BIRDSONGS OF THE MESOZOIC: Dancing on A'A (Cuneiform) The Boston-based Birdsongs have revamped their lineup and moved slightly to the right ... left ... somewhere, but they have moved. Whereas their old sound tended toward circular or spiral keyboard patterns, this new material moves along intersecting straight lines, creating angular melodies as well as a good amount of dissonance. The new members being a guitarist, a flute and sax player, the music has sharper edges and ventures much farther into jazz and rock territory but retains its base in the modern classical use of repetition. A few cuts maintain the old song patterns but use the new instrumentation for a fresh sound. This album is easy to listen to because the songs sound composed even when they move in unpredictable directions, whereas improvised music is often a difficult listen. A good reference point might be "Gravity"-era Fred Frith. The traditional silly-cover-song role is filled here by a slightly cheesy rendition of "Peter Gunn". (Gabe)
CRASH WORSHIP: Triple Mania II (Charnel Music) GUITAR WOLF: Kung-Fu Ramone (Bag Of Hammers) These albums comprise a yin and yang of primal rock and roll. Crash Worship's latest CD tones down the drums just a bit from previous efforts (not to worry though - four members are still listed on drums). The odd guitar pattern, early Butthole Surfers-style vocals, and other squeaky and ominous noises make for constant variety within the powerful "several people banging away" context. This album is equally and highly enjoyable both at pounding volumes and at late-night levels, though the experiences are quite different.
Guitar Wolf on the other hand, practically loses the drums and bass under low fidelity production and loud-as-hell guitars. Here we have a couple of Japanese guys making angry surf and psychedelic punk guitar noises and driving them through the most cheap-shit amps that side of the Pacific. As a special bonus, they toss in the occasional blood-curdling but indecipherable scream. Mindbendingly raw sounds.
A rock band with drums galore and hardly a guitar in earshot and another band with their guitars cranked to 13 on the Spinal Tap scale. A match made in hell.
For the aesthetically inclined, the Crash Worship CD comes in a multifold cardboard package with two individually hand-screened copper plates containing the cover art. (Gabe)
FIBULATOR: Unhammerlike (Jim Wilbur Records) Fibulator's fourth full-length is not to be missed! Wonderful caffienated art-damaged sextet from Oakland. Two strong and beautiful female voices sing poetic lyrics in passionate harmony. Intricate and tight guitar, bass, and drums that range from Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 to the Minutemen. Excellent and varied reed work throughout. This album is full of tense rushing climaxes, soft peaceful sways, eerie jagged blasts, rapid percussion, driving fierce instrumentals, dark schizophrenia, and some of the catchiest cacophonies to fall in love by. (Lovechild)
DEMOLITION DOLL RODS: We're The Doll Rods 7" (Womb/Past It) Lo-fi trio featuring two groovy chicks and a guy from the Gories in drag. Three great trashy pop delites! Right up there with the Trashwomen. Complete with cool "ooo-oooo's," hip choral refrains, melodic up-tempo fun, and bonus guitar freakouts. (Lovechild)
PETER BRÖTZMANN/ HAMID DRAKE: The Dried Rat-Dog (Okka-disk) Brötzmann's playing seems to reach new heights with every new release these days. He's as intense as ever with strong improvisations on a variety of reeds, including some nice breathy clarinet work. With Hamid Drake on tablas on this track, I was reminded of the old Perry Robinson/Badal Roy Improvising Artists release. Drake is excellent on frame drum and drum set as well. The two interact very subtly and musically, covering a broad emotional and technical range. This is a candidate for my best of '95. (Eva)
JOHN HINDS: Connections (OmniSonic) This is a guy from Millbrae playing about fifteen different instruments, helped out on a few tracks by his brother on drums and Dan Plonsey of Manufacturing of Humidifiers. Various tracks reminded me of Sun Ra, the Molecules, and Sun City Girls. Some real noisy, skronky guitar pieces, extremely spacious and spacey Sun Ra tributes, nice use of samples and some sheer noise. A very intriguing release from someone who I hope will be playing in the Bay Area or at least releasing more records, soon. (Eva)
PUSAKA SUNDA: Lolongkrang (Sakti Records) This music is lovely, deep, and luminous, with its undulating currents of gongs, chimes, metallophones, and percussion swirling behind the rich, expressive melody of the bamboo flute. Waves of elaborate, interlocking rhythms and melody flow from profound peace to shimmering excitement to dark, brooding tension. This is Lolongkrang, the debut album of Bay Area gamelan degung group, Pusaka Sunda. Along with Undang Sukarma, the ensemble's Sundanese percussionist, and the American-born members of Pusaka Sunda, this ensemble continues to introduce Bay Area audiences to the beauty and vitality of traditional and contemporary gamelan degung music. (Mary)
FIGURE 8 (Rova plus 4): Pipe Dreams (Black Saint) Rova plus Glenn Spearman, Tim Berne, Vinny Golia, and Dave Barrett. This release was recorded right around the time of their second live show last year and manages to capture the atmosphere of adventurousness and excitement that characterized the live performances. Rova continues to stretch musical boundaries, both fusing and exploring the tensions between composition and improvisation. All the compositions are excellent and dedicated to sometimes seemingly unlikely pairs of musicians(Albert Ayler and Pete Townshend, Ray Charles and Steve Lacy) whose spirits do inform the pieces. Excellent solos by Rova and guests weave in and out of fiercely ambitious compositional structures. Sometimes bluesy, sometimes classical sounding, even a transcription of a Croatian folk song! A must if you like saxophones. (Eva)
MILK: Never Dated (American) Forget apologies, Milk doesn't need them. With a brash style that has earned him more than enough money to satisfy his personal calcium requirements, Milk is out to make sure that you get yours...even if he has to force it down your throat. "Never Dated," Milk's first solo project after he parted ways with the pioneering ensemble Audio Two, is brutally rude and outspoken. And once you take a sip of this curdled concoction, its creator will gladly laugh in your face. Underneath Milk's braggadocios and crass rhymes are instrumental tracks that are equally in your face. Each song is powered by a heavy drum beat and matter-of-fact samples, all reinforcing Milk's barbaric musings. For anyone who has problems with Milk's outspoken personality, "Never Dated" may not be at the top of the wish list. But for those who can enjoy a few sour sips, Milk is the cream that rises to the top, no matter how cocky it is. (DJ Mint)
INCANTATION: Mortal Throne of Nazarene (Relapse Records) One of the most intense death metal bands on the planet has dished out a second serving of sheer fuckin' brutality. This goes way beyond the average expectancy of a brutal band. The production is a bit better than their first release and the guitars have an added crispness. The music is fuckin' brutal and very tight. Lots of slow, heavy riffing mixed in with blasts of grinding speed and overpowering rumbling vocals. (Organ Donor)
STRAPPING YOUNG LAD: Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing (Century Media) Musically, this album brings to mind intense bands such as Fear Factory and Sepultura, but conceptually it is clearly meant to be humorous--there's a track titled "Cod Metal King," a goofy picture of the band members trying to be as tough as any death metal band, and even Queen-style harmonies in one of the songs. Extremely heavy guitar that often carries a sequenced industrial sound, is the focus of the music, with a mixture of shouted, distorted, and sung vocals sitting on top. Stylistically, it ranges from frantic fast-paced tracks to slower chunkier tracks with lots of cool rhythms amidst it all. It's amazing that Devin Townsend who wrote all the music could have done this after spending time under Steve Vai's wing. (Chanel)
BRAINIAC: Bonsai Superstar (Grass Records) On their second album, Brainiac take their rightful place in a fine midwestern musical tradition. From Pere Ubu to Devo to Guided By Voices, Ohio has had a strange effect on its creative young. Raised on a diet of arena rock and veterans of both rural isolation and urban decay, many of Ohio's musical youth have expressed themselves in relatively pure, undogmatic, and fairly twisted ways. On this album, Brainiac throw aside much of the heaviness of their debut for a sound that is more subtle, chaotic, and weird. On one level, many of the songs are groovy and explosive indie rock. On this base, however, has been thrust a mad world of beeps and babbling. Plus, the vocals have a desperate aimless intensity, and the sound is huge. There are echoes of all the bands mentioned above, plus the explosiveness of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and a touch of the quirkiness of old Ween. Mostly, it rocks in a really weird groovy way. Viva Ohio!(Victor)
SOLIENT GREEN: Pussysoil (Dwell Records) Wow! An amazing combination of sounds ranging from full on grind to deathmetal to hardcore to doom. Brian Patton of Eye Hate God plays guitar on this and it shows with that slow, intense angst filled grind in some places. But overall, this sounds very different from Eye Hate God. There are lots of sound and tempo changes throughout not only the disc, but within each song. Some songs have slow, depressing doomy Grief-like parts while others are fast, ripping grind not unlike Brutal Truth and still others manage an excellent mix of the two styles. Multiple vocalists are found throughout, with one doing the low distorted death metal vocals and another doing high pitched piercing yelps and even one with "power" metal type vocals. The surprising thing about the vocals is that one can actually understand what is being said (I know, hard to believe). If you like angry, loud music which provides an incredible mix of speed, intensity and slow, raw power, this disc is for you. It's awesome! (Agent Dude)
SIELWOLF: Metastasen (Van Richter) This is a kick-ass joint project between Petra Tausendpfund and Peter Prochir who used to be the drummer of the Euro-skronk-rock group Cassiber. It's base is distorted industrial with beats but there's a wide amount of variety ranging from lots of heavy chunky guitar to periods of ambient sounds. Best thing in this vein since White Slug's Alphacoma EP. (Chanel)
FIN: Fin (Cartorce Index) A southern California group that use spoken noise/ computer-generated samples and loops to create a mesmerizing atmospheric sound. Mostly it's quiet, but it has its moments of increased activity. Somewhat along the lines of Foundation for Public Broadcasting and Operation Mind Control. (Chanel)
MESHUGGAH: None (Nuclear Blast/Relapse Records) I'm not a big thrash fan, but this Swedish outfit blew me away. Tight power-thrash with intricate rhythms and lots of stop- and-go's. The timing is very complicated and despite the breaks and pauses, the music flows very well. My only complaint is that the vocals sound a lot like Metallica, but they work well with this style and I find myself coming back for more. (Organ Donor)
GRIEF: Come to Grief (Century Media) If you were going to kill yourself, this would be one of the best bands to put you in the mood. This outfit (featuring some members of Disrupt) manages to express anger, depression, frustration, despair and suicidal tendencies all in one album. Very, very slow, heavy, crunching guitars with pained vocals. Imagine a very slooooooooow and heavy Black Sabbath all about depression and killing yourself. I like this a lot. This is slowcore at its best. The riffs are great and the band is really tight. Though the music is incredibly slow, the band's musical intelligence keeps the listener tuned in. (Organ Donor)
HENRY'S DRESS (Slumberland)
Henry's Dress is the first band to get it right. Unlike the glut of other noise-pop bands that separate melody and feedback, burying and obscuring one with the other, Henry's Dress make feedback and distortion an art of the melody so that neither is obscured. The songs are mod-pop at the core with achingly sweet male and female vocals; pounding, sometimes-frenzied drums; guitars that crackle over with distortion and feedback, and incredibly solid bass that holds everything else together. There are traces of The Who, Unsane, and Boyracer throughout the eight songs on the CD, but Henry's Dress definitely have their own distinctive sound. They're local too, so check out their impressive live shows sometime. (Mac)