Gundella: The Hour Of The Witch (1971, reissued by Modern Harmonic in 2017)

December 2, 2017 at 2:20 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Gundella: The Hour Of The Witch

Gundella was an actual witch who lived in Michigan, studied at several state universities, and has lectured at both EMU and right here at U of M, along with other institutions across the country. This is an album she recorded in 1971, in which she informs the listener about the beliefs of witches, and how to cast spells. There’s some faint, spooky organ music, but Gundella’s voice is loud and clear. Her daughter provides the extensive liner notes, describing what it was like growing up the child of a witch. As for the spells, Gundella stresses the importance of emotion and imagination when casting spells. The spells are used to make someone fall in love with you, keep your significant other from entering another one’s house, and discouraging unwanted suitors. This album was reissued by the same label that’s been releasing a lot of Sun Ra recordings (including a new collection of his exotica works), and this definitely seems to inhabit a similar interplanetary realm. An absolutely fascinating, completely one-of-a-kind recording.

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Distant Creatures: Snares In Safe Harbors (self-released, 2017)

November 24, 2017 at 9:27 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Distant Creatures: Snares In Safe Harbors

Former WCBN DJ Chris Matthews sings and plays several instruments in this dream pop quintet based in Virginia. Their music is a lush mixture of electric and acoustic guitars, strings, synths, and vocals which aren’t rendered unintelligible by effects. The songs are generally uptempo and akin to classic indie pop (Sarah Records, et al) rather than zoned-out psych-rock, so that while they certainly explore the possibilities of highly textural arrangements, there’s no shortage of songcraft. The strings add a stroke of elegance to songs like “Unsure” and “In Real Life”. “Low Spirits”, an urgent, driving tune which seems to be about dealing with stress, depression, and the heaviness of life, reappears here after being included on their debut cassingle last year, and it still sounds magnificent. “Faith” is a bit closer to dark post-punk, with a heavier bass guitar sound and pounding drums. “Pause For Epiphany” is a bit more of a perky, playfully offbeat alternative rock song with some haunting synth sounds sprouting out on occasion. “Song For No Name” is a bit darker, more crushing, and more Chelsea Wolfe-like. CD and digital album available on Bandcamp.

Leila Gobi: 2017 (Clermont Music, 2017)

November 24, 2017 at 7:53 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Leila Gobi: 2017

Second domestically released album from Malian singer Leila Gobi, with lyrics sung in Songhoy, Tamasheq, and French (on “Les Enfants”). Generally pretty easygoing but still energetic and sophisticated, with basic instrumentation enhanced by electronic beats and synths, sounding polished but still earthy. The songs generally have positive, sometimes celebratory messages — “An Nia” advises to be alert and not waste time, “Tibo Gadeina” and “Eh Khanzam” are both related to the seasons, and “Wai Hidjou” is a wedding song. That as well as “Mi Manda” have nice, trippy half time rhythms, and “Mi Manda” is maybe the most upbeat, dancey song here. An incredibly lovely release which should be enjoyed by all.

Niko Karlsson: Valosta Valoon LP (Feeding Tube Records, 2017)

November 24, 2017 at 7:45 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Niko Karlsson: Valosta Valoon LP

The blurry, kaleidoscopic forest cover art couldn’t be more fitting for this LP of mysterious, primarily acoustic drone created by Finnish psych scene mainstay Niko Karlsson. Very lush and enveloping, but also dark and dusky. The tracks don’t seem too densely constructed, but it’s still hard to tell exactly what’s going on; the droning strings sound like moaning voices, or maybe vice versa. There’s some more straightforward ritualistic folk dirges like “Unen Oma”, and shorter pieces like “Kaste Laske” are imbued with dark magic. Most of the tracks on the second side are more vocal-driven, but the vocals seem more like dazed chanting than lyrics. “Linnoitus” is a bit more of an overwhelming collision of tones and textures; totally bewildering.

Alexander: s/t LP (self-released, 2017)

November 24, 2017 at 6:57 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Alexander: s/t LP

New Haven native David Shapiro (also of psych band Headroom) records solo guitar music as Alexander, and this unassuming white label record with a plain sleeve was presumably designed to look like a mysterious private press release from several decades ago. Put it on and you’ll hear a wide range of expressive fingerpicked acoustic guitar compositions, drawing from American folk and blues traditions, but also with some indie and avant-garde influences evident. Other than the leisurely “Catfish Blues”, the songs are given roman numerals for titles. “II” is the most epic, starting out faster and more hypnotic (but also quite warm and inviting) before ending up with a slower, more fragile section. “III” is short but dreamy, while “V” is sparse and kind of cold and solemn. “VI” takes a while to unfold, but its melody sticks with you, without being forced down your throat. The rest of the record seems to continue in a similar sort of slow, sparse, introspective vein. A nice record which appears to be simple, and doesn’t blast into the outer limits like some of the artist’s other work, but still goes a bit deeper than the average “dude with a guitar” record.

Hy Maya: The Mysticism of Sound & Cosmic Language (Smog Veil, 2017)

November 19, 2017 at 4:17 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Hy Maya: The Mysticism of Sound & Cosmic Language

Hy Maya was a collective founded by Robert Bensick which included musicians who would later form Pere Ubu. This is a collection of previously unreleased recordings from 1972-3, and it doesn’t seem like an exaggeration to refer to them as Cleveland’s equivalent of Destroy All Monsters. Some of it, particularly “Dance of the Electromagnetic ZZZ (A Space Event In Time)”, is even alien enough to draw comparisons to early Throbbing Gristle (but not quite as abrasive), and there’s even some jazzier excursions in the orbit of Sun Ra, such as “The Fabric of Time & Space”. There’s some heavy, driving rock moments which could be likened to Krautrock, like “General Relativity is Relative”, and there’s also a brief lullaby with rushing water sounds (“Albert’s Lullaby”). A few pieces near the end of the first disc, as well as “A Quantum Mechanic Mambo (Bigfoot)” on the second, are lonely, flute-heavy excursions. “Just One Day (The Illision of Time)” is more of a gentle free-folk song. The sound quality is understandably rough and muddy, but these recordings are a rare glimpse into a previously untouched chapter of avant-rock history.

Ghost Train Orchestra: Book of Rhapsodies Vol. II (Accurate Records, 2017)

November 10, 2017 at 8:27 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Ghost Train Orchestra: Book of Rhapsodies Vol. II

Ghost Train Orchestra are an incredibly tight, vibrant ensemble who perform obscure compositions from the first half of the 20th century. This album leads off with a Raymond Scott tune, but it sheds more light on lesser-known composer Hal Herzon, in addition to others such as Alec Wilder and Reginald Forsythe. Basically, if you’re a fan of early Raymond Scott, you will thoroughly enjoy this. It’s fun and kind of cartoonish, with lots of unexpected twists and turns and mood changes. “Hare and the Hounds” is incredibly joyous and nutty, with rollicking drums and double bass as well as stunning violin work from Mazz Swift (also of Hear In Now), and also jaw harp! Several of the selections feature a narrator introducing them, giving this a feel of a concert or radio broadcast rather than just an album. Songs like “Deep Forest” and “Walking Home in Spring” are less perky, but still sophisticated and splendid. “Deserted Ballroom” is a spooky little hall of mirrors, with ghostly vocals and perhaps a musical saw, as well as a sort of sleazy guitar-driven section near the end. Most of the songs feature vocals by an adult choir, including a few Orchestra members, but there’s also a Langley Schools-inspired children’s choir on the tune “Kindergarten Flower Pageant”, as well as a solo vocal by Gita Drummond on the self-explanatory “A Little Girl Grows Up”. All of this is an absolute blast to listen to, and should not be missed by fans of strange, obscure delights from the distant past.

Caracoa: End of Kings CDr (Inam Records, 2017)

November 8, 2017 at 11:18 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Caracoa: End of Kings CDr

The third CDr from Caracoa this year consists of three pieces and two longer techno tracks. “Electric Air” opens the album with two minutes of suspended distortion, and then “Time in Reverse” is over 9 minutes of flickering, thumping drone-techno reminiscent of The Field but hazier and more monotonous. It eventually leads to a shimmering end, and then “A Warning Ignored” is a short burst of rhythmic static with a somewhat fearsome ending. This sets the stage for “Last Year on Earth”, the release’s other techno epic, and a piece of chilly ambient techno on par with any of the best work by Gas or The Sight Below. I’m serious, it’s that fucking good. I want it to go on forever. It seems so simple, it’s just a bright drone and a steady 4/4 thump, but there’s still some subtlety to it, like how there’s an off-sync pulse near the end. I can’t get enough of it. If this was released as a limited vinyl 12″ and someone at Resident Advisor found out about it, people would be selling it for hundreds of dollars on Discogs. “End of Kings” concludes the album with another short, regal drone. The release is ominous without being overwhelmingly full of dread. It’s also serene, but not entirely soft and light. It’s not overtly emotional, but it still manages to convey a lot. I think it’s absolutely incredible.

Don Gero: Wizarding tape (Crash Symbols, 2017)

October 28, 2017 at 3:33 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Don Gero: Wizarding tape

Throw your sorcerer’s cap on for this one. This artist constructs heavy, locked-in rhythms encased in some oscillations, which never obscure the power of the drums. It sort of reminds me of a more straightened out Black Pus, and there’s definitely some Boredoms in there too, especially the parts with screaming. The pieces are all named after elements, or implements of destruction or force relating to elements, and they’re all in 3 parts. The “Rock” ones are some of the heaviest ones, of course. Definitely a good companion to the Do Pas O tape on Hausu Mountain from this year.

Darshan Ambient: Lingering Day: Anatomy Of A Daydream (Spotted Peccary, 2017)

October 27, 2017 at 9:55 pm | Posted in Reviews | Leave a comment

Darshan Ambient: Lingering Day: Anatomy Of A Daydream

Michael Allison has been releasing music as Darshan Ambient since the era of MP3.com (which is absolutely ancient history now, but important to anyone who was following and especially making independent music during the late ’90s). His music, obviously, fits into the ambient (and sometimes new age) category, usually with calm, comforting pianos and string pads. He does branch out a bit, however, and the first few tracks on this album stretch towards the grandeur of post-rock, but without the exhilarating crescendos. The only song with lyrics is “Arc of Angels”, a Peter Gabriel-esque splendor-ballad. Some of the tracks hint towards IDM-ish beats, especially “Mover”, which is easily my favorite. But the more purely ambient tracks are good too, such as the floating, rippling “The Seven Sleepers”. “Bee’s Fade” has some tricky overlapping rhythmic patterns, and “Hand in the Clouds” has some steady flickering among its foggy drifting. “Kissing Crust” has light, slightly rainy dance beats. The album’s title gives you an indication as to how relaxing, meditative and free of pressure this album is, but in terms of its construction, it’s not lazy or basic in any way.

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