Thursday, February 26, 2009

Mark Templeton + aA. Munson - Acre Loss

Mark Templeton + aA. Munson
Acre Loss
(01.2009, Anticipate)
RIYL = Geoff Mullen, Colleen, Chihei Hatakeyama

It feels kinda cheap to be reviewing solely the musical side of Acre Loss, a truly collaborative effort between Mark Templeton and aA. Munson. The project was conceived as an artistic melding of visual and audio mediums to be produced as a DVD which is supplemented with a CD of the musical tracks. As such, it only make sense that this thing is coming from Anticipate, who has already spearheaded similar projects seeking to further the marriage between the what we see and what we hear. Templeton is the audio artist here, following up his stunning debut for Anticipate, Standing On A Hummingbird, but Munson probably deserve equal credit for the music (as Templeton does for the visuals) so you’ll have to simply remember that when I reference Templeton, I reference both. Still, standing alone, the musical score for Acre Loss is transcendently gorgeous and obviously cinematic in its scope and grandeur. Unfortunately, lots of music that is currently being made can be described in those terms. The unfortunate part isn’t that there is lots of great music that is utterly beautiful and warm, glacial and imaginative, but that somehow detracts from the fact that Acre Loss is much more than that. Templeton’s work is characterized by luxurious electro-acoustic melodies textured with various electronics and found sounds along the way. It is pretty common place in terms of ambient and drone based records, but Templeton must be just that much more charming than his contemporaries because he is somehow able to coax out platinum and diamonds when everyone else is only able to get gold and crystals. And yeah, gold and crystals are great, but, sheesh, it is nothing compared to what Templeton’s got here with Acre Loss. You know what? Trying to describe just why Templeton’s tones are so good reminds me of trying to describe The Fun Years album from last year. It is just that ‘it’ factor popping up again. Something involving the purity of love with which Acre Loss has been constructed harkens all of the very best in sound sculpture. Templeton may be fairly new in terms of his output, but he is certainly plugging away with the very top tier of what is coming out right now, and what has come out in the last ten years for that matter. Absolutely essential in every respect and from the looks of what I have seen from Munson’s visual work, Acre Loss is sure to be an unparalleled achievement in terms of cross-media collaboration.

-Lil' Thistle

Monday, February 23, 2009

Niagara Falls - Sequence of Prophets

Niagara Falls
Sequence of Prophets
(02.2009, Honeymoon Music)
RIYL = Stag Hare, White Rainbow, Cloudland Canyon

The idea of psychedelic music, or at least the use of ‘psychedelic’ as a descriptor when discussing music, is one that is rooted in hallucinogenic properties of drugs. It is at this point I will have to admit that the closest I have come to hallucination through drug use is when I was coming off of the anesthetics after having my wisdom teeth removed. There I was in the car with my mom just kind of going bonkers. It really wasn’t too different from that recent viral video of David After [the] Dentist (“is this real life?”). So yeah, never done any illegal drugs. In fact, I’ve never even been drunk, so I am just going to have to assume that ‘psychedelic’ is the appropriate adjective here when describing Niagara Falls. I’m betting so, because not only is Sequence of Prophets addictive, but it is also a veritable trip mind-wise. Niagara Falls’ sound falls squarely into the more earthy arena of psychedelia, the kind conjuring shaman and mystics and plenty of haze. With that in mind, you won’t find any guitar solos here (though, by the looks of the band photo on the back of this LP, I was kind of expecting some). Nope, Niagara Falls are a credit to they’re pseudonym, creating a thick wash of droning chords that move like a large body of water through a well inhabited forest. If you look closely, you can almost see the natives amongst the woods adding a rhythmic drum patter to the flow of the water. Oh yeah, and could we forget the giant cliff that it’s about to tumble over? On “Flatlands,” the opening track, things start off fluid and serene. But gradual pick up speed and strength with each additional instrument added to the fray. The opener eases you in perfectly to the increasingly dynamic and instrumental sermons written into Sequence of Prophets. The diversity found here isn’t so wide that we’re hittin’ on some hip hop on one end and death metal at another, but in terms of music of this ilk, Niagara Falls provides the added bonus of wading away from the standard monotonous course in effort to create new streams of instrumentation. The icing on the cake is that the whole thing is pressed to wax with a free digital download, so there is really no excuse, is there? Glorious free forest drone magic!

-Mr. Thistle

Niagara Falls Live at The Compound 6/30/07 from honeymoon music on Vimeo.

Humcrush - Rest At Worlds End

Rest At Worlds End
(01.2009, Rune Grammofon)
RIYL = Supersilent, Elephant9, MoHa!, spaceship synths

Improvisation is sticky territory reserved for only the most adept musicians. At surface level it is both exciting and infuriating. In one sense, you think to yourself: ‘why in the world would I want to listen to someone randomly noodling away on any instrument in order prove some sort of musical dexterity?” It is a fair question, and one that I think applies to a great majority of improvisation. Most people simply are unable to be engaging on the fly. However, for those who are the opposite is true. In the face of shear nothingness, a creative and musically proficient artist can mold nothingness into a mind stretching something that somehow equates to more than any amount of focused composition could. The intrinsic immediacy of the music turns into a vibrant force, adding colour to a previously blank page. The difficulty is avoiding the craftiness of Bob Ross in favor of the ingenuity of Robert Rauschenberg. It’s a thin line, and one all the more beautifully walked when the number of musicians is multiplied (at least when they gel). Humcrush, one of the many talented improvisational acts hailing from the stables of Rune Grammofon, is a duo of drumming maestro Thomas Strønen and keyboard contortionist Ståle Storløkken. Rest At Worlds End is culled from live recordings, however, the clarity is such that this fact is somewhat irrelevant. Incorporating heavy doses of genius on both melodic and percussive fronts, on Rest At Worlds End, Humcrush have signaled themselves as one of the better acts on Rune Grammofon, which, for those who’ve followed the Scandinavian super-label, is quite an impressive achievement. The wonderful thing about this latest record is how Strønen and Storløkken effortlessly transition between brain scrambling instrumental blitzes and soulful, meandering atmospherics. I really can’t get enough of it – lately when I find myself burnt out on everything else on my iPod, Rest At Worlds End is the go-to album to cleanse my palette and rejuvenate my listening patterns.

-Mr. Thistle

Friday, February 20, 2009

Wavves - Wavvves

(02.2009, Fat Possum)
RIYL = skateboarding, Blank Dogs, summer

It’s weird how certain bands collect descriptors. Wavves is a perfect example. You can’t read anything about this guy without reading about sundrenched beaches, surfing or the fact that he’s only 22 [gasp!]. It kind of sucks because now I can’t help but associate him with summer and it is way too cold outside to even start pretending that summer is around the corner. Well, for those of you that are in similarly freezing temperatures we are going to try to avoid those temperate Californian descriptors…mostly. On full length numero dos, not a whole lot has changed. Sure we’ve got an extra ‘v’ to grapple with, but as far as the muddled recording style that has turned Wavves from a ramshackle garage rock project into a ramshackle garage rock project inebriated on a bowl full of Starbursts and three jugs of Sunny Delight, nothings changed. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s great. The even greater part about it is that Wavves continues to prove that he has got a whole bunch more of those 8-bit mega-hooks that sent us adrift on that first record. The combination of Wavves’ simplistic pop genius coupled with his ill-managed feedback somehow conjures late-eighties-to-mid-nineties Saturday morning cartoons. I don’t quite know why. I mean can you imagine how messed up and awesome those toons would be backed by these tunes? Someone mash it up for me on Youtube because I’d like to see it. Wavves cover photo for Wavvves and Wavves probably doesn’t help either. Man skateboarding in the early nineties must have been gnarly. I can only imagine. So there you have it: endless hooks, endless distortion, endless quasi-nostalgia-flashbacks-on-meth, all good. Now if only Wavvves could defrost my windshields when I leave for work…

-Lil' Thistle

Giuseppe Ielasi - Aix

Giuseppe Ielasi
(01.2009, 12k)
RIYL = clicks, Keith Fullerton Whitman, Shuta Hasunuma, the sound of a drippy faucet

Sassigrass recently notified me (quite rightly) that my reviews are starting to get a little repetitive, filled with lots of definitive statements, “best of” comments and general hyperbole. It is really the mark of writers block. And, to be fair, writing music critiques can become a little monotonous. It is hard not to fall into the same old traps over and over again and reference the same musical lineage time and time again. Fortunately, as I work on transitioning to more meaningful, creative reviews, I have this little gem by Giueseppe Ielasi that is pretty much a compositional study on repetition and how to use it to deftly expand a space to its perfect size. On Aix, Ielasi has transitioned from his previous (and lovely I might add) drone work to a more mechanical, rhythmic style. The sound is similar in a lot of ways to the architecture displayed on the cover of the album. Various rhythmic pulses of synthetic and acoustic varieties are set off like metronomes pulsing within one another to build a structure. Within the structure, rather than making space for furnishings or clutter, there is a relatively spare space, like an empty room. It is within this room that Ielasi performs his subtle magic. As he evolves these little micro-structures created within each track, minute variances in the pulse of the songs fill each room with colour. And I am not talking your basic elementary color wheel, something about the way in which Ielasi has composed these tiny trinkets of sound evokes the most inviting hues which, again, fit quite nicely with that cover photo. All and all, it is a wonderful evolution. Listening to these tiny tracks tinker along, growing and evolving I can’t help but think of the Doozers from Fraggle Rock. You know, those single-minded little puppet architects who build the wonderfully Fragglisish towers? I can’t help but think that this is the type of music that keeps them chugging along – building, building, building to their limitless satisfaction. There is something funny about comparing the relatively intellectual constructions of Ielasi to the creations of Jim Henson, but somehow it works out in my head. Delicious work.

-Lil' Thistle

Giuseppe Ielasi - "09"

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Zu - Carboniferous

(02.2009, Ipecac)
RIYL: awesome

Zu is epic. They have collaborated with everyone you know, played over 1,000 shows all over the world, and just released their 14th album to glorious applause. The world of critical review mostly refers to them as avante jazz, though I have also seen them labeled as math rock, metal, punk, free noise, and just about any other descriptor, but I just label them as the tightest mess you have ever heard. Seriously, go get this album right now and let your brain just explode inside of your skull. This time around Zu teamed up with the ever collaborating Ipecac label owner, Mike Patton, and The Melvin's King Buzzo. Personally I like Zu instrumental style and think that Patton's eerie vocals are the only downfall of Carboniferous. The instrumentation is as brutal and as epic as music can be. Seriously, these Italians are doing it right! That's all I have to say, go directly home and annihilate your eardrums with Carboniferous. Just keep your arms inside the ride at all times and when your parents come screaming and knocking down your door don't tell them that I told you to buy it.


Beirut - March of The Zapotec and Realpeople Holland

March of The Zapotec
(02.2009, Pompeii Records)
RIYL: Pinatas or Rainbow Bright

I first listened to the new Zach Condon releases without knowing any back story as to why there were two separate EP's released together and sounding so completely different. The first half of the release, Beirut's March of The Zapotec encompasses Condon's glorious world music brass laden half of his personality while Realpeople's, Holland represents his looping electronic side. I enjoyed both, but was slightly confused by the mash difference. So I did my homework and uncovered the glorious story of Condon wanting to record with an authentic Mexican band, finding one such random band in Teotitlan del Valle, Mexico called the Jimenez Band. The 19 members in the Jimenez band spoke only Zapotec so Condon worked through a translator to write the six crazy songs. On first listen I proclaimed them sloppy and accused them of sounding like a fiesta (in a good way) and making me want to hit a pinata without knowing this information. I told Mr. Thistle how it sounded like listening to the bands play in Mexican cities I have been in. I was right! I'm so good. Several short films showing the recording process in Mexico are due to come out online in the near future. Anyways, Holland on the other hand is released under Condon's original bedroom recording moniker, Realpeople. Holland is a joyous release that will make you want to invite your friends over, wear a side ponytail and dance the night away, in a chill manner, particularly the last cheery track, "No Dice." Overall it's a very enjoyable release showcasing all of Zach's many efforts in music from 2008. It's less romantic and swooning than previous releases, (and I love Beirut's romance) but a whole lot more fun.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Natural Snow Buildings - Night Coercion Into The Company of Witches

Natural Snow Buildings
Night Coercion Into the Company of Witches
(2008, no label)
RIYL = Axolotl, Double Leopards, Mouthus

It is odd, but pretty safe to say that you don’t have this album and that you never will. A triple disc aural monstrosity, Night Coercion Into the Company of Witches (will be referred to as Night Coercion from here on out) was self released last year as an edition of 22 hand painted copies. It is absolutely insane to me that Natural Snow Buildings would put so much effort to create such a grandiose musical mega-behemoth only to limit its physical remnants to the seemingly irrelevant total of 22 copies. Just for the record, I also do not own a copy of Night Coercion. I pirated the thing and you should too. It is simply too amazing to be limited to those physical copies. Many of you may not be familiar with Natural Snow Buildings. I myself am no real expert on the band, but the proportions of their releases coupled with the unbending standard of their sound is simply beyond epic. Add to that an innumerable, sometimes untraceable discography and you got yourself the foundations of a myth my friend. Yet, somehow, the mysterious band lives up to, if not exceeds, the mythic swirl that surrounds them. Natural Snow Buildings are simply the purest form of DIY artistry in music that I have ever seen. I just could go on saying ‘wow’ all day. But what’s the point? Well, if you can manage to forget everything that surrounds the actual music, Night Coercion is probably one of the best drone based albums on the planet. Ha, that sounds so dramatic. And I’m not positive it is true, but it is definitely good enough to have me considering such a statement. The music here is dense. Thick layers of audio forestry that give one the sense of being lost in an enchanted jungle. The movement of the album’s compositional shifts are slow - like, Disintegration Loops slow - but Natural Snow Buildings pull it off as well as Basinski, it’s just where Basinski’s works were decaying, Natural Snow Buildings’ work seems to be growing ever so slowly out of control. Night Coercion stretches two and one half hours in running time and yet manages to stay completely engrossing from the beginning of first CD to the end of the third. I don’t know how it’s done, but Natural Snow Buildings definitely have enchantment on their side. Utterly astounding stuff.

-Mr. Thistle

White Denim - Workout Holiday

White Denim
Workout Holiday
(2008, Full Time Hobby)
RIYL = Tiger Bear Wolf, Women, rock n’ roll

Let's not beat around the bush. White Denim is probably one of the most overly hyped yet still underrated bands in indie rock. I don’t get it. Why is there not more people jumping on the bandwagon? Is it because their hometown blog, GorillaVsBear, seems a little too intent on proclaiming the band’s genius to the world? I always thought there must be some kind of pay relationship going on there, but then I buckled down and finally listened to Workout Holiday (one of two full length albums released last year that basically equate to the same thing, give or take a couple songs) and promptly acknowledged that these guys are the real deal. My interest was actually peaked last year after seeing the band open for the yawn-worthy Tapes n’ Tapes. The energy these guys brought to the show was absolutely awesome and more than made up for the lack thereof from the headliners. Workout Holiday carries that same live energy into the studio/garage/bedroom. The album is simply bursting sweaty grit-filled enthusiasm that is inescapable. It’s simply consuming. Before you know you’re neck will be sore from all the head bobbing, your arms sore from air guitaring and your legs will be sore from dancing to this manic concoction. Really, White Denim deserves to be uttered in the same breath as indie rock luminaries like Wolf Parade, Arcade Fire and TV on the Radio; they’re of that class. The more I listen to this the more I am addicted. Every instrument is strong here: thick, fuzzy bass lines, intertwining guitars lines and riffs, inventive drumming; its just great rock. Soulful in parts, bluesy, yet filled with a snicker and a snarl to induce emphatic, spastic Rock Bandisms (seriously, what’s the point of playing rock band if not to act like a total idiot?). All and all, White Denim have set themselves up for success. There is no way these guys can stay subterranean for long; in fact, it’s only a matter of how long it takes them to record a follow up to Workout Holiday.

-Mr. Thistle

2008 Round Up Pt. 4

More worthy releases from last year that we missed.

Mary Halvorson/Jessica Pavone/Devin Hoff/Ches Smith
Calling All Portraits
(2008, Skykap)

Calling All Portraits is worthy of much more than I am able to say in this little space. In fact, the album is probably the instigator to the writers block I’ve had for the past couple weeks. Consisting of a veritable who’s who of the Brooklyn improve/free jazz scene, Calling All Portraits is a nimble, engaging whirlwind of a record that could only come from talent such as this. The instrumentation is as follows: Halvorson on guitar, Pavone on viola (I think), Hoff on bass and Smith on drums. Each band member takes turns leading the rest of the crew for thick ride that is equal parts composed and improvised, dealing in both free jazz and chamber classical, and all without any of fatty, unlistenable chunks that usually accompany such music. A real tour de force and probably my favourite jazz album of last year.

The Versailles Sessions
(12.2008, Leaf)

Culled from compositions prepared specifically for a festival in Versailles in 2007, Murcof makes a bit of a departure from his patented electronics with six tracks composed solely with 17th century baroque instruments. Pitched as unique project to be consumed in-between ‘proper’ releases, The Versailles Sessions certainly holds its own as another monument to Murcof’s eclectic, powerful musicianship. Dark and brooding with a sense of an ancient world twisted into the present, The Versailles Sessions morph with a fluid ease that can only be attributed to inspiration. A beautifully dynamic disc with surprising replay value.

Arve Henriksen
(10.2008, ECM Records)

Rune Grammofon mainstay and Supersilent co-founder, has wandered from his home label for his fourth solo release with ECM. I don’t have any background on the label change, but it doesn’t really seem to matter since the already highly esteemed Norwegian trumpeter has created such a devastatingly gorgeous release with Cartography. Extremely measured and soulful with the kind of soul that seem to only be available to the trumpet, Henriksen builds on the shoulders of his prior work with heartbreaking trumpet lines that are often accompanied by vocal specters that float and intertwine with the instrumentation. Cartography is simply gorgeous and worthy of a much better equipped write up. Probably tied with Calling All Portraits as jazz album of 2008.

-Mr. Thistle