Monday, April 20, 2009

Dragging An Ox Through Water - The Tropics of Phenomenon

Dragging An Ox Through Water
The Tropics of Phenomenon
(04.2009, Freedom To Spend)
RIYL = Kurt Weisman, Ursula Bogner, complete awesomeness this is something. Like whoa! My updates have been sparse as of the last couple weeks and are likely to continue to be so for a couple more as I finish out this semester. Oh man, Summer has been a long time coming huh? Well I had to break this little silence, if only momentarily for what is quite possibly the most ridiculously radical (= ridiculous, right Grant?) record I have heard in more than just a little while. Wowza. Seriously, I can’t stop pressing repeat. This is going to sustain me through finals and beyond for certain. So, what/who is it? Dragging An Ox Through Water is the official moniker of Portland resident, Brian Mumford. Apparently, the Awesome Vistas label in Portland snuck The Tropics of Phenomenon out secretly last year to the exasperatedly positive response of the local Portland scene, but with little other adulation to speak of. Now, Pete Swanson (formerly of the mighty Yellow Swans) has seen fit to re-release the album on his label, Freedom To Spend, as a compact disc, and thank goodness for that. My heavens, this is too good for words and my particular case of words are so shot and tired. The first thing you should know about Dragging An Ox Through Water, I suppose, is that he is a sorcerer. You are dealing with magic here. At the core of these little pockets of sorcery lie the most simplistic and beautiful of outsider pop balladry, of bizarre Americana and fragile, freakish folk. All on their lonesome, these gems would shine a country mile in every direction. The core is strong and unique, in the same vein as, say, Joanna Newsom or Neutral Milk Hotel. However, Mr. Mumford is not merely a genius song crafter but cavernous sound engineer. These songs are mortally infused with an electronic pulse that propels them into a realm of ancient, mythical robotics. It colours the album in the most enchantingly peculiar way and lifts Mumford’s simple bedroom string pluckery into a whole 'nother realm. And from what I understand, the whole things is orchestrated by Mumford’s own hands. Heaved atop of his acoustic meandering, Dragging An Ox Through Water feels more like dragging an acoustic guitar through an old-world toy store and then an analog electronics shop and then a mechanical bird aviary and then the fifth dimension. And it is so awesome! If you could only see the grin on my face as I type this. I can’t help it. The Tropics of Phenomenon is so gorgeous and atonal and bizarre and exciting, I can’t contain myself. The oscillating purrs! The noisy chirps! The broken Casios! I have just come to a resolution: a deal with you the readers, as it were. I am going to post this little inept review and leave it up until I’m done with school. This album needs to be at the very top of the Forest Gospel blog posts for at least a couple of weeks. The thing is, why move onto to something else? The Tropics of Phenomenon is something to savor, something to fully and completely indulge. Don’t worry about all the Grizzly Bears and Dirty Projectors and other, similarly hyped nonsense out there in the blogosphere. Sure, those records are all fairly good, but none of those upcoming records match the utterly refreshing pulse that flows through this record. Dragging An Ox Through Water slays that stuff. So, The Tropics of Phenomenon isn’t likely to become the next Pitchfork poster child (they seem to be getting more and more offbase by the minute), but I assure you, if you want to hear some real magic, if you want to hear some real audio sorcery, something truly enchanting and transportative, something that is actually worth your hard earned recession bills - it is most certainly this. I can barely even remember what else has come out this year when I'm listening to this. So, so good. Well, enjoy, and see you in a couple of weeks.

-Lil' Thistle

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Shugo Tokumaru - Rum Hee

Shugo Tokumaru
Rum Hee EP
(04.2009, Blues Interactions, Inc.)
RIYL = Colormusic, Sung Tongs Animal Collective, happiness

FG beloved, Shugo Tokumaru has returned to us in brief so I will only respond in brief. Within this, his first EP and latest slab of goodness, is three new songs, three alternate versions of older songs, one from each of his three full lengths and two remixes of the title track "Rum Hee." So, Eight tracks in whole, and nothing short of the goodness that is always Mr. Tokumaru’s MO, but certainly short of a much desired full length. At least the man is working and not forgetting his North American fanbase. Let’s start with the new stuff. The first two tracks, “Rum Hee” and “Alaska,” are pure pop ecstasy. I think I like "Alaska" of the two, but I obviously like both. Then there is “Inatemessa,” a weirdo meanderer that accelerates to odd ends, but at the same time is a fresh change of pace. I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit more experimentation from Mr. Tokumaru. The alternate version songs are…alternate versions of good songs, but not super alternate, or necessary. But still; pleasant (it is an EP for heaven’s sake). The remixes are dig-able. Oorutaichi’s in particular, which extends “Rum Hee” with all sorts of glib electronic weirdness. And then, of course, if you can get a remix by Deerhoof, take it. I think Deerhoof and Shugo Tokumaru fit together well.

-Lil' Thistle

Tokumaru's site for Rum Hee

Prefuse 73 - Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian

Prefuse 73
Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian
(04.2009, Warp)
RIYL = Flying Lotus, Onra, Kemialliset Ystavat…seriously

I don’t know how to express my joy in this new release by Scott Herren as Prefuse 73. I have been a long time follower of his magic and, really, there is nothing he has done under this particular artistic guise that isn’t worth listening to. In fact, everything was far above par until the slight (and only slight) stumble with his last album, Preparations. With Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian everything I’ve ever loved about Prefuse is back and refurbished, refreshed and ridiculously re-energized. This album flows like a glorious mixtape, and as such, is a mixtape to destroy all previous mixtapes! Forget your dub-loving DJ/Rupture worship. Sure, Uproot has its merit, but Ampexian is where it is at. In re-imagining the Prefuse 73 sound, Scott Herren has built a monstrosity that seems to have outgrown him in the best way. Logging an overwhelming 29 tracks of all shapes, lengths, sizes and sounds, Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian is ambitious and packed with millions of fresh ideas. It's kaleidoscopic, mind melting electronics that turn on a dime. There are about a dozen or so shifts that just leave your jaw hanging at their utter ridiculousness. One in particular happens early on when the first few brief tracks transition gloriously with “Sexual Fantasy Scale.” And then, just as you think you’ve come down from the euphoria there, Herren hits us up with “DEC. Machine Funk All ERA’s” which employs his signature moments of wordless vocals. The moments continue throughout as the labyrinthine beast molds and shifts in a way that is as reminiscent of Kemialliset Ystavat, or the just reviewed Black Dice, as it is of any contemporary hip hop instrumentalist. Prefuse 73 is on a different level though when it comes to hip hop. Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian is so much more than beats and samples. The meticulous nature of the layering and sequencing of this thing is out and out brilliance. I’ve long held One Word Extinguisher as my favourite from Mr. Herren, but I think that is changing. Definitely one of my favourites of 2009 thus far.

-Lil' Thistle

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Black Dice - Repo

Black Dice
(04.2009, Paw Tracks)
RIYL = Kemialliset Ystavat, Excepter, Kid Koala on acid

Black Dice have always been on the brink of a major breakthrough. I’m not talking about international indie stardom or universal critical success – they’ve had their share of that (however limited or short-lived that’s been). And this also isn’t to say that their previous releases haven’t been successful. There is nary a disc that Black Dice have produced that hasn’t been as kookily ingenious as it has been wonderfully weird. No, Black Dice is great. However, in the midst of their singularly original sound there has been a constant and ever building air of potential. A potential for something that goes beyond the already nuts delicious alien ice cream truck music they’ve mastered in their tenure. Every step they’ve take has pushed them closer to this indefinable ‘it’ moment, but they’ve almost willfully left that end goal of a masterpiece just beyond the fingertips of their constructions. Well, it appears that the build up has finally approached a breaking point (contrary to what they’re last album insinuates). With Repo, the band's 5th/6th full length album, Black Dice have conceded to their master work. Or have they? I have been listening to this thing over and over with differing results. I’ll tell you one thing, on my first listen I, within the first two tracks I was ready to anoint Black Dice as the kings of spaced out noise oddity, however, it wouldn’t be a Black Dice record if there wasn’t a curveball or five to break you down as a listener and require you to either quit amidst the confusing rumble or endure to the realization of greener pastures. Yep, I was beginning to consider this the left field anti-pop masterpiece that Load Blown flew just short of, but then no. Repo is much more than that. And at times less. It’s contortionist music for gorillas with brain damage. It’s hip hop for the living dead. It’s something…else. There is no true describing it really, but on Repo there is an added emphasis on some almost hip hop style sampling that adds a breath of fresh air. While it may not be that perfect record I had hoped for, it’s undeniably high class and more enjoyable with each listen (maybe it will be that perfect record). It definitely has some of my favourite Black Dice moments ever, so expect that when you approach this record. And also, make sure you make it to the second half of the record. I tried to tread through the confounding middle section a couple times without success, but once I hit that last half I found a whole conglomerate of blissed out genius that floored me just as heavily as those first to tracks. Another beautiful thing about Black Dice is that they have developed a visual aesthetic that perfectly matches their sound. Their scattered collage images, bustling with bright neons and interspersed with fragmented photographs, seem to carry the visual weight of their equally bright and fragmented music. It is a beautiful fusion of mediums and indication of true artistry. Repo has a huge art booklet that more than makes a physical purchase worthwhile. In the end, Repo has proved itself a stalwart record worthy of its creator’s prowess. Oh, and if you read the Tiny Mix Tapes review, “he just doesn’t get it.” It's a confusing review for a confusing record, but that's just how BD roll.

-Lil' Thistle

Black Dice - "Glazin"

Monday, April 6, 2009

Fever Ray - Fever Ray

Fever Ray
Fever Ray
(03.2008, Mute U.S.)
RIYL: The Knife, walking on the moon or under the ocean

Thistle has been on my case for quite some time to review this album. It was released almost a month ago and my procrastination makes it pretty unnecessary to even review it at this point. Who out there, that reads music blogs, doesn't already know that this thing exists and is rocking the house down? For all of those said human beings you can now tune out and stop reading this paragraph. For any other human beings unaware of this powerful monstrosity smiting the masses, go educate yourself by picking yourself up a copy. Fever Ray is one half of The Knife - the Karin Dreijer Andersson half. She has taken The Knife sound, chilled it out a bit, gave it some breathing room and infused a little less sterile wind into it's sails. Fever Ray is being described in most reviews as "addictive," and I am gong to have to repeat the sentiment. Fever Ray is as much musical heroin as Silent Shout was/is. It's slightly more lonely this time with a little bit more ambient trance. Even if you don't typically like electronic music it may still be appealing to you, or at least you can be entertained by the high production freaky music videos she has made for it. We are all happy Karin has decided against retiring after Silent Shout in order to give us Fever Ray and are excited to see if the other half of The Knife, her brother, Oolf, can show her up later this fall with his first solo effort. Until then, Fever Ray is sure to be my electronic staple for the year 2009.

-Lil' Sass

Friday, April 3, 2009

Cassowaries - Blessed Be Is The New Godspeed

Blessed Be Is the New Godspeed
(2009, FYRecords)
RIYL = Microphones’ “Mt. Eerie”, Dust From 1000 Years, Animal Collective duh

Listening to Cassowaries makes me wonder just how many little geeky oddballs there are across the country (or the world even) that are just sitting, holed up in their little bedrooms on the outskirts of their tiny towns, hunched over laptops and four-tracks, just churning out freaking awesome music for no other reason than that it is in them. Cassowaries is one of those multi-faceted buggers that simply can’t help but produce music in a wide array of genres, each at above average to genius level results. However, it is here on this little EP sized cassette called Blessed Be Is the New Godspeed that I’ve really been impressed. Spanning only five tracks, Cassowaries has come away with something of a glorious cluster of outsider pop gems reminiscent of that first wave of new weird Americans a few years back. Along with having an undying ear for infectious melodies, each song carries a wonderful depth, churning and morphing with wide eyed abandon at the limitless possibilities of music at the level of a 3 minute pop song. I’m really digging it. Oh, and as is common with the bedroom recording types, Blessed Be is lo-fi to the bone and charming in a way that that makes you remember the debut records of your favourite band when they were na├»ve and full of blissful urgency. I don’t know, something about this little tape just hits you in the gut with a bright rainbow of nostalgia while remaining completely and utterly fresh and refreshing. Confused? Sorry. All I can say is that tapes like Blessed Be Is the New Godspeed are the fuel for blogs like this. What Cassowaries has done here is a glorious tribute to the possibilities of can be achieved simply by having an imagination.

-Lil' Thistle

Download Blessed Be Is the New Godspeed free!

Babe, Terror - Weekend

Babe, Terror
(04.2009, Perdizes Dream)
RIYL = Excepter, Panda Bear, Julianna Barwick

Oh Babe, Terror, you dog you! As the premiere release of Brazilian label, Perizes Dream, Babe, Terror’s Weekend sets a high standard. The record is a dream space created almost solely through manipulated vocal loops, lovingly layered into a soft oblivion. It’s a fairly simplistic idea, but one that proves blissfully successful in the hands of Babe, Terror. Most of the vocalizations here are wordless and carry a sort of waterlogged ghostliness. It feels like the male counter part to Juliana Barwick (with some increased hallucinogenics). I just recently read Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo for my international literature class, and something about Weekend feels like the fitting soundtrack to that narrative, filled with poetic surrealist voices from a deserted town whose inhabitants are stuck in an infinite purgatory. Kind of an obscure reference, but it you pick up this album you should read that book and vice versa. It also reminds me a lot of the dream imagery captured by illustrator David B. Anyway, I’ll move on. Weekend’s working parts, its songs, are paced ventures into the subconscious, tapping into a weird half-world that is disorienting and yet grounded by a stream of effervescent loveliness. It is the kind of thing that an ignorant, untravelled American, such as myself, imagines is soundtracking the exotic jungles and cities of Babe, Terror’s home in South America. It’s night music for humid climates, or perhaps dream music is more appropriate. Either way, Weekend is an exciting document of experimental music that you should definitely check out. And why not, he's spotted you a link on his MySpace page. Check the link below dudez!

-Lil' Thistle

Babe, Terror on MySpace

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Kill and Eat - Green Bushes

Kill and Eat
Green Bushes
(03.2009, Alright Now Records)
RIYL = The Weird Weeds, I Heart Lung, chillin’ experimental jazz

First things first: as you may have noticed, Kill and Eat’s Green Bushes has no album art. The disclaimer written on their website reads as follows: “We refuse to release album artwork, because we recognize that formats were made for music, not music for formats.
We want our music to be judged on its own merit, not by whether it comes with visual art or fancy/handmade packaging.” Makes me feel a little shallow, but I love packaging and album art. They probably made this decision just based on the numerous reviews I’ve logged that talk more about the album art than the music it re[presents. That's fair. And look, now I am spending even more time talking about how they don’t have any album art than I am critiquing their music “on its own merit.” Sorry guys. One last little jab: isn’t a band name such as “Kill and Eat” just as much of a marketing adornment as album art? Zing! Maybe that’s a stretch. I’m just playing the devil’s advocate anyway. The truth is, after I accepted the challenge of listening to Green Bushes sans album art I was pleasantly, no, more than pleasantly surprised. They have the thing tagged as “an 18-minute slab of indifferent drone jazz” which had me expecting something slightly laborious, even if it did turn out to be above average. Turns out that description had me way out in left field because Green Bushes is nothing if not beautifully accessible. Sure, it’s experimental, it’s jazzy, it has an air of free spirited indifference (still not seeing the drone connections), but there is nothing here that could sour you on those terms. Anyone with an elementary appreciation for music could pop this in and come away wholly satisfied. That is kind of the charm of this disc; while being accessible enough to satisfy even casual listeners, Green Bushes is complex enough to bowl over even the most hardened, and pretentious of musical fanatics. And yes, the title track is 18 minutes. Don’t worry, you won’t get bored. The piece opens up with the slow repetition of a lyrical phrase harkening the title, “Green bushes and concrete trees above me.” This is laid atop a gorgeous, fluttery piano melody that floats along swiftly, occasionally breaking into a blustery wind of key strokes strewn up and down the keyboard. The slow moving introductory passage transforms ever so casually as the vocals fall away and the piano takes over. Green Bushes is late night music for expensive drinks if I’ve ever heard it. I don’t drink, but I think that it's only appropriate that I try listening to Green Bushes at around midnight one weekend with a bottle of Martinelli’s to truly graps the wonderment embedded in this album. Anyway, back to the music: So the piano takes over and, ever so subtly, we are introduced to some light percussion and, before you know it, an absolutely divine trumpet solo that is so lazy and SO good. It's so good. Wow, just makes you sit still, reflect and love life. All of this coalesces into a final burst of piano energy that rides out the last three minutes of the experience. The title track is supplemented by a couple of “sketches.” The first is a 7+ minute track of bubbly jazz piano reminiscent of Vince Guaraldi (of Peanuts fame) with a wordless bop bop bop vocal accompaniment and then "Ellipses," which in just under four minutes reminds you of just how easily drums, piano and a trumpet can make you fall in love (as if you had forgotten their moments together in “Green Bushes.” Anywho, forgive my initial musing on the anti album art stance – this music truly stands on its own. It was released initially last summer in a very limited form but has been released (with good reason). And Kill & Eat is offering a free download of the tracks so that you can try it out before considering a proper purchase or donation. Really terrific.

Download Green Bushes here