Samuel Locke Ward/Toby Goodshank split 7″ Three short lo-fi tunes each from two anti-folk heroes. First, Sam’s trademark mix of soaring melodies with dark humor and violent revenge fantasies, accompanied here with violin and saxophone. Actually, it starts out with what seems like a really sweet song, at least at first, “Bliss Blue Skies,” but Sam usually doesn’t sing this sort of thing wthout a slightly exaggerated yet masterful air of sarcasm. “The Top” will definitely stick with you after spinning this record. The flip makes for quite a contrast: Toby Goodshank, who if you’re not familiar with the name came to prominence in The Moldy Peaches, brings a much gentler approach, I would even call it “chill.” The minimally-instrumented songs take you to lazy late-summer bonfire parties on the beach with your best buds, with just enough specks of dark weirdness to keep it relateable. The closer “Virgo Song” especially fits this description and is the laid-back high point of the record.

Dead Milkmen The King In Yellow The heralded return of the Dead Milkmen may not be an unmitigated triumph, at least not in my ears — Joe Jack Talcum’s output outside of this band in 2011 surpasses it in quality for me; it’s taken me a few listens to find what I really like in The King In Yellow — but there is something there.

Mostly, I think the album starts out awkwardly. The first track is a two-parter, beginning with the album’s title song, a surfy guitar instrumental in the vein of classic Dead Milkmen B-side “Vince Lombardi Service Center”, which then segues into a sort of rowdy black-humorous Irish folk number, specifically a cover of Raymond Calvert’s “The Ballad of William Bloat”. Next, in “Fauxhemia”, Rodney Anonymous muses about how he just doesn’t get Norah Jones. Is she still popular? Did he write this song in 2004? I kind of get what he’s expressing — he feels out of touch with his liberal middle-aged peers and their safe, wannabe-intellectual, bourgious Stuff White People Like interests — but the complaint seems nonetheless petty and a bit curmudgeonly, and is grafted incongruously onto a total non-sequitur of a chorus, a wacko rant about a “300-pound psychic baby,” an image that on its own feels rather Dead-Milkmen-by-the-numbers. “She’s Affected” comes off similarly petty — I think we can all point to someone we know that’s like the character he’s describing, but if there’s anything that’s become nearly as tiresome as pretentious twits, it’s people bitching about pretentious twits. In “Meaningless Upbeat Happy Song” Rodney throws a jab at child beauty pageants, disclaiming “yes, I know they’re an easy target.” Well actually, Rodney picks on a whole lot of easy targets on The King In Yellow.

But once you get to or past “Meaningless Upbeat”, which is track 4, the next several songs aren’t half bad. “Hangman” hilariously envisions the traditional kids’ game brought to life as a game show where the contestants literally get hanged, with spooky theremin to boot. “13th Century Boy” is pretty clever and “Commodify Your Dissent” is dead on in its criticism of mass-media’s co-opting of dissidence. “Can’t Relax” is another damn fine Joe Jack tune. There are still a number of lyrical headscratchers and awkwardly dated references; in “Some Young Guy,” Joe Jack’s portrayal of a secretly depraved older man stalking a younger man for eventual murder, the protagonist tells us of his target, “he’s not a rocker, he’s not a mod.” Are there mods and rockers anymore? And if there are, is it realistic for this character to be concerned with them? It’s unclear whether or not “Solvents (For Home and Industry)” is intended with outrage at the chemical industry or just as a funny story or what.

If you’re hoping for another Big Lizard or even Beelzebubba, you might be a bit disappointed in The King In Yellow. None of it’s quite as funny or even just bizarre in the way you might expect from this venerable institution if you’re familiar mainly with their most revered work. You do, however, get the sensationalized portrayals of society in decline and references chosen for shock value tossed loosely about. Loyal fans won’t find anything to turn them off. The King In Yellow aims for a balance of the social commentary the Dead Milkmen tried for in their Hollywood Records period and their distinctive skewed Weekly World News-infected worldview and sense of humor, and doesn’t miss the mark by quite as far as they have at times in the past.

Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats Blood Lust “I was born a wicked man, no hopes or dreams / I get my kicks from torturing and screams,” explains the harmonzed falsetto, half-buried in the mix, that will lead us through Blood Lust, at its entrance in opening track “I’ll Cut You Down” (following an ambient intro featuring, seemingly apropos of nothing, a TV switching channels). Thus is introduced the album’s central concept, a diaristic account of the doings of a serial killer who imprisons and tortures his exclusively female victims, this story delivered to a heavy retro acid-rock musical setting. This album made a bit of a splash in doom/stoner/retro metal circles in 2011 after coming literally out of nowhere, specifically, a backwoods England sort of nowhere, leaving the band and associates scrambling to fill unexpected demand from the small pressing. It was recorded on an old tape machine in a crumbling old barn and it sounds that way, all blown-out and in the red. In digital format this lends the charm of a scratchy old record played on your old turntable, but I have to wonder whether it’s even listenable on vinyl for people with less than high-end gear. At a few points the songs feel a bit samey, relying heavily on that swingy acid-blues rhythm, so that it can be hard to remember just which track some of its many memorable hooks actually came from, but those hooks are definitely there and will find you at later moments. Everything grooves hard and feature some seriously badass guitar riffs and leads and several very tasteful uses of keyboards. It’s not hard to see why this made a few year-end lists.

Admiral Browning Battle Stations Uh-oh, instrumental prog-metal jams with fusiony jazz inflections. But Admiral Browning emphasize texture, mood, melody, and badass riffs rather than wankery, yet the agile playing still impresses. This jams hard, has a lot going for it, and pretty cool cover design too. Very cool.

Captain Three Leg Monkey and the Blue Jay EP One of C3L’s many interesting diversions from grindcore. The homebrew recording M.O. of Andy Koettel and crew, and the rawness of some of the musicianship involved, gives these diversions a charming amateurism that’s an enjoyable quality in this set of three goofy ramblin’ blues-rock tunes. Probably not essential, but good fun, and fuck it, it’s free.

Pennyhawk Another Layer By now this release is rendered obsolete by the recently released Sisterbones which includes at least some, if not all, of these songs (possibly same recordings even). This material definitely deserved a slicker presentation when these CD-Rs surfaced because Kate Kennedy’s folkishly inclined songs and wisecracking lyrics are more than good enough to keep up with the Ames boys she’s usually found in proximity to.

The one time I met Twelve Canons main-man Jim DuRocher in person, I was in Iowa City to play trumpet as part of a dozen-piece all-star lineup backing up Samuel Locke-Ward for a set for the 2008 Mission Creek Festival. The lineup included Rachel Feldmann (Lipstick Homicide) on double bass, Ross Meyer (Rusty Buckets) and Grace Locke-Ward on drums, Alex Body on keyboards, sax-man Pete Balistrieri, Brian Boelman on trombone, and some other folks I hardly know, plus Sam of course, and Jim, who played one of those long-necked banjos that looks like it’s supposed to have a dancing skeleton playing it. We’d had a couple rehersals before that but I didn’t recall seeing Jim at those. As we drove ’round to Jim’s apartment to pick him up, Sam kept telling me, “you’ve got to get some stuff from Jim’s band Twelve Canons, it is awesome.” And indeed they ended up hooking me up with copies of the Volume One/Volume Two and Volume Three: Holy, Holy, Holy CD-Rs. Back at Sam’s place a bunch of us pitched in cutting out and assembling CD-R covers for Sam’s merch. Jim found a bottle of whiskey in a cupboard and invited me to join him in a drink or three. We probably polished off the bottle, and got to chatting. I got hyper-drunk-mouth and ended up later outside the gig trying to convince Jim that he had formerly lived in Cedar Falls because I thought he looked really familiar. He didn’t recall having lived there, and in fact he probably never did, but I think I had him wondering. Anyway, it’s a good memory, I really liked the guy and really liked the Twelve Canons stuff once I got back home and gave it a listen. I ended up keeping up on Twelve Canons, a project established for the purpose of making “evil, evil folk music,” via the internet.

Jim DuRocher’s creaky vocals and nimble fingerpicked banjo or nylon-string classical guitar, perfectly suit the creepy themes of his lyrics. Twelve Canons songs conjure a dark, disturbing, haunted world and then pull you into it. One would be justified in being concerned about what’s inside Jim’s head. I had caught rumors here and there that he tended to drink over-much and moved from one living arrangement to another as he got thrown out of them, but when I heard a couple years later that he was in a mental institution, I actually wondered for a moment to what degree it might have been a bit of either artistic stunt or method-acting on his part. A video surfaced on YouTube of Jim performing his scary songs solo for an audience of his co-residents at the facility he was in, who are hidden in the video by large black rectangles at the bottom of the frame. “This song is about my favorite hallucination, the DT’s,” he introduces one paticular number. It’s a great document of his live performing style.

The man does have real issues, though they mainly have to do with the intense hold alcohol has on him. He has since moved among a few different facilities in Iowa, but this hasn’t stopped him from making another album with the help of an old friend from Des Moines, Justin Norman. (I didn’t even know Jim was originally from Des Moines until I read the recent Cityview article.) That album, Volume Four: Sacrifice is the first Twelve Canons release to sport a pressed disc and a glossy full-color cover.

The difference in format and packaging is matched in production. Where Volume One/Volume Two and Volume Three: Holy, Holy, Holy sounded clean but homemade, probably recorded live in somebody’s living room with Jim, Sam Gold on violin, Alex Body on keyboards and the occasional saxophone or recorder, and possibly one or two others seemingly all gathered ’round the microphones playing and singing together, Sacrifice places Jim and his guitar in front of lush, impressively detailed, but nonetheless entirely computer-constructed orchestra-in-a-box arrangements by Norman, who besides composition and sequencing is credited with bass guitar and some vocals. This has to be at least in part by necessity, as Jim can’t very well invite a group of buddies over to the institution for a jam session.

It’s quite impressive what Norman is able to do with sequencing — you hear pianos, strings, woodwinds, organs, harpsichords, bells, various sound effects and bits of percussion, all rendered realistically enough to be comparable to what admittedly little I’ve heard of Chad O’Neal’s Left Is West stuff, adding drama at almost every conceivable moment with dynamic swells, though occasionally Norman has enough sense to just let Jim and his guitar speak for themselves for a few seconds. Still the production values are a bit of a double-edged sword: the professional recording quality reveals the striking beauty of Jim’s guitar playing, but in comparison to the grittier early works, the perfect cinemascope sound and “performance” of the arrangements can come off a bit Tim Burton, especially on “High Ho”, a song about murderous hallucinatory gnomes coming after children.

It could be the clearer recording of Jim’s voice lifting a veil of mystery over the lyrics, it could be trying to compensate for the gloss, but it seems as if Jim is going for a bit less subtlety in these songs. Heck, the first line out of his mouth on the album is “let me kill you.” About as blunt and to the point as it gets. This amplifies the disturbing factor of the songs to an almost painful extent by refusing to shroud their meaning in too much abstraction, especially when it comes to the kinds of themes explored in the lecherous depravity of “Goddess Of Love”, the kidnapping tale “No Getting Out”, and especially “Daddy Longlegs”, wherein the protagonist extols the love of an incestuous father who apparently is the Devil himself. “When the Spirits Leave Me” addresses Jim’s alcoholism directly and is probably (hopefully?) the most personal song on the album, and a surprising but welcome moment of tenderness is found in the form of the two-part “The Spirit of Pregnancy and You In the Nude.”

Justin Norman marshals swirling sounds and voices into playing the part of the darkness that encroaches and closes in through the final trio of songs, beginning with a look back at better times in “Those Were the Days”, and by the end of “I Guess It’s True What They Say”, all hope is gone, crushed. In reality though, the album shows quite a lot of hope for Jim, since the fact that it exists at all is testament to his unwillingness to let his circumstances get him down or stop him from doing what he is driven to do, which is to create some of the darkest songs ever conceived. With some of his most harrowing writing yet given the most realized and accessible treatment his work has ever had in recorded form, Volume Four: Sacrifice has high hopes of drawing as many curious new visitors as possible into Jim DuRocher’s dark world.

I’ve had the pleasure on many occasions to work with and hear the work of Ron from (o)+hers, from his early gothic Girl Talk v. euro drag style of remix to his more recent horror drone compositions of original material.  (o)+hers is a project that is constantly changing and re-arranging itself to fit whatever situation it finds itself in.

His most recent composition to be released is some of the most unrelenting horror drone this side of Coil.  A swirling nightmare that you cannot get out of.  Currently out on Workerbee Records.

What first drew me to Kristan Day’s album Magicians was the cover, like a grainy still from a half remembered dream. The music inside is gauzy and fluid, and possibly the most compelling drone music that I’ve heard in years.

Buy it for only a dollar!

Bryan Day posted a Facebook note a few days back declaring some releases coming in May on his Public Eyesore and Eh? labels, and suddenly I realized I already had one of them — the Recoupements CD-R by someone called Un Nu. Apparently Bryan had sent it to me before it was actually ‘released’, maybe in hopes I’d write something about it, who knows? I remembered listening to it once and it being a nice companion to the Chefkirk We Must Leave The Warren CD-R I had actually ordered that it arrived with. I decided to give it a couple more spins.

What we’ve got here is a single 52-minute track of live-in-the-studio improvisation, consistent with the overall Eh? aesthetic of artistic anti-music in simple packaging. The sleeve lists two performers, Pascal Battus on guitar pickups and Benjamin Duboc on double bass. I don’t have any idea what Mr. Battus is doing to those guitar pickups, let alone have I ever before heard of guitar pickups by themselves used as an instrument, but there’s long stretches of this where I don’t hear any sounds I could identify as any known instrument, let alone a double bass, even factoring out the passages where that instrument is used in a percussive capacity. In fact, for the first minute or so about all that can be heard is some faint crackling.

In fact, there are a lot of very quiet parts, so perhaps a sort of minimalist bent to what Un Nu are doing here. At times I hear tinkery percussive sounds like some kind of metal tools, as if I’ve just wandered into someone’s workshop where they’re quietly hard at work on something. Other times there’s a a soothing backdrop of some kind of very quiet feedback-like sounds, and just as it’s beginning to get lulling, a loud electrified POP or THUNK jumps out and startles me, I can almost see sparks flying from some piece of electrical equipment. This is just one way the performers take maximum advantage of volume contrasts, and they dramatically shift the mood several times during this piece even as they seem to be building with a pretty tight set of micro-motifs. There are some intense periods of drony bowing from the bass that get pretty rocking. At around 24 minutes in there’s a whole part that sounds like a motorcycle gang taking off; by the 30 minute mark it’s gone silent but for the faint noise floor of an amplifier.

It takes a certain talent to pull off doing this kind of atonal improvisation and be able to keep it engaging for almost an hour. Adventurous ears will have a ball with this, but of course if you’re familiar with Public Eyesore and Eh? you probably already figured as much. And if you’re not, this is a fine place to get introduced.

Available at Public Eyesore

EDIT: By the way, this year Public Eyesore becomes 15 years old!

Announcing the newest tape on Centipede Farm, “Budapest/Chicago” by mascara. This has been generating considerable excitement, and for good reason. Sara calls it “a sweet noise narrative which takes the listener on a non linear journey, a tale of living in two places: flashbacks to Budapest and premonitions of Chicago.” I’d describe it as twelve uplifting mixtures of sound celebrating adventure to match their own adventurousness. Some tracks remind me of standing on a street corner hearing different music playing from various radios in shops and passing cars mixing together with a nearby construction site. Other times a groove formed from a looped rock sample takes me to Neu-land. Sometimes the city, sometimes the highway, harsh here, gentle there, always playful. Paypal me four bucks and one of the 50 copies will be yours. Or if you’re in New York, I hear tell you can catch mascara performing live somewhere tomorrow night and buy one direct from the arteest.

While you’re at it, swing by the catalog page because there might be something else there you want. For example, if your tastes (also?) extend to the darker/harsher end of things, we’ve still got a few copies of Molting’s excellent “Insanity” tape. Noise on!

By which I really just mean Ames’s Matt Dake, he whom is also You Are Home, a drummer in The Jerkles, and former drummer of Longshadowmen, among his many activities. This new digital single from You Are Home just popped up the other day, a greatly enjoyable trancey, grooving, high-energy, polyrhythmic, eight minutes. Check out that gnarly Yes-y bass tone, too!

Matt reports to be be hard at work on the next YAH full-length too. In the meantime, he has other cool things up his sleeve, as he, Bryon Dudley, Tom Russell, are Stratum — a kind of supergroup, really — and have just debuted with this EP of very cool shamanic percussion-and-drone, reminding me of perhaps a more technical Big Drum In The Sky Religion, or Battles floating in outer space. I’m drawing the Thou Art connection just on the assumption that Matt probably recorded it, but I don’t know this for sure.

UPDATE: Matt informs us the Stratum EP was collaboratively recorded at Byron’s studio The Spacement, and there are definite plans for more recordings and live shows (yes!)

It’s out there. The Distant Trains/Consistency Nature split tape celebrating the one-year anniversary of Lava Church.

Each of these gorgeous tapes comes with 2 trading cards, one of Distant Trains and one of Consistency Nature. The Distant Trains side of the tape is mostly rhythmic, beginning with the floaty, trippy “Underwater Ghost Choir”, a track you may have caught on my Soundcloud once upon a time, followed by a track made from twisted-up and looped sounds from one of the pieces on the forthcoming Explortation and finally a two-parter of straight-up jamming 4-track rock. Consistency Nature’s side is a single dissonant yet soothing and philosophical ambient noise/samples/electronics piece called “So The Dead Do Move” that really takes you along on a trip. Very cool stuff that both fits together and contrasts with the Distant Trains side.

Only 21 of this thing exist in the world, and I now have three in my possession; I might save one for myself, and then either give or trade the other two to extra special people, who exactly those might be I haven’t figured out yet, or try to sell them locally. Not sure. If you want one though, I’d first suggest getting it from the Lava Church store and investigating some of their other fine musical wares while you’re there. Have a sampling of their sounds below:

A little over a month ago I trekked up to Minneapolis for the Minneapolis Noisefest 2012, having heard about it via the Blogspot site of the Darker Days Ahead label, which itself I’d heard of by way of its having released a recent Marax CD-R House Of Malice (much recommended, by the way). Just before leaving I tried to nail down just where to find the venue, and found various confusing conflicting information, but eventually, thinking I had it figured out, I set off. Midway through the drive I received an email from Cory of Darker Days Ahead giving me directions to somewhere completely different than I’d intended to head for. An attempt to bring this new information up on my phone’s navigation app crashed the phone beyond any usability, apparently sending it into an endless loop of rebooting itself. I resolved to hit up one of Iowa’s fine rest stops, since we have wi-fi at those things, and try and work out directions on my iPad from that, but I missed the last rest stop in Iowa along the route and had to stop at one in Minnesota instead, where they don’t have this particular modern convenience. The whole rest stop annoyed me. Even the doors seemed to open from the wrong side. I had to call home from the pay phone in the cavernously echoing lobby occupied by a family loudly shouting at each other, to get Leah to read me off directions from Google.

The directions didn’t even go to the actual location where the show was going down, but rather to a cafe about a block away that it was supposed to be “across the tracks” from. I found the place, apparently an underground DIY sort of spot, which in retrospect makes perfect sense. The grubby, disheveled building looked like it may have formerly been a gas station with a service department in back, and was located on a dead end street directly behind a Metro Transit train station. I’m not sure if it even technically has an address. I arrived around 7, the time I had heard the show was to start, and found the place quiet and locked up, the only person around being one of the scheduled performers (Skin Horse, as it would turn out), leaning against his car with his gear piled up in the back seat, also wondering what was going on.

Eventually someone opened up the gate to the yard and the overhead door at the back of the building and more people started gradually filtering in over the next couple hours, including one whom I recognized as Emil from Cock ESP. I wandered around trying to amuse myself among strangers, making microcassette recordings of the trains. I found it amusing that the trains sound an recording of a tram bell. I wondered aloud to a couple of people as to whether perhaps they had initially used an electronic beep but then some manager decided that it didn’t have enough “soul” and asked for something more “vintage” sounding. The joke was lost. After a couple hours some people showed up with a PA and a shopping cart full of beer. Then there was a long period of setup and sound-checking.

It was at least 10, possibly later, when the show got going. The delay concerned me since there were so many names on the bill, though I had already figured on each of them playing for somewhere in the 10 to 15 minute range, but then again, it didn’t really matter: there was really no “closing time” and no neighbors to complain. The decaying industrial vibe of the building and general old-school punk way that the show operated gave a really cool vibe to the whole experience; I felt as if I had might have just been transported to the early 1980s industrial scene.

Most of the acts were one-man power electronics units getting harsh drones out of a table full of pedals and maybe a mixer or some object with a contact mic attached, with some intermittent hardcore-style vocals. Beyond those common elements however, each had their own distinct approach and sound.

A few artists utilized equipment or methods of particular interest. Cyrus Pireh’s setup involved two guitar amplifiers, one with a cruddy old guitar feeding back through it, while he manipulated the dials, controls, and patch cables of an honest-to-goodness old hearing test tone generating machine set up on top of the amps. I certainly don’t remember hearing sounds like those when I got hearing tests in school as a kid, but maybe he had the thing circuit-bent or something. The ending of his set took on a performance-art aspect as he repeatedly asked a member of the audience “what do you want to hear?” louder and more agitated each time.

Another of my favorites was Skin Horse, who stood onstage behind a kind of small workbench with an old boom box and a desk lamp and who knows what else on it, casually smoking and drinking beer in between angry shouts while coaxing some wonderfully dark mechanized sounds from his setup and generally having a tough “don’t fuck with this guy” vibe. I don’t know what sort of drum machine or whatever it was he had making those rhythmic pulses but it had a really great heavy thunk sound to it. At one point it seemed to be laying down a pretty straightforward industrial dance beat, but then with just a tweak he would knock the rhythm lopsided or speed it up to the point of a loud buzz.

There was a two-person group somewhere in the middle of the show, whose name I never caught and does not appear in the video set above, that employed a large gong, which may have been contact-miked, meshing a drone from the gong with some electronic stuff. The crowd seemed to really like the gong, coaxing them to give it one more good whack before tearing down after their set, and cheering when they obliged.

I also wandered the venue a bit and got into some interesting conversations with Emil, Cyrus, a guy running the merch table, some guys that were supposed to be part of Cock ESP that night, and a couple random show attendees. Everyone was super friendly and cool. I’ve been to very few live performances dedicated specifically to noise music in my lifetime, but if noisers are this friendly in general then I’m glad to be among them.

Upon viewing the above video set I did vaguely remember seeing at least some of Cory Schumacher’s set (he of Darker Days Ahead, though at the time I didn’t connect this) — at least I remember that shirt with the Process cross on it, but I was fading out pretty bad by that time from the combination of the unaccustomed late hour and the beers I had drank so I slunk off to my car for a nap. I awoke well after the show ended and made my way back home. All in all it was a great time, would do again.

So I’ve got a Distant Trains tape coming out soon, as soon as I can come up with a good cover design for it anyway, inspired by this trip and this show, titled Minnesota Is Uncivilized. It will be the first exclusively noise-oriented Distant Trains release, though if you’ve been following my various compilation and split release material of late you are probably aware of these ascendant tendencies. Oddly enough, this release leapfrogs Explortation, which has now been in-progress for several months. The cassette of Minnesota Is Uncivilized will be 90 minutes, in an edition of 12; side A will be two long droney noise pieces, and side B will be made up of microcassette recordings made at this very show, including excerpts of the performances themselves. Will post here when they’re done.

EDIT: The two guys with the gong were Swine Wave. A video of them was added to the set later.

Finally got some covers in the mail, which means I can now offer you one of my five remaining copies (of 50 total made) of this awesome two-tape, two-hour, eight-artist collection of noise awesomeness compiled by Igloo Martian himself. Excellent material all around by no less heavy hitters than The Man From Ultra, The Noisettes, Igloo Martian, Stirner, Zreen Toyz, Subversive Intentions, and Elizabeth Veldon… and yes, Distant Trains too, although I don’t know how on earth I deserved a spot alongside such badass noisers as these. Much recommended! See here for details.