#17, NOVEMBER 2004



by Larry "Fuzz-O" Dolman

2/5 BZ: Ulonbay CDR (GÖZEL)
Not a lot of artists from Turkey getting hyped around here these days, or in days past either (that aren't named Erkin Koray), but here's a guy from Turkey (named Serhat Koksal) who's kinda mixed up in the worldwide free noise exp. psych underground. He had a track on that Color in Absence Sound comp (Hell's Half Halo, 1999) anyway. This album Ulonbay features tracks from 1992 through 1997, as well as another album's worth of bonus tracks from as recently as 2002, including a 1994 appearance on the John Peel show. "Sampladelic" and "worldbeat" would be accurate if you can forget that those words are lame, and with Mr. BZ's psyched-out and in-the-red production aesthetic, you might just forget that ANYTHING is lame as the soundbombing beats, sampled shouts and chants, and difficult-to-delineate live instrumentation all blast past. It has as much high energy as drum 'n' bass music without ever really being drum 'n' bass, and when live guitar kicks in, often wah'd out and wobbly as it navigates ancient-to-the-future Middle Eastern melodies, I feel like pumping my fist non-ironically. Sun City Girls fans take note -- mix a little Ulonbay in with Radio Morocco, Radio Palestine, and 330,003 Crossdressers From Beyond The Rig Veda, go to a mirror, and watch your mind explode. Oops, I mean expand! Then, put on the largest hat in your closet, and go out to see this guy when he tours the U.S. sometime this summer, dates to be announced on the Blastitude events page.

A.M.: Episteme; Strata CDRs (APOPLEXY; HUMBUG) Speaking of the fuck-you posturing that too many American puds have recently (re-)embraced, hmm, ya think maybe that's why New Zealand freenoise isn't in the headlines as much as it used to be? When I moved to Chicago in 2001 I quickly realized that if you're at a rock club and the people onstage do anything drony, subdued, granular, meditative, and, heaven forbid, low-key, the best they're gonna get from the audience before all the Locust fans clear out of the room is maybe three or four ironic fists in the air. It's like everyone in the 'scene' decided to put their chain wallets back on or something . . . I mean, come on, guys, I know you're not really that tough, and here we were, on the verge of a breakthrough!
      I guess it's kinda rare to do it a rock club, but the best way to assimilate non-raucous noise is to lay down when it starts, close your eyes, and see what happens on the back of your eyelids. And A.M., a/k/a Antony Milton of Wellington, New Zealand (see interview last ish), is laying down some sounds that'll really make things happen, and both of these discs are exemplary efforts. Episteme actually starts with some rather normal guitar droning and cymbal washing, and I was like, "This is okay but it's so 1998," but track 2 is a whole 'nother beast, and I was like, "Holy shit, now this is a fucked-up guitar-driven drone-pop piece of scrap-metal that sounds like a malfunctioning android spitting out attempts to play random cuts from the first three Velvet Underground albums!" Other highlights include "A Taut Whirling," which is aptly titled, because it sounds like the musician isn't playing guitar so much as whirling a heavily feedbacking guitar amp around his head by its extension cord, capturing to tape every screaming fizzle as the cable constantly shorts out, and then speeding the whole thing up by a few, um, revolutions and mixing it in the red. That's the thing -- A.M. does a lot of meditative NZ type stuff but while you're checking out the back out your eyelids he's not afraid to make sounds that might just (figuratively!) peel 'em right off. And, he tries different things with almost every track, and I'd describe a couple more, but I can't find my copy right now for reference -- damn CDRs packaged in slip-bags are too easy to lose!
        As satisfying as Episteme is, Strata is probably the better of the two albums if I had to pick one -- it's all good, but a couple tracks on here are so gorgeously ethereal, wispily woven by sparse piano and soft static, that I'm not even sure they actually exist. Then there's "(Hutty..).," a 12-minute zoner that would be like that (totally sparse piano and soft static) if it wasn't for a viola-type drone that steadily saws throughout the piece, deep into your consciousness, and not by being loud in the mix, either (because the soft shortwave radio is just as loud), but by being played really well. I'm telling you, even if you've heard a track built around an amplified string saw-drone at least once a week for the last 5 (to 35, depending on who you are) years, I can still guarantee that you'll dig "(Hutty..)." And other A.M. stuff too.

ALPHANE MOON/OUR GLASSIE AZOTH: Experimenting With An Amen/The Magician's Heavenly Chaos CD (OGGUM)
Anyone into psych-folk who is a hipster should have to listen to this album. Why? Because it's really good, and also kind of punishing, as seemingly 90% of it is just totally instrumental sci-fi drone noise, a lot of it pretty wispy but a lot of it pretty harsh! And I'm serious about that 90% -- there's a 9-minute noise track, a 14-minute one, and seriously a 24-minute one, and as far as I can tell (I've only had the album for couple weeks) there are actually only two songs on the album, and those are literally like one minute apiece. It's almost like taking home a CD reissue of Spirit of Love and finding Metal Machine Music inside the case. The two songs that are on here are both by Alphane Moon (it all sounds like one band to me, but apparently this is a split release with a few tracks by Alphane Moon and then a couple by a different band called Our Glassie Azoth), sung in Welsh, and pretty damn wyrd in a pretty good way. Anyway, if you're into psych-folk but not for hipster reasons, these folks have already been featured in Ptolemaic Terrascope, so you know they're worth a listen. I bet some of their other albums even have more songs!

As the title and cover suggests, this is a CD of pop songs played solo ("no drums no bass no vocals -- just a little reverb"), by a lady accordionist who looks like Olive Oyl. While I'm having fun playing name that tune ("Sleep Walk"! "As Tears Go By"! "Downtown"! "Little Surfer Girl"!) I keep picturing her playing this stuff in the middle of a bill full of hardcore bands, getting heckled and laughed at but also laughed with, because the hardcore kids enjoy playing name that tune too, and she has a dreamily simple way of playing the accordion that slows down time and makes you feel like you're 'on' something . . . and she's kinda cute too. Anyway, I played this at work the other day, on the community stereo, in between all the classic rock and Air America Radio and Outkast, and time really did seem to stand still for that 45 minutes, and people were still talking about "that accordion CD" two whole days later . . .

Okay, it's true -- she is cute! But she's taken, fellas -- married to Rich Stim, and he's in MX-80 Sound, so you know you can't mess with him. You can hear him play music though, on most of this CD, which means, you guessed it, this time it isn't solo accordion instrumentals, it's a collection of various songs and ideas recorded from 1984-1989, mostly with a backing band or a 'band concept.'
     Funny story about this CD: I put it in for the first time at work, and about a minute into the first song, my co-worker asks, "Is this from the 80's?" And I'm like, "Yes. And not only is it from the 80's, it's actually CALLED The 80's." The reason she asked is because that first song, "John Cassavetes," has a severely synthetic new wave sound, complete with a drum machine. It's a little TOO new wave for me, but the lyrics are damn good, a still-prescient 1989 catalog of all the world's ills, "Babies born addicted / Libya has a bomb / A killer for president / The rain forests are gone / It snowed in Malibu / Yosemite burnt down / Planes are flying / Right into the ground," with the chorus punchline, "But the thing that made me cry is when John Cassavetes died / The thing that made me cry is when John Cassavetes died / I cried when John Cassavetes died / That's what made me cry."
      Oh, and guess who else plays on this CD? Bruce Anderson! He's also in MX-80 -- he's the shredding guitar player. I guess he's only on one song here -- a cover of "Blank Generation." It's a pretty good cover, and the guitar is definitely a highlight, even if Anderson doesn't really step out from 'doing a really good Robert Quine.'
     And guess who ELSE is on this CD? Alan Vega! Well, I guess he's only on two songs, but they're two of the best, a cover of his old band Suicide's "Dream Baby Dream," and a cover of "Theme From Taxi Driver." His vocals aren't the best part of that one, either, those would be Angel's vocals, reciting the opening Travis Bickle voiceover in a perfect monotone over an excellent '80s noir' backing.
      So yeah, good album, with at least two (and maybe five or so) great songs. But I think like the solo accordion one better!

ANIMAL COLLECTIVE: Spirit They've Gone, Spirit They're Vanished CD; Here Comes The Indian CD (PAW TRACKS)
I loved these guys live twice, bought a tour-only LP of live recordings that was pretty darn good, and I loved the ultra-mellow Campfire Songs CD. But when it comes to these two acclaimed Animal Collective long-players, the truth is I can't seem to manage listening to either for more than about 9 minutes tops. It seems to be right there in the mix, a little voice saying, "just don't listen to me." I mean, I'm all for weird mixing techniques, but on both of these albums I'm hearing a shot-through electro-scree monotone that may give them noise/experimental cred but strikes me as flattening and vulgar. The first one (Spirit They've Gone, Spirit They're Vanished . . . . didn't notice that second one was a "they're" instead of a "they've" until . . . last Tuesday) seems like it has a lot of potential as a collection of wildly creative and ornate symphonic pop/prog songs, but the harder I listen the less I hear songs, and the more I just hear a bunch of tinkly digital piano. It's as if the music is indeed great and beautiful, but my only option for hearing it is to have it trapped under an upside-down twinkly little 80% sound-proof champagne glass or something. And as for Here Comes The Indians, well, on that one I just plain can't hear anything. If there are any songs on here, I dare you to sing one for me. Again, it's something about the mix -- that same flatlined 'digi-scree' effect. I'll admit I'm just grabbing at vague terms here, but I do know that when I turn it up, it's too loud to hear anything, and when I turn it down, it's too quiet to hear anything. Hmm . . . maybe there's nothing there! As with Spirit, I can tell that the singers are singing, but I can't hum you a single melody. Actually, I can hum a little bit of about three different songs on the Spirit album, but that's it. It's the better of the two albums, and I'm going to give 'em one more chance with that upcoming Sung Tongs album, 'cause I hear it's their best work yet, and really, if anyone's at all interested in these guys, don't miss the Campfire Songs CD . . .

Earlier this ish, while vilifying a couple different Animal Collective albums, I promised I would check out their then-upcoming and already highly touted followup Sung Tongs. I finally have, and hey, it's really good. In fact, it's almost perfect, just the album I knew they could make, combining the grandiose pop of the Spirit album and the noise electronics of the Indian album, all played and orchestrated with the fragile shivering delicacy of the Campfire Songs album. And this time they've come up with a bunch of great hooks, like that "rabbit or a habit" one. There's also a track that sounds like it could've come right off Nuno Canavarro's Plux Quba album. But I really like the whole thing -- good work, Panda Bear and H.R. Pufnstuf and all you guys!

Put this on and the influence of Keiji Haino is immediately in the room with you. One Japanese man strumming an electric guitar with effects on it, singing high lonesome songs from some void of solitude, occasionally breaking into loud guitar heaven-leads from hell. Then again, the tone of the voice goes into different territory than Haino, less like a (fallen) angel crying, more like a human crying. In that sense, this is more 'normal' than Haino, a little poppier, if you could say that, but then again the songs are all around 10 minutes long, which isn't poppy at all. And I don't know what's going with track two, where he actually seems to mewl the entire song, and quite a lost ballad it is.

I just wanted to point out that this album is overrated. The reason I'm blurting this out all of a sudden is that I just read the new Chunklet, in which they once again publish a cover story in which an exhaustive list of sacred sleeping cows is stood upright in order to be loudly tipped over with a single idea. In this issue, the single idea is "These Bands Are Overrated," but when they get to The Band, the only album they mention is Music From The Big Pink! I end that sentence with an exclamation point because I think they've got it all wrong: Big Pink is one of the greatest albums in the history of rock, and is in fact the only great album that The Band made. The 'brown album' isn't bad, but it only has three songs that hold a candle to anything on Big Pink: "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," "Up On Cripple Creek," and "Whispering Pines."
      The first two songs are The Band's best-known numbers, both solo compositions by Robbie "J.R." Robertson
. The civil war imagery is appropriate, as these tunes were indeed J.R.'s last stand as a potent songwriter. The lovely and haunting "Whispering Pines" was written by Robertson in collaboration with Richard Manuel, who was the real heart and soul of the band, and as his collaborative energies with the group declined, so did the quality of their output. Music From Big Pink was their last great album, and The Band was their last album that was even good at all. (Maybe you could include Stagefright, but not really.) Manuel just didn't have the drive that Robertson did -- he wasn't hungry for the spotlight and he wasn't a born leader. He already knew he was as good as Ray Charles, but he didn't feel the need to prove it to Jann Wenner and Bill Graham, or anyone else, because he was too busy partying and dissipating while occasionally and offhandedly giving some of the greatest white soul performances of our collective lifetime.
On Big Pink, Manuel is still there 100% -- you can hear and feel his mystical melancholy soul, his late-night moan, his good-time grin, in every single song. His lead vocals for "Tears of Rage," "In A Station," "Lonesome Suzie," and "I Shall Be Released" have so much naked soul upfront that it's almost too much to bear. On The Band, Manuel's presence is already diminished, and you can hear Robertson trying to compensate with overly ambitious songs like "Jawbone" and "King Harvest," awkwardly stitched together out of hastily rendered snapshots of tokenist Americana. They go by too fast and end before a listener can ever really figure out where the tune is. Still, somehow, the brown album gets all the credit, marking as it does Robertson's ascendancy as the full-fledged (media-ordained) leader of the band. I can't believe how many people seem to agree with this -- y'all have been fooled by Christgau and the Holy Greil! (Don't feel bad, I've fallen for their tricks too; Marcus fooled me into thinking I was going to read more than the first 125 pages of Lipstick Traces, and Christgau fooled me into thinking that what he writes occasionally makes sense.)

BEHOLD . . . THE ARCTOPUS: Arctopocalypse Now . . . Warmageddon Later 3" CD (EPICENE SOUND SYSTEMS)
This might be the first band I've ever reviewed that has an ellipsis in their name. You'd think someone else would've done it by now. But, what does Behold . . . the Arctopus sound like? Well, over-the-top super-shred metalloprog that is even goofier than their name. They make Mahavishnu sound like The Godz, they make Orthrelm sound like The Process of Weeding Out. I get Buckethead vibes! Actually those were all jokes (except for the Buckethead part), but I am serious when I say this is a really good little 2-song 11 minute EP. I don't know what it's 'listing' for, but if it's 5 bucks or less I say grab it. I haven't heard a band do something this listenable with these kind of blatantly Guitar Center-approved tones and theories since . . . . . maybe ever. It's as prog metal as Dream Theatre, but much less emo. (Oh shit, I just learned that it 'retails' for six bucks, but get it anyway, because I also just learned that the lineup is guitar, drums, and . . . . . . . . . . . Chapman Stick.)

This album gets the "man I need to get new batteries oh wait this is my home stereo it plugs into the wall" award for this issue. Which means that it's really slow and crushing death grind. The recording style makes the songs sound like Profanatica on 16 RPM, and like Profanatica, Black Mass of Absu come from upstate New York. (Buffalo, to be exact.) This is what my band Stoned Corpse is supposed to sound like. We haven't gotten together to practice yet, we just have the name, but when we do practice, if we're not this heavy, we'll just quit. Anyway, I believe BMoA is another one-man band by the one man who also performs and records hard industrial nightmare funk (while wearing a ski-mask) as Ski-Mask. Everything this guy does is heavy, and I really suggest you check some of it out. Start anywhere.

Ski Mask Media Empire
A Window on Porngrind

I didn't really know what to expect from this, but it certainly wasn't this. Only other real album I've heard from these guys is the Sin Gulls one, which had clear-cut songs, production, and energy. This, on the other hand, is nothing but burnt-out lassitude translated barely into sustained psych-rock jams. Sounds like the drugs really caught up. If Liquorball tried to set a record for longest non-stop jam, this is what they'd sound like on the eighth day. The singer doesn't scream anymore, he just intermittently mumbles into the mic, using his regular voice. Someone -- a roommate, a neighbor, a parent -- has turned the band's amps down considerably, but they're too wasted to get up and readjust. In fact, they're all laying on the ground, barely conscious, their hands keeping the riffs going somehow as their eyes stare blankly into the ceiling. The bass player, "Davo," seems to have the most fight in him, and the drummer also might not be medicated, and the two of them keep the jams moving with harmolodic (or is just out-of-tune?) drive, keeping the door open for the other players to join or abandon the song-form at will, jabbing and weaving and missing completely as they start to trip out out on the floor. Seemingly a live show, with between-song banter and tuning-up sounds, but there really doesn't seem to be a crowd, and it doesn't matter anyway, so deep is the band and singer into their own spaced-out world. In fact, I would call it focus, and despite constant absurd asides, tuning problems, glaring mistakes, lost and aimless builds, and a general decrepit aura, this focus never wanes. Stuff like "Sister Ray" and "It's My Life" by the Animals and I swear "Dem Guten, Schoenen, Wahren" by Amon Düül II bubbles up and passes, harmolodically, and the band just keeps moving like it's not even happening. The result may be thirteen tracks but it's really one long song, deep within the zone, and I've been enjoying it a great deal.

VASHTI BUNYAN: Just Another Diamond Day CD (SPINNEY)
I'm sure you're already planning your own personal backlash against the new psych-folk explosion, but even as the hype continues, remember that folk music is a timeless form and you might as well lash back against the wind, and please don't overlook this classic album, even if it gets name-dropped in/on Pitchfork sometime soon. The day I got Just Another Diamond Day, the whole Dolman family was driving around town on errands. I loved it at the wheel, my wife loved it beside me, and my baby loved it there in the back and fell asleep to it. Had the player on repeat and listened to the whole album six times straight -- this is total dream-kiss soft-spin music like miniature ballerinas from twenty different countries singing and slowly pirouetting at once and I could've listened to it six more times if it had taken us that long to get home. Another album produced by Joe Boyd -- man, that guy was good. (I just looked up his bio and wow, I knew about the Incredible String Band and Nick Drake and Fairport Convention but I didn't know he also produced the early sessions of The Pink Floyd, was one of the co-founders of London's infamous UFO club, and, in the 1980s, stayed current, and presumably in some money, by producing albums by R.E.M. and 10,000 Maniacs, as well as co-founding the slick Hannibal label, now a world music boutique.)