Blue Reality Quartet: s/t (Mahakala Music, 2021)

July 24, 2021 at 11:35 am | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Blue Reality Quartet: s/t

Pairing 2 percussionists with two horn players, Blue Reality Quartet consists of Michael Marcus and Joe McPhee on reeds and drummers Jay Rosen and Warren Smith (also playing vibraphone). The vibes add a touch of mellowness, but “Chartreuse Tulips” is a short burst of free jazz which nicely balances hot and cool. “Joe’s Train” immediately has a recognizable, deeply bluesy sax melody, while the dual drummers seem to pull the rhythm in different directions. “Coney Island Funk” is an appropriate title — not flashy enough for Broadway, way more laid back, but still with a sense of Big Apple style. “East Side Dilemma” is a lengthier improvisation that constantly teeters over the edge, with the drums bobbing away and the saxophones melodically threading throughout, and then it all explodes into color about 7 minutes in. Final track “Warren’s Theme” is more meandering, and doesn’t quite feel like it really comes together, just kind of bumbles its way for several minutes until the album ends. Still, there are moments on the album when the musicians do click, and it does reach towards another reality.

Basic Rhythm: Pepper EP (Hypercolour, 2021)

July 18, 2021 at 1:23 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Basic Rhythm: Pepper EP

Basic Rhythm’s newest EP leans closer to the off-center house of Theo Parrish than most of his other work, while still coming from the lineage of U.K. bass music. “Pepper” has somewhat nervously paced kick drums and spirals of saxophone, shot through with bass directly inspired by grime. “3am on the Corner” keeps in line with its car door-slamming thuds, as well as an even wave of bass which constantly levitates and recedes. “Moonlight Flit” basically takes an unconventional sample, a brief percussive pattern that sounds more like sticks clinking against ceramic than actual drumming, and rolls with it, adding some additional bursts for emphasis. Stripped-down club tools that still sound big and will knock you for a loop.

Ras Moshe Burnett & Dafna Naphtali: Fusebox (Gold Bolus, 2021)

July 15, 2021 at 6:56 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Ras Moshe Burnett & Dafna Naphtali: Fusebox

Two longtime NYC avant music scene fixtures, saxophonist/flautist Ras Moshe Burnett and vocalist Dafna Naphtali perform otherworldly improvisations that tangle human impulses with generative technology, blasting tones and voices far beyond their starting points. Recorded in a studio in 2017, the pieces on this album intertwine Burnett’s playing with Naphtali’s wordless singing, which is expanded through live sound processing. Some moments are sparse and patient, with the two seeming to hum around each other without really going anywhere, but there’s other tracks where they both really take off, and it’s nothing less than head-boggling. “Stochastic Leap” takes one, with jagged saxophone bleats transformed into dense flurries; Naphtali’s voice doesn’t appear often, but it gets transformed into a siren wail when it does. The 10-minute “Coded Futures” has some of the most alien, transmogrified sounds on the album; at one point it sounds like Lisa Gerrard being interrupted by a malfunctioning robot puking out laser beams. “Dervish” is an outer space dub fusion track, with saxophone and electronic effects spiraling around each other at warp speed. Finally, “Hamsa” holds up a distorted mirror to the musical duet partners, multiplying Dafna’s voice into a small choir while twisting Ras Moshe’s sax into a bent high-pitch whistle.

Shalmaneser: Vierhebigkeit (Aural Films, 2021)

July 14, 2021 at 7:28 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Shalmaneser: Vierhebigkeit

Tim Walters makes circuit-fried noise records under his own name, but his latest album as Shalmaneser (pronounced sort of like “Ebeneezer”) is a much more melodic, friendly set of modular synth tunes. It reminds me of Asmus Tietchens’ early records that kind of sound like Throbbing Gristle meets Devo, although I think those comparisons really distort the idea of what he’s going for. The melodies are unexpectedly playful, even a little childlike, but they’re framed with complex technology and even a bit of industrial clankiness. “Trace Fossils” has clear, ringing piano melodies along with microscopic, glitchy sound design, pulling that familiar IDM trick. “Nice Lid” has a lead melody that might very well be played on a toy piano, plus a very minimal wave-style drum machine. “Total Lift Count” takes a long while to build up a perky melody before finally dropping a beat pattern, and even then it’s hardly a steady, on-the-ground thump. “But You Can See It From Here” feels more like a guitar solo played near the edge of a canyon. “Daymoon Madmen” is a toy train ride that zips past a rave and a haunted house, but docks right on time with no service interruptions.

Monkey Power Trio: On Legs of Lions 7″ (Pocahontas Swamp Machine Recordings, 2021)

July 13, 2021 at 6:09 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Monkey Power Trio: On Legs of Lions 7″

The legend of Monkey Power Trio bears repeating every time they put out a record. Originally from Ypsilanti, the five members of the group meet up exactly one day per year, record a spontaneous session with no pre-planned ideas or material, and eventually put out the best results as a record. They plan on doing this until every member of the band has died, and the final surviving member will record a solo album. They’ve managed to keep their promise so far, and they’re still putting out records on their own label. This record documents the 23rd day/year of their existence, and was recorded in Baltimore in 2017. Unlike other Monkey Power Trio releases, which are albums or EPs, this is just a simple, focused 45 with an A-side and a B-side. It’s definitely as whimsical and off-the-cuff as their other releases, but there’s maybe less of an overtly jokey tone to it. “The Crabs Know” is a harmony-filled folky indie pop tune with whistling, ukulele, a drum machine beat that imitates a live drummer, and watery psychedelic guitar which threatens to smother the song at the end. “Liquor Truck” is much sillier, a drinking song with a vague funk influence and vocals ranging from thin falsetto to drinking buddy swagger. Both songs are a bit awkward, but there’s still a kernel of sincerity to them, even if the band themselves say that they’re less amused by their commitment to keep the band going.

Meadow Argus: Meadow Argus II tape (Purple Akronym Art Collective, 2021)

July 12, 2021 at 7:34 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Meadow Argus: Meadow Argus II tape

The second release from the project of DNT Records’ Tynan Krakoff opens with a series of warm, thick, rolling tape loops accompanied by momentary flashes of a kid singing silly songs, conjuring up wild flashbacks of early summer vacation memories. From there, the tape waves get heavier and more curdled, until a sparkling melodic chime reveals itself. It gets looped for a while, constantly resurfacing like a recurring memory of a jewel being stumbled upon, or a filmic interpretation of such event. The second side is an extremely distorted loop of a funereal foghorn, with full stops and starts, but every time it comes back, you strain to dig deeper and uncover a new element. Suddenly, a different set of loops fades in, this one with gently clunking drums, distorted voices that almost sound like throat singing, and lots of other coded transmissions. The tape is so engrossing that both sides end a lot quicker than you expect, and the whole thing brings a unique perspective on how memories are interpreted through sound.

Tim Reaper: Ecospheres (Lobster Theremin, 2021)

July 11, 2021 at 1:21 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Tim Reaper: Ecospheres

It should be obvious by now that any time I stock up on Bandcamp releases, I always make sure to grab Tim Reaper’s latest EP. He seems to have something out every month, so there’s always something to catch up on. Ecospheres starts with a big, splashy epic called “Whirlpools”, an absolutely perfect combination of lush, atmospheric loveliness and brutal, slamming breaks (as in, why jungle was invented in the first place). Coco Bryce’s remix of Dev/Null and Reaper’s “Give It 2 Me” is turbo-powered breakbeat hardcore with rolling breaks and more hi-def production than you would’ve heard in the early ’90s… and then there’s the cartoonish “big cash payoffs” bit at the end. “Ecospheres” wraps up a Rakim sample in mind-blurring, hard-charging breaks, then has a mysterious, science documentary synth breakdown. “On Repeat” is another sunny, smooth, break-heavy jungle track that uses the “I’m so addicted” sample. Sugar rush jungle to blast while slamming a tall bubble tea.

Soft Shoulder: Formerly On Fluorescent Paper LP (Gilgongo, 2021)

July 10, 2021 at 2:10 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Soft Shoulder: Formerly On Fluorescent Paper LP

Soft Shoulder’s actual new one is one of their most tightly wound efforts, zipping through over a dozen songs filled with cryptic, bullhorned lyrics and mangled guitar riffs. Some tracks like “200 Notes to Self” are kind of a glorious plod, and others are shambling dance-punk slammers that could fall apart at any moment but are disciplined enough not to. “Dense Critique” is more of an industrial piledriver with a scuzzed-out drum machine. A few tracks have some squeaky horn bleating through them, and the catchiest moments seem to be the ones that end in a flash before you’re able to let them sink in. It kind of hits a sweet spot between mild irritation and a compulsion to replay it several times and dig deeper.

Nubdug Ensemble: Volume One: The Machines of Zero (self-released, 2020)

July 8, 2021 at 7:49 pm | Posted in Reviews | 1 Comment

Nubdug Ensemble: Volume One: The Machines of Zero

Vacuum Tree Head co-founder Jason Berry started Nubdug Ensemble following the split of his long-running former band. This is the project’s first release, and it’s a whirlwind avant-jazz-pop romp which says all it needs to say in under 20 minutes and peaces out. Opener “Espejo” is a dazzling psych-groove gem with harpsichord-like synths, some spy film suspense, and understated vocals that guide the ship in the right direction. Then “Bronze Puppet” is screwball jazz with cartoon sound effects sploshing in the mix along with the viciously fuzzy bass, knotty horns, and slashing violin. “Pimento Boots” continues the cartoonish fun, this time with sassy, absurdist vocals from Lucy Foley. “Spicy Mango” is a brief faux-tropical detour. “Logjammin'” is surprisingly abstract and minimalist, considering its title, but “Trapelo 445” brings us back to smooth yet fun side of avant-prog, with plenty of astral synth effects as icing. “Alea Iacta Est” is a jazzy, slightly raga-tinged number that inspires open-armed, moonlit dancing. Finally, “Act II From Nancy Luna” is a sort of angular twist that verges on breaking into a full-fledged song but constantly holds back.

Rian Treanor: Obstacle Scattering EP (Planet Mu, 2021)

July 7, 2021 at 6:53 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Rian Treanor: Obstacle Scattering EP

Rian Treanor continues piling up rhythms like Jenga pieces until they come close to toppling over but somehow don’t on his newest EP. “Obstacle 1” is a high-speed footwork rhythm that gets stuck in mid-air several times and manages to work itself out without breaking a sweat. “Obstacle 2” is far more destructive, and actually does end up sounding like someone poured kerosene all over Aphex Twin’s gear. “Obstacle 3” is much friendlier and shinier, and even with its slightly zipped-up pace and angular beat patterns, it’s still consistent enough to dance to. “Obstacle 4”, is gnomes attempting to topple a lamp post over with enlarged aluminum bats while shooting firecrackers, and it would be unnecessarily cruel to try and subject a packed club to it. I would be laughing my ass off, though.

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