Thursday, December 2, 2010

FFA474 Orange - Cosmic Collisions (2010)

| Electronica | Noise | Ambient |

Independent music never sounded so fresh. New ideas flow, and old ideas are recycled. Truth is, no matter how rushed a musical genre may be, it never fails to surprise and be inspiring once again. FFA474 Orange, F.O for short, is one of those artists that sound nothing but 'fresh'. It's nostalgic in a perfect dose and comes with new views of old moves and old use of new and meaningful musical ideas. In a certain manner, this album is simple. It doesn't seem that pieces were put together, but it's as if they were thrown into each other. It takes a little bit of randomness to simulate the randomness that is the universe and make it collide into itself. But, still, it moves in a predictably way. Perhaps not in fact "predictably", but it's like your mind could feel it. And follow its path.

I don't even know what the fuck I'm talking about up there, but this music is great. Nostalgic like old sci-fi, abstract like a telescopic picture of a black hole. It bends in and out with a antagonistic blend of noise and ambient that we all like so much. Try it, and let yourself be 'sucked into' it.

Catalog: VB-32 (Velvet Blue Records)
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Gay Vomit Sex - A Primer On Illegalism (2010)

| Harsh Noise|

A follow up to Antithesis, this album leads GVS back into the funny territory it previously explored within noise music. Adorned with samples that vary from ironic to simply idiotic, this little (only 13min long) EP is remarkably full of quality. A quality not simply found anywhere else, but one that's funnily hateful and lovely disturbing. An amazing harsh noise collection, with a perfect pitch of sarcasm and boredom. I mean, inspiration. THIS is Gay Vomit Sex.

Dedicated to Michel Foucault.

Catalog: VB-33 (Velvet Blue Records)
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Friday, November 26, 2010

Majutsu No Niwa ( 魔術の庭 ) - At The End Of Summer (2008)

| Psychedelic Rock | Noise Rock |

It's been a quiet long time since I've last listened to Majutsu's debut, and it didn't fail to impress me over once again. Recorded live, taking two months of concerts and summarizing it into 8 tracks, At the End of Summer is a soulful follow up to the Overhang Party's legacy. It kicks in in a punk-noise feeling, with shredding guitars and cymbal rushes everywhere. The good humor, freedom of spirit and connection within the band members says one more thing besides "Hey, we're doing great shit here", it's that Majutsu No Niwa came to stay. Which, fortunately, is a great thing for us.

At The End Of Summer is far more than just a promising debut. It's a big kaleidoscope of the band's imagination. It has its punk moments (as in the opener "Magikal Garden"), its melodic pieces ("Grand Okeanos"), and even hard rocking ones ("Desolate Seashore- At The End Of Summer"). All, of course, with that pour of Psychedelic-Noise Rock that everyone loves and that makes it so special. A great debut, may the next great albums come in!
Funny Fact: "Whither" seems funnily similar to a song I bet everyone will recognize.

Catalog: TRCD-MA004 (There)
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Friday, August 20, 2010

Gay Vomit Sex - Antithesis (2010)

| Harsh Noise |

A short, fast and tasty new album by the dada-est musician around, Antithesis (which may be considered his debut, even though he has recorded and released a few others by himself) is a more "musical" adaptation of earlier GVS. It carries less nihilism than its precedents, focusing on harsh noise alone. Yet, it's the most consistent of all his works.

The album works almost like one big track, even though it's "split" (and each "part" was recorded separately). It kickstarts in a haste that is kept through its entirety. Loud, ferocious and somewhat funny (even though it's GVS less humoured work so far), there are really few moments of relief amidst the spiked improvisations of Antithesis. Very recommended for those willing to have more gay music in their library, and vomit in their breakfast. Unfortunately, it has the opposite effect on sex...

Catalog: VB-31 (Velvet Blue Records)
Download (320kbps)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mario Diaz de Leon - Enter Houses Of (2009)

| Avant-Garde | Contemporary Classical | Electroacoustic |

"The album is sealed by “Gated Eclipse”. The pedestrian dulcis in fundo commonplace would be appropriate enough, hadn’t the excellence of the preceding material already alerted about this man’s potential. A complex combination of effective sharpness and poignant stability is generated by a magnificent sextet – flute, clarinet, piano, percussion, violin and cello – tuning the music to impenetrable auras while leaving us catch a vague glimpse of superior levels of understanding."
-Touching Extremes

".....this disc has especially stood out for me in the way it fires my imagination and how frequently I replay it. Sure, the compositions are fascinating, painting in big aural strokes and melding major electronic ideas and acoustic performances with an assured hand. And the musicians—all ICE players—turn in the kind of technically and artistically daring performances on which the ensemble built its reputation. But there is something elusive in the "man and machine" conversation inside this music that digs its claws deep into the ear and invites repeat visits."
-New Music Box

"exquisite, extraordinarily visceral experience, a statement of all the tonal and atonal possibilities of sound that still go untapped by the majority of other modern composers. Diaz de Leon's work, in contrast, is bracing and invigorating, a study in harsh beauty that broadens the horizons of classical composition."
-Impose Magazine

Catalog: #8065 (Tzadik)
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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

John Zorn - The Bribe (1998)

| Avant-Garde | Experimental Rock | Avant-Jazz |
| Post-Bop | Fusion Jazz |

John Zorn's Bribe is a continuation and extension of his album Spillane. Like its predecessor, this album features almost the same lineup of extraordinary NYC improvisers including pianist Anthony Coleman, drummer Bobby Previte, organist Wayne Horvitz, turntablist Christian Marclay, and harpists Zeena Parkins and Carol Emanuel. Unlike the fast-spliced pace of Spillane, which functioned as its own narrative, the music on Bribe is allowed to stretch and develop because it was composed as a background for the dialogue in three 30-minute radio plays by Terry O'Reilly (it was later adapted to a stage production). O'Reilly described his creation as "low art; " along the lines of little respected categories such as pulp fiction and B-movies. Zorn then constructed appropriate music, continually switching styles and filling it with pop references.

The overall mood of Bribe is also different from Spillane and much of Zorn's work (excluding Film Works, Vol. 7), in that it maintains a light-hearted approach, weaving music box chimes and carnival sounds into the music. A nicer mood pervades this release, yet given its kaleidoscopic and slightly demented tone, it certainly can't be described as relaxed. Then again, maybe "relaxed" isn't too far off, after all -- perhaps by playing a supporting role to the production's cast instead of driving the concept, the musicians were able to enjoy themselves a little more.

Catalog: TZ 7320 (Tzadik)
Album Overview on Allmusic

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John Zorn - Godard/Spillane (1999)

| Avant-Garde | Experimental | Avant-Jazz |Post-Bop|
| Experimental Rock | Musique Concrètre |

"Godard" and "Spillane" were the two first (and purest) examples of the "file card" composition technique developed by John Zorn and inspired by theater director Richard Foreman. The compositions were constructed from independent scraps of music inscribed on file cards; the two principal works here called for assembly of the cards ("Spillane" used 60 cards within roughly 25 minutes) to create compositions within the conceptual frame of work by Mickey Spillane and Jean-Luc Godard. The goal was to translate imagery from Godard's films and Spillane's crime novels (and probably the films based on those novels) into unified compositions. Bits of text weave through musical fragments including gentle lounge piano, spacy electronic music, violent sonic crashes, and dive-bar jazz. Ironically, "Godard" and "Spillane" both work as unified compositions because they are made of fragments. The ideas of the filmmaker and the writer would have been too complex to be tackled by an overblown, operatic score; such a work could only scratch the surface of a few of their ideas without seeming disjointed. But Zorn's file card snippets bounce around like thoughts, overlapping and intruding on each other, reversing direction like a changed mind. Careful selection and arrangement make all the snippets seem essential and irreplaceable, despite their remarkable diversity.

This album's execution is aided by a truly impressive cast of supporting musicians, whose close relationships with Zorn made it possible for the musical nuances to be communicated through interpersonal interaction. As a result, every piece sounds like a pure fragment of its genre instead of mere imitation. Perhaps most impressive were the contributions of Anthony Coleman and Bill Frisell, both of whom wrenched an amazing variety of sounds from their instruments. This collection, issued by Tzadik in 1999, also contains a delightful Christmas song, "Blues Noël," which applies the file card method in a much shorter, but charming, piece.

Catalog: TZ 7324 (Tzadik)
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Monday, July 26, 2010

John Zorn - Music Romance Vol.2: Taboo And Exile (1999)

| Avant-Garde | Jazz Fusion | Chamber Jazz |
| Avant-Classical | Experimental Rock | Avant-Jazz |

Like the first volume of the series, Music Romance, Volume Two: Taboo and Exile deals with issues of lost innocence. The first of the Music Romance series had more overt references to childhood, with lengthy literary references and a title which gave it all away: Music for Children. Here the images are a little bit more subtle and a lot darker. The outer sleeve is black, with ritual objects represented in the fiery colors of orange and red. The liner notes contain a photo of poppies as well as more ritual objects, including one which seems to be bathed in blood. The front of the booklet has a photograph of a naked young girl that presents her in a way that is half sexualized, half innocent. There is just one piece of text this time, "A white room with white curtains hides the face of a sleeping child, barely a child, barely asleep, leaving nothing but an image, the sky's double, to rediscover one's innocence."

All of this is mere packaging -- a name, some images, some words, but they prime the listener for the experience of the music, for understanding what this recording is all about. And what it is all about is that painful moment between innocence and experience, that blood-filled time where the world cracks and reforms itself, when a line has been or is being crossed. The music itself is achingly beautiful -- the first track, "In the Temple of Hadjarim" sets a hypnotic mood for the rest of the album, with the sensual piano playing of Jamie Saft wrapped up in the atmospheric strings of Mark Feldman, Erik Friedlander, and Greg Cohen. By the second track, things have turned discordant, aided by Fred Frith, Dave Lombardo, and Bill Laswell. Indeed, the list of talented musicians on this project is enormous, which lends itself both to quality and diversity of sound. This is not a piece of classical movements; rather, it is like a film with constantly changing scenes. Before the end of the album, images are evoked of slow, metered tribal ritual, escape on an open road, cabaret, desert and dance. This is one of Zorn's most complex and beautiful pieces, showing that he is still constantly evolving as a composer.

Catalog: TZ 7325 (Tzadik)
Album Overview on Allmusic
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John Zorn - IAO (2002)

| Avant-Garde | Experimental | Avant-Classical |
| Minimalist
| Death Metal |

This album, a studio suite, is wrapped in mysticism. The four cards that serve as a booklet feature cabalistic signs, esoteric diagrams, a quote from Alaister Crowley and a dedication to esoteric filmmaker Kenneth Anger. A short note by John Zorn establishing a parallel between the tools and craft of musical composition and magic is the only given explanation. The aura of mystery invites an analysis of the constituents and structures of the work, for better or worse -- and in any case it's fun to do on your own, so this reviewer will not expose his personal conclusions on the subject.

The musicians involved are Cyro Baptista, Jennifer Charles, Greg Cohen, Beth Hatton, Bill Laswell, Rebecca Moore, Mike Patton, Jim Pugliese, and Jamie Saft. They appear only one, two or three at a time. Each of the seven movements is based on a specific, non-reoccurring instrumentation, and explores a form of meditation, trance or anything possibly leading to spiritual revelation. "Invocation" is a delicate piece based on organ drones, while the 13-minute "Sex Magick" takes the form of a tribal percussion mantra. The piano melody in "Sacred Rites of the Left Hand Path" provides the most soothing moments and together with the first track is reminiscent of the level of writing found in Duras. "Lucifer Rising" is made of overdubbed sensual female vocals, while "Leviathan" serves up an ear-splitting slab of death metal (which can be a source of trance too, you know). "Mysteries" completes the circle with electric piano and light percussion. "Leviathan" aside, I.A.O. makes a calm, enjoyable listen and beyond its mystical claims, it includes some strong compositions.

Catalog: TZ 7338 (Tzadik)
Album Overview on Allmusic
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Friday, July 23, 2010

John Zorn - Music Romance Vol.1: Music For Children (1998)

| Avant-Garde | Experimental Rock | Jazzcore |
| Avant-Classical |
Experimental | Electro-Acoustic |

There has never been a CD quite like Music For Children. The first installment of Zorn’s challenging and controversial Music Romance trilogy (that includes Taboo and Exile and The Gift) it is easily one of the most eclectic CDs ever made. The Music Romance trilogy is a kind of ecletic mixture of unusual genres for the lovers of music in all its mutations.

The music in the first volume includes three short Torture Garden compositions performed by Zorn with the scorching hardcore band Prelapse; a soulful piece of Masada exotica; a virtuosic classical chamber piece for violin, piano and percussion; a poly-rhythmic etude for voice and percussion and a charming nostalgic lullaby for music box. The highlight of this re-release is a revised version of Zorn's infamously epic ear-bender Cycles du Nord, which takes on new intensity through overdubbed bass drums and a newly recorded noise guitar track by none other than the master of feedback himself—Lou Reed! Intensely intriguing, Music For Children is an unbelievable musical roller coast ride that takes you from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again in sixty jam-packed minutes.

Catalog: TZ 7321b (Tzadik)
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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Gorguts - Obscura (1998)

| Technical Death Metal | Avant-Metal |

What's in a name? In the case of "Gorguts," not much -- at least by this stage in the game -- save for some preconceptions about what a band with "gore" and "guts" in its name should sound like. Obscura comes much closer to the mark, as this is simply one of the most challenging, difficult albums ever released within the metal genre. In terms of its towering complexity and unprecedented strangeness, Obscura has a lot more in common with Captain Beefheart's avant-rock monstrosity Trout Mask Replica than it does the latest Cannibal Corpse release. Not that Obscura isn't recognizably metal -- the guitar distortion, the double-bass drumming, and the blasting snare beats are all firmly rooted in death metal. What makes this album different is exactly how far Gorguts pushes this death metal foundation. The guitar/bass harmonies are extremely discordant, the guitar leads are full of alien harmonic squeals and other foreign noises (the title track, for example, features a recurring, legitimately atonal melody played via fingertapping), and the drums change tempos and time signatures in spastic, whiplash-inducing fashion. Frontman Luc Lemay's vocals are not standard death metal fare, either: he sounds like he's being put through a torture session, gasping and wheezing as he screams at the top of his lungs. The most agonizing track is the near ten-minute "Clouded," which crawls at a Melvins/Swans pace and has absolutely guttural bass playing to go along with the aforementioned dissonant guitars and painful vocals. As ugly and off-putting as Obscura may initially seem, though, it possesses an underlying sense of logic and structure that does reveal itself upon repeat listens. A number of memorable, if strange, guitar melodies emerge throughout the album and help provide a sense of order and thematic unity amidst the apparent chaos; "Earthly Love" and "Nostalgia" are especially strong examples of this. Obscura's appeal may not ultimately reach far beyond an underground niche audience, but those with the patience and curiosity to tackle this record will be rewarded with a work of great depth and vision.

Catalog: 008 633 129-2 (Olympic)
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Naked City - Grand Guignol (1992)

| Avant-Garde | Jazzcore | Experimental Rock |
| Avant-Classical |

"Unlike some of Naked City's other albums, this could hardly be qualified as a rock or jazz album. In the liner notes Zorn talks about how humanity has a dark side, symbolized by the Grand Guignol, a Parisian theatre that "served up torture, incest, blood lust, insanity, mutilation and death to generations of fervid spectators." The album is Zorn's exploration of our fascination with evil.

The album opens with a series of eloquent and sinister classical pieces. The first, Zorn's "Grand Guignol" is a series of avant-garde vignettes, drums and tortured guitars against a backdrop of silence. It is similar to "American Pyscho" on Radio, except it lacks the cultural references to rock and pop. The rest of the pieces drift along, subtle and dark classical covers performed by a rock quintet. Frisell's eloquent reverby guitar is used to good effect here, as is Fred Frith's use of the volume pedal to float his electric bass in and out of the song. This is some of the most understated and beautiful playing Naked City has ever done.

They are sharply contrasted by the onslaught of tracks 9-41. These tracks make up the other half of Torture Garden, the first half released on Naked City's debut album. They are a brutal, in your face assault of genres augmented by Yamatsuka Eye's ferocious screams, yells and grunts. The material is, in a word, insanity.

This is one of my favorite Naked City albums. It is both dark and contemplative and upbeat and disturbing. This album should appeal to anyone interested in new ways of structuring music who doesn't mind some pretty insane sound. It should also appeal to anyone who enjoys thrash or hardcore music.

PS: This is the remastered version of the album, which includes "Grand Guignol (Vocal Version)", with awesome vocals by the genius Mike Patton!

Catalog: Avan 002 (Avant)
Download (ALAC)
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Monday, July 12, 2010

John Zorn - Rituals (2005)

| Avant-Garde | Contemporary Classical |
| Experimental |

Owls, Windmachines, Gravedigging and Ritual Magick, Zorn’s strange and mystical monodrama for mezzo soprano and ten instruments is presented here in a beautiful new studio recording. Composed for the Bayreuth Opera Festival in 1998, the Rituals premiere was a bit of a scandal, with the audience split down the middle…half outraged detractors, stomping out, whistling and jeering and half cheering supporters. Performed here by a stellar group of Zorn regulars and some very special guests, Rituals is opera at its virtuosic and intimate best. Five movements of magic and alchemy from the crucible of an uncompromising and unpredictable musical maverick.

This album is a total YES, from beginning to end. The music, full of druidism and wizardry, is another of Zorn's classical compositions exploring the magic of sound. This one is less dark and frightening than Magick, yet it goes way further on the path; having ten instruments and opera singers makes Rituals a completely new statement in Zorn's catalogue. The "rituals" are five short pieces, from 7 to 4 minutes. They are little melodic, since they will is to deep-explore the magic connection between each instrument's sound (instead of simply "connecting" them). Yet, the compositions here are really stunning. In a certain way, if Magick was black magic, Rituals is druid's alchemy!

Catalog: TZ 8011 (Tzadik)
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John Zorn - Redbird (1995)

| Avant-Garde | Contemporary Classical |
| Chamber Jazz
| Minimalist | Experimental Ambient |

A kinder and gentler Zorn, exploring a sound world not unlike those pioneered by composers Giacinto Scelsi, Morton Feldman and Olivier Messiaen. Acoustic, minimal/ambient music of unusual subtlety and beauty, inspired by, and dedicated to the work of artist Agnes Martin. "Redbird," a hypnotic work for harp, violin, cello and percussion mirrors the detailed and complex painting for which it is named, as a series of chords are ordered and reordered, creating a play of memory and surprise that will leave the listener in a sensual reverie. It's difficult to believe that "Dark River" for four bass drums is actually acoustic music; the interplay of sonorities reminds one more of tape manipulation or the electronic beating of underwater sonar.

Both pieces are extremely minimalist, as the work of Agnes Martin itself. Yet, the simple arrangements retain an extremely hipnotic power. Once the album is on, time seems to shrink as imagination gives its way through thoughts against the music - and when you least expect, 50min of minimalist classical music has just pass through like it was only 10. The album atmosphere is pretty dark, even though its form is gentle and passionate. Redbird is, doubtelessly, one of Zorn's most remarkable works ever. Completely recommended!

Catalog: TZ 7008
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John Zorn - Magick (2004)

| Avant-Garde | Contemporary Classical |
| Experimental |

Further explorations into the worlds of Magick and Alchemy, here featuring the long awaited premiere recording of Zorn's new string quartet. Necronomicon is a transcendent five movement work of unparalleled ensemble virtuosity and formal beauty, brilliantly played by the Crowley Quartet. Also included is an astounding piece of witchcraft and sorcery for two bass clarinets, one of the most difficult yet written for the instrument, performed with passion and precision by two of the greatest players in the world.

Necronomicon is probably my favourite classical work by Zorn. Terrifying strings running in despair and horror, contrasting in both fast and wild arrangements and calm, moody pieces. The work is always dark, but not in a standard way. It's not like an evil night with nightmares, it's more like entering a medieval world full of them. The front cover expresses well either the state of horror and the black wizardry of Necronomicon. It's so damn amazing! Sortilège, the final piece (for two bass clarinets), mostly retains the same atmosphere. It basically sounds like a Necronomicon played on wind instruments. Both pieces don't retain a melodic path, they are more headed to explore each instrument's sound and the magical connection between them.

Catalog: TZ 8006 (Tzadik)
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Friday, July 9, 2010

John Zorn - The Circle Maker (1998)

| Avant-Classical | Chamber Jazz | Post-Bop |
| Jazz Fusion |

This two-disc release captures beautiful and refined music that makes full use of two ensembles' extraordinary musicianship. Drawing from John Zorn's Masada songbook are the Masada String Trio and the Bar Kokhba Sextet. Each ensemble fills one CD with beautiful chamber jazz woven around a heart of Jewish melodies. Zorn skeptics will find the superb and elegant music on The Circle Maker surprisingly stable and accessible. This is a fitting successor to the other Masada works that Zorn doesn't actually perform on — the first Masada chamber project, Bar Kokhba, and Film Works, Vol. 8, whose recording session wrapped up weeks before this weekend date of December 1997. Issachar is the name of the disc on which bassist Greg Cohen, cellist Erik Friedlander, and violinist Mark Feldman perform. Zevulun features the Bar Kokhba Sextet: the Masada String Trio plus drummer Joey Baron, percussionist Cyro Baptista, and guitarist Marc Ribot. All of these musicians are accomplished in jazz and improvised music, and have performed extensively in world and/or classical settings as well. The Circle Maker is a very necessary recording for all appreciators of chamber jazz, new Jewish music, or any of these stellar musicians.

The first disc - Isaachar, featuring Masada String Trio - is my favourite on the set. It resembles a lot the Masada quartet works, with the rhythmic session (bass) and two soloists (violin and cello). It's also one of Zorn's best works ever; the emotion captured by the string arrangements and the sharp-edge improvisation makes this disc a beautiful collection of jazz tunes, flirting with classical and jewish music. Chamber Jazz never sounded so tasty!

Zevulun, disc two, is a little bit weaker. It has more variety, with moments hitting close to Fusion and Surf Jazz, but it doesn't capture the emotional power of the first disc. It also differs a lot from the Masada quartet sound; having a guitar and double percussion on the band gives a totally new tonality to the Masada book tunes. Zevulun is a great disc, in its own way - it just doesn't catch up with the awesomeness of the Isaachar.

Catalog: TZ 7122 (Tzadik)
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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Naked City - Absinthe (1993)

| Avant-Garde | Dark Ambient | Musique Concrète |
| Experimental Rock |

Naked City saved the best for last, and the darkest. After they had barrel-rolled through avant-rock, jazz, grindcore, cartoon music, contemporary classical, film music, drone doom, gritty free improvisation and much more, they decided to release their strangest album, Absinthe. A concept album about the drink of the same name, the song names reference various places, people, and things that have to do with Absinthe. I imagine the music is supposed to represent a really bad night in a dark cathedral after drinking a whole lotta Absinthe, and this cathedral is full of Hans Bellmer's deformed dolls, hiding in every corner.

Onto the music. The first track, Val de Travers, shows you exactly what Absinthe is about: it starts of with some disgustingly dissonant chords strummed on an de-tuned guitar (which appears throughout the album). Soon some strange electronic and percussive sounds come in and add to the terror. Une Corresponance is a different beast. You hear machine-like noise repeated in a pattern, with some variations. It repeats for awhile then it all stops and this high-pitched horn-like instrument comes in (not sax) and seems like the most vicious battle cry you would ever hear, it's one of the most scariest moments on the album. Again the album goes in a different direction with La Fee Verte. There is ambiance, water sounds, sampled vocal drones, strange sounds, and a melodic-in-a-darkly-dissonant-way guitar part, implying the music is all composed. All the while there's a steady beat in the distance, which sounds like somebody hitting their knees or something. Fleurs du Mal is really low, and you have to turn the volume up to hear it. This is the most genius point in the album. it's just this droning low pitch... so you turn your volume up, and finally the song is over and suddenly the next song, Artemisia Absinthium, blasts into your ears, a loud, high pitched noise, what sounds like strange insect noises and machinery. The whole song is like this, and is some of the most frightening music you will hear. Notre Dame de L'Oubli is a nice break from the rest of the album, being darkly melodic, and sounding similar to the classical pieces on Grand Guignol, just darker.

Finally we have Verlaine. Part one starts out with a repeated electronic part, with strange percussion behind it, and some neat piano that leads into THE most terror-inducing music I have ever heard: here John Zorn himself provides disturbing high pitched singing that sounds more Basilisk than human, while these female vocal samples phase in and out. The tones are so extremely dark, as the voices, that it is extremely affective, and literally makes me shiver with true fear. The song goes onto a sorta funky beat with a sorta funky bass, and completely un-funky discordant guitar strums. Part two, La Bleue, continues the ambience of Notre Dame de L'Oubli, just more dark sounding. Then, ...Rend Fou, the last moment of Naked City: six minutes of weird electronic static noise, which is actually Frisell and Frith running their guitar jacks over their guitar inputs. What a way to end Naked City.

Catalog: Avan 004 (Avant)
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Monday, July 5, 2010

John Zorn - Dictée/Liber Novus (2010)

| Avant-Garde | Experimental | Electronic | Jazz |
| Musique Concrète | Ambient |

Radical in both conception and execution, Zorn’s studio compositions are among his most personal and unique creations. Owing as much to film as to any musical model, these evocative postmodern tone poems have been described as cinema for your ears. This CD presents two exciting new pieces. The first, Dictée, is a ritualistic homage to Korean/American writer and conceptual artist Theresa Hak-Kyung Cha, whose brilliant work about loss, memory, language and identity is finally receiving due respect. The second piece, Liber Novus is a mythic psychodrama inspired by the legendary Red Book of Carl Jung; scored for keyboards, percussion and sound effects, this is truly Zorn at his best. Two outrageous, intense and poetically beautiful pieces filled with dynamic moments of sonic drama and experimental lyricism on one CD.

Catalog: TZ
7382 (Tzadik)
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Saturday, July 3, 2010

John Zorn - The Goddess - Music for the Ancient of Days (2010)

| Cool Jazz | Avant-Classical |

Hey, look, John Zorn just released another masterpiece! What a surprise, how many has he released already this year, last year, and every year before it? You'd have to know exactly how many albums he's released to know that.

Anyways, the Goddess is the third in a series of piano trio albums Zorn's been releasing, the first two being Alhambra Love Songs and In Search of the Mirculous. Miraculous blew Alhambra out of water, and the Goddess does the same to Miraculous. Now we have our good friend Marc Ribot on guitar, doing his signature reverb-drenched playing style, and it definitely adds to the Alhambra Trio's sound. Stylistically the rhythms are more complex then on the first two albums, and the melodies are sort of a balance between the exotic sound of Alhambra and the mystical sound of Miraculous. Anyone who liked the two first albums, the Rain Horse, or generally any of Zorn's "soft" music will totally dig this!

Catalog: TZ 7383 (Tzadik)
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Ìncubi - Les Catacombes Mortes (2010)

| Avant-Garde | Dark Ambient | Noise| Electronic |

In mid-2009, I- John Wight -recorded a dark ambient album named Weltzraghassor. It was my first proper "dark ambient" release, inspired by the film Eraserhead. It was a big step at the time, and had strong Lychian atmospheres, but there were some major flaws. Basically, Les Catacombes Mortes is a completely new creation, yet it fixes all of the flaws of Weltzraghassor and incorporates new sounds and ideas.

The best way to describe this album would be noisy, discordant dark ambient with screeching electronics. It is obvious from the get-go that it is influenced by Naked City's Absinthe. The themes of the music are grotesque living puppets, dark cathedrals and catacombs, industrial wastelands, and surreal atmospheric chaos.

Catalog: VB-28 (Velvet Blue Records)
On Lastfm
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John Zorn - Six Litanies for Heliogabalus (2007)

| Avant-Garde | Noise Rock | Avant-Metal |
| Experimental Rock |

In 2006, John Zorn issued two recordings that were the first two volumes in the realization of a project that, as he put it in his notes to the second volume, a methodology "combining the hypnotic intensity of ritual (composition) the spontaneity of magic (improvisation) in a modern musical format (rock)." Those two efforts, Moonchild and Astronome, used the same trio: vocalist Mike Patton, bassist Trevor Dunn, and drummer Joey Baron. Zorn supervised and produced both discs; he conducted them as well. In the third edition of this project -- which is dedicated as the others were to French poet and dramatist Antonin Artaud, magician and occult philosopher Aleister Crowley, and composer Edgard Varèse -- Zorn ups the musical ante: in addition to the aforementioned musicians, he includes himself on alto saxophone, Jamie Saft on organ, and Ikue Mori on electronics. As if this weren't exotic enough, Zorn also utilizes a chorus consisting of Abby Fischer, Kirsten Sollek and Martha Cluver. Clocking in at 44-and-a-half minutes, these six pieces are the boldest, most exotic, and perhaps most extreme in the entire envelope thus far.

The expansion of textures grants many new possibilities, but it also requires more order and discipline (of which Zorn has plenty). These pieces contain plenty of improvisation, particularly by Patton who is, in his own way, more extreme than Yamantaka Eye of the Boredoms, (the latter collaborated with Zorn in Naked City, Pain Killer, and other projects), but it is the structuring of these "litanies" that is most compelling. The dynamics from piece to piece shift and transform themselves into something other than sheer range and force; they move not merely from loud to soft and back, but through all the gray areas in between, without necessarily doing so in a discernible order. There is a logic at work here, one that may or may not be mathematical, but it is not merely chaos and rock & roll force either. This is music equal parts classical, heavy metal, hardcore thrash, free jazz, and structured improvisation simultaneously.

The mapping out of this remarkable work is no better served than in "Litany III," where the slow drift of Saft's organ, Patton's most extreme hyperactive inhuman noise-making, Dunn's burning metallic basslines that threaten your bass cones, and silence are all woven into whispered and chanted voices, electronic ambient sounds and noises, samples, and Zorn's skronking alto playing different roles in erecting what amounts to a burning pyre of music, an offering of sound that will not be bound by either convention or mere construction, but pushes by its very design at Zorn's own limits of compositions. These elements either coexist side by side in the mash-up, or are revealed as solos or as an entire ensemble. The order of determination is difficult to discern, and makes for a burning, wicked good time in listening. "Litany I V" is a completely solo vocal work in which Patton displays just how extreme he can be -- all with a pronounced rhythmic intensity and flair. Likewise, that rhythmic thing, as opposed to the space in "Litany III," is revealed to funky grand design on "Litany V," with Baron and Dunn playing point, counterpoint, and overdrive until Saft and the chorus emerge in the middle rather suddenly. Then all bets are off: the rhythmic orgy begins but with Zorn soloing over the top. Yet these are mere examples in a work that cannot either be defined in conventional ways, or taken apart from the work as a whole. In this way, Six Litanies for Heliogabalus is a crowning achievement in this series so far because it doesn't allow the ensemble to dictate the part of the individual within it, yet neither does it allow the individual to create something apart from the ensemble -- even in "Litany IV." Patton's solo is dictated by what came before, and is responsible for what immediately follows. The next work in this project is entitled "The Crucible." It certainly has a lot to live up to.

Catalog: TZ 7361 (Tzadik)
Album Overview on Allmusic

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

John Zorn - The Crucible (2008)

| Avant-Garde | Noise Rock | Avant-Metal |
| Experimental Rock |

The legendary Moonchild trio returns for another intense journey into the worlds of magic, alchemy and witchcraft. Following one of Zorn’s true masterpieces "Six Litanies for Heliogabalus", this fourth volume streamlines and simplifies the music with new melodic elements bringing Zorn’s sax and the lyricism of Masada into the power and structural complexity of the patented Moonchild sound. With Patton using his versatile voice to sing melodies in addition to his preverbal screams and howls, The Crucible is another bold step from mad alchemist John Zorn. Including special guest guitarist Marc Ribot on one Led Zeppelin influenced track ("9x9"), this is a rocking new installment to the Moonchild-Astronome-Heliogabalus legacy.

Catalog: TZ 7372 (Tzadik)
Download (192kbps)

Neuss Noise - Hangars And Graveyards (2009)

| Dark Ambient | Drone |

Hangars and Graveyards. I couldn't think about a better name to describe this album's landscapes. Dark, vast, lonely, frightening... The thorned drone of Neuss Noise crawls through the pinch-black wilderness in a decayed mood for breathless half-hour. The gnarled melodies are stretched until it reaches the timeless void in which the subconsciousness inhabits. The huge and eerie "Evaporated Purple" struggles in dense and yet airy notes while clutches the floor with its horrorful growls. And talking about that, you just can't wait: "Hangars And Graveyards" and "Dark Hall" uses samples from Keiji Haino's "A Challenge to Fate" and "Tenshi No Gijinka". That's right, what already sounds wicked, now sounds even more fearful. Imagine Keiji rumbling and screaming while a dark melody expunges the mind-balance. Fans of Keiji and Dark Ambient music will just love this - which means, fuck, this is awesome!

Catalog: VB-27 (Velvet Blue Records)
Download (320kbps)

Monday, June 14, 2010

John Micah Rapp - M(((O)))(((O)))N (2010)

| Stoner Rock | Drone Metal | Doom Metal |

John Micah Rapp is one adventurous musician. Since January, he's been producing one song per day, and one album per month. His Fantômas-ish journey has given lots of good harvests - and a big part of it is collected in this alb(((um))).

Kicking in with the ominous low-tuned Drone Doom summoning, John Micah Rapp's M(((O)))(((O)))N swims into an enigmatic mist of soundscapes. Slowly marching through the ears and into the deep of the conciousness, the heavy and repetitive riffs never fail to vibrate every single part of my eardrums. This oceanic album features weighty drums+bass metal songs ("Trudge, Trudge", "Heavy Shaman") and even epic-er drone giants ("M(((O)))(((O)))N"). There's also the experimental side of the record, which includes tracks like "Tibetan Singing Bowls" - with its beatiful and stunning chants -, "Satanic Worship, Suicide and Animal Sacrifice" and its samples, and "Some Things Just Aren't Meant to Be" - with its mix of tribal rhythms and spacial echoes.
The music flows naturally throughout the record, and besides its weight, it always achieve to sooth my thoughts. The mixing is neat, producing a 'soft-to-heavy' ambience that totally fits the instrumentals. Fascinating enough, the doomy atmosphere combined with a perfect dose of psychedelia makes M(((O)))(((O)))N one of the most accessible and yet intriguing albums in the whole world of Stoner and Drone metal.

Catalog: VB-26 (Velvet Blue Records)
Download (320kbps)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Ghost - Second Time Around (1992)

| Psychedelic Rock | Experimental Rock | Folk Rock |
| Progressive Rock |

Ghost's second album, released one year after their self-titled debut, saw a slight shift in the lineup, with Krishna replaced by Iwao Yamazaki on percussion. Guest performer Kazuo Ogino also became permanent, introduced with his Celtic harp on the opening "People Get Freedom," while multi-instrumentalist Takizawa and bassist/singer Kohji Nishino remain from Ghost's debut. As always, Batoh remained the center around which everyone revolved, with even more eerily beautiful and powerful music than before. All members were credited with a large number of percussion instruments, from bell tree and Tibetan bells to "some nameless bells and stones," further intensifying the aura of ancient and mysterious rites that hangs through Ghost's music. The blend of influences both Western and Eastern results in a series of fine syntheses, perhaps even stronger than on Ghost. "Higher Power," with oboe and finger cymbals among other things, and "First Drop of the Sea," which could almost be a calmer Scott Walker number from the late '60s, both capture this sense of broad listening to grand effect. Batoh can be as straightforward as he chooses, as on the title track. He almost sounds a bit like Bowie in lighter cabaret mode (an approach he generally maintains throughout the record) even while the acid folk atmosphere gently kicks along, sometimes with quiet drama in the arrangements. When the band fully kicks in, as on the rolling "Forthcoming from the Inside," everything achieves powerful heights as a result. His lyrics throughout are often quite striking -- his images are ceremonious, seeking the spiritual amid the mundane, and more often than not, make a lot more sense than the fuzzier hoo-hah coming from his West Coast psych/Krautrock forebears.

Catalog: PSFD-25 (P.S.F. Records)
Album Overview on Allmusic
Download (192kbps)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ghost - In Stormy Nights (2007)

| Psychedelic Rock | Experimental Rock | Folk Rock |
| Progressive Rock | Stoner Rock |

Japan's Ghost has always been a truly enigmatic kind of rock band. From the beginning, they've only recorded when they felt it was necessary, and only when they had something utterly new to say. In other words, there isn't a set Ghost sound. They turn themselves inside out on each recording, and no two sound the same. In Stormy Nights is no exception. It is as different from 2004's Hypnotic Underworld as it was from 1999's Snuffbox Immanence and its completely separate companion album released on the same day. Ghost can play everything from strange mystical folk music -- notice the gorgeous Celtic-Asian flavor of "Motherly Bluster" that opens this set -- to flipped out, spaced out psychedelic rock; give a listen to the cover of "Caledonia" by freak noise rockers Cromagnon, and get your head ripped open. The centerpiece of this set is the completely genre exploding "Hemicyclic Anthelion," clocking in at over 28 minutes. This cut was taken from numerous live performances and edited together by Ghost's spiritual leader and guitarist Masaki Batoh, who has spearheaded Ghost's direction since 1984. It is a series of sonic universes showcasing all the elements of Ghost's sound from folk to noise to free improv, feedback drone, and psych terrorism, and never loses its momentum despite its utter self-indulgence. Merzbow, John Zorn, the Holy River Family Band and Derek Bailey would all be proud. The sheer staccato piano, guitar, synth and drum workout that follows it in "Water Door Yellow Gate" is, conversely, a tautly scored song, where the riff is monotonous, played as a simple set of chords carved from the lower eight keys of the piano. With numerous layered typmpanis washing out middling noise textures and roiling, razored electric guitars played by Michio Kurihara haunting the background, a chorus of backing vocals underscore Batoh's voice like an opera choir in a horror film while a constantly throbbing and pulsing bassline by Takuyuki Moriya wrenches up the tension. Conversely "Gareki No Toshi" is the piece's mirror image. No less a formalist construct, its shouted -- not sung -- vocals are relegated to the background and are distorted, almost buried under waves of seductive synth wash (courtesy of Kazuo Ogino), guitar feedback, bashed drums (Junzo Tateiwa) and a syntactical cadence that inverts the entire sequence in another key. It's remarkable how seamlessly the two pieces fit. The album closes with the gentle medieval sounding folk that is "Grisalle." A crystal clear acoustic guitar played by Batoh and his voice in its lower register is supported by Taishi Takizawa's flutes, Kurihara, and sonic atmospheres courtesy of the rest of the band with beautiful muted tympani pacing the verse; it's as gorgeous a psychedelic folk ballad as one is likely to hear and sends the entire thing out on a cracked, spacious wail as Kurihara's guitar and Ogino's analog synth carry it out. The rest of the band checks in -- especially that deep contrabass of Moriya's -- to make sure the thing stays on the earth. In Stormy Nights is another step. It walks out further than before, and yet, its melodic sensibilities, harmonic invention, and sonic exploration are utterly accessible to any listener willing to approach it with an open mind. Since Ghost has no set sound, there can be no "best" Ghost recording; they all appeal differently. This one is no exception, but it is a work of absolute beauty, chaos, seductive darkness and cosmic light.

Catalog: DC313CD (Drag City)
Album Overview on Allmusic
Download (224VBR)

Friday, June 4, 2010

Velvet Blue Records Economical Store!

Due to the high prices for mailing the CDs, VBrecords has decided to start a new economical method for distributing the releases. This consists on mailing only the prints (covers and the cd sticker - as seen on the photo above).
So, what's the good thing about this?
By mailing only the prints, we are able to send them as a regular letter. That makes the prices REALLY cheaper (check below).
Then, what's the bad thing about it?
You'd need to provide the CDr's and cases by yourself. But c'mon, that kind of costs less than U$1.
The prices are the following: (remembering this is just the postal costs, since we do not charge anything like production costs or stuff)
  • World: U$3 for 2 albums
  • Brazil: R$2 for 1 album
Well, that's it. Any doubts or orders, just mail me at :)
Also, we're still working in the old way. Just check the store for the standard full-package prices.
For more photos and the available catalogue, just check the store.
Thanks for your time.

Also, this:

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Knead - This Melting Happiness - I Want You To Realize That It Is Another Trap (2003)

| Avant-Garde | Free-Jazz | Noise Rock |

Knead is the free-jazz colective of Keiji Haino with Tatsuya Yoshida and Hisashi Sasaki (drummer and bassist from Ruins). This Melting Happiness, released as a LP limited to 500 copies, is a live recording and one of the only two albums by the band. Their skeletal music consists of call-and-response compositions, mostly lead by Haino and often by Yoshida, which mix the adventurous prog-rock of Ruins and Fushitsusha's avant-rock with Derek Bailey's inspired free-improvisation. Don't expect some Fushitsusha or Ruins-like rock though, Knead is far from what these guys used to play. It sounds more like an earlier "Haino+Tatsuya" thing, but less experimental. Songs also lack a base, since the three of them just keep jamming around. But the spiritual unity of their instrumentals gives enough support for the structures the grow from paced jazz to furious noise strikes as naturally as the time passes. There's also some mad vocals provided by Haino and Yoshida thrown at some points, which just add more chaos to the uncontrollable band. The greatest thing about this is that, besides the huge mess they make, the listener is always able to touch their music. No matter how abstract they can get, their sound is so soulful that it always manages to be truthful. It's really rare to find this kind of authentic improvisation around. Overall, Knead is a must-have to every fan of Haino, Ruins and adventurous free-jazz.

Catalog: Fractal023 (Fractal Records)
Download (256kbps)

Ghost - Ghost (1990)

| Psychedelic Rock | Experimental Rock | Folk Rock |
| Progressive Rock |

Give points to Ghost for defying expectations right from the start of their first album, at least if one is coming in merely expecting a drifty, new age type of experience. "Sun Is Tangging" may start off fairly quietly, but then it explodes in a noise fest and then returns to a calmer acoustic serenity throughout. With that as a fine surprise starting point, Masaki Batoh and company enter fully into their fascinating acid-folk-jam world with a strong number of songs. The group and its many guests -- no less than 11 -- explore everything from droning mysticism that sounds like it was recorded in mist-shrouded jungle temples to heavy-duty percussion-led songs that will make any Amon Düül fan smile in happiness. Given this wide range, Batoh's particular vision feels not merely like a tribute to his musical forebears but a striking new synthesis, while his main collaborators at this point match his dreams well. Mu Krishna, the chief percussion player, does a particularly fine job on his own or with various guests throughout, also contributing "whisper," as the credits name it. One moment where Batoh gets to step fully to the fore is the lovely "I've Been Flying," where his soft acoustic playing and understated but still strong singing float above a lovely electric guitar solo from then guest performer Kurihara. The immediately following "Ballad of Summer Rounder" is just as grand, Batoh's tender, evocative singing and playing accompanied about four minutes in by Takizawa's flute and guest drummer Shigeru Konno's steady, restrained percussion. It eventually ends in a classic jam, Takizawa switching to sax and going off over the head-nodding beat as Batoh seems almost to be speaking in tongues or mantras. "Rakshu" wraps up this quite fine debut with an intoxicating, hushed blend of percussion -- gongs, bells, blocks -- and Batoh's prayerful singing.

Catalog: PSFD-9 (P.S.F. Records)
Album Overview on Allmusic
Download (320kbps)

Monday, May 31, 2010

Sunn O))) - Flight Of The Behemoth (2002)

| Drone Metal | Dark Ambient | Doom Metal |
| Experimental |

Sunn's first two discs, The Grimmrobe Demos and 00 Void, established the group's droning, bass-heavy "power ambient" doom style and showed that the bandmembers had spent plenty of time listening to and learning from their Earth records. With Flight of the Behemoth, they begin with that same basic foundation (in fact, the first two tracks are impossible to distinguish from ones on their earlier albums), but for the first time also branch out to create something new, something that goes beyond any sort of mere Earth worship. This is partially true of the last track, "F.W.T.B.T.," which employs a drummer and a vocalist for the first time on any Sunn recording, but more so on the third and fourth ones, "O))) Bow 1" and "O))) Bow 2." Given the once-over by special guest mixer/legendary noise artist Merzbow, Sunn's hypnotic, slow-as-molasses feedback drones slowly evolve into a wall of distorted, swirling (although not completely overdriven) noise on these tracks, creating the sensation of being slowly sucked into a black hole while a symphony of chain saws plays in the background. Sound like fun? Well, needless to say, this music is not for everybody, but this collaboration has yielded something truly immense and frightening, bridging the gaps between dark ambient/drone music and electronic noise, between doom metal and avant-garde electro-acoustic sound. This is a remarkable album, recommended for brave connoisseurs of any of the above genres.

Catalog: SUNN15 (Southern Lord)
Album Overview on Allmusic
Download (192kbps)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sunn O))) - Monoliths & Dimensions (2008)

| Drone Metal | Doom Metal | Dark Ambient |
| Experimental | Black Metal |

Sunn O)))'s Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley began their career as an Earth cover band, and explored the extremes of the low-tuned electric's guitar's drone capability at maximum volume on The Grimmrobe Demos. Later albums, such as 2005's Black One, showed the duo expanding its sonic extremes, engaging a deep love of black metal by adding shrieking, growling vocals by Wrest, as well as additional instruments (like drums) by Oren Ambarchi. Altar, their collaboration with Japanese rockers Boris, provided them with a wider textural and ambient canvas to explore. Their vinyl-only release Dømkirke, recorded in a 100-year-old cathedral in Norway, utilized the building itself as an instrument, where its nooks and crannies echoed back microtones of the band's own high-powered drones on tape. That said, nothing could have prepared listeners for the wide-ranging adventure that is Monoliths and Dimensions. This 53-minute set contains four tracks. O'Malley and Anderson utilize more guests and collaborators than ever before, including vocalist Attila Csihar, who gives his greatest performance since Mayhem's De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas; Ambarchi; Earth's Dylan Carlson; trombonists such as jazzman Julian Priester and the Deep Listening Band's Stuart Dempster; trumpeter Cuong Vu; multi-instrumentalist Steve Moore; male and female choirs; other reed and wind players; and violist Eyvind Kang as an arranger. While Sunn O))) sound exactly like themselves, they seem to approach the music of composers such as Arvo Pärt and John Cage; they utilize the former's tintinnabuli (three bells) theory as well as engage the latter's notion of silence as a process.

If all this sounds pretentious, think again about who we're talking about: the kings of wearing black hooded robes to perform. The set begins with "Aghartha," full of power drone low-tuned guitars, as one might expect. Slow and plodding for five and a half minutes, it pummels on until Csihar enters in a lower than low yet barely audible voice speaking a long poem about the creation of a new Earth. Priester later enters playing a conch shell, two acoustic double bassists come in on the low end, Ambarchi plays a second electric guitar and effects, a piano sparingly adds both chord and single-note lines, and other horns and reeds flit about the background even as the piece remains unchanging in its focus. "Big Church" is the biggest shock. Commencing with an a cappella female choir, it's soon intruded upon by four electric guitars; Csihar eventually enters in throat-singing overtone mode, as does a synth, and the tension becomes unbearable before the tune stops in dead silence. Then, bells, an organ, Kang's viola, and trombone all find their way through the immense space provided by the slow droning yet extremely heavy riffs. Feedback screams in and then the bells enter again before power riffs crush them out. A "man choir" participates on "Hunting & Gathering (Cydonia)," with percussion, a huge Moog Voyager, electric tamboura, and horns amid the droning guitar mayhem slowly penetrating the listener's skull like a giant worm. By the time the set ends with "Alice," featuring a trio of trombones, woodwinds, reeds, ambient sounds, enormous guitars, and oscillators, the effect is complete. Monoliths and Dimensions succeeds because it is the sound of a new music formed from the ashen forge of drone, rock, and black metal. In its seemingly impenetrable, slow, spacious, heavy sonic darkness, this is the new way forward for not only Sunn O))), but for extreme rock music and possibly even what's left of the avant-garde. Brilliant.

Catalog: SUNN100 (Southern Lord)
Album Overview on Allmusic
Download (300 VBR)

Friday, May 28, 2010

Ghost - Hypnotic Underworld (2005)

| Psychedelic Rock | Experimental Rock | Folk Rock |
| Progressive Rock | Stoner Rock |

A collective of psychedelic-minded Japanese musicians headed by guitarist Masaki Batoh, Ghost records commune-minded free-range psychedelia with equal debts to the Can/Amon Düül axis of Krautrock, as well as West Coast psych units like Blue Cheer and Jefferson Airplane. Batoh grew up in Kyoto, where he attended a private school well-geared to spark his interest in rock music, from Dylan and Pink Floyd to the Velvet Underground. Later, he formed Ghost with a large and varying lineup, centered around contributors such as Michio Kurihara, Kazuo Ogino, and Taishi Takizawa. According to reports, the group lived a nomadic existence, drifting from ruins of ancient temples to disused subway stations around the Tokyo area.

Five years after releasing both Snuffbox Immanence and Tune In, Turn On, Free Tibet, Ghost returned with Hypnotic Underworld, and there were some changes in the band. Cellist Hiromichi Sakamoto and percussionist Setsuko Furuya (whose marimba gave those albums such a distinct sound) are gone, replaced by a great young rhythm section of Takuyuki Moriya (bass, conta bass, cello) and Junzo Tateiwa (drums, tabla, percussion). Also, Ghost co-founder Taishi Takizawa continues as producer but rejoins the group as a musician as well (he has served only as producer since the mid-'90s). Of course, Masaki Batoh is still here, along with longtime keyboard player Kazuo Ogino and guitar hero Michio Kurihara. With a brief U.S. tour (October 2002) under its belt, the band really jelled, and with Hypnotic Underworld, Ghost have released their most expansive set yet. The four-part title track starts somewhere near the Heliocentric Worlds, with Takizawa's sax playing over the sparest of bass figures and percussion as wisps of electronic ether float in and out. This morphs into a fuzzbass-led groove with great soprano sax that leads into a hard rock movement with a choir adding to Batoh's vocals and an ending so surprising I'll leave it for the listener. This epic track is followed by a glorious cover of Earth & Fire's "Hazy Paradise." The production here is amazing, with harpsichords, Mellotron, and sitar melting into each other and a majestic Kurihara guitar solo at the end. "Kiseichukan Nite" features a very pretty Celtic harp and recorder over a simple bass ostinato and Batoh speaking in Japanese with little washes of electronic treatment creeping in. This album is all over the place stylistically, yet it all sounds like Ghost, even with the electronic treatments and almost prog rock keyboards that hadn't been present on their prior albums. They turn in a version of Syd Barrett's "Dominoes" that is so completely personalized as to be virtually unrecognizable. "Piper" is a rocker featuring some blistering guitar work, and "Ganagmanag" is a classic Ghost-style instrumental trance jam, highlighted by Takizawa's flute and amazing production work. Batoh's vocals have never been stronger, and Ogino's various keyboards add a new dimension to the Ghost sound. Kurihara, as mentioned, is brilliant on electric guitar. The sound achieved by Takizawa and the band is a stunning mixture of ancient acoustic, hard electric, and electronic that Jimmy Page should be envious of. Hypnotic Underworld is a new high-water mark from one of rock's most interesting bands. Highly recommended.

Catalog: DC249CD (Drag City)
Album Overview on Allmusic
Download (192kbps) [New and Fix'd link]
Track 08 - Ganagmanag (fix for people who downloaded from the old link)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sunn O))) - Dømkirke (2008)

| Drone Metal | Dark Ambient |

When ambient drone overlords Sunn 0))) were commissioned to create a musical piece to be performed at the thousand-year-old Dømkirken Cathedral, in Bergen, Norway (aka the black metal capital of the world, where things really do go bump in the night), they were asked to take into account the sort of brooding, deliberate, low-pitched melodies typical of the Gregorian chants, which had echoed within the same walls back in the days when the Black Death was ravaging all of Europe. To which one can only imagine their response went something like: "Easy. Done. When should we show up?" After all, much Sunn 0)))'s output over the years already resembled a new millennium equivalent of Gregorian chanting, so it's quite possible that the dynamic duo of Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley had several works in hand, ready to be adapted to this very task. So after rounding up a few well-suited collaborators like Hungarian-born vocalist Attila Csihar (he of Mayhem and general black metal legend), local electronics wiz Lasse Marnhaug, and Earth keyboardist Steve Moore (who would man the cathedral's pipe organ), the expanded Sunn 0))) not only provided a momentous grand finale for the 2007 Borealis Festival, but also captured the unique occasion for posterity, via the following year's Dømkirke release. Ah, but there's more: as a final twist (and no, we're not talking about the group's coordinated hooded monks' cloaks), it was decided that the "purity" of the event should be preserved by releasing Dømkirke only on vinyl -- not a single digital format. And without getting into the many debatable pros and cons surrounding this decision from a consumer standpoint, the fact is that a commemorative, 180-gram double-vinyl package certainly works for presenting each of the performance's four, 15-plus-minute movements, one to a side.

All that said, what of the music then? Well: the first piece, entitled "Why Dost Thou Hide Thyself in Clouds?" showcases Csihar alternating between wild operatic cries and more controlled guttural croaks, above the predominantly peaceful reverie produced by Moore's sweeping organ chords; and it's not until the second piece -- named "Cannon," possibly to signify Sunn 0)))'s corruption of the canon structure for their own, perverse devices -- that Anderson and O'Malley make their entrance via characteristically earth-shaking power chords, occasionally spiked with almost horn-like electronic interjections from Marnhaug, sparse organs, and whispered/sung incantations from Csihar. Movement number three, "Cymatics," demonstrates the abrupt decay of these various elements into a throbbing mass of feedback, haunted by Csihar's petrifying howls and shrieks (sounding somewhat like dying birds of prey); and then the concluding "Masks of the Atmospheres" sees the ensemble wrestling their willful, shapeshifting sound-beast back into submission for an another powerful display of sonic seismic activities, culminating in a deafening, sustained climax. Only then, as the pulsing waves of sound gradually give way to silence, the assembled audience finally, almost begrudgingly reacts, as though snapped free, en mass, of a temporary state of hypnosis caused by Sunn 0)))'s devastating onslaught. Not bad for a one-off performance! And perhaps it is best, after all, that Dømkirke was produced in limited quantities and only on vinyl, as its contents truly work best when absorbed as a one of a kind event, than allotted alongside the natural evolution of Sunn 0)))'s discography.

Catalog: SUNN94 (Southern Lord)
Album Overview on Allmusic
Download (192kbps)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunn O))) - Black One (2005)

| Drone Metal | Doom Metal | Black Metal |
| Dark Ambient |

The self-described "power ambient" duo Sunn 0))) (pronounced "Sun") were formed in the mid-'90s by guitarists Stephen O'Malley (Khanate, Burning Witch) and Greg Anderson (Goatsnake, Thorr's Hammer). Known for its drone-heavy blend of black metal, dark ambient, and low-tuned noise rock, the band took inspiration from the early works of the Melvins and Earth, the latter of whom inspired some of the group's song titles -- Sunn 0))) began as an Earth tribute band in Los Angeles and originally played music under the related name of Mars. Sunn 0)))'s basic approach (droning guitars, feedback, distorted bass, and other sound effects) was laid down on their first two releases, The Grimmrobe Demos (recorded in 1998 but not released until 2000) and 00 Void (recorded and released in 2000), both of which were the first two releases on the Hydra Head Records subsidiary Double H Noise Industries.

Although claiming that Black One is the darkest Sunn 0))) album yet may be a little overzealous on their label's part (unless, of course, its meant as a not-so-subtle play on most recent predecessors White1 and 2), there's certainly a good chance that it's their most diverse. Whether that's a simple case of there being more and shorter songs present (all of seven, and only shorter by these guys' standards, mind you), or an unprecedented volume of outside collaborators (mostly underground black metal buddies lending their vocals), Black One experiments with a number of new tricks to go with the by now expected ultra-droning aspects of Sunn 0)))'s sound. For example, both "Orthodox Caveman" and "Cry for the Weeper" drink from the same old, Earth-derived dead-water pool that inspired Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley to start melting their amps in tribute to begin with; while the improbably brief "It Took the Night to Believe" (featuring blood-curdling shrieks and croaks by Wrest) may well be Sunn 0)))'s most unapologetically black metal moment ever, taking a page from Burzum's bloody book with its spooky loop of buzz-picked guitar melodies to go with a reliably subterranean foundation. Keeping with the black metal mindset, the pair then proceed to deconstruct Immortal's "Cursed Realms (Of the Winterdemons)" into a barely recognizable primordial soup of tonal thrumming, before calling Xasthur's Malefic down to the basement to supply additional screams for the splendidly named "Candlegoat" and megalithic closer, "Báthory Erzsébet." (For the latter, in fact, he was supposedly locked inside a coffin, microphone and all, so as to inspire a suitably suffocating feeling of horror -- proving that extreme sounds sometimes truly do demand extreme measures.) In other words, Black One is a cautious but unquestionable departure from Sunn 0)))'s pre-established m.o., and arguably their most accessible effort to date, in the bargain. But even though there'll always be those purists looking for a bone to pick, its difficult to imagine too many original fans not embracing these still remarkably blackened sounds.

Catalog: SUNN50 (Southern Lord)
Album Overview on Allmusic
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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Les Rallizes Dénudés - Black Rainbow (2005)

| Avant-Garde | Noise Rock | Psychedelic Rock |
| Experimental Rock |

4 tracks from 1981. Issued as the 2 Bonus discs of Double Heads. More Info at Discogs.

Catalog: UNIVIVE-004
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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Joy Division - Closer (1980)

| Post-Punk | Alternative Rock | Gothic Rock |

If Unknown Pleasures was Joy Division at their most obsessively, carefully focused, ten songs yet of a piece, Closer was the sprawl, the chaotic explosion that went every direction at once. Who knows what the next path would have been had Ian Curtis not chosen his end? But steer away from the rereading of his every lyric after that date; treat Closer as what everyone else thought it was at first — simply the next album — and Joy Division's power just seems to have grown. Martin Hannett was still producing, but seems to have taken as many chances as the band itself throughout — differing mixes, differing atmospheres, new twists and turns define the entirety of Closer, songs suddenly returned in chopped-up, crumpled form, ending on hiss and random notes. Opener "Atrocity Exhibition" was arguably the most fractured thing the band had yet recorded, Bernard Sumner's teeth-grinding guitar and Stephen Morris' Can-on-speed drumming making for one heck of a strange start. Keyboards also took the fore more so than ever — the drowned pianos underpinning Curtis' shadowy moan on "The Eternal," the squirrelly lead synth on the energetic but scared-out-of-its-wits "Isolation," and above all else "Decades," the album ender of album enders. A long slow crawl down and out, Curtis' portrait of lost youth inevitably applied to himself soon after, its sepulchral string-synths are practically a requiem. Songs like "Heart and Soul" and especially the jaw-dropping, wrenching "Twenty Four Hours," as perfect a demonstration of the tension/release or soft/loud approach as will ever be heard, simply intensify the experience. Joy Division were at the height of their powers on Closer, equaling and arguably bettering the astonishing Unknown Pleasures, that's how accomplished the four members were. Rock, however defined, rarely seems and sounds so important, so vital, and so impossible to resist or ignore as here.

Catalog: FACT 25 (Factory)
Album Overview on Allmusic
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Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures (1979)

| Post-Punk | Alternative Rock | Punk Rock |

Formed in the wake of the punk explosion in England, Joy Division became the first band in the post-punk movement by later emphasizing not anger and energy but mood and expression, pointing ahead to the rise of melancholy alternative music in the '80s. Though the group's raw initial sides fit the bill for any punk band, Joy Division later incorporated synthesizers (taboo in the low-tech world of '70s punk) and more haunting melodies, emphasized by the isolated, tortured lyrics of its lead vocalist, Ian Curtis. While the British punk movement shocked the world during the late '70s, Joy Division's quiet storm of musical restraint and emotive power proved to be just as important to independent music in the 1980s.

It even looks like something classic, beyond its time or place of origin even as it was a clear product of both -- one of Peter Saville's earliest and best designs, a transcription of a signal showing a star going nova, on a black embossed sleeve. If that were all Unknown Pleasures was, it wouldn't be discussed so much, but the ten songs inside, quite simply, are stone-cold landmarks, the whole album a monument to passion, energy, and cathartic despair. The quantum leap from the earliest thrashy singles to Unknown Pleasures can be heard through every note, with Martin Hannett's deservedly famous production -- emphasizing space in the most revelatory way since the dawn of dub -- as much a hallmark as the music itself. Songs fade in behind furtive noises of motion and activity, glass breaks with the force and clarity of doom, minimal keyboard lines add to an air of looming disaster -- something, somehow, seems to wait or lurk beyond the edge of hearing. But even though this is Hannett's album as much as anyone's, the songs and performances are the true key. Bernard Sumner redefined heavy metal sludge as chilling feedback fear and explosive energy, Peter Hook's instantly recognizable bass work at once warm and forbidding, Stephen Morris' drumming smacking through the speakers above all else. Ian Curtis synthesizes and purifies every last impulse, his voice shot through with the desire first and foremost to connect, only connect -- as "Candidate" plaintively states, "I tried to get to you/You treat me like this." Pick any song: the nervous death dance of "She's Lost Control"; the harrowing call for release "New Dawn Fades," all four members in perfect sync; the romance in hell of "Shadowplay"; "Insight" and its nervous drive toward some sort of apocalypse. All visceral, all emotional, all theatrical, all perfect -- one of the best albums ever.

Catalog: FACT 10 (Factory)
Album Overview on Allmusic
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