Tuesday, February 05, 2013


THE LOST DOMAIN An Unnatural Act LP (NEGATIVE GUEST LIST I first encountered this long-running Australian band in the early 2000s when the trusted Rhizome label brought us a CDR of their music called Something Is.... It was just two tracks, the first a whopping 46 minutes, the second almost 30, and I gave it a couple intensive listens, but I confess it left me cold. The musicians had clearly built a confident and personal sound together, but it sounded like stuff I'd heard before . . . long-form instrumental minimalist desert-landscape mood music . . . and it seemed to take a very long time to not go very far. Years went by and I forgot all about them, but then along comes one of the greatest rock zines I've ever encountered, the Negative Guest List from Brisbane, Australia, and I'm reading as many issues as I can get my hands on, $7 import cover price be damned, and what should be published in #18 but an extensive history and discography feature on The Lost Domain. It turns out they're from Brisbane as well, described in fact by NGL writer/publisher Brendon Annesley as "Brisbane's first band," and I think I know exactly what he means by that. I had grown to appreciate and admire Annesley's taste in music, and even though I'm sure there was some hometown pride and bias behind the article, it made me want to give Lost Domain another chance, this time through Brendon's ears, as it were. Right away I pulled that Something Is... CDR back out -- it was still right there where I had last filed it almost 10 years ago -- but to be honest, it still left me almost as cold. The article had maybe thawed things out a few degrees warmer, but it wasn't enough, and I refiled it again.
          Ah, but this time I was not going to forget them; just a couple months later, what should arrive on the Blastitude doorstop but a package bearing Lost Domain vinyl, on none other than the Negative Guest List label. Annesley-approved material! It's called An Unnatural Act and wow... I like it better. A lot better. For one thing, they sound like a much different band. Where Something Is.... had that dry-as-dust desert noir thing going on, this starts out like a really messed-up noise band, and then goes into absolutely primo swirling and spinning psycho-blues. Believe me, after the side one closer double shot of "Sweet Haunch Woman" and "Funeral March for Charley Patton," you will be moved too. You'll have no choice. The intensity doesn't let up on side two either, though it does have some more elongated space-out instrumental sections to help the medicine go down. After re-perusing the NGL article, I learn that this sweet skree is an LP reissue of their very first record, which came out in 1990 about a year after they formed, when it was self-released a few times on cassette. It was reissued as a CDR by the Foxglove label in 2006, and now, with fewer tracks, it has come back to life on this LP. To sum this review up, when a band debuts with something this revelatory, it's going to shed light on their entire career and pretty much guarantee them a lifetime pass, which means I'm going to have to re-evaluate Something Is... yet again! Good thing I know right where I shelved it. (NOTE: This and many other new releases from Australia are available stateside from Easter Bilby Distro.)

MESSAGES Message Bag 2LP (DE STIJL) I wanted to write a glowing review of this record as soon as I took it out of the mailer it came in. Packaged in a lovely patterned cloth bag, with the proverbial free psychedelic poster inside, this is an anticipated double LP set by a band that previously released a very strong debut of Eastern-style heavy drone with a steady rock undercurrent (After Before from 2010, also on De Stijl). And yet on first listen to Message Bag I was left unsure . . . nonplussed might be the word . . . for one thing, a lot of the propulsion is gone. On After Before the band was a trio, with Spencer Herbst of Rhyton providing steady percussion, but on Message Bag they're mostly a drummerless duo, with Herbst only appearing on two out of ten tracks. Thus, I found the music on sides A and B unexpectedly sparse and even tentative, with jarringly dry tones from strange instruments like jaw harp, ukelin, harmonium, and on "Humid Prolusion," a defiantly methodical wah-wah tambura that made the track title come dauntingly to life. Then, sides C and D took me right back out of critical mode with the haunting and immersive side-long pieces "Within Whirlpool" and "Ocean Out." Sure, side C features Herbst, but side D does not, and it's just as hypnotic (it does feature the ocean). And wouldn't you know it, now when I go back to A and B, and I have a few times already, that sparse and tentative dialogue sounds like a patient philosophical investigation, with notes allowed to linger like deep questions that make more sense each time they're asked. 

ADDENDUM 3/3/2013: Ever since posting this review, I've wanted to say a little more about the elusive nature of this record. I wanted to quote something I thought I'd read about the Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, how he intentionally leaves seemingly important things out of his films, so that the audience could fill these in for themselves, and in essence, finish the film. I felt like the pieces on Messages Bag often sounded like an entire third or fourth voice had been left out, which is why I kept coming back to the album, to try to find what wasn't there. I couldn't find a good quotable passage describing this concept, but I think it was in the book Abbas Kiarostami by Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa and Jonathan Rosenbaum. However, I just finished the great Will Oldham on Bonnie "Prince" Billy book by Alan Licht, and there's something Will says in there that I think applies, so I'll just quote it here: "Perfecting a part is not a priority in the least, because it is generally thought that if a part is implied in a recording, then the listener has the freedom to listen to it a thousand times until it becomes a polished part. Whereas if you're listening to a record that has a polished part repeated over and over, it inhibits the desire to listen to the record again because you know exactly what's gonna come, and it's gonna come exactly the same, in a repetitive way, and have no nuance whatsoever." I can feel this on the Messages Bag album... it's like they've just begun carving a block of stone, and the listener slowly figures out that he or she is carving right along there with 'em.

BED-WETTIN' BAD BOYS Ready For Boredom LP (R.I.P. SOCIETY) The first full-length by this band of young upstarts from Australia -- I really liked their Best Band in Sydney/Worst Band in Sydney 7" from 2010, and Ready For Boredom carries on in that vein, though it also makes me wonder if they're a better singles band than an album band. Their basic sound remains right on, that yearning and cranked-up power-pop crunch, and I've already played this three or four times in a week, waiting to see what kinda hooks emerge... and to be honest not a whole lot have yet, although it is getting better as it goes, and I like the good-time-rock'n'roll-song-about-a-girl-named-after-said-girl that is "Sally," and when the singer(s) shred(s) his/their voice(s) on various songs, that's a hook in and of itself, as it was to very good effect on the aforementioned 7". (NOTE: This and many other new releases from Australia are available stateside from Easter Bilby Distro.)


VARIOUS ARTISTS Dabke: Sounds of the Syrian Houran LP; VARIOUS ARTISTS Indonesian Pop Nostalgia LP; OMAR SOULEYMAN Leh Jani 2LP (SHAM PALACE) Ever since last summer I've been meaning to write about how the Dabke: Sounds of the Syrian Houran compliation LP on Sham Palace came out just in time to be a soundtrack for hot fun in the summertime (Dabke is a driving party-down electrified Syrian dance music, traditionally played at wedding celebrations, introduced to the West by Omar Souleyman's records on the Sublime Frequencies label), but I'm so slow at reviewing records that it's now like 38 degrees out and it's almost December (and now it's already February, it's literally 1 degree out, and I still haven't finished this damn one-paragraph review). But hey, Dabke scorches no matter what the weather. And of course by now Sham Palace has another LP out, another compilation called Indonesian Pop Nostalgia, making three releases altogether which could keep a party going all night long all by themselves. The two comps will get the people moving, Dabke for the hardcore dancing, Nostalgia to keep the beat going and the mood upful (songs by children, women, upbeat romantic balladry, synths, sound effects, instrumentals), and then when everybody's good and sweaty take it home with the "old school street level Syrian Dabke!" title cut off of the very first Sham Palace release, Omar Souleyman's 30-minute burner "Leh Jani."

NATHAMUNI BROTHERS Madras 1974 CD (FIRE MUSEUM) As the title suggests, this stuff was recorded in India in 1974, by musicologist Robert Garfias, and his liner notes really make the head spin, explaining that the Nathamuni Brothers were a "carnatic brass band," carnatic meaning South Indian classical music. They were also "used primarily but not exclusively as an outdoor ensemble," and on top of that, they were part of the "nagaswaram" tradition, named after "a powerful sounding long double reed instrument, more than twice the length of its North Indian counterpart, the shanai." But, get this, in the late 1800s or early 1900s, some nagaswaram players began switching to the good ol' Albert system clarinet you might remember from your junior high school band lessons. They used them to play the same music, but they also began to incorporate "tunes imitating the style of English Military bands." To summarize, that's carnatic kritis, nagaswaram ragas, and English military numbers, played by an outdoor ensemble that mixes Western and Eastern instrumentation, and it all sounds like a dream to me, not quite like any Indian/Asian music I've ever heard, lyrical, playful, swirling and casual extended instrumental soul music. And the percussionist kicks ass too.

SABOTEUSE Worship The Devil CDR (MEMOIRS OF AN AESTHETE) There seems to have been a flurry of activity in the mid-2000s by the British gentleman known as Joincey, who fans of 90s underground music might recognize as one-half of Inca Eyeball and one-whole of Coits. You see, circa 2006 or 2007, Blastitude HQ received a package spilling over with 3" and 5" CDRs, all by various Joincey projects, most notably a then-newish solo endeavor called Puff. I've listened to almost all of these releases at least once, but even after 5 years (!) I'm still not ready to start parsing them all in the format of record reviews. One, however, has made it back into my CD player and glued itself there for a month. It's by a duo of Joincey and Andy Jarvis (of A Warm Palindrome) called Saboteuse, and the album is titled Worship the Devil. It's one very long track, over forty minutes, and part of the reason it's still in the player is because I can never finish it before some interruption comes along, such as one of my children saying "Would you mind turning this rather terrifying music off?" It is a pretty intense piece that starts with high-pitched near-ethereal feedback, which soon gets louder, fuller, and more involved as it's joined by drums, and just keeps very slowly burning and boiling to spaced-out and extremely dirgey effect, eventually cooling down into broken electronic patterns and a brief spoken-word section that reflects on the album title. It ends with a scrappy free-jazz drum solo, and the sleeve it comes in refers to the jam as a "psychosabbat," which I think is exactly the right word for it.

LEO SVIRSKY Songs In The Key Of Survival LP (EHSE) A relatively quiet little brain-scrambler in the rather busy Ehse Records release schedule, you could easily miss this record while watching the label's more attention-getting albums by Horse Lords, White Life, Angels in America, Dog Leather, and by the way did anyone catch that Ami Dang album? Good record... I almost missed it myself, only listened to it once, but I remember it well and it's still right here on my shelf . . . this Leo Svirsky record will soon join it, once it leaves the the turntable area, which might be awhile. On one hand it's a solo acoustic piano record, in an avant jazz tradition, but with the intermittent inclusion of vocals that blur genres into some sort of enigmatic plain/sad soul vibe. Either way, he's an accomplished piano player, and the way the songs shift from tentative quiet into head-turning free-classical instrumental overdrive reminds me of Gastr Del Sol (a band I feel like I'm still referencing at least two or three times a year). Now I need to start getting into what he's saying with the lyrics... there's a bunch of scrambled and appropriated text on the insert that also invites deeper investigation.

PETER ZUMMO Zummo With An X LP (OPTIMO) This record review started as a very topical blog post, but I've learned that topical doesn't work very well when it's consistently three or four months (or years) late. Initially, it was a call to readers near and far, from the hardcore maniacs down to the just barely blastitudinal, to go and donate some money to the greatest radio station in the world, WFMU. This was in the weeks following Hurricane Sandy, which hit them out of the blue for 250 grand; they suffered all kinds of electrical and equipment damage, but most damagingly of all, they were forced to cancel their biggest annual fundraiser, the WFMU Record Fair, scheduled to start the very next day after the storm hit. Proving how wonderful their listeners are, they were able to raise the lost money rather quickly, but for a few weeks there it was looking dire. It's hard for me to imagine what it would be like to lose WFMU; every morning at work, I don't go right to Spotify, I go to wmfu.org and listen for a few hours. I rarely listen to the station live, preferring to go to the "Recent Archives" page and cherry pick. There are so many great shows, but to name just four of my favorites: Brian Turner's long-running Tuesday afternoon show for thee staple diet of underground/punk/noise/outward music . . . the Long Rally with Scott McDowell, really the bag I'm in these days, as outward-reaching as BT's show, but tempered just right with the folk/roots/jazz/world strains that I'm starting to crave in my old age . . . the Duane Train, always a masterful smorgasbord of that good ole "transatlantic black consciousness," and don't miss his Prince rarities episode . . . and finally, most pertinent to this record review, John Allen's show. For many years, surely over a decade, Mr. Allen has done a bad-ass show that touches on all kinds of great rock and punk musics, new and old, but all informed by an uncompromised underground loft jazz sensibility, fearlessly going deep into improvised music as well as avant-garde and academic material. His show was off the air for at least a couple weeks due to the storm, but as soon as I saw it had returned on November 7th, I gave the archived show a listen, and lo, it began with one of the most soothing and healing soft city/night/world jazz pieces I'd ever heard, breathy melodic modal trombone improvising over chilled tabla rhythms and other intangibles. Allen often starts his shows with very long unknown jazz/academic/classical pieces, and this one seemed to run almost 20 minutes. It haunted me so much I went back and played it again two full times before continuing on with the show. It really seemed like a true healing anthem for the Eastern Seaboard. I saw that it was by Peter Zummo, a name I didn't think I'd ever heard before. After reconstituting myself from the puddle on the floor his music had turned me into, I googled him enough to see that he's a NYC-based trombonist/composer/etc who had worked with Arthur Russell, and indeed the intangible component(s) of the piece I had recognized but not identified earlier were Russell playing cello in the beautiful melodic/ambient/percussive fashion we can hear so well on World of Echo. Allen back-announced the piece as "some of my favorite music recorded of all time," and I was honestly expecting him to say something like that, because I was kinda thinking the same thing. I saw that the record was originally released in 1985, but had just been reissued on LP by those very tasteful Optimo fellows. Whaddayaknow, Reckless had a copy so I snagged it, $21 price tag be damned. I'd gladly pay a dollar per minute for this music, which is called "Song IV" and takes up all of Side Two. Side One, on the other hand, you might have to pay me to listen to from now on. It's a series of dry academic/minimalist miniatures that are played not as music but as exercises, which is not very enjoyable. I can appreciate it slightly more the second time around, because I'm ready for it, and also as a counterpart side to the other side's beauty, almost more sculptural than it is musical. As such, I'd almost rather this side was a really nice etching, which would make Zummo With An X the greatest one-sided LP of all time. And hey, it's taken me so long to write this review that the actual annual on-air WFMU pledge drive is now right around the corner, sometime in March I believe, so get those checkbooks ready and give 'em some money!

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