Friday, July 28, 2006


Spent the last few days in the company of two fine recs from last week's Cold 100, Axolotl's Way Blank and Monotract's Xprmntl Lvrs (I hope that's pronounced "Experimental Livers," or at least "Experimental Lavers"), and I've been wavering on which to write about...Way Blank is a fantastic set of super-busy drones and noise-scapes from a guy who's been cranking out nothing but hits lately, and it'll probably cut deeper into my skin in the long run, but for now Xprmntl Lvrs has found shelter in a greater amount of my pores.

I'm curious to hear reactions to the semi-rock and sometimes even fully-structured stuff on here - I'm guessing that anyone seeking 100% noise will call foul (someone already has, but since he/she is clearly unfamiliar w/the band and his/her writing reads like an interoffice memo, that doesn't come close to counting). I'm not exactly a Monotract expert - seen 'em twice and only own Live in Japan and Red Tape 1999, having missed out on the potentially more essential Pagu and Blaggout. But at my second viewing (in DC during Noise Against Fascism) they were pretty rock-damaged, with Carlos on lots of guitar, Nancy on a bunch of bass, and Roger on quite a bit of drums. Which makes Xprmntl Lvrs no shock, despite the band's noisier past and Carlos' more abstract solo leanings - besides, these three seem to rarely do anything twice, so "expectation" is kind of a meaningless term w/them, unless we're talking strictly quality and not style.

If we are, then expect away, cause Xprmntl Lvrs can take it. Split about equally between clanking, fractured rock and drilling sound experiments, it's basically devoid of clunkers. What's more, Monotract actually commit to rock swagger when they travel into that territory, rather than pulling back or half-assing around a groove, yet somehow even the "catchiest" (cough) stuff fits like a bone into the sockets of the more abrasive numbers. Basically, Monotract are confident enough in their inherently noisy nature not to be scared that a beat or riff is gonna smooth things over - and they're right.

So, as tempting as it is to split the album up into "rock" and "non-rock", it'd be inaccurate - everything here does both, just to different degress. The first couple tracks, "These Are Hard Days I Can't Forget" and "Projectus" are slanted trash-can stomps that veer closest to Sightings ca. Arrived In Gold, and from there things get murkier: "Paper Bag" buries Nancy's rants under grinding distortion and video-game beeps, "Halloween" is a symphony of hard-cut electronic drilling not far from Carlos's aggressive oscillations on Welcome Home, and "Bushwick Blues" uses lapping drums and proto-SY guitar chiming to sound like a rock band shoved into a blender.

The only track that actually divides the rock and noise is "Meurte Y Detruccion" (linked below), and paradoxically it's the best. The first half's hypnotic electro pulse and ghostly vocals conjure an imported Excepter, while the second half produces a 3D tunnel in which the varying depth and distances of tactile distortions becomes a fascinating game of aural chess. It's another unique concoction from a group who doubtless has scores more in them - let's hope Ecstatic Peace signed them to at least a double-digit deal...

MONOTRACT - "Meurte Y Detruccion" from Xprmntl Lvrs

Monday, July 24, 2006


Been listening to a lot of Angus MacLise lately in anticipation of the Bastet release of Ira Cohen's film The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda, whose soundtrack is a divine racket by Maclise's Joyous Lake group. The DVD showed up this week, so seems like a good time for an all-MacLise edition of Retro Noise Monthly.

MacLise's history has been told a ton (a great example is here), so no need to for the DVD, it's a totally esssential package, with a beautiful transfer of Cohen's pre-Cremaster, Anger-minus-Satanism proto-psych kaleidoscope (an excerpt is viewable here), plus outtakes, miscellany, and Cohen commentary. The visuals are stunning but almost get blurred by MacLise's skull-busting soundtrack, heavy with multiphonic percussion and the scratchy drones of Tony Conrad and Henry Flynt. I'll pass for now on the "alternate" soundtracks by Sunburned Hand of the Man and Acid Mothers Temple - they're probably fine, but subtracting MacLise's sounds from the pictures is just too unseemly, even if Cohen did approve the idea.

There have been a decent amount of MacLise boots and ltd-ed releases in the past decade, but only four widely available CDs, all of which are must-haves. They're too wide-ranging to assess on an analytic level here (especially since none of them are truly "albums" in the authorial sense, as Angus was dead long before they were compiled). So instead I'm offering a quick rundown. (And since I've spent the weekend alternately listening to these and watching a ESPNClassic marathon of the 2005 WSOP, each release gets a rating of two pocket cards - you decide which ones to put the most chips on...)

Two things always strike me when I listen to MacLise. First, it's easy to quicky peg his stuff as hippy-jam/drum-circle improv, and I admit that some of it actually deserves that tag, but there's so much more happening, even in his hand-drum-based stuff. The guy was clearly obsessed with texture, detail, and sound-as-sound, and anything he used to get there was just a means, not an end.

Second, MacLise's stuff is so uncannily prescient, and sounds like so much that's happened since, it's hard to believe it didn't influence all things considered noise, drone, or improvisational, despite the fact that almost no one heard his stuff before 1999. Thus I like to think of MacLise's work as the subconscious of modern noise - as if it's always been running in the nether brain-regions of every noisemaker since, whether or not they know it.

Keep going for a rough MacLise consumer guide...

The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda (Quakebasket/Siltbreeze, 1999)
The first fruit of Tim Barnes' fortuitous friendship with Ira Cohen was this stellar disc - 40 minutes of the Invasion soundtrack (a live version recorded at a St. Mark's screening, with a different group than appears on the DVD soundtrack), a wondrous cloud of cycling drone and overlapping-typewriter beats. The other stuff is pretty right too: a one-minute shortwave radio collage, a five-minute chunk of flute-drum din from the "Universal Mutant Repertory Company," and the legendary, beautifully overmodulated "Blastitude" featuring some absolutely terrifying machine-gun percussion and spine-shaking shrieks. Only clunker is the chimey "Humming in the Night Skull," which is oddly saccharine. Still, a masterful package (with nifty Cohen liner notes) worth a rating of: Ace-King suited in Diamonds.

Brain Damage in Oklahoma City (Quakebasket/Siltbreeze, 2000)
Another Barnes/Cohen special, this time w/help and notes from Tony Conrad. Immediately announces its aggressive glory with "Another Druid's Nest," a 41-second screech-a-thon from the mouth of Angus's "maximum cembalum." The centerpiece is two segments of the "Dreamweapon Benefit," a 1968 Cinemathique recording of a seance-worthy wheeze-fest from Angus, wife Hetty, Conrad, Flynt, and Jackson MacLow. The glory of that hailstorm (whose detonating peak sounds like No Neck if they were the first band on PSF) might make the rest of Brain Damage seem like addenda, but they're not: a hand-breaking six-minute drum solo and a concrete tape-cut "Loft Collage" are just the high points of the rest of an unerring collection. Rating: Pocket Queens.

The Cloud Doctrine (Sub Rosa, 2002)
The only release of the four not masterminded by Tim Barnes, and, oddly, the one that's most "archival" in nature - there's not really any theme here, but lots of items of extreme historical interest. The biggest being four tracks from a kind of pre-Velvet Underground lineup of MacLise, Conrad, and John Cale. Those pieces are definitely all stunners, especially the uber-hypnotic "Trance #2," which could basically be the blueprint for every interesting drone/percussion piece ever made. Lots of other archival juice here: Maclise's near-folky score to Ron Rice's film Chumlum, a bunch of electronics pieces including the stunning 3-part "Tunnel Music," a couple poetry readings, and a way-ahead "Tambura Drone" which sounds like Pelt must've sampled it at some point. The variety here is pretty stunning and the packaging detail is miles-thick, so The Cloud Doctrine is clearly essential - but it's the only release of these four that really feels like an odds'n'ends collection, never quite hitting the across-the-board groove of the others. More a credit to Tim Barnes than a knock against Sub Rosa, but either way it knocks this down slightly to a rating of: King-Queen of Hearts.

Astral Collapse (Quakebasket/Locust Media, 2003)
Easily the farthest out MacLise release of the four here, and probably the best. We hear Angus explaining the global inspirations behind his tape manipulation process at the beginning, and from there Astral Collapse is pure sonic exploration and fiery idea mayhem. "Beelzebub" is a haunting stretch of bongos and prepared tape that sounds like Hell's zoo; "Cloud Watching" is an Angus-Hetty duo of distortion and drone that could fit snugly on a Handful of Dust album; and best of all is "Dracula" (linked below), a whining bit of pure noise that 3 decades of similar experiements hasn't nearly dampened. Anyone who likes most/all of what this blog covers should go directly to Astral Collapse with their first Angus-intended dollars. Rating: Pocket Aces.

Angus Maclise - "Dracula" from Astral Collapse

Saturday, July 15, 2006


In the last few years Phil Blankenship's devotion to extreme noise has been kinda staggering. His Troniks and PacRec labels have scored numerous direct lobe-hits (my fave is John Wiese's Teenage Hallucination), the most massive being the California Noise 20-band/10-LP box. The Cherry Point, Blankenship's alter noise ego, has been just as hectic, ripping out CDs, LPs, splits, and collabs with Wiese, Yellow Swans, Howard Stelzer, etc. Lots of those have been genuine factory-made releases, the kind that take money and planning and actual hassle. As much as I love CD-R's, the underground would be wormfood a bit incomplete (thanks to anonymous #1 for the re-think...) if not for labels that see noise as worthy of pressing plants and shrink-wrap machines. So Mr. B's a hero on a lot of fronts.

Unfortunately, this kind of high activity-level inevitably evokes the simplistic "it can't all be good" dig (just ask Keiji Haino, Anthony Braxton, or William Shakespeare). And I really don't know, because I haven't heard it all, but I'd happily bet that everything Blankenship-related object has something worthwhile in its festering core, because what I have heard is really fucking "good."

Two discs this year have particularly bent my femurs - first, Night of the Bloody Tapes, a compilation of tape stuff meant to conjure the demons embedded in gore-outs like Mardi Gras Massacre and Shriek of the Mutilated. A noble pursuit for sure, and Blankenship succeeds by pouring aural blood in your ears until all you can hear is your insides, as if your guts were a conch shell stiched to the side of your head. All four untitled tracks here may invite and even justify knee-jerk complaints, i.e. I could sit next to a jack hammer and get the same experience. Well of course you could, and a lot of us would if there were jack hammers everywhere - since there aren't, monsyllabic noise like Night of the Bloody Tapes needs to be kept around just in case.

If that doesn't knot your cochlea, The Cherry Point does other stuff too, which is why the new Black Witchery is my favorite slab so far. Three tracks culled from 3-inch CDs, each about 20 minutes long. Not exactly a departure from Bloody Tapes - it's still monolithic noise meant strictly for ear-assault - but there's a dark hypnotism here that produces suprisingly varied experiences over multiple listens. "Virgin Witch" is a warmup, as crackling static and rumbling echoes slowly curdle into a sprint. "Devil's Witch" starts with a rare single sound and builds a contoured map of trebly noise and windy atmosphere. But the real bell-ringer is "Season Of The Witch" (excerpt below), a kind of royal noise sampler, with nearly every kind of destructive sound - abrasive blasts, repetitive blips, cracked electronics, distant bombs, howling echoes, etc - deployed.

I also wouldn't cry if you snatched Limbs of the Fawn, a lovingly black-packaged Misanthropic Agenda CD from the Blankenship-Wiese duo LHD. Not exactly sure what distinguishes LHD from the Blankenship-Wiese duo of White Gold, but that's not important - what does matter is the 36-minute brain tumor here filled with crunchy treble and ear-pinning static. It's basically an extended version of an aural car wreck, but stretches of overtoned yell and ghostly shriek make it worth at least one sitting, if you can take it.

Years of school and/or being wrangled by editors has planted this voice in my head that sez I gotta give you a consumer guide, tell you if you'll "like" the records I talk about, if they're "better or worse" than others. I'm gonna keep resisting that demon though - the truth is that records like the Cherry Point's are so occupying that their relation to others is immaterial. When they're on, I don't think about other records or measuring sticks or modes of perception - I just think about how much noise there is. That's all anyone with grey matter should want/need to know.

THE CHERRY POINT - "Season of the Witch" (excerpt) from Black Witchery

Sunday, July 09, 2006


I doubt anyone reading this needs an intro to British idea-blender Dylan Nyoukis - suffice to say he was in the great 90's noise/sound (and brother/sister - click here and scroll down for more on that, uh, situation) duo Prick Decay (later Decaer Pinga), is currently part of Blood Stereo and Ceylon Mange, has fired neurons at like-brained skull-screwers like Carlos Giffoni, Alvarius B, T. Moore, etc., and continues to run the formidable, now 150-title strong Chocolate Monk label. The later is an imprint that I've worshipped for a while, and a glance at the entire discog is still kinda stunning - so many mind-bending releases in there (for those counting, my vote for best would be either Trumans Water's Couch of the Spastics or Richard Youngs' Motorway.) There's a new batch of great C.M. stuff out now, and three of them are Nyoukis-oriented: a 3-track solo dispatch, and two one-track live missives from the aforementioned Blood Stereo (his duo with Karen Constance).

The solo CD, Owl Tapes, is the most aggressive of the three. Using reel to reel tapes, scillator, and piles of his own distended voice, Nyoukis slices together a pretty convincing seminar on how to send poisoned darts of air from the speakers into any/all attending ear drums. The first piece, "Live at the Engine Room, Brighton, March 4th, 2006," is the most map-filling, with Nyoukis' gulps, gasps, cries, and myriad breath-dissections shooting around the stereo space like needles in search of veins. (Weirdly, one of the tracks on the new Alan Sparhawk solo CD is called "How the Engine Room Sounds," and it's a pretty great string-ironing counterpart to Nyoukis' heavy breathing.) A shorter middle track, "Interlude" (linked below), sounds mellow compared to what it's sandwiched between, but in terms of brain activity and idea displacement, it's just as harried. Owl Tapes ends with "Live Piece for Voice, Reel to Reels, and Oscillator," a super-piercing bit of treble extremity that, if pressed, I'd say sounds vaguely like a brain being fried in a pan (and not because of drugs), but Nyoukis' own description ("like if Terry Riley had down syndrome when he hooked up his time-lag accumulator") is far more accurate.

The two Blood Stereo discs are a bit different, both from Owl Tapes and each other. Both are thicker mix-wise than the former, and rely less on voice, or at least anything you can recognize as voice. For Heavy Lung, a 35-minute live recording from April 2005, is actually a five-piece performance with Julian Bradley, Neil Campbell, and Sticky Foster, and it's as solid and turbulent as those names would lead one to expect, filled with cycling noises, rising tones, some darkened sections of harrowing howl, and even a strangulated beat here and there.

An excellent disc to be sure, but I prefer The Little Creeper, an hour-long Karen/Dylan session recorded live on resonance-fm this past February. Now, I can get happily lost in the least varied, most monotonous long-form noise, but every so often it's nice to hear a lengthy piece that actually visits a range of ear-locales, and The Little Creeper is the best example I've heard in a long time. Constantly engaging, and almost OCD in its search for new sounds, it runs a pretty slick roller coaster from meditative drone to looped rhythm to random samples to vocal exhumations, all inextricably connected and mystically-timed, as if these two have some secret key to the sweet spot at which to stop hammering a sound and transform it into something new. I've been combing this all week for the best excerpt to post, and it's impossible to pick - like a great movie, each psycho-acoustic scene here begets the next so well that changing the channel is like slicing a hole in the ozone. But check out the excerpt below anyway, and then paypal some pounds to Sir Nyoukis for the whole thing ASAP...

DYLAN NYOUKIS - "Interlude" from Owl Tapes
BLOOD STEREO - excerpt from The Little Creeper
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