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k/low

Low may now be superstars, (yet they're not too big to still appear ona multitude of compilations and singles) but the shining moments onthis split single belong to Karla Shickele's new project, K. The lineupof K features a mixed cast of friends, including Tara Jane O'Neil (ofRetsin, Rodan and solo fame), Cynthia Nelson (of Retsin, Ruby Falls andthe Naysayer), Ida bandmate Michael Littleton, and Ida Pearle. Over thelast year, there have been some random K shows in the northeast US aswell as a couple home-manufactured CD-R releases, each time gatheringmore attention, leading up to an anticipated debut album. K's "RegularGirl" opens the disc on a strong note, a brand new song worthy ofaffection from any Ida appreciator. What follows are two from Low,includning a touchingly sweet track from 1997 titled "Those Girls,"which could almost be a speech directed to teenage girls. Also from Lowis a 3/4 time reworked "Venus" recorded by Warn Defever, which is niceto have for the fans, yet the voices sound kind of off. Defever alsoremixed the closing track, a short Flashpapr cover tune, "Were We toDance," a basic tune which could have been recorded straight tofour-track, powerful yet humble. "Were We to Dance" originally appearedon the 'Your Name and Mine' CD-R from K released last year. K is ontour right now with Retsin, check the dates at Tiger Style's website, and the full-length album is due in July.

 

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4268 Hits

Mark Lanegan, "Field Songs"

The former lead singer of the Screaming Trees returns on this, hisfifth solo release overall, with a set that blows all his previous workaway. This time, Lanegan's main partner in crime is former Soundgardenbassist Ben Shepherd, giving the release a sort of "Return of theGrunge Masters" air. Fortunately, that doesn't get reflected in thesongs, and Shepherd doesn't take the mic much — as he has in Hater andon one track of Soundgarden's "Superunknown," both of which I'll passon every chance I get. The songs are dark, moody, and dare I sayLeonard Cohen-esque, which is always a good thing in my estimation. Thevoice is what does it. Mark Arm recently made the comment that he'd goso far as to have a team of surgeons hold down Lanegan just so theycould try a throat transplant, of which Arm would be the beneficiary.That's a bold statement in and of itself, as Lanegan could easily wakethe dead or woo the ladies with his gritty, spooky crooning. All inall, the release is an amazing growth turn for Lanegan, as thesongwriting, lyrics, and melodies are awe-inspiring. The only complaintI might have is acutally a bit of a tip of the hat: the album has someof the best chances for misheard lyrics of any I've heard. And isn'talways the great artists who are misunderstood ("Excuse me while I kissthis guy," anyone?). On the opening track, "One Way Street," I couldswear Lanegan was saying "Can't get a dog without crying" — he's reallysaying "Can't get it down without crying," apparently. Does it detractfrom the power of this collection? Not even close. This release is justthe latest in a trend of similar artists leaving their old sounds for amore subdued, darker tinge — except Lanegan's been doing it all along.This time, it's clear he'll only get better.

 

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4137 Hits

JAKE MANDELL, "LOVE SONGS FOR MACHINES"

"After many frustrating years writing computer music," Jake says, "Irealized that in order for my music to have the emotional and physicalimpact I was hearing in my head, I would have to learn to let my lovefor machines escape its tempestuous confinement." This CarparkRecordings release, though filled with passion and what-have-you, isstill a much more embraceable concept than an actual listen. Somethingabout it just doesn't catch my attention — while the repetitiousmelodies and cleverly constructed beats do blend nicely, they all tooeasily fade into the background of the room. In songs such as "ThePrincess Speaks of Love," a quirkiness shows up that is enough to leavea smirk on your face, but still nothing progressive enough to be quitecaptivating. In all, the album is something to bob your head to, butnothing to get excited about. Perhaps his computer love is still in itsearly stages, showing promise but not quite maturity yet. I'd pass onthis Dating Game match-up, and wait to catch Mandell a little furtherinto the relationship.

 


4166 Hits

KHAN, "NO COMPRENDO"

Hard to disagree with a lineup which features guest vocalists like KidCongo Powers, Julee Cruise, Jon Spencer and Diamanda Galas, right?Unfortunately I don't see myself listening to this disc all too often.While the last few Khan releases have been rather hypnotic explorationsof beat-filled electronics, this offering seems to try to accomplishtoo much with too little backup, going for that 'crossover potentialmarket'. Khan has fallen into a gap, traveling down a beaten path whichhas proved disappointing for predecessors like U.N.K.L.E., Bomb theBass and Recoil: overloading an album with a different singer on everycut. In all cases each artist had established themselves in aninstrumental capacity but when they added the voices, the musicsuffered, gaining sound effects while losing the power of a good tune.To its credit, it grooves with a sweaty, dirt-bag sleazy style which isnot entirely like Khan's previous releases on Matador. On the wholehowever, I'm not moved.

 

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4070 Hits

Manitoba, "Start Breaking My Heart"

One really negative thing I can say about this debut from Manitoba isthat it sounds like so many other artists I've already heard. Sure,it's catchy. It's toe-tapping, energetic and pulsating. But it was allthese things the first time I heard [insert electronic/remixer/DJartist here] do it. There are moments here that remind me of Tortoise,Daft Punk, Moby, Mark Isham, Bob James, Phil Collins (ack!) and more.That they're all together on the same record isn't a bad thing (exceptfor Phil Collins), but it also takes the originality out of theexperience. If I was in a coffee bar and heard this music on thespeakers, I wouldn't complain. Nor would I rush over and ask who itwas. It's that ineffectual to me. The album has it's moments, however.I really like moments of "Paul's Birthday," and "Mammals vs Reptiles"is mildly intriguing. The major difficulty is that the music neverreally seems to engage the listener. I felt very little while listeningto this release. In fact, "Start Breaking My Heart" seems to go out ofits way to distance you. The constant big beat wonderness and cut andsplice "magic" is lost on me, and most of the songs would TOTALLY WORKWITHOUT IT. It feels like the work of an artist who started out tryingto impress rather than develop a unique sound. I'm sure Manitoba wouldbe a great remixer. But with original material, I'm just left wantingmore. More originality, more substance, and more cohesiveness. So muchof it just feels thrown together. I'd file this one under "BuyerBeware": worth a listen, but try before you buy.

 

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3886 Hits

Autechre, "Confield"

"-Ma femme a des visions de grands chandeliers. Nous pensons aussi à detrès beaux escaliers... Mais on ne peut pas forcer les choses voussavez, elles se font naturellement."
L'argument tourne au drame. Il leur a déjà proposé une bourgadesympathique sur Pluton ("on est presque déjà chez les ploucs là-basaujourd'hui"), mais les deux autres ne captent rien. Il faut dire quela transmission se fait mal. Ils ne parlent que de faire le vide, etaucun degré de gravité ne pourra les aider à atterrir. Il pourrait leurdénicher l'appartement de leurs rêves avec vue sur aurore boréale encontinu, ­ça n'y changerait rien. D'autant que de nos jours, même lescampagnes sont boudées. Les ruminants s'y font kidnapper si souvent quela traite en devient une gageure. Les vaches tourmentées font tournerle lait. On les voit s'élever par troupeaux entiers, prenant un airbéat, ou plutôt ébahi, tandis qu'on les soustrait à la gravitation. Demal en pis, la voie lactée apparaît comme la meilleure perspective,hélas qui sait où elles sont emmenées. Quand les mamelles s'emmêlent...
"-Peut-être un de ces nouveaux lofts ? On leur prête un tel succès..."
Allez, encore deux gogos au ciboulot désactivé... On n'en sortira pas !Personne ne semble réaliser que dans l'eau cristalline de leurspiscines, les aliens ont toujours la voix qui tremblote. Ca vous prendpar les cheveux, c'est la nouvelle mode pour détrister les esprits. Ceslongues petites choses vertes au mouvement pendulatoire ne sont pastant des haricots que d'adorables petits lézards. Phobie ou consensus ?Les moyens modernes de déridation oxygénatrice ont dépassé toutes lesespérances primitives ! Ca vaut bien le détour...

 

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4221 Hits

Lumen, "The Man Felt An Iron Hand..."

Whatever you've heard about this band, it doesn't do them justice. "TheMan Felt An Iron Hand..." is actually a shortened telling of the realtitle for the album, one that would make Fiona Apple cringe. It seemsan unlikely combination, this band called Lumen: stand-up bass,acoustic guitar, heavy-hitting drums, and accordion/organ. But it worksas a unique and vibrant sound. Little is known about the band exceptthat they are from San Francisco and two of the members are/were inother bands: Andee Connors from A Minor Forest and Jeffrey Rosenbergfrom Tarentel. And the song titles, simply roman numerals representingtheir track number, don't give anything away. The formation that isLumen exceeds all comparisons to any other bands, including those itsmembers are from. Supposedly, the members "collectively despisepost-rock," and it shows in the choice of instruments and often spaceycompositions. It's purely fascinating how they get some of these soundswith the bare instruments they've chosen! Sometimes, the arrangement istoo repetitious, as on the almost annoying "VII." But "III" and "V" arewhere the sound comes together in an amazing display of unity betweenthe band members. Intricate, pulsating, driven, and melodic as allhell, "The Man Felt An Iron Hand..." is as original an album as I'veheard this year.

 

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4406 Hits

John Hughes III, "Scarlet Diva"

The man behind Slicker and Hefty Records steps out from his protective shell to produce one of the finest soundtracks I have personally heard in a while. Hughes has certainly expanded his range from what has been the electro punchiness of previous Slicker releases to a conceptual effort which encompasses various styles of retro-fitted pseudo-pop post-electronica jazz-influenced multi-instrumentalist filmscapes. After about four listens in a row, my only complaint is that it's TOO DAMNED SHORT!

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6365 Hits

cerberus shoal, "garden fly, drip eye"

The quasi-anonymous Cerberus Shoal seems to be one of the most prolific and diversified bands that I've encountered. This Portland, Maine collective — and the constantly evolving lineup of the band merits that term — seems to have mastered a new style with each release. With 1999's "homb" cd on Temporary Residence, Cerberus Shoal delivered their exemplary thesis on dark, ambient rock. The dynamics and instrumentation, combined with minimal but rythmic percussion, fused together to make one of the most beautiful and original releases of recent years.

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4506 Hits

"COMMUNICATION PROBLEMS"

The debut release from Australia's Vibragun label is a 12" four tracktaster of the forthcoming 2cd various artists compilation of the samename. The rather loose guidelines for the project stated that a trackcould be in almost any style, "the one requirement is that it be athoughtful interpretation of the theme." So with that in mind, AtomHeart and 3 Australian artists - Pimmon, 8bit and Oren Ambarci - wentto work. Pimmon's "Morse:Fin" drearily drones along with Morsecode-like blips and an intermittent scratching sound. Atom Heart's "SEA(Stuffit)" is by far the best track (and, of course, the shortest) witha happy assortment of bass and machine sounds. 8bit's "Can't U Hear theRave?" (the worst title ever?) is a clippity clop chunk of techno withsonar bleeps that drags on for 6 and 1/2 minutes. Oren Ambarchi's "RingKing" (exclusive to this EP) is a very annoying 5 minute collection ofrandom metallic bangs. Yuck. Side B will never see my turntable'sneedle again. Neither will Side A now that I've made an mp3 of the AtomHeart track. Hopefully the 2cd will have more to offer than the 12".

 

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4394 Hits

ATOM TM, "HARD DISK ROCK (DON'T STOP)"

Atom TM is yet another pseudonym for Uwe Schmidt, the uber prolificChile based German expatriate best known as Atom Heart (and betterknown to me as Seøor Coconut and one half of Flanger). "Hard Disk Rock"was previously released on Rather Interesting's "Real Intelligence III"compilation in 1998 and I believe this 12" was also released by SpinylRecords in the US in 1999. Now Australian upstart Vibragun has seen fitto put it out again as their second release. Side A has 2 four minutetracks of robotic electro funk with sliced and diced glitches, beatsand computer generated voices repeating the title phrases. The titletrack is especially fun and funky while "8-Bit Boogie" is less so. SideB requires a slow down from 45 to 33 RPM. "HD Endless" is much thesame, mimicking the Kraftwerk classic for nearly 12 minutes andculminating in a pseudo locked groove. Pretty cool, though I do preferSchmidt's work as Seøor Coconut and with Flanger over this.

 

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5337 Hits

DISCO OPERATING SYSTEM, "YOU DON'T HAVE TO WORK TO BE MAD HERE"

The more attentive experimentally-minded Manchester electronicaenthusiast might be able to spin yarns of Rotations nights upstairs ina small pub room just round the corner from where the Hacienda isboarded up. Organised by Gareth Bibby of RSI Recordings, these havefeatured appearances from the likes of Mild Man Jan, Magic City,Pendro, Modified Toy Orchestra and his own pedal hopping samplingproject Disco Operating System.
The first time I caught DOS in performance, the Pan Sonic influence wasapparent, and this was born out by the opening track on the Phonia 12",which also trod similar ground to some of Mick Harris' darker tracks.The System was certainly operating under its own steam by the time ofthe dynamic 'compact disc digital audio' CD-R, but following this acouple of live appearances saw whatever small Disco portion there everwas in these technoid endeavours dwindling. Stripped down minimal loopswere well to the fore.
This disc follows that trajectory, whirling round and round in a seriesof skillfully edited rhythmic loop constructions which revel intextural exploration underpinned by a playful but subtle sense ofhumour. Each of the fifteen tracks is an exploration of repetitionusually juxtaposing two different timbres, occasionally three. Tapsdripping in robotic precision give way to twittering comfortable sinewaves clogging the ether. Bells ringing joyfully 'Because Children AreMatter' back on to an accurate simulation of the hum of the crankyportable computer from BBC space opera Blake's 7. Well that broughtback some sonic memories, but now I'd like to hear the telephone cablelaser guns and teleport too. The pumping kaga-chug of the 'Weiss Squad'makes me feel like I'm resting my mindbrain on the engine of aspaceship made out of a discarded air freshener, as I try to download afrosty chunk of cryogenic toast. Have I earnt my final reward foracceptable behaviour yet?

 

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4315 Hits

Bardo Pond, "Dilate"

Simply put, Bardo Pond have never impressed me. I've never heard one oftheir records and wanted to hear it again and again. In fact, therewere times that I wanted to shut them off halfway through, as eitherthe squelching guitar or vocals were annoying enough to warrant.'Dilate' is the first release that I can honestly say I like, and forextremely good reason. Where the band has always been known for theirnear-heavy metal crunch and destruction or their plodding along untilnothing really happens, "Dilate" finds them concentrating more on darkmelodies and subtle arrangements with a much fuller sound. Sure, thereare loud guitars. But rather than smacking you on your stupid head,they're in a far more menacing tone, where you know it's not just forthe noise but for the effect. The opener, "Two Planes" is pained andbrutal with a lovely undertone of violin and bass, so when thebackwards recordings and acoustic guitar of "Sunrise" come in, you'realmost unsure if you're listening to the same band. The lovelyintertwining blues guitar lines by the Gibbons brothers are morepronounced here, as well. Sometimes they almost sound like Canned Heat,which was a very strange experience for me. There are low points evennow, as on "Aphasia," where it almost seems like the song will never berealized until the last minute where it explodes in awesome wonder. Theabrasiveness is mostly gone, though, so there's very little not tolike. Every track has a place to go, too, a change from other records.Bardo Pond is developing in a very brave way, challenging their ownideas and those of their listeners. Jump in at the shallow end and wadein: 'Dilate' is the latest release and the most impressive yet.

 

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4599 Hits

ANTIBALAS, "LIBERATION AFROBEAT VOL. 1"

Political and musical descendents of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Antibalas area 14-piece Afrobeat-inspired co-ooperative collective straight out ofBrooklyn. Knowing these facts alone, you're likely to immediately drawa (maybe too easy) comparison between the political and socialconditions of Nigeria in the late 70's and those of New York in thelate 90's. Case in point: just as Fela changed his name to Anikulapo("he who carries death in his pouch"), one member of Antibalas hastaken Amadou Diallo's name for his own. And just as Fela built apowerful, popular, and political genre from a potent mix of bothtradition and innovation, Antibalas are in the process of taking Fela'sAfrobeat in a new direction without sacrificing any of the genre'surgency, either musically or politically. Such urgency is evident ontracks like "Si, Se Puede," "Battle Of The Species," and "Uprising,"all of which proclaim a largely non-lyrical statement of existance andearnest (leftist, anti-capitalist) belief through driving bass grooves,infectious polyrhythmic percussion, and punctuating horns. 'LiberationAfrobeat Vol. 1' does a commendable job of capturing the essence of theband's feverish live performances by keeping studio over-production toa minimum (a couple of the tracks were in fact recorded live inLondon). The authentic sound of the LP is accentuated by theinstrumentation: these days, you'd expect a band like this to feature acouple of turntablists and some other modern musical accoutrements, butthankfully there's nothing but live instruments here. Antibalas makeyou confront themselves on their own terms, and in this case that meansrestricting themselves to many of the conventions of Afrobeat. But theydo it so well and with such conviction that the music doesn't seemrestricted at all - on the contrary, it is truly both liberated andliberating. By keeping the tracks on this Ninja Tune rerelease of thealbum relatively short (each less than ten minutes), Antibalas manageto present a full range of compositions which together serve as a greatintroduction to the band.

 

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4024 Hits

Ultra Living, "Transgression"

Never have I heard a record that made my brain want to chew it's wayout of my head until now. From the first track of 'Transgression,'called "Entwurf," Ultra Living sounds like a improvisedjazz/lounge/fusion project. Reminiscent of Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire,this sound seems to belie the band's moniker. It's followed by"Absurdly Pedantic" which features a repeated vocal loop and nice beatsand organ, but the occasional and prevalent insertion of high-pitchedfrequencies make it unlistenable and, well, absurdly pedantic. In fact,it seems like Ultra Living is desperately searching for an identitythroughout the release. The music is all fine, but I found itimpossible to stomach in one listen. The blending/breaking of styles isincreasingly difficult to justify, and goddamn those high frequencies.On a decent stereo or through headphones, your eardrums almost implodeat times. There are drum and bass moments ("Color-Perspective" and"Immaterial" — which also features beat box and soul sister singing),trip-hop moments ("Free Radicals"), and sounds like if the Borg made amusical ("Birds Must Be Eliminated" — a fitting track name for a Borgmusical, in fact). It's wildly inconsistent, a hodge-podge of stylesand sounds, but it's new, I'll give it that. I would just like to hearUltra Living stick with one direction and see where that leads. Mybrain couldn't take another release like this one.

 

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3990 Hits

IMITATION ELECTRIC PIANO

You can remove the guy from Stereolab but you can't remove Stereolabfrom the guy. Short and deliciously sweet is the first eponymousrelease from the relatively new instrumental outfit formed by currentStereolab bass guitarist, Simon Johns. It's difficult not to makecomparisons to Stereolab when the songs sound almost exactly likefamiliar Stereolab tunes, only in instrumental format. Johns onlyrecently joined the Lab for the last full-length album and EP, two ofmy least favorite releases from the groop. The strange thing is that Iactually enjoy these five songs quite a bit whereas I strongly dislikedthe two similar sounding Stereolab releases. On 'Imitation ElectricPiano' the five-member band sounds like they're executing songs the Labeither turned down or didn't have enough time to record. Much like theLab, this group is tight and provide perky upbeat post-modern bachelorpad tunes, primed for driving a trendy european automobile with thewindows rolled down. The production, however isn't as sparkly orshimmery as McEntire's knob twiddlings. Perhaps this is ImitationElectric Piano's saving grace: the same type of output but with a soundremeniscent of the older, much rougher days of the Lab — a sound whichturned most fans and critics ON to the groop in the first place. Theonly thing really missing is vocals most English and French speakerscan't understand. This 21-minute five-track EP was originally releasedon Duophonic in the UK late last year and is now available in massquantities in North America through Drag City.

 

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4203 Hits

Keith Fullerton Whitman, "21:30 for acoustic guitar"

Generally speaking, a great organic musician has the potential to be agreat electronic musician. This is exactly what I think of whenlistening to music from Mr. Keith Fullerton Whitman, somebody mostpeople know from writings, remixes, compilation appearances and onealbum as Hrvatski. The second release from Lucky Kitchen side-labelApartment B is a 21+ minute CD from Whitman recorded a few years ago(yeah, it's actually listed as Keith Fullerton Whitman but I figuredwho'd read the review if they didn't know he was Hrvatski?). This discis the essence of what somebody can do with minimalism. Each 10+ minutetrack makes the most incredible usage of one source - acoustic guitar,processed in real-time through 4-track and other unlikely gear. I can'tfully explain everything used without quoting the entire cover, but Ican say with 100% confidence that Whitman has a lot to teach theEuropean and Japanese laptop clickers about composition, form andstructure. The first track starts off with a simple, searing,high-pitched melody, other octaves get added in, first lower then muchlower, then much much higher, yet remaining simple, subtle andcaptivating. More and more replicas are added to the blissfulprogression, resulting in a stellar cosmic mix. Track two is anotherten minute piece in which Whitman exploits tones and relative tonesmeshing with each other, this time most likely toying with guitarharmonics (if he is indeed using the guitar again). After the half-waymark, the overlapping tones are greeted with more energetic, melodic,shimmering, glistening notes, building up into an aural bird sanctuary,then quelling down with newer droning tones. Wow. Perhaps I'veexplained this all wrong, but boy does it sound tasty.

 

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5193 Hits

"Folktales no. 1"

The latest release in the Crouton catalog is perhaps there mostambitious to date. Jon Mueller has collected the works of threemusicians — Chris Rosenau (of Pele fame), Hal Rammel, and JohnKannenberg — and placed them on 3 3" CDs, packaging them in a beautifulquadruple gatefold sleeve complete with an exquisite corpse textwritten by the three artists and Mueller. The first piece is "Two IceFields of the Exact Same Size" by Chris Rosenau, a beautiful and starknineteen minute electroacoustic piece inspired by a trip to Iceland."Two Ice Fields" begins with the haunting wail of an acoustic guitarand a wine glass and slowly disintegrates into a juxtaposed collage ofacoustic guitar, heating vent, dry ice, and egg shells among otherinstruments. Ending abruptly in its 19th minute, the first cd of thiscollection leaves you stranded in a cold, but beautiful wilderness oforganic sound. The second disc, "Three Days from Anywhere" byimprovisor and composer Hal Rammel begins with the sound of whatappears to be a single fly recorded by a stereo microphone. Themicrotonal sound bounces from structure with faint electronics fadingin and out of the piece, the fly continuing until it encompasses you,only to disappear and give way to found sounds arranged by Rammel. Tofully appreciate the second disc, you have to listen to it onheadphones to experience the isolation and aural textures of the music.The final disc of the series is by John Kannenberg. "Lave" compilesbass and synth along with field recordings and shortwave frequencies.The loudest of the folktales, it's also the most dense, creating athick blanket of sound that surrounds the listener and washes over himor her in ambient fields. Interspersed with minimal electronics, "Lave"creates an alien landscape of shimmering minimalism. Created todocument specific moments captured during a particular time by theartists, Folktales succeeds in offering beautiful stories of sound thatoffer passage to distant emotions and captured moments.

 

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4243 Hits

rollerball, "trail of the butter yeti"

As multi-instrumentalist improvisational rock-based music becomes more popular with the emergence of groups like Volcano the Bear, Jackie-O Motherfucker, Pele, and others, Rollerball's music pursues a more structured, orchestrated environment on their current release from Roadcone. "Trail" sees this Portland, Oregon-based quintet adding more blocky beats, electronic processing and effective use of not playing to the mix. In addition, there's more focus instruments as various members often take the lead with horns, clarinet, vocals or stringed instruments.

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4729 Hits

The Experience, "One Amazing Day"

"One Amazing Day" is the result of field recording trips to Greenwich's gargantuan (physically and financially) Millennium Dome structure, the official celebratory site of the new millennium. Prior to its closing a few hours before 1/1/00, visitors could come and trudge through 14 interactive zones of futuristic themed exhibits and view a sort of three dimensional, mid-air ballet live show.

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4647 Hits