The first time you listen to Nobunny is kind of like the first time that you have sex. There’s a lot of confusion, mixed emotions and you begin to wonder why your uncle is making that sound. Raw Romance is where it all began folks, and it’s now on vinyl. It’s all there in all of it’s Ramones Via Rocky Horror Picture show glory. It’ll make you yearn for the days before First Blood came out.
ORIG∆MI – Memories (EP)
Sounding like a pop album set in the world of Blade Runner, Beau Manancourt creates a world cold and distant, yet not disingenuous or contrived sounding as many of his contemporaries. This is my first exposure to Beau or the label he belongs to Disaro Records, but both seem very interesting and well worth the investigation. You can stream it over at bandcamp.
Everyone give a warm welcome to our new contributor, Ira Rat. –ch
For those of you unfamiliar with the “legend” of Jeff Magnum, a quick look around online will find people calling him anything from indie rock’s J.D. Salinger to the second coming of Jesus. Well, alright, so I’m the one saying these things. Honestly though when you realize how many of this man’s veracious fans devour anything he merely glanced at you might just begin to get a sense of reverence that flooded the Hennepin theater on February 4th.
When it was announced that Jeff would be touring for the first time since 1998’s “In An Aeroplane Over The Sea” I was only slightly less shocked than when I heard that Jandek was going to start doing live shows a few years ago. Early bootlegs of recent live performances’ shakiness not-withstanding I promptly bought the tickets the second that they went on sale.
Saying that Jeff hasn’t lost anything in the intervening years would actually be a disservice. The intensity that he has built up in these songs during his hiatus is astounding. Even going so far has playing the previously unreleased song Little Birds as though he was channeling the holy spirit like a Pentecostal preacher.
All said for once the exorbitant price-tag for the show is well worth the experience.
Neon Lushell Modern Purveyors of Filth and Degradation (in a Time of Peace and Understanding) Brian Pitt describes his dreams and rants like a madman into a phone and Ira Rat builds haunting ambient stuff around it. I talked this outfit up a bit in 2011 and just generally tried to keep everyone apprised of their activities because I dig this.
Godstopper Empty Crawlspace I often wonder if genuinely scary guitar rock is even possible anymore, but then I listen to this. Good lord this is some creepy, ugly, queasy, discordant shit that genuinely sounds like the product of profoundly depraved individuals operating out of somewhere completely cut off from polite society. After a 2010 demo they put these 4 songs out on cassette, which I never managed to get hold of, played some shows, then apparently put the download up for free and forgot to update their website ever again some time around March.
Asian Women on the Telephone ICanT Different in feel from Freedom As Mama Told Me, still consisting mainly of longish jams but in a more digestible quantity, and of a rather darker tone, more electronics and chanting, less hyperactive shouting. A bit like early Cabaret Voltaire or Excepter.
Kiwi Pizza Mary Ann (In A Courtyard) Joel ex-The Teddy Boys does his own sweet sunny pop thing. Now I’m itching for the summer to come back so I can put this on the stereo.
Squeegeed Clean Fake Sun Ra Bootleg Australian improv noise-jazz-prankster collective headed up by Skot Schtikla otherwise known for his involvement in/with Vocaularinist, TK Bollinger, and the operatic black/doom/gothic metal project Mekigah. Their second full-length, the first having been a reissue of two previous EPs, presents four extended pieces of madness. The sounds are a good analogue to the hyperactive collage cover art. If there’s a running theme, it would seem to have something to do with fake animals. The most Sun Ra-ish moment is the drifting space jazz wreckage that is “It’s Just A Placenta For An Artificial Dinosaur”; “Unexistant Sliming Rang” starts out with organ, electro drum machine, and moany vocals before spiraling off into la-la land becoming something akin to Can’s “Peking O.” I think the M.O. of this group is to record some jams, let the tapes sit a couple years, then break them back out and overdub more jam along to them. It’s unclear throughout which sounds are products of synthesizers, samplers, or regular instruments, and I really like it when that happens.
Anthrax Worship Music I am probably always going to love Anthrax no matter what they do, but this album is more than good enough that I don’t need to defend them. And it’s definitely exciting that Joey Belladonna is back. At their best, Anthrax excel at mixing heavy and catchy, and they definitely pull it off here.
Black Pyramid II The final word from Black Pyramid’s original lineup; epic battle doom packed with gorgeous long instrumental passages. This album is awesome, definitely a 2011 favorite. Reviewed it on The Bone Reader just the other day.
Looking forward to: Ufomammut
There’s this Facebook group called The Contact Group Of Homemade Experimental Electronic Music And Noise. (I propose that the acronym “CGHEEMN” be pronounced like “schemin’”). It is by far the most kick-ass online musician community I have ever been involved in. Usually these kind of forums just degenerate to people self-promoting posting links to their shit but not really participating or reading or responding to what anyone else is saying. On CGHEEMN there’s quite a bit of that too, but there’s enough great conversation and real involvement and community that it actually drowns that stuff out. I think noise musicians and software developers are on the forefront of culture right now. In this group we’re constantly discussing the things that hit the really big questions like just what the hell art is anyway, and we have big laughs doing it. I’m quite honored to be included among this bunch.
Here’s where the real win is for musicians being active on social media: just go on there and be your own interesting self. Have fun and look to meet interesting people. We’re at a point in the developed Western world, the 20th century corporatist mass-media hangover, where we’ve become conditioned to what the proper “professional” way to present oneself is, but at the same time we are completely anesthetized, from overexposure, to that “professional” style when it’s used on us. We’re genuinely surprised and delighted when someone talks to us like a person. Isn’t that sad? So now businesses and artists alike think they need “social media experts” (read: douchebags with no real job skills) to tell us how to do what boils down to just fucking acting like human beings. Here’s how you do it: quit trying to put up a fucking front all the time. People are desperately seeking a break from being talked to the way a company does. If there’s one place they rightly ought to be able to find that, it’s music.
Plus, if you’re a performing musician/band, get shows and then play the hell out of every one of them. That creates more, and more lasting, “buzz” than any bullshit media hype.
Seattle self-described “disco garage” (that description actually fits quite well!) duo Pony Time pony up six more nuggets of raw bouncy pop-punk fun on this EP available on CD, vinyl, or download from Per Se Records. Some of these could credibly be misrepresented as obscure Buzzcocks covers. There’s a bit of homage to the innocence and fun of 1960s garage/beach rock and roll going on, such as on “Ex-Girlfriend Beach” and “Lori and Judy”, but always with just a slight sinister undercurrent courtesy of that grimy bass sound. The new wave pops up on “Gary Numan”, propelled by its very apropos approximation of an electro-disco beat, and the dark sci-fi closer “Interzone” which manages to evoke spy-movie surf-rock entirely without presence of a non-bass guitar. Only quibble I might have is that I keep hearing some really great backup vocals in my head that I wish were actually there. Maybe some theremin too. This disc is a blast all the way through. After it finishes I usually just want to let it play over again.
Asian Women On The Telephone Freedom As Mama Told Me Alien primitive triablish lengthy hypnotic psychedelic jams from Russia. Seems to be splitting the difference between Amon Düül and Godz. Weird fun, but holy shit these tracks meander semi-aimlessly for freaking ever. Sometimes that’s just what I’m up for, but I don’t know about this much of it all in one shot.
Wolves In The Throne Room Celestial Lineage 2011 was the year of the USBM backlash. By 2010, music nerds, always on the lookout for something fringe that their friends aren’t turned on to yet, had started digging into the dark world of black metal, and it caught on. Soon any extant band, especially stateside, working a strong black metal influence, was getting attention, and frequently slavering adoration, in places like Pitchfork, Stereogum, and NPR, thet is to say, “mainstream” outlets concerned with whatever’s trending, rather than being devoted specifically to metal. So naturally some time in the past year, the metal scene struck back, and, despite the fact that they’d already been at it for years, some Oregonians called Wolves In The Throne Room became, in the minds of certain die-hards, the acme of everything that was wrong with so-called “hipster black metal,” a movement accused of engaging with the genre on merely a superficial level, appropriating the sounds without understanding or properly buying into the ideas. It was 90’s punk rock all over again, and the pomposity of Liturgy only threw gas on the flames raging through blog comment threads everywhere.
In my opinion there are more appropriate targets of this derision. An overwhelming majority of metal sites acclaim this album and I hardly think all of them are being fooled at once. I really get the sense that Wolves’ engagement with the music and the mentality is about as sincere as is possible for a US band. I think their hearts are in the right place and rather than making music to hop on trends, they just try to make good music, and you can’t fault an artist for that motivation, though depending on the results, you can legitimately claim that they failed. An important part of Wolves’ ethic and mythos seems to have to do with nature and preservation of the environment and of old ways in the face of destructive modern threats, much as many Norwegian black metallers concerned themselves with preservation of what they saw as the authentic culture of their ancestral homeland against the threats of modern globalization historically rooted in the medieval imperialist spread of Christianity. Both perspectives are related to connection with the land, but this is of course going to seem shallower coming from Americans, a people occupying a land that is for them far less ancestral. Honestly I think if a really “true” American black metal is possible, it’s probably being made on the reservations. (Or it’s something like Ludicra’s excellent 2010 album The Tenant, substituting disconnection within the modern urban environment for connection with the primeval forest — but then there’s nothing specifically American about the city.)
Celestial Lineage is another ambitious work claiming to a unifying theme. In fact, it is reportedly the closing entry of a trilogy. It feels like a different kind of album from their earlier ones I’ve heard, though I’ve admittedly missed out on Black Cascade. One of the first sounds you hear on it is wind chimes. I mean really, wind chimes? To paraphrase John Darnielle (another prominent indie dude who’s been down with metal all along), wind chimes are extremely unbrutal; please keep it brutal.
Which is to say, laying aside “hipster black metal,” if this album is part of any current trends, it’s the one I’d call “pretty black metal.” Not that black metal hasn’t played with beauty before. The first time I listened to Celestial Lineage, I fell asleep. Which is not to say that it’s boring, so much as tranquil. It’s loud and epic-sounding, but moves magisterially — even when the drums are at full-on blastbeat (which isn’t a lot), the riffs and melodies are of a slower, drawn-out character, emphasizing that way that sufficiently fast playing can sound slow again (one of the few decent points that Liturgy guy made in his ponderous dissertation, but also something that just about any average slob who’s spent any amount of time listening to this kind of stuff could tell you). Other tracks and passages are at very slow tempos. The drums boom, and everything has that reverby symphonic feel; the out-front melodies, orchestral keyboard sounds, and Jessika Kenney’s operatic vocals all contribute to this feel. To be sure, Diadem Of 12 Stars sounded way more evil and scary.
It’s not all majesty, of course, these Wolves still bite (har har). There are still buzzsaw guitar tones and plenty of Nathan’s shrieking vocals, but it does feel somehow subdued and is tempered with all the sweet touches. I’m not sure it’s the amazing classic it’s being made out to be, but it’s quite good.
Krallice Diotima Another target of the aforementioned backlash was Krallice, the NYC group who in 2011 gave us Diotima. For whatever reason, extreme metal seems to gravitate towards extreme opinions. Any sufficiently interesting album, work, statement, has to be either life-changingly, mind-blowingly awesome, or to blame for the imminent eternal downfall of all that is heavy or cool. True to my style, I’m going to take the moderate path here and just say that Diotima is a fairly interesting album with some rewarding moments and some major annoyances.
Krallice’s style can sound exciting to people who are meeting this kind of thing for the first time. The intensity is impressive, even from the standpoint of technical endurance — holy shit they can tremolo-pick for twelve fucking minutes straight — but extended constant blasting can get monotonous real quick, which is where Krallice falls off for me. There’s often little in the way of dynamics or real moments, despite what seems like a mentally taxing level of complexity in compositional structure that sometimes seems like hyperactive riff-pasting, but occasionally does show some real attention to song development, especially on the title track.
Maybe it’s because I’m more of a doom guy or maybe it’s why I’m more of a doom guy but I like a riff that I can remember later. As it turns out, Krallice actually have a few of these on Diotima, just as they did on Dimensional Bleedthrough. The first half of the album indeed sounds a lot like more of the same kind of thing they did on the previous one. The second half works in slightly more old-school black metal feel. “Telluric Rings” even has a recognizable shreddy guitar solo. Unfortunately “Litany Of Regrets’ suffers from a terrible mix that causes each hit of the kick drum to rudely shove the guitars out of the frame, rendering the track nearly unlistenable.
Amebix Sonic Mass I think Amebix have always had epic ambitions, and it was only their modest means that kept them from being fully realized. I mean, on Arise you can hear the rust on the guitar strings. But you can hear in the songwriting that Amebix wanted to tell stories. Heroic stories. Even as godfathers of crust punk, Amebix were coming from a heavy metal mentality. On this comeback album with the drummer from STONE SOWAAAH the production values, and time allowed for focus and attention to detail, finally click with the vision. For a more thought-out perspective I defer to the good people at Trial By Ordeal.
Lo-Pan Salvador This slab of riff-rock got a lot of love over at The Obelisk. I’ve admittedly only listened to it once. It definitely rocks, and has a nice heavy sound, but it gets rather samey for me. I think all the songs are in the same key; multiple times a song literally starts on the same chord/note as the one before it ended on. Most are also in around the same tempo, with a slower one towards the end.
Red Fang Murder The Mountains – This is more like it. Hairy beer-swillin’ dudes with badass clever riffs and epic lyrics worked into songs that go places. High On Fire didn’t put out an album in ’11 and this might be the next best thing, but their sense of fun and affection for throwing in super icky distortion tones on the solos set them apart as their own thing. I had the great fortune to catch them live here in Des Moines and they did in no wise disappoint. I’m surprised not to see this on more 2011 lists, actually.
Bloodiest Descent All Bruce Lamont does is win. This one definitely ends up on the list. I was hearing praise for it all over the place, then I saw some web site was giving away a copy in a drawing so I entered it and won. End up corresponding with the guy who runs the site, he checks out Centipede Farm, and next thing I know I’m writing reviews for The Bone Reader. Even laying aside the bonus points this album gets for the story I have with it, it’s mind-blowing. I wrote a full review here somewhere so I’ll defer to my earlier words to explain what I love about it.
Bruce Lamont Feral Songs For The Epic Decline – Speaking of Bruce Lamont. This is a gorgeously dark and inventive album definitely worth hearing, though some of it now in hindsight feels like rough-sketches for some of the moods and concepts of Bloodiest. Still neat as shit though.
Marax The Weight of Insignificance – Marax is another of my new discoveries in 2011 as I somehow got contacted my Mr. Crowe to do a split 3″ CD-R with him. I have copies of same for sale or trade. A very prolific noise artist, Marax had several releases this year, many of them of very extended length and released in the form of free downloads. This one is an ultraminimalist two-part piece: in the first part he plays a low hum and static through a wah pedal for 49 minutes and 8 seconds; in the second he uses the first as source material and gives it more layers through additional effects and post-processing, for another 49 minutes and 8 seconds. This probably sounds like an absolute nightmare to listen to for most of you, but I jammed it in my headphones at work and enjoyed it very much, ominous yet tranquil. Given the right opportunity I would dim the lights, put this on the stereo, and just zone out to it. The noise of my upstairs neighbors’ kids stomping around and loud cars taking off from the apartment complex across the street would probably meld into it and become much less annoying.
Rwake Rest – Another of my big favorites in the metal category this year, and one of the releases I reviewed for The Bone Reader, a literally apocalyptic doom concept album of downright frightening intensity.
The Wounded Kings In the Chapel of the Black Hand – I volunteered to review this one for The Bone Reader just because I was just excited for a new Wounded Kings album. Breaking in a new lineup and new lead vocalist, Steve Mills and company added extra tunefulness to their gloomy atmosphere and came up with a big winner that has brought them a lot of new attention.
Thunder Bunny …There Is A Gate – Just reviewed this a few posts ago, go check that out.
The Seed Of Something s/t cassette – Des Moines teen garage-indie underdog heartthrobs finally bust out a recording and it’s exactly as raw and enthusiastic as you’d want it.
Richard Buckner Our Blood – After a long absence which we come to find out that the in-progress album suffered various disasters and restarts, Richard Buckner puts out something that appeared to somehow manage to appeal to both sides of his divided fanbase, that is, those who preferred his earlier country-oriented sounds and those who get down with the more rock-oriented direction since his hooking up with Merge Records. It’s neither a departure nor a return to form exactly. Though personally I could have used a couple more of the driving tunes that propel his previous couple of Merge releases, it’s the pure minimalist melodic beauty, Buckner’s real calling card, that this album makes its case on and succeeds.
SubRosa No Help For The Mighty Ones – Intriguing stuff — culty doom metal with electric violins and foresty female vocal harmonies. 7 longish maestoso-tempo songs and one a capella traditional. The harmonies and violin parts are tonally off-kilter at times, making for a strange alien feel, while elsewhere they’re gorgeously consonant. It lulls in spots but in others is absolutely beautiful.
Mutwawa Necro Zulu – Yep, Mutwawa had another release in ’11.
C-90 split tape of two free-improvisation outfits, released on Minneapolis-based E.F. Tapes in 1995. Wrong were a guitar-based free-noise-rock outfit, sometimes a duo, usually a trio (when they had a drummer) from Minneapolis, which included E.F. tapes co-proprietor Emil Hagstrom otherwise known for Cock ESP. I was really into these cats at the time. Dragged my girlfriend at the time up to Minneapolis once to see them play at The Red Sea once with The Amputease and some other EF acts. She didn’t get it at all. Jeph Jerman played drums on one of their tracks here via mail collaboration; the first 6 tracks are a live recording with Chad Popple on drums (see also this). Finland Subterraund were from Italy and this tape is pretty much all I know about them but I think currently I actually like their side better. Jacopo, the leader of this group, plays a lot of wild saxophone and a little bit of atonal guitar. They cover Archie Shepp and Sonic Youth on here and dedicate a track to Cock ESP.
The Implicit Order Supernatural Folk Tales – chilly ambience from deconstructed samples (some more deconstructed than others). Indistinct bits of music and voices melding into a sort of industrial edge-of-reality feeling. This is far from the only release by this outfit this year, though: these guys churn this stuff out by the case.
Across Tundras Sage – Kyuss’s desert gigs may be the stuff of legend but in my opinion it takes more than just sounding kinda like Kyuss to deserve the tag “desert rock.” Across Tundras get the desert vibe down on here, by mixing some of the sort of dusty tonalities common to latter-day Earth in with the riffs, among other tricks: a couple minutes into the first song I figured I was just in for another groovy doom album with cool rambling psychedelic basslines, then suddenly this quick-stomping country-western section came in, with horns! I’ve heard some truly bad attempts to mix country bits into heavy music (Blood Cult comes to mind) but this isn’t one of them, it fits. As far as rock music evoking the desert goes, this is easily up there with the likes of Diesto and Las Cruces. I’m not even sure how this ended up on my iPod in the first place, and I had no idea these guys had so much stuff out, but I’m glad I gave it a spin. “Hijo Del Desierto”‘s call for “water, cool, clear water” is especially headsticky.
Opiate First Document – any real appreciation of “power electronics” is a new thing for me if I have indeed managed to achieve such. On this EP these guys make pretty good use of their enveloping, crushing masses of distortion, varying the tone and throwing in a few squiggly synths and drums for variety, to deliver their message of tearing it all down, burning it, and pissing on the ashes. A seemingly improvised, unstructured variation of old-school political hardcore “rage at all the bullshit” vocals gives you an idea where they’re coming from mentally when you can make out the words in snatches. This is some seriously pissed off shit.
Cop Bar No Justice Just Law – Trashy, crusty lo-fi grind/hardcore as fronted by the living legend Samuel Locke-Ward. As fun and badass as this is I can’t help feeling that their next release will blow it to pieces.
Ron Mexico s/t download EP – Iowa dirtball hip-hop legend otherwise known as Cracka Don, T-Nutz, or Sperm Bank Hank, tosses out six very brief tracks as yet another alter-ego. More hilarious swaggering raps about crack-smoking and dogfights.
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The Mighty Accelerator Soccer Mom EP – A different set of Iowa dirtballs debut with riff-rock inspired by early Def Leppard.
Curmudgeon Human Ouroboros cassette/download EP – Ugly-ass sludgecore. Nothing mindblowing but a good time.
The Bassturd The Dark Side Of The Turd – The Bassturd bows out in grand style on his final album of epic synth-driven rabble-rousing Devo-meets-hip-hop-isms.
Ydestroyde Synzosizer – Old-school Japanese sci-fi sensory-overload electro-noise-rock in the vein of Space Streakings and classic Boredoms. Hell of a good album. With Boredoms having since gone all mellow on us (not that I’m complaining), it’s nice to still have this kind of thing around. I totally missed out the US tour, it had Midwest dates even, and I even tried at the last minute to help get a Des Moines date lined up but I was too late. Maybe I’ll get lucky and they’ll do another.
Wreck and Reference Black Cassette EP – Debut recording, lo-fi (probably self-released), from a duo making doomy post-rock with no guitars, just drums and a sampler. This got a lot of love this year too, enough that I think it even got a vinyl reissue. It’s heavy and very different. The last track reminds me a bit of Vulturum.
Looking forward to in 2012: Black Pyramid II; Ember Schrag The Sewing Room; Cop Bar/Captain 3 Leg split, Napalm Death, Neurosis?