Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Erise no me“ ****


Recorded 2001


Even before the unprepared listener has a chance to delve into the symbolism of Tomokawa’s lyrics, s/he is bound to be elegantly nudged off balance by the singer’s oxymoronic style.  Zestful melancholia, brusque intimacy and abrasive pastoralism bite softly from his violent ballads.  And yes, he makes all this possible. 


Over the years, Tomokawa maintained the unique character of his art while transforming and adapting his musical persona.  He managed to steer away from the mainstream yet seems to be aware of the changes that must have – and did – affect his audience.  From an underground singer songwriter of early 1970s, Tomokawa re-emerged as a progressive acid folk bard of the late 1970s, and acoustic poet of the 1980 and an avant-folk cabaret star of the 1990s.  Since the beginning of this century, he further expanded his activity into film making and bolder promotion of his charmingly emotional, primitivist paintings. 


Operating predominantly in the acoustic realm since the mid-1980s, Tomokawa has been fortunate enough to attract heavyweights of Japan’s improvised, jazz and avant-folk scenes.  Bassist Motoharu Yoshizawa appeared on several of his recordings in the 1990s.  Keiji Haino, Chihiro S of Lacrymosa, Toshiaki Ishizuka of Cinorama and Vajra, and Takero Sekijima of Compostela have all recorded with Tomokawa.  He replaced the earlier trio of acoustic guitar, bass and percussion with a particularly rewarding guitar-piano-percussion format, relying heavily on Masato Nagahata, one of his most loyal collaborators.


Tomokawa has been a keen interpreter of works penned in the 1920s by symbolist and dada poet Chuya Nakahara.  Considered the Rimbaud of Japanese literature, Nakahara is highly regarded for the musical quality he apportioned to the rhythmic syllabism of Japanese language.  Tomokawa often appears to have captured Nakahara’s spirit in his own hyperbolic 5- and 7-syllable liners. 


Seldom does Tomokawa seem to be perfectly satisfied with his records.  Oftentimes, he returns repeatedly to some of his flagship themes, usually with satisfying results. 


Swimming with ease between the general indifference and devoted cult following, he has crafted for himself a lasting niche. 



tomokawaJean Genet ni kike

A chromite tryad welcomes us to the spangling fretwork of high pitched mandolin (Masato Nagahata), acoustic guitar (Tomokawa) and drums (Toshiaki Ishizuka).  Cracking melodic lozenges into airborne confetti, the trio imposes its lustrous effervescence evoking the most irradiant Stormy Six circa “Cliché”.  Nagahata’s brisé style rushes hasty variations bordering on mini-fantasias.  Not unlike Jean-Paul Sartre, Tomokawa refers to Jean Genet as a ‘saint’.  But whereas Sartre focused openly on his character’s homosexuality, taste for betrayal and quest for evil, Tomokawa remains oblique and discrete in the banal enumeration of daily chores and equally banal midnight phantoms.  This emphasis on extreme contrast is reflected in the parsimony of acoustic tools.  The snare runs may evoke a 1940s march, but they waddle in the resplendence of pristine Mediterranean, not the urban grime of George Grosz or Otto Dix. 


Erise no me

Nagahata’s accordion swells with robust sustain, stepping down seamlessly along a gracious diminuendo.  Tomokawa adopts here his trademark gi’en (chanted recitation) style, remaining in full dynamic control.  Taroh Kanai joins the band on his lithe, alluvial nylon string guitar.  His instrument makes some tight-lipped commentaries on Tomokawa’s verse.  The singer’s command of self-style vowel contraction may require a closer study of the attached lyric sheet, but Tomokawa’s diction allows him to cram much more into each line than any metrical form would normally accommodate.  The lyrics betray the failed attempt to freeze a memorable moment “Ichibu shiju mite ita nowa erise no me” – forever contemplated eyes of Erise… 


Suichû megane
This music has been composed to a deeply sensorial poem by Masato Katoo.  Tomokawa draws vivid images of a beach and breaking surf.  Kanai’s guitar exudes fireplace warmth and teams up with Nagahata’s searing mandolin.  The narration exploits sudden juxtapositions of emotionally conflictive imagery.


Bô suru hi
There are many modes fitting for a waltz – the pathos of grande valse, macabresque abandon, Groundhog-day type circularity.  Tomokawa opts for a comedian’s waltz and chokes with his clandestine shriek at the end of each stanza.  His self-gagged style is dutifully accompanied by accordion, woodblocks and acoustic guitar.  In its circumambulation, the band turns up the volume, but remains disciplined under the rattle of alpine-sounding spoons.  The composition of the poem betrays reliance on free association. 


Do fish sleep in the sea?” – asks Tomokawa, before sending us on a gallop jaunt with piano arpeggios and guitar chords.  Engineer Takeshi Yoshida turned here the instrumental interludes into veritable orchestral cocktails of free electric guitar and abstract, taut bongos, with results reminiscent of the fibrous seams laid down by Francis Gorgé (Birgé-Gorgé-Shiroc) and Lee Underwood (Tim Buckley).  The entire band swells again when the refrain comes back, with mandolin bisbigliandos, free piano and chromatic drums galore.  The intensity of these improvised instrumentals mimics Tomokawa-the-singer’s dynamic extremes.  His polar approach has long deleted the inelastic and conformist dynamic middle. 


Fuyu no chômonkyo
Chuya Nakahara’s poem is introduced by a very ‘De Falla’-inspired Spanish guitar.  The lattice of siliceous notes is sunny, cayenne, supple.  “Samui samui hi nari ki” – a cold, very cold day is coming.  Tomokawa’s basic chords on regular guitar are no match for the dolce plucking of Kanai’s nylon strings. 


Tomokawa’s modified haikus retain 7-syllable and 5-syllable verses, but squish them into frequently overboiling emotionalism which is at the antipodes of the detached, spiritual suggestiveness of the genre.  This text, with its references to Jim Morrison, is a rather average folk rock trade with two guitars and an accordion. 



This tongue-in-cheek political statement could appeal to young Japanese, long disaffected by the purely notional character of the country’s democracy.  Tomokawa “proposes” foundation of a new party for the rich and poor alike – named humorously Public Chief Liberty Democratic Guarantee Party, or something to this effect.


Ranke kokkara mai
The preceding two tracks have disturbed the flow of this collection, but the three closing compositions are the record’s saving grace.  On “Ranke…”, Keiji Haino incinerates cobwebs of mystery, single-handedly plunging Tomokawa’s combo into a much roomier, yet invariably claustrophobic space.  The singer’s acoustic guitar merely functions here as a rump percussion, while Haino’s liquid, annealing style is redolent of his most anguished of spells (e.g. “Mazu wa iro wo nakusoo”).  Someone plays harmonica as Tomokawa pukes his increasingly dramatic lines against Haino’s soaring lines of karmic beauty.  A descend from these heights leads down an open, inanimate, deserted slope – with skeletal acoustic guitar as our only companion. 


Ikyo no tori
Only a handful of singer-songwriters managed to fuse their percussive piano style with a lasting sense of personal drama – Brel, Grechuta, Alvaro come to mind.  Tomokawa’s melodramatic exposé doubles the tension with the use of a march-like drum, which releases the acoustic keyboard into a concerto scale resonance.  Fluent slide touch from Kanai on his Spanish guitar again enriches this tight metric with a measure of improvised individualism.  This interplay of Nagahata’s grand dramatism on the piano with the cozy guitar whispers is mediated by the excellent stick work on slash cymbal work by Ishizuka.  “At the bifurcation of the skies (…), the vividness lasts forever”. 


Chichi o kau

The finale takes us into a supermundane territory.  On this track, Haino’s guitar work moves closer to his Fushitsusha nights – awash with drilling thrusts and throttles.  Free, lateral drumming and spasmodic recitation of an agonizingly patrilineal text by Yutaka Kikuchi transform this piece into a stormy tide of seething avant-rock.  In this mostly atonal environment, Tomokawa privileges chaos, allowing Ishizuka to deploy his panoply of tools in an aperiodic, vector-free fashion.  Tomokawa strangles the tortured strings of his acoustic guitar with abandon worthy of Kan Mikami.  Against the background of Haino’s brutal guitar malice, Tomokawa’s screams gravitate – unusually for him – towards the lower register.  Ishizuka’s colorful use of cymbals avoids any interaction with the waves of guitar feedback.  Haino ends this epic chapter with an impromptu staccato. 






Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Yatto ichimaime” (1975)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Nikusei” (1976)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Ore no uchi de nariymanai uta, Nakamura Chuya sakuhinshû” (1978)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Inu – Akita Concert Live” (1978)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Senbazuru wo kuchi ni kuwaeta hibi“ (1979)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Sakura no kuni no chiru naka wo” (1980)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Umi shizuka, koe wa yami” (1981)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Muzan no bi” (1985)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Hanabana no kashitsu” (1992)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Live Manda-La Special” (1993)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Maboroshi to asobu” (1994)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Hitori bon-odori” (1995)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA & Kan MIKAMI: “Go-en. Live In Nihon Seinenkan“ (1995)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Shibuya Apia Document” (1993-95)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Zeiniku No Asa” (1996)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Yume Wa Hibi Genki Ni Shinde Yuku” (1998)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Sora no Sakana” (1999)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Akai Polyan” (2000)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Erise no me” (2001)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Kenshin no Ichigeki” (2002)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Itsuka toku mite ta” (2004)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Satoru” (2005)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Live 2005 Osaka Banana Hall” (2005)

Kazuki TOMOKAWA: “Aoi mizu, akai mizu” (2007)


There are also several compilations, and collections of previously published, but rearranged works.  Tomokawa’s earliest singles (solo and with Downtown Boogiewoogie Band) can be found Toshiba sampler “Neko ga nemutte iru“ (1974).  He also appears on compilation “International Sad Hits Volume 1”.


For those who wish to step into his fascinating world, I particularly recommend the CDs recorded in the 1990s, even though the artistic breakthrough probably came with “Muzan no bi”, whose title song could be one of Tomokawa’s best compositions ever. 


Since the beginning of this century, Tomokawa has benefitted from increased name recognition and most of his recent output consists of re-recorded earlier material and live documents.  He also plunged into collaboration with filmmakers (Koji Wakamatsu, Takashi Miike and Rokuro Mochizuki), inevitably leading to slowdown in his activity as a composer of new material.

Published in: on November 6, 2008 at 10:51 pm  Comments (3)  
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VERDE: “Vuoronumero” ****

Recorded 2003



Tampere-based Nokia’s engineer Mika Rintala debuted in mid-1990s, but for years remained an unsung hero of DIY circuit electronics.  But recognition finally came.  His preference for often bulky analog devices set him apart from the generation of digital manipulators and yielded unusually temperate, alluringly corpuscular auralscapes. 


Elements of his compositions appear modular.  Under moniker Verde, Rintala frequently incorporated inspiring field recordings.  His injections of such material are unusually mellifluous, eschewing the pitfalls of the familiar extrema: the dogmatic lessons of musique concrète and the showy interjections so typical of sound expansions in contemporary pop music. 


The utilization of self-made devices and hybrid instruments led him to experimentation with sonic capabilities of home appliances.  And yet, the results are invariably warm and well-rounded – unlike anything achieved by Anglo Saxon post-industrial combos of the early 1980s. 


Rintala has been active in other Finnish formations, not least the neo-kraut apostles Circle and post-funk amalgam Ektroverde. 



Paskaralla kolmen metrin kulmakarvat

The opening guitar chords hang loosely in a somewhat Gallic manner.  This unassuming introduction dusts off the memory of Ilitch’s and Philippe Doray’s classics, but it’s the hoarse trombone solo that refocuses our attention.  Handled with grace by Markku Veijonsuo, the valve pace is steady, unhurried, relaxed.  A throaty electric guitar instantly broadens the increasingly spacious limits, with effects evoking the Fripp and Eno’s operations.  Close to the top of its natural range, the trombone assumes a secondary role, snaking with agility among the ever denser guitar oscillations, probably courtesy Jyrki Laiho.


Veron saa maksaa ensimmäisenä arkipäivänä

Birds chirp and chickens cluck in this, somewhat tentative, juxtaposition of sequenced ‘cosmic’ glissandos and natural sounds.  Another layer of electronics unconvincingly saturates the images of bucolic muck with children’s voices.  A resolution comes with deformed scat intervention, masterfully morphed into the sound of muted cornet.  Recurring buzz keeps us company, ensuring continuity and the unsettling cornet/scat transmutations reverse seamlessly.  The sequenced reliability of the electronic bleeps ushers in lithe, serene notes from a crisp acoustic guitar.  Were it not for the ‘scat’ and ‘zibilant’ woozing, the sequence could be even categorized as dreamlike.  Somewhere, lurking in the shadow, a grippy fraction of electric guitar is lying at the ready, never to be utilized. 



More forest warble and playground din fuse with ethereally distant folk songs.  Summertime furikin chimes successfully sustain the atmosphere of sun-drenched ‘farniente’.  But all too soon a gusty rhythm machine and tube-emulated guitar crash in on this premature ode to relaxation.  A brilliant chromatic harmonica (Yrjänä Sauros) enhances the game of contrasts, aided by a liquid guitar solo of quasi-Rypdalian quality.  The oral manipulation of harmonica’s edges leads to disturbing pitch bending.  The tempo is hasty, propelled by the pulsing rhythm machine. 



The title track begins with a scale testing on an unidentified string instrument (a high-resonance zither? Or is it a harp?).  After an intermezzo of environmental sounds (crockery and a meowing feline), a sequenced sweeping sound offers plush surrounding to whispered recitation.  Delicately brushed cymbals, zither strings, electronic shuffling and occasional electric organ ensure that we never tire of the ever-changing tapestry.  Throughout, a muffled trumpet brings back a definitively ‘retro’ ambience.  The organization of the composition and its calligraphic motif carefully balance between illustration and abstraction, reminding me of Area’s “Citazione de George L. Jackson”, even though Verde’s voice treatment is less invasive.  Prepared piano keys and impromptu woodpecking close the passage on a high note.


Kalvosinnapeilla voi tehdä vaitukutsen

Preparative checks on some rudimentary machinery elicit little more than jingle-like inanity.  Luckily, a colossal arsenal of martial drums brings a shift in the mood, connoting a sense of solemn determination.  Short excerpts of spoken phrases cut into this fabric, as shreds from the intro are being revisited in ever fading loops.  The fleet drumming is parched and – despite some time modulation – never overwhelming.  The guitar lines endure, ribboned together with downy electronic softness.  The author mutters something almost word by word, depriving the message of regular speech rhythm.  The result is painfully human. 



Exploratory guitar hesitations interact gently with electronic blanketing.  Somewhere, a door opens; an abandoned house?  Groping for clues, we identify broad reflection of heeled footsteps.  Rintala’s rain stick and disciplined Latin shakers await the walking figure.  The acoustic guitar/electric organ “duo” develops a circulating, directionless theme comfortable in its autumnal languor. 



After an accumulation of captured effects (chicken, flapping wings, phone dialing) the terrain is hijacked by sequenced rhythms.  Additional elements confuse the expected order in mid-beat. 


Epätasaisia helmoja

Fluid, sensual keyboard intro gives way to acoustic guitar advances.  Note by note, the guitar overlays scanty forms, unhurriedly, despite some snuffing and sniffing around.  Against the background of rustling textile, the guitar noodling gradually betrays its goal – the attainment of a quintessential Appalachian moment.  Bolstered by an unlikely electro-beat, the guitar finally pronounces its first micro-twang.  Then, in spite of the intensifying sequencing, the rural folk-blues comes out in full color.  Uninvited, a somewhat hooliganish electric guitar descends on-beat, as if to disperse the youthful crowd which somehow manages to intersperse its noisy games.  Setting the scolding and altercation aside, the guitarist remains true to his geographic aspiration. 


Ultrakapeat hippahousut

A reverberating voice and empty clapping would, in other circumstances, smack of artistic desperation.  Instead, this solo ‘performance’ is but a joke, completely detached from the core of a track that attempts to demythologize circuit electronics.  It is difficult to dispel here the images of Tom Dockstader or Ruth White.  A hypnotically disorienting rhythm drives up, gearing up the tempo runs.  But, as it gets denser, its defining rhythmic role is lost within a dispersed pandemic of sputtering effects.  Rintala does not dwell in abstraction for too long.  His toolkit delivers watery gulps and birch clipping, each of varying frequency, as if determined by the physical distance.  The track ends with a dose of early 1980s’ post-industrialism. 


External global error

A cantata-like piece owes its archetypical character to the venerable Hammond Organ. As cosmic blankets shift in and out, Rintala gives a proof of good taste by avoiding clutter and overbuilding of layers.  Sibilant values oscillate, occasionally muscling up the volume.  When short frequency ‘aviary’ singing turns out to be electronically generated, the familiarity of ring modulators is striking.  Not surprisingly, the entire track has a feel of long lost experimental sci-fi ventures from the late 1950s to early 1960.  Thankfully, no direct clichés surface. 


Laakkosella takaluukun maalaus 900 euroa

What begins as bass-électronique stomping with instant electro-percussive responses is completely transformed by Sauros’ sculptural harmonica playing.  This time, he conjures up Morricone-style poetic parables.  Such contextualism is unavoidable in this masterful counterpoint of the hermetically recurrent bass and the bereaved harmonica mood.  Sputtering meta-recordings are interwoven, but their representative function is either accidentally blurred in the ubiquitous crackles or was never intended in the first place.  When the harmonica is gone, a progression worthy of Richard H. Kirk ploughs on without interrogation. 


Arvokas kamelinkarvatakki lämmittää pakkasella

An elderly-sounding recitation adopts here a quasi-percussive form.  Accompanying metals and woods tinkle, fart, whistle, resonate, grumble and rattle.  Only after a while does an identifiably musical instrument appear – an electric piano.  The exchange of views between the oft-absent narrator and silence-enamored pianist generates non-sequiturs and impasses adorned by bells, cymbals and flutter.



In a manner foreshadowing collaborative CD “Tower”, three pillars of band Circle join Rintala in this prime example of Finish neo-kraut folk.  Jyrki Laiho, Jussi Lehtisalo and Mika Rättö begin with deceptively aimless, ‘hippy’ drumming.  Soon the guitar figure becomes resolutely mantric, letting the second guitar lay over hypnotic shreds.  Shaking, drumming and hummed vocalizing all add up to the image of an old hippie commune.  And yet the workshop is highly professional.  Lehtisalo’s dizzying agility slides over the elliptic infrastructure in what is probably the most instantly recognizable melodic element on this album.  By the time a second guitar chisels (and then dismantles) these basic structural elements, listeners may revel in their most mesmerizing of space rock recollections.  Naïve shakers and plastic boxes add some extra charm to this well executed collection. 





VERDE: “Musical For Cats” (1997)

VERDE: “Traffic Light” (1999)

VERDE: “Modern Electronic Circuits” (1999)

VERDE: “Acib” (1997-2000)

VERDE: “Asill” (2000)

VERDE: “Lokki” (2001)

VERDE: “Karhun epäillään paskantaneen golfkentälle“ (2002)

VERDE: “Live“ (2003)

VERDE: “Vuoronumero” (2003)

VERDE & CLAY FIGURE: “Kalliopora“ (2003-04)

VERDE: “Kato internetist” 2CD (2005)

VERDE: “Legenda“ (2005-06)

CIRCLE feat. VERDE: “Tower“ (2006)


The positions listed prior to “Vuoronumero” are mentioned here for documentary purposes – I have not heard any of them.  Of the last 5 recordings, “Kato Internetist” is probably the most accomplished, if a little sprawling affair. 



Published in: on October 2, 2008 at 9:41 pm  Leave a Comment  
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BROTHERS OF THE OCCULT SISTERHOOD: “Run from Your Honey Mind” ****

Recorded 2005


The Australian band appeared on the internet screens around 2004, proposing a refreshing, antipodean twist on the increasingly tired format of underground free bio-folk occult improvisation cum tribal noise (no kidding!), or drone-folk (now kidding).  What sets apart the impossibly named BOTOS from its English, American and Finnish predecessors is an uncanny ability to bathe overlapping frequencies in forms balancing with ease between realism and abstraction.  Their drones, whenever used, are diverging and oscillating, rather than doctrinal and static. 


BOTOS are a duo of Michael Donnelly and Kristina Donnelly.  Churning out new material on a quarterly basis as if they were trying to live up to analysts’ earnings expectations, the siblings invite the willing listeners to their seemingly effortless collective ritualism and smooth, quasi-trantric interactionism.


Over the last decade, many followers of the drone-folk and improvised outsider psych scenes have noted the apparent (and if anything numerical) superiority of the free-flowing Kiwi productions over the Australian output.  But the artistic success of BOTOS refutes the thesis that in order to meaningfully contribute to the development of this genre you have to trample the twigs of the forests of Kuopio, Kahurangi or Redwoods, sine qua non. 



Our Minds Blow Like Prayers in the Wind

And then there was chaos.  From the first bars, the combination of drum pummeling and droning is subjected to a singularly oval wah-wah treatment.  Yet the reigning ambience never leaves the ozone layer of shakers, cymbals, wheeze, and a room-level (linear) reverb.  Dry, tensile, firm drumming undergoes slow organization around the echoing reflectiveness, conjugated around mid-term cycles of demise and rebirth.  This is followed by high-frequency amp feedback, but the development (if there is any) is obviously devoid of any sense of tempo or harmony.  Instead, the duo masterfully optimizes a sense of spatial perspective.  Sonic reflections and the varying speed of diffusion define the aural limits of the output.  By contrast, the a-metric drumming and non-pitched percussive effects (mostly shakers) operate without any reflection.  These effects crowd the space nearby, slowly reasserting themselves through increased familiarity.  Meanwhile, the electro-echo sucks in the droning sources, displacing them into the background, irrespectively of the incessantly jerky percussive skitter.  The track remains stuck between these two planes – busy upfront acoustic percussiveness and quasi-choral, alien, surreal echo. 


Temple of the Sloth

The band reappears on a gamelan stage.  This is akin to the sweeter (semar pegulingan) version of Balinese music, sparse, serene and intimate.  But the Donnellys are not here to lull us to sleep.  Simmering vocal, clanging guitar, space drums and wheezing engine cycles distract us from the soothing hypnotism of the declamatory bronze metallophones.  The electric guitar catalyzes Kluster-like amp effects and deranged voices inject nonsensical phonemic material.  As if hidden behind an iconostasis, haunted male baritone behind evokes a dark, stern figure of an Orthodox priest.  The voice sources are deformed, reproduced on a tape running at twice the speed limit.  The resulting whining is entirely contingent on the ‘gamelan’ mood, which by now sounds like a very domestic xylophone.  It still has to compete for our active attention not only with voice tapes, but also with guitar condensations and a regular tenor drum beat.  Surprisingly, the a priori simplistic speed manipulations of the voice track make this a highly rewarding aural experience.  Another vocal track (1940s? in French?) is ground to a halt and choral stimuli are non-sequitur, very much in Stockhausen (“Hymnen”) style.  The gamelan scale returns to prominence briefly at higher speed, and with the pelagic company of Hawaiian guitar. 


The Flesh Shall Hang from Your Bones

The composition opens with another exercise in timbral contrast – the guitar reverb is being juxtaposed against instantly-dampened cymbals.  Guitars scuttle, skittle, swaddle and sweep, always adorned with short-lived reverb.  There are at least three overlapping, phased guitar tracks here, with some order meted out by the bass guitar.  This is where the rhythm becomes more regularized, leaving just enough room for a guitar tremolo and an occasional bronze clang.  The accumulation of echo guitar oscillations brings back the memories of Achim Reichel or Günter Schickert.  Then guitars and drums begin to crash, sock and snap with abandon.  The bass (or rather baritone) guitar loyally plucks on, underpinning the sparsely populated range, crowned with xylophone/triangles.  When a cascade of gutter guitar à la Glenn Branca descends on us, it does so in a perfunctory, almost arbitrary manner, never generating the regularity of rhythmic cracking.  Even that motif sinks within the percussive/echo guitar swelling of sonic anti-matter.  Shortly before the end, the dispersed sources of string-plucking and drum-flaying do their best to revamp the marginalized echo device. 


Run from Your Honey Mind

The 21-minute track opens with a droney whizz and a mallet-treated drum.  Sizzling drone oozes in and out, burring in uncomfortable, brown frequency.  Doubled in a drone chorus, it adopts a dubious quality of cosmic dust radiation, saved by alternatively glassy and metallic percussive effects and some electro-alloyed overtones.  Three or four separate strata shift loosely like in a vintage recording of synthesizer rock.  Slowly, a selection of drumming thuds builds up a periodic tapestry, initially distant and vague, but eventually decisive enough to frame the slow burning frizzle of various low-drone frequencies.  When the hovering drones ebb away, the drumming echoes back.  Metallic scraping shares this reverberating quality, but remains ambiguous, enigmatic and reluctantly multiplicative.  Haunting organ-sounds and occasional tam-tam clank amortize somewhat the a-rhythmic pounding, while the ‘motor’ guzzle contests for aural space with an extrusive echo, tribal drum rolls and converter ricochets.  The track gains on meditative quality as the drumming reverb and drone become completely detached from the non-realistic, echoing chorus.  The echoing factor eventually recedes, yielding to uneasy sibilance and recognizable, because hand-operated tools: shakers, clappers and gourds.  Electric guitar tremors define the final descent, concelebrated by self-reflective nylon string plucking and lukewarm gong overtones. 





The discography below has been arranged according to the information included on the available CDs and CDRs, but the recording dates are sometimes dubious.  The material described above stands out as a masterpiece and some of the more recent recordings raise the question of the artistic sustainability of such prolific output, but I reserve judgment on positions 10 -12, with which I am not (yet) familiar.



1. BOTOS: “Animal Speak” (2004)

2. BOTOS: “Goodbye” (2004-05)

3. BOTOS: “Lucifer’s Bride” (2005)

4. BOTOS: “Run from Your Honey Mind” (2005)

5. BOTOS: “Canisanubis” (2005)

6. BOTOS: “Odalisque at Secret Vortex” (2005)

7. BOTOS: “Suppress (Detached) Orchestra” LP (2004, 2006)

8. BOTOS: “Preying in Circles” (2004-06)

9. BOTOS: “States from Space” (2006)

10. BOTOS: “Mutact” MC (2006)

11. BOTOS: “Enter the Cult” 2CD (2006?)

12. BOTOS: “Temicxoch” (2007)

13. BOTOS: “Bill Burrowing Under the Moon’s Aerial High Above” (2007)

14. BOTOS: “The World Is at War” (2008)


BOTOS also appears on cross-cooperative CD “Chimes Against Reality” and a split CDR with Golden Oaks as well as several other compilations. 


Keiji HAINO & Tatsuya YOSHIDA: “Mizu ga honô wo tsukamu made” ****

Recorded 2000



The earliest sign of recorded collaboration between these two giants of Japanese avant-garde go back to Keiji Haino’s guest appearance on Musica Transonic’s “Gashô keshin”, also known as “Incubation”.  This was in 1997, and little at that time indicated that the shock of titans, mediated by Makoto Kawabata and Asahito Nanjo was anything more than accidental. 


Instinctively, Yoshida’s topological drumming technique should not sit comfortably with radical mood swings that Haino had been infusing with quanta of kinetic energy for nearly three decades.  And yet, when the legends met again in 2000, sparks flew. 


Whereas in other duet formats, Yoshida tends to dominate the proceedings thanks to his intuitively mathematical memory, in his collaboration with Haino, the distribution of outcomes suggests equal repartition of rights and duties.  Despite moments of premeditated asynchrony, the musicians achieve a measure of multi-climactic exaltation.  They never seek full symbiosis, but nor are they content with mere cohabitation.  Instead, we witness metathesis and occasional cross-mutation of ideas.  And what does bring these very different souls together is the essentially haptic nature of their musical practice. 


In the trio format, their collaborations are more than the sum of the three.  Haino’s gitara picaresca transfers the center of gravity, turning the polymetric Gordian knots into veritable jewels of avant-rock.  As Knead, they were joined by bassist Hisashi Sasaki, formerly of Ruins.  On Sanhedolin, Sasaki was replaced by Mitsuru Nasuno. 


As a duo, Haino and Yoshida often go beyond the electric assault and roam unplugged, bringing back the memories of itinerant troubadours, equipped with acoustic string and membrane instruments from Hindustani, Bengali and Berber traditions.


Please note that the record described here, originally published in Hong Kong, is also known under English and Cantonese titles: “Until Water Grasps Flame” and “Deng shui zhua dao huo wei zhi”, respectively.


Yoi sareru wa seishinbunseki no chimayoi

Thunderclaps of blitz guitar crash in before Yoshida’s multi-directional impetus disturbs the distant discharges and drag the guitar distortion much closer into an echo-less, closed space.  Haino’s axe transforms his a-melodic shrapnels into heavily infused, compressed, pyroxenic seams.  It is Yoshida’s feet that rule here, jabbing the low-pitched drums with determined rolls.  His busy cymbal work is disactivated whenever the guitar fizz evaporates.


Nadaraka na shiyôgo no ketsui

A very different duo of the same pair of hands.  Haino appears first on a wonderfully sentimental Mughal sarod.  Yoshida joins the misty sunset scene on darbouka.  Haino’s irreverent glissandos turn his sarod into a mantric oasis of short cycles, but his hedonistic style will take a while before accelerating.  Yoshida handles a multi-effect Korg X5D, here in liquid bass role, but with a trousseau full of other percussive sounds: glockenspiels, cog rattles and flexatones.  As the effects accumulate, the atmosphere becomes very dense.  The clamor of the electro-bass has almost distracted us from Haino’s riffing race to nirvana. 


Yokka to yutta to tan

A more familiar setting of chuckling jazz guitar and brushed percussion.  Haino, who had played with Derek Bailey four years before, hesitates here between the master’s non-speculative anti-documentarism and a peculiar stutter perfected by Davey Williams.  Although Haino does sound less angular and more rounded than either, he does not fall into the full-bodied, leathery nostalgia of his duets with Loren Mazzacane Connors.  Or perhaps, Yoshida just would not allow him to.  The track progresses by fits and starts, with aptly mobile drumwork evolving in parallel, and never in competition with the guitar.  This is rock improvisation for jazz sounds.  In the dry, clipped “rock” context, Haino’s sound is closer to Sonny Sharrock’s than Eddy Marron’s.  After another swell of nonmetric drum patterns, Haino desists again, contenting himself to punctuating Yoshida’s most defining beats.  Eventually, an eruption does arrive, embodied in higher riffing gear and more constructive buttressing from the drumkit. 


5Hz e no kansha no in

Here Haino picks up guembri, a three string lute of Berber origin.  He will exploit the instrument’s vascular, hollow sound with restrained, kindly pentatonic plucking.  Yoshida’s skin rumble is perfectly adjusted, color-wise.  The duo achieves a tribal asabiyya even before Haino hurls his first howl.  Yoshida’s bass drum rejoins, balancing the contributions adequately.  Soft drum rolls coarsen whenever Haino’s howling masks the delicate articulation on guembri.


Setten wo yowayowashiku shite shimau itteki

High pitched, wailing notes from Haino’s guitar are quickly corrected by Yoshida’s multiplicative drumming.  Henceforth, Haino is reduced to playing some combinations of quarter notes and 8ths, with irregularly interposed rests.  Their junctures create unexpected filling effects. 


Tokku ni kanatte iru hazu no LHNZ to iu kekka na no ni

Haino is credited here as playing “gothan”, a low-resonance string instrument of unusual tuning.  His strikes (probably plectrum) recall false, additive raga accelerations.  Yoshida operates mostly on brushes, mixed deep, but with very short reverb, and a clearly audible large tomtom on the right.  When silence falls, Haino intones an East Asian-sounding “melody” from his instrument – a slowly flourishing dance with bizarre dragon interjections and shouts.


‘Mochiron kare dake no tame’ to iiwake wo suru

Deep, tunnel-like echo buries the unlikely duo of bowed esraj and Korg X5D.  The esraj, a fretted Bengali instrument related to sarangi, gives off an eerie, heterotropic image.  No temple possesses such long-decay acoustics as applied here, but the atmosphere certainly is one of meditative concentration.  Yoshida’s clicking electro-rhythm does not distract, but the gesture of his rhythm-keeping differs radically from his physical drumming.  This is a novelty and a plus.  Later, the Korg’s bass function is switched off.  Scrapers, graters and microtonal rattling correlate nicely with an angrier accumulation of distorted meend from the esraj.  When Yoshida elicits vitruous effects from the low-end rumble, memories of classic Jon Hassell flow back. 


Owatta shôko misetagaru seimon

Although the track begins with Haino’s stammering guitar technique, so perfectly displayed on his first Aihiyô recording, it later settles into a more familiar, almost ‘jazzy’ mode.  At various intervals, the narrative sequence recurs: presentation, silence, resolution and release.


Kioku wo tadotta toki ni nankai ka atama ni ukabu akarasama to no sôiten

This is mostly Yoshida’s show.  He opens with his cocky vocal retributions, strongly in the improvised Zamla tradition, not nasal enough to be truly ‘tongue in cheek’.  The guitar sound is warm, welcoming, running scraps of medieval scales.  The drumming is unabashedly aperiodic.  When Yoshida defaults into his falsetto, Haino’s guitar veers off into a herbal, fruity terrain.  Quite unexpectedly, we are confronted with one of the more intriguing moments on this record.  From the fragrant orchard emerges an attempt at ‘melody’.  Granted, it is a mere “attempt”, but sustained as a perennial promise, not frustrated by an abstract collapse or a cacophonic break-out.  Instead, the promise is being subsidized with a conclusive dialogue between the two musicians, each caressing his miraculously sonic object.


Sabetsu to mitomerareta anna fun’inki

A duo of two darboukas.  Haino does well by not trying to compete with the world’s best drummer, but nor does he fall into non-pitched melodism of his percussion solos.  Rather his fingers nimbly send hurricanes across the darbouka’s membrane, keeping up with the vertiginous pace posited by the master.  Yoshida’s excitement is noticeable when his trademark vocalizing fuses with nonsensical glossolalia.  They rush through these minutes, barely touching the ground. 


‘Masaka’ to omotta toki no naka ni fukumareru  natsukashisa wa nan paasento?

The record culminates here with over 12 minutes of determined guitar and drum mayhem, not unlike Fushitsusha’s mid-period volcanism.  Chord progressions repeat but each time at different length.  Some guitar incisions sound almost groovy (or is Haino poking fun at Kurihara?).  The drumming is also more obviously ‘rock’: Yoshida’s avalanches of irreversible tremors are nothing short of impressive.  He perfects his craft whenever Haino’s riffing goes free.  And when Haino returns to his staccatos, Yoshida’s drumming suddenly becomes regularized.  It is Yoshida who takes the lead to pull the duo each time off the edge of repetition.  Haino’s anthemic moments are short-lived.  His guitar suffocates with a mere droplet of fuzzing pathos.  Then a brief, abstract section follows, filled by drumming in search of perfect architecture.  But it is a riff galore that will end the track.


Kiete yuku kono yôna kanashimi hô

Haino meows surreptitiously to Yoshida’s Korg and an astonishingly simple meter.  As if unaware, a detuned string instrument (banjo?) rambles on with a corrugated effect.  There are surprises – the Korg imitates tabla’s left-hand drum with a deeper, variable pitch.  The ‘banjo’ melodically shadows the polyrhythm.  Haino swoons into monosyllabic chanting, peaking mid-phrase (here’s the regularity) and varying the release (here’s lack thereof).  




For a bold listener in search of avant-rock improvisation, there are excellent moments on each of the recordings listed below.  My favorites remain 1 and 2.  I have never heard position 4.  Material on 7 and 8 partly overlaps. 


1. Keiji HAINO & Tatsuya YOSHIDA: “Mizu ga honô wo tsukamu made” (2000)

2. KNEAD: “Tokete shimaeru shiyawase mo.  Melting Happiness” (2001)

3. KNEAD: “Knead” (2002)

4. Keiji HAINO, Tatsuya YOSHIDA, Mitsuru NATSUNO, BUS RATCH: “Live at Cafe Independants” (2004)

5. Keiji HAINO & Tatsuya YOSHIDA: “New Rap” (2005)

6. SANHEDOLIN: “Majoicchi wa mukô” (2005)

7. Keiji HAINO & Tatsuya YOSHIDA: “Uhrfasudhasdd” (2007)

8. Keiji HAINO & Tatsuya YOSHIDA: “Hauenfiomiume” (2008)

Published in: on September 7, 2008 at 3:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Recorded 2005


Wizard Prison is a Seattle-based multimedia duo consisting of recording experts Scott Colburn and Ben McAllister. A self-declared ‘audio-wizard’ Scott Colburn is a musical institution in Seattle, with much of his fame owed to the productions of Sun City Girls’ and Climax Golden Twins’ records. He finally gained well deserved recognition after recording what probably was Animal Collective’s best album.



Inventor Ben McAllister is a computer music graduate with a career divided into (and united by) ventures into film composition, sound design and audio engineering.


Although Colburn’s recording style has arguably been focused on capturing live aesthetic, Wizard Prison sounds uniquely refined, if not overdecorative. Whenever it falls into the clichés of electronic rock, it is instantly rescued by the authors’ highly developed sense of space and considerable experience with a wide variety of approaches to both electronic and acoustic (microphones) media.



A mystical fable accompanies this record. There seems to be a Daevid Allenish mischief to it – at least for those who bother to read the story. And it is pleasant to think of this record as a ‘concept album’.




Gogon’s Family Conference

This is studio wizardry at its most unhurried, liquid and glowing. Warm guitar tones, appeasing organ and looped bass all benefit from stylized electronic misplacement. The thematic focus comes from an unexpected source. A Chinese kid declaims affectively verses by Wang Anshi, a poet from Northern Song period. The qiyenjueju phrases celebrate the coming of Spring and the radiance of the sun. Wang was a political figure and a failed revolutionary, and somewhat of a political tone continues as a recording from Communist China’s radio spews some venom against the reforms of Taiwanese parliamentary system. This is followed by snippets in Cantonese. I am not entirely sure if Colburn and McAllister were aware of the semantic content of the excerpt. Western avant-garde musicians have been using tapes with Chinese speech since at least the times of Paul Boisselet’s “Symphonie rouge” (1947), but the proceeding usually reflected little more than the fascination with Mandarin’s quadritonal form. Colburn and McAllister overlay scratchy, processed voices, with the kid repeating the Chinese line. But it remains drowned deep inside the dense, nocturnal atmosphere, not unlike Jah Wobble’s “Bedroom Album”. Colburn once admitted that he despises fronting vocal parts in pop mix.


Sao Palo

Despite being more uptempo, this track is sill mudded with those ill-defined Czukay-esque bass and drums loops, punctured here and there by an extra guitar chord. Parading snare drums and woofy organ portend none of the heavy metal guitar blast, which riffs out confidently with its bass underbelly. The structure becomes heavily fractured – electronically rich, but interspersed with anthemic choruses (most likely Asian female voices, but I can’t identify the language, buried in the racket). Tight, dry drumwork distracts from the groove, but the sustained guitar chords usher in a quasi-mantric mood. The distressed female chorus gets re-sampled, re-mixed and re-mingled within the guitar riff and intensifying glitches that wean an entire miasma of bleeps in the style of Yoshihide Otomo’s solo works. As a final accent, acoustic piano takes over, surrounded by cymbals and distant scuttling guitars, all served in a soup of drones. It fades away through the guitar reverb into an echo of nothingness.


The Word of the Imaginary Vision

A 1980s indie rock guitar theme is tamed here by some amateur choral work (sports fans?). This sub-theme crosses the riff line, destabilizing the dominant meter.


Tea Dreams

The drum-and-hi-hat work is so metric that one could suspect a frayed metaphor of an old-time chug-chug locomotive, with a siren. Clinically insulated Fender Rhodes note is being repeated ad nauseam, but without the grace that the Necks have accustomed us to over the last decade. This repetition imparts an illusion of ascendance but only because the rock trio core breaks it every 8th note. If there is variety in this track, then it is provided by some wailing voices in the distance, and then by the return of China International Radio Station, which re-appears pompous as ever.


Gugon’s Visionary Plan

Cosmic keyboard pulses meet spectral guitar, padded bass and innocuous drumming that turn this to little more than stargazing from a nighttime beach. An unexpected trumpet call intones a wavering “shakuhachi” song. Acoustic guitars turn up in purely supportive, rhythmic role.


Sunn Kill Moon

This longer (21min) track opens with pulsating, blobbing electronics and a throbbing bass line. Wizard Prison shifts scales effortlessly, as the largely discredited 1970s’ sequencer music would do. But the sense of space is limited and so is the range – none of the tempting extremes of high and low register that sequencer-based classics accustomed us to. Only tiny bells accentuate the cleaner side of well-rounded, doughy ambience. The bass throb does not seem to be entirely in synch with the sequenced line of the higher register, but the asynchrony fails to generate any vertiginous sensations that, for example, Deuter’s first LP did. Then the throb is left alone to fend for itself, and is progressively demoted to the nether regions of an electric motor. The interactions between mid-range and lower pulses become quite abstract and never adopt explicitly melodious mantle. Admittedly, 40 years after Morton Subotnick’s seminal bubbly electronics, this passage does appear a mite too derivative. Finally, a dirty guitar fuzz is thrown in and reverberates with a long sustain. In an appendix, a Michael Karoli-styled second guitar washes in repeated frames, pushing away the electronic canvas into the deep background, out of the auditory reach. We are left with towering guitar sound, not unlike on Steven R. Smith’s or Steven R. Lobdell’s solo outings. A slow guitar theme emerges from inside the blizzard of electronic effects. It turns evidently illustrative, with chromatic effects, alien bubbles, mysterious ostinatos, and sharp fuzz incisions. A sense of foreboding prevails throughout. Bass outcrops will suffer injections of intrusive guitar until the end.





WIZARD PRISON: “The Early Years 1972-2005” (1974-2002)



The “Early Years” document Ben McAllister’s experiments and film soundtracks.


Published in: on August 18, 2008 at 9:23 pm  Comments (1)  
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CLIMAX GOLDEN TWINS: “Climax Golden Twins (Rock Album)” ****

Recorded 1993-2000


The Seattle-based duo of Robert Millis and Jeffery Taylor began to record their initially lo-fi avant-rock sketches around 1993.  They quickly developed penchant for studio improvisations, often produced by Scott Colburn and manned by several regular collaborators, among them drummer John Vallier, sonic explorer Jeph Jerman and visual artist Jesse Paul Miller.


Despite their post-hardcore sensitivity, several of their explorations ventured deep into sound documentary.  At its most esoteric, Climax Golden Twins celebrated the form pioneered by Luc Ferrari’s revolutionary field recordings.  On the other hand, the band’s studio avatar alternated between avant-rock collections and dreamy compendia of loops, drones and sinewaves.  It is the latter incarnation that has contributed auditory haze to countless art exhibitions, radio, theater, film and dance performances.


More recently, the duo reappeared under the Climax Golden Twins moniker in a more cohesive, orientalist rock format, officiating as a promising substitute the now defunct co-locals Sun City Girls.  This is more than a coincidence.  Robert Millis had for years collected field recordings in South East Asia, some of which have now appeared on Sublime Frequeuncies’ series. 


Climax Golden Twins are also behind Victriola Favorites – a highly enjoyable collection of deeply obscure 78rpm singles from first decades of the 20th century, a treasure imported from most exotic destinations including Japan, Turkey, Burma, China etc.  Charming acetate documents occasionally make an appearance in the band’s multi-layered textures. 




Does Your Mother Know I’m Here?

After a brief phonemic cluster of unknown origin, acoustic guitars begin to strum lazily, carrying us through a stagnant, slumbering environment, laced with glasslike chimes.  Aimless infant vocals vanish somewhere in the backyard.  The informal atmosphere is breezy, summerlike. 



The beguine accents turn this primitivist guitar piece into a quasi dance.  It is as if the guitars surreptitiously spied on something, lurking and poking around in a comical fashion.  A self-replicating piano chord obsesses deliriously with little effect.  Unenthusiastically, drums, bells and some non-resonant guitar plucking fill the space.  More abstract cymbal and piano missive finish this off.  It is the “dance” character of this piece that drew references to Fred Frith’s Ralph-label period.



This begins with heavy tympani pounding.  Animist Orchestra’s Jeph Jerman rolls around some round or spherical objects, placing us in the middle of the installation.  The skeletal melodic component is sourced from an ostentatiously purposeless, clacking guitar/bass/drum trio of Mills, Taylor and Vallier.  Despite the radicality of metallic scraping behind them, the sustained bass line makes the band’s outing almost spacey.  In turn, the fuzz guitar erupts violently in short, scalding bursts.  All along, the mysterious round objects keep rolling.  The track wanes when a more prudent guitar peels away gentle notes along with respectful clinking from little bells.


To Float

This (longer) track wastes about a minute before audible elements can be captured.  These “elements” unfold into a tardily progressing rock trio with simple tempo runs on bongos.  Rhythmically pedant, the beat is unmasked as purely accidental when a screeching guitar unfurls a dirty fuzz carpet, eventually spreading over the pounded drum, rather monothematic bass and some insulated piano keys.  This pattern of tortuous progress is reiterated after each fuzz relapse.  An acoustic guitar closes the piece.


Choked Up

Under a prominent bass ostinato and a trickle of cymbals, oval effects pile up, mutating into a rocking behemoth when the bass drum joins to pinpoint the offensive ostinato.  Almost instantly, a choking vocal deprives this “rock” number of any semblance of commercial potential.  The sound is processed through folding, faulting, caving effects. As usual, the piece ends with a contrasting accent – this time from skittery percussion.


Heavy Hippie Shit

Here the bass falls even lower – to a threatening register as perfected by Boris.  But the palette is more diverse: detuned acoustic guitar, grimy, coarse guitar fuzz hijacked from the densest of metals, organ’s vitreous resonance and marimba. 


My Peppy Loins

A strangely tuned “Asian” string instrument (cha’pei?) cackles, followed by a speed punk suprematism in search of something to loathe. 


Cough…  Sniff…

Satanic growl is being smothered by a heavy tornado of several electric guitars, and curiously inept drumming.  Harsh electro-core production places this excursion somewhere between the realms of Orthrelm and Psychic Paramount.  Overall, it is a sonically repulsive experience, unless you’re in the mood for discord.



Sticks, toy xylophone and acoustic guitar strum, pluck, click and crackle.  There is something Art Bears-ian in the ascendant, skeletal harmonies of this anti-professionally delivered track.


Microspace Patrol II

Non-metric drumming evades any responsibility for rhythmic structure, allowing the fuzz guitar to play with feedback.  The band wakes up into a solid avant-rock number.  Were it more rhythmically complex, it could be categorized alongside Canada’s Fat. 


Theme from Climax Golden Twins

Southwestern atmospheric heavy rock – melodically one of the most promising moments on this record, plunges into discordance and is cut off way too early.


Telephone Call from the 70s

Billy Cox-like bass could be considered an anachronism.  But Climax Golden Twins insists on jabbing the listener with colliding messages – a phoned “hello”, high-end feedback, annoying organ, itinerant, stop-go beats. 



If you remember pre-industrial bass utilized by Joachim Stender in German band PD, then the Twins get pretty close.  It migrates through pre-recorded dance tunes, vocal tapes playing backwards, various voices, engine-prepping guitar.  Despite non-rational sawing and scratching, occasional piano tremolo and some dramatic vocal interjections, there are unfortunately not enough ideas to keep it continually interesting. 


You Drove Me, Nearly Drove Me

Groovy Hammond organ teletransported from 1950s small-town pre-rockandroll dance party could have remembered Vivien Leigh’s first steps.  Yet no saccharine allowed here.  Tweeting and twittering juts out from a tape run within a reading range recording head.  The effect is simple, but ingenious; it does chirp and occasionally sings.  And then, an eerie crooner at half-speed does, indeed, loop in a line from the title. 



Probably the strongest moment on the disc.  This Heat-like guitar symphony with rambunctious drums, simple electronics and tapes thrown into the sonic whirlwind.  It plods on ponderously, toxified further by stammering bray.  The lead guitar crafts a solo and a scream resonates inauspiciously.  The hoarse voice later returns, if only to incinerate the gates of hell. 


A Door A Fish Your Head

Clarinets and Gene Krupa-like archaic 12-bar drumming accompany a failed recitation of “Poems for a Dead Man”.  Amplified, jazzy guitar softly points to the verse ends, with the warm clarinet pouring in additional color.  Later, the clarinet pierces in Ornette Coleman’s style.



Here’s the basic trio falls into a groove.  Structurally, this is a dialogue between two simple themes: one tense and suspenseful, one joyful enough to resolve the suspense.  After some to-and-fro, a Jon Hassell-like windblown effect quells the dispute.


1, 2, 3, 4

Voice snippets are followed by a cut-up punk charge.  Black metal vocal hurls lethal syllables whenever the charge stops to take a breather. 


Lampshade Market

A relaxed tabla, field recordings and exoticist guitars à la Sir Richard Bishop, crowd in a market full of children’s voices. 


Drink Me

Back to the beginning.  A sizzle sneaks through a rather random mapping of acoustic guitar strumming, melodica blowing and crystalline intonation.  The guitar cradles slowly, effective and swinging, but relatively uneventful.  Then it attempts to impersonate poor-man’s Appalachia plucking style, despite the geographic and cultural gulf that separates the coal miners from Seattle’s coffee shops… Isn’t it closer to Thailand?





1. CLIMAX GOLDEN TWINS: “Climax Golden Twins” 2EP (1994)

2. CLIMAX GOLDEN TWINS: “Three Inch” MCD (1995)

3. CLIMAX GOLDEN TWINS: “Imperial Household Orchestra” (1996)

4. CLIMAX GOLDEN TWINS: “Lovely” (1997)

5. CLIMAX GOLDEN TWINS: “Climax Golden Twins (Locations)” (1998)

6. CLIMAX GOLDEN TWINS: “Dreams Cut Short in the Mysterious Clouds” (1999)

7. CLIMAX GOLDEN TWINS: “Climax Golden Twins (Rock Album)” (1993, 2000)

8. CLIMAX GOLDEN TWINS: “Session 9” (1995, 2000)

9. CLIMAX GOLDEN TWINS: “Highly Bred and Strictly Tempered” (2004)

10. CLIMAX GOLDEN TWINS: “Climax Golden Twins” (2006)

11. CLIMAX GOLDEN TWINS: “Five Cents a Piece” (2007) 


The band has also issued plenty of cassettes and I am yet to hear several of their early recordings.  Position 8 is a soundtrack using some material from 2 and 6 and I do not recommend it.  5, 7, 10 and 11 would offer a range wide enough for anyone willing to explore the band’s variegated approaches.

Published in: on August 13, 2008 at 8:47 pm  Comments (2)  
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Mat MANERI: “Pentagon” ******

Recorded 2004



New York-born, but Boston-raised violinist will forever be introduced as “the son of jazz sax player Joe Maneri”.  Classically-trained, he opted to explore multi-string variations of electric violin and electric viola.  His first recordings date from the mid-1990s and the plethora of labels that housed his early output – from ECM to Leo Records to Hat Hut – illustrate as much early-stage eclecticism as genuine artistic hesitation.


Jazz violin had been for years dominated by European musicians and American players, if they opted for the instrument at all, tended to pretend that nothing much had happened in music over the last 50 years.  Maneri’s formula proved revolutionary – his preference for low registers invited timbric juxtaposition of unusual tunings in non-traditional orchestral contexts. 


If some of his early recordings maneuvered somewhat languorously, by the time Maneri sat down to record “Pentagon”, his introspective style had transcended all stylistic limitations.  Often in duo with trombonist Ben Gerstein, a multi-faceted Maneri careers swiftly, surrounded by a plurality of contributions from triadic keyboards and punctiform percussion.





The record is enframed in two painful etudes for multitracked acoustic and electric violins.  Slowly expanding waves of glissandos wash romantically, subverted only by subcognitive laptop gurgling.  Without a shade of supercilious pathos, the track is undone with a quasi-Mahlerian finish.



Freeze frame and we are up against an ultra-modern combo progressing at a most slothful of paces.  The palette is impressive – an “electric Miles” piano, organ panels, unglazed trombone and skittery drumming.  Ben Gerstein on sullied trombone dominates here, keeping the ensemble in an unhurried, tepid mode.  This inviolable, insoluble order rewards with incredibly rich textures.  Keyboards and electric violin occupy parts that in other formations would be scored for guitar.  The track is perennially expansive – always broadening the spectrum and disappointing those who could expect a melodic or rhythmic conclusion.  It remains conceptual, rather than inferential, and advances amoebically, if it “advances” at all.  Jamie Saft’s organ interacts with muted cymbals and splices of other keyboards occasionally step into the fray.  Saft’s and Gerstein’s soloing achieve an unlikely intensity, oblivious to the free form structure nurtured by the rest of the band. 



A determined funky rhythm greets us with that ultra-modern, cybernotched derivative matrix familiar from Date Course Pentagon Royal Garden’s recordings (something about 5-angled forms here?).  Craig Taborn spews from his laptop a nice ‘vinyl’ crackle and a pre-recorded, Larry Young-ish organ is being continually reprocessed – slowed up and sped down throughout the solo exposé.  This unexpected impromptu is urbane and astute, but a tad too short.



Muted trombone explores various orifices in the multi-percussive, non-metric soundscape.  There are two drummers here – John McLellan and Tom Rainey, both engaged in highly chromatic, delicate, almost furtive research.  Electric piano parts are suggestive of a distant stylistic kinship with Miles’s cohort Cedric Lawson.  Meanwhile, Maneri’s bizarrely amplified electric viola swaddles nicely in a spaced-out dialogue with the trombone.  Astonishingly, the trombone is perched higher than the viola, which makes these dialogues so unique.  Gerstein’s lyrical tone quality would indicate that he plays an alto trombone here (?).  And throughout, very discrete harmonics is being masticated by Taborn’s laptop. 


Third Hand- the Fallen

T.K. Ramakrishnan’s mridangam awakens, contrasted here with a multi-violin passage as mournful as Terje Rypdal’s early orchestral works.  Nuances abound, as string processing slows things up like in Gavin Bryars’ classic “Sinking of the Titanic”.  Mridangam scuttles around and between channels like inebriated dragonfly.  The close proximity of the fatalistic, sorrowful string portamentos and the snakehipped, agitated Indian barrel drum is highly successful in its destruction of context sensitivity. 


Witches Woo

The two drummers appear here in a more directly rhythmic role, but their playing remains very lateral and textural, with more stress on cymbal work than on previous tracks.  Craig Taborn’s Fender Rhodes tilts towards solos, and so does the trombone.  John Herbert’s bass is pitched thunderously low but acts almost surreptitiously.  It does proffer a semblance of structure, though, for an attentive ear at least.  Otherwise, one can’t really tell where the overall coherence comes from as the frontloaded solos extend spectrally and fail to provide a reliable sense of direction.  Maneri’s role is more limited – short commentaries, purely polemic, as if triggered by the trombone. 



A circumspect, brooding forest of percussive substrates engulfs Joe Maneri’s acoustic piano.  Papa Joe brings here an aura of mystery, sometimes underpinned with the trombone in a quasi-harmonic mode.  Then Maneri’s violin injects some Seifert-an moments and Saft’s organ spews a barbarous hiss.  The drummers crowd in false interjections and we are plunged deeply into the mystic world of violinistic lament, fast drumstick hatching, and eerie, hiccupped bisbigliandos on the piano.  Somewhere far away another source of harmonics (pre-recorded violin?) resonates, magnifying the illusion of depth.  Surprisingly, just as we expect the formless mass to muddle through with an ease of Escherichia coli, there is a sudden, dramatic climax.  The violin weeps gently, comforted by a friendly trombone.  Joe Maneri’s piano is now reduced to an almost idiophonic role.  Feder Rhodes re-appears, in a knot with the continued percussive frottage and Mat Maneri returns on electric viola.  The production is extraordinarily mellifluous and well-defined.  The fluency of Jamie Saft’s engineering must be applauded. 


Howl in My Head / Motherless Child

Heavy avant-funk piece led by Joe Maneri’s saxophone, acid-leached with turntable scratches, woopy bass and superspeed Jon Rose-like violin squeaks.  All this stockpile of riches is suddenly abducted to serve a songform.  Although Sonja Maneri’s nasal vocal is firmly anchored in jazz tradition, it operates here against the atonal subtexts of prepared piano spurts, booming funk bass, sparse, dampened cymbals and regular hi-hats.  An excellent edition to your library of avant-songs. 


An Angel Passes By

Muted trombone, percussion and Feder Rhodes prepare the ground for the now familiar electric viola’s lowland soundscape, with Gerstein’s trombone usually more agile than the Maneri’s amplified instrument.  Between the two drummers, one is rooted in the tradition of impressionistic mosaics, the other epitomizes neo-harmolodic idiom.  The interspace between them is plastered with the organ and synthetic frizzle.  The whole construction generates an illusion of false indeterminacy.  One of the keyboards even re-creates a mellotron-like chorus.



Short intermezzo populated with an unlikely trio of old male vocal, sampled mellotron and mridangam.  The lisping voice is heavily argumentative and emotes in a tragicomical fashion.


The War Room

This is an organ-based symphony of altered chords and ornaments from the full orchestra of sampled mellotron, rich rhythm section, and distinctly guitar-sounding fuzz violin.  In other words, a bizarre heavy-metal jazz moment for avant-garde ears.  Craig Taborn’s electric piano sounds impulsive and gritty.  Soon enough, the impetus collapses into a mesmerizing inquadratura painted by the trombone, electric violin and skittish drums.  Intentionally or not, the ‘mellotron’ part begins to evoke King Crimson’s LP “Lizard”.  The full ensemble is now anti-melodic and recombined mayhem rules.  Self-styled fuzz violin makes a comeback, but the way Maneri sustains the notes makes you believe that the instrument is plucked and processed, rather than bowed. 



The record turns the full circle now, back to the romantic opening.  Despite the hissing keyboard, this is a romanticizing, tranquil violin soliloquy: temperate and affective, but also multi-form and undecidable.  Electronic sizzles intrude upon the lyrical bliss, but do not durably distract. 




I was charmed by “Pentagon”, but my knowledge of Mat Maneri’s other recordings is spotty at best, and I am aware that many other positions exist.  Should you be aware of anything remotely similar to the chef d’oeuvre described above, Sonic Asymmetry would follow-up with glee.


Mat MANERI: “Accident” (1998)

Mat MANERI: “Pentagon” (2004)


Published in: on August 10, 2008 at 10:00 am  Comments (1)  
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ARANIS: “Aranis II” ******

Recorded 2007


Over the last three decades, Belgian musicians have filled an impressive library of frequently engrossing attempts to decontextualize chamber music from its canonical constraints.  Two generations of composers and classically trained instrumentalists have crafted a cornucopia of par excellence ‘Euro-centric’ recordings covering the whole spectrum of syncretic endeavors.  Those who forged a groundbreaking neoclassic tenebrism have been more likely to gaine international fame (Univers Zéro, Présent, Julverne).  Others opted for a genre-bending fusion of humoristic, jazz and neo-classical elements (X-Legged Sally, Cro-Magnon, DAAU).  Occasionally, Belgian neo-classicism drew on systemic vocabulary of American and British predecessors (Soft Verdict, Maximalist).


Since the 1990s, Belgium has literally flooded the market with Kammermusik for rock audience.  Still, the productions of Joris Vanvickenroye’s septet Aranis have soared above any expectations.  His compositions are tense and dramatic, exuberantly orchestrated for violins, flute, accordion, acoustic guitar, piano and bass.  The harmonically and contrapuntally sophisticated fantasias are cogently structured, alternating fast and slow sections and indulging in urgent shifts in dynamic (sometimes even too urgent). 


Even though some of themes are catchy, the band eschews the simplicity of the groove; either the keys are modulated or the motif is soon juxtaposed with unexpected nuances, ornaments or transitions that often force the hitherto leading instrument to play the proverbial “second fiddle”.


For a drum-less, acoustic band, Aranis exudes an astonishing sensation of power, without ever compromising its stylistic trajectory.  The band has now assumed a prominent rank in the premier league of chamber rock.





The record commences with an intrepid acoustic bass ostinato, platonified by bird-like strings.  We are instantly thrown into an atmosphere of breathless drama.  Frenetic flute, sharp piano chords and hooked bowing on violins are interlocked in premature variations on the still-evolving theme.  All too soon, a trio of juicy bass, lyrical accordion and domesticated piano offers yet another twist in this complex capriccio.  After several seconds in the limelight, the accordion cedes to a reprise of the intro on flutes and a more rhythmic piano.  The accumulation of ornaments brings a rich potpourri of reminiscences.  An energetic staccato, courtesy violins of Linde de Groof and Liesbeth Lambrecht, brings back the memories of Chick Corea’s orchestrations in “the Mad Hatter”.  Then Marjolein Cools follows on her wistful accordion – never too far away from Astor Piazzolla’s Tango Nuevo style.  The violin duo becomes virtuosic, in turn subsumed by piano and flute interventions and by accordion-dominated refrains.  Throughout, the dynamic swells and ebbs, clearly conducted by the bassist.  The septet delivers this complex piece with extraordinary panache.



An introspective violin theme develops slowly through systemic blankets woven by surging strings and a repetitive piano figure.  Jana Arns’ flute glides romantically in search of violin fermatas.  In an aura of classicizing melodiousness, the string legatos conquer the ideal of sonic purity with agile legatos, but the quest is abandoned in the higher register, leaving us with a semi-arid détaché.  The second round belongs to the accordion, mimicked by the flute.  Joris Vanvickenroye on bass and Axelle Kennis on piano conjugate a fluent rhythmic artery.  The intensity of the thematic tail captures the entire ensemble, with the violins dramatizing over and above the holistic tutti. 


Looking Glass

Acoustic bass and acoustic guitar (Steyn Denys) intone a congenial malagueña.  The accordion enriches further the joyful, dancelike tune.  Violins repeat the theme, taking it barely one verse further.  A very fruity piano and effervescent flute invite the entire band to a transition and loudly reprise the motif.  One by one, the instruments fall off the cliff – leaving only the piano to pick up the scattered notes in an offbeat solo, adroitly inlaid by the metronomic bass.  The composer defaults to pizzicato and col legno, which, unexpectedly makes the piece rock.  In a sweep, the violins and flute scoop up short licks con brio, making other chamber rock competitors blush. 



Bass arcato introduces the piano and the flute.  This is not the first time that these instruments are scored in an emphatic, yet consonant interplay.  Eventually, the violins follow, and their ostentatious portatos suit the herringbone structure of these fantasias.  In the second part of the composition, one of the violinists paints a lyrical aquarelle with harmonic easel set up by accordion and a dazzling light cone shed by the arpeggiated piano.  The tonal pilgrimage finally reaches its destination, augmented by the second violin and rustling flute.  


Walk in One’s Sleep

This time the grainy arcato on bass is malevolent, obsessive and ominous.  Repelled, the slices of violin and tangential flute seek their own pathway.  Cools’s accordion is less academic and more streetwise here, keen to shake the bellows.  After a miniclimax, violins take the lead descrescendo until the dynamic craters.  Then like the Pied Piper, the strings will guide the ensemble onto the Olympian summit.  The guitar crowns some quieter passages, and the idyllic flute reveals its bipolar tendencies.  The texture becomes increasingly polyphonic – the violins return, an uncredited oboe (?) makes an appearance next to a flute vibrato, and a very determined left hand strides on the piano. 



A songlike track is introduced by the piano and acoustic guitar, with some brief commentaries from the accordion.  As usual, the band wastes no time to densify the structure – a duo or a solo are instantly followed by a richer, more condensed (yet still legible) orchestration.  On “Moja”, the plaintive swells evoke an old Art Zoyd motif from its classic period.  Tone color patterning operates pairwise – violin and flute to convey drama; guitar and piano to strike an Iberian nuance and accordion substratum laying the veneer of bolero-like accumulation of successive tonal strata.  Although the repetitive tendency does owe its pedigree to Steve Reich, the reiterations never last longer than several seconds.  The turns are too fast and too potent for Aranis to be labeled “minimalist”.



An acoustic bass figure, in harmonic consonance with the accordion and violins takes longer than in the other compositions to develop a recognizable motif.  But what sets this track apart is trumpet, courtesy Bart Maris.  His instrument, sometimes muted, has a warm, intimate, almost fluegelhorn-like surface.  In more misty, subdued moments, Maris’s playing brings back the memories of Butch Morris’s ‘breathing’, nasal style, which the American composer perfected in small formats.  Here, tense, alarmist piano part prepares the ground for another threatening swell in decibels.  Eventually, violins quiet things down. 



A South-Eastern European dance (a gopak? A furiant?) lashes out pizzicato with vertiginous swings and a Bartokian piano.  But Aranis does not dwell on this hugely fertile ground, previously exploited by Iva Bittova, Boris Kovac or Martya Sebestien.  This is the septet at its most “rock”, with the heavy beat on piano and bass that is as sweeping and awe-inspiring as Daniel Denis’s legendary thrusts.  After a strident interlude from the violins and the flute, a different mood appears.  A slow bass walk and, two radical signature changes later, a voluble melody follows on accordion and flute, adorned with putatively Ukrainian stylisms. 



The only piece composed by Peter Verdonck commences with a facetious, burping vibrato on bowed bass, guitar and accordion.  After some vacillating alternance from the violins and accordion, the piano and guitar duo chisels away an unusual intro and unfolds into a jocular dance, swirling like the unforgettable Cro Magnon’s tunes in the 1990s.  Occasionally, the guitar digresses away from the piano and the bass-based ostinato.  With verve, bowed bass instigates a polymetric motif full of hilarious, uplifiting twists and jigs. 



A piano-based theme, followed by strings and a painfully lonesome accordion.  The composition is more stationary, its structure is more fractured and it develops more hesitantly than the other tracks.  In the second half, the guitar makes an attempt to resume the theme, followed by the piano. 



A leisurely-paced morceau for acoustic guitar and eerily familiar violin phrasings of the Nyman-Mertens-Glass heritage.  Although the repetitive component reasserts itself, additional variety is apportioned with violin duels – dirty shreds versus pristine loftiness.  Along with piano, the strings build (unintentional?) Nymanian quotes.  Still, the track never aspires to minimalist unity and towards the end assumes the rocking potency from bass and piano, capturing the effect achieved by Far Corner not so long ago. 






Aranis: “Aranis” (2005)

Aranis: “Aranis II” (2006)

Published in: on August 6, 2008 at 10:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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MALACHY PAPERS: “Malachy Papers with Earl Harvin” ****

Recorded 2004



Some time in the mid-1990s, Kansas City-based saxophone player and horn sculptor Mark Southerland began to collaborate with percussionist extraordinaire Mike Dillon.  They shared taste for jazz and blues classics as well as contemporary groove revivalism.  Fascination with Art Ensemble of Chicago correlated with their predilection for striking costumes, masks and props. 


Several bass players performed and recorded with the band, notably Bill McKemy.  In more recent recordings, they were joined by Johnny Hamil. 


Southerland operates a whole storeroom of unique horns of his own making, generating highly original, idiosyncratic textures.  His Kirk-ian salvos are interspersed with lateral effects from Dillon’s extensive weaponry of idiophones.  Cognizant of half a century of American musical tradition, they lay out dense grids of largely representational and yet path-breaking ceremonials.  It is therefore not surprising that they forged an occasional collaboration with Eugene Chadbourne.


Their output is not easily available and it is unclear if Malachy Papers are currently in existence. 




What’s Wrong with Butt Fungus

A lattice of saxophones, magnetic samples and nonlocal drumming greets visitors with lunatic abandon.  The horns, endowed with heterotropic tone colors, fall into a dance mode before the vitriolic, repressive onslaught resumes.  Blown-out squeal, squawk, blare and peal crowd out other contributors with dogmatic precision.  A resolutely bewildering entrée.


Four Titted Puppet

True to its title, this track opens in a more playful manner.  Dillon’s vibraphone playing has this je ne sais quoi quality, as if lifted from a Jacques Tati movie.  The accents and theme progression are left to the horns, and they do smolder with nerve.  Hamil steps forward with a secular ‘modern jazz’ run on his acoustic bass.  Throughout the CD, Texan Earl Harvin will enrich the rhythmic palette of the band, showcasing a highly intuitive, yet thematic style.  His non-resonant cymbals engage here in an equiprimordial conversation with the vibraphone and tenor saxophone.  Harvin’s sense of space is impressive – his iterable rolls are carefully placed to allow for more pronounced vibraphone projection.  His non-metric accents are so complex that he abdicates the main tempo role, leaving Hamil’s bass to carve comfortable ostinato for Southerland’s fluent sax divagations. 


Brilliant Corners

A connotative take on Thelonious Monk’s immortal magnum opus from December 1956.  Harvin’s drumming appears here a lot tighter than the original, not because Max Roach was not fast and muscular (he was, both ballistic and virile).  Rather, Harvin’s playing is being underwritten by Dillon’s tabla, a very frontal presence once the initial theme has been laid out.  Hamil’s viscous, convex bass lines are to Oscar Pettiford’s walks what a modern treadmill is to rusty bicycle.  Southerland strays from the original, burrowing deeply in mid-size phrases.  The return of the main theme is surprisingly staccato, almost percussive, but Dillon’s tabla work is never excessive and reticulates perfectly.


Gimpy Ho

A downtempo opening with intrametric fill-ins from both Harvin and Dillon (on shakers) It leads to a stop-go dialogue between the two percussionists.  Southerland appears on discordant, plasmatic horn – or rather multistrata of horns.  The rotten, wrenching sound of his ‘bastard’ inventions is softened somewhat by Dillon’s marimba.  But soon the overdrive bass and drums go punk, with the horns frontloading a cavalry charge.  After a short lapse, Dillon does a little Ruth Underwood jig on marimba, but less for a colorful interjection that defined early- to mid-1970s Zappa sound, and more for prosaic beat-keeping.  The final cadence brings back the gnashing horns, muddling through with the illuminative accompaniment from the drums and overdrive bass. 


Solitude of Kim

Light percussion intro on dampened cymbals appears synchronous with left-hand tabla drum which abducts the entire low-end register of the percussive spectrum.  A quasi dub-bass grunts with low velocity and the ensemble is in full swing before Southerland’s horn zooms in.  The poetic theme will hinge on ambidextrous vibraphone, while the saxophone remains initially confined to surges and short repetitions.  With each sequence, its barks are becoming more articulate, cheerleading bolt-on swells.  It is as if the structure of the composition were to unveil the thematic component only gradually, until some final climax.  Throughout this iterative mobilization of sonic resources, the production remains very clear and the instrumental simultaneity easily legible.  The vibraphone returns, perfectly localized by Harvin’s selective, melodious drumming.  If Embryo were a jazz band, then this is probably how they could sound. 


Moon Germs

Joe Farrell’s 1972 classic is brought by sullied, overadjusted notes on vibes, followed by lavish percussive textures – metallic, brassy, scribbled, ombré.  Multi-tracked horns gulp and unleash a fury of pinched, shrill tones.  The vibraphone or glockenspiel cast long-lasting traces, leaving it up to the bass to maintain a thematic order.  But it is Dillon with his mallets who impersonates Hancock’s role on the original.  He sways perfectly between the improvised and scored sequences; his tremolos are purposeful and appropriately measured.  The bass-drums section is loquacious, but self-limiting.  The amazing horns are otherworldly – diverging into an unsightly asylum full of synthesized slates. 


Pagan Residue

This 9-minute composition penned by Hamil begins with a wooden-sounding sul tasto on G-string, setting off an eerie déjà entendu of an African drum call.  Harvin offers a radical re-reading of his skill on skins, initially eschewing any contact with metal.  Elsewhere, tubular bells, shakers, graters and sampled bleeps underscore the progression, distracting us from Southerland’s plaintive blowing.  When the bass engraves a pounding ostinato, the theme finally originates from the horns – like an industrial siren carried by the plodding, percussive engine.  Dillon extracts from his vibraphone muted reverb, almost swamped by the horn’s aggressive phrases.  Against the increasingly expansive, invasive drumming, the horn blowout calls for a final clean-up and the assembly line takes a breather.   Harvin’s drumsticks get more selective, and Hamil’s bass slumps into a monologue.  An electronically processed reed tone ends up skidding, rescued only by a clash with the percussive arsenal. 


Uncredited track

An unexpected ‘bonus’ offers a spectacle of environmental sounds, footsteps, and random clanging.  Nothing musical and even little non-musical material surfaces for about a minute.  Finally, a ‘lost in translation’ reed and vibraphone theme, interwoven by a delicate cymbal work reiterate a self-looping phrase.  The despairing bass is bowed and the melodic component seems to be based on a familiar theme, but I can’t recall what it is.  Context dependence?




The availability of Malachy Papers’ recordings is poor and I am yet to hear several of these:


MALACHY PAPERS: “Bone and Horn” (1998)

MALACHY PAPERS: “Adult xxx” (1999)

MALACHY PAPERS: “Demons” (2000)

MALACHY PAPERS: “Burning Parasols” (2001)

MALACHY PAPERS: “Blackbelly” (2002)

Eugene CHADBOURNE with MALACHY PAPERS: “And the Wind Cries Malachy” (2002)

MALACHY PAPERS: “Malachy Papers with Earl Harvin” (2004)


Mike Dillon has appeared in many other bands, notably Frog Brigade and Critters Buggin, but I have not heard any of them.


The band’s name is apparently a direct tribute to the bassist from Art Ensemble of Chicago.  Needless to add, Malachy Papers’ output should not be confounded with Malachi Favors Maghostus’ recordings.  Nor has the band anything to do with the acid raga folk act Malachi, which left one recording in 1966.

Alexander TUCKER: “Old Fog” ****

Recorded 2003-04


In another era, Alexander Tucker’s productions would have been thrown into the “singer-songwriter” category.  Luckily, he belongs to those who make such taxonomies obsolete and the associated glossary distinctively old-fashioned.  Tucker does play “songs”, but purposefully strays from the well-trodden structures onto divergent pathways of ruminative improvisation or libidinal freak-out.


Still, his writing can be elegant and memorable.  He excels in bucolic ballads delivered on string instruments (mostly guitar and banjo) subjected to idiosyncratic de-tunings and re-tunings. 


Tucker has been rubbing shoulders with some of the alternative music greats on both sides of the Atlantic – Jackie O’Motherfucker, Sunno)) and Guapo.  We will certainly hear more from him in future.




Hag Stones

The strophic song opens with two dancing guitars endowed with unconventional tunings.  They trace a self-replicating figure in major scale with bells nurturing the determined, ballabile beat.  Within this pendular structure, chords reiterate until a plaintive voice intones the tearful complaint “where are my friends and where do they live?”  A countertenor (rather than falsetto) lulls us deceptively in its tacit despair: “early to rise and early to fall”, we hear.  The humble (and hummable) tune invites the body and soul to sway with it.  Finally Tucker picks up his banjo and awakens us up from this intoxicating slumber by improvising respectfully within the meter. 


Old Fog

A ringing guitar picking is reminiscent of Only a Mother’s folksy side.  The banjo and guitar tunings convert these instruments into strident, shackled, strung up torques – something Steven Stapleton attempted many moons ago.  Here, the vocal placement forces the strings to slide along the scales after each stanza, before Tucker returns to the Anglo-Irish picking style.  An unstable harmonic stasis is conjured up by a melodica, organ or some other reed instrument capable of sustaining lengthy notes.  Tucker allows his electric guitar to reverberate, while pick-scraping the acoustic instrument.  The former lifts off into outer space, thus disambiguating the decision to name the record after this increasingly schizophrenic track.  And yet, the OAM-style picking soon returns to remind us that this is a “song”.  Joel Lewis guests here on vocal.


The Patron Saint of Troubled Men

A meeting between a banjo and a zither, bowed for color (synaesthesia would dictate Aspen gold).  The multi-vocal wailing nearly brings back the memories of Abbey Roadian harmonics circa 1967. 


Phantom Rings

Bowed string notes usher a drifting, analgesic guitar of “More” heritage.  The strings produce a high-pitched drone for the laminated, flabby electric guitar solo.  Then the droning swell becomes oppressive and tails off before acoustic guitar picking returns to its minimal setting.  Sobering harmonic visits from an accordion turn the instrumental exchange into a playful and well correlated exposé.  The falsetto soars and wanes in its subdued, cryptic, veiled manner.  No wonder that Tucker has been compared to Six Organs of Admittance. 


Alhadeff Music

In this abstract interlude, a pre-school acoustic piano co-operates with the ever nostalgic African thumb piano, bowed zither, melodica (or is it harmonium?), drums and cymbals.  Initially the vectors are divergent and occasional confluence seems rather unintended.  The playing is obviously multi-tracked, but lax and unshowy.  Tucker does not go as far as to use lapses of silence.  Instead, he appears interested in the accumulation of timbres and free-form search for functionality.  The piece remains essentially directionless, except in the accordion parts. 


Of Late

Another guitar and banjo hymn to early sunrise optimism.  The autotrophic step-ups are regular and homely.  Then the solo guitar picking takes over, devising more figurative vistas.  Tucker controls the instrument’s resonance perfectly and juxtaposes it (again) with detuned scraping on the second guitar.  His faint voice always appears slower than the guitar-measured tempo, but he never fails to fall into the bar.  There is a seductive parallelism in this treatment. 


Welsh Harp

Stealing toys from Pascal Comelade’s playroom, Tucker shows off here a small xylophone and a tired mechanical clock.  The idiophonic tremolo invites guitar and banjo for a plurality of strokes, grazes and accents.  Melodically it never goes anywhere.


Hand of Reign

This longer composition embodies the more experimental (and electric) rock side of Tucker’s.  It relies largely on a guitar drone and crested waves from a detuned acoustic guitar, evoking Bardo Pond’s most demented moments.  The droney overburden intensifies inexorably, carrying an echoed, psychotic vocalize and a feedback engine.  Then the drone coughs, leaving out vacuum spaces like a Cantor Set.  It allows for the acoustic guitar to tread to the fore, with the electronic whir now transformed into discretely distributed articulation.  With the rate of oscillation changing, the auditory illusion places the vocal in the center of attention, along with the drummer and his poetically muted metals (Paul May).  This excellent specimen of wordless psychodrama ebbs away slowly, but predictably.


Sung into Your Brightning Skull

After that impressive climax, it is not surprising that we are back in the good ole’ banjo territory all over again.  The track offers a gestaltic closure, scooping formulas from the first “Hag Stones”, heard 46 minutes before.  The song recapitulates the mood from the entire record – ethereal and tranquil, yet enigmatic and spellbinding. 





All of Tucker’s records are recommended, but I have not (yet) heard the most recent position.  “Old Fog” remains my personal favorite.


Alexander TUCKER: “Alexander Tucker” (2000)

Alexander TUCKER: “Old Fog” (2003-04)

Alexander TUCKER: “Furrowed Brow” (2006)

Alexander TUCKER: “Portal” (2008)

Published in: on July 23, 2008 at 8:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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