For Ben Bennett, any implement is fair game if it makes a sound, but especially if it’s cheap, homemade, broken, or just generally not something you’d find sold in a music store. For the second half of track 6 on Wiperwill, “How to Make an Important Decision”, the main sound seems to be of a chair being dragged around the floor; “I Was Sleeping On Top of Pine Trees, A Giant Pack of Wolves Knocked Over My Bed” sounds like a close-miked recording of Ben’s own heartbeat and breathing. In a performance video that the Vaudeville Mews used on their web site for the February 26 show, Ben plays from inside a cardboard appliance box, eliciting sounds from the box itself. Drum heads not attached to drums, pots and pans, cans, various bits of metal, wood, and rubber, and droning atonal homemade wind instruments (played with circular breathing?) are the main sources of sound used in his work, such that at his more rhythmic, percussive moments he might just as easily be a street musician as someone you’d find performing in art galleries. A blurring of the boundaries between primitivism and art may actually be part of the point, and Ben isn’t messing around. The titles of the tracks on Wiperwill suggest having been made up post facto, but track 9 is called “It’s Not Just Willy-Nilly”, and then there’s the bio I read that actually opens with the phrase “Ben Bennett is a totally legit musician” — perhaps meant to make you wonder why one might feel the need to clarify that point right off the bat.

Any way you look at it, however, Ben is fascinating to watch or hear. He evidently started out as a drummer and/or percussionist and started getting more experimental ideas, about stripping down his instrumentation to its most basic elements of things that vibrate, about the essence of sound itself and the physicalities of its production. He makes use of the acoustics of whatever room he’s placed in, even moving about the venue in search of the best spot for his sound waves to reverberate against each other. Wiperwill consists of unaltered live acoustical recordings of short pieces ranging from blasts of driving, clattering percussion rhythms some might describe as “tribal”, to drones that sometimes sound like a time-stretched honking of a goose. It is impossible to let this music fade into the background — it is bracing, demands your attention, and positively begs to be played out in the open room on some good speakers, where it is likely to make your neighbors wonder what the hell is going on at your place.

Some months ago hanging around the Contact Group on Facebook I realized I’d seen the phrase “no-input mixer” a few times but had no idea what it meant. So I decided to do some research and a’googling I did go. What I found out is that it is a technique that uses a mixing board as a musical instrument by connecting outputs back into inputs, creating a feedback loop, and manipulating the feedback tones either with the mixer’s own controls or through effects within the loop. Among its pioneers are Toshimaru Nakamura and Merzbow, and it’s become a popular technique in experimental music. I realized I had a mixing board just sitting around in a closet that I wasn’t doing anything with, a beat-up Equinox ACM-1262 that somehow fell into my possession in the waning days of No Consensus. So I had to give this a try.

I posted on the Contact Group about it and soon Eric Crowe (he of Marax and Muchausen Sound) was proposing a no-input compilation, then taking submissions. And so it is that today (a little late perhaps) I am pleased to introduce the latest compilation for Distant Trains to end up on, To Gain Is To FX Send. Approaches to and interpretations of the no-input concept vary on it. Check it out:

I also did a live performance on no-input mixer recently at Vaudeville Mews, opening for Ben Bennett, on a Sunday night when Reverend Horton Heat was playing elsewhere in town. Chances are, you weren’t at the Mews for that show; almost nobody was. But I did record it:

I also managed to get Office Park to come down for the show, and recorded them as well, you’ll find that on my Soundcloud page also.

Getting a board recording of Ben Bennett was pretty hopeless, since his thing is pretty much acoustic percussion and he moves around the room too much while he plays to keep microphones on him. Didn’t matter; working with the acoustics of the environment, letting the waves mesh and interplay, is a big part of his sound and thankfully the Mews is a live enough room to do it in, especially once he had completed relocating his assemblage of frame drums, homemade wind instruments, odd bits of metal, a snare drum and an old bugle, from the stage to the audience area, while simultaneously playing on them. I did get a microcassette recording but I intend to get his blessing before doing anything with it.

Also here’s a recent collaborative album by Andrew Chadwick a.k.a. Ironing and Roger H. Smith a.k.a. Chefkirk, who someone on the Contact Group called “the Hendrix of the no-input mixer.” You can see that Chefkirk favors jagged ultra-high tones whereas I (currently at least) tend to go for long, slow, low sounds and use more effects.

And here’s a Chefkirk album available from Public Eyesore, the label run by Bryan Day, the instrument-inventor who is in Office Park and Seeded Plain and this and that.

EDIT 3/15: Here’s that microcassette recording of Ben:

And just because I might as well, here’s Office Park’s set from that night:

These won’t be up forever, I’ll probably take them down when I need more space on my Soundcloud account and am sure that they have downloaded copies for themselves if they want them.

The Earwigs/Gorgonized Dorks **Alien Noize Attack split CD-R** Two legends of noise each put in a track of 19 minutes and change; The Earwigs, whom I’m glad to be finally mentioning on this blog for the first time, give us a live recording from ’05. It sounds like it was recorded on a boombox, in the best way that that can sound. BCA and his cohort for this gig unleashed a storm of distorted feedback, electronic drums, and incoherent proclamations that sound like they’re being shouted into microphones run through guitar amps. A blast of fun of that very distinctly Earwigs flavor. Gorgonized Dorks serve up “Nibiru Pirate Radio”, a piece of electronic tabletop gadget noise sounding like apocalyptic alien invasion destruction with sirens wailing and alarms going off and shit blowing up, and then, gradually becoming clearer, a sample of “I said ‘fuck you’ loud and clear!” Available from Smell The Stench [warning: nsfw site design] or just find BCA online somewhere like Facebook or his email bizzarrealien at yahoo.com.

Orthodox Baal I really like Orthodox (remind me to order more of their records soon). And hearing that, detractors might respond, “yeah, Orthodox is that kind of band you would really like, you chin-strokey weirdo.” Though ostensibly presented as a doom metal band, the Spanish trio’s incorporation of roiling volcanic avant-jazz, improvisation, and themes from the religious folklore of southern Spain, along with their propensity for such out-of-nowhere moves as the 2009 Sentencia album wherein they eschewed not only amplification, but for most of it guitars as well (its centerpiece track, the 26-minute “Ascension,” is arranged for vocal, drums, upright bass, piano, and clarinet, and is no less “doomy” for it!), could be seen as pretentious and outré enough to hinder their endearment to less nerdishly-inclined metalheads. Plus there’s the way Marco Serrato Gallardo runs all, and I mean all, of his vocals through that weird gurgly chorus effect, and that whole thing about performing in black monks’ robes. Revisiting the Orthodox catalog, however, Baal turns out to be their most straightforward album of doomed, slow, fuzzed-out psychedelic metal so far, while still remaining true to many of Orthodox’s, shall we say, unorthodox, approaches, making the album especially accessible and recommendable to the curious, not to mention quite possibly their best to date. Baal opens with one of their spaced-out jazzy flights, “Alto Padre”, which turns out to be a reworking of “YHVH”, the B-side from their excellent 2010 Matse Avatar 7″. But from there it’s mostly doomed riffage easily appreciated by fans of classic Black Sabbath or Sleep — at least that’s what forms the foundations of these songs, all of which are packed with engaging twists and changes; some of the more far-out elements such as Borja Diaz Vera’s jazzy, around-the-beat drumming, are still present, but are very well incorporated into the fabric of what amount to just really cool songs, not just weird pieces. There is also an especially high energy level, with Gallardo’s vocal performance working up to a frothing scream well beyond his usual deadpan on “Taurus”, and some especially furious guitar solos by Ricardo Jimenez Gómez all over the place. Plus, wah bass! Orthodox is really tearing the roof off through the mid section of Baal. The final track “Ábrase la Tierra” works a Yob-ish trudge, includes an organ, and gradually disintegrates, free-jazz style (Art Ensemble Of Chicago often comes to mind for me when they pull this trick) into a noise jam that feels somehow not so much self-indulgent as such noise jams normally do, but instead, totally of a piece with the song’s intentions. Baal gets better every time I listen to it.

Mummifier Advanced Mummification Procedure This long-awaited release from this Ottumwa-based death metal outfit featuring Andy of Captain 3 Leg and The Mighty Accelerator and several other dudes with whom I’m passingly acquainted, recorded in the spring of 2010, finally saw release in 2011 well after the band itself was done for, with Grindcore Karaoke helping out online and Hurts To Hear doing the limited 100-copy run on purple cassette tapes. It’s a furious blast of heavy themed around mummies and Egypt, sporting a wacked sense of black humor and several theremin solos. I’m really a bit bummed that I didn’t get out to see these guys live when they were still at it — they played Des Moines at least a couple times shortly after I moved here and I’d have probably gone if I’d had any idea that Andy was involved. If you’re in Des Moines, I believe ZZZ Records has some tape copies as well. Check it out.

J Mascis Several Shades Of Why Mascis is well known as a “maximum volume yields maximum results” kind of guy when it comes to Dinosaur Jr., where he makes the most of prodigious guitar firepower, in part through its contrast to his quiet demeanor and hermetic lyrical and vocal creak. Several Shades Of Why isn’t the first time he’s turned down and brought the focus on his songwriting, but it is the first time he’s done it in the studio with all new material. I get the feeling that if we were to be able to hear homemade bedroom demos of tunes J wrote for Dinosaur before bringing them to the full plugged-in band, they might not sound too far off from this, though the tracks on this album have obviously been more meticulously pored over, even bringing in some guest instrumentalists for extra color. A signature Mascis electric solo doesn’t show up until track 5 “Is It Done” but there’s plenty of very pretty fancy fingerwork on acoustic guitars all over the album, and more importantly, a wealth of great tunes delivered with striking intimacy and vulnerability. This probably got more spins at home on chill Sunday afternoons than anything else released in 2011.

The Disciplines Virgins Of Menace I gather that Ken Stringfellow gets his rock and roll kicks out with his Norwegian buddies in The Disciplines and this in some way accounts for the more pop-oriented leanings of his other activities of recent years including his contributions to The Posies’ Blood/Candy. Virgins Of Menace shows us that Smoking Kills was no one-off or fluke, if anything it rocks out even harder; and as there are precious few songwriters to match Ken’s wit and melodic cleverness apart from his Posies counterpart Jon Auer, hearing such raging guitar rock arrangements applied to his tunes makes for a great pleasure. Overall the album has enough attitude to make “Kill The Killjoy” stick out as an unusually pop moment, like a lost Posies tune that wandered into a Hives album, but it doesn’t hurt things any. “Everything Forever (Pig Wars)” momentarily serves up some down and dirty blues; the stylistic and titular reference point of “AD/HD” is almost too obvious but I have to say I’ve heard few impressions of classic AC/DC, instrumentally at least, to match its chorus. Raucous fun with brains and heart, Virgins Of Menace is a damn fine rock album and yet another fine chapter in Stringellow’s distinguished career.

Mumfords Eyes Another product of the incestuous and prolific Ames scene that fills out the full-band lineups of Christopher The Conquered and now also Pennyhawk, Mumfords (a name with unfortunate potential to be confused with a much more famous act, but with special meaning to the musicians involved that precludes changing it) is headed up by one of Ames’ biggest musical instigators, the trumpet-wielding Nate Logsdon. “Coffee and Whisky” makes for an odd opener, being a seven-minute country ballad built around the back story of a desperate and probably doomed road trip to Houston, and is similar to Mumfords’ awesome side of their split 7″ with Samuel Locke-Ward & The Boo-Hoos but with much less humor intended, in that it seems musically a bit repetitious, but really shines when you pay attention to the story-telling lyrics with all their meaningful details. Several of the songs that follow seem to be themed around a story of a couple guys who decide to go into the methamphetamine business, possibly filling in even more back-story to “Coffee and Whisky”. It’s an abrupt change of mood into the weirderiffic, celebratory, revivalesque “Two-Eye”, driven by saxophones and call-and-response shouts. From there Mumfords visit a variety of musical modes and moods. “The Mirror Me” references my hometown of Waterloo, Iowa, an apropos corner of America to figure prominently in this character’s life. The story of drunkenness and tweakedness spiraling out of control gets progressively more unhinged until a climactic disaster in “Cookin’ Day” and we next find our protagonist in a piano ballad “The Prisoners Need You Here”. A nice variety of instruments is employed throughout the album, sidestepping guitar-driven rock to make room for horns and the occasional piano, and Nate delivers his lines with just the right dose of over-the-top drama. Whether the final two tracks relate to the same storyline or not is unclear, but we get a rollicking story of a professor’s paranoia about being caught growing weed and an upbeat philosophical number. Nate has a gift for storytelling and his crew have a gift for realizing big band arrangements with big energy, and with its fascinating and sympathetic examination of low life, this is an impressive first full-length.

Heirs Hunter Last weekend I went to Startup Weekend Des Moines, which is this thing where you spend a weekend building some kind of new business or at least postential business, usually based around a web site or mobile app or some other bit of software. People often pull all-nighters at these things but I lack the ability to write working code without sleep. I did stay out there pretty late both Friday and Saturday nights, however, and it just so happened that this little 3-song EP was in my car CD player the whole weekend and formed a perfect soundtrack for driving home along I-235 at three in the morning. These tracks come off for me as mood-oriented post-rock instrumentals in the vein of Mogwai or Giants or certain moments of early Murder By Death, with a dose of gloom. “Hunter” works a slow, dark groove with the requisite big reverby night-sky guitar; a spooky, wordless operatic female vocal comes in for the louder parts, at some point a skittering TR-707 joins the rhythm section. “Symptom” builds around a low-tuned bassline that may have wandered in from some Godflesh track and a gothy synth line with lead guitars harmonizing off it. “Never Land”, which, go figure, is a Sisters Of Mercy cover, never wanders far from the feel it establishes at the outset of its twelve minutes and change; it’s not particularly melodic and lacks any big moments, going instead for a gradual buildup then ebb of the wash of sustained guitar and keyboards that’s anchored by steady drums and a characteristically Cure/Sisters Of Mercy sounding bass riff, the sum of which parts is pretty engaging in its own right.

So I get that this is the kind of stuff that is being called “HNW” (for “harsh noise wall”) online these days. Glad to have a term for it now. Molting caught my interest with a series of YouTube videos of various noise pieces with lengthy, gory titles. Especially memorable was one that was something to the effect of “amplified sounds of slugs dying from having salt poured on them” or something like that. What was great was, the track actually sounded like what I would imagine that sound to be. Anyway Eric of Marax apparently was also intrigued by what Moe was doing, which incidentally fits quite nicely alongside the harsher end of Marax‘s work, and following a split 3″, issued this Molting full-length CD-R on his Muchausen Sound label. As always, the track titles make interesting reading, but equally interesting is the range of textures within the general neighborhood of “blasting harsh distortion” that Molting explores here. This is dark, ugly harsh noise, built on overloaded circuits, feedback, and effects manipulations through a DIY methodology, in the classic vein of The Earwigs, Raised In Meat, Sonic Disorder, etc., but especially inhuman and brutal, influenced by the aesthetic of grindcore and gore. “Disheveled Planet” as an album has a unifying concept, with most tracks (except for perhaps the relatively whimsical “Makeshift Transistor CB Radio”) aiming at a sonic depiction of their titular images of  man-made environmental destruction. “Industrial Waste Devastation Of An Amphibial Habitat” might trick you into thinking it’s a hissy cassette recording but the tape-hiss-like sound turns out to be an integral instrument of the piece, underlying the feedback and distorted low destructive percussion sounds and the strangled vocal moans expressing the pain of the sickened and dying animals. “Human Waste Clogging The Bowels Of The Sewer” alternates a sludgy low-pitched noise with a higher one, with reverb that sounds like the inside of a sewer culvert, and finally a white-noise waterfall pouring from the drain into a stinking, polluted river. “Sounds Of The Apocalypic Void” leaves us off in a less assaultive mode, a deep, ominous ambient sound that cuts off abruptly. [get here]

Until a few months ago I’d been seeing House Of Bricks as one of those bar/venues in decline, you know the ones that seem to book mostly the same has-been/also-ran folks repeatedly. This is the place that seemed proud of the fact that Green Jello still played there, after all. It did have some things going for it, though. For one, they have pretty good food. When I first came to Des Moines I worked a couple blocks away and would occasionally go there for lunch when I was feeling the need for something a little bit coma-inducing to be washed down with a beer. Also, they did seem to manage to bring in some fairly current metal acts, though usually none of the sort I was interested in.

Of late, the place seems on a comeback. I began to take notice when I went there for the Red Fang show a few months back. Then recently the place started showing more and more evidence of a pretty major remodel, which seems to be oriented towards adding an upper level or perhaps rooftop patio. And, it turns out, Fetal Pig has had a few pretty good gigs there lately. We even got paid for most of them, which I guess hasn’t been the case for any gig Dan had done there in several years. This is, of course, a function of turnout, and a lot of things play into making that happen. Also the staff have been very cool and friendly, the sound system is quality, and the sound man, even though he consistently shows up late and appears pretty blasé about his work, obviously knows what he’s doing and always gets a really good sound. Some recent experiences there have been fun enough to make the atmosphere of certain recent Mews trips look downright depressing in comparison.

I was unsure of how the abrasive dirty slash-and-burn grind of Cop Bar would go over, which is probably why we, or somebody (I don’t know what degree of input Dan had) hedged the bet on the bill a little bit and got Love Songs For Lonely Monsters, an up and coming local band that’s well liked and joins melodic pop-punk songwriting to bracing textural guitar sounds and light prog touches. This made for a bill with a nice variety to it, and to my delight, everything was met with enthusiasm from a sizable and lively crowd of diverse ages and appearances.

Cop Bar had just freshly assembled (literally they were slipping them into covers and writing on the discs with Sharpies there in the venue before the show started) their newest release, a split 3″ CD-R with Captain 3 Leg. Each band plays six songs in a little over four and a half minutes per band, ending with a track consisting of all the other songs layered over each other, and each section receiving an introduction from Joe Jack Talcum announcing the next band over squirrely Casio music, and all wrapped up in cover art by Manhorse. C3L are up first with recordings rebuilt from newly unearthed drum tracks from an aborted circa-2000 recording session. They have noticeably more of a death metal influence in the riffs and guitar tone than do the crustier sounding Cop Bar, who here extend much the same thing as on No Justice Just Law except perhaps with even more incomprehensible vocals. It all goes by in a bit of a blur but it’s plenty worth the three bucks. For the show Sam wore some kind of plush Godzilla head and threw his microphone around and was an all-around madman. His performing style, plus the short songs and funny song titles, seemed to win the place over easily.

I don’t remember whether Fetal Pig played next or Love Songs For Lonely Monsters did. It was I think my third time seeing them and they’ve come along way from the first one which was at DG’s in Ames opening for We Are Country Mice (who I guess are just called Country Mice now) with Why Make Clocks in the middle. One thing about LS4LM is they have quite a lot of sound, what with the combination of Nick Park’s ‘gazey use of guitar effects (a prominent feature he also brings to Wolves In The Attic) and Justin Neuenschwander’s 12-string. Add to that that lead singer Amy Badger sometimes playes a third guitar or a flute and Justin sometimes throws down some keyboards, it’s not hard to imagine that their sound could get muddy if the room or PA or sound guy isn’t the best, but this show and the last that I saw of them (at Gas Lamp, a much smaller stage and room) they’ve managed to sound nice and clear, whereas at DG’s they seemed to be new and still getting the kinks worked out. Sam dug them too. They have a split cassette EP with Iowa City electronic pop trio Datagun out which is really good, especially if you like tape hiss. Or they did anyway; they might be sold out of them by now.

Cop Bar headed up the road to Ames where they played the following night at The Space. Opening the set was Human Satan, an improvisational duo made up of Nate Lodgson on trumpet, and a drummer. It seemed a tad self-indulgent and tossed-off but they only played for about fifteen minutes so whatever. I think I drank a beer in the parking lot. Cop Bar did a pretty similar show to what they’d done at House Of Bricks but to the smaller room and crowd who dug it just as much.

CM4KT, from DeKalb, IL, were new to me despite that apparently they’re part of the GetLoFi circuit-bending community that includes the Ring Toss Twins who were on that show Brian and Ember had me up to Decorah for. In the center was a combination drummer and player of colorful circuit-bent toys and gizmos set up on shelves above his kick drum. His ability to keep the beat going while manipulating the various dials and buttons in front of him between drum hits was quite impressive. The guitarist had some homebrew electronic modifications to his guitar along with some interesting pedals and toys he held up to the pickups. I’d say their appeal went beyond just the novelty of seeing them use weird gear, though, which is a refreshing thing to be able to say about this kind of act. The gadgets added a layer of interesting psychedelic noise and whimsy over a foundation of raw primitive blues-rock. They had a recording for sale that was available only as an audio-only VHS tape, I can’t imagine they’re managing to sell many of those. I think most peoples’ VCRs bit the dust years ago and it’s near impossible to buy a new one now. (3″ CD-Rs are bad enough, the only player/drive I have that will take them is on my wife’s computer.) Their other merch item was contact microphones made out of bottle caps, which they’re currently doing a tour of hackerspaces down south, giving workshops on how to build them.

Longshadowmen wrapped up the night with another Longshadowmen show. They’re remarkably consistent so far as I’ve seen this lineup. How to describe them? Raw electric blues played loud as fuck and dripping with off-the-grid paranoia over hypnotically repetitive chord progressions and Matt Dake’s avant-jazz drum flourishes. It was announced to be Matt’s last show on drums for them, though, as he has other projects he’s looking to devote more energy to. I’m curious what those are, The Jerkles do seem to be doing more gigs than usual lately.

Next Fetal Pig went to Ottumwa to play the Music Union Hall, a DIY venue in the upper floor of the Green Street Hall Mall, an old building in Ottumwa which the Bolingers and crew bought up to house various ventures such as the Flipside piercing shop and a cool horror movie shop called Insane’s Asylum. (I bought a used CD of Morbid Angel’s Altars Of Madness for five bucks.) They also host various sorts of events in this open upper floor area, many of them related to their International Video Game Hall Of Fame. These guys are a big piece of what’s making Ottumwa cool these days, besides all the musicians. This actually turned out to be one of our coolest shows in a while, cool enough for Jeff to declare “no more bars!” When we arrived there was some sort of video game fest going on and we met a guy who saw Fetal Pig in Iowa City circa ’94 and was really excited that the band was still around, then after load-in we met Andy and Sandy and Troy for some dinner.

Broken Point Of View came on first, they were all right if you like stuff like Shinedown as much as they do. Their guitars were all run direct to the PA through Pods or something. Not really my kind of thing but the place was nicely full and people were getting really into everything, dancing around and generally having a great time. Even Spooty, the proprietor, was in good spirits despite his considerable duties coordinating and overseeing and cleaning up. Early on during Broken Point Of View’s set I perchanced to wander the neighborhood a bit in search of a cash machine, and found live music happening in no less than two other places within a couple blocks of the show — one a nearby bar where some young fellows were covering some Skynrd, and the other an Eagles hall or something of that sort where through the wall from the sidewalk I could hear some good ole boys (and gals) doing old country-western classics. I’ve told you before that Ottumwa’s got it going on.

The Mighty Accelerator were on next and the party was in full swing. The guitar leads Andy has been obligated to take on since Travis moved away he pulled off, less flashy but much better than I’d expected given how worried about them he’d claimed to be. Fetal Pig played. North To The Future were less country and more hard rockin’ than they sound on the EP but recognizably the same great songs. A+ gig, would play there again.

Last weekend’s gig at Gabe’s in Iowa City definitely seemed to be promoted as a metal show. That seems to work all right for Fetal Pig, though. Still, if this was a metal show, it was of that metal fringe scene that I dig. Metal is catching on with post-hardcore “indie” rockers who can’t quite get down with the “chill” or hippie vibes of indie shit these days and always preferred the harder edge that “alternative” forms of guitar rock had in decades past, and it’s an interesting phenomenon for both good and ill. I get the impression that that’s kind of where we fit in, and also where this show was coming from, and the show was a winner all the way through.

Starting things off was 100° Centipede, no relation. This was their first show, and as I understand it the lead singer is a longtime well known and well liked figure around the Iowa City music scene, though this is his first crack at performing. He and his band were a boatload of metallic scuz-rock fun, though. For an idea where they’re coming from, they have a song about a certain Nick the Prick, a reference that will be caught by anyone who’s hung around Iowa City enough at certain times in the past 20 years or so.

Fetal Pig were scheduled second due to expectations that some of The Mighty Acceleratör would be arriving late, but it turned out that they made it on time after all. The crowd did thin a tad after our set but was still respectable (it was quite large to begin with, I think a lot of people in town were excited about 100° Centipede) and had lost nothing in enthusiasm. Acceleratör’s performance was a bit unusual among the sets I’ve seen so far by them, in that it was a bit looser, even a bit sloppy, and Joe played a much more raucous frontman than usual, getting out in front and engaging with the audience, something Dan and I had both been wishing he’d do a bit more of. Dan turned to me during the set and said he’d got the idea that they’re going for a bit of a Murder Junkies thing.

Los Voltage sounded pretty neat though I mainly hung out manning the merch during their set. Kind of an old-school hardcore punk sound with some exaggerated guitar delay effects. Loud. Cop Bar was maybe even a little more unhinged than what I’d seen before, perhaps for the hometown crowd; Andy characterized it afterwards as like an excellent spoof of grindcore, which, let’s face it, is pretty silly music, though that’s no reason not to enjoy it. It’s those grindcore bands most willing to laugh at themselves that he and I seem to like best anyway.

The other night we went to Ames to play at The Space and got to hang out with Nathan Thrailkill, who did all our awesome artwork for the record and was in town that night. It was a low-key show and maybe we were too loud for the tight little corner of the room we were set up in but nobody complained. Forget the Times, from Chicago, opened it up as a three-piece of two guitars and a drummer doing improvised noise rock that was in similar territory to early Wrong but with a bit more post-rock groove, though I thought I maybe detected a bit of Dead C inspiration in there too. A didgeridoo was employed at some point, apropos of nothing in particular. They jammed continuously for about 20 minutes and personally, I could have used another ten or twenty because I was enjoying it. One of the guitar players runs a label called Already Dead Tapes and they had a wide assortment of recorded material for sale on cassette, offering a special of three tapes for $10 so I got both Forget The Times tapes plus one of nice meditative synth drones by somebody named Kyle Landstra. Forget The Times have an LP out too but I’m still in process of scraping together cash for a working turntable on which to play the records I already have. Donations happily accepted. They have it up on their bandcamp though so maybe I’ll snag a download sometime.

I don’t like to toot my own horn as you can tell by the lack of details I’m providing about our sets at these shows, but the crowd response to us has been really positive and exciting when I’ve been able to process it. It feels weird being in a band people like this much for a change. I want to sincerely thank everyone who came out to these shows, especially the ones that made those cheering noises.

Recent interesting acquisitions: A 3″ CD-R called Under The Cloud of Sleep by someone calling themselves Du Hexen Hase. No contact info on the package. #45 of 47. One 17-minute spaced out improvised track of electronic washes and minimal guitar. Cover art is a photo of emu against an overcast sky. No idea when it came out. And some very cool Earwigs stuff I’ll jabber more about later.

Marax House Of Menace cover

Checking out the bandcamp stream of this new Marax joint on a Minneapolis noise label called Darker Days Ahead while checking out DDA’s website. Thinking maybe I’d like to work with this outfit when it comes time to release Explortation, the noise album I’m working on, if they’d have me. In any case I want to check out their zine and that compilation so I’m sure I could drop them a CD-R in the mail and see what thy think at least. Anyway this is yet another fine release from Marax, another feather in Mr. Crowe’s cap. Listen below:

Meanwhile, I recently looked through some of the songs I had mixed down on my computer and realized I had an album brewing there. There was this group of tracks that just fit together, not a noise album, apart from one track, but still a pretty interesting set of songs and instrumentals, and it would fit pretty nice on 45 minute cassette. So I’m hereby announcing the impending release of a new Distant Trains album called Teen Lust both online and on cassette in an edition of 25 (and maybe another 25 to follow if those run out and there’s demand), once I manage to come up with some cover art. A major drawback of my having always been so focused in music and other things is that I’ve never developed any real skill in visual arts. I’m thinking of seeing if Ira wants to try coming up with something…

Marax Molting 3inAnyway on to more stuff about Marax, and also his partner in yet another split 3″ CD-R, Molting. I think the ongoing series of split 3″ CD-R releases is a pretty cool networking tactic on the part of Marax besides its yielding some pretty cool sounds. I’m certainly honored to be among those to have made one with him (I still have some copies, check the link to the right). This is a particularly good matchup as their sounds have a bit in common. This is 18 very harsh ear-torture minutes. Two tracks from the more frenetic side of the Marax spectrum. Molting, a bit newer on the scene perhaps, is a fellow who calls himself “Moe Lesther” and claims to make harsh noise influenced by goregrind. That doesn’t, evidently, translate to gorenoise, but rather something much more abstract in Molting’s case. The first half of his piece sounds like a demonically possessed Atari 2600 speaking blasphemies in a language made up of explosion sound effects; after that maybe an overdriven mix of some immense heavy machinery through analog TV static. I’ve become pretty interested in Molting’s approach, he has a number of tracks up on a YouTube channel and Facebook page and quite a few releases out in a short time.

MARAX Black Veil Of The Sanguinarian I also lucked into Marax’s 2008 release on Crucial Blast, Black Veil of the Sanguinarian. It’s a more subdued, slow-burn kind of death-drone, which is welcome after the assault of the above split. At “Returning to Rust” it’s evening in the countryside of singing metallic insects. “Inside the Inner Voice” uses very slowed-down spoken word, which someone somewhere mentioned in reference to last year’s Funeral Liturgy as a bit of a Marax trademark, but this is the first other place I’ve heard it. “Bleeding Black” has a great rumbling-crumbling sub-bass drone with what might be progressively higher-pitched and more-distorted versions of itself layered over. Seven minutes in I think I hear a distant voice in it but then it’s gone. Later it seems to resolve into a couple of chords, but only for a second before the piece ends. We find those chords again a little ways into “NOD”, a 22-minute sound trip that transitions nicely from a noise drone intro to a mesmerizing horror movie synth line that forms the basis for the rest of the track.

Most people start yawning the second that I tell them that I’m into art, but when it comes to fantastic photographers like Asger Carlson, I don’t have any choice but to do some gushing.  Asger uses photographs and software to create such macabre and interesting portraiture that it makes Francis Bacon look like Norman Rockwell.  Currently he is working on a few new series, each one of them is well worth the trip around his webpage.

(click on image to go to Asgercarlson.com)

I feel like I want to get away from simply “reviewing music” here and think of it as more like an ongoing diary of a music fan, with reviews sort of embedded into the flow of just writing about what I’ve been doing and what I’ve been listening to and so on. But I’m sure that will come and go. There’s no real rules to the content and structure here, which is the way I like it.

We’ve had a really interesting and productive spate of Fetal Pig shows lately. Our friend(s) at Black Heart Booking had us out to Omaha and we played at this really interesting DIY space upstairs from a couple storefronts that definitely looked like it may have formerly been a bar but was all stripped to the bricks and sparsely populated with old thrift furniture, giving it a really cool squattery vibe as if the whole scene was built from things others had thrown away, which may be literally the case. I love this kind of thing. I felt really at home and the people associated with the venue were super friendly. True underground operation. The Sandbox, that’s what it was called.

The first act on at the Sandbox was The Thirteenth Year, some local kids doing a bass-less screamocore kind of thing. Didn’t super turn me on but it was worthwhile time spent. I think they’ve got a bright future.

Adam Goldman took the stage with one of those cheap skinny acoustic guitars, billed as Class M Planets, this gig being part of a short mini-tour he was doing along with Dan doing solo sets of Why Make Clocks songs. We’d also opened that tour with him and a full-band Why Make Clocks at the Mews. Adam is from Portland and he said so a lot during his set because for some reason it got funnier each time. I’ve only ever been in Portland once, for a night back in 1997, so I don’t know how accurate the Portlandia portrayal of it is, but I like the idea that “the dream of the ’90s is alive” there. I get the outsiders’ impression that if you miss the vibe of a Midwest college-town in the mid-1990s (and a big part of me does), Portland is the place to find it. I also get a lot of that vibe from Adam’s tunes. When I first checked out Class M Planets on bandcamp my initial impressions were that it was all a bit fey (side effects of prolonged exposure to sludge metal and power electronics, likely) and perhaps a bit dated. But the odd, elliptical rhythms and equally elliptical lyrics were intriguing.

They say don’t meet your musical heroes because it can fuck up your perception of the music by ruining your idea of the people making it. It’s not guaranteed to happen that way though; Leah’s brief in-person encounters with Jon Auer and Ken Stringellow haven’t messed with her love of The Posies. But what about hanging out with musicians you’re barely familiar with, versus how you’d see there music if you hadn’t met? Meeting Adam Goldman, not to mention seeing him play live, probably helped me get his music more. The sensitive-guy persona of the high, somewhat breathy vocals and pretty indie-folk sounds is the real guy, but it’s only one dimension of him. He’s also got a delightful wicked sense of humor. Once I got that, I started noticing it in the songs too. It’s below the surface. Besides, most things you have to listen to more than once before you can really judge them. So yeah, this stuff grew on me.

I ended up with a couple of his CDs, EP length mostly, all on Dandelion Wine Records which has the hilarious domain name totallypunk.com, each with a different band name and lineup but there’s a consistency between them such that they could be credibly represented as different works by the same band. Adam’s songs, usually in either a folk-pop or power-pop vein, frequently have odd rhythms to them that stick out more when there’s drums and things playing. It actually reminds me a bit of my old Cedar Falls compatriots A Is Jump, of the Chapel Hill area for some years now. The self-titled 2007 EP by his band thebrotheregg, which is evidently still active too (don’t ask me why the lack of capitals or spaces) had already been recommended to me by Dan. Its most straightforward tune, “Elevators”, is an instant pop gem. Elsewhere there are multiple interplaying vocal parts (especially on “Simple Love”) and verses wander kind of spacily, making the catchy choruses hit the more dramatically.

Class M Planets is more of a solo affair by Adam, and the 5-song self-titled EP released in 2010, with a few friends along on percussion, cello, and extra guitars, sticks to Adam’s more acoustic side. “Heart Thing” is wonderfully disorienting. Lastly “Freak of Illuminary”, though up-tempo, sticks to just the bare acoustic guitar accompaniment, but once it’s done spilling words, the disc still feels like it’s just getting started.

The likewise self-titled 8-song disc by Twinklelingus (what a name!) was allegedly started in 2004 but not completed and released until 2011, and is the most a loud rock record of the bunch. The rhythmic quirks that I’m now seeing as a trademark of Adam’s, together with the psychedelic guitar effects, jazzy chords, and busy midrangey bass, lend this affair an adventurous prog feel that is pretty cool.

On next after Adam’s acoustic set, during which he handily won over a crowd that had definitely come out to see louder things, came Omaha locals Super Invader. These guys don’t just play stoner metal, they seem to really live it, for better or worse. They come off as a genuine group of basement-dwellers. They had no bassist, but I get the feeling they used to and hadn’t managed to replace whoever it was. Low-tuned guitar was played out of two latter-day Kustom cabinets set up on opposing sides of the drum kit. The drummer had spray-painted all his hardware black and I don’t think his drums have ever been tuned. He had a loose pair of hi-hat cymbals on his right that he bashed on in lieu of a crash cymbal. There isn’t a whole lot of variation in their material but they played with the ferocity and conviction of guys who truly have nothing to lose, or to gain for that matter. The singer, a tall, long-haired fellow, roared imposingly about the stage and really belted out every line, even when he occasionally seemed to be singing in a different key than the guitar riff. They have a CD out, supposedly it came out like two years ago, but they had neglected to bring any copies with them to sell, and the singer cracked a joke about sometimes taking copies of it to CD Exchange when he’s hard up for cash. Everything about these guys was so real that I came to the realization that even if this sort of music isn’t your favorite, there’s no legitimate way to hate on it that doesn’t boil down to being a bit of an elitist prick. It’s a difficult style to fuck up, especially in the live context, and in some sense it’s the true sound of the American proletariat, a kind of flyover rebel folk art. Crack a beer, loosen the fuck up and you’ll enjoy it like I did.

After our set came the headliners, an amazing trio also local to Omaha called The Machete Archive. Shitting hell these guys are good. They play epically intricate and beautiful post-prog instrumental compositions, all of whose titles are simply Roman numerals. Their bassist plays a Danelectro longhorn strapped at chest-level and seems to constantly be using all of his fingers at once. I can’t even explain these guys to you. I wish there was something embeddable I could put here, but the first Google result for them is their MySpace page and that will have to do. No, Google it yourself, I’m not linking to MySpace.

Whilst trying to set up an interview with the big man himself, I was requested by him to share this with the readers of Centipede Farm.

Hopefully in the coming days we can hammer out an actual interview with the man, but until then, holy crap… I just got an email from Lloyd Kaufman.

The other day Nate from Mumfords’ started a trend online trying to remember some of the “classic” bands from Iowa.  Which brought up from my dusty memory banks Sleep Said the Monster.  Sleep Said the Monster was a project by singer/songwriter Braden Rapp as he used to self-describe his music was a combanation of Phil Collins and Cradle of Filth.  Check out what remains of the band online, or buy their CD from one of the few remaining places that has it.