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23 May 2009

Anti-Pop Consortium - 'Tragic Epilogue' (75 Ark)

These guys should have been so awesome. The music media proclaimed that "hip-hop" and "experimental" had finally found their place together, 'cept whenever I listen to this (or, come to think of it, anything else ever described as such) there's too much of the former and not enough of the latter. What makes this so "experimental"? That these guys are kinda nerdy, like weird words, and employ more stoner/lo-fi production methods than radio-friendly rap? I guess I must accept the reality: I just don't like hip-hop; if I want experimental + language I'll go to Robert Ashley or Henri Chopin. The instrumentals are probably my favorite part, which, I know, says more about me than about the music itself. Maybe I'm being too hard on them, but I don't think time has been too kind to this; there's a few 'interesting' elements, but interesting in a Logan's Run kind of way. Maybe they're talking about slingshotting into the sun and walls turning inside out, but it still has that rap diction. That masculine affect is a turn-off; it makes me think that the real radicals are the white kids doing sound poetry in the basements of Columbus, OH and other such dens of weirdness. Saying 'Control-alt-delete' in a rap song was probably a little more edgy in 2000 but now you might as well rap "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC." The Wire used to jizz over these guys if I remember correctly - well, mission accomplished cause they opened up for Radiohead on tour and thus ensured their audience would be eternally white kids who went to college round the turn of the millenium (well .... I must admit, my hand is raised there). Not that there's anything wrong with that - far be it from DUSAET to suggest that hip-hop must have some radical communicative purpose; we're even less keen to engage in stupid debates about 'authenticity' or 'keeping it real' or whatever. And I hope I don't sound too hung up on the white audience thing - there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. My point is that out of the 1,100 or so records that will ultimately get their time here, I feel like I can connect to just about every one of them. This is one where I cannot; and like all 'reviews', this says more about me than the music.

17 May 2009

Antennas Erupt! - 'Magical Energy' (S-S)

Antennas Erupt! - I guess the exclamation mark is part of it - are some young guys from a jazz background, with a California vibe.  Though the horns lean on melody they display a strong predilection for getting 'free with it; still, this record is a million miles from some neo-freejazz ESP-worshipping skronk fest.  Instead they bring in some grooving rock structures, and melodies that suggest the finer folk-dance flavors of Black Saint and Sinner Lady, Liberation Music Orchestra, and Carla Bley's work (all of which will be visited in future installments of DUSAET).  It's the good side of fusion, though this bears no relation to stuff like Tony Wiliams Lifetime or Bitches Brew.  Antennas Erupt! are into the good life - fun and energetic, driving on the freeway with the top down, eating at reasonably priced ethnic restaurants - but with a purpose.  Serious, but not too serious.  Fun but not too frivolous.  They're willing to sing a bit, and compose some great aggro-classical counterpoint, but open up the throttle a few times too.    I've seen them live and can vouch that they are a brilliant live experience; despite the relative 'accessibility' of their sound I think they might exist outside of any 'scene', and thus recognition may continue to 'elude' them.   Versatility is the name of their game and I have no doubts they could shift between a totally direct message and the wildest explorations of the outer soundosphere.  Plus, you gotta love a band with a song called "Healthy Vaginal Walls" that doesn't sound like the Mentors.  S-S has done a lovely edition here in white vinyl with a cool blue and white screened foldout cover; I'm not sure if there's any still available but it's definitely worth tracking this down!

11 May 2009

Animal Collective - 'Here Comes the Indian' (Paw Tracks)

The first record to be feature all four Animals was a pretty big deal in my world when it came out, though I don't think I listened to it nearly as much as I thought I would. More likely I decided it was brilliant and then shelved it and forgot about it under the mountain of other things coming in back then, cause listening now its like I've never heard it before. I mean, those were the days ... before these guys even had a Wikipedia page! The nervous energy from Danse Manatee is there, and there's also some vocal harmonies doubled with heavily processed sounds - the blueprint for Sung Tongs and all that followed. All the scraping and ringing is done in such earnest - it's all so fucking tightly composed and exact - and it really does feel like a 'statement' of sorts. The effects boxes might be a little more overt here, compared to their later (less sourceable) weirdness, being that you can actually recognise the digital delay that's all over this like yogurt on peacock feathers. Mid-00's impressionism can be such a beautiful thing: a million precedents of Other musics and a million refracted walks in the woods, through the glossy-eyed calibrations I and a million peers shared in 2003. Maybe when all is said and done this will be what I remember as their best album; that's often the case with the one just before the "breakthrough" (which usually just refers to terms commercial) for lots of artists. Course, I haven't heard their newest record, which people keep telling me "changes music forever". Even if it did, would I want that to happen? My breakthrough was Danse Manatee - after struggling for so long myself wanting to find pop music as fractured and extreme as what I imagined it could be, that record was it - but this one is no slouch, either.

6 May 2009

Amon Düül II - 'Wolf City' (United Artists)

We continue our look at "every other Amon Düül II record" with Wolf City, from '72.  Post-Lemmings AD2 should really be Amon Düül III, as there's some lineup switcheroos and a fairly new direction, though the Internet informs that there actually was an Amon Düül III in the 1980s, also known as Amon Düül UK.  Maybe instead of a new direction it's better to say that Wolf City continues the evolution of trends that are audible back in the Phallus Days.  The main trend is really 'songwriting', as this conforms more to a classic pop/rock album, or maybe defining prog-pop (in a dude way, not like Steely Dan).  The vocals are way up in the mix and there's a lyrical swing that carries through the whole record.   Something feels "tighter" despite the element of 'space' still thick in every song - Germanic space, not American-style open-form space (they're different, really!).  The instrumental jam has a bunch of Indian musicians creating a microtonal soup,  classic appetizer of the early 70s; somehow it feels like the missing link between the earlier records and this.  With all the singing in English, crisp production, and fairly accessible structures, this doesn't feel like das Sellout.  Actually the rhythms are crunchy and thick enough that this almost feels like a proto-metal record, reminding me of a band like Budgie.  The vocals on some tracks are pure N.W.O.B.H.M., and maybe were heard by a few German kids (the Scorpions?) even if Chuck Eddy calls this later period their "prog-rock downfall".  Another stunning gatefold, though this one is less spaceship and more bad trip.  

4 May 2009

Amon Düül II - 'Dance of the Lemmings' (United Artists)

Sometimes I think 1971 was a high point in the cultural ooze, though I'm fully aware that we always fetishize the impossible, and this blogspotter was not yet alive so I guess I'm guilty as charged. Maybe '71 smelled really bad or everyone was itchy, but I think there was something good in the water because first-rate records and films kept shooting out like inchoate meteors. We've had to skip Yeti and jump to Amon Düül II's masterpiece, Dance of the Lemmings. The band is honed down to only four people (since Phallus Dei's covershot suggests it was once quite the party) and they've never been further away from their roots (see our review of This is Amon Düül for more on that). Side 1 is given to the 'Syntelman's March of the Roaring Seventies' suite, and the Krautbuzz rarely has hit peaks like this. 'Pull Down your Mask' is just one of the four parts but the one most memorable for its haunting creepy vocals.  Until the end, it's relatively genteel and clean-sounding, yet still trippy, psychedelic, and whathaveyou.  At some point in my salad days I figured out that just turning on distortion and volume does not alone make music 'heavy'; weight comes from the spaces between the notes, the timings, and that which cannot by automated.  I think 'Syntelman's March of the Roaring Seventies' taught me the same thing about psychedelic music.  It's postively barren and sparse when compared to today's hordes of knob-turning  noise kiddies,  but more 10th dimensional and mindbending than most 'psychedelic' dross.   And it's a bad trip, indeed.   It's like the band has reinvented itself from  prog nerdlers into utter bummermongers, and nothing could be more perfect to usher in the decade of bad vibes that was to follow. Even the back cover, with scary goat-skull-tree-man on a comfy sofa, screams 'stay the fuck away'. And the scythe-wielding Amon Düül logo is rendered in a way that would make even the most hardened suburban metalheads skip a breath and force out a "cool". But can they keep it up over the course of a double album? Of course they can, and they do, and it's the second side where we get the walls of burning solder, sawing folk fiddles and klassic kosmische edges.  Plus, for a few bars they kick this perfect hip-hop beat.   The third side is a soundtrack that is obv. more improvised than the first half but still has some insane movement.  There's a lot of piano and some swell bass drones; it all feels a bit edited together, but that's okay cause I'm not a purist about those things.  This may be the closest to 'jazz' we've seen from AD2, though it's really space-jazz.   Bonus points for the records being split into sides 1+4, and 2+3 -- a testament to the olden days of those record flipping contraptions.  I believe we could press a 2xLP like that today and call it a "throwback".  Side four brings us back to the 'songs'.  This side is instrumental, in the classic rock rifftastic arterial way.  Some weird editing at play:  halfway through, one track fades out on a flange-heavy drumbeat and then after a moment of silence, fades back in with the same beat.   A bit of conceptual brilliance or the only way to cover a mistake?  Also, is it just a bit stereotypical to make side 3 your "extended jam" side and return to songs at the end?  Though maybe this defined the trend.  I feel like I should say something about lemmings, who are thought of in popular culture as suicide-prone little creatures and thus an appropriate metaphor for the dark vibes of this album.  But actually, lemmings have no such inclinations  - this is just some murderous lies spread by the Disney corporation.  And I've also made it through this whole review without mentioning the amazing spaceship gatefold, complete with primitive PDA and space-elephant.

2 May 2009

Amon Düül II - 'Phallus Dei' (Sunset)

The more technically skilled side of the Amon Düül collective made this first album in 1969 and started a whole new strain of German rock music that is still influencing kids today. The first side is surprisingly conventional rock, though of the very progressive variety, if progressive means lots of chord changes, modal riffs, and polyrhythms. Side two is the 20 minute title track - which is a pretty great title, if you sprechen sie bit of Deutsch - and it starts off in a very progressive way, if progressive means dark synthetic hellbeast screaming drone vortex. It falls into place though with the ragin' riffs and rhythm shifts, before taking on a weird neo-classical/folk content. Maybe I just get all tingly whenever I hear a violin being played like that but I think they were really looking at Grosse Bretagne. When you can feel the fire ticking it's most effective, but I keep thinking ahead to Yeti (which sadly won't be reviewed here, as we don't have a copy) and the gnarly wizard cookout that was to follow. I'm pretty sure I saw a Kurt Kren film one that had this album as the soundtrack, though it looked more like the proper German cover than this disappointing British value series cover. Interesting though: the back cover touts some of the other records in the series that may be of interest to Amon Düül fans, such as Shirley Bassey and Del Shannon.