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12 April 2013

Egg, Eggs - 'The Cleansing Power of Fruit' (Feeding Tube)

I'm enthusiastic for any band who features punctuation in their name. Egg, Eggs are as confusing as their name, built around free electric rock, random electronics, and babbling nonsense vocals. There's parts here that start to resemble song structures, certainly with repetition in the voice, but it beelines for absurdity as soon as it can. Recording techniques are scattered, with lots clearly sourced from practices and open jams, edited into a whole that is just as incoherent as fragments, but longer. I admit I ordered this because I was getting stuff from Feeding Tube anyway and it sounded intruiging; the first two listens did nothing for me, but this time through I'm really grooving on it. There's people from the Western Massachusetts scene all over this, though the only name I recognise is John Maloney from Sunburned Hand of the Man, whose drumming here is crisp, light and evasive. While the vocalist is chanting about feathers and seashells, you get some shit-fart bass, clattering snare, and a general discordance. If your only influence was reading old issues of Bananafish and then you decided to start a rock band, it would probably sound like this. I love most forms of absurd nonsense, and I also have a high tolerance for curious vocal techniques; singer David Russell is quite the tenor, squeaking around almost like a caricature while obsessively intoning mantras like 'My name's Mr. Eat Candy, I'm pleased to meet you mystery candy". I'll imagine that is actually Hollywood director David O. Russell, who swung by while filming The Fighter to record these sessions. If you like Starship Beer or large parts of the BUFMS box set, then this is carrying the torch. It's also endless, or feels that way; it's really long, for a single LP, and varied enough that the more driving parts ('Foul Chinese Waterfront Pig') offset the more spare elements, and it feels like a true compendium of madness. It's hard to pinpoint what Egg, Eggs are striving to express here - there's a strong sense of game-playing, of course, and a collage aesthetic throughout; but I can't help but wonder why they chose these edits over the surely hours of other sessions they had.

11 April 2013

Egg (Deram Nova)

Egg occupy a space somewhere between power trio and prog-rock. Dave Stewart's organ is the lead, and it sounds like an organ, mostly eschewing effects and other processing in order to construct creative, intelligent rock music where the keys are the lead instrument. The vocals are actually I've always liked most about Egg - Mont Campbell signs earnestly, with a deep reverberating voice and with lyrics, printed on the sleeve, that exhibit an honest creativity. His bass playing is essential though, being sinewy enough to push against Stewart's changes without being dominant. The structures are tight, but it doesn't feel overly rigid - maybe it's the jazz influections of drummer Clive Brooks, but it's responsive. This is Canterbury in a nutshell - the thinking man's rock, and a fairy early entry, from 1970, that avoids pompousness for the most part. Somehow they manage to cover Bach's 'Fugue in D' and it comes off as charming and cute instead of stuffy classical wanking. Egg are clear to separate their vocal-based songs from their more experimental instrumental excursions. Overall, they don't get too out there - this is definitely on the safe prog, so we have no completely free sessions or white noise blankets or musique concrete or anything like that, except for one dazzling movement of side 2. 'The Song of McGillicuddie the Pusillanimous' (and that's only half the title) is the best song on the album, with slicing organ riffs recalling 60's garage and a fairly intense lyrical bend. Side two is given over to the 'Symphony No. 2', where the Bachisms come to the forefront again, as well as the more atmospheric excursions as previously mentioned; sometimes the bass is just a low gritty hum, and the noisy passage just before the last movement has a great, chunky organ that does finally step on the ring modulation. It works a cohesive piece and ends a pretty solid album, I think Egg's only one - they soon went on to do Hatfield and the North and National Health, where a more strident professionalism stagnates things slightly. But we're still a few years away from the H's, let alone the N's.

10 April 2013

Eat Skull - 'Wild and Inside' (Siltbreeze)

Eat Skull's second album is something I've consistently listened to since it came out almost four years ago, and it makes a lot of sense to me. This gang just pulls everything together in the right balance, making records that are strident, yet not cocky; welcoming but not obvious; quirky but not obtuse. 'Stick to the Formula' lays things out on side 1 track 1 with a knowing smirk, and listening back to back with Sick to Death, nothing has really changed, except the songwriting has leaped ahead a notch. There's perhaps a bit more of an embrace of the 80s Kiwi sound here - 'Heaven's Stranger' sounds exactly like early Clean. It's also my favourite song by Eat Skull, with it's slightly-too-many-words for the chorus line ringing out like an indefinite anthem. 'Happy Submarine' continues this feel - lay an earnest, upbeat male vocal over a reverb drenched electric guitar and minimal tambourine - it's followed by 'Talkin' Bro in the Wall Blues' which is a slow ballad, at least by Eat Skull standards, and like the first album, it ends with a more subdued, almost folky feel ('Dawn in the Face' and 'Oregon Dreaming'). The aggro side is most evident in 'Nuke Mecca' which somehow works despite it's ridiculous nature. The lyrics are there to be heard; nothing is hidden, yet it's still somewhat elusive. One wonders if Eat Skull could express some true pain, or show any sign of a struggle, but this is the bedroom psychedelia movement in a nutshell - good times on a pinpoint aesthetic. It's a very short trip, too. I remember that a good friend of mine did not match my enthusiasm for Eat Skull, citing this band as one of the reasons he felt alienated from contemporary underground rock; he saw this as vapid, cheap and empty music that played it safe and just followed a cookiecutter pattern. Maybe he's right, because I feel his alienation with much of the current wave, so i think I've just made an exception for Eat Skull because they push exactly the right buttons for me. This isn't meant as a criticism - their output since this has definitely tried to open some doors, and I'm glad to hear it.

9 April 2013

Eat Skull - 'Sick to Death' (Siltbreeze)

Eat Skull's first record, along with the first Pink Reason LP, is a key release in what I see as the 'second wave' of Siltbreeze. It seemingly came out of nowhere, but the I wasn't really hip to what was going on in Portland in 2008. It was exciting to hear at the time, symbolising some sort of bridge to the past greatness of the 90s underground, by virtue of being on this great label. These kids really feel like 'kids' - a youthful exuberance breaks through everything, and if there's an easy criticism here, it's that Eat Skull are a bit manufactured. This cobbles together a bunch of influences I share into a perfect pastiche that simultaneously touches on UK DIY, early Flying Nun, 90s twee indie, contemporary lo-fi, and even a bit of that Shrimper bi-fi feel. The songs are primarily driven by the vocalist, very blown out guitars, and cheap keyboards, and the whole thing sounds like it was recorded on a dictaphone. The pure pop hooks aren't as overt as on their next album, but they poke through on songs like 'Stress Crazy' and 'Ghost List', where the self-conscious static and hiss gets broken through by something genuinely affective. Closing cut 'New Confinement', with a female vocalists, sounds like it could be an outtake by Garbage and the Flowers. I'd like to say it feels a bit disingenuous at times, but the name of the game is 'fun' from start to finish, and while things songs aren't going to bring me to my knees through a sheer understanding of human emotion (if anything, I couldn't really tell you what any of these songs are 'about'), I'm willing to overlook that. It's punk with soft edges, or pop with rough edges, but this is indicative of the new late 00s underground, where its agents are just as comfortable bashing out experiments in tape noise and power electronics as they are writing saccharine indie love songs. Their second record felt at the time like a major leap forward after this, but listening to Sick to Death again, it's basically the same formula only a bit less catchy.

7 April 2013

Eardrum - 'Last Light' (Leaf)

Eardrum, a British duo (I assume they are British - you can just tell), put out this double LP in 1999 and  my rhythm-seeking ears were thrilled at the time. This is a work of complex assemblage, made to feel like an organic jam; I'm not sure if it belongs in the 'electronica' genre or if it's dance music or why any of that matters, but people like to classify things. The drum in the name Eardrum is key here, as this is built around percussion. This appealed to me because Eardrum avoided harsh, dance-like club beats and used acoustic recordings; the multilayered psychedelic quilt that results is invigorating, light, and functions as both deep-listening and good-time music. Polyrhythmic syncopation is just the base; the various textures are the real joy here, and they are built from howling echo effects, wispy flutes, and other accents. 'Swamp Doctor' opens up side two with a lighter pitter-patter, suggesting equatorial music, but it somehow escapes any stereotypes, even that of eclectic hybrid forms. I also like O.Rang, who I'm reminded of by this; such invigorating exotica is not everyday fare for me, but it's hard to find fault. When the beats get more rapid, as on 'Nightcrawler', it's never overwhelming; there's enough counterpoint and development over the course of each piece to keep things moving. Tension is immediately released, and when occasional digital artefacts are audible, they feel more like phase/flange effects than glitch-core. It's an achievement to make music that is clearly constructed from samples, edits and very finicky details yet still manages to feel so loose. The four sides of this go by quickly, mastered loud on 180-gram vinyl that has strangely sharp edges to it. It a melting pot, clearly sampled from worldwide sources, but darting in and out of various regions. 'From the Nucleus' starts to take on a rainforest feel, with sonorities not a million miles from Gamelan music, but doesn't commit. Perhaps this is true contemporary music, a grey-washing that aims for the middle of all metrics and somehow doesn't  feel blanched. Reading back over this post, I realise that almost every sentence asserts something about Eardrum and then gives a qualifying "but..." so maybe this balance is even evident when listening. Active balance, perhaps?