Tag Archives: Digging

Digging: Merzbow – Psychorazer

Merzbow: Psychorazer
Kubitsuri Tapes (2007)

I expected to pick up all manner of weird and wonderful albums while I was in Japan, however the language barrier and unusual store set-ups made scouring the racks a little difficult. I still brought home a backpack filled with records, but 13 of those ended up being Merzbow releases. I went a little crazy when I stumbled across an entire shelf of his new-ish records and second hand out of print stuff.

Midway through last year I also bought a small (much smaller) pile of Merzbow records at the one time. I made the mistake of listening to them pretty much one after the other, without allowing any of them to digest. They blurred into one giant noise fest and I doubt that I’ll ever really appreciate those records now.

I’ll take my time with these new purchases.

I’ve started with Psychorazer purely for the superficial reason that its cover art is so unlike anything I’ve seen on a Merzbow record before. There’s some weirdo Sigmund Freud shit going on there. This concept of psychos and psychotherapy seems at odds with the music on the record itself, which is among Merzbow’s most focused work.

The opening track, Psychorazer is a white-wash epic, a wall of noise and scree in the vein of Cherry Point. It’s not my favourite track, but after a few listens I realised that what sets Merzbow’s white noise apart from other acts doing the same thing is his ability to build his walls using distinct layers of sound, each with their own personality dancing out from different parts of your stereo (or headphones).

At only 56 seconds long the following track, Sugamo Rising Sun Gas Station might be the shortest Merzbow tune ever (?) and is essentially a prelude to Psychorazer’s finale and highpoint, Mangod.

It takes off with a dulled down beat, a glitchy pulse that loops over and within itself. For 35 minutes he expands the rhythm, multiplies and reduces its opacity in a way that reminds me of Autechre. Over time the rhythm crumbles away into a high-pitched squeel, which itself becomes consumed by flourishes of white noise. After a momentary crescendo the madness fizzles out with a mechanical whir.

I really like it when Merzbow tracks show this much direction and purpose. I like his experiments to take me somewhere. Psychorazer has a similar palette to Higanbana, or even Merzbear without the bass frequencies. It has the focus of both those records along with Zophurus and Ikebukuro Dada. If any of these albums are your cup of tea, Psychorazer is highly recommended.

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Digging: Burzum

Burzum: Filosofem
Misanthropy Records / Cymophane Productions (1996)

I’ve just returned from a couple of weeks spent in Japan. Is it weird that I’ve decided now is the time to write about a(nother) Black Metal record, let alone one so steeped in pop-cultural mythology? Not really, considering that one record shop I visited in Tokyo had a whole wall devoted to Japanese Black Metal bands. Also, I spent seven days in the snow fields of Niseko in northern Japan, and while snowboarding among this ‘grim’ landscape with all its gnarled, deciduous trees clawing their way out of the snow, this was the album I found myself listening to on my trusty iPod.

That’s the weird thing, while hurling myself down a mountain on a plank of wood I was listening to an album which for the most part is hypnotic, atmospheric and down right vacant, rather than some banging Metal soundtrack to an extreme sports DVD . Something about the vibe of Filosofem felt entirely appropriate, especially while dangling above the crisp landscape riding the lifts through the freezing breeze.

Despite Varg Vikernes being an expert at using controversy to garner attention for his Burzum project (racist diatribes, church burnings……surely he didn’t murder Euronymous for the publicity but you can’t deny that it added to Burzum’s mystique), the fact remains that Filosofem is a fucking classic freak-fest of noise, metal and post rock. The rest of his catalogue is more dubious, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is the only other album worth a listen really (avoid the ‘electronic’ records Vikernes released from jail at all costs). But this one is magic.

The tinny, piercing guitars have been emulated by countless bands since but no one has managed to make them sound so ominous and cold. Nor has anyone managed to incorporate keyboards into their blackened buzz the way Vikernes did here – when those synthesised notes, like drops of icy water start trickling down over chiming, but sharp-like-a-buzz-saw guitars on the album’s opening track Dunkelheit……………it should sound so fucking wrong, but instead it’s wonderfully creepy.

Even when he speeds up the pace on tracks two and three, the sound is still sharp like a bed of nails. Even though it’s noisy and uncomfortable, it’s far removed from the traditional realms of metal.

My favourite is the final track, Gebrechlichkeit II which constantly reminds me of KTL. In fact, it has to be O’Malley and Rehberg’s inspiration for that project.  Miscellaneous electronics lurk in the background sounding like ghosts rattling chains or water trickling through some cave leading into hell. Discordant guitars ring out in the foreground like hypnotic tentacles reaching out for you. In a similar vein to those KTL records, Gebrechlichkeit II manages to sound immensely spacious and claustrophobic at the same time.

Vikernes was released from jail last year and has a new record set for release this March. Apparently he’s seen the error of his ways, he’s hiding from controversy and the new record has dropped the white supremacy overtones in favour of celebrating Norwegian folk lore. The truth of all that remains to be seen, but I doubt  he’ll ever manage to release another record as intriguing or genre defying as Filosofem.

Digging: Animal Collective

Animal Collective: Strawberry Jam
Domino (2007)

A few nights ago I saw Animal Collective play live at The Forum in Melbourne. It was a great show, an amorphous pastiche of songs from right across their career. Every track bled into the next via noisy and atmospheric improvisations that harked back to the chaotic nature of their early recordings. Every song they played was warped beyond its recorded format, which was as exciting for us, the audience as it was for the band themselves. And when they played Fireworks, possibly my favourite Animal Collective song ever, I realised just how fucking much I love the album from whence it came – Strawberry Jam.

There are Animal Collective fans who struggle with this record for its significant change in direction. Its synthetic sound is light years away from the Shamanic climaxes of records like Here Comes the Indian. If you ask me, that’s why it’s so freaking awesome.

It’s as if they translated the magic and whimsy of what they’d become renowned for and processed it into something gelatinous, sugary and wonderfully artificial. It’s the sound of thousands of different colored plastics melted down in the sun and oozing together into swirls of candied goodness. Strawberry Jam is a series of 4-5 minutes songs that bubble and froth in unexpected ways, never quite grooving, never quite soothing, never quite breaking the mould but never sounding like anything else put to record either.

From the demented Calypso jam of Chores, to the evaporating electro bounce of Peacebone, to the sparkling collages of Number 1 and Cuckoo, Strawberry Jam covers a huge amount of ground in a short amount of time. And while this couldn’t be classified as noise in the sense of being abrasive, discordant or unstructured, Strawberry Jam CAN be considered noise in the sense that it has no peers, and only the vaguest of reference points. Those who like adventures will find plenty of unexplored territory here.

Digging: Merzbow

Merzbow: Ikebukuro Dada
Circumvent Recordings (2002
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It’s a little odd that Merzbow references Dada in the title of this release. Sure, the early 20th Century Arts and Literature movement was all anti-establishment and anti ‘art’ just like the noise genre is anti ‘music’. However, Dada was heavily based on chance and the illogical – its practitioners gave spoken word performances based on collections of words and phrases drawn upon at random.

On Ikebukuro Dada Merzbow sounds less haphazard and more structured than ever before, entirely the opposite of the Dada’s shenanigans.

It’s not often that Merzbow ‘songs’ feel like they have a distinct beginning, middle and end. It’s rare that he takes the time to build his layers of sound rather than toy with them, and yet Merzbow seems very focused on achieving exactly this across all four of Ikebukuro Dada’s tracks. The record opens with a soft, clipped metronome effect interjected with the sound of someone running their hands through the body of a piano like a harp. With a snap, Merzbow throws in some high-pitched scree that builds in intensity until the track’s closing.

He shows more restraint on the second, and best track Ikebukuro Dada Texture, which opens with a subtle pulse, like the dense throb of outer space in a Sci-Fi movie. Rhythmic splashes of white noise fade in and out, but Merzbow keeps returning to this throb that holds the piece together like glue. I haven’t heard Merzbow do ‘quiet’ all that often, but I love it when he does, particularly here where he sounds like Wolf Eyes or Prurient on Valium. And don’t get me started on how fucking awesome the sliced and diced jazz pianos sound when they suddenly interrupt this cacophony.

Hardcore power-noise heads don’t need to fear though, there’s still plenty of face melting moments on Ikebukuro Dada, but Merzbow cleverly balances them with a much wider range of volumes and densities than I’ve heard him play with before. He also sounds so much more determined to take the listener on some sort of journey. Every click and tick and burst of sound seems carefully placed within its wider context, and it’s that calculation which seems at odds with the concept of Dadaism.

Perhaps Merzbow is attracted to Dada’s anti-war ethics, which might tie in with his whole ‘peace for animals’ schtick (proceeds from this record go to ‘Chimp Haven’ according to the cover notes) but don’t ask me where Merzbow’s penchant for Sado Masochism fits in with the whole no-war vibe. There are a number of field recordings on Ikebukuro Dada and maybe their random nature also appeals to the Dadaist title. Who the fuck knows? The title could just be a prank on Merzbow’s part, or more likely it’s absolutely irrelevant.

But whatever, go and hunt down a copy of this because it’s among his finest works.

PS: Circumvent Recordings doesn’t actually exist anymore, they’re now called Drone Works. I bought my copy on eBay, but I think you can still get a copy direct if you want it.

Digging: Prurient

Prurient: Pleasure Ground
Load Records (2007)

prurient-pleasure-ground

There aren’t many artists out there whose music juggles violence and frailty so well. It’s almost a contradiction to think that something can be brutal enough to peel off your face but precariously positioned to shatter at any time, and yet Dominick Fernow’s harrowed screams and buckled electronics do exactly this.  Prurient exists somewhere entirely of his own; equal parts Black Metal ethos, soothing drone, Industrial clank and harsh fucking noise.

Pleasure Ground is made up of four 10-minute pieces; kicking off with stabbing dissonance and subtly mutating towards a finale of release.

Opener Military Road starts out with piercing feedback and then limps along on a hollowed out pulse that sounds like machine gun fire slowed down and drugged. Fernow’s lung tearing howls float around until a bowel loosening bass frequency swirls everything up into a thick gelatinous mess.

Earthworks/Buried in Secret picks up and massages this low end into a descending drone, distorted and repetitive like a mantra. As you begin to zone out the ‘tune’ shifts up numerous octaves into a cheesy Black Metal synth line. Fernow starts puking his guts up again as thumping kick drums reverberate in the background. Occasionally a snare drum snaps up your attention and eventually all the elements start bubbling away in unison, a wall of aching, beautiful but ugly sound. Possibly my favourite Prurient track yet.

Things take a detour from here. Outdoorsman/Indestructible is based on a barely audible bass sine (think menacing late seventies horror movie soundtrack) and a trickle of wobbly keys. Cymbals clang here and there, mutedly, and the vocals take on the guise of an apathetic spoken word performance.

Volume returns for the final number, Apple Tree Victim, where a distorted melody endlessly repeats while Fernow gets back to sandpapering his vocal cords. The effect is nowhere near as intense as the opening tracks; in fact it’s almost pretty. Without the screams you could be lulled into a daydream, albeit something that involves long-nailed creatures hiding under your bed.

What I love about this record (along with Rose Pillar) compared to what I’ve heard of his other work so far (which is all pretty fucking amazing) is that here Prurient manages to take you on a journey. Pleasure Ground has a strong character arc and when you reach the end of this record, you’re never the person you were when it started.

Digging: The Cherry Point

The Cherry Point: Night of the Bloody Tapes
Troniks (2005)

Night of Bloody TapesImagine standing underneath the jet of a Boeing 747. Someone starts the engine. It squeals into life and then whirls into a deafening roar. Physics bares its claws and demands that you’re sucked into the jet to be minced up like the piss-weak piece of flesh that you are. But you resist, although the roar is so loud that your bones are turning into jelly, which makes it more and more difficult to ignore the beckoning black vortex above you. The sound of a thousand mechanical elements grinding in unison blocks out everything else in the world, yet every now and again you swear that you can hear music in there somewhere. A haunting groan here, a mesmerising sigh there, all tempting you to lean further into the jet’s kaleidoscopic winds and closer to death. Welcome to The Cherry Point and Night of the Bloody Tapes, people. Officially mixed by John Wiese.

Digging: Magic Dirt

Magic Dirt: Signs of Satanic Youth
Au-Go-Go Records (1993)

Magic Dirt_satanicSadly, on August 21st Dean Turner, the quiet-achieving bassist and part founder of  Australian rock legends Magic Dirt, succumbed to cancer. He was only 37.

Not to focus on the local music industry’s loss, let’s praise a band that shaped an exciting era in Australian music. In particular, Melbourne’s scuzzy indie rock scene of the 90’s, when this gem of an EP hit the iconic shelves of Au-Go-Go records.

In a shroud of beer and bong smoke, Magic Dirt burst forth from Melbourne’s far outer suburbs, wrapped in Blast First/Geffen era Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr fuzz. Amplifiers were shredded, guitar strings were broken, and every 15 year old that saw Magic Dirt on stage during this period lost their shit inside dingy clubs during sweaty all-ages gigs.

Grunge had well and truly exploded in ’93, and while Magic Dirt maintained the second-hand, unwashed appearance that was all the rage at the time, they steered away from Metal infused Punk and trawled through cobwebbed corners of sonic deconstruction and pop hooks instead.

At the time of this EP’s release, Magic Dirt derived inspiration from Sonic Youth and other fragmented guitar bands of the time. Track three, Touch that Space owes a lot to the Youth’s Silver Rocket, the way its fuzzed out hook crashes into exploding amps and then winds itself back into a killer crescendo. Meanwhile, the haunting Supertear is lyrically reminiscent of Kim Gordon’s prose on female anxieties.

However, Magic Dirt were always more rooted in Blues and early rock n’ roll than Sonic Youth have ever been. They were unafraid to throw a wah-wah solo into the scree, and as a front woman Adalita channelled Suzi Quattro against Kim Gordan’s praying mantis allure. And where Sonic Youth has always been a guitar band, Dean Turner’s warm, slinky bass playing is an integral element of the Magic Dirt sound, which anchored the band in 70’s inspired stoner rock.

At a time in Australian music when indie bands were dropping EPs and singles left, right and centre, Signs of Satanic Youth rose above the racket. It was moody, slightly un-hinged, melodic, rocking and noisy. And in case you missed the point, it ended with a 36-minute drone of reverse-played guitars to remind you that this wasn’t your average rock band.

Over their next few releases, Magic Dirt polished their noise into a shiny fibreglass wall of guitars. The major label records they released during the last decade secured them a mainstream audience at the expense of the creativity and mayhem found in their earlier work. However, 2008 saw Magic Dirt release the highly experimental Roky’s Room (featuring members of Grey Daturas), Beast and Girl all of which harked back to earlier times, when their pop was decayed, sludgy and bad for your teeth. There was excitement around the band again.

As such, it’s sad that we mightn’t get to see what they were capable of in this next phase of their career. If this is your inspiration to pick up some Magic Dirt albums, dig way back to Signs of Satanic Youth for a glimpse into Australia’s 1990s underground, and to understand why more than 16 years on this band weren’t slowing down.