Category Archives: Experimental Rock

Body/Head: Coming Apart

Kim Gordon-Body-Head-Coming-Apart1

Body / Head: Coming Apart
Matador (2013)

I’ll try to talk about this record without going into some sort of sentimental Sonic Youth meltdown.

I was nervous about this Coming Apart. The hype was intense. And I treated it with great scepticism at first, almost like I didn’t want to believe it could be  decent. And yet I listened to Coming Apart twice in a row today. Not because I felt like I had too so I could write about it, but because it’s actually quite good. Oh yes, it’s a challenge and it’s unlikely that you’re going to succumb to its charms on the first listen. Coming Apart is too sparse and aimless for any of that. But like all truly great music persistence is key.

Kim Gordon and Bill Nace serenade each other through improvised guitar work. They complement each other beautifully, one ratcheting up murky soundscapes while the other plays snaking melodies that create a misty atmosphere that’s difficult to see through, weightless and floating around all stoned and beautiful. The fact the guitars were recorded analogue style – Kim comes out one speaker while Bill haunts the other – adds to the disorienting nature of proceedings. When someone stops doodling, the audio world suddenly falls lopsided and for a second you’ll wonder if your headphones/speakers are on the fritz. I love that about Coming Apart, that it’s so human sounding and raw. There’s a lot of similarities between this and Sonic Youth’s SYR releases (dammit, how can you NOT reference that band?). Partly in the (seemingly) unedited and live sound but more so in the aimless guitar noodling, the lack of resolution and if that’s not your cup o’ tea than I suggest you look elsewhere for kicks. But me, I love this sort of stuff.

The most striking thing about Coming Apart is Kim’s vocals, in particular the honesty of her lyrics. She whispers, croons, scowls, yelps, yells and even barks about mistresses, actresses, murderesses and girls pissing like dogs to mark their territory. It’s nothing new for Gordon to sing about the Femme Fatale  but this time her lead characters aren’t using their sexual prowess to fuck over white, male, corporate America or being subjected to the clammy gaze of a lascivious male audience. This time her female characters are sinister, predatory, praying mantis-like and conniving. I’m amazed that she’s allowed her personal life to shine through like this, but to be honest it’s fucking refreshing and she sounds more confronting and powerful than she has in years.

Despite Gordon’s abrasive (at times) vocal performance, Coming Apart is a very dreamy experience. It’s a complex maze to get lost in, largely because it demands your attention. there’s no dipping into and out of this record. You’re either in it for the long haul or you’re not. People with short attention spans should move the back of the line. Everyone else, have some patience and enjoy.

Ensemble Pearl: self titled

Ensemble PearlEnsemble Pearl: Self Titled
Drag City (2013)

Stephen O’Malley seems to release a new collaborative record every other day. The guy is prolific, and it’s not like he’s banging out ‘noise’ tracks on a broken synthesiser in his bedroom either. He creates intricate and highly considered music, as described in this fantastic video interview at the Red Bull Music Academy. In general we’ve come to expect a trademark sound from O’Malley and the projects he’s involved in; that of crushing and meditative doom ambience. There are exceptions though.

For example, last year’s stunning and underrated KTL record (his collaboration with with Editions Mego boss Peter Rehberg) eschewed doom for a much more delicate combination of acoustic and electronic drones. Ensemble Pearl takes another surprising left hand path.

Perhaps it’s the presence of Boris collaborators Atsuo and Michio Kurihara, bringing that group’s occasional post rock leanings to the table. Or maybe it’s something to do with Ensemble Pearl’s fourth member Bill Herzog. Whatever the case, O’Malley’s stamp isn’t as significant on this record. For one, distorted guitars are kept to a minimum. Ensemble Pearl emphasises drums, bass and clean guitars with none of the dissonance you’d expect. It’s surprisingly rhythmic, with guitars following the drums’ lead through a trip hop paced, psychedelic hoe down. Atsuo’s kit drips with reverb, creating a dubby vibe that’s most enjoyable.

The sparse arrangements make me think of Boren & Der Club of Gore minus the foreboding anxiety. Ensemble Pearl is a warm and dreamlike experience with crisp and spacious production. Tracks like Wray tackle a palette of xylophone-like synthesisers to create an ambience that’s almost heavenly. Wray is among the most beautiful pieces O’Malley has been involved in, calling to mind the more abstract moments of bands like Godspeed you! Black Emperor!

The other reference point for Ensemble Pearl is O’Malley’s beloved Earth, although this time around the influence appears to be Dylan Carson’s later interest in droning Americana. But perhaps that’s an unfair comparison because Ensemble Pearl conjures up much more ethereal emotions than Earth’s parched and lonely landscapes. This record is a real creeper, and by falling in love with it I’ve renewed my excitement in O’Malley’s sonic experimentation. I can’t recommend Ensemble Pearl enough.

Liars: WIXIW

Liars: WIXIW
Mute (2012)

Why do I feel hesitant to post about the new Liars record on here? It’s gotten harder and harder to post about what I’m listening to because somehow Evol Kween The Musical has become about far-out noise and experimental borders, rather than whatever record is getting me out of bed each day. The thought that Liars might not fit into whatever this blog has become is completely ridiculous. Liars don’t make mainstream music, indie maybe, but certainly not alternative in the way that word is used today.

Liars’ tour supporting Radiohead last year is an obvious influence on WIXIW. Although, this isn’t an earnest cloud of post-electronic rock. In typical Liars fashion they have taken the influence, eaten it and regurgitated it, this time as an electronic take on their ‘classic’ earlier work They Were Wrong so we Drowned and Drum’s not Dead (if you haven’t heard Drum’s not Dead stop reading, buy it, and experience a change in life). The vibe is taut and everything is dark in a desolate William-Gibson’s-future kind of way. The boys’ choice of rhythms stems from the tribal-esque notions on those earlier records but this time the drums are crisp, precise and skittery, like a  Gang Gang Dance cloaked in Black Metal.

Liars’ appeal is their unwillingness to rest on their laurels. No two albums are the same and WIXIW is the best thing they’ve done since Drum’s not Dead. I, personally, am excited they’ve given up the rock-action they explored on predecessors Liars and Sisterworld. Not that they did ‘rock’ badly, but they sound so much more creative here. Press coverage in the lead up to WIXIW‘s release has them discussing the desire to take on the challenge of making an electronic record that avoided being a ‘production’ of samples.WIXIWsounds very much like a live band.

The most exciting moments are among the most conventional, a term I use loosely. Lead ‘single’ No 1 Against the Rush speaks of Gary Numan, with its metronomic beat and slinky bass lines, but Angus Andrew’s morphine soaked vocals and the accompanying serial killer film clip will never climb out of the sewers. His and Mine Sensations is a gorgeous meditation on dub, while Brats is as close as the band will ever get to the dance floor.

Liars still sound positively deranged on tracks like Octagon, Flood to Flood and particularly the title track with its vertiginous synths. So don’t fear that your favourite group has gone ‘dance’. I love these guys, I think they’re one of the most exciting song-oriented bands around. Fingers crossed that Liars make it out to Angus’ homeland on the back of this record. I hear the live shows in support of WIXIW have been off the hook.

Yamantaka//Sonic Titan: YT//ST

Yamantaka//Sonic Titan: YT//ST
Psychic Handshake (2011)

Understandably, most people would run a mile if I said “check out these Canadian girls with Japanese heritage, who’ve made a ‘rock opera’ inspired by Otaku culture, Buddhism and prog rock.”

Avoiding is what any sane person would do, but that’s their loss. YT//ST is a bucket load of fun, and Yamantaka//Sonic Titan sound wayyyyy better than Boris have since Pink.

Wipe any trace of The Mars Volta from your mind and replace it with some concept driven rock made in a dirty garage. Throw in some Krautrock rhythm and repetition and you’re on Yamantaka//Sonic Titan’s radar. From the Iron Butterfly/Deep Puple- esque opening track through to the scuzzy jam A Star over Pureland there’s a shambolic thread running though these tracks, which gives the album an experimental edge. When they break out into extended ‘jams’ these girls aren’t showing off their chops, they’re exploring the possibilities of noise. The cutesy vocals make YT//ST even odder still. The jazzed-up organ solo that rises from the fuzz of Crystal Fortress over a Sea of Trees absolutely kicks ass.

If there’s a key influence it’s that of Boris, whom the girls have referenced in interviews. This sounds like a much more focused rendition of Boris’ mediocre Smile album; a mix of shoddy ballads, blown out fuzz and driving drums. YT//ST‘s tracks are bridged together with odd soundscapes, like any good rock opera, but thankfully the girls forgo the stereotypical 100-minute opus for a tight 31 minutes that’s over all too quickly.

Go on. Treat yourself.

Pop.1280: The Horror

Pop. 1280: The Horror
Sacred Bones (2012)

Pop. 1280 smell like the Birthday Party but the production is thicker, grainier and scarier. Pop. 1280 also smell like early Butthole Surfers sans hallucinogenics, and the deranged nonsense replaced with a nihilistic awareness of society’s ills and a healthy distrust of mankind. On Bodies in the Dunes Pop. 1280 sound a lot like Sightings without venturing quite as far out as their New York siblings. Sometimes they even smell like fellow newcomers Ice Age, except Pop.1280 take  cues from the No Wave scene of their hometown rather than European Punk and Post Punk. Overall Pop. 1280 smell dirty, sleezy, grumpy, loud, pissed off, obnoxious, noisy, propulsive and bass heavy. It’s a very lovely smell indeed.

New release: Liturgy – Aesthethica

Liturgy: Aaesthethica
Thrill Jockey (2011)

The misanthropic Massive are angry. They’re waging war. Indie labels are releasing black metal records and god-be-damned some of them are shitloads more exciting, raw, emotive and out there than anything recorded on a four-track in a graveyard this year. Ok, except for the new Wolves in the Throne Room, which I’ll bang on about another day.

What sets Liturgy apart is the very thing the corpse-painted hordes are so pissed off about; frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s belief that Black Metal doesn’t have to be nihilistic and grim, that in fact its its otherworldly nature has the capacity to ‘transcend’ natural states in a positive manner. Do some internet research, the blogo-sphere loves a good beef.

Personally this Zen like aspect of Black Metal is exactly what I’ve always loved about it. The way repetitive, buzzing guitars and drums become hypnotic and dare I say supernatural. Liturgy have honed this down to a fine art comprised of spastically fast drum work and intricate, cyclic, soprano guitar patterns that weave about into an astral ride into the ether.

Take True Will, a thick slab of sound, everything enmeshed and gut wrenching like some power electronics monster. Hendrix howls away incoherently deep in the mix. And the hook, if you can call it that, is one atonal note repeated into oblivion after every verse, and then repeated beyond oblivion in the track’s climax. It’s like amphetamine Krautrock; like My Disco and Shellac on steroids. There’s a definite noise-rock element at play here, which might explain why 20 Buck Spin released Liturgy’s debut a few years back.

Meanwhile, Sun of Light spends its first three minutes creating a tapestry of damaged upper fret board guitar work that rides a lazy pulse, and once you’ve drifted away on its awkward clouds it explodes into a zig zagging frenzy of scales and blast beats. You can’t transcend forever.

The instrumental Generation rides a single riff for nigh seven minutes, relying on shifting drum patterns to alter the atmosphere. Generation takes you dangerously close to the edge, poising you for madness and boredom before the beauty of its minimalism takes hold and off you go, losing yourself in the moment. It’s no mistake that the album is peppered with Gregorian chants and miscellaneous religious mantras; the original transcendental music.

Most likely, those with no appreciation for music that sits even remotely close to the realm of Metal will find Liturgy and their schtick hard to take. Aesthethica demands repeat listens before any of its meditative hooks get under your skin. However, the best music is that which rewards you over time and if you’re willing to give up your inhibitions or your ‘true’ Black Metal allegiances, and if you’re willing to get over the fact that Liturgy’s main man goes by the name Hunter Hunt-Hendrix then there’s plenty of treasure in Aesthethica. Go forth and transcend.

New release: Sun Araw and Eternal Tapestry – Night Gallery

Eternal Tapestry / Sun Araw: Night Gallery
Thrill Jockey (2011)

Improvised live on American radio and then edited into digestible chunks, this collaboration between the mesmerising Sun Araw and (the unfamiliar to me) Eternal Tapestry is a psychedelic freak out, maaaan. It’s all Coyotes and Eagles stalking arid deserts with watery mirages on the horizon, while glistening snakes curl around Peyote trees.

Don’t go into this expecting much of Sun Araw’s dubbed out jams because Night Gallery is more rooted in the hazy rock of Acid Mothers Temple and Religious Knives. This is to be expected I guess, given the man behind Sun Araw is collaborating with an actual band. Night Gallery eases up on the delay pedals, reverb and repetition in exchange for wind instruments and conventional drumming.

None of this is a bad thing though. Night Gallery shifts from doodling ambience to rock grooves with enough quirkiness to hold your imagination for a 40 minute ride that culminates in a beautiful, extended rumination on soothing organs and panicky flutes. Night Gallery won’t go down in music history but it‘s the perfect companion to Quaaludes and ponchos, and at the moment it suits me just fine.

New release: Necro Deathmort – Music of Bleak Origin

Necro Deathmort: Music of Bleak Origin
Distraction Records (2011)

The internet might tell you that Necro Deathmort are some sort of Hip-Hop Black Metal hybrid, but don’t believe the hype, as Public Enemy would say. Music of Bleak Origin might open with a head-nodding riddim but the listener is quickly thrown into doomier and more industrial territory. This is a Post Rock soundtrack with some neat little tricks thrown in to keep things interesting.

Temple of Juno flirts with grime infused beats before it unleashes droning guitars and whirring electronics, and then closes out like an Acid techno meltdown. In Binary mixes dark Jazz in the vein of Bohren and der Club of Gore with stunning doomscapes indebted to Nadja.

Necro Deathmort are at their best when the electronics take a back seat, the beat slows to a crawl and the guitars are allowed to drone away in thick slabs of blackened muck, as they do on The Heat Death of Everything which ends in a gorgeous cacophony of guitars detuning themselves into oblivion. But the album is let down on the middle run of tracks where gothic Industrial takes over, creating a nightclub scene for people in eyeliner and platform boots.

It’s obvious this duo likes the balance between Industrial cheese and shoegazy doom. Necro Deathmort’s previous record is called This Beat is Necrotronic, if that tells you anything about where their head is at. Thankfully, the majority of Music of Bleak Origin falls into the doom category, albeit an electro-fied take on doom, and as long as they stay focused on that element I’m willing to keep listening.

New release: Battles – Gloss Drop

Battles – Gloss Drop
Warp Records (2011)

I wanted to hate this record. Isn’t that ridiculous? Battles’ early eps were overhyped and lifeless, according to this here unqualified blogger, but they gained a member and their debut full length Mirrored turned out to be an awe inspiring disco-Einstein romp. I fell in love with Battles even more after witnessing them recreate the record’s complexities live.

Then they lost a member and I thought it was all over. My suspicions seemed justified when I heard Ice Cream, the sugary first single released after their return as a three piece. But I became intrigued enough to give the album a crack after I saw the single’s hilarious film clip. Now  I cant stop listening to it.

Gloss Drop might not carry the mystery and intrigue of Battles’ earlier works but it’s a whole lot more fun. It takes the bounce of what’s become their signature song, Atlas and cranks the dial up to 11. This is a calypso orgy bastardised by Crunk vibes and heavy metal virtuosity. What this means is that I have no real idea how to describe Gloss Drop so I’ll just improvise. Its flamboyant. Borderline arrogant in its complexity. It’s almost classical in the number of layers that make up each track.

Gloss Drop is John Stanier’s record; his dexterous drum skills provide much of the album’s personality, its light and shade. Take Africastle for example, where a quarter of the way in a drum roll ends not in a cymbal crash but a bum note plonked on a piano; or when Stanier purposely drops out of rhythm and then slowly slips back into time during Futura‘s breakdown. The guy is a drum machine, literally.

Gloss Drop is a happier record than the band’s previous efforts but that doesn’t make it any less engaging or credible. There’s still no telling what’s man and what’s programmed, besides those incredible drums which are definitely man. Battles still sound like hybrid of every post-something band of the last 30 years (does that make them a future-something band?) and as far as I’m concerned it proves that Mirrored wasn’t an anomaly. Thumbs up.

New Release: The Skull Defekts – Peer Amid

Skull Defekts: Peer Amid
Thrill Jockey (2011)

Throw a cow bell behind even the most atonal guitar lick and the power of ‘groove’ naturally takes over. It works with other percussive elements too, and that’s what The Skull Defekts teach us on Peer Amid. I think they want the message to be deeper than that, given Lungfish singer Daniel Higgs has joined the Swedish group to give psycho-spiritual sermons, but there’s no ignoring the powerful rhythms that guide his voice.

If you haven’t heard Skull Defekts before, imagine if The Cramps discovered Indian ragas while snorting Krautrock’s ashes in Berlin galleries with Sonic Youth during the late eighties. The riffs are simple mantras that drone out from wobbly, open tuned, sitar-like guitars, occasionally garnished with a digital flourish. Notes are regularly bent out of tune in homage to Sonic Youth’s days of interfering with their instruments using screwdrivers and such. The drums are a metronomic but bouncy force dressed in tribal percussion.

Songs like the title track, and No More Always are warped rockers. Meanwhile In Majestic Drag is a threatening jam of atonal fuzz and thundering drums where Higgs squeals, moans and yelps incoherently like a shaman losing his fucking mind. The band pare things back to a single haunting chord on The Silver River, which they allow to ring out for a few beats at a time while Higgs ‘oms’ in unison. It’s spooky, almost supernatural, but also a soothing break from the rest of the record.

If you’ve heard any other Skull Defekts records you’ll notice how significant Higgs’ effect is on Peer Amid. His Bela Lugosi vocal approach and demented self-help rants give the band a powerful and ominous tone which sets this apart from their earlier stuff. It’s bucket loads of fun too. Skull Defekts have been doing this for a long time, and are also known for more experimental vinyl releases delving into drone and noise, which unfortunately I haven’t heard. I need to get my hands on some of those. Meanwhile, you need to get your hands on a copy of Peer Amid.