Reviews: 10/2007


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(10.01.07) Third in this monthly review series by TJ Norris. The focus
is fixed on charged international releases that play on audio/visual
elements and experiments within the hybrid of multi genres. Like
particles in space, or ions, this type of charge can unknowingly
produce both positive and negative conductivity. Norris is also
continuing to curate a somewhat related a/v performance series,
soundbytes, in his native Portland, Oregon. In the past he has hosted
diverse acts as Twine, Illusion of Safety, Richard Francis and
vidnaObmana. If you are passing through please contact him for more
information, or read his
regular blog
(or Myspace) to get it.


  • Roscoe Mitchell :: Composition/Improvisation Nos. 1, 2 & 3 (2007)
  • ECM, CD

    The fourteen piece Transatlantic Art Ensemble, led by Roscoe Mitchell
    on soprano sax make some fine noise. The highly lauded Mitchell is one
    of the world’s foremost abstract jazz composers, and this selection of
    nine interwoven works, recorded in 2004, tell his history. It tumbles,
    rumbles and whispers, it wails and bellows. Composition/Improvisation
    Nos. 1, 2 & 3
    paints a wild, yet saavy picture of our striated sense
    of universal change. The melodious notes he plays speak from worn lips
    telling bittersweet stories, in fact, there’s a passionate melancholy
    bolstered by a backing ensemble nimbly gyrate through Mitchell’s
    shattered, scattered blowing, around wiggly projections and roads less
    travelled. It’s something of a collected circus chaos that bleeds
    delicately into a faded watercolor of the buried sea. [Purchase]


  • Rafael Toral :: Space Solo 1 (2007)
  • Quecksilber, CD

    Portugese guitarist and electronic composer Rafael Toral delivers a
    stuntifying new release based in space. To accomplish this he’s
    employed filters, empty circuits and feedback, sparsely construed to
    make for a minimalist collage that pops, hides away and squeaks as if
    repelling a wooden floor in rubber soles. Toral is equipped with a
    board full of effects that he then fashions like a clown twisting
    balloons into poodles, though the result is far more contagious.
    There’s something as sinister, but not as, er, clownish to these
    bloated antics. By manipulating various gassy overtures, sliding and
    stretching them into new sound shapes it becomes aural cinema. The
    faster he works the more removed and expressionist the sounds of
    ‘Space Solo 1′ become. And yes he leaves room for open air white noise
    that’s pretty hush. But not too much, as there’s a sense of antsy,
    frictitious disorder at play. “Echo Feed” plays into the whole notion
    that life may exist outside our perception with its nod to 50′s
    b-movie elongated bleeps and warm vortex exterior, built for two. [Purchase]


  • Low :: Drums and Guns (2007)
  • Sub Pop, CD

    Low are back. Drums and Guns has got the raw spirit one might expect
    during wartime. While so many “Pretty People” are out there jazzingly
    distracting us with their never-ending booty call stage antics this is
    an uncertain quirky alarm call to arms. To hear something like this
    from a longstanding threesome who actually have built a home in the
    realm of the avant garde is uneasy these days. Mind you, this is
    probably their most accessible record to date, and they sound great
    here, and focus more on crafting songs with strings alongside
    electronics. The bass is self-evident. “Breaker” recalls the rootsy
    ramble in some early, less righteous, pre-MTV Peter Gabriel. They seem
    straight-forward, caressing the wounded in acoustic caress, by
    dispelling their personal maybes in a distillation of truths.
    Harkening to the stance of a myriad of legendary drum and bugle corps,
    they cleverly admit beats as well as smart lyricism. The band seems
    poised to fall between the intersection driving forces like Bjork and
    Spiritualized, without bells and buzz. The record is pretty stark and
    elemental until track six of thirteen where “Always Fade” adds some
    warm percussion and broken electronica which swirls around the vocals
    of two singers. This makes for something a bit distinctive, and less
    of another homage to age old Dylan-like anthemic stylings. The record
    plays like a poker faced reality rich in the same tonal qualities once
    heard from the 4AD label. Phrasing like “Always a whisper, worthless
    and tender. Breaking my arm that won’t heal” prove their may still be
    poetry in the arena of independent music. The disc comes housed with a
    colorful picture book that illustrates the mood by Jimi Sides. [Purchase]


  • Beequeen :: Seltenturm: Beesides 1989-2000 (2007)
  • Plinkity Plonk/Korm Plastics, 2xCD

    Nijmegen’s duo Beequeen (Frans de Waard and Freek Kinkelar) release a
    compilation of 23 various works recorded since 1989. Certainly one of
    the more notable experimental outfits of the last two decades, this
    collection numbingly sets a certain tone (or atones) both to the past
    and future. There’s a delicate balance of low chords breaking into
    dark ambient space (“Does He Do As If He Is”) from their 1994
    recording ‘Split’. You’re in the dark, someone is casting a vague echo
    while slowly bowing a cello, you see a faint light. There is this
    sense of passing figures, black on black shadowy movements hinted at
    in your peripheral view. At points queasy, others like your spinning
    in a Spanish villa for just a dazzling moment (“Fond II”). They firmly
    use the guise of industrialisms to build the droning layers of works
    like “Land Above Us” which has both a sense of open continuum and
    repeat cycle that can, for many, become unnerving. Though, they do so
    with a certain grace that kind of rounds the corners of chaos. The
    final stage of production, so to speak. And the point is clear, these
    two men have built a passionate body of work that is at once striking
    for its qualities emulating the codec of film, secondly they have used
    that motif to concoct music which is out of the personal body, told
    from the vantage point of the other. And third, it takes you some
    place you may have not dared, distinctively told with a fusion of
    pace, timing, fore/background. Then there are these themes of
    meditation, observation, then realization. When you sample tracks like
    “Brasillian Fond” (1989), you are just barely eavesdropping by way of
    the slight incorporated field recordings. Part mysterious travelogue,
    part staging for how you might compose music to send to navigate the
    hole in the ozone and then into the deep universe to cultivate answers
    to its questions. The work of Beequeen simply trips the mind.


  • Underworld :: Oblivion with Bells (2007)
  • Side One Recordings, CD

    Karl Hyde and Rick Smith are back after several years where they
    toured and parted with their former label, V2. Here the duo continues
    their fully produced wide-open dancefloor wash of warm rhythms and
    beats galore. The lead in cut, “Crocodile” sounds like an immediate
    hit, though with a few grungier and vocal dynamics in today’s mix how
    will these gents compete? First, they have a world class sensibility
    of what people are physically move to. They’ve proven themselves live
    over and again, and this collection of bright tracks really captures
    the spirit of how arms and hair and torsos dart between the sweat of
    light and the darker chords of chillout. This is plain on “Good
    Morning Cockerel” where the sweet tinkling piano plays to Hyde’s
    unplugged, no-nonsense vocal. Back in June Smith was injured by
    baseball bat wielding hoodlums during a concert at the Ejekt Festival
    in Athens, though it sounds like these gents have made it back firmly
    to their feet. A lot of what appears here is balanced by the
    construction of song structures as opposed to the pure dance work of
    some of their former work. This harkens to similar strategies made by
    other electronic colleagues like Moby, Chemical Brothers and others in
    the recent past. “Boy, Boy, Boy” sounds more like what you may hear in
    a White Stripes pop song as opposed to late night in Ibiza. And then
    there’s “Ring Road” which features the beloved Brit-rap they came to
    fame on the wave of. It’s dressed down, almost spoken. Add some
    skeletal percussion and the beat is basic, bridged by a beautifully
    slightly vocoded chorus. It’s thick and in the trends set by
    themselves, De La Soul, Soul Coughing and a handful of others
    lip-serving the masses at one moment or another. The nice surprise
    here is ‘Faxed Invitation’ built on the mechanical mutations of an old
    machine that transmits messages. Their message is all kept on the warm
    down-low. The funky dance hooks are in “Holding the Moth” though
    they’ve hurdled some of their catchiest phrases for a larger focus on
    the vocal throughout. For that look to “Beautiful Burnout.” The title
    says it all in that which amply re-uses some of their classic flow,
    and will surely be the dance single for what it’s worth, which is more
    than two bits (or is that bytes)? [Purchase]


  • Tuk :: Shallow Water Blackout (2007)
  • (K-RAA-K)³, CD

    Developed from a series of live shows over two years, Guillaume Graux
    sorts out seven tracks that source the sounds from his laptop with
    mastering by Yves De Mey. The result is dense, cryptic and punctuated
    with clicks and pops encrusted with electronic noise and space as
    heard on the rambunctious “Insomnia.” Elsewhere on Shallow Water
    (a loss of consciousness caused by the lapse of breath)
    there is hazy dulling set of harmonies, pale as a blue sky at high
    noon, effectively in mid November when the chill has just set in full
    on. The mix of assorted tones are intertwined on “Lady Jane.” Fingers
    to strings like spider to web, a nervousness arises and dissipates,
    leaving a warm stretched passage that meanders in speed and density.
    Yet there’s still room for the branding of chunky noise on “Stillnox
    Parties” which sounds like a factory in full production as interpreted
    through teletype. Like a haphazard collision between Merzbow and Kim
    Cascone, this recording jumps around a rock and a hard place. Solid in
    fearless tracks like “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through” which cranks
    out a gyrating percussive beat that rolls and rocks, through colliding
    distortion and a raspy undertone. Hard in its edgeless
    experimentation. This is an impressive second full length challenge of
    any basic formula.


  • Einstürzende Neubauten :: Alles Wieder Offen (2007)
  • Self-Released, CD

    Well oiled, to a patina perhaps unlike any other avant band ever out
    of Germany, Einstürzende Neubauten decided to release this latest
    ten-track collection on their own accord. With lyrics by resident
    spoken croonster Blixa Bargeld, the band offers a heavy piano on
    opener “Die Wellen.” Building and building with their signature
    percussion, things slowly come to a crescendo and close abruptly. It’s
    dramatic, alive. The record continues with the clip-clop of “Nagorny
    Karabach” which sounds like an intimate, dusty travelogue. Since the
    early 80′s this quartet have offered a wide angled discography with
    fiery experimentation that never seems to cut itself short from
    beating its own drum(s). That outcome has provided amazing work like
    the powerful tin beats as heard on “Weil Weil Weil” alongside a
    spirited vocal by Bargeld and other electronics and a barrage of amped
    samples. It’s probably the best “song” for them in years. It’s got a
    contained structure. All sung in German, their sound, gutteral,
    poker-faced and at times poking fun at itself, becomes another
    instrument telling a story for any ears, bilingual or not. Elsewhere
    on Alles Wieder Offen you’ll find field recordings mixed down as on
    “Von Wegen” which is a cross between an acoustic folk rock number with
    the vestiges of a operatic prelude. But when the percussive beat
    blends in things become more uncalculated. And this is what these
    gents are known for. Taking it way out. The title track starts like
    something from 80s new wave, with a noir Nick Cave-like vocal. Rhyme
    may have a reason. Most lovely here I must point out “Susej” which
    something of an industrial love song. Posing in a bit of a whisper
    over the clink of a repetitive beat that comes and goes with dramatic
    flair. [Purchase]


  • Fear Falls Burning & Nadja :: Self Titled (2007)
  • Conspiracy, CD

    This is an explosive barrage of droning guitars and percussion. It
    cranks and careens and crashes and burns. There is a broad peripheral
    soundscape here, something drown in amplification and its absorption
    of everything in its path. Not loud for the sake of it either, there’s
    more of a twisted containment of an abundance of noise junk, being
    controlled and manipulated with a keen construction. The flailing
    metallic jamboree of brass and small explosions breathe from inner
    earth. This hour is split in near even quadrants, so it’s as if you
    are listening to an aural play in part. The volume shifts, but there
    is a beating that is constant, blurry at points then open and raw in
    others. By part three they are in a quieter space, wider, more about
    harmonies in the atmospheric strings, and the chamber music crated by
    the din of the background. A pale sense of sadness in the air rides
    towards the final track when things become nearer and clearer.
    Actually, this is done with a stretched drone that is as balancing as
    it is menacing. The long washes of guitar are mixed and filtered like
    light fading into a distant valley. But that is edged out by the
    clamor of heavy bass and distortion at midpoint which continues its
    path until the very last minute where things settle with the sense of
    a angered, mysterious cliffhanger. [Purchase]


  • Valgeir Sigurdsson :: Ekvílibríum (2007)
  • Bedroom Community, CD

    Here’s a debut from an Icelandic producer who has worked with Bjork,
    Sigur Rós, Coco Rosie, among others. The sounds are wafting delicacies
    with strings and breezy buzz, music boxes all intertwined with guest
    vocals and other sensitive arrangements. Symphonic strings with
    breaks, recalling the soundtrack for Dancer in the Dark which he
    worked on with Bjork are evident on the sauntering stop/start of
    “Focal Point.” The harmonies are bright and flickery. “Baby Architect”
    with J. Walker has a rambling, cut-up feel to it, like they are
    humming along inside a machine that is slicing tiny portions and
    feeding it back. There’s a warmth throughout the entire record that
    spills softly. At times this sounds like a lost record from the 70′s
    hidden rock opera vault as peaked at in tracks like “Winter Sleep”
    with its Craig Armstrong-like overtures and ambient texturing. Dawn
    McCarthy’s voice is a lovely addition that makes for something
    brightly birdlike. As I listen the sounds fade away, on the
    romanticized “Equilibrium is Restored.” It’s a passage to a small
    gazebo in a forest, among nature, a recital with passing minstrels,
    and light faire. Ekvílibríum is a floating and dreamy record that
    suggests taking a much needed, contemplative pause from our
    advertising saturated, overproduced daily speed culture. Charming. [Purchase]


  • Ethan Rose :: Spinning Pieces (2007)
  • Locust Music, CD

    This tight threesome of tracks collects a piece each recorded in 2003,
    04 and recently in 07 – each with the concept of sounds that are
    cylindrical, emulating music boxes, player pianos or other motorized
    sound machines. Ethan Rose has been busy at work recording film
    soundtrack work with Gus Van Sant in between touring with his band
    Small Sails, and when he has the wherewithall even creates sound-based
    art installations. Here are some of the sounds that have not quite
    fallen between the cracks. Starting with the tinkling ringing metallic
    harmonics of “Singing Tower” which was recorded at Stanford University
    and manipulated from an automated carillon. Rose is fascinated by the
    potential of re-using these archaic instruments of yesteryear that
    didn’t need a human to play them. He shows his penchant by taking
    their sources throughout this recording and filtering, modifying and
    otherwise completely reinventing their wheels. The results are powdery
    washes of ambient drones, undulating rhythms that bend above and
    around the listener. It’s quite mesmerizing and centering. On “…the
    dot and the line…” he’s used a series of player pianos and subteley
    coarse sound effects that carress the edges of the surface. The piano
    is distant as though a lone player is practicing in the dulling divide
    of another room. The earliest work here, “Miniature & Sea” sources
    optical film readers as well as small music boxes to obtain a
    figure-in-the-attic ghostly effect. There is a certain hollow that air
    whistles through steadily like a police siren a few blocks away, or
    the faded screech of roman candles in July. The pulse breaks the
    cyclical frame of the piece nicely, and shifts to a meandering sound
    haiku of sorts. The piece eventually roars like a passing train at a
    nosehair away until things slowly degenerate into a clump of
    austerity. [Purchase]


  • Psychic TV / PTV3 :: Hell is Invisible…Heaven Is Her/e (2007)
  • Sweet Nothing/Cargo, CD

    Kick it Genesis (and crew)! From the climbing opening righteous
    rocker “Higher and Higher” to the wee notes of “Milk Baba” this really
    explodes all over the place. A bit with the vengeance of 80′s bands
    like Love & Rockets, Icicle Works and others who focused more on the
    guitar than on the synthesizer. Jammed in here through smart samples
    and sound effects are some real pop rock gems, without the trite
    structure of bridge, chorus et al. For example, “In Thee Body” starts
    like some industrial dirge that spins into a jamming guitar with a
    spoken word vocal questioning the reality of the self in the body. It
    meanders just long enough to bring about a streaming of consciousness
    of the listener, then brings you back. It darkly rambles about, partly
    unrecognizable lyrics, chantlike to a degree. A rock anthem or sacred
    code? On “Maximum Swing” the bold tribal percussion is blurs the
    buried, gutteral Tom Waits-style vocal which spouts “She could take
    the poison from a bee sting…She can pull the feathers off a black
    angel wing”. It’s high tone attitude, aha. “New York Story” is their
    out loud, hazy-dazy nod to Velvet Underground, tamborine and all.
    Serrated strings and shoegazer crooning mixes rightly with the
    saltiness of it all in a similar style heard primarily from bands like
    Spiritualized. And then there’s the near trance-like “Hooka Chalice”
    which transgresses the whole variance of PTV stylings, from noir
    visualizations to chamber music until it blows the roof off the mother
    about a minute and a half in. Wow. Unexpected grinder totally nailed.
    A riot in all senses of the word. [Purchase]


  • Sawako :: Madoromi (2007)
  • Anticipate, CD

    Sawako has been making soft, atmospheric works for the last few years
    and this is of the same ilk. Where things seem to grow is in the
    overall sense of composition. The sounds are less ‘tiny’ sounding, and
    roll around in space more fluidly. She’s managed to tour and play
    live, and the spatial plane here has been effected by a growth in a
    greater sense of spatial sound management. The whispers on “August
    Neige” sound channeled like apparitions rather than a collaged
    patchwork of added sounds in the mix, there is an overall sense of
    fusion in the way she is now layering and laying it all down. The
    ambience is perfectly mood setting, then building. There’s this sense
    of an endless lagoon of sensuous, cool water rippling, a fine mist on
    a hot day, and this sated feeling to the tips of your being. “Appled
    Soapbox” is a warped piece with an indistinguishable voice sample that
    repeats in and outside itself. Throughout Sawako hints generously at
    the landscape of her native Japanese roots with themes of quietude and

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