Blowing minds with one’s guitar/bass/drums rock band is nearly impossible in 2011, but if
there’s any band doing it, it’s The Psychic Paramount. Formed out of the ashes of (the under-
appreciated until after their demise) Laddio Bolocko, The Psychic Paramount take the simple
concept of instrumental rock music and set the whole thing ablaze, using their superior musical
ability not to dazzle or confuse but to translate the musical experience into a physical
one. Their sound hits with force, charisma and vigor, as if the natural limitations of drums and
amplified guitars don’t apply to this band, acting not as three separate players but a
single indestructible unit. This is why their great new album, II, packs more emotion and
provokes more thought than any other rock band I’ve recently headbanged to. I chatted
with guitarist Drew St. Ivany about The Psychic Paramount, and while I wouldn’t have blamed him
if he spoke only in the form of an obtuse metaphorical haiku (when your music sounds like this,
you get full rights to be as pretentious as you want), he’s actually a pretty down-to-earth, awesome guy.
How did you guys know each other before starting The Psychic Paramount? I understand
that some if not all of you played together in Laddio Bolocko…
Both Ben (Armstrong, bassist) and I played in Laddio Bolocko, which formed in 1997 in New York.
Laddio split up in 2001 and soon afterward I moved to France. In 2002, Ben and I decided to
form a new band and booked a tour of France and Italy. Ben suggested getting Tatsuya
Nakatani to play drums, basically at the last minute. Those guys flew out to practice for a few
days and do the tour. That formation split up after two and a half weeks.
Jeff Conaway, who was playing in Sabers, joined as drummer in 2004 when Ben and I started playing
again in New York. Since then, it’s been the same line-up.
Do you feel like the band has progressed since Gamelan Into The Mink Supernatural?
Gamelan summed up the essence of what we were doing at that time. Enough so, we thought,
that it seemed redundant to go on pushing those extremes onto new ideas. I’m not sure how to assess
where we’ve arrived in terms of progress. On a good day, I do feel like we’re a better band now than
at any time in the past. I feel like II is definitely a logical continuation from Gamelan… the power
and force is still there, but it also seems to stretch out a bit, in certain ways.
Has your song-writing process changed at all, or has it always been a certain way?
Gamelan was composed entirely on the guitar, which is probably the way most rock songs
start out. A lot of material on II originated from drum beats we would use as a rhythmic
foundation to experiment upon and build ideas. Sometimes radically different variations of tracks
emerged. For instance, “N5″ and “N5 Coda” are two different compositional approaches to the same
The song titles on the new album all seem to be based in practicality, versus any sort of
artistic purpose. Was this an intentional move, or do you just not put a lot of weight into the name
of a song?
It just worked out that way. Song titles are usually expected but seemed irrelevant for this record.
The abbreviations are convenient, but they also help to reinforce our decidedly non-verbal atmosphere.
Is the “non-verbal atmosphere” an intentional one, then? I can see how a band like The
Psychic Paramount has no need for a singer or lyrics or evocative imagery… you guys seem to be
about the music and only the music, in a way.
An escape from words can be liberating. On a recording, we are dealing only with sound and leaving
any implication or storytelling up to the imagination. It may be interesting to find out what kind of
mental imagery our music evokes in the listener, if any. I’ve had people describe it to me as being
very dark and menacing. I feel it full of light and uplifting. In that way, I don’t see the absence of lyrics
in our case as reductive. It challenges us musically to come up with something interesting enough
to compensate for the lack of vocals which, for most people, are an integral part of rock music.
Do you feel like today’s fast-moving culture has less of a place for a group like The
Psychic Paramount than say, two or three decades ago? It seems like unless a band is releasing a
consistent flow of new music, they are nearly forgotten about. Is this something you ever
consider? Do you care?
We care about that, but it’s further down the list of life concerns. Letting five or more years go by
between records doesn’t help public awareness very much, but releasing two or three more
Gamelans in the meantime is obviously not going to land us in the Billboard 100 either. Our
audience is small and probably, like us, have high standards. We can relate to that. As such, we’d
rather take more time to do it right than to release something we aren’t totally happy with.
How long will it be until you start writing new material? Do you specifically take breaks
after a new record, or have you already started working on new ideas?
We’re planning on going back into the studio this summer. We’d like to have something new come
out this year, but with us who knows? We’ve learned not to predict when that might be until a project
is completely done.
Is there room for instrumentation besides bass / drums / guitar in The Psychic Paramount?
Jeff sometimes plays a contact mic running through effects and an amplifier. You can hear it on
Gamelan, track four. It sounds like an android. Sometimes he plays this live. On the new record,
Ben plays air organ on a couple tracks.
From listening to your records, it’s pretty evident that you are all incredibly talented players,
but often the songs themselves aren’t necessarily difficult to follow. Do you purposefully dial
yourselves down when it comes to songwriting, to not go off and try to be “crazier” or whatever?
We want our music to be inviting. We’re not trying to throw people off the train. People sometimes
describe us as math rock, but it feels more like alchemy than mathematics. You could say that
compositionally it’s very basic, but there is a lot going on. Our songs are still very challenging for us
to play well.
That’s one thing I really appreciate about your music, that on paper the notes and riffs
are probably pretty easy for anyone to play, but I don’t think any other group of people could
play them and sound like The Psychic Paramount.
Thanks! That’s also true for most good bands. Classical music needs virtuosos, but rock prefers identity
and confidence. You might only need two notes, but you definitely need a sound.
Confirm or deny: The Psychic Paramount have “stage clothes” that you wear at all/most
of your performances.
Absolutely, all my clothes look the same.
How do you describe your band to strangers? Is it rock music?
I usually just say loud rock. It’s hard to gauge common reference points with strangers. A while back,
this kid who looked at least 18 or 20 years old asked me what we sounded like. I described it as kind
of like Jimi Hendrix doing guitar feedback for 40 minutes. He said, “Jimi Hendrix, am I supposed to
know who that is?”
How does that make you feel? I can understand someone born in the ’90s not having a
deep knowledge of ’60s rock, but does that sort of thing make you wonder if the youth is just
less interested in rock music?
I don’t know. The genre is so broad. Even though most of the current rock scene may not be very
good, I’m sure there’s still a young audience there. The best stuff is underground, and that’s probably
more true now than ever before.
Addison Groove Work It / Sexual 12″ (Swamp81)
Months later and echoes of “Footcrab”, Addison Groove’s dance-floor ode to an animal I hope doesn’t exist, still reverberate inside my skull. Sharp looking “AG” on the cover here, so let’s dig right into the artist that lit up Swamp81 for me. “Work It” carries a substantial energy behind the modest electro groove; dubstep is barely visible on “Work It”‘s horizon, as the track leans much closer to Detroit’s alien-visited house landscapes. More nocturnal than I was expecting, and very much a cut best enjoyed under the cover of night, turning off one’s lights to avoid the cops. “Sexual” popped up on a Ramadanman mix a little bit ago, but it’s nice to hear it in its entirety here – working a similar foundation of 808 electro-blips and snare shots, and punctuated with a soft and soothing melody, “Sexual” is the a-side’s gentler, sultrier sibling. Rest assured, there’s a repeated vocal hook where someone says “sexual” over and over, but it’s not a “Work It” or “Footcrab” shout-out so much as a vulnerable come-on. Addison Groove doesn’t top his Swamp81 debut here, but that’s alright, as this more sophisticated, classic-style single is a party starter in its own right.
Aluminum Knot Eye Still Cleaning That Same Old Grease Trap / While On Snowshoe 7″ (Lemon Session)
I’ve been seeing the Aluminum Knot Eye name for what’s gotta be a couple years now, finally experiencing them musically on this Lemon Session single. As I kind of expected, “Still Cleaning” is noisy and inarticulate garage-punk, but it’s of a higher grade than the rest of the pack… the drums are perfectly crumbly, weird sound effects float in at the right moments, and the singer has a Timmy Vulgar-ish chortle that busts into villainous laughter halfway through. Very simple, very grating, very punk – if I could leave positive feedback for a song, I’d drop some here. “While On Snowshoe” opens with an ape-like bassline, thunder sounds and a squawking toucan before settling into the velvet-curtained section of your parents’ basement where your loveseat and weed equipment are kept, as if The Fuckin’ Flyin’ A-Heads ever made it beyond that debut single. I don’t know, I hear a ton of noisy garage like this, but Aluminum Knot Eye really stuck out; they’re just weirder and cooler than the rest, and they play like they know it. Is there a definitive Aluminum Knot Eye record out there that I need to get? Little help?
Antonym Revile LP (Semantica)
Took a chance with Antonym’s Revile, based on some vague “sounds-like”s and a Downwards Records affiliation, and quite frankly, I hit it big. I love stuff like this – semi-anonymous packaging, limited pressing (200, I believe), and deep, thick grooves of mechanical loops, either barely fluctuating or brutally homogeneous. Unlike the work of Donato Dozzy or Marcel Dettmann, though, one can’t really call Antonym “techno” – Revile is so primitively constructed that any dancing is kept at bay; Antonym simply drills these squelchy loops into your cerebellum like a car alarm that can’t be turned off or escaped. Even so, these tracks contain a lot of information in their repetitive loops, from swooping bass tones to clinking metals and helicopter blades in blurred rotation. The sounds used are allegedly credited to the human voice, all distorted and filtered through Antonym’s stainless meat grinder, but you’d only figure that out if someone told you. Industrial music in the truest sense, Revile has me completely under its spell.
Applehead Applehead De Applehead LP (Pre-Cert Entertainment)
The graffiti-style logo and apple-headed character on the cover had me doubting what I was getting into with this new Pre-Cert LP. I think the label guys just like messing with people like me (read: people who get scared of stuff that makes them think of Buckethead), as Applehead De Applehead is actually, of all things, a pretty remorseless kraut-rock album from some of Demdike Stare’s pals. As is the nature of Demdike, and Pre-Cert Entertainment, I have no idea if the material on here is mostly just perfectly sequenced samples of other bands’ material, like a deep trip into the glossary of Krautrocksampler or what, but I tend to not care when immersed in the world of Applehead. There are some Anworth Kirk-esque samples of pre-VHS horror schlock (unsurprising as he is a member of Applehead), but the majority of the record is heavy, pitch-perfect bass guitar, motorik drums and foreboding organs. No vocals, save for some female flight-attendant-style warnings and/or moans (none of which are in English), all of which really put the keen production on display. I wish more people sent their rock records to get mastered by techno-centric studios, as the D+M mastering here elevates the sheer sonic power to a new level of sonic function. Killer sequencing too, certainly a fitting alternate soundtrack to the proto-punk occult odyssey of Psychomania, what with its upbeat, rocking highs and eerie lows. Definitely an expensive record to purchase here in the US, but any buyer’s remorse quickly dissolves upon Applehead’s first bite.
Julio Bashmore Batty Knee Dance EP 12″ (3024)
Haven’t checked in with Martyn’s 3024 imprint in a while, and relative newcomer Julio Bashmore’s colorful collage sleeve drew me in, so why not? Kinda wish there was a video so I could see just what a “batty knee dance” is all about, but the track itself provides decent enough inspiration. Seems like the slowed-down ’80s nostalgia vibe currently crippling American hipster teens has wafted over to the United Kingdom, as Bashmore pairs a sprightly UK funky beat with the syrupy vocal hook “oh girl / we should get married”. The merging of modern electro-house and Sandals beach resort advertisements is a fitting one, not to mention the dissertation that’s waiting to be written about college kids wanting to sample the music that their parents listened to during their conception. “Ribble To Amazon” works the same 16th-note hi-hat as “Batty Knee Dance” but drops the pace a few BPM, as if the Night Slugs camp came up with their interpretation of a “sex jam”. Not too exciting, but a cool vibe nonetheless. Overall, this single sounds a little too specific for me to wholeheartedly offer my praise, in that Batty Knee Dance will probably sound particularly dated in a year or whatever (not like most dubstep/techno doesn’t, but you get what I’m saying). Martyn sees something in this guy, and that’s reason enough for me to check in with Bashmore again in six months or so.
Bundle Of Fags Glue / Untitled 7″ (Lemon Session)
What am I listening to these days, you ask? Oh, you know… Bundle Of Fags. Seriously, I was expecting some low-grade garage-noise from the name and presentation, so imagine my surprise upon hearing “Glue”, a charmingly American take on British power-pop, like a university frat band from 1968 who wrote a couple originals to go with their Who and Rolling Stones covers. Tightly-buttoned rock, nice and neat. Not sure why they couldn’t title the b-side, as it’s another snappy number that I might even prefer over “Glue”; unobtrusive backing vocals, crisp drumming and a lunkheaded singer make for a fun trip to the student union building with one’s sweetheart and a bottle of booze. Only time will tell if an album’s worth of this stuff would hold my interest, but for now I’m content with these two summertime strummers from none other than the one and only, wait for it… Bundle Of Fags.
Burial Street Halo 12″ (Hyperdub)
It’s a rough time trying to think of any present-day electronic producer cooler than Burial. He operates on his own schedule, not the Internet’s MP3-a-day brain freeze; he kept his identity a secret (and we actually cared), and established a unique and influential sound that no one has successfully replicated. It’s been a long while since Untrue dropped, and those recent Four Tet and Thom Yorke collabs are cool, I guess, if only for something else to hear (even if it comes stamped with Thom Yorke’s emo-fragile vocals), but all I really wanted was more Burial. Out of nowhere, it arrived in the form of this three-song 12″ EP, and while I had my fears that Burial may have slipped as the months went by, Street Halo has honed his approach even further, resulting in possibly his best work yet. “Street Halo” snaps a 4/4, house-y groove to Burial’s usual sound with chilling effect, and “NYC” works a misty-eyed diva vocal in the way that only Burial can, squeezing it like a lemon so that every last melancholic drop saturates his crackly atmosphere. “Stolen Dog” has the saddest title of the three (unless you’re a Mets fan) and a subtle melody, the perfect song for when they finally find the murderer on The Killing and the family’s misery is only slightly relieved. Truly a master of his domain, I can’t stop spinning this one, eagerly anticipating whatever Burial has planned for us next.
Circle Pit Slave / Honey 7″ (Hardly Art)
Hilarious new single from Circle Pit, who have quickly become one of the most amusingly great rock bands going today. Their other records were some of the sleaziest rock n’ roll fun I’ve had sitting around listening to records, but they flip the script entirely with these two Ambien trips. “Slave” is a slower-than-slow freefall through the clouds, comprised of little more than a kick drum, sustained keys and softly pleading vocals; the perfect breakup song for when your mind finally decides to leave your body. “Honey” is even sadder, the type of song that requires the preparation of “Slave” so you don’t just proceed directly to your bathtub and fall asleep forever. Definitely a new side of Circle Pit on these tracks, and while I hope they eventually wake up and go back to writing songs like “Wave Machine” and “Roll With The Punches”, this one’s a cheeky little diversion that I can’t help but enjoy. Great cover art too – truly a band that was born for the camera.
Dorian Concept Her Tears Taste Like Pears 12″ (Ninja Tune)
Dorian Concept’s “Trilingual Dance Sexperience” was one of those out-of-nowhere dance cuts that stuck out from the masses, thanks to its use of choppy, portamento synth riffing, the sort of sounds that could only be created using stubby thumbs and quick reflexes. I love it, and this new Dorian Concept EP, while a little slicker than “Trilingual”, is unmistakably born of the same mind. “Her Tears Taste Like Pears” gets right to it, with roughly five martian synths bubbling and humming like electronic kazoos, a frenetic rhythm and a big tangle of hot grooves. There’s no time to rest though, as “My Face Needs Food” takes over with laser beams and funeral chords, battling amongst each other over a funky backbeat. It’s some of the most jubilant techno I’ve heard, but never in a heavy-handed way. Doesn’t hurt that it still sounds like Dorian Concept is playing all of these tracks by hand, as sounds often fall past the beat or overlap in a very non-robotic way. The rest of the EP is great, working up a frenzy in relatively short track lengths (never over five minutes), all with titles that sound like something an alien would come up with in an effort to appear human (just check “Toe Games Made Her Giggle” or “Thank You All The Time Forever”). Wouldn’t be surprised if someone eventually pulled the human mask off of Dorian Concept, only to reveal a smiling Martian-green visage.
Dry Rot Jingle On The Record 2×7″ flexi (Cold Vomit)
Undoubtedly the most gimmicky record ever discussed on YGR, here’s a double red-vinyl (plastic?) flexi disc set, each square soundsheet one-sided, housed in a hospital x-ray sleeve and limited to 250 copies. It’s a live recording of a New Year’s Day set in San Francisco, and if I go into any further detail on this record’s specs, I won’t have any room to actually talk about the music. I figured Jingle On The Record was going to be a noisy, cluttered affair, and it is, but not due to the limitations of the format – Dry Rot are a menacing, unhinged hardcore group and that’s what you hear. Although they squeeze four songs per side, the fidelity is surprisingly intelligible, even when they freak out in “Hairless” and through the oddball U2 cover (“New Year’s Day”). Hearing how well this flexi carries bass makes me want to press one, or at least wish that the live Sex/Vid single sounded like this. Dry Rot have consistently been one of today’s most perplexing hardcore groups, for better or worse, and this unique little double-flexi only adds to their allure.
Egyptrixx Bible Eyes 2xLP (Night Slugs)
Night Slugs is yet another great little UK label that has developed its own sound in a few short years (months?), offering what I believe is their first full-length here. Surprisingly, they went across the pond with Toronto’s Egyptrixx for the occasion, but after a couple runs through Bible Eyes, it’s clear that Night Slugs invested wisely. The label makes me think of modern, dubstep-fluent party music with a hip-hop swagger, and Egyptrixx tugs at the edges of that space with excellent results. His is a woozy, hypnotic dance music, where synth loops sound like they were crafted with dying power sources, resembling spinning tops in the moments before they fall to the ground. And yet, Bible Eyes is full of bangers, crafted with plenty of strange sounds, but never is the dance-floor groove forsaken. I’ve learned that I generally get bored by dubstep/techno full-lengths, but Egyptrixx manages to keep the quality high while varying his approach, a success that many cannot claim. Something like “Chrysalis Records” (great title) works a pop vocal the way Rusko would, while maintaining the artistic vision of a man determined to squeeze every last ounce of color from his synths; “Recital” belongs next to Villalobos on a Perlon comp, and “Fuji Cub” is like Kode9 & The Spaceape, if The Spaceape were a small Tibetan monk instead of an ape from, you know, space. I’ll admit, I was ready to spin this one a couple times and forget about it, but Bible Eyes has left a pretty permanent mark on my state of mind.
Ill Blu Meltdown 12″ (Numbers)
So I guess this is what the genre “UK funky” is all about… I’ve previously avoided using that term, or learning about it, just because who can really say “UK funky” without feeling like slightly less of a person? I am more into the idea of “purple” as a genre, even. But whatever, this stuff isn’t quite dubstep, and to lump Ill Blu in with like, Benga or Burial would be a bit of a mistake. On this three-track EP, Ill Blu uses marching band snares and bloopy bass to get the crowd jumping, following a near-Reggaeton cadence to peak-time blood-flow. Some of the drum patterns remind me of the most recent Joe 12″ on Hessle Audio, slowed to a pace so that normal crowds can reasonably shake their limbs. Ill Blu is more about physical than intellectual pleasure, like the swagger of Girl Unit with the intensity of a high school marching band competition (or at least how they’re portrayed in modern mainstream film). It’s cool though, sometimes I just wanna hear basic body-moving rhythms accompanied by thick swabs of bass and the name “Ill Blu” shouted out at least a dozen times per track. Meltdown satiates that need nicely.
Ital Ital’s Theme 12″ (100% Silk)
Daniel Martin-McCormick (of Mi Ami and Sex Worker fame) christens the 100% Silk label with a 12″ by his Ital project. It’s my understanding that 100% Silk is a dance label offshoot of Not Not Fun, a sort of parallel to Troubleman / Italians Do It Better, and Ital gets things started properly. Unlike Martin-McCormick’s other projects, his distinct yelp and nervous energy are nowhere to be found here, instead swapped out by a cool, meticulous electro thump and nostalgic house arpeggios. That’s the basis of “Ital’s Theme”, a cool little tune that stays strict within its parameters. I’m much more partial to “Queens”, a real nice cut of hand percussion, sighing pads and a kind of Awesome Tapes From Africa vibe, just slow enough to keep your head bobbing without breaking a sweat. “One Hit” finishes off the EP in a workout-video techno strut with a sweeping sense of melody. Definitely much more “normal” than I was expecting, but it’s certainly not a bad thing, as Martin-McCormick has clearly honed his skills along the way. Silky indeed.
Jóhann Jóhannsson Virðulegu Forsetar 2xLP (Touch)
When your parents give you the name “Jóhann Jóhannsson”, you are essentially offered two paths in life: become the world’s strongest man or a long-form orchestral drone composer. Jóhannsson chose the latter, and while I’m sure he could knock around an atlas stone or two, he’s no slouch at enriching the atmosphere with his evocative musics, either. Virðulegu Forsetar was originally released on CD in 2004, only now receiving the preferential vinyl treatment it always deserved. Broken into four parts, Virðulegu Forsetar is really just one solid statement, unwavering in its focus (discerning one side from another is incredibly difficult). Thick, mile-long bass tones crest and fall as a quartet of horns usher a fallen king through the heavens in teary tribute. Not much else to the album than that, but when it comes to stuff like this, the impact is often greatest when the music is at its least cluttered. Very soothing, evocative stuff, if difficult to stay focused on… it’s like a ferry ride from England to Ireland where you keep your eyes on the horizon for the full four hours or so. Beautiful, powerful, requiring great concentration, and ultimately rewarding.
K-Holes K-Holes LP (Hozac)
Brooklyn’s got its own particular style of punk rock hedonism these days, a self-destructive, don’t-give-a-fuck attitude fueled by drugs and the privilege that allows one to move from Peoria or Hamtramck or wherever to New York’s hippest borough. K-Holes, in particular, seem to ooze the sort of fashionable disgust that’s sprayed all over a Black Lips or Golden Triangle gig, but not in a bad way… K-Holes is a decent garage record one would expect to hear at a pill party in the middle of the swamp, after all. The “song titles written in coke” back cover is corny in its heavy-handedness, I mean the songs themselves already sound like a high wearing off, but K-Holes (the band name itself a drug reference, if you didn’t already get that) really want you to know that they aren’t harboring any secret Chain Of Strength ideologies. They kind of sound as if TV Ghost had older siblings who moved to the city and already came to the conclusion that there’s no point in trying hard at anything, content to barely scrape up rent and leave the songwriting up to the least talented band member. They seem to eventually fall asleep through the second side, but the a-side has some cool cuts, almost all of which are augmented by some of the best “crazy” saxophone on a punk record since forever (whoever’s playing it here knows how to exacerbate the mood, whether it be lazy or manic, in just the right way). I don’t know, some cool songs grouped with some boring ones, so the jury’s still out. Maybe I just need to see K-Holes live, and I’m paraphrasing Willie Dee here, to see if they are truly ‘caine or just Gold Medal flour.
Lougow Dull Thicket LP (Ozark Level Full View)
How do you feel about Brother Danielson / Danielson Family? I’m assuming like most of the world, your answer is “I hate that crap”, in which case your best bet is to avoid Lougow and their Dull Thicket like a hypodermic needle on the beach. For those of you who find a high-pitched squealing male vocal appealing, or at least curious, you may want to give it a go. Seriously, this record lives or dies on those vocals, much like any band with a singer who so clearly goes out of his or her range, shrieking like a rollercoaster fanatic. The music, for those able to notice it, is a folksy, jammy, K Records-style hootenanny – it’s pretty obvious that singer/songwriter Wayne Arsaga plays a bass-drum and a tin can with his feet and a scratched-up acoustic guitar held over his shoulder by twine. Lougow is decent at what they do, but you really need to be the butt of a Portlandia joke to fully get into this sort of thing. I literally just came back from a street fair, which is probably why Dull Thicket hasn’t met a more brutal fate from myself.
Dan Melchior Assemblage Blues LP (Siltbreeze)
Dan Melchior has released a record on nearly all noteworthy (and many non-noteworthy) underground labels in his lengthy tenure, so why not add Siltbreeze to the list? One way or another, I’ve avoided Melchior’s discography up until this point, maybe in some sort of twisted allegiance to techno-master Thomas Melchior (as if there isn’t room for two Melchiors in my life), so the sting of album-opener “Atomizer” was particularly sharp – this warped, unhinged symphony of looped electronics, detailed twang and off-the-cuff vocals makes for the type of punk anthem that leaves even a seasoned vet like Roland Woodbe with a new crease in his khakis. The rest of Assemblage Blues, while never quite as fried as “Atomizer”, follows suit nicely, twisting up acoustic guitar and Speak & Spell sound effects in some alternate universe where Black To Comm and The Fall co-exist peacefully. And yet, amongst the rambling culture references and unleaded vitriol, authentic hooks are slowly revealed, like a skeleton in the bedrock. Melchior has proved be another sad case where I have to go back and sheepishly purchase his other albums that I so rudely ignored, but maybe I won’t, since there’s no way any of them can top Assemblage Blues anyway – this thing is just too good.
Mi Ami Dolphins LP (Thrill Jockey)
Bassist Jacob Long might have recently quit the ranks of Mi Ami, but that hasn’t slowed them down a bit – rather, it seems like the band’s restructuring has opened up more exciting new avenues than it has closed doors. They’re a duo now, and without Long’s massive, dreadlocked bass rig on hand, they’ve beefed up the drum machines, synths and programming to move staunchly away from anything “dance punk” and instead towards a sideways sort-of-house music. Dolphins makes its impression quickly – “Hard Up” sounds like the Future Times crew getting all avant-garde on us, with Daniel Martin-McCormick’s trademark shriek toasting over top. It’s kind of crazy how easily they made the switch from rock to electro. The title track might be my favorite though: it’s like they went directly to Ron Trent’s house, stole his groove, got Omar S to remix it, and then busted out their own crazy percussion flips and seasick synths, resulting in this mega-mix that deserves its repeated “wild child” lyric. Pretty sure the last track on here, “Echo”, is an electro re-working of “Echonoecho” (off their Watersports album), and while I will always be drawn to Mi Ami’s no-wave-ish efforts, the demented, duct-taped dance party they throw with Dolphins is hitting me just right. If Mi Ami were from the UK, there’d already be a dozen other groups trying to copy them, a new genre name to follow shortly.
Microwaves Beholder EP 7″ (Thunderhaus Ltd)
The surprise I felt upon finding a new Microwaves 7″ in my mailbox was similar to the feeling of bumping into a crazy old friend at a bar, only to catch up and realize she’s still perfectly mad. Microwaves were some of the finest noise-rock the late ’90s had to offer, compositionally stable but otherwise totally nuts, most evident in the high pitched voice that kept repeating “he took a picture of blood! (giggling)” at the end of their album System 2. To quote Nickelback, it’s been a while, but Beholder hasn’t skipped a beat, even as the group has pared down to a duo. They still kinda sound like Arab On Radar interpreting a skipping Van Halen CD, even on the opening Big Black cover, but their love of farty synth sounds, along with a self-fulfilled pleasure through the displeasure of others, remains pungent and strong. 190 copies pressed, probably the exact amount of people on Earth who want their ears pinched the way Microwaves know how. I’m #178.
Moritz Von Oswald Trio Horizontal Structures 2xLP (Honest Jon’s)
Very cool to live in a world where long-playing albums by the Moritz Von Oswald Trio circulate annually. Vertical Ascent set the premise (seasoned vets of heady electronic music improvise electro-acoustically), Live In New York put their chops on display, and now Horizontal Structures pushes out even further past the rim. Five cuts here, clocking in at long and longer, all deep explorations on repetitive sound and the space within it. The first “structure” is a fifteen-minute tune-up, the gents just powering up their synths, polishing the cymbals and plugging in the guitar, a recent addition courtesy of Paul St. Hilare. Double bass shows up too, and after a few runs, Horizontal Structures seems more jazz-influenced than prior works… the electronic architecture is ever-present as always, but the sounds of guitar and double-bass really bring to mind those Spring Heel Jack live jams with Han Bennink and J Spaceman. I’ve spent a lot of time enjoying the Moritz Von Oswald Trio records, though, so Horizontal Structures will still sound more like a set of long-form, coffee-table-techno grooves than Don Cherry or Sun Ra to the casual listener. It’s an intimidating record, for sure, especially as you have to devote a substantial amount of time to really process it – just poking one’s head in for a three- or four-minute dip won’t do the Trio justice. Those willing to give it the proper time, however, are richly rewarded with a slowly-evolving, organic brand of electronic music that doesn’t exist anywhere else.
Morphosis What Have We Learned 2xLP (Delsin)
Techno is great, but a lot of producers falter when putting together a full-length album. Single tracks are easy, you just put together a cool little idea and go with it, but an albums’ worth of dance music can easily grow monotonous and thin. Not only does Morphosis not suffer from this problem, his stunning, panoramic techno is best experienced in double LP format, as What Have We Learned is a carefully crafted album capable of moving the listener both physically and mentally. Musically, I’m reminded of Moritz Von Oswald Trio in the spacious drums and conversational keyboards, maybe Kyle Hall in the way the classic claps and hi-hats are turned post-modern, and perhaps Move D and Benjamin Brunn’s Songs From The Beehive in the way tracks shift, grow and shrink, like a thrilling plot-line. Aesthetically though, Morphosis reminds me of what Amon Düül or Agitation Free would have created with modern synths and Ableton, as the bulk of What Have We Learned reaches levels of psychedelic meditation I thought only German communes in the ’70s could attain. It’s beautiful stuff, the type of music you’d expect to be playing at the loft party where Theo Parrish and Father Yod meet. Morphosis is a techno-head, through and through, but I could comfortably recommend this record to an adventurous Acid Archives freak and probably get him or her on board. Just check “Wild In Captivity”, it’s the perfect fusion of Space Echo’d sitar and house drum programming. If I lose my mind, I can only hope Morphosis is the one who finds it.
Omegas Blasts Of Lunacy LP (Parts Unknown)
When I saw Omegas play in their hometown of Montreal, they were entertaining by appearance alone, looking like five classic NYHC scene caricatures: Raybeez-looking singer, Crumbsuckers-ish thrash metal guitarist, clean-cut Revelation straight-edge guy, Cro-Mags muscle-man, confused metalhead. That would’ve been enough for me to enjoy their set, but the singer’s stage presence was top notch (swinging a chain for no apparent reason, taunting the crowd, wearing a crusty trenchcoat) and the music was as true to the grimy streets of New York as their vibe. Sometimes blazing, sometimes moshy, always skankable, Omegas borrow from The Mob, Agnostic Front, Murphy’s Law and Side By Side, and put it together into something that stands up to the originators. There are no noticeable flaws here, just blazing, beefy hardcore that makes me want to read that John Joseph autobiography and bring hard-pitting to my living room. I could practically feel the kick of a sneaker to my temple when “Excessive Force” kicked in. Down to the Combatcore-style photo-collage insert, Omegas nail an image and sound that will always be worth nailing.
Pearson Sound / Ramadanman Fabriclive 56 CD (Fabric)
Can’t go wrong with a feature-length live mix from David Kennedy, repping both the Pearson Sound and Ramadanman names here. Hard to imagine a better snapshot of progressive, 2011 dubstep than the thirty tracks Kennedy mixes here – you’ve got a hefty selection of Hessle Audio faves, some Joy Orbison, some Appleblim, Addison Groove, even some Girl Unit and Levon Vincent, among many lesser-knowns (and equally-goods). The pace varies here and there, but ultimately follows a similar momentum from start to finish, teetering on 130 BPM and pumping the hits quickly and efficiently, never sticking with one cut for more than a couple minutes. As a fan of many of these tracks, it’s nice to hear them out on the field, mingling with friends and mixed together. I also never expected that a Pearson Sound track could flow into Burial so seamlessly, but Kennedy makes it happen. I’m pretty sure Kennedy could put together a mix like this on a daily basis, constantly changing and shifting, as he always seems to be moving in a new direction and creating new aliases to do so (see the recent Maurice Donovan record). Still, if you want to check out what is hot right now in the English underground, Fabriclive 56 has lots to enjoy and discover.
Peterlicker Nicht LP (Editions Mego)
An album like this could have, and should have, existed for a few years now. Noise-rock has been grinding people’s faces into the cement for decades, and there are some great groups duking it out today, but the approach is almost always a strictly rock-based one, born on four-track recorders with duct-taped amps bleating it out. Peterlicker, featuring Mego’s Peter “Pita” Rehberg, sharply avoid the basement approach and instead have crafted a stunning, oppressive, digitally-rendered album of electro-terror. Kicking off with “Always Right”, the group sounds like a percussionless Swans circa Filth thrust into the realm of dub techno, where bass tones are subsonic and digital delay scatters shrapnel, all while the vocalist bleats his commands. Powerful, enthralling stuff that makes Twin Stumps sound like punk rock. The rest of the record, while less Swans-y, is equally mammoth, churning car-crash sounds and the intestine-tickling bass (courtesy of Dubplates & Mastering, of course) into a slow-motion Godzilla attack. Really a grand idea, I can only hope that Peterlicker’s Nicht isn’t just a one-off dalliance, and that these four constipated-looking European men put my speakers to the test many times into the future.
The Pheromoans It Still Rankles LP (Convulsive)
The UK’s premier modern-DIY band have made it to 12″ length with It Still Rankles, the effort we all knew was an inevitability after the toe-stubbing that was their debut 7″. I wasn’t sold on their follow-up single, and didn’t mess with any of those tapes or side project CDrs that were floating around, but I’m glad It Still Rankles caught up with me, an album not only cohesive and full of smart ideas but one that cements The Pheromoans as a band all their own. I dig their style – clean guitar, discernible recording, simple-dumb songs that sometimes fall just shy of structure, and a singer who proudly recites his observational poetry, raising his voice only when necessary. Something like “Funny Names” sounds like Graham Lambkin collaborating with The Mummies, and works as well as one could imagine. “Bad Dandelion”, which opens with what I think is the line “I woke up, it was dark, took my balloon dog for a walk” (one short clip of many intriguingly odd lyrics), is like Versatile Newts if they calmed down and wrote thirty more songs. I just really get a sense that these gents have managed to come together as a solid group and write great songs without ever getting too rigid and intentional in their process, as if they gelled as a band without losing the charm of those early moments when one is trying to figure out how the hell to make interesting music. Sixteen songs here, and I never once got bored or wondered how much longer I had to go… seven more cuts and they would’ve tied Rancid’s Let’s Go – I think I would’ve liked to see them try.
Pink Reason Shit In The Garden LP (Siltbreeze)
Surely one of the most polarizing groups to come out of that first wave of Siltbreeze’s resurrection, Pink Reason have deeply offended and satisfied more people than Psychedelic Horseshit ever wished they could. Dig through just the first few Pink Reason records and you’ll encounter speedy post-punk, sloppy acoustic covers of classic hardcore songs, brittle folk, self-indulgent noise, and gothy self-loathing. It’s a lot to try and figure out, but part of the fun is the surprise; I certainly wasn’t prepared for “Going Home”, Pink Reason’s contribution to an otherwise unimpressive World’s Lousy With Ideas Vol. 8 compilation, the sort of track that fuses grunge sensibilities with the noisy swing of The Dead C and the quiet emotion of Nick Drake (certainly one of my favorite songs of 2009). That led me to Shit In The Garden, Pink Reason’s second full-length, full of more questions and fewer answers. “Holding On” opens the record, and is by far my favorite cut – I wasn’t expecting the drum n’ bass-style percussion loops that nearly drown out everything else, but it’s great, and significantly ups the aggression on an otherwise downer rock. “I Just Leave” quickly snuffs that fire, a sleepy, dare-I-say-New-Zealand sort of tune, at least until it flips into a turbulent detour of electronic noise and a guitar (banjo? sitar?) improvisation. What else would you expect, right? The rest of these six cuts follow similarly, in the way that any possibilities of pop satisfaction are scuffed, smashed, distorted and intimidated by the many demons that haunt Pink Reason. Each song sounds dramatically different, but they all are all clearly victims of the same abuser. I like Shit In The Garden a little more with each listen (first run-through, “Holding On” was the only cut to leave any impression at all), but I’ve learned to never expect easy listening from Pink Reason. Music by masochists, for masochists.
Raspberry Bulbs Nature Tries Again LP (Hospital Productions)
Exploding onto the home-and-garden black metal scene are Raspberry Bulbs, featuring at least one Bone Awl guy. I love Bone Awl – their method of applying black metal sounds to street-punk rhythms is pretty perfect, plus their misery and negativity just seems so damn believable. (When they came through my area on tour a couple years ago, the one guy had a horrible hand infection that desperately needed antibiotics, truly living the grim lifestyle.) Raspberry Bulbs sounds a lot like Bone Awl, at least in the rudimentary musical approach (barked vocals, gritty guitar and oom-pah drumming), but rather than coming across like a parallel concept, or a creative off-shoot, Nature Tries Again just sounds like a poor Bone Awl imitation. There’s significantly less energy, the semi-tuneful riffs are of the generic public domain variety, and the vocals aren’t particularly enthusiastic (although to be fair, I can’t imagine anyone getting particularly pumped to sing over these tracks). It’s kind of enjoyable, in just how much Raspberry Bulbs seem to revel in their lousiness, but Nature Tries Again seems more like an “Oh, you got a side project? Yeah I’ll put it out too” sort of deal than anything a Bone Awl fan like myself needs to hear.
Rat Columns Rat Columns cassette (Grave New World / ROS)
After heartily enjoying Rank/Xerox’s various works and the recent Burning Sensation LP, it’s pretty clear that guitarist / vocalist David West is an idea-man. You know the type, the guy that’s always working on something, be it a new band, art project, show idea, whatever. Rat Columns is a project solely his own, and rather than following the loud, rock-based approaches of the aforementioned groups, he tries out a number of quieter, more intimate styles here. What better place for that than a tape, right? Rat Columns starts with the drifting, three-legged dog of a Loren Connors cut in “Telephone Call”, and follows it with “I Wonder”, a power-pop rocker played not just in the bedroom but under the covers as well. The rest falls somewhere in between, from dowdy, Shadow Ring-like explorations to something on the seedier end of a Hyped 2 Death comp. Very mild songs that will only take over as deeply as you let them. Cool stuff, and although I’d prefer a new Rank/Xerox record, West clearly has to flush these sounds from his brain one way or another, this cassette being a way that the rest of us can enjoy it.
Rollin Hunt Criminal / Castle Of Nothing 7″ (Moniker)
Sweet n’ sour single here from Rollin Hunt… that name sounds like a pro baseball player from the ’70s who posed with a snake or a big cigar for his trading card photo, which is alright in my book. Thankfully, the sound of the group is equally strange – “Criminal” is all ’80s-melty, you know, that chill-wave sound, but takes things in a different direction, one I still haven’t completely figured out. Perhaps if the world’s least popular birthday-party clown tried his hand at music, it’d come out like this, or if Food Fortunata decided to parody Ariel Pink and Blank Dogs in one fell swoop. “Castle of Nothing” has a similar vibe, still very “bastardized after-school special” sounding, all while maintaining a groove. It’s as if the fog that collected on my glasses with “Criminal” evaporated off only one of the lenses through “Castle of Nothing”. Maybe if that Vincent Over The Sink single thought it could dance it’d sound like Rolling Hunt. I don’t know, I can’t picture any of my friends getting down with this one, but there’s an inexplicable charm that keeps pulling me back, eager to hear these distorted voices and silly effected guitars over and over.
Sheglank’d Shoulders Skate Assassin 7″ flexi (Handsome Dan)
There was a time when “skateboarding monster” artwork on a record would have me running to the dumpster before even spinning it (2004, maybe?), but that trend has been dead long enough, and the concept essentially immortal, that the frontside-tailgrabbing jaguar on the cover brings a nostalgic smile to my face. Doesn’t hurt that the record is a one-sided clear flexi, a gimmick appropriate for skate-core bands of any era. It also doesn’t hurt that the flexi actually sounds better than a lot of the punk 7″s coming out these days, both recording-wise and musically. Almost sounds like a band with Fat Wreck Chords / Warped Tour aspirations, especially in the drum sound (that tell-tale kick drum), but their music is certainly on the right side of corporate-sponsored punk – one would be more likely to confuse Sheglank’d Shoulders with JFA than Rise Against. Not sure how often you pull out one-sided flexis when you’re home doing the dishes or harvesting your Farmville crops, but unless you’ve got Persona Non Grata’s Sound With Cheese or the Melvins’ 8″ on Slap A Ham close by, it very well may be time to sheglank your shoulders, whatever the hell that implies.
TV Ghost Mass Dream LP (In The Red)
I was lucky enough to see TV Ghost perform a couple times last year, once on a giant stage in a fancy Brooklyn venue, once in a cramped, drop-ceiling dormitory basement, and they destroyed each gig with equal vigor. These kids (I guess they’re legally adults by now) don’t need facepaint and spooky imagery to be goth or scary, they just naturally stink of the stuff, from the singer’s cartoonish pompadour and Jack Skellington silhouette to the sweat dripping off the keyboardist’s teenage moustache. They pounded out their tunes like Antioch Arrow running through a set of Cramps covers, flailing in ill-fitting clothes with surf-y guitars and seizured drums, catching a rip-curl straight to Hell. Their other full-lengths were pretty cool, but couldn’t quite match the potency of a TV Ghost live performance, so it’s been with great pleasure that I’ve been spinning Mass Dream, the first TV Ghost record to really distill their essence into a flat black piece of wax. Vocalist Tim Gick (cool name) has just the right amount of reverb attached to his voice, to the point where I can understand what he’s saying (and it becomes all the more frightening because of it). Overall, it’s a cleaner record, which renders the actual grime and cobwebs of TV Ghost visible, compared to the previously-employed lo-fi production techniques that led to an unfocused recording. Now, you can enjoy this Midwestern Nick Cave Jr. and his flock of rodents as they wiggle in the mud, permanently staining anyone in earshot, in perfect clarity. Pretty sure they’re touring soon too, as the TV Ghost live experience will only further illuminate their majesty.
2562 Fever 2xLP (When In Doubt)
Like many of his ilk, Producer Dave Huismans works under various names to fit his different moods. I’ve spent a good amount of time with some of his A Made Up Sound 12″s, very nice dubstep verging on big-budget hip-hop instrumentals, but I found myself particularly excited for Fever, thanks to its premise: Huismans comprised all of Fever using disco samples, the sort of artistic limitation I find appealing. I’m not a huge disco guy, I’ve practically purged all of the polyester out of my closet in recent years, but I like the idea of chopped-up, filtered and glazed disco samples edited into modern dubstep, of which Fever is chock full. What’s most interesting is how much Fever sounds like a normal Huismans production – the base material might be decades old, but it’s rinsed and displayed in such a contemporary way that I’d have never known the premise were I not an avid Internet sleuth. Certainly doesn’t hurt that Huismans is a real master of rhythm, locking grooves and dismantling 4/4 beats with an incredibly natural and appealing flow. It’s as if 2562 builds his beats with the same effort it takes you or me to ride a bicycle. There’s no denying that dubstep is a crowded genre, where “new arrivals” lists become more and more difficult to wade through, but artists like 2562 make the effort worthwhile.
Unnatural Helpers Unnatural Helpers 7″ (Lemon Session)
Unnatural Helpers are a great punk band, brimming with short songs, pint glasses and sweaty under-arms, but I never thought their previous recordings properly showcased the group. Sure, the songs were cool, but things always seemed a little too clean for a band who has seen more cigarette butts than human butts. Granted, I haven’t heard their new album yet, but maybe I shouldn’t, as this Lemon Session single has five “demo quality” tracks that finally deliver what I always wanted to hear. Something like “Blackmarks” sounds like a White Stripes song played with the sarcasm of Country Teasers, and “Straying But In Circles” is the answer to The Penetrators’ “Shopping Bag”, one of the greatest unsung punk songs of all time. With the three other tunes that comprise the b-side, appropriately ending on a song complaining about not going out on an unresolved note, this Unnnatural Helpers single has been keeping close range to my turntable, generic Lemon Session art be damned.
Violent Students Party Addiction LP (Richie)
Party Addiction is the perfectly dirty eulogy for Philadelphia’s Violent Students, a band so painfully primal that their brief existence has still yet to wash off the city’s streets. You may recall their Parts Unknown album as a puzzling Flipper tribute pieced together using Cro-Mags riffs, but Party Addiction steps further into the void, displaying their final live performance like a rhino head on a wall full of deer. This is ugly, jarring, thoughtless music, more akin to Fushitsusha or Liquorball than any sort of hardcore punk. There’s random applause peppered in, but it’s just a sneaky post-production trick, as you either scream your praise at the band between songs or have already left the premises; clapping simply doesn’t occur in such hostile conditions. By the time the side-ending “Seekers” renders all other Cro-Mags covers obsolete, it becomes clear that a group as volatile and hateful as this was made for a short life expectancy, “born to expire” if you will. I’m just thankful this charred slab of wax was created to provide future generations with such a grave warning.
Jay Weed On The Nile EP 12″ (Grizzly)
Jay Weed! I love names like this, the type of guy you’d expect to see listed as the third guest rapper on the 20th track of a Cash Money mixtape. Jay Weed. Anyway, there seems to be an Egyptian fascination going on these days (I know Ed Solo had a song called “Egyptian Horns” last year, Omar S used a pyramid on his last 12″, and there’s Egyptrixx, and of course Hierglyphic Being, if you want to stretch it…). Maybe The Egyptian Lover is just going through a third or fourth resurgence, but I can get down with Egyptian references in electronic music any day, it’s just one of those winning combinations. “On the Nile” features the sounds you’d expect to hear, including an Egyptian Lover sample and various sound effects from the chamber of King Tut. Jay Weed puts it together in a nice little four-minute package, deftly working percussion and some muscular bass to frame the scene. “City Staccs” sounds like a song a guy named Jay Weed should be rapping over, but it’s more of a metropolitan slant on “On the Nile”, snapping fast drum patterns and various vocal snips in a very Pearson Sound-ish manner. The bass isn’t as present as I would’ve expected from someone named Jay Weed on this one, but “City Staccs” is a worthy slice of digital dubstep just the same. Then again, my mind could easily be clouded by the fact that I’m listening to music made by someone named Jay Weed.
Wonderfuls Wonderfuls 7″ (Negative Guest List)
I’m sure it’s a move that works on some people, but brandishing your band as a result of drug abuse and poor mental health is a real pet peeve of mine. If you’re so crazy and deranged, let the music prove it; the artist’s personal addictions shouldn’t just be an excuse for poor performance. I’m a fan of Negative Guest List fanzine, a pretty sharp-witted rag out of Australia, but this Wonderfuls 7″ kinda rubs me the wrong way, from the overwrought press release to the “look at how crazy I am” cover photo. Musically, it’s a mess – the guitar just kinda switches chords around while some guy yells “I have a cocaine problem / I have a drinking problem” in a brash tantrum that even Pink Reason would think twice before unleashing on the public. I guess you could compare some of these Wonderfuls songs to Beyond the Implode or some other locked-bedroom-door DIY affair, but their whole shtick gets in the way of me appreciating whatever tiny shreds of anguished genius there might be. For now it just seems kinda stupid.
Jamie Woon Mirrorwriting LP (Candent Songs)
Jamie Woon’s “Night Air” was a sweet slice of dubstep for the pop radio set and caught me by surprise late last year. I love that song (and it opens Mirrorwriting, unsurprisingly), but wasn’t sure if it was the sort of fluke that comes from a random collision of good timing and smart networking. Been spending a lot of time with Mirrorwriting, both in the company of friends and, you know, privately, and while “Night Air” is certainly the pinnacle of Woon’s achievement so far, the rest of his debut album is pretty satisfying if you like man-feelings vocal pop the way that I like man-feelings vocal pop. On the whole, I’d say that Woon, who himself resembles a scruffy Keanu Reeves on a less-intense exercise regimen, has a croon somewhere between D’Angelo and Justin Timberlake, sung over cloudy, dubsteppy electro-pop with lyrics that fluctuate between “introspective at a party” or “introspective at home”. There’s even acoustic guitar on some tracks, closing in on a similar sound to the non-hits on John Mayer’s Battle Studies, a reference that the few who get it will never admit to it anyway. Took a couple listens, but stuff like “Shoulda” and “Street” have already etched themselves a place in my brain next to most of Timberlake’s Justified and Maxwell’s Embrya – only a matter of time before these songs are played in the H&Ms and Club Monacos of the world, so that I don’t have to hum them to myself while buying socks.