Posts Tagged ‘Experimental’

Barry Walker Jr.

With his stamp already on one of the years best LPs (contributing to North Americans stunning new record) Portland pedal steel player Barry Walker Jr aims for ambient country infamy with Shoulda Zenith. While it occupies some of the same space as his work with Patrick McDermott, the air that Walker is treading here is something more spectral and dangerous than he’s found himself embroiled in previously. HIs last album was another gem, occupying space on Driftless just like North Americans’ previous LP as well. Yet here, he dives deeper into the notion of pedal steel as an instrument and what it can accomplish when torn from its tethers as merely a paintbrush of sadness and ennui in the country canon. On Shoulda Zenith Walker still lets his instrument cry the lonesome cry that can be expected from his steel, but he distorts the the picture over these nine tracks, pushing the instrument to the front of the stage and then letting it growl, pant, breakdown, and blossom.

Now I’m not usually one to quote out the official rhetoric, but Holy Mountain pulling in a cross-section from experimental psych Texans and Japanese Out Rock, is extraordinarily apt. Walker’s finding the friction in country but also the longstanding pain and relief, especially with songs like the title track, which finds the familiar tones of the pedal steel thrown into the froth of feedback, crashing against the urge for calm. Walker riles and relents. For as often as the record strives to chafe, to dismantle the notions of staid lament that the instrument and country provide, he provides just as many opportunities for lightness and tender resolve. “Trinity Payload” knocks the listener into the sea wall of noise, but Walker’s there to scoop up the wreckage of the soul and nurse it back to health with a mournful moment. To cap it, he winds the record down with an old-soul country number that proves how deep his understanding of what he’s dismantling goes — a classic take that lets the album slide into the sunset scarred but not broken.



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Gunn-Truscinski Duo – “For Eddie Hazel”

Another subtle crusher lands from the upcoming Gunn-Truscinski Duo’s Soundkeeper and the album closer does its best to sum up what GTD is all about. An ode to the legendary P-Funk guitarist, this one dives deep into the Maggot Brain afterburn that bounces around the cavern that the duo often find themselves exploring. The song’s doused in a dry ice dose that’s billowing in every direction with Gunn working the cave sonics in tandem with a bit of low-end growl. Both players constantly push each other to the edges of their experimentation, but this is a nice focus in on a sound that gave the Duo life in the first place. Many have tried to emulate Hazel, and many have failed, but Gunn and Truscinski are more than up to the challenge. This LP kicks off the Three Lobed 20th Anniversary bundle that will include Daniel Bachman, Sunburned Hand of the Man, Six Organs of Admittance, Body/Head and Sonic Youth and an as yet to be announced LP. The Lobed knows, so I’d jump on that bundle while it sticks around.




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GNOD & João Pais Filipe

I’ve long been a proponent of the works of GNOD. The UK psych unit skims the line between pulsing, rhythmic psychedelia and noise so easily that they’ve let the colors run into one another over the years. On their latest they skirt into avant impulses fraught with a clangorous din and hypnotic polyrhythms. The band members are nothing if not consummate collaborators, having worked cross genre with everyone from Anthony Child (Surgeon), White Hills, and John Doran. Now they hook up with experimental percussionist Joăo Pais Filipe (Paisel), whom they met at Milhoes De Festa event in Barcelos, Portugal. The set was hammered out a short while after over four days at Joăo’s metal shop.

Like any other GNOD album it swerves away from its predecessors. The connection with Pais Filipe proves to center the album in hypnotic rhythms, a side that’s found its way into the band’s work plenty of times prior, but what the Portuguese artist brings to the set is a sense of foreboding atmosphere — haunting ripples, the ominous air of gongs. Guitars still scrape at the senses, but they too tend to ride the fluctuation of rhythm. As the air crackles with dissonant tension, scraping with feedback and woodwind howl, GNOD do their own part to match Pais Filipe’s calamitous atmospheres. The pieces remain instrumental until the second side tucks into the title track, and then GNOD enter the vocal fray with pained, fraught vocals that don’t direct anger so much as they have on the past couple of GNOD LPs, rather a lost frustration that’s fighting its way out of the rhythm haze. The band’s never stagnant and Faca De Fogo readily pushes them more towards the margins they were already occupying most of the time. Still haunted, still chewing on the bent cables of chaos, but also providing a satisfying body buzz at high volume in the right mood. No matter who’s in the co-pilot’s seat, GNOD make for a heavy hit.



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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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