30 December 2008

Kadura - 1997 - From the Depths of the Other Space

Quality: 4.5 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4.5 out of 5

Here's a Japanese band that treads similar folky/spaced out sound to their countrymen in Ghost. I'd go as far to say that I actually prefer these guys at the end of the day. Although I wouldn't say their vocals are the best, they do fit in that 'monk-screaming-at-the-temple' sort of vibe, and the music has no problem working that angle. These guys are pretty loud, but they pretty much avoid the 'metal' tag entirely and instead dabble in a very loud psychedelic Japanese folk style.

"Beginning to Eternity" is a very darkly hued invocation to the strange ceremony that these folks are about to commence with. "Travel to Faraway" does just that with its 12 minute running time, the massive sounding percussion mingling with the warbling vocals. Kadura has no issue sticking with a psychedelicized Japanese folk groove. "Oceanic Element" gives us a sea of shimmering guitars, and move is like a short tour of hell. I keep equating these tunes with dark imagery, but I think there is a high enjoyability factor present in this music. "Inner Trance" blasts you back above the surface, only to float with the storm clouds of "Sky Heart." The closing "A Distant Land" brings in a bit more of the noise, recalling the sludgy freak-outs of Acid Mothers Temple (although I wouldn't say Kadura is quite as extreme).

This album is like a journey through the bleaker corners of Japanese folklore. That is to say that while it definitely evokes a dim palette, there's more than enough character and groove in these songs to keep you from getting depressed or anything. It's like a mystical event occurring right at the edge of your peripheral vision.

29 December 2008

Brainticket - 1972 - Psychonaut

Quality: 4 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4 out of 5

I guess that for all intents and purposes, this is Brainticket's pop album. It's lacking the extreme freak outs that color Cottonwood Hill, and while it pushes against the envelope, it doesn't gleefully plow through as the band tends to do on other releases. What we do get here are top notch, assured performances, and by far the band's best songwriting. This is pretty awesome, 70's-style psych rock. It's not a bad introduction to the band; sometimes it's nice to become somewhat comfortable with musicians before they completely blow your mind.

The first couple tracks are very liquid and chill. I especially dig the chiming piano line and delayed percussion that grace "One Morning." Things pick up noticeably for the balls out "Watchin' You." Dawn Muir's vocals cut through the thick brew, piercing with absolute conviction. It doesn't hurt to have a nice face-melting guitar solo thrown in the middle too. "Like a Place in the Sun" is a jazzy display of the band instrumental prowess while Muir is at her wackiest for this particular album. "Coco Mary" is a very pounding, driving track with a cool marimba break catching the listener off guard.

This is probably the most consistently listenable Brainticket release. The catch is that you're not hearing their 8th ring of Saturn, cosmically deranged sounds, but you do get some fine songs and
a band playing with almost telepathic communication. I suppose that in Can terms, this would be their Ege Bamyasi, and I don't feel that's a bad thing at all.

Entheogens - 1995 - The Gnostic Mass

Quality: 4.25 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4.75 out of 5

I'd say that the band's name is a pretty dead give away that we're going to find a pretty psychedelic slab of music on this release. Now, information about the Entheogens is not the easiest to come by, but from what I can gather this is a Swedish collective, with this album being a series of jams. I envision that they are spending the winter in a Swedish cabin, buried in snow, but with an enviable collection of acoustic instruments and a seasonal supply of magic mushrooms at hand. It's worth noting that I didn't realize that this album is an almost a completely acoustic affair until several listens in. These folks create a very tranced-out and dynamic vibe that we typically expect with more electronically manipulated music (although I guess the Indians often hit that mark acoustically). I think there's only electric guitar deep in the mix and we occasionally get an organ blast.

"The Dance of the Priestess" a slowly building dervish melody. It's a little of a drum circle vibe, but as done by experts rather than stoned weirdos in the park. "Fire at Will" is the shortest and most conventional thing here; the sound is much more smoothed out and slick, reaching towards more of a new age vibe. Fortunately, they don't get all the way to new age land, and once again show their skills at achieving a satisfying, extended, musical buildup. The 22 minute long best is saved for last. "10 Pan" is one of those transportative tracks that open up doors in your mind with it's evocative and image-inducing sounds. We get several build-ups, walls of percussion, and a couple blasts of acid-seared wah guitar.

This album seems to have fallen deep between the cracks, but is fully deserving of your attention. It really does seem to make your listening space become the stage for some sort of psychedelic, pagan ritual. The cover is enticing enough; won't you step inside?

Limbus 3 - 1969 -Cosmic Music Experience

Quality: 2 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4.25 out of 5 (but it's a bad trip)

When you get right down to it, krautrock had a pretty steep learning curve. The first efforts from folks like Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk (as Organization) were pretty awful, and even Can showed some serious improvement over their first few records. I'd happily admit that Amon Duul is an exception to this rule as their first release is classic, but not these guys. Track down the Limbus 4 album (on this site if you wish) for an enjoyable cosmic music experience. This release, however, is more of the plinking and plunking trial and error and questionable experimentation that the krautrockers had to get out of their systems. I'd say that this is probably a little better than the truly cacophonous Electronic Meditation by Tangerine Dream, but it's really comparing rotten apples with moldy cheese.

Anyway, "Oneway Trip" is one I'd like to stay home for with the track's free jazz bass mingling with horrific and annoying bowed sounds. "New Atlantis" is more of the same, but more manic... for 22 minutes. Sandwiched in between are a couple of short tracks I find more enjoyable. "Valiha" recalls some ancient market place with mysterious dulcimer-like tones and simple percussion. "Breughel's Hochzeitstanz" is back to the screeching strings, but at least it's only two minutes long. So I guess it's not so much that I like it as that it goes away quickly. This means that I only really enjoy about three minutes of this album.

No, I'm not really giving this any sort of recommendation. The reasons that I'd imagine you'd listen to this is that you're a krautrock historian or completist, or you're simply mentally cracking. I think I fit in the former category.... hopefully.

20 December 2008

The Taj Mahal Travellers - 1974 - August 1974

Quality: 4 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 5 out of 5

This music is pretty far out there, and seems to me to be the Japanese equivalent of the most deranged kraut rock. Using a variety of acoustics and a barrage of electronic instruments, the Taj Mahal Travellers attempted to reach as far into the sonic frontier as they could on an album side. Live, I can easily imagine that they'd continue until they simply passed out.

I have a pretty high appreciation for this album, but as the "4" rating above suggests, something doesn't completely click for me here. When we consider music this ambient and/or avant garde, it's often hard to put a finger on it, but I think it has something to do with their use of jarring noises in the middle of otherwise relaxing passages. I'd prefer to float into the ether. Another very subjective criticism would be their occasional tendency to throw in everything including the kitchen sink. That said, the first track probably ranks as the most etherial one with panning. buzzing electronic noises on top of a sea of ringing bells, marimbas, and electronic tones. Eventually some spaced-out wordless vocals enter the mix too. The second tracks produces a wall of shimming, amorphous sound (complete with kotos deep in the mix) before thinning out into a 'monks of doom' sounding choral section. "III" plunges into really avant garde sounds ala Can's "Peking O," while the final track makes me think of a prototype, way more experimental version of something Kitaro would have done when he was making music that didn't suck.

There is a lot of avant garde variation at work on this album, and it definitely one of the more psychedelic bits of music to crop up from Japan. Use it as aural room decor and see if it fits or not. It costs about the same as room decor with the current Amazon price tag of $359 for the 2001 vinyl reissue.

Maurice McIntyre - 1969 - Humility

Quality: 3.75 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 4.5 out of 5

I keep getting the wrong name for this album, calling it Insanity instead. I'd wager that this is a legitimate Freudian slip as Maurice McIntyre's attempt to fuse Coltrane/Sun Ra-like free jazz with somewhat American Indian sounding chanting is often pretty insane sounding. It probably doesn't help that McIntyre often sounds more like a crazy dude on a street corner than a shaman, but it does make for a pretty entertaining listen.

There's not a whole lot of sonic variation on this album. We typically get a very Sun Ra like backing with Coltrane style leads (and Sun Ra cohort John Gilmore would also be a clear antecedent), sprinkled with the aforementioned chanting. The good news is that if you dig the first track, chances are you'll like the entire album, and if you don't, you can feel safe flinging it out your nearest window. Sure, there are some compositional differences. "Pluto Calling" could fit directly on a mid-60's Sun Ra album, while "Humility in the Light of the Creator" provides a lyrical, "Love Supreme," sort of saxophone line. Then for all out free-jazz freakiness, I refer you to "Life Force" and the extended "Ensemble Fate."

McIntyre's Humility feels more like a tributary than a mainline expression of avant-garde jazz. If you're already into that sort of thing, you'll likely find something interesting here. If nothing else, the oddball chanting must be heard to be believed.

09 December 2008

William Basinski - 2001 - The Disintegration Loops I-IV

Quality: 5 out of 5
Trip-O-Meter: 5 out of 5

This collection of sounds really rates more as an experience than music. The concept at work here came about purely by accident. Basinski intended to simply convert some loops from tape to digital. Unfortunately (at first), his tape machine was slowly destroying the tapes. In a stroke of inspiration, Basinski simply let the tapes run on to their end, and that's exactly what we hear on this album. No music is really being legitimately played, and we hear only the sounds of slow decay. As a strange coincidence, Basinski converted and thereby intentionally destroyed some of these tapes with the smoke of 9/11 billowing over his NYC apartment (I think I saw a very well done 9/11 documentary that used this and ambient street sounds alone on its soundtrack to account for the events of that day; unfortunately I saw the doc on TV before becoming familiar with these discs, so I'm not entirely sure). Far from exploitational, this drives home the concept of mortality as the tapes degrade. This makes the music potentially depressing, but I find the loops far more intellectually stimulating than simply being depressing would entail. I think it's best to view this as a zen experience as we hear something beautiful fade away into absolute oblivion.

The loops themselves are mostly ambient sounding orchestral bits. Yes, this are intensely repetitive sounds, and just by listening, you would notice little change. If you skip around, though, you'll find that over time there are major changes to the loops until they finally sputter beyond the veil of any defined sounds. The tracks go on as long as is needed for the sounds to disintegrate. The shorter ones run out of gas in about 10 minutes or so, but some of the loops go on for more than an hour. All in all, there are four distinct loops heard in various stages on different tracks

This is the last thing that you're going to grab for your next party, and I would wager than this is best experienced in solitude. If you put in the effort to really listen to these very avant-garde sounds, I think you may find the dividends very rewarding. If you have any interest in ambient drones (like Coil's Time Machines), you very well may consider this an absolute masterpiece. As the rating above suggests, I do.

04 December 2008

Dr. Schluss' Best of 2008

Here are my top ten albums for 2008. Pretty much all of them have at least some kind of psychedelic flourish, but I do run a psychedelic blog. With all the older music I review on this sight, I think it's important to keep in mind all the great music that's being released in the present. I've included a few of my own recent compositions, too. It's not that I think they're the best of the year as I do with the other tracks, it's just my shameless ploy to get more listeners.

Here's a rundown (in order) of my favorites from 2008:

10. Alegranza by El Guincho - With the electronic freak-folk of Panda Bear's already classic "Person Pitch" as a starting point, El Guincho turns psychedelic atmospherics into a wild, percussive party in the pulsing heart of Barcelona.

9. Real Emotional Trash by Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - Malkmus seems to be comfortably settling into some kind of indie jam band mode. I'm not typically one for jam bands, but his songwriting is top-notch and I have to admit that I prefer this to Malkmus' former band, Pavement.

8. Smile by Boris - Boris continues to be the best current metal band out there, and the psychedelic accents, especially on the tracks with Ghost's guitarist Michio Kurihara, really make this the thinking man's metallic noise. While this album is exceptional, it still doesn't compare to their live barrage of sound. See them if you get the chance.

7. Preteen Weaponry by Oneida - These in-your-face walls of mostly instrumental sound produces an intensity that no one else quite matched this year. Bury your mind under these sheets of guitar and pounding percussion. It ends up in a sweet spot between post-rock and noise band aesthetics.

6. High Places by High Places - With plunking production and cute-in-a-good-way female vocals, High Places' debut LP comes across as island music transmitted from Neptune.

5. Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel by Atlas Sound - Brandon Cox (of Deerhunter) shifted his main band's guitar driven atmospherics into the world of electronics and managed to create what may be the trippiest album that showed up this year.

4. That Lucky Old Sun by Brian Wilson - Brian Wilson may never again scale the heights of "Pet Sounds" again, but at age 66 he has managed to make music that matches the Beach Boys' 1965 pop prime, and that's more than good enough. This is the best sunshine pop you'll hear in the 21 century.

3. Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. by Deerhunter - Deerhunter takes their hazy guitarscapes and blends them well with 60's AM pop sensibilities. It's like being stuck between two amazing radio stations. See them live for an even more mindbending experience.

2. Skeletal Lamping by Of Montreal - Kevin Barnes' stumbles into uncharted territory as he melds his trademark psych-pop and electro-pop with his deranged alter-ego of a middle aged, transsexual, black funk singer. The disturbing thing is it works really well. The music changes often and drifts through about every possible pop genre, so hold on tight.

1. Just a Souvenir by Squarepusher - These are the electronic results of a wild and trippy dream about a surreal 'ultragig.' The results do not disappoint, nor do Squarepusher's phenomenal string bass skills. How could you go wrong when your concept revolves around a giant, glowing coathanger?

This are new releases, so I will not be treating you to the full albums, but you're more than welcome to the following sampling:

Track Listing:
1. The Release Will Come Soon - Glaze of Cathexis (3:02)
2. An Eluardian Instance - Of Montreal (4:35)
3. Vision's the First - High Places (3:37)
4. Operation - Deerhunter (4:04)
5. Antillas - El Guincho (5:28)
6. Planet Gear - Squarepusher (4:02)
7. Gardenia - Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks (2:53)
8. Live Let Live/That Lucky Old Sun (reprise) - Brian Wilson (2:34)
9. Paradise Drone - Damaged Tape (4:19)
10. Cold as Ice - Atlas Sound (3:33)
11. Flower Sun Rain - Boris (5:35)
12. Preteen Weaponry Part 2 - Oneida (11:26)
Total Time: (55:08)
97.3 MB

Listen To Me:
Dr. Schluss' Best of 2008