Tuesday, June 28, 2011


As much a transmission from the great vacuous lonesome as a guitar album, Evan Caminiti's latest explores the claustrophobic allure of bedroom isolationism, beaming in the expanse through a narrow, obvious vision. Highly original this is not, but it is mostly enjoyable.
Caminiti's main idea here is a vaguely psychedelicized take on Neil Young's epochal "Dead Man" soundtrack, with the young student relishing in employing all the master's tricks. Rumbling distortion, cloudy windswept echoes and delicate, cracking lead lines all point to the existential infinity, with each song feeling more like a sketched out scoring device than a full and deep composition. Caminiti knows his way around the neck and his playing is fluid enough while still retaining the necessary amount of feral rawness to qualify as damaged; though the artwork on the LP jacket shows on a full-on moonscape the sounds contained within come off as decidedly sun-baked and brain-fried. This is music for the desert, a world of endless cyclical contemplation where consciousness constantly fades in and out. It's as close to astral as you can get in the physical, and the idea of great open spaces void of other people is expertly conveyed by Caminiti's playing.
Sadly, this record is unable to transcend its influence. Young did all this better and more definitively on "Dead Man"; Caminiti's take merely references and reminds without offering anything new. I won't say that he's untalented, nor will i say this record is without worth-it's certainly a nice blast of lonely guitar lamentations and it's incredibly well-crafted-but it's lack of focused voice is problematic enough to suggest a "quantity over quality" issue regarding Caminiti's sizable back catalogue. At a brief 25 minutes, "When California Falls Into the Sea" feels strangely lacking considering it's epic moon-washed reach. It seems you can stretch a drone out forever and call it a major work without anyone blinking an eye (perhaps unfairly), but when it comes to actually picking up the guitar and and trying to craft an immersive world of sound the demands are more refined.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Gorgeous, hyper-washed out black metal aestheticism filtered through a hush cloud of wintry, blurred ambient, arriving at something both cavernously massive and quietly devastating. Feigur have created a masterpiece of modern sorrowful expressionism, 35 minutes transformed into a million shades grey, possessed of a tortured melancholy burning an effigy to nostalgiah and memory. Forgetting is the welcome relief of pain, contemplation is only a reminder of failure and an admission of worthlessness.
Crafted from the same sonic template as similarly atmospheric black metal isolationists Lustre, Feigur revel in the idea of black metal rather than the actual playing of it. "II, Desolation" is cloaked in a mist of hollowing reverb, mountainous and oceanic to the point where the room begins to feel like its wavering in and out of the conscious realm. Most of the music is provided via swells of triumphant keyboards and minimalistic framing percussion, with only the wisp of a guitar hiding beneath all of the rest. Vocals are windswept frostscalds sweeping and howling across the earscape, screaming to a time remembered, carving out a whole in the sense of self. The true power of Feigur's compositions and presentation is the allowance for suggestion- it's what you think you're hearing and what you personally bring to the record that makes it resonant. This is nothing new in ambient or noise music-ghost tones and illusory sounds are part of what makes HNW recordings so immersive and overwhelming for listeners-but to hear the technique employed so masterfully within the confines of black metal is a rarity indeed. Think of the raw, overbearing power of a recording like Ulver's "Nattens Madrigal" and the constant, changing buzz of the guitars-there's a disorientation at work, as well as a feeling like something's constantly transforming itself right in front of you, that's not often found in less ambitious recordings. Feigur tie these implied fluctuations to a depression-laden emotional core that makes "II, Desolation" a harrowing listening experience.
France has a knack for this sort of removed black majesty. There's something about the environment, or perhaps the culture, that births an extraordinary amount of artistically minded black metal musicians willing to subvert and challenge the ideology and aesthetic until it becomes something entirely new and darkly beautiful. Much of France's black metal output, Feigur's included, carries with it an air of the romantic and the baroque that few other bands have been able to replicate or even approximate. Feigur's dedication to such a richly personal sadness opens the door to a piece of black metal art that should appeal equally to fans of Burzum (this is the sort of sound Varg was reaching for at the very outer limits of "Filosofem") and Tim Hecker (the blurriness of "II, Desolation" is achingly lovely and haze-ridden, reeking of the remnants of what once was); so too should fans of latter-day Xasthur find much to appreciate here. The simplicity of the compositions demands that the sounds used to create them stand out and reduce the listener to little more than a receptacle for the message. Exactly what Feigur are conveying is left to personal interpretation, but "II, Desolation" is almost impossible to ignore. Superb.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


A frustratingly duophasic effort from the equally frustrating Horseback, showcasing both the positive and negative qualities typified by this band's output. Difficult to pin down as far as genre and aesthetic, Horseback exists in a confounding sort of intersection between sun-bleached, desert-dusted psychedelia and oppressive, wintry black metal, never really finding a way to negotiate any sort of meeting place between the two. No single release from this project is able to effectively marry their interests, and while the ambition of the project is admirable the results never live up to the hype for me.
"The Gorgon Tongue" is comprised of two previous releases showcasing different sonic extremes. "Impale Golden Horn" is the far more effective, engaging, and engrossing of the two, delving deep into fluid, celestial drone and dispensing with virtually every previous sonic hallmark the band relied on. Instead of washed-out blackened Duane Eddy rumble we're treated to a smearing of heavenly guitar shimmer, as melodic and optimistic as their split with Volitgeurs was negative and nihilistic. Here Horseback aims for something far greater than what they'd been working at before, and the reach pays off. This is severely gorgeous sound painting, akin to the fuzzier work of Tim Hecker or the more strictly atmospheric end of Nadja's output. Tones stretch and waver and break into new pools of radiance, mirroring the reflective contemplation of mythology and worlds past our reach. Primarily instrumental, "Impale Golden Horn" gives in to the idea of structure on only one song and even here the vocals are delivered in a clean, simplistic manner befitting the cloudy mise en scene. This is pure blue sky, free from oppressive influence and given only to narcissistic inventory, an environment created for total immersion. Here Horseback tosses you a set of wings and demands to know how high you'll fly; the only thing that can really happen is the world loses sight of you, and in the shimmering thrush of "Impale Golden Horn" that isn't cause for fear.
"Forbidden Planet" is an exercise in sheer banality and boredom compared to its predecessor. While much of the original idea remains intact (ambiance and atmosphere) here the band chooses to muss up what could have been another moment of grace and beauty with an overbearing reliance on black metal vocal theatrics. None of the music here demands a voice, especially one as jarring and removing as this. What worked so well on the Voltigeurs split fails here miserably, resulting in a suite of music that sounds amateurish, ill-thought and near comical. The vocals are so off putting that it became difficult for me to even remember what the music on "Forbidden Planet" sounded like, other than a rehash of the majesty found throughout "Impale Golden Horn." Whether the lyrics to "Forbidden Planet" serve some sort of narrative theme is an absolute irrelevancy for me; they're total complete shit, they ruin the composition, and they should have been excised from the final product. "Forbidden Planet" illustrates the problem with Horseback-there's simply no real fixed identity. Genre-hopping is fine but it only really works when there's an underlying anchor in the project's thematic aesthetic. Simply flitting between ambient and "black ambient" doesn't show any sort of vision; it just fucking sucks. If Horseback could ever really figure out what the fuck it is they want to do, i'd be willing to put more effort into their evolution. As is, they're just an overhyped, critical praise-soaking blimp hoping to find a home amongst the modern black metal intelligentsia. They shouldn't.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


I didn't win the "Sugar Daddy-Live" review contest. Top honors went to some asshole who submitted seven reviews, not a single one of which mentioned the music contained on the album at all. It was just a bunch of Melvins-ass kissing over and over, many instances of which went over the Melvins-imposed 100 word limit. What a bunch of crap. Seriously. Reading through all of the submissions, there were only a handful of people who actually addressed the album as that-the rest of it was a bunch of poorly written "please give me a t-shirt" bullshit alongside about a hundred proclamations of "Melvins rule" or "best band ever" ballyhooing. It wasn't that i wanted the autographed t-shirt-i've seen the Melvins plenty of times and have plenty of signed stuff-i just wanted this minor vindication from people whom i respect. I don't know what to think anymore. a review should be a review. There's room to move within that framework but you should at least convey some sort of opnion about what's on the record you're supposedly informing others about. I always thought the Melvins were smarter than this. I would invite anyone to read the entries and tell me any of them were up to any sort of journalistic standard. utter and total bullshit. What a load of fucking cumrags. Jesus fucking christ. I'm sickened.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Abstract metal minimalism from the mighty Gog, rendering majesty into epic shades of gray. Three long excursions into nowhere, the sound of amps melting down and guitars not being played, a whitewash of howling noise besieged by wisps of melody and the inference of song. It's all in your mind, and Gog plays with your wants the way their forebear Skullflower played with riffs. Everything is suggestion. A chord being hammered into submission ceases to be only that when it's soaked with enough volume; amplification becomes as much a mental exercise as a physical one.
"Heavy Fierce Brightness" is an illustration of stagnancy gone festering. The drunken plodding that eventually whips up is far less powerful than the crushing docks of feedback left out to hang in the nowhere-instead of mainlining forward propulsion Gog take you out into the tides and ask you to keep treading water, knowing that eventually you'll just give in and swallow enough to sink directly to the muddy, vague bottom. This record has no start and no beginning; track divisions seem arbitrary at best, taunting at worst. The idea that any of this has to go anywhere is the idea Gog want to obliterate. The true understanding comes from the acceptance of time distention and the willingness to let all of this in at once, rolling over your ears like a thunderstorm, stinking of rock's bloat and filtering metal's directness into something new and tortured. If hollow has a sound, Gog knows how to tap it.
It's been a steady progression towards this, and i'm hoping future Gog recordings will focus less on any sort of momentum and more on the screaming, voiding drone that they're beginning to unveil here. The band's aggression is wired to a weird aspiration to beauty, not unlike Birchville Cat Motel but more born of earth and less celestial. Gog's focus is on working with what exists and shaping it rather than Birchville's utter transformation; a guitar is a guitar, etc. But this grounding allows Gog to veer closer to genre and co-opt ideas of doom metal and noise music and create something more ethereal out of them. The musical color may be a constant but the suggestions are ever in flux, and that warbling in and out of expectancy makes "Heavy Fierce Brightness" a more interesting experiment than it could have been. If Gog continues to grow in this manner, they'll be one of the better US practitioners of this sort of destructionism since Gravitar. Beautiful packaging and construction by Utech as well, as always. Obviously worthy of support.

RICHARD PINHAS and MERZBOW "PARIS 2008" (Cuneiform Records)

A stellar live follow-up to their massive collaboration "Keio Line," Cuneiform's LP pressing of this Merzbow/Pinhas gig from 2008 delivers a solid dose of blissed out percussive uber-drone mingled with the spacey Fripp-esque explorations of Pinhas' wicked guitar manipulations. This is a meeting of two masters, both at the top of their game and in total control of their sounds, whipping everything together into a frothy seethe of deconstructed destruction, everything taken apart piece by piece and built back up into an ocean blue swirl of gorgeous, Wagnerian noise symphonics. These gentlemen bring out the best in one another and it's thrilling to hear them churn out the magic in front of an audience.
"Keio Line" showcased an impressive new aspect to Merzbow's delivery; Pinhas' minimalist guitar stylings gave birth to a new crystalline beauty in Merzbow's approach to sonic extremism, resulting in a heady slab of syrup that felt more in league with Eliane Radigue than Aube or Masonna. This live outing continues that direction but ratchets up the clatter factor, allowing Merzbow to unleash some of the more grating tricks in his bag (even some drum programming) reminiscient of his work with Boris. Pinhas turns in what he's best at; his frigid guitarscapes belch up an expanse of warming dread, an ever-reaching blanket seeking to cover the world with the sounds of deepest space. Nebulous and bubbling over with microscopic tonalities, his guitars recede into the world that Merzbow conjures up, raising their voices in unison with the controlled frenzies willed into being by an arsenal of laptops and pedals. This is the new standard for collaborative endeavour, a reference point for any contemplation of ambient/noise intersection.
The only complaint i have is with the LP's brevity. At just shy of 40 minutes this seems like a mere taste of what these two unleashed that night; "Keio Line" was an unmitigated destroyer, a behemoth of towering texture that took as much time to let dissolve and sink in as it did to actually listen to it. "Paris 2008" seems like the afterthought to that brain trust, a quick demonstration of the magic help up for live appraisal. It's wonderful and intense but over far too quickly for my tastes. I would liked to have seen Cuneiform dole out a 2LP set of this show, but for whatever reason we just get the one piece of wax (and no, i won't discount the very plausible explanation that this was the entirety of the show.) The real meat is on Side B, where Merzbow absolutely takes over and begins to lay waste to the stage. Pinhas can barely keep up but his efforts make for an admirable tower of sound, a quick ascent to the highest floor of Babel to witness the eminent apocalypse. Massive shit that makes your head spin; the world needs more of these two working together (new studio album just came out in tandem and is well worth your time.) Totally recommended.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

MAP "FEVER DREAM" (Taiga Records)

Anxiety-ridden improv that moves into places beyond the confines of free-jazz, reaching a place of open exploration and skronk worship. Mary Halvorson is one of the more interesting guitarists working in this vein; you can hear all the schooling behind her chops to the point where listening to her work seems academic. But there's a fire driving her playing that becomes more and more apparent as you listen to her various projects. Whether it's the refined composition of her quintet, the Hendrix on quaaludes style narcolepsy of her trio or her metallized chunkfests with Trevor Dunn's Trio Convulsant, Halvorson plays with a forcefulness that reaches past her classicism, bending the guitar to her will and highlighting a player whose knowledge of style is equal to her ability to work within them.
"Fever Dream" is the second outing by Map, the first having come out a number of years ago and going mostly unnoticed, aside from a few mentions amongst the outer fringe cosmonauts of improv groupings. While the first was an extremely jittery, nervous romp through start/stop time signatures and experiments in negative sound space, "Fever Dream" moves in exactly the opposite direction, creating an infinite din that is at once dissonant and hypnotizing. It's to the performers' credit that they're able to create something so transfixing out of what shouldn't be anything other than ear aggravation; there's nothing here that even remotely approaches a "groove" or the notion of song. Instead you're treated to Halvorson eeking out pockets of discord all across the neck of her guitar while her co-players indulge in background clatter-psych, the squealing of cymbals and rattling snares colliding head on with bowed bass moans to create a blurry sonic goop that Halvorson shreds across. The resultant grating noises are something that shouldn't work in such a mesmerizing fashion, but it does. The individual approaches are so light and deft that there's nothing alienating about the physical aggravations they work up together. The best stuff comes out in side three, where the fixation turns to a sort of jazz musique concrete, with Halvorson working feedback and delays on top of airy whining cymbal stretches that seem to bend time for the sole purpose of testing it. This is a record of sketches rather than songs, first takes as opposed to compositions. There's nothing less than professional about what's been laid to tape but it sounds so simple and minimal that you're left wondering if you're listening to seasoned improvisers or jazz school dropouts approximating their ideas of heavyweight jam sessions.
This is a great addition to Taiga's noble catalogue of releases; the packaging and design here are psychedelically stunning, giving a unique visual counterpoint to the sounds presented. If you're new to Mary Halvorson i would start with her trio performances instead, as they're a bit more accessible for the rock-minded, but for anyone else who salivates over Nels Cline's scratchier moments or Seichii Yamamoto's Tzadik works, "Fever Dream" is a challenging slab of grindcore-minded jazz drone.

Friday, June 3, 2011


At long last unleashed, the final Birchville Cat Motel album, freed of any label and released on Campbell Kneale's own Don't Fuck With Magic imprint. I know of at least two labels (Riot Season and At War With False Noise) that were supposed to release this beast as far back as 2006 as BCM's swan song and it's a wonder that both entities snoozed on it for so long, because it's staggeringly beautiful, a recording of immense power and expanse that rivals anything Campbell's put out under the BCM moniker, a piece of music that tears the skies asunder and leaves the stars somewhat dimmed and drunk. A single 42 minute composition, "Stallion" is BCM at its absolute best, continuing down the path first opened by the crushing "Chi Vampires" and later refined on "Gunpowder Temple of Heaven." The latter serves as the best reference point for "Stallion" as it unfolds the same, an ever spreading ocean of globulous melody building and building until it becomes as large as the universe itself, always threatening to collapse but stacking on more and more sound until your heart just can't take it anymore.
Kneale's mastery of sonics at this point is beyond impressive. This record gets up inside of you and pulls until all of the love and appreciation for beauty is shredded and frayed, resulting in a sort of inner dissolve that transcends a physical response and becomes something born of pure emotion. I felt like i was shrinking as i listened to this, such was the room-filling presence of the piece. It made me feel smaller and smaller, cowering before the awesome explosions of beauty in the world, more and more aware of my own trembling insignificance before powers that existed and will exist well past my cognition. Kneale taps into an ether that hovers outside of this realm and the gorgeous chunks he brings back are almost past the point of comprehension. The sounds resemble what we've heard before but the shapes and the structures are completely engulfing, glacial sheets of shimmering buzzing drone that wash over us and render us near inert. This is the music of the ooze, as pure and central as it gets. The source of the drone hovers near, and Kneale accesses something primal, stripped of all pretension or posture, the void worked into affect, tempered by the artistic hand to communicate something altogether deeper and more elusive. This is a natural symphony, Beethoven as a swarm of bees, assembled and shaped by a master's hand, born of a desire to simply create beautiful things.
Kneale's goal is admirable, and there are few projects closer to my heart than Birchville Cat Motel. To reach out into the nether and come back with such formless loveliness is an ability that few modern sound sculptors have. This is a record that embraces and transcends any ideas of metal, drone, or noise. It's everything all at once and something so small and focused that it might escape you if you're not ready to open yourself up to it completely. Erase any connection to the corporeal and let yourself float into the ethereal. "Came A Great Stallion Whose First Leap Sparked the Celestial Star" is an utter explosion, an obliteration of the known and vessel of passage into the surreal and undefined. The beauty rages, shapeless and screaming, howling and whipping across your heart's expanses like a stormcloud about to collapse under its own weight. This is music to make you cry. This is music to make you wonder. This is music to remind you of how awesome it is to be alive. This is sound, and this is magic, and this is the truest expression of beauty in song that you're likely to hear in 2011. Highest possible recommendation. ATTAIN AT ANY COST.