Any conversation regarding techno’s future needs to include the name of Rabih Beaini, best
known for his work under the Ra.H and Morphosis aliases. As Morphosis, Beaini recently released
the opus What Have We Learned, a sprawling album of tech-house both exuberant and
meditative, inspired by ’70s progressive and psychedelic music as much as the single-minded
minimalism of Omar S or Ricardo Villalobos. Morphosis seems in tune with music on a deeper
level than your average club DJ, existing in a world where the brand-new excitement of a
Rinse.FM podcast peacefully co-exists with Bitches’ Brew. Now working with Damo Suzuki
in a live setting, Morphosis is pushing techno into areas previously unexplored, with results that
can’t be anything less than great. And like any decent musical shaman, his goodwill extended
from the sounds on the vinyl to his friendly interaction with me below.
How and when did you start making music under the name Morphosis?
I first started to make music in ’99. I was already DJing for years, but music making was a
bit of an arrival point for me, not to make music for people to dance to, but just to express
what was my inspiration.
My first record came out in ’99, on a local label in Italy, limited copies… it was a collage of
sound samples from field recordings and drum patterns. At the time, my sound was maybe
more progressive and dark, but it worked pretty well, at least for me. After a couple of 12″s,
I started to shape my sound, and gave birth to Morphine Records in 2005 together with Stefano
Ksoul who gave me major help with the concept.
Do you feel like your sound has gotten less dark over the years? What attracts you
to dark-sounding music?
I don’t have a proper answer to why I am attracted to dark sounds. This is the way I see
music, honestly… I love haunting sounds and loops. I am totally attracted to oriental music,
from Indian traditional and trancy music to the middle-eastern raw and original pieces… I
guess this gives the shape to what I come out with while I produce and play. Of course
there is no rule, but generally I like this side of music more.
Are there any artists, or albums that you’d consider “dark” that you particularly enjoy?
I don’t consider music I like as dark, even if many do consider it to be. I am more attracted
to minor scales generally, spiritual and cosmic music, like Miles Davis or John Coltrane, psychedelic
like Jimi Hendrix and the whole progressive jazz scene, African music and afro-oriented one. I
am particularly attracted to traditional and popular music, most of them recorded at celebrations
and funerals… I also like early electronica and krautrock. Generally emotional music, which is
probably dark in its conception.
You are Lebanese, correct? What is the cultural atmosphere there like for techno
and electronic music?
I must admit, I got my real electronic inspiration in Europe, after I moved to Italy in 1996,
where I lived untill a few months ago, and with which I am still in frequent contact. I think
Lebanon is more concentrated on the evolution of the local sound, which is pretty interesting.
There is a wide electronic scene nowadays in Lebanon, many DJs that play mainstream
electronic stuff, and some elite people who are more into experimental and electroacoustic
stuff, but I guess there is a lack of a more underground driven house and techno scene.
The new album is called What Have We Learned, so I have to ask… what
have we learned?
Lots of things, and much more to learn yet. Things from life, experiences, people and music.
The album is more a marker point for my residency in Europe, a resume of a long period of life
in which my experience and knowledge has been forged and developed. It’s a story I tell, but
I might be the only one who knows the exact details. You got the music.
The music on What Have We Learned seems to be composed organically in a way, almost
reminding me of Can or Amon Düül in the loose structures that move along the rhythm…
were any progressive German artists an inspiration to you?
Many of them, but not exclusively. I think the basic definition of krautrock and progressive
German music is the mixture of lots of things, and that period was maybe the richest of them
all, the discovery of sound synthesis, the development of musical instruments, the use of all
this together with traditional and popular instruments. Synthesizers are the real revolution in
music, and this has shaped so many genres and created many others. I just follow the original
path, which leads me to a rich and uncontaminated way of composition. I am just trying to live,
musically, in that era I never witnessed, on my own way, and with my own possibilities.
You also produce music under the moniker Ra.H – how do you differentiate between
the two projects? Are their sounds inherently different?
The Ra.H moniker was meant to be the more musical and free one. More personnal and
conceptual. But it was inevitable that this appears as well in the productions under Morphosis,
which was the more techno and dancefloor-driven one. I can say the difference is very slight,
even if it actually exists.
Will there be another Ra.H record, or are you focusing on Morphosis now?
Next will be Ra.H’s turn. Some material is ready, and I am planning new releases on Morphine,
which will be communicated very soon.
How would you describe the upcoming Ra.H material?
It’s more experimental maybe, even more into machines and electroacoustic mixture with
electronica and soul, a more band approach to homemade music. But it’s not a rule, I like to
stay free in my music as much as I keep it related to its followers. I try to deliver what
people want, but also make them discover a different side of it. I think the people who buy
and listen to my records are prepared people, they really know about music, but they seek
for more; I try to deliver this “more” when possible.
I understand you also have an interesting collaboration in the works, what can you
tell me about it?
You mean with Damo Suzuki?
Well it happened very naturally. We set a date in Hamburg last March, and I got in touch
with him to see if he was up for a collaboration. I was surprised to know he was so open for
new things; I knew he was touring the world playing with local carriers, mainly rock and
progressive bands. I was curious to see what would come out from my sounds and his vocal
improvs. We made it to the Prinzenbar, a tiny but amazing venue in Hamburg, and we dropped
a totally improvised and experimental show. I must say I felt totally free on stage, as never
before. And the result was maybe one of my best performances as a musician. Freedom at its
highest levels, with a mixed crowd from the electronica diggers and DJs to the original
krautrockers of Hamburg, being a fortress for the German progressive sound. I am working on
pubblishing some of the recordings we did that night, hopefully soon, and we are already
planning for a tour in the next few months.
How intimidating was it to work with Suzuki? Do you have any plans to go into
the studio with him?
To be honest, Damo Suzuki, since the very first minute, gave a very relaxed and spiritual
impact. I was very pleased to discover how much of a low-profile, easy-going man he is. He
remains a purist, he sells his own merchandise and CDs at the venues, he talks and hangs out
with people very openly, and has a very positive energy with the other musicians and the
crowd. I never had any intimidating moments with him, everything was pretty natural. But he
is a stage dropper, no studio. At least that’s what he normally does. He had a really good feeling
to what I did on stage with him and he was clearly surprised and positive on it. My purpose is
not to lock him in a studio and make tunes. The live vibe is much more important for him and
that’s what counts for me too.
Is there any political aspect to your music? Is that any concern of yours?
Every step you make, in your awareness and own mind, follows a political path. I try to keep
away from the obvious remarks for a more mature approach to the musical world surrounding
me, but the political aspect remains and always has a more social interest. Which doesn’t mean
I follow a defined political party or concept, maybe it’s a more global human struggle that is
interesting and attractive to me. Awareness is my big concern.
What have you been listening to lately? Anything you’d really recommend, for
someone who enjoys your music?
Well definitely the new Sun City Girls Gum Arabic is an amazing album on the Annihhaya
label, psychedelic and experimental folk merged with early tape recordings. Jemaa El Fna album
on Sublime Frequencies, some wild field recordings from the Marakesh week of the dead festivities.
The Paris Tapes double CD from Sun Ra, besides the LP, it has ten more tracks and is definitely
a heavy play. The mighty Keith Fullerton Whitman’s EP Disingenuity on Pan and the What
Happened album by Emeralds.
Black Pus Primordial Pus LP (Load)
Lightning Bolt are an unstoppable force, practically as old as some of their youngest fans, and if their mighty wind wasn’t enough for you, drummer/vocalist/cartoonist Brian Chippendale spends his free time churning out solo material under the Black Pus name. Primordial Pus is his first vinyl full-length, and while the previous four CDr albums are all pretty great, this one certainly deserved the lavish Load Records vinyl presentation. It’s easy for the casual listener to confuse Black Pus with Lightning Bolt, as the presentation is similar: bass-heavy cacophony and tin-pan drums flying at Lamborghini speed, topped off with broken childrens toy vocalizations. Both of Chippendale’s projects work this way, but whereas Lightning Bolt never turn the blender off, Black Pus frequently slows the pulse, gyrating like Crash Worship without the next day’s hangover, electronic triggers firing in all directions from one of Chippendale’s many limbs. There’s still a pretty heavy Five Hour Energy vibe to Primordial Pus, but Chippendale seems to loosen up a bit while wearing the Black Pus mask, flirting with pop structure (okay, maybe just winking at it from across the room), and unhindered by a need to completely annihilate all other bass/drums duos, free to just have some fun. He truly is a master of his craft, and while that last Lightning Bolt album was pretty hot, Primordial Pus has proven much harder to scrub off my turntable.
Blowtops Drugs Confess / Accelerated 7″ (Lemon Session)
Another entry in the rapidly-expanding Lemon Session Singles Club, this one from Buffalo’s Blowtops. I saw them live a few years ago, so I knew to expect some Rip Off Records by-way-of Cramps vibes from this single, and that’s pretty much what I get – spooky organ controls “Drugs Confess”, and the drums provide a tom-rolled rhythmic voodoo dance, the sort of tune I’d expect Quintron to hum while frying his morning omelette. Not bad. “Accelerated” is a live cut from “after Rob & Bonnie’s Wedding” and it must’ve had the confused grandparents and white-bread cousins running for the door – the Blowtops bleat out a pretty sour song with little pretense as the cake is being served. The vocal-heavy recording here actually works in their favor, as the singer enunciates each syllable to full capacity, even as he seems kind of exhausted. A good-enough, brief little single, but unless you’re planning on completing your Lemon Session or Blowtops discographies, it’s not quite a requirement.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy & The Phantom Family Halo The Mindeater 10″ (Sophomore Lounge)
Makes sense that whatever few freaks living in the sleepy town of Louisville would quickly find each other, in this case the illustrious Bonnie “Prince” Billy and The Phantom Family Halo’s Dominic Cipolla. That last Phantom Family Halo album (also care of the Sophomore Lounge label) was a pretty cool 3:00 AM scan through the high-number cable channels, but The Mindeater drops back to Earth a bit, most certainly thanks to Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s recognizable voice (gracing each of these four tracks). Acoustic guitars never seem too far from Billy, and they’re prominent here too, making for a much less weird experience than I initially expected. It’s nice though, as Billy was made for the front porch, not an art gallery, and The Phantom Family Halo dresses him properly. The flip opens with a pretty stellar jam, like one of those long-form Red House Painters cuts where Mark Kozelek just slays without a care in the world, and the record ends on the optimistic “Suddenly The Darkness”, a fitting closer to this short suite of Southern comfort. If you have to buy one collaborative Bonnie “Prince” Billy 10″ this month…
Boomgates Layman’s Terms / Nothing 7″ (SmartGuy)
Nice to see another Boomgates single, as their debut was an adorable pinch of indie-pop that’s still sticking with me. “Layman’s Terms” sounds good from the start, a sort of mid-period Pavement groove with Brendan Suppression (or is he Brendan Boomgate?) waxing poetic about something romantic, eventually joined by Steph Hughes’ comforting voice, windows open and Ray-Bans on. I’d expect a title like “Nothing” to be at least mildly pessimistic, and while it may be the least happy Boomgates song I’ve heard, it’s still a friendly handshake of an indie tune, strutting with a cool beat and Brendan’s spoken vocals. Reminds of something Eddy Current would’ve done on Rush To Relax, really, as there’s a manic guitar freakout toward the end, and the general pulse of the tune plays out in classic Eddy Current fashion. It’s hard not to hear echoes of Eddy Current in Brendan’s voice no matter what he’s doing, but let’s face it, I am yet to hear any Eddy Current influence I haven’t enjoyed. Maybe this single’s not as strong as the Boomgates debut overall, but it’s an enjoyable follow-up to be sure. It’s a rule that after two vinyl releases, your Australian punk band has to book a tour of the United States, right? It’s about that time…
Bourgeois Heroes Olé/Hola 7″ (February)
When you first heard the commercially-unstoppable Pomplamoose band, chances are you didn’t think “I wanna make music like this too”, but they’ve sold a staggering number of downloads in their brief existence, creating an influence that has to rub off somewhere. Male/female duo Bourgeois Heroes certainly fit the profile, even if they might claim to listen to The Beatles and The Ladybug Transistor, rather than television commercials, for inspiration. Really cutesy stuff, like if a camera zoomed inside a hand-knitted Etsy mitten and a little band of cartoon bugs was playing Sesame Street songs deep within. You’re supposed to water your garden to this sort of stuff. I also get the impression this group is a couple, which makes sense, as they’ve already written the perfect songs to sing to their infant children (“Olé/Hola” probably has staying power up through kingergarten, really). I can’t hate Bourgeois Heroes, they have clearly done nothing wrong, but this sort of humble, adorable glee is almost never what I want to hear.
Civil Victim No False Hope LP (Loud Punk / Shock To The System)
Civil Victim is another band name that sounds like it was formed from some sort of Internet “punk band name” generator, just pairing up an adjective and a noun in some plausible, familiar form. I don’t mind, though, as I didn’t expect genre-shattering musical euphoria from Civil Victim, just some pissed-off hardcore punk, which is exactly what they deliver, and of the quality I’ve come to expect from Loud Punk. Civil Victim’s sound falls in the raging, influenced-by-the-greats tradition, but rather than attempt to specifically emulate any particular bonzer, they work with a pretty punchy, modern-sounding recording that makes me think of Spazm 151 or Cut The Shit, a couple of not-entirely-retro hardcore bands who got it right in the last decade. Straight-forward, frothy vocals work well here, as does the speedy drumming and generally unrelenting approach. Cover art’s kinda corny, but I’d prefer Civil Victim’s “sincere and cheesy” over the current “shocking sexual transgression” trend anyway. Cartoony black-and-white destruction artwork is like catnip to a young punk fresh off the Minor Threat discography, needing to stumble upon the current hardcore underground – they could only be so lucky as to find a copy of No False Hope.
Daily Life My Time / Daily Life 7″ flexi (Glass Coffin Flexidiscs)
I thought Daily Life’s Necessary And Pathetic LP was so good that the concept of a new and limited 7″ flexi addendum had me scrambling up the electronic dollars to secure a copy. If you’re in the same boat, please be forewarned: this disc comes without a cover or any sort of insert. (Mine didn’t even come with its own protective plastic sleeve, horrifyingly. I think I own MP3s with more packaging than this.) Whatever, I bought this thing with the primary interest of listening to it, and “My Time” (a rough version that doesn’t appear on the album) sounds pretty great here, lots of twisting synths and a surprisingly robust bass-bump matching the sweetly conniving lead vocal. For a demo, “My Time” certainly has more finesse than a lot of other players in the current cold-wave game. “Daily Life”, the ostensible theme song, is cool too, a little quieter and pulsing with the sound of a group still finding their footing so righteously displayed on Necessary And Pathetic. I don’t necessarily regret the purchase, I am a fan of the band, but this flexi is a textbook case of superfluousness that I can only recommend to dedicated Daily Life’rs. The rest of you, pick up the album and see what you’ve been missing.
Deep Sleep Turn Me Off LP (Grave Mistake)
Check it out, Turn Me Off, the fast and easy debut album from Maryland hardcore mainstays Deep Sleep. Never caught any of their previous records, but this 45 rpm 12″ is a solid slice of melodic hardcore punk, somewhere between the brief, frantic movements of Jellyroll Rockheads and the hummable hooks of mid-period Descendents. No song catches a ride longer than a minute or two, as this is punk music geared for stage-jumps, horizontal push-pits and black band shirts with the sleeves cut off, sometimes supplemented with shout-along choruses. I appreciate that this is pure hardcore music that’s not afraid to say “yeah, we like 7 Seconds” in today’s decidedly anti-7 Seconds climate; Deep Sleep aren’t looking to go mainstream, but they don’t coat their sound in a thick layer of trendy distortion, either. I may not pull this out all the time, but much like the Celebrated Summer record shop that’s owned and operated by vocalist Tony Pence, I’m glad to know it’s there.
Dizzy Eyes Let’s Break Up The Band 7″ (Hardly Art)
“Let’s Break Up The Band” is a pretty interesting concept for a song… I like to think it’s the world’s most passive-aggressive way of kicking out the bassist. Whatever the case, Dizzy Eyes put it to good use, offering a reverb-y (but not lo-fi) song that references the beach (of course) and other nice things while calling for their own demise. Kind of sounds like what I’d imagine guys from The Verve or Charlatans UK would scrape together if they tried to get on the Best Coast bandwagon. “Ay!” has a nice swing, and “Sugar Cain” is the introspective wanderer, but it’s a pretty uniform sound throughout, all three cuts sharing that pro-attitude beach-pop vibe. Decent if entirely inoffensive, as if a Hozac label existed for grown-ups. I guess somebody has to release this sort of thing…
Maurice Donovan Babeh / Satisfied 12″ (SSSSSS)
As if Ramadanman, Pearson Sound, Shetland, and whatever other monikers I am forgetting weren’t enough, David Kennedy has recently adopted the Maurice Donovan alias. It’s allegedly his homage to Detroit house, and while purposely choosing a “Detroit house” name is kind of off-putting, I will give Kennedy, err Donovan, the benefit of the doubt. I appreciate that so many of these dudes, like Addison Groove, Pangaea and Kennedy himself, title their tracks based on the repeating vocal sample, of which “Babeh” is a clear example. It practically never quits, that endless “babeh!”, as the electro club-thumping beat drifts in and out with a crisp efficiency. “Satisfied” is a little craftier with the vocal work, as the inhale/exhale clip leads into a vaguely-tribal house jam, just what I hoped to hear. Kennedy has always done well with his vocal hooks, and “Satisfied” is particularly smart, pushing this juke-y track against inertia and onto the dance-floor. Certainly on par with Ramadanman’s recent work, if not necessarily a mind-melter like the Pearson Sound singles on Hessle Audio. I’d love to know when he finds the time to sleep.
Drunk Elk Seneca’s Last Breath / I Want To Be Your Pet 7″ (Quemada)
So much good music coming out of Australia these days, to the point where even a remote island like Tasmania has plenty to offer, from personal faves The Native Cats to newcomers Drunk Elk. I have to wonder if Drunk Elk didn’t swim themselves over from New Zealand, as these two songs have a very ’90s-Siltbreeze vibe to them; sad yet aggressive indie-detritus that takes itself seriously because it should… somewhere between Jim Shepard and Bedhead, maybe. No drums here, as opener “Seneca’s Last Breath” is little more than a pawn-shop guitar chiming along to the singer’s exhausted thoughts. “I Want To Be Your Pet” adds in a cute little organ melody along with the guitar, but it’s still about as quietly humble as music gets, as if Drunk Elk’s only choice was to record this single in a library. I can go either way with this sort of thing, but something about Drunk Elk’s sound just comes across so honest and true, devoid of any of that “I’m crazy / look at me” nonsense, that I find myself drawn in. They’ve got simple, delicate songs, play them earnestly, and expect nothing in return. That’s an elk I’d get wasted with.
Haus Arafna New York Rhapsody LP (Galakthorrö)
Haus Arafna’s last album isn’t even six months old, so New York Rhapsody‘s existence certainly took me by surprise. Technically, it might actually be an older recording than You, as these twelve tracks were initially presented at Katie Gallagher’s fashion show back in September of 2009. Gallagher’s designs are demented, haunting, full of sexuality and unnervingly sleek – basically, Haus Arafna in garment form. I was expecting two side-long noisy/ambient creep-fests from Mr. and Mrs. Arafna here, just based on the premise, but New York Rhapsody is actually a substantial set of new songs, standing solidly as an album on its own merit. Haus Arafna never get too harsh here, but New York Rhapsody is still flush with active electrical circuits and frightening loops, even if the overall vibe is less Deutschland-industrial and more appropriately New York-cool. Maybe Haus Arafna bumped into The Strokes while they were there? I barely made it through the first few tracks before I was grabbed by the urge to put on an object-dyed leather bodysuit and stalk the catwalk… clearly Haus Arafna understood their purpose here and delivered expertly.
Hoax Hoax 7″ (Katorga Works / Deranged)
There is really no good reason to open your band’s debut EP with a song called “Fagget”, but Hoax come as close to making it a reasonable move as any band really could – the song itself seems to have a sarcastically-delivered “hateful slurs are bad” lyrical stance, and the music is a gnarly hardcore dirge that sounds like Die Kreuzen playing an Iron Cross riff. Pretty sure I don’t want to chant along with the “faggot!” chorus, but if I ever see this group and they play it, I’ll be too busy moshing to worry about singing along anyway. The other three songs are more along the lines of the simplistic “I hate myself / this world / life / you / etc” Vile Gash school of thought, which works for me, and musically it’s kind of ‘Gashy too, if significantly slower – same feedback and overdriven guitars, but they stick with moderate d-beat speeds and ugly breakdowns, never quite reaching a thrashing pace. The last cut has a pretty sweet Bone Awl-esque oom-pah; could probably pass for a Bone Awl original too, if the singer’s voice was a little deeper, or at least more obscured. On the surface level, one could argue that Hoax’s debut is just another mysteriously transgressive hardcore 7″ with all the same fonts and styling, but musically these guys have really got it going on, especially as they seem interested in writing songs as opposed to just filling up a record with sound. If they make a few small tweaks with their next release, who knows what could happen.
Joy O Wade In / Jels 12″ (Hotflush Recordings)
Joy O, huh? Wonder if Peter O’Grady finally got sick of blushing when talking about his silly moniker “Joy Orbison”, or if this signifies a deeper stylistic change, but whatever the reason, I can get behind Joy O (the name reminds me of some sort of European soda I would like to try). “Wade In” is a progression for O’Grady too, stepping away from dubstep (like everyone else seems to be doing) and towards house, front-loading this cut with a heavy 4/4 thump and party percussion. The break that hits a couple minutes in has the most hilarious use of an “umm” sample I’ve ever heard; it’s the type of moment I find myself eagerly waiting for, and while it’s no “BRKLYN CLLN” as far as euphoric sensations are concerned, “Wade In” continues to grow on me over time. “Jels” is a bit more opulent, thanks to the sound of a knife being sharpened over a bed of inky synths and classy claps. If I bought a new Nissan Altima and drove it through a highway tunnel after dark, I’d want to hear “Jels” pumping out of my trunk. Let this be a lesson to all of us: good things happen when you leave the Orbison behind.
Knife Fight Hobbies 7″ (Aarght!)
Second Knife Fight to be reviewed within YGR, and while this flailing garage-punk band is pretty sweet, my loyalty still remains to the American hardcore group of the same name (they’re like a Thanksgiving dinner compared to the junk food and soda of Hobbies). Hobbies kind of sounds like one of those crazy French garage bands, like Cheveu before they got talent, or the Cheeraks, or some other disposable-yet-cool band whose 7″ you keep putting in the sell pile but never get rid of. There’s essentially zero bass on these four songs, yet it’s still a loud record at any volume, resulting in an appropriately self-conscious listening experience while my neighbors are home. Definitely reminds me of where this whole scene was like three years ago, not where it’s at now (which makes sense as this was recorded in 2008), but while flame-broiled garage-core was never the coolest thing around, a band like Knife Fight never really goes out of style, either.
Lakes Winters Blade LP (Inverted Crux)
As an American, sometimes peering into the Australian underground is like looking into a mirror that displays a slightly cooler version of yourself. Up until this point, I didn’t think that Cult Of Youth’s vibe had any representation down under, but now we’ve got Lakes, the sigil-worshiping, crux-inverting, Death In June-ing occult rock group. Corny in their exact specificity, perhaps, but Lakes ain’t half bad – the drums are big and round, and the guitars never as Ren-Faire as Cult Of Youth often get, leading to a nice set of funeral seances that refuses to wither in the sun. The vocalist is a little off-putting at first, as he’s clearly trying to sing in a register deeper than his chest cavity can provide, but I got used to it halfway into the first side and enjoyed Winters Blade through its finish. Could’ve just been a pile of bones, but these come with sacred potential.
Leather Sterile 7″ (Jade Tree)
Leather’s debut 7″ was a righteous kick in the pants, certainly a standout amidst so many hardcore bands that all sound pretty good themselves. Still, I wasn’t prepared for the level Leather has taken things with Sterile, a four-song scorcher courtesy of the oft-mocked Jade Tree label (not by me, though – too many classics have come out of this camp). The recording is bolstered by a low-end lacking in many modern hardcore groups and crisp, sharp drums, but once again, it’s the vocals of Alex Agran that make this one to remember – equal parts Pushead, John Joseph, Ray Cappo and Chris Thomson, Agran sounds like no other frontman today. He uses his tongue like a whip, drawing out vowels and adding unnecessary syllables, making every line count. He’s got a killer growl, but the random harmonies on “Zek” and “Novitiate” couldn’t sound any better, honestly. “Relapse” almost sounds like Nirvana, if they were a burly hardcore band influenced by Thrash ‘Til Death instead of The Vaselines or whatever. Can’t say enough good things about Sterile on the whole, really a superb record that offers a unique take on hardcore punk without bastardizing the form. I’d probably feel a bit humbled by the greatness of this band if the thrill of listening to Sterile wasn’t so overpowering. LP, please!
Maska Genetik Strada LP (Galakthorrö)
Haus Arafna impress me not only through their musical output, but through that of their Galakthorrö label as well – I can’t think of the last label to have such a distinct and specific style, and manage to maintain the quality level through such a long period of time. If you told me that all the non-Haus Arafna / November Növelet groups on the label were actually just Mr. and Mrs. Arafna under pseudonyms, it’d make sense, as artists like Herz Jühning, Subliminal, and now Maska Genetik all create music that could be considered Haus Arafna tribute. They call it “angst-pop”, and it’s as fitting as anything I could come up with, uncomfortable synths and pulsing drum machines the perfect soundtrack to a night of uneasy sleep. I can practically feel the sheets bunch up under one of my legs and the quilt tangled over my chest when I listen to something like “Ernste Stunde”. It’s great stuff, music that slowly opens itself upon repeated listens, even if you were left with a bad case of morning breath the first go-around. The beautiful packaging seals the deal as my bond with Galakthorrö continues to strengthen.
Motorcycles Wonder Why 7″ (Hot Releases)
Matt Franco, guitarist of Air Conditioning and producer of Holy Family Parish (the Hospital Productions recording artist, not the church, although I swear I’ve seen him in a pew there on holidays), is not one to be pigeonholed. Crazy noise guy, sure, but Motorcycles, his new band, is about as far from the lurching crunch of Air Conditioning as one can get while still holding a guitar – Motorcycles are an indie jingle-jangle production, complete with chiming guitars, strange ideas, overactive drumming and a subtle tape hiss throughout these three songs. The nasally vocals and general presentation on “Wonder Why” remind me of Smashing Pumpkins, or rather of a high school talent-show group attempting to channel the Smash-Pumps under severe limitations. Flip it and you get “Snore Sex”, a groaning dirge that The Frogs or Killdozer would’ve used to clear the room, and “Vampire Blues”, maintaining that offensiveness with its supreme crappiness, like an Oh Sees track that fell off the truck on the way to the pressing plant. Really don’t know what to make of this, or the inspiration behind it, but it keeps lingering near my turntable. It’s like staring at a Magic Eye puzzle for hours, trying to figure it out… maybe there is some pristine image I’m missing, or it’s actually just a child’s sloppy fingerpainting, not a Magic Eye at all.
Naked On The Vague Abstract Figures 7″ (R.I.P. Society)
This “full band” Naked On The Vague hasn’t moved me like their earliest records did, but after catching it live (good show), and spinning this new single a few times, they seem to be coming into their own a bit (or I am just finally opening up to the idea). “Abstract Figures” isn’t ’90s Alternative in the way that Heaps Of Nothing was, this is bleak and moody death-rock that plucks the petals off black roses faster than you can say “Bauhaus”. Very cool tune, it’s like what I wish Effi Briest sounded like. Same goes for “Reflections of Strangeness”, soaked in a Cocteau Twins bath and left to dry in Ian Curtis’ unmade bed. Both tracks just seem like a much more comfortable band than I was getting used to, settling into a very specific sound but throwing it down effortlessly. I’m not one to celebrate bands who “mature”, but this single is nearly enough to change my stance. Nicely done.
No Problem Paranoid Times 7″ (Handsome Dan)
No shirt, no shoes, No Problem! “Paranoid Times” is a pretty interesting song, in that it sounds like an exact Fucked Up replication, at least until the vocals come in, at which point it sounds like it could be something off Punk-O-Rama, right down to the Offspring-esque backing vocals (or maybe even Pennywise, but lets not go too crazy now). Cheesy, maybe, but I will always have a soft spot for obvious hardcore anthems like this. “Something To Say” is a fast/faster hardcore jam that sounds indebted to Paint It Black, and the two b-side cuts kind of mix the a-side’s styles together, working anthemic choruses and hardcore energy with a Cloak/Dagger or Naked Raygun vibe, like the band members are all hardcore kids who didn’t just want to re-interpret the first ten Revelation releases the rest of their lives and try their hand at “actual songs” instead. Definitely a pro-vibe to No Problem, especially notable the crystal clear recording (which suits them well), but it’s nice to see a band putting in effort and making it count. I am sure that at the very least, they’ve got a mighty local following, which warms my frozen heart.
Per Purpose Heil Progress 7″ (Bedroom Suck)
What amazes me about the many great Australian bands playing today is how little they all sound like each other. Take Per Progress, for instance: another anonymous group of Aussies with a very individual take on post-punk. The singer’s got a squeaky Mark E. Smith yelp, like one of the more jumpy tracks off Grotesque, and while that may not be too uncommon, it sure sounds refreshing when paired with the jagged stumble of Per Purpose’s rhythm section, whipping through six speedy cuts that sound like the earliest Mekons and Minutemen material poised in a tug-of-war (or at least what I imagined the Minutemen to sound like before the eventual disappointment of hearing them). Took me a moment to mentally unlock it, but this is pretty fantastic stuff, certainly the modern heirs to the Seems Twice 7″ EP, perhaps the greatest Doublethink release of all time (and that’ll be the last of my controversial opinions in this review). Maybe kind of a Wire vibe in Heil Progress too, in the way that the songs’ unpredictability never compromises their impact. A very easy record to flip, over and over again, and my Australian pick of the month, even among some other greats.
Royal Thunder Royal Thunder LP (Relapse)
My hopes weren’t high for Royal Thunder, based on the hastily slapped-together cover art (and you know I hate band logos in generic Microsoft fonts), but damn if their music wasn’t a pleasant surprise. Relapse Records is not usually a label one associates with musical restraint (I present Rumpelstiltskin Grinder and Agoraphobic Nosebleed as evidence), but Royal Thunder keep their guitars perfectly under control, crafting a nice and moody doom-rock album that falls somewhere between St. Vitus and Earth’s recent Americana obsession. It’s sad and gloomy rock, certainly in the proud tradition of Black Sabbath’s quieter material, and it could easily run in one ear and out the other if it wasn’t for the singer’s powerful bellow. She’s a born singer, and could probably front the next Evanescence if she wanted, but I’m glad she’s sticking with a group like Royal Thunder, whose slow-moving grooves are the perfect setting for her siren-like calls. It’s a simple concept, but I don’t know many other bands that sound like Royal Thunder right now, most of whom probably couldn’t pull it off this well anyway.
Sauna Youth Lists 7″ (Lost In Idea)
Sauna Youth quickly follow-up their debut 7″ with Lists, three more bouncy punk rock songs. They kick it off with “Bone Lawn”, a fun Reigning Sound-ish romp that has nothing to do with skeletons – this is poppy-punk with meat on its bones. “Delta Caps” is cool too, maybe a little Popular Shapes in the way the riff walks up and down the stairs. The final minute belongs to “Deal Castle”, not unlike Blood Visions without the coke. I get that Sauna Youth are a thoughtful, artsy band in the way they present themselves (this single comes in various “artist editions”, the lyrics are deep ruminations on who knows what, etc.), but they really just come across as a fun inclusive punk band, making for a good time no matter how deeply you decide to delve.
Spider Fever Whatcha Gonna Do? / Party Girl 7″ (Hozac)
Anyone else disappointed to determine this isn’t actually a new Spider single? What’s next for Hozac, a release by The Daily Void Express or Wizzard Sleeve Time? Dopey grumbling aside, Spider Fever ain’t half bad, as they dig right into “Whatcha Gonna Do?” with the dum-dum attitude of Time Flys manhandling a buzz-saw classic like “Slash Your Face”. I guess this happens when you get the only guy on Earth who’s played in both Hot Snakes and Clikatat Ikatowi to be your drummer. “Party Girl” is just as short, and actually much sweeter, like Angry Samoans when they get in that weird sentimental (read: nihilistic) mood. Not bad, but “Whatcha Gonna Do?” is the clear scorcher here. Both songs could’ve been pressed three times per side without any loss of fidelity, so it’s a pretty quick single that’ll have you running back to the turntable before you managed to change out of your work slacks and into your favorite velour house-pants. Oh well… whatcha gonna do?
The Steeples The Steeples 7″ (Lemon Session)
The most recent Lemon Session batch has been good to great, but this Steeples single is certainly the, umm, lemon of the bunch. The Steeples are the most hardcore-sounding Lemon Session band I’ve heard thus far, musically calling to mind some low-level mix of Reagan Youth and The Dwarves, with a lead vocal as gruff as it is anonymous. These three songs certainly don’t suck, it’s just that the demo-level recording quality saps any possible punch from the music; it would make for a nice tape to give to friends and relatives after a show, but this isn’t vinyl-quality music I’m hearing. Honestly, the more I listen, the more I dig the actual songs, I just wish I didn’t have to hear such low-impact versions of them. Get The Steeples in a studio and let’s see what happens.
Tin Man Perfume 2xLP (Salon)
Ooh, that smell! Tin Man has been mighty prolific as of late, on a creative binge that I am more than happy to witness. Surely his grandest album yet, Perfume takes his left-field synth-pop to its logical end, structuring dub techno into pop form with wonderful results. One of my favorite aspects of Tin Man was always the unintentional creepiness that permeates his music, unavoidable no matter how friendly or hopeful the music sounds. It’s like Steve Buscemi’s eyes, they’re always there staring at you no matter what character he’s playing. That creepiness is tempered a bit here, but no matter how much Tin Man just wants to shake your hand, you can’t help but notice his clammy palm. Perfume still has sad songs about Los Angeles (“Lost in LA”) and void-staring anomie, but it’s the waltz-y, synthetic bliss of “Burnt Sugar” and “Perfume” that steals the spotlight, as well as the frequent use of ballroom piano. The “Joy Orbison” moniker would suit him better than that other guy, no doubt. Ending on “Rockers Ravers”, Tin Man’s annunciation of the word “couture” has me hooked all over again, Perfume‘s final lingering scent.
Tropic Of Cancer The Sorrow Of Two Blooms 12″ (Blackest Ever Black)
If you think you’ve got blacker, think again, as Blackest Ever Black returns with their third installment, an intriguingly non-techno 12″ by the Los Angeles-based Tropic Of Cancer. Even without my glasses, I could tell from the cover that Tropic of Cancer are gothest ever goth, looking like an image Cold Cave would add to their Tumblr. The music fits the part too, although Tropic Of Cancer succeed in carving out their own specific sound. Each track starts with a simplistic, intuitive drum pattern, and then the keyboards lower like a black lace curtain, draping every inch of the room in hazy, delicate fabric. Vocals of the wordless-moan variety bring it on home, so soft and flowing that the unintelligible words are heard but not understood. The Sorrow Of Two Blooms isn’t going to knock you on your can, that’s not what it’s about, but it will suck you into its cocoon like a Labradford remix of The xx. The more I listen, the deeper I get, entranced by what is there, and intrigued by what Tropic Of Cancer have yet to share.
Xray Eyeballs Crystal 7″ (Hozac)
Pretty par-for-the-course single from Xray Eyeballs. I’ll give them credit for coming up with a name I can actually remember, but “Crystal” is what I’d imagine the sixth or seventh Wooden Shjips side-project would sound like, each splinter group offering diminishing returns, this being their take on “beach-pop”. The track makes it sound like my record player is off the proper speed, which is cool if I’m listening to Runzelstirn & Gurgelstøck or something, not rock n’ roll. “Broken Beds” picks up the pace, if running on essentially the same juice as “Crystal”, and “Kam Sing Nights” is its fraternal twin – same beat, different notes. I realize I seem kind of snotty talking about this record, and I don’t want to be that way, but listening to Crystal is just really not a fun experience. It’s like a really light form of punishment: not a physical beating, just a ten-minute detention keeping me from someplace better.
Folk And Pop Sounds Of Sumatra Vol. 1 compilation LP (Sublime Frequencies)
Believe it or not, this is my first experience with the music of Sumatra… I may not be the worldly traveler that others are when it comes to exotic music, but I’ll take any Sublime Frequency for a ride at least once. Who can deny the heavyweight, colorful gatefold sleeves they insist on using? I’ve assembled blinds, dusted shelves and drank hot tea to this record, and it’s accommodated each of those tasks nicely – the laser-speed guitar picking on “Borungku Si Derita” is hilariously soothing, the chimes of “Sitogol #1” relaxing, the “folk drama” of “Piso Somalim #1” emotionally stressful, and that’s just the first side. Seems like the transitions should be jarring, but it’s a surprisingly listenable record, not the type of thing you listen to because you’re studying for a test on it. Not sure how many volumes they’ve got in store, but I could easily take another two without feeling any fatigue.
116 & Rising compilation 3xLP & 2xCD (Hessle Audio)
116 & Rising offers more Hessle Audio than you could’ve ever possibly dreamed. Let’s start with the vinyl: spread over three 12″s, Hessle Audio comes correct with brand new material from many of my favorites: Joe, Untold, Blawan, Cosmin TRG, Addison Groove and Pearson Sound are all here, offering a pretty nice cross-section of the forward-thinking, uninhibited dance music that Hessle Audio is all about. Cool stuff, but it seems obvious that none of these guys offered up their A-game for 116 & Rising, a normal compilation predicament. There’s no real standout here, and besides Pangaea’s track that doesn’t sound like Pangaea at all, nothing left much of an impression either, which is a let down considering what the Hessle Audio crew is capable of. No one likes when someone brings leftovers to a pot luck. The second half, however, is a Hessle Audio retrospective of sorts, compiling some of the label’s best tracks thus far. It’s a great listen, I mean Blawan’s “Fram” and Pangaea’s “Why” will never not sound great, but if you’re already a fan of the label, you’ve probably already put together your own playlist of preferred cuts. A cool retrospective to put on your shelf, maybe, but 116 & Rising isn’t a necessity for fans of the label – just keep picking up their 12″s and we’ll all be happy.