Wednesday, February 11, 2004
ONEIDA - SECRET WARS (Rough Trade / Jagjaguwar)
Monday, February 09, 2004
After the grand musical manifestos of their previous two albums, 2001's "Anthem of the Moon" and 2002's "Each One Teach One" (the notoriety of latter's monumental, aneurysm inducing freakout Sheets of Easter circulating via word of mouth much like the drug that inspired its title), Oneida's latest work is not only their shortest record in a while, it's also a little more laidback and, well, un-revolutionary than its predecessors. It's certainly the first Oneida album which doesn't present us with an expectation-defying quantum leap from what came before it, but in a lot of ways that's no bad thing. Given the band's hardcore work ethic, their conscious dedication to never repeating themselves and their ability to consistently create music that's almost pathological in it's hyperactive intensity, nobody's going to begrudge them this opportunity to take it (relatively) easy and explore in greater detail some of the fucked up new territory they ploughed their way through on previous adventures into the unknown. After all, following a straight path of development, where could you possibly go after Sheets of Easter except straight into utter oblivion?
Now, a description of the 'Oneida Sound' for those of you unacquainted with it:
Imagine if you will an extension of the experimental sounds and rhythms generated by the likes of Can and the Silver Apples, doing for the use of organs and keyboards in rock what bands like Sonic Youth did for guitars, and discovering a whole world of alien new noise in the process. To this add beautiful psychedelic melodies and druidic vocals evoking similar fantastical imagery and dark, distant worlds to the Grateful Dead or Hawkwind in their respective primes, but with the noodling hippie shit kicked out in favour of New York post-punk urgency, never losing sight of the pulsing, paranoid beat provided by drum-hero Kid Millions, with added echos of underground noise rock chaos and aggression... that's the best I can do I'm afraid, although it doesn't really begin to cover the depths of Oneida's singular groove.
And this is indeed the formula superbly executed on this album's first two cuts, Treasure Plane and Caesar's Column, both of them amongst the most relaxed songs Oneida have recorded, and their respective lyrical themes as intriguing as the titles suggest. After this, we get to the frantic electro-punk blast of Capt. Bo Dignifies the Allegations with a Response, bringing them as close as they ever get to the no-wave mentalism of much of the rest of New York's rock underground. This is followed in turn by the more guitar-based Wild Horses (sadly not a Stones cover) on which Oneida casually define an absolutely exquisite psychedelic rock sound, sounding not unlike fellow psyche revivalists Dead Meadow, or a heavily tranquillised version of their own classic rock knockabouts from 2000's "Come On Everybody Let's Rock!" album. And then, despite the song's obvious potential for an acid-fried epic, they cheekily call it a day after only a couple of minutes. $50 Tea meanwhile reverts to the synapse-frying hyperactivity of "Each One Teach One", swirling voices inviting us 'beyond the garden' as shrieking great piles of electro-jazz noise explode all over the place. From the title I was expecting maybe a tirade against rip-off city prices, but judging from the track itself I think there's maybe something in the tea that makes it worth $50. The baroque mandolin abuse and faux-folk chanting of The Last Act, Every Time recalls the early Grateful Dead more strongly than ever, which is a difficult comparison to make cos it'll undoubtedly turn off a lot of people instantly, but hey, their loss. This song possibly takes Oneida deeper into the fantasy world of the gatefold '70s album cover of your dreams than ever before, and is all the better for it. The Winter Shaker by contrast adopts a droning Black Sabbath-esque tempo, but wisely keeps the guitars to a minimum, the inhuman Suicide-on-acid keyboard dirges kicking us out of the garden and into some sort of icy, scorched earth wasteland. Gnarly. Closing track Changes in the City finally delivers on the epic that the previous tracks have promised - slower in pace than some of Oneida's previous freakout tracks, it's nevertheless a monstrous fifteen minutes of kaleidoscopic mutant noise that ranks amongst the best of the band's longer, um, compositions.
Actually, despite all that jive earlier on about this being an un-revolutionary Oneida album, I really think "Secret Wars" is one of the best things they've ever done.. I mean, reread the above paragraph - does that sound 'unrevolutionary' to you?? Sure, 'Secret Wars' isn't going to give anybody a heart attack, but it's so well realised, it's got so much depth, some of the best lyrics they've ever written and some of the freakiest noise, so many weird little mysteries to uncode. Even more so than "Anthem of the Moon" it is a truly (yeah, I know I'm overusing this word appallingly) psychedelic record. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to get lost in it...
Review by Ben at 2:00 pm
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Gorky's Zygotic Mynci - Sleep/Holiday (Sanctuary) Thursday, November 27, 2003
For the last few years, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci have been furrowing their own field, pushing on down their own peculiar route. Alt.country is an overused term, but there are probably specific elements that can be found in the music of those artists who get lumped together under it. Gorky's have been travelling down the path less-travelled, and have created their own little world of alt.folk. Sleep/Holiday continues this journey.
For the most part, it's very, very good, combining the pure pop sensibilities of Spanish Dance Troupe with the acoustic The Blue Trees to great effect. Mow the Lawn's rock 'n' roll standard, for example, recalls Poodle Rockin', and the woozy sway of Happiness is a close relative of The Humming Song.
That's not to say that there's no progression in their sound. Country does precisely what you'd expect a song with that title to, and does so wonderfully. A short (under two minutes) violin-led jig, it is - like many of their previous highlights - an ode to the Green. Gorky's are at their best when they're playing pretty, deliriously tuneful songs, and this is a prime example. It's the logical next step on from The Blue Trees' rural acoustics.
The other stand-out track on the record is undoubtedly Eyes of Green, Green, Green. Again, it has the lightness of touch and sheer, unadulterated joy for love and life that are present throughout the best Gorky's moments. It's just a shame that they've also rediscovered their old addiction to meandering, pointless songs which are largely free of what makes their best songs so good - the hook.
Two tracks in a row threaten to ruin the experience. The first is Only Takes a Night, the second Pretty as a Bee. Both are woefully overlong (6:36 and 9:28, respectively) and neither has much substance. ..Bee is especially poor, the first six and a half minutes consisting of two slow notes repeated over and over. The eventual appearance of a tune is a relief, but can't make up for the boredom that precedes it.
These two tracks are bookended by a couple which follow a similar formula, but do so much more effectively. Leave My Dreaming and Red Rocks are both slow, languorous pieces, but possess a character and substance that is missing from the songs they surround. The former starts like a Beach Boys instrumental and opens up into a sweet melody and some Wilson-style harmonising; the latter is a quiet, fractured track, largely consisting of nothing more than piano and voice, that closes the album in a blanket of simple warmth.
It's still a grand record, just not one that I'd be pointing Gorky's virgins to. The best introduction remains either of the two albums mentioned in the earlier part of this review. When Sleep/Holiday works, it's as superb as anything they've ever done. When it's not so good - which is only on two tracks, remember, but two tracks that go to make up a substantial part of the record's running time - it's pretty poor. The question you need to ask is, can you afford to miss out on the good stuff?
Review by E. Randy at 5:07 pm
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Matt Elliott - The Mess We Made (Domino)
Monday, November 10, 2003
Matt Elliott was once The Third Eye Foundation, a moniker under which he wrote and recorded albums which married drum & bass rhythms to experimental electronica and chaotic samples (animal cries, air raid sirens) on tracks about loneliness, madness, death and suicidal sailors. Each 3EF album covered similarly bleak areas of the human condition, but always managed to do so while tipping the audience a wink and a wry grin - track titles that included agonising puns, one album finished with a trip-hop pastiche about ridding the world of the horrors of trip-hop. This pitch-black humour was evident in everything Elliott did and was fundamental to the 3EF thing. It's no coincidence that his music formed the sonic backdrop for a number of Chris Morris' Jam sketches.
The Mess We Made presents us with a different Matt Elliott. The decision to drop the pseudonym suggests that we're heading into more personal territory - there'll be fewer of the knowing smiles this time around, or at least they won't be as obvious. It'd be worrying sign, if it weren't for the fact that the last 3EF album - 2000's Little Lost Soul - had already started to shift into a less abrasive, more reflective style of songwriting and had done so successfully. This latest album takes that one step further, marking another logical progression in the flow of his career.
It kicks off with Elliott pleading for help to end an unhealthy, destructive relationship on Let Us Break. The voice is coming through a badly-tuned radio, nothing more than a ghost's moan. A female spirit chorus joins in and the track eventually ends with raindrops playing on an acoustic keyboard.
This is the main difference between The Mess... and virtually all of Elliott's previous work. Technology here's been used to create a much more organic feel, the electronics providing a wash over the more traditional instrumentation that gives it an other-worldly ambience, rather than the harsh, crushingly solid industrial reality of 3EF tracks. Also Ran continues from the same place Let Us Break drops off, keyboard and phantom vocals painting out a faintly threatening lullaby, before providing one of the few obvious electronic moments on the record as the track turns into a quiet, melodic glitch/house hybrid. It's one of the album's stand-out moments.
The other is The Sinking Ship Song, which does exactly what it says on the tin. Wind blows around the speakers, wood creaks, water washes up against the sides and, somewhere in the distance, strings play out the bass line to a waltz. With the introduction of vocals and an accordion, it becomes a sea-shanty. A sea-shanty on the Mary Celeste. A fatalistic "live today, because tomorrow we die" sea-shanty on the Mary Celeste.
Just quickly, a run-down of the other tracks here: The Mess We Made is the closest the album ever comes to any of the 3EF tracks, initially consisting of a double bass and unintelligible, though tuneful, vocals, before a d&b rhythm kicks in; Cotard's Syndrome is all lonely aches and haunting melody, vague voices trying to make themselves heard but not quite getting through; End (the track directly after The Sinking Ship Song) is a pulse throbbing under water; and Forty Days rounds the album off magnificently, sounding like a nautical Dave Pajo.
In amongst all this, there's one real duffer. The Dog Beneath the Skin lacks any real subtlety and instead feels overblown, overlong and overly melodramatic. Skip it - it only detracts from the rest of the album.
That one misjudgement aside, this is an absolutely excellent record, experimental in an understated way, with depth and emotion that, for the most part, never becomes tiresome or pretentious.
Review by E. Randy at 3:28 pm
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Also on an Acid Mothers Temple tip;
Mainliner - Mellow Out (reissued on Riot Season records)
Recorded in 1996, this is completely unredeemed heavy-as-shit stoner/noise rock staring Kawabata Makoto on 'Motor Psycho guitars'. As you might well imagine, the resulting racket is utterly, utterly deranged... scuzz-drenched noise practically forming into a solid mass of bad attitude black ectoplasm in front of the hi-fi and thundering directly toward yr. face. To unashamedly steal somebody else's line, it rocks like a fight between Alcatraz and Halley's Comet.
As the hand written shop label on the front of my copy says, "watch your speakers!". And keep a spiked bat handy in case something nasty crawls out of them.
My only complaint? It's only 35 minutes long - shockingly brief for this kind of thing.
Review by Ben at 10:22 pm
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Here are reports on a couple of releases I bought the other day related to Japanese psychedelic spacerock godheads Acid Mothers Temple;
Wednesday, November 05, 2003
Kinski / Acid Mothers Temple split CD on Sub-Pop
This CD documents a collaboration between AMT and American 'post-rock' group Kinski, and also features a new track from each of the bands. First of all, let me say to anybody even remotely interested in spaced out experimental rock that this represents fantastic value for money. As it only has four tracks, it's selling for the price of an EP (around a fiver), but the total playing time is over an hour.
I haven't previously heard anything by Kinski, but on the basis of their track 'Fell Asleep on Your Lawn', I think I'd like to. It's a superb slice of guitar mangling, starting off in brooding Mogwai territory, it adds some clever intersecting guitar lines reminiscent of Jackie O-Motherfucker and eventually builds up to a storm of rhythmic noise more in tune with Hawkwind.. yow.
The Acid Mothers Temple contribution, 'Virginal Plane 5:23', is a fullscale 25 minute wig-out in the classic AMT tradition. Beginning with some 'mystic UFO moments' thanks to the spaced out synths and throat singing, it inevitably ends with everything getting buried under Kawabata Makoto's planet shattering guitar feedback, and isn't that just the way we like it?
The two tracks featuring members of both groups are slightly more laid back affairs built around droning celestial atmospherics with some restrained guitar noodling and almost somnambulant bass throbbing. They are quite, quite lovely.
I'd highly recommend picking this up if you see a copy. Seriously fine listening.
Review by Ben at 10:12 pm
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Iron & Wine - the Sea and the Rhythm EP (subpop)
Oh, now this is something really special. It's hard to write about the kind of music that inevitably gets labelled 'alt-country'. It's a devious piece of categorisation which groups together all manner of music, good and bad, under the banner of specific aesthetic and cultural conventions, and when genuinely strange and beautiful non-conformist sounds such as those made by Miami's Iron & Wine get hoovered up by it .. I just think it's a real shame. This is music which, well, it's just … it's the kind of music that's beyond the need for reviews and descriptions and stuff. Like Neil Young, it's impossible to say "this is great music because it has A and B.." - it's just great music, period. Don't ask why. File alongside Cat Power, 'I See a Darkness', 'Meat Puppets II', the Mountain Goats, 'After the Goldrush'. Forget all the indie rockers trading in their distortion pedals for cowboy boots and trying their luck down the 'singer-songwriter' path. Just pick this up instead and know that you've found a new source of Beautiful American Music.
(salutes and retreats)
Review by Ben at 12:57 pm
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Electrelane - On Parade (toopure)
Last time I saw Electrelane play live - as part of Ladyfest London just over a year ago - they were superb, their songs starting with pounding unashamed pop before spiralling off into extended dronerock freakouts of astonishing rhythmic intensity, barely being kept under control by the hammering drums and organ until they left the ground completely, collapsing into chasms of avant garde bass fuzz and screeching forks-under-strings spaced out no wave guitar oblivion.. "Stereolab, say hello to Hawkwind..".
Sadly, there's no sign of any of that here whatsoever. It's still *good*, don't get me wrong, but, like 'Film Music' (the weakest song off their first album), the three tracks here are for the most part merely.. pleasant. 'On Parade' has a pretty nice foottapping tune, but for what should be a big pop comeback single, it's shockingly unexceptional, especially as a follow-up to the superb 'I Want to be the President'. The cover of Springsteen's 'I'm on Fire' admittedly sounds fantastic and haunting, but as a 2 minute track with a minimal arrangement, it's not given time to develop the power it has when they perform it live. Hopefully the forthcoming album will deliver the goods, but this isn't exactly the best trailer for it. They should be screeching through the experimental rock stratosphere, but instead this is just sounding.. so damn... indie! It's infuriating.
Review by Ben at 12:56 pm
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3 Inches of Blood - Destroy the Orcs / Sunrise over the Fjords (death o'clock)
Friday, October 31, 2003
Gods bless the current ironic rock rival malarky, if only for the fact that one can stroll into a cool record shop and purchase a 7" single like this one, featuring a Games Workshop-tastic ball and chain wielding orc on the front and zero redeeming hipster value. For those who have so far been denied the pleasure of hearing 3 Inches of Blood (yeah, that's '3' rather than the more refined 'Three'), they're essentially a bunch of bored hardcore-type guys who one day pondered "hey man, wouldn't it be fucking great if we started a band that was just like Iron Maiden??" and got rather too into the idea. So here we go with the stupidly high-pitched air raid siren vocals duelling with the constant shrieking lead guitar heroics over the essential 'dur-ump dur-ump dur-ump' galloping rhythm, providing us with a couple of songs about slaughtering orcs and raising your blood-stained weapon in triumph to greet the majestic Teutonic dawn over the icy wastes.
It's certainly heavier, faster and more fun and has loads more energy than recent Maiden records, but, although 'Fjords' shows a certain respect for the more subtle nuances of the cheese-metal subject matter, it's all screechingly OTT, and they lay on the cliches pretty thick. I think the real acid test for future releases will be to see whether 3 Inches of Blood can prove themselves to have a genuine appreciation for the variety of crazy possibilities provided by ridiculous fantasy power-metal, or whether they'll simply lapse into a one-note piss-take band. For the moment though, let's rock! Kill the Orcs! Slay the Orcs!! Destroy the OOORRR-CCCCSSS!!! Who am I fooling? I've played this twice a day since I bought it...
Review by Ben at 12:56 pm
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Well hello everybody.
To start this off I thought I'd post some write-ups on a bunch of singles and EPs I've bought recently.
The Barbs - massive crush EP (mother tongue)
This was pressed into my hand by a friend on a brief visit to HMV with the order "buy this!". I liked the cover art, and the second track's called 'Straight Outta Comix', so hey, why not. And my friend was right - it's an absolute blast. It's difficult to imagine what the first 40 seconds or so of the opening track could possibly do to more immediately win my favour - it starts with a muted guitar riff and a girl singing about killing her parents, stealing guitars and loading up the van, before exploding into bouncy surf-thrash-punk lunacy for the yell-along chorus.. great. The three tracks on here (total playing time about 7 minutes) continue in a similar vein of shouty boy/girl vocals and great big punky guitar hooks. It's all rather.. over-enthusiastic and, well, chirpy to the extent that I can imagine them getting a bit irritating after a while. But in small doses such as this - marvellous stuff!
Review by Ben at 7:23 pm
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