Next Little Things is a monthly roundup of limited-run, mostly experimental vinyl/tape releases reviewed by Grant Purdum.
Import records … is there an entity more sacred to the seasoned collector of vinyl and cassettes? While you’re trying to answer that, I’m going to detail an NLT crisis I’ve been having: Whether it makes sense to lean heavily on import releases that will be excruciatingly expensive for readers in the US to track down.
After much reflection, I’ve decided imports are needed to steep this column in the varied flavors it deserves, and this month we’ve got more for you than usual. From a welcome vinyl reissue of Alan Jefferson’s Galactic Nightmare to less well-known offerings from the Fort Evil Fruit (Ireland), Discrepant (whose release schedule this year is unparalleled), Trilogy, and Cruel Nature labels, if you’re looking to travel the globe without leaving your computer chair, we’ve got your back.
And now, it’s 18 (reviews) and life to go …
Sightings – Amusers and Puzzlers LP [Dais]
They say it’s a lot easier to get noticed as an artist once you’re gone, or at least that if listeners feel they’re getting in on something that’s in a limited supply, they’ll be more likely to give it a chance in case they missed a monumental artistic achievement. Well, I’m here to say that, yes, if you missed Amusers and Puzzlers, you’ve muddled up your musical life quite a bit, but it’s not because Sightings are NO MORE. It’s because Sightings were SO MUCH MORE than just another extreme noise-rock band. From their days on Load Recs to their myriad micro-label projects (on eye-catching imprints like Brah, Fusetron, Psych-O-Path, Riot Season and Ache), the trio waded in the filthy waters few were willing to endure for more than a few minutes back when they started (of course, the extremes have widened since then), almost like a demented version of dark-jazzers Guapo. Amusers and Puzzlers might be their best work, a masterful balance of avant, jazz-kissed subtlety and brawn that never makes a false move over six longform tracks, employing repetition and space more than in the past and retaining the ability to shock and awe. Perhaps most entrancing of all, the bass lines consistently woo the ear with permutations that cycle into each other seamlessly. Welcome hints of malice, along with blushes of Shit & Shine, Wolf Eyes and others, waft along, but this is Sightings’ show to run, and they bow out of the rat race with dignity and grace. Until the much-hyped reunion tour opening for The Police materializes, that’ll have to do.
Ak’chamel the Giver of Illness – The Man Who Drank God CS [Field Hymns]
As if the band name Ak’chamel the Giver of Illness isn’t mystical-sounding enough, The Man Who Drank God takes the sacred route with even more vehemence, coming together more like a collection of cultish chants set to crude guitar and drums than a proper indie-rock/drone/ambient/[zzzzzzz] cassette. Or maybe the reverence matches that Phurpa LP on Ideological Organ years ago, albeit with a much more flexible palette to work from. Of course, several complete anomalies exist, such as “Nam Nogaw”, a woozy nugget whose drunken ranting makes NZ’s avant artist Samin Son sound like Mick Jagger, or “Tlaloc, Full of Sore”, a piano meditation, buttressed by a deep-pitched chorus of male voices, with little to do with the rest of The Man Who Drank God. But therein lies the mind-rub: It all changes from cut to cut. Ak’chamel worship at the feet of no genre and take detours where they please. The most reliable aspect of this tape is the production/fidelity, always kept at a strange, brown, buzzy, bass-y temperature. Quite a score, Ak’chamel the Giver of Illness providing one of the most interesting, quirky listening experiences I’ve had since, oh, maybe that Black Neck Band of the Common Loon record. Seek that out, but not before sinking your bicuspids into The Man Who Drank God.
Whirling Hall of Knives – P!!ggz CS [Fort Evil Fruit]
Those who followed Whirling Hall of Knives through their releases for the influential Trensmat label (not to mention Reverb Worship, Nute, etc.) might have a bit of recalibrating to do once they discover P!!ggz. I remembered them as a quasi-prog powerhouse; now they sound more like an energetic, incredibly ambitious, kraut-y electronic duo with a cosmic tint. But they never settle into a theme like a lot of the concept-minded digital warlords of the day. WHOK cycle through a wide range of emotions, starting off with blunt, skull-banging aggressiveness on the title track, moving into more scenic, beat-driven territory, then unplugging for some ambient synthery via “Endless Bucolica”. From there it’s anyone’s guess. “Faulterkammer” pops juicy bass bubbles on top of annoying high-end blips while “Clipd Scene/Blowback” worms its way onto a dance floor no humans have ever traversed for a sluggish bass-off. Tragically, my favorite track is lodged at the end. “Permafrost” equates to the Starship Enterprise tanking, its many alarms sounding as it descends to a fiery death for all involved. I guess saving the best for last is the sort of mind-fudge we can expect from Whirling Hall of Knives; don’t sign up for Pl!!ggz unless you’re ready for a fight.
Raising Holy Sparks – Trances of the Blast CS [Cruel Nature]
I went hunting for … well, I’m not quite sure, I guess a tape that wouldn’t conform to my expectations (what a concept!), and the fruits of my labor turned out to be this ripe new cassette from Raising Holy Sparks. It would be easy for me to point to the black-metal section of Side 1, which unfurls after about 15 minutes of strict drone, and call it a day because even this small flourish constitutes a mountain-in-the-molehill scene I tend to make my bed in (though I suppose Sujo have been doing the same thing for years). Yet that would only be telling part of the story. For example, that same track also contains a Chronic-style portamento saw wave synth, backed by a dead-or-dying refrain that sounds like 10 Calvin Johnsons singing into a voice recorder. Again: I could stop there and Trances of the Blast would still be considered ahead of the game, but there’s Side B to tangle with, and it’s a doozy, replete with more scrappy black metal, sadistic screaming, another more-than-healthy drone dose, and, to close out, field recordings of gentle water lapping up against a soft shore.
Our Love Will Destroy the World – Carnivorous Rainbows LP [Ba Da Bing]
Campbell Kneale stirs up such a uniquely pungent brew here it’s almost intimidating to listen to, so challenging, multi-faceted, and ever-changing it takes a few spins to put it all into context. Carnivorous Rainbows is sound-spaghetti; if you’ve ever heard someone try out the layering function on a Kaoscillator, this is kinda what that sounds like, only good. There used to be tons of LPs like this hitting the market every week, during the late-great Noise Boom, but nowadays things have calmed down (though John Wiese did record a great double-album this year, as NLT revealed a few months ago), and it’s nice to hear Kneale hitting it hard, still knee-deep in the experimental scene as if it doesn’t matter to him who’s listening or participating. His fiddling achieves a rare feat amid the muddled muck of Side B’s “Hades Iron Horizon”, wherein lunging, strangled tones give way to a precious, if somewhat tainted, sense of fragility and beauty. I could listen to this cut until the end of time, and I might have to, as it runs at 10 minutes plus, spiraling through space like a wayward comet waiting to make contact. Carnivorous Rainbows is a strong entry in a discography with few weak spots. Absorb its healing rays with aplomb.
Drawing Trees and Ant’lrd – Balanced Breakfast CS [Baro]
The title Balanced Breakfast is not just a moniker lazily thought up over Cheerios; it’s a concept that ties these 12 celestial cuts together, with Drawing Trees at the helm for the first eight tracks and And’lrd covering the final four. It seems these artists want to have breakfast with each listener, or at least provide accompaniment for such. DT, in his own right, has mastered the art of combining his six-string with unexpected sound sources, delivering a strange hybrid of solo guitar and ambient-drone in the process. True to concept, he also loops human snoring and other little hints into his extremely thin-skinned, delicate compositions. Ant’lrd is more of an arpeggio-ist and electronic pace-setter (at least when he’s not cradled in a crib of drone), settling in for long periods of repetition whose small accents make all the difference. His songs sparkle and shine, sure, but after hearing the many tricks up Drawing Trees’ sleeve, it’s a bit underwhelming by comparison. In any event, make sure you don’t skip the most important meal/record of your day.
Regal Degal – Not Now LP/CS [Terrible]
There’s something suspiciously sweet about Regal Degal, a taste that lingers on the tongue long after Not Now betrays its title and spins on your turntable. Maybe it’s those guitars, set to echo perpetually, still ringing in your ears. Maybe it’s the strangely sensual vocals, unafraid of sounding fey, to the point of pride. Or maybe it’s those quasi-shoegaze overtures framing Regal Degal as a more feathery, personal brand of dreampop. Yet another option: Perhaps the pizazz of those bright yellow banana-pants the singer wears in publicity photos seeped into the music somehow? Whatever the answer, Not Now will disarm you like a warm smile, so unpretentious yet on the money in every endeavor it undertakes. Regal Degal aren’t afraid to have personality, and lots of it, and that alone lends them an edge you can’t buy with expensive gear and backers; that they also know their history enough to not overtly rip anyone off is just short of miraculous. It could be argued Not Now gradually loses a bit of its momentum, tunes like “Girl with the Teeth” not sinking in as sharply as what preceded, but this is Regal Degal’s second album, and the future is wide open; that should be the point of focus.
Kink Gong – Tanzania LP [Discrepant]
Kink Gong represent a rarefied corner of the experimental music landscape, clipping and pasting their sampled ethnoise more gleefully with each intriguing release. Tanzania is their best yet, but it’s a challenge. It’s not easy, it’s not safe; it’s occasionally, and quite literally, difficult to listen to, and on top of that it’s flat-out batty, replete with constant changes and tweaked-out tinkering that reminds me more of an out-of-control IDM outfit than a renowned world music-affiliated entity. The flip side of this LP might be the sickest audio I’ve witnessed since that Pyramids record came out earlier this year; I can hardly believe my ears, and, what’s more, I can only imagine how many man-hours it took to bring Kink’s vision to fruition. It begins with patented KG voice loops, backed by chirping birds; as more join the chorus, it’s easy to assume you’re being pulled into a tried-and-true, post-Black Dice collage of loops and samples, but Tanzania turns out to be so very much more, from lush instrumentals of every stripe (flute and snare decorate a particularly tasty sequence) to bass that chugs like a lush. From the joyful singing of children to the cracked crevices formed by the banging of metal chains (just an assumption), there isn’t a single under-considered moment. Such a canny meshing of creativity and skill should be celebrated by more than the educated few.
German Army – Taushiro double 7-inch flexi [Weird Ear]
German Army, up to this point, haven’t been known to get cute with the packaging of their releases. No colored vinyl, no elaborate art packages, not even a 7-inch that this reviewer is aware of; that all changes with Taushiro, one of the most visually arresting releases of the year. Consisting of two double-sided 7-inch flexi discs, one red, one blue, Taushiro ushers German Army into the era of overblown packaging (as will a recent tape/photo package GeAr member Peter Kris is releasing through Spring Break Tapes; seek that out too) with vigor and, as should always be a requirement, matches its aesthetic ambition with creepily cogent tunes. While it’s ostensibly intended to reveal the process behind German Army compositions, Taushiro ultimately will serve as a slightly murkier, foggier side of the band for those who have been following along intently and wish for yet another window into their souls. When all is said and done, I think this record is as strong as any in the GeAr discography, tracks like “Quadrata”, “Roggeveen”, and “Bismillah” revealing that the tossed-off efforts of this enigmatic duo cut just as deeply as the proper ones. Taushiro won’t be the best place to climb aboard, but it’s a nice stop if you’re already on the inside looking out.
Chuck Johnson – Blood Moon Boulder LP [Scissortail]
What a relief to find this scenic slow ride at the end of a tall mountain of mostly chaotic releases! Chuck Johnson descends from a long lineage of solo guitar masters (John Fahey, Jack Rose, Ben Chasny, et al) and sidles up next to them comfortably while nodding to modern incarnations of the form like Plankton Wat. It’s a lonely world, and Blood Moon Boulder’s acoustic riffs cry out for companionship. Not other players, mind you, but someone to share the vibes with. And I feel it must be said: Of all the records/tapes/etc. I’ve reviewed in this column, Blood Moon Boulder, along with that Sandwitches record perhaps, is the most relatable when it comes to the average person. I’m not expecting to hear this blasting from 4X4s out in the Texas woods anytime soon, but if those yokels knew about Johnson, they’d probably be down with his work. I’m not a guitar whiz, so the techniques employed resemble Greek to me. However, it’s apparent what Johnson specializes in: molding a preciously maintained, sparse environment wherein every deviation, whether concerning picks/fingers/strings/pitch, can be accounted for. It’s ridiculously easy to lose an hour or so nodding off to Blood Moon Boulder, and a guest spot from Marielle Jakobsons on violin offers a nice respite from the solo-isms. Check out “Inversion Layer” for an especially solid ride, and don’t hop off until it comes to a complete stop.
Black Dirt Oak and Jantar – Presage LP [MIE]
Presage sounds remarkably fresh to these ears despite the fact that this brand of freewheeling quasi-jazz mulch has been around all along, waiting for us to hear it. But not so fast: There also exists a drone side of Black Dirt Oak & Jantar I didn’t expect to find tamped beneath the game drumbeats and fluent bass lines of album opener “Magic Hat”. “Fjordside” begins life as the sort of audio blob you’d find on any number of underground cassettes these days, the difference being that once the droooooone is ooooooover, you’ll find the trio’s excellent musicianship waiting for you on the other side in the form of a trippy little tune driven by percussive force. “Night from Four Martyrs” proves how flexible the trio are, picking up somewhat where Idea Fire Company left off on its Postcards LP a few years back. Gorgeous, and yet, if you listen to roughly the 10-minute mark, quite a bit of distorted rust has formed on its piano riff. By the time the fourth quadrant of the Presage dynamo reveals itself, I feel like anything is possible. “Pull Out That Poison Dart” proves just that, as Black Dirt Oak & Jantar gather around a desert campfire and sing about a brave old dying river over ominous bass guitar and minimal drums. We’ve all let a lot of great albums slip through our ears in the age of digital immediacy; don’t let this be one of them, friends.
Invisible Things – Time as One Axis LP [New Atlantis]
As much as I love the academic jazz-related artists on the New Atlantis label, it’s nice to hear them opting to release a record this joyous and freewheeling. Invisible Things stretch into several curious shapes over the course of Time as One Axis, bringing to mind disparate artists like Zac Nelson, Mick Barr/Ocrilim, and Tera Melos. The sense of abandon is almost unnerving at times, yet it’s too tempting; you’ll be joining in the fun before long even if you’ve long sworn off melodic singing over classic Zach Hill-style percussive volleys. The guitars swoop then soar while the drums, whether on more of a traditional Shellac jag or doing the loose free-jazz thing, define in vivid colors what could have turned into a mushy mud-stomp. Me? I just like to hear Mark Shippy (of US Maple, a huge deal) and Jim Sykes (of Parts & Labor) play house, making every room their own until they’re comfortable and settled, then blowing it up again and starting over. The last track, “Nouxalliance Consortiant”, even rings, just a bit, of Gas Huffer. You’ll dig it too if you read this column in the first place, so scrawl Time as One Axis onto your audio bucket list immediately, so I can get some sleep.