Posts Tagged ‘Experimental’

Horse Lords

Baltimore’s Horse Lords bring a constrained chaos on their fifth album, The Common Task. Built again on the hypnotic hurl of riff repetition that have cemented them in the halls of avant rock thus far, the band sets out to create one of their most cutting creations yet. The album opens with no pity, firing off heavy shots of guitar bounced through a maze of twisted glass tessellations on “Fanfare for Effective Freedom.” The song, tethered to the Earth only slightly by the lock-step rhythm section, is feeds melody and mechanics through the wood chipper and steps back to enjoy the spray. The tension on the song is shattered by the slide into the appropriately titled “Against Gravity,” which cuts that tether and slides into the stratosphere with some help from a humming sax and the celluloid slip of bass over the track. Its here that the band begins to make the album dig for blood. There’s still that hammerlock of repetition, but here the band begin to work the angles. Sax slashes from both speakers, the guitars still cycle into oblivion but it feels more dangerous and unpredictable. As the middle of the record looms, the band take post-rock punctuality and tie a tourniquet on the beat until it blackens.

Sharing a love for groove that begs some comparison to contemporaries like 75 Dollar Bill, the band tied together a work that’s diligently planned but still surprisingly unhinged. They delve deep into the tessellated inner workings of the spiraling mind. By the middle of the record the band push the listeners limits with the sonic scrape of “The Radiant City,” before diving again once more into the gnarled groove hammock of “The People’s Park.” The noise respite drives into bagpipe tones that threaten to slit the seams of the album before they interpolated Latinx funk with a political edged on the follow-up — a double punch that proves worth the wait. They cap the platter with a triple-sized dose that takes up 18 plus minutes on the flip, winding its way through simmering tones before smashing out the backdoor on a wave of Saharan funk and violin. The band’s been rightly heralded in the past for their precision and fire, and again they prove to be at the top of their class merging the desert, the basement club, the street corner, and the conservatory into one mindset shredded by an obsessive-compulsive chaos.



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Bardo Pond – Adrop / Circuit VIII

Oof, almost too late with this one, despite the LP having been released just last Friday, but there’s still time as long as good outlets hold out. Pretty sure if you’re landing on the shores of Raven Sings the Blues that familiarity with Bardo Pond is a given, but I’m not one for assumptions. Philadelphia’s reigning noise wranglers have fallen under many banners from psych to space to noise and experimental – each assessment is 100% correct and can’t be divorced from the other. The band is a force of nature and that force is on full display over this two-record reissue of their ‘06/’08 releases for Three Lobed — Adrop and Circuit VIII. Both records were part of CD series that the label put together in these respective years. Adrop was only available as part of the “Modern Containment” collection that included Hush Arbors, Kinski, Mirror/Dash, Mouthus, Sun City Girls, Sunburned Hand of the Man, MV & EE with the Bummer Road, and Wooden Wand and the Omen Bones Band. I believe it was that last one that brought me into the TRL awareness in the first place, but the set also opened up a world of post-Matador Bardo Pond to me that was more sinister and more visceral than they’d ever been on the mini-major.

Adrop works in movements and they push a cloud of static through the heart of a dying sun. The record saws at the consciousness and proves that the Pond is not an average psych band by any means, defying any usual metrics at the time. The following set, Circuit VIII is equally scorched and unsettled, having found its way into the label’s next series “Oscillations III.” This series found them alongside fellow travelers Bark Haze, Tom Carter, GHQ, Howlin’ Rain, Magik Markers, The Michael Flower Band, Lee Ranaldo, Vanishing Voice, and Jack Rose. Eschewing movements, but operating in much the same way as Adrop, Circuit VIII is one longform piece that travels from deep, volcanic growls to tender acoustic tears. It’s a record that, much like its predecessor, defies convention or categorization, but as any Bardo collector might surmise, also elevates the form of mining cosmic vibrations beyond what many of their peers were doing at the time. Side note: that “Oscillations III” box contains one of the very earliest Robert Beatty covers and is worth nabbing a CD copy for this as well. Nice to see the label pack these two back together and set them aloft on vinyl as well. Both of these CD series were pretty formative in terms of how RSTB came about, so its got a special place in my heart.




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Enhet för Fri Musik

Even with the global connective tissue tightening daily in realms of music, its still hard to ferret out some of the best bits from across the globe. Times like these I’m glad that outposts like Grapefruit are looking out for me. In 2017 the LP, Det Finns Ett Hjärta Som För Dig was issued on Omlott, a label run by members of Enhet för Fri Musik and let quietly out into the arms of collectors of psychedelic folk and freeform ephemera. The band’s issued a few others in 2015, but this record shines as a jewel in their catalog. The record seeks to dig into the pastoral folk of their forebears, capturing the winds in their strings like Pärson Sound, Trad Gras Och Stenar, and International Harvester before them. The record is psychedelic in an organic way, not relying on effects or pastiche, but rather rooting itself in the experimental impulses of noise and free folk, spoken word, and concrete ideals. Its not reaching for acceptance, but digging for art in the frostbitten grounds of their homeland — a bracing, barren, yet homespun record.

The band and the accompanying labels run by their members, Förlag För Fri Musik and Omlott, remind me of their Finnish counterparts in Fonal records, a tight-knit collective that pulls light out of frayed and fractured ends of the musical spectrum. The record captures the spirit of a few of their alumni as well, with the intimacy of Islaja coming through alongside the inventive experimentalism of Kemialliset Ystävät and Paavoharju. The band includes members of higher profile Swedes in the mix (Neutral, Makthaverskan, Arv & Miljö, and Blod) but they don’t bleed over too much with these tributaries, giving the record something of a sacred harbor. While there are certainly elements of Neutral’s starkness, the band seems to create its own world nestled among the whispers of the fields. Grapefruit are certainly right that this was a gem that was lost on many on its release and as such the new issue is a welcome addition to a wider Western audience this year. As I sit locked in ice for the last couple of days, the discomfiting warmth of this record has been appreciated. Its like an itchy sweater, just enough comfort to stave off the cold, just enough irritation to keep you from becoming complacent on the couch.



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Zann – Strange Ways / Inside Jungle

I may have mentioned its been a pretty great year for reissues. Not only have some essentials found their way back to fold, but some of the off-grid oddities have gotten a second life via diggers with far better noses than I. Case in point, Isle of Jura, an Adelaide Australia label has been digging into the experimental, disco, dub, and electronic bins for releases I didn’t even know I needed. They’ve brought new life to a private press odditiy from German band Zann. The band grew out of live experiments as a 7-piece, under the direction of ex-Konec member Udo Winkler. Winkler was looking to push further from the boundaries of post-punk and with Zann he’d done just that. The record embraces many of the same ideals as post-punk proper – a highly attuned sense of rhythm, dub textures, and instrumentation that might not fit within the rock ideals. It ditches for the most part, however, traditional song structure and floats into bouts of airy woodwinds and the LED blink of synth lights on many tracks. Zann in many ways bridges the divide between the worlds of Krautrok, Prog, and post-punk, finding itself at home in none of them, but tangential to all.

The record was laid down in a home studio with Winkler’s pal Hjalmer Karthaus and due to having not legitimate commercial concerns with the album, the pair saw no reason to pen themselves in stylistically. Though the initial live experiments that would touch off Zann began as far back as 1982, recording didn’t progress until 1988 and completion would find the band far out of fashion with the sounds of 1990 when it was finally finished. They’d pressed it themselves and sold it direct to fans interested in oddities at record fairs, but now thanks to Isle of Jura this record is back in the arms of a wider audience again. The record meanders, as might befit the kind of sessions that don’t seek approval or editing, but when the pair hit on Kosmiche Nirvana, it’s a beautiful thing.



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Charles Rumback on Houndog – S/T

The new collaboration between Ryley Walker and Charles Rumback is a highlight for both artists, but while you might be more familiar with Walker’s extensive output, there’s plenty to dig into with his foil’s career as well. The Chicago percussionist has worked with Jazz trio Colorist alongside John Hughes and Charles Gorczynski and found contemporaries in Fred Lonberg-Holm and Nick Macri in Stirrup. He’s touched through experimental country with The Horses Ha and led his own records exploring jazz under his own name. Rumback’s been a lynchpin in the Chicago scene for over fifteen years and so I asked him to drop in a pick to the Gems series. Interestingly he’s also chosen a collaboration, the late ‘90s team-up of Mike Halby from Canned Heat and David Hidalgo from Los Lobos under the name Houndog. Check out how this came into Charles’ life and the impact it’s had on him.

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Others – “Geist”

An incredible, unsettling video from Solomon Burbridge and Joshua Cox accompanies an edit from Others’s debut Geist. The record fuses modern composition with close-proximity anxiety waves. The video plays on these well, turning the group’s buzzing drone, foreboding tones, and plucked strings into a bed for dissociative themes and antiseptic social settings. Where the video is awash in color the music drains away hues – a pallid and queasy bedrock for frustration and disquieting moments. The band is the concoction of Lesli Wood of Cobra Family Picnic and Daniel Martin Diaz of Trees Speak. The squeamish plucks come courtesy of violinist Vicki Brown, nailing the tension that runs through the album. The record is out on 11/22 from Cindedelic Records.



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Bill MacKay & Katinka Kleijn

After already gracing 2019 with a hushed and humble folk opus, Bill MacKay changes tack and delivers a stunner of an instrumental collaboration with Chicago cellist Katinka Kleijn. Equally inviting and engrossing as Fountain Fire, STIR winds down another woolen path, though one fraught with slightly more experimental inclinations. The pair play off each other’s strengths – MacKay’s guitar bristles and flows here, threading a more technical side of his playing that’s come forward in his work with Ryley Walker in the past. Kleijn, for her part, gives the songs a less soft-focus approach than his previous album, adding layers of unease and prickled anguish through her discordant passages and plucked delivery. The record is reportedly inspired by the Hesse novel Steppenwolf, though that seems to be more of a guide than a milemarker as this one winds by. The story isn’t the focus, but the emotions weigh just the same.

The album is heavy with hope and sadness, emotionally bare and ready to get hurt again. MacKay’s playing is inquisitive one moment and heartbroken the next. Kleijn balances his runs as a well-worn foil. They fade into one another as the dominant voice of the pieces so easily that the focus blurs and bends, giving neither a true supporting role. They are a duo in the truest sense, weaving their sounds like sonic textiles, knotted but never tangled. Perhaps this isn’t for the fans who are looking for MacKay to lull them down the river, but for fans of guitar prowess and instrumental acumen, this is a gem to be sure.




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Ned Collette, James Rushford, Joe Talia

If you’re familiar with Ned Collette via his previous outing for Feeding Tube, last year’s Old Chestnut, then the new collaboration from Collette, James Rushford and Joe Talia might throw you off a bit. HIs last record was defined by its storyteller soul, treading a crossroads between Roy Harper, Lee Hazelwood, and Leonard Cohen. So, to walk into Afternoon-Dusk and hear not a word is spoken, seems like a complete about face for the artist. That line of thinking, however, discounts the playing on Old Chestnut which, divorced from his lyrics simmers and bows with its own beautiful intensity. Here Collette pairs his guitar with the idiosyncratic drumming of Talia (Jim O’Rourke’s band) and the viola experimentents of Rushford. While “Afternoon” dips into the water with the same grey-skied intentions as the instrumentals on Old Chestnut, where it goes from there is anywhere but languid.

The trio coats the first track in clatter and anxiety. As that sun dips, the the shadows loom and the creeping dread of night grows closer. There may be three of them, but the solitude here is palpable. Guilt gnaws at the bones of “Afternoon” turning the sun’s beams cold and giving every passing stranger a sinister hue. On the next side, “Dusk” does little to dispel this sense of dread and dire circumstances. Rushford’s viola doesn’t swoon or weep, but instead cries out in panic stabbing at the senses and inspiring a bit of fight or flight. The drums skitter like wild animals and Collette brings all manner of anxious energy to the track. The tones in dusk reach a peak that feels as if the listener is cornered and consumed, or at least in danger of becoming consumed at any moment. The record is another side of Collette and the ensemble he’s put together is playing at a peak. If you’ve come for round 2 on Old Chestnut, then this isn’t the right place, but it’s a great place to be nonetheless.




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Sun City Girls – Dawn of the Devi

The brothers Bishop and Charles Goucher already have the noise-psych guitar-burn street cred to keep them locked atop the manual of how to fully explore the roasted-soulburn side of the psychedelic spectrum, but it’s good to remember how they got there. The majority probably found their way in through Torch of the Mystics. It’s a common point of egress. I know that’s where I found foothold. While that greased platter has plenty of sharpened corners, it also has plenty of soft spots to let listeners in easy. For those who might not be fully immersed in the ectoplasmic splatter of cultural upheaval, it’s a gateway drug to what’s what in the disorienting universe of SCG. The tale’s been told now and the paths are known, but for those finding that album in 1990 the next year’s Dawn of the Devi was more than likely a slap in the face — rug burn n’ cigarette ash worn over the ears for fun and little profit.

The record began a run of barbed and disorienting sojourns through the trio’s acrid musical methods. Though its a bit further into their catalog (album #5), and by no means formative, Devi is the launchpad for some of their most biting works. Without Devi there’s no Valentines for Matahari, no Kalliflower. It’s brutal and barnacled. It’s a dim bulb swaying in a room letting the listener slowly see how surrounded with sewage and sin they truly are. As such it’s also a touchstone for bands looking to touch fully the oracle of carcinogenic psychedelic slop. Sun City Girls, for many, serve as the guiding light down a path not towards euphoria, but towards a permanent dive of bad trip bliss. The record is bent and bowed, rusted and reeking and gloriously so. The record hasn’t been in print on vinyl since its original 1991 release, but now Abduction is putting it back in the hands of the devout followers of bile and blown speakers. Probably goes without saying that you need this, but I’ll go ahead and say it anyway.


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Fabulous Diamonds

Aussie duo Fabulous Diamonds had an impeccable string of albums from 2008-2012 and then promptly disappeared off the map for the next seven years. This year they return on UK indie ALTER with a new LP and a bigger vision of their dub-glossed damage. Back when they were slinging discs on Siltbreeze and Nervous Jerk, the band was itching at the same wound that like-minded howlers Blues Control and Peaking Lights found themselves infected with. There was a faded, pre-dawn quality to the music, tumbling down a wormhole of disorientation and delirium and then bounced through the spring reverb within an inch of its life. They’re still not wholly dislodged from that mindset, but Plain Songs feels like someone bottled their sound and terraformed it into a seething organism — bigger, smarter, and more alive than ever.

There’s still the evil slink of tape hiss, but it doesn’t feel like a vehicle of necessity this time. There’s no Tascam noose pulled tight on their sound, rather singer Nisa Venerosa feels like she’s piping her humid vocals through six feet of imported wet topsoil, recording them with an expensive array of contact mics and condensers threaded throughout the room for total coverage. The underbelly of their sound is still haunted by noise, but, again it’s come to some of the logical conclusions of what they were setting up prior. There’s a dingy, collapsed-society, ‘end-stage capitalism devouring the tail’ kind of feeling on this one.

The corrosion here is more of a viral creep than a means to an end. They’ve embodied the spirit of a lounge act poisoned by years of exposure to heavy metals and carcinogens — giving their disease flight through sound, spreading it through the narrow alleyways of an unrepentant reality. They are the cure and the carrier. They’ve finally gone through the lens and into a Lynchian sound that’s as full as they deserve to be and it’s so good to have this pair back, finding the bile that flows through the night wanderers’s souls and giving it a home on two-inch tape.



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