbers. My volume of 'Cosmic Dreams at Play' writes the experience off completely, but from the three tracks here, I'd say he's gone too far in calling the material worthless. But I'll admit that I didn't pick the CD up for that. Der Jesuspilz and Bauer Path find W&W in perhaps their most ludicrous form. There may be more than one mellotron in use here, while choirs of little girls sing 'la la la' in the background. If Tarot was a MUCH sillier album, it might have aspired to this material. There is no doubting that this is prog, but it is also folk, and it is very German folk. Keyboard solos are interrupted by quasi-yodeling, and monologues that no doubt pronounce the secrets of the universe. I doubt the absurdity was intentional, but this is definitely prog-folk overload, and you're sure to love it if you can find a copy.
      One other bit of praise I need to sing for this album--the comp itself is 75 minutes long! Even without the Trips und Traume tracks, it's still a full length set. Mmm, so yeah, if you're still piecing together your krautrock collection, this is a nice find.

BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE (2002, directed by and starring Michael Moore)
Incidentally, I don't know how you spoil a documentary, but if you're worried about that, please don't read any further. That's all the warning you'll get from me.
        It took over 12 years for Moore to achieve what he probably set out to do with Roger and me, but clearly those years were not wasted as Bowling for Columbine is quite easily identifiable as Moore's masterpiece. That being said, it is still a flawed work, filled with inaccuracies, and often as manipulative as the propaganda it attempts to lampoon. The upside is that Moore's agenda is a much more palatable one than his antagonists', yet when the film is speculated upon, one wonders if the 'to beat your enemy, become your enemy' is really the best way to go about doing things.
        Bowling for Columbine is at first glance a film about the violence committed at the Columbine school, yet this is just a bouncing board for Moore (and really only a paper thin disguise). What seems to be the most likely motivation is another school killing--one that happened in Moore's hometown. Yet even between both events, Moore spends little time on them. Instead, the film deals with the issue of violence in the US. Not violence at school, not violence by kids--and indeed, not even really gun centered violence. Moore strays to dealing with our violent foreign policy, pointing a finger at US weapon arms companies. Yes, Moore is concerned with the big picture.
       Where Bowling for Columbine is a real success for Moore over his previous film Roger and Me is that here he is able to construct a major thesis for the film, namely, that our violence does not stem from guns, movies, video games or music, but rather, from a media that promotes fear and paranoia. Moore exposes that Canadians have a love for guns that exceeds our own, yet deaths by gunshot is just a fraction of the number in the US. Similarly, those aspects of our culture that we've been using as scapegoat are equally idolized by Canadian youth. The difference between us and Canada (and Europe and Japan for that matter), seems to lie in the media, at least that's what Moore concludes in Bowling for Columbine.
      Ironically, it doesn't stop him from harassing K-mart for carrying bullets (the killers in the Columbine shooting purchased their bullets there), nor from even paying a visit to Charlton Heston and giving the old fellow a hard time. Sure, it's an idiosyncratic film, but its execution is convincing and always entertaining. As usual, Moore catches people on film saying things you think they'd never reveal. And as usual, he is first to throw himself into unusual positions--asking absurd questions to all the wrong people.
      There is no mystery that where Moore succeeds most is as an entertainer. Although his interview with the producer of Cops may reveal little more than the pre-calculated popularity of the program, Moore's interspersed segments of his invented show 'Corporate Cops' is perhaps one of the funniest things I've seen in years. Other attempts, however, like the interview of a small town militia may try to poke fun at these rural sharp shooters, but in the end, it really doesn't entertain and adds nothing to Moore's premise. And while a segment by South Park creators about white man's inherent fear of everything is funny, its factual inaccuracies make you wonder if all this humor isn't at the expense of the integrity of Moore's narrative.
      In the end, Bowling for Columbine manages to be just shy of fantastic. It is wildly entertaining and its points are provocative and insightful. Many of the issues dealt with are extremely emotional; which Moore expertly balances out with a good sense of humor. I would draw comparisons to the humorously constructed Atomic Cafe documentary. All in all, this is an important film that anyone with an open mind should go see (yes, republicans too!) but don't be surprised to find Moore's actions occasionally repellant, and his wisdom to often be little more than diatribe.






reviews by

BLACK DICE: Beaches & Canyons 2LP (DFA)
Since their inception in 1997, Black Dice prolifically released recordings in various lengths, though this is their first full length. So full that it required a double LP for the vinyl format. It is also their first release for the newly founded DFA label. To the best of my knowledge, "Beaches" contains five tracks as there are no liner notes let alone a track list. Each track except the first two consume an entire side of a record which translates into the fact that the tracks are longer then some of Black Dice’s previous shows. "Beaches" is a documentation of aging. What sparked interest in Black Dice was their ability to translate spontaneous youthful energy, angst, passion, anger, politics, etc. and do it briefly and loudly. If they were nervous before, they have found some level of calm. "Beaches" seems to represent the ambiguity of longing for the past and the future in one's mid to late 20’s. Plenty of bands make, or at least try to make transitions from their beginnings into something more "mature." The problem is that most other bands do this by abandoning every redeeming quality they had in the name of starting fresh. It rarely if ever works. "Beaches" holds onto just enough of Black Dice’s beginnings while mixing it up with new ideas. The outcome is an honest recording that is a breath of fresh air.
      The first track starts out with electronic samples that repeat themselves with distorted plunders randomly covering them while high pitched birdlike chime sounds linger on their own. This develops until the drums kick in carrying the track through various electronic sounds and samples until the drums fall out in order to let the track retire into more electronics and vocal sounds. There is a strong sense of some sort of loose composition at work, but loose at most. I started to think how great it would be to see something like this live, if it could be re-created live. The second track starts with some distant new-agey sounding synth drones while unidentified midrange static of some sort wanders in and out of the foreground. Later, high pitched vocal tribal whistles accompany the synth just before the cymbal dominated drums come in. The vocals escalate into a schizophrenic rant as the drums follow suite. The song ends with a guitar drone falling back into the initial electro-synth sounds. The remaining three tracks somewhat follow suit in terms of structure with each new song escalating to some point only to calm itself back down. Not until the final track to we get to hear the screeching screamo vocal raid that dominated Black Dice not too long ago, but it's only for a short time. The record as a whole pulls influences from all over the place but never lets any one of them become too apparent. There are Branca-ish drone moments followed by 70s-era Herbie Hancock or Miles Davis coupled with the modern hardcore approach. The word "experimental" gets thrown all over the place and it could definitely be used here but not as an excuse for lack of content, direction or focus. In this case, the experiment worked. Black Dice has been heading this direction over their last couple of releases though their concepts have been polished and refined here. The whole recording seems very aware of the time period it is made though drawing on different eras while existing on its
own, separate from modern music or genre. "Beaches" doesn’t solely further a musical tradition nor does it create its own language. It does both simultaneously. I’m typically leery of double albums as they seem a little self-indulgent but it is completely warranted with "Beaches." It never loses my attention and I find myself wanting more when I listen to it in its entirety. The packaging is great mirror imaging of beach theme photos that establish the lazy ambiguity and sometimes apathy of newly ordained adults that has been introduced by both The Beach Boys and Fennesz. I would have preferred there be some sort of liner notes like recording info, dates, etc. for historical purposes but the lack of this information lends to the whole ambiguous environment of the record. The recording in terms of fidelity is, comparatively speaking, somewhat thin, tinny, and harsh though I’m sure intentional. Again, in the end, this quality really lends itself to the personality of the record as a whole and though I appreciate well recorded, transparent recordings, I think the approach utilized on "Beaches" was more appropriate. In the end, this is a near brilliant record. With all the attention that Black Dice has been getting, I’m sure that "Beaches" will garnish attention from a diverse group of music fans. It’s the hardcore kids that were their original fan base and perhaps the biggest group that needs to pay special attention to this record. Perhaps it will spark some creativity and courage to wander outside the box in a typically boxed in group without creating 25 Black Dice clone bands.

"Black Black Magic" is a thirteen track, forty-three minute and thirty-three second album by the Russian sci-fi, surf tech band Messer Chups. When I played this for the first time, it caught my attention as I guess it wasn’t what I expected to be coming out of the Russian underground. Not that I had highly evolved, or really even informed notions of what that may be, but if I had, it wouldn’t be this. Fans of Man or Astroman should be into this as its got all the same ingredients though the theremin is used more often and the Chups use samples all over the place. The guitar riffs are typical surf and the band utilizes a drum machine which adds to the over all studio gloss presentation of the album. Musically, most of the material is upbeat and dancey -- makes the toes tap. Clever structures and songwriting are used though the Chups don’t stray far from the apparent genre they love. That’s why track 4 (title in Russian) stood out as it was one of their straying moments as the guitar is pushed into the subtle background and the organ sounding synthesizer shines. This is coupled with repeating samples of women singing and women sighing. Other than "Import Export," which is the tenth track and sounds like LSD cartoon music, the rest of the album is pretty much all on the same page. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but I found that by about the eighth track I began to grow a little tired of the formula, especially the theremin. But this is tongue in cheek stuff not meant to be too challenging. It’s an album that you’ll utilize situationally for various tracks. It’s sort of a Pulp Fiction soundtrack that way. The album is put together nicely flowing from track to track. "Auf Wiedersehen Show" which is the final track does a good job of rolling the theme of the record as a whole into a 2 minutes and forty-nine second closer that contains all of the record's ingredients. Speaking of ingredients, as a record reviewer, I reserve the right to at any time use the blender description. So, here it is for "Black Black Magic": Man or Astroman and/or The Ventures, a little Timmy Taylor and a sample happy indie rock bastard child who likes old cartoons and the music that is on them. Turn it on high… The packaging of the album is professionally done and resembles something released by the majors. The production is modern and digital and glossy. My only major complaint here is that the highs got a little stressing at times but that is a somewhat typical problem with digital recordings. The CD also has a video on it for a non-album track called "Go Satan Go!" The theme is that an alien comes to earth and falls in love with and abducts/saves (its not really clear) a girl who throughout the video is dancing around like a stripper, and at one point is a stripper in a club. A lot of tongue wagging, close-up shots of breasts and lo-tech production that is the icing on the cake. Surfs up.





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