Thursday, March 23, 2017
What mysterious sounds emanate from behind the Romanian border? As I sit in my office chair – actually, more like shivering in the corner with terror, trying to avoid lapsing into a black-magic-induced coma – I’m overcome with the weird sensation that the definitions in my brain of “Romania” and “music” should be fully disassembled and reevaluated. For one, there’s that whole gypsy thing that I probably should get past (damn you Beirut and Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes!). For two, there’s that whole Bram Stoker’s Dracula thing I should get past (Transylvania, of course, being a part of Romania), but I’m never not going to be glad I read that book, because that book is way too awesome to avoid (I strongly recommend it, you guys). Shanyio, Alexandru Hegyesi and a couple friends here and there, does his (pretty much) electroacoustic thing, fixing field recordings over, essentially, bowed anything (cymbalom, dulcimer, psaltery) along with other types of instrumental ephemera such as recorder, gusla, glockenspiel, piano, distorted bass guitar, etc. What the hell is a “gusla”? Beats me. Turns out Hegyesi has quite a discography under his belt, but if C is your introduction to his work, you’re in good hands. The album is called C because the central gimmick is that each track’s title begins with the letter “C,” from “Curgător” to “Coda,” although most of the titles are in Romanian. Doesn’t really matter, though, as the surprise and shock that this isn’t a gypsy recording is enough to pulverize your central focus, although that wears off quickly enough. And thank god it does, because C is packed with compositions designed to hold your attention as they almost all uniformly creep up your spine and into your brain stem, all after passing through your ear canals of course. I’ve never been so terrified by the quacking of a duck, for instance, as I was upon hearing it in the middle of “Ciarda”! And follow that with the wailing-across-the-moor of “Cotzofana”?! Shanyio, what are you trying to do, freak us out until we succumb? Well it’s working. Are you trying to redefine the definition of music as it comes from your country? Well, that’s working too. I’m pretty much in your debt, in fact, that I don’t have to turn to DeVotchKa anymore when I want to point to “that sound,” however Americanized it may be. You’ve got the historical revision covered. (And I guess I like DeVotchKa OK.)
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
As has come to be the norm for a Hylé Tapes release, we as an audience are treated to a new and exciting direction in experimental electronic music, this time from Paris-based musician Adrien Kanter. Not weird at all. This is to be expected. The high standard of quality demanded by Richard Frances and his Hylé crew is not one to lose sight of, as each and every cassette release from the label is an exercise in supreme enjoyment. Kanter follows in the footsteps of his labelmates, and as such is a fantastic addition to them. That’s not to say one must or even should define Kanter’s output in contrast to his peers, but it certainly is worth knowing that he belongs among them, at least at this point in time. There was Adrien Kanter before, and there will be Adrien Kanter after. With Infinites Réflexions, we have Adrien Kanter now.
The title of the cassette easily translates as “infinite reflections,” and each track on the album plays like the soundtrack to a self-assessment. One day you’re feeling good about yourself, another day you’ve just about had it up to here with your lot in life. Each day, each second is a new moment to consider, a philosophical crossroads where the choice you make about your inner being points you on a specific path and strips any other possibility from existence within this universe. Think of each moment as an internal Schrödinger’s cat – you’re both satisfied and dissatisfied with an outcome until you choose one.
The music tends to straddle that line, and as such it offers myriad interpretations, each one dependent, again, upon the choice you impose on the music. How are you listening? Does the strange guitar and sampling of “Iceberg Dolores” make you feel tense, or does it instill in you a sense of wonder? Does “Bagarre de Lions” upset you by recalling elements of your past better left alone, or is it a nostalgia trip to lovely places? Is “Fleur de nuit” a reminder of love or loss? Now can you see? There are … infinite possibilities.
All this is quite heady, and it’s important to remember that Adrien Kanter’s music is, on a purely responsive level, excellent. It hits all the right spots for the experimentalist and the electronic aficionado alike. It even manages to invoke astral synth drone and kraut at times. It’s a lovely concoction, meant to be listened to from start to finish. Infinites Réflexions belongs in its place as another in a long line of superb releases from Hylé. Hop to it, music consumers!
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Blam! Surprise. Faxada’s Cohost hit my inbox like a fully loaded cement truck smashes into the wall of the bank it’s robbing in broad daylight. The tracklist plays like a who’s who of Dirty Dozen–esque proportions (obviously if Dirty Dozen featured a bank job). There’s the mastermind (“Kirchner’s Girls”), the IT man (“Grenadines, for Scrapping”), the handsome one (“Throwers”), the muscle (“In Shifts”), the wild card (“Knobby Russet”), the explosives expert (“Glass Cloak”). I mean, there are more caricatures of these types of characters that we could pinpoint, but where’s the fun in that? Here’s the fun in this: know, verily, that Cohost is an amazingly cohesive experimental/electronic/dance record, and that it is made by a Polish youngster named Przemek, who is probably younger than your kids (he looks young, I don’t know how true this is – let’s just say he’s probably never seen the Dirty Dozen). His debut cassette is filled with wonderful samples and melody, way more detailed than I ever would have expected. And it’s not just a party – it’s all over the place. It lurches, it’s subtle, it’s a soundtrack to a bank robbery or smashing up a hotel room. Maybe Przemek’s gone full rock star and smashed up a hotel room, but instead of doing it himself, he’s allowed his samples to physically materialize to do it for him. He’s like the puppet master of samples. There are even some cartoon samples about honey pots on “Zinc Yellow” – I don’t think they’re from Winnie the Pooh, but they’re freaky in contrast. I think that’s the point – “Zinc Yellow” might be the evil center of Cohost, a direct conduit to Przemek’s brain and data point from which all the chaos emerges. But again, fun chaos! Smashing stuff up for fun! Robbing banks for fun! Did I say “Eureka!” yet? Well, I did now. This is a “Eureka!”-type tape, a moment of joyous discovery.
Monday, March 20, 2017
“ZOHOVE – Beninghove’s Hangmen Play Led Zeppelin”
(Very Special Recordings)
“Super Hi-Fi Plays Nirvana”
(Very Special Recordings)
Hold on – I’m in love with Benninghove’s Hangmen’s (that’s tough to make possessive) take on Zep, but first I’m going to jump into Super Hi-Fi’s dub reworking of Nirvana.
And even before that – what gives these guys the right, anyway, either of these bands, to tackle the hallowed duo at the top of the classic rock radio playlist? And yes, I realize it’s weird to consider Nirvana within the “classic rock” pantheon, but here we are. It’s classic rock. I remember when I was growing up – well, in junior and senior high, anyway (there’s me aging myself) – Nirvana, even when they were a fledgling little upstart, would be played on the local radio with all the big boys, even back in the early 1990s. It pretty much all but guaranteed them continual (and well-deserved) airplay in perpetuity.
Digression aside, it’s weirdly refreshing to hear such wildly updated versions of these songs. Super Hi-Fi, from Brooklyn, traffics in Jamaican dub and first-wave ska (or whatever wave if you want to argue with Ronald Thomas Clontle), and while that’s not my go-to style, really at any time, the vibe with which these guys groove through such well-remembered songs (“Heart Shaped Box” and “Polly” probably being the most recognizable) casts them in a light that renders them almost indistinguishable from the originals. This practice, if you ask me, is the best way to cover a song. Put your own spin on it! Back in my band-playing days we did a similar thing to Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?,” basically rewriting the music and placing the lyrics within it. No one knew what we were playing until the chorus. It was lots of fun. It sounds like Super Hi-Fi is having a great time here too. And the fact that the tape is instrumental, with vocal lines being performed by guitar or brass depending on the song (or part of the song) is an extra stamp of uniqueness. Other songs here include “Verse Chorus Verse,” “Something in the Way,” “Love Buzz,” and the Leadbelly cover made popular by Nirvana, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” A track called “Space Needle,” written by some dude named Ezra Gale (just kidding, he plays bass here and also runs VSR), makes two appearances, each a different version.
Benninghove’s Hangmen don’t even remotely play it subtle. And really, how can you with Zep? Zep is not subtle. Zep is a blast furnace opened wide in your face. Benninghove’s Hangmen do not shirk that responsibility. Also taking an instrumental approach with guitars and brass handling the vocal lines, a wise move when you’re replacing someone like Robert Plant, the songs breathe a little more, get a little more raucous than maybe you’re used to. I’m weirdly reminded of late 1980s/early 1990s SNL, when G. E. Smith and the Saturday Night Live band would play a ripping cover song into commercial. And that is a really good thing in this instance (and the big question is, do Eyal Maoz and Dane Johnson make G. E. Smith guitar faces when they play?). Nostalgia meets balls. And hey, Ezra Gale plays bass in this band too! I sense a trend. Excellent choice of cover material too, as “Kashmir,” “Misty Mountain Hop,” “D’yer Maker,” and “When the Levee Breaks,” among others, make appearances.
Did I just gush over two cover albums? I sure did. That feels so weird to me, but you should really track these down for a treat.
Sunday, March 19, 2017
IF this is a dream – and that’s a big “if,” – then Wander has some explaining to do. Because I’m out in it. I’m in the middle of whatever it is that’s happening, and “For the Time Remaining,” track 2 (track 2, only!) on Kat Gat Sea, has overcome my senses. And that’s even before I’ve gotten all the way down to “Into the Flood,” where the paranoia really lives! These guys, Vincenzo De Luce and Matteo Tranchesi, somehow have freaked me out about the state of my own surroundings. Maybe it’s because we’ve all gotten out of Schrödinger’s catbox in the wrong offshoot universe, but I’m starting to feel the void. This is folk? Folk is mentioned in the bio: “minimal folk.” Hell, these machines are killing fascists like crazy if this is folk. Get off that backporch rockin’ chair and flash forward into the freaky now, this instant became the past a whole second ago. But it doesn’t leave us, this folk, this commonality, because isn’t that what the term “folk” implies? We all crash through the hardships together, and whether it’s me imagining all our hardships in my own mind and it’s me navigating them together with my own self, there’s still that empathy quotient, isn’t there? There’s got to be, otherwise I’m lost. Or I’m gonna wake up. If I wake up, and we’re still in the shit, somebody put me right back down to sleep. Oh, what’s that, “Black Powder”? We’re still right there in the shit? Huh. Bye-bye then.
Let Wander impose itself upon you in weird psychological ways via cassette tape. That’s the best method. Chilling. Masterful.