Saturday, September 30, 2006


Recently got two discs in the mail from the cave-dwellers at Seattle's Debacle Records, and have to admit that my first-look, knee-jerk expectations were not super high. The bands in question bore the rather bland names Red Squirrel and Physical Demon, and while the latter's offering had a pretty cool title (Anklyosaur Generator) and nicely diseased cover art, the former's entry quickly threw up red flags. With a title like Magic Acorn, a cover torn from a illustrated kid's version of the Canterbury Tales, and semi-cutesy song titles like "Animals Having a Picnic," "Mouse Hoe Down,"and "I Pet A Llama"...well, I think you can excuse me for not expecting a masterpiece. I didn't necessarily think it would be bad, though, and on that count I was right - but it's still a lot better than I ever could've guessed.

I'm at a bit of a loss with Red Squirrel (which turns out to be the solo transmissions of Seattleite Jason Young) in terms of how exactly to describe the transfixing, suprisingly rangy sound going on. So I'll just fall back on comparisons: I hear the winding, scraping improv of A Handful of Dust on "Animals Having a Picnic" (linked below) and "Forest Gathering," the closeted, sun-seeking rumbles of Angus MacLise and NNCK on "If The Ocean Was Made of Wood Not Water" and "It's A Fever" (available on the label myspace page), and especially the grimy drones of Jazzfinger on "Infidels Taste Sour" and others -- plus hints of Mouthus, Black Dice, Labradford, Richard Youngs, etc. In other words, not bad at all.

But I mostly hear a guy who knows how to be patient with a sound, knows when it's time to move on, and most importantly, knows how to turn just a few sounds - a windy drone, a muffled beat, a chopping sample, a cycling phase - into a whole lot more than just a few sounds. Right now that's my favorite thing about Magic Acorn (which turns out to be actually a pretty good title after all): most of the time you can divide out the individual sounds being used on every track pretty quickly, but you still can't figure how they form one geometrically larger, aurally cloudier nucleus that far exceeds the aggregate size of its individual atoms.

Since this is a first-timer from an unknown (to me), I'm digging around for some kinda major flaw, but nothing's turning up. There is a somewhat overdone nature theme that gets too literal at times - "Animals On Swings" actually sounds like a bunch of animals, perhaps even on swings - and a few tunes try the same move twice, but shit, it usually works twice. Otherwise, there's no nits to pick here - just lots of thick, well-cooked sound that's worth knifing your way through more than a few times.

RED SQUIRREL - "Animals Having a Picnic" from Magic Acorn

Sunday, September 24, 2006


RAFAEL TORAL - Chasing Sonic Booms (Ecstatic Peace, 1997)
I'm suprised Rafael Toral's name isn't currently more prominent in...well, in any musical circles, but especially noise and improv. I still hear about him from time to time, and he's clearly still pretty active, but I don't know, it just feels like he should be talked about more. Part of it might be that he tends to get lumped in with the Branca/Chatham school of symphonic/classical dissonance, or even the Eno/Kranky wing of ambient drift, and while he can certainly hold his own with those camps, his stuff is way more diverse than that, and often pretty annhilatingly noisy. This collection of mid-90's collabs and live stuff is perhaps the best example - all kinds of far-out, sky-seeking sounds on this one, from the spacey insanity of "Sky Rocket" (with Jane Henry on tearing violin), to the air-piercing screech of the radio performance "X-1," which would easily fit on, say, a Chondritic Sound release, to the fuzzy, detonating rip of "Super Sabre" (linked below), taken from one of Toral's first solo live gigs. I think he's a perfect candidate for inclusion in a future No Fun Fest - Carlos has done a heroic job of incorporating the old guard into that amazing festival, and like Smegma, Borbetomagus, To Live and Shave in L.A., etc, Toral is an essential noisemaker who needs to be heard by anyone who hasn't.

HAPPY FLOWERS - Flowers on 45: The Homestead Singles (Homestead, 1992)
In retrospect I realize that Happy Flowers, the Charlottesville duo of Mr. Anus and Mr. Horribly Charred Infant, were just a one-joke punk band, their incompetent hardcore rants from the perspective of a brain-damaged child falling somwhere between Pussy Galore's primitivism, Half Jap's naivete, the goofy stupidity of Black Flag's "TV Party," the juvenility of their desendents Old Skull, and, uh, the commercial appeal of the Garbage Pail Kids? I mean, I even knew it at the time, but in 1990-91-ish, I hadn't heard a ton of noise yet, especially not any that was punk/rock-based, so Happy Flowers' blatantly anti-audience extremity and weird devotion to one dumb, abrasive joke was actually somewhat of a mind-opener. I can't be the only one for whom their drooling, fuck-off fuzz was one of many gateways into All Things Noise. I don't find myself returning to them much - the joke just gets too painful too quick - but if I do, Flowers on 45, a collection of 4 or so singles, live stuff, oddities, etc, is the one I hit. A bunch of it is just retarded punk, but then a lot of it also has some pretty interesting thick guitar noise under the flat ranting, and the cover versions are all priceless. I kinda wish Happy Flowers had done an all-covers record, as their doofus humor and head-beating simplicity works better when applied to something already known, kinda the same way that Shockabilly's sometimes too-clever avant-garde absurdity seemed to get extra juice when the band applied it to rock classics. Such is true of the Echo and the Bunnymen travesty linked below, which has almost nothing to do with the original, but somehow spurs the Mr.'s into uniquely twisted noise that still clicks my brain-cells 15 years later.

BILL ORCUTT - "Solo CD" (Untitled) (Audible Hiss, 1996)
In the last few years, Harry Pussy has been touted a lot as a source for the recent wave of noise, and I can't really argue. I don't think there's any band out there right now that really sounds like them, except perhaps Sightings from time to time, but I can't imagine that anyone who's heard them hasn't been at least a little influenced - their jolting brand of virally unique power is pretty unavoidable. I still remember getting the first HP 7" in the mail and thinking it was a joke based on the name and the goofy woman-holding-a-frog pic on the cover, and then having my skull ring for days after hearing it. On record and especially live, Adris Hoyos' manic drumming and wired screams were focal points, but Bill Orcutt's slicing guitar to me was even more insanely jaw-dropping - a totally unique blare that makes his one solo album as much of a keeper as any HP rec. Just so much crashing, skin-tearing noise on here, and the cool thing is that it's not just all full-speed - there are even some passages of airy, free-improv like slow-clatter, yet it still all has Orcutt's patented urgently crazy feel. Overall, a numbingly accomplished classic which still incurs immediate spine-shiver...I'm not sure what Bill's up to nowadays (last I heard he was in California, I think?), but I'm still holding out hope for a sequel...

RAFAEL TORAL - "Super Sabre" from Chasing Sonic Booms
HAPPY FLOWERS - "Bring on the Dancing Horses" from Flowers on 45
BILL ORCUTT - "Live 71" from "Solo CD" (Untitled)

Sunday, September 17, 2006


This week we are excited to welcome our first-ever guest contributor to Noiseweek. He prefers not to reveal his name, but we can say he is a former tennis pro from a West African country whose biggest career highlight was defeating #4 seed Guillermo Vilas at the Wimbeldon Chamionships in the early 1980's en route to a 4th round showing. We asked him to give us his impressions of the mysterious Noise musician and former junior Tennis prospect Dyer Lowry.

I first met Dyer Lowry at an ATP tour stop in Indianapolis in the summer of 1985. I had been asked to make a 30-minute apperaance at the "clock-your-serve" booth on the tournament grounds, and was just about to depart for my locker when a thin young teenager stepped up to hit a few balls. His speed was nothing special - somewhere in the 80-mph range - but his perfectly repeated motion was mesmerizing. I had never seen such precise accuracy in a physical motion - I could almost make out small squiggly lines between each serve, as if a video tape was being rewound and played repeatedly. The effect was so mesmerizing that I temporarily forgot that I had to play Pat Cash in just an hour.

I approached the young man and inquired as to his tennis experience. He claimed to have had moderate succes in regional junior tournaments, but that his interest in the game had waned - he only found pleasure in the repetitive motions, not the results that followed. To him the pendulum-swing of the ball, its rhythmic bounce and swooping arc, held hallucinatory powers - the longer the rally, the more he could see the fuzz on the ball loosen, the marks on the court gel into patterns, the imaginary lines of each shot intertwine and tangle. Eventually I tired of his philosophizing and departed for my match (a straight set defeat with only two breaks of serve), but I sensed I wouldn't soon forget him.

Over the ensuing decades I have received sporadic communications from Dyer. The only concrete information I have gleaned is that he gave up tennis and has become seduced by the world of underground Noise. Ironically, this information would likely have eluded me had I not coincidentally become a Noise afficionado in the intervening years. My taste tends toward the 90's absurdist noise of the Japanese and American undergrounds as championed by the likes of Bananafish magazine, but I have also labored to keep up with European electronic noise, which it sounds like Dyer is immersed in based on his murky descriptions of his continuing pursuits.

My suspicions were recently confirmed via a 5-song Dyer CD-r entitled Earth Coat Dirge, released through 'this_label.' There are certainly European influences in the warm drones and pulsing noises of Dyer's thoughtful music - I now finally understand what he meant when he wrote that he was "eating Fennesz" - but I'm struck by how well Dyer has reprocessed his influences, to the point where his echoing dissonances, reddened pulsations, and stair-climbing drama all feel less and less like homages to Pita, Oval, and This Heat, and more and more like mossy branches sprouting from the trees that grew from those fine artists' seeds. On "Full Wood (Cool Earth)" he massages a simple drone into a fuzzy storm of bristling howl, while the decaying "Number Five" transforms a cycling organ into a kind of 3-D kaleidoscope of sound. My favorite track, "An Answer" (linked below - ed.) is perhaps Dyer's greatest and simplest triumph: a rippling bit of noise nurtured until it flowers into the kind of towering weapon his serve could certainly have been, had he given it the same kind of devoted attention.

But there's nothing to be gained by contemplating those untraveled roads, especially when I am so warmed by what Dyer has become. I still don't know where he is or if there's more of this hypnotic music in him, but I do know that Earth Coat Dirge has already been granted a permanent place on my mantle next to my 1979 Junior US Open medallion.

DYER LOWRY - "An Answer" from Earth Coat Dirge

Sunday, September 10, 2006


One of the things I love about noise is that even though the best is often made with non-traditional sounds, instruments, and processes, great noise can also be coaxed out of standard implements like guitar riffs and drum beats. Just ask Bardo Pond, Marble Sheep, Sonic Youth, Sun City Girls, Pussy Galore/Royal Trux, the Dead C., etc etc etc - pile up some chords until they blur into noise, or break them in half so oozing feedback pours out; stumble through some lopsided rhtyhms or puncture the air with epileptic beats; rip your lungs into the red or drool into the mic until it shorts, and you can make stuff that still kinda sounds like rock into really fucking great noise.

The Clear Spots know this as well as their forefathers listed above, and their three albums so far are all nice examples of how rock's better when it's busted, bloody, and spilling. The band is Kevin Moist (who used to do the great Deep Water zine and now has tons of good stuff going on at his Deep Water Acres webzine/label) along with a bunch of guys with the last name Bugaj, and they make hypnotic 4-track concoctions at a farmhouse in PA, rolling blurred-edge riffs and shambling drums into a warm knife that never fails to pass smoothly through the butter of my cerebral cortex.

Electricity for All is the band's most sprawling set yet, two CD-R's of engaging shuffles down the mossy lanes of aural imprecision. I'm particularly enamored of the lumbering drift of "Fun With Your New Head, Part 2," the quick feedback snack "The Man From the Atom," the overlapping stew of one-off riffs and fuzzy noodlings on "Darkness Dawn," and the bumbling gropes and half-ideas on "Chain Drive," which like a lot of the tracks above sounds like a prime outtake (e.g. "Melody Laughter" or "Booker T") from an early VU session.

Be warned that if you're a pure noisenik, you might not love the Clear Spots. More than a few of their improv adventures come across as space rock, psych, and even wanky prog, and even their farthest out stuff derives its nutrition from rock's basic food groups. But I'll happily defend all their stuff - even the lightest is full of interesting sounds and textures, and besides, fuck noise purity anyway. There's lots of epiphanies, catastrophes, and lobotomies to be found in every type of sound, and the Clear Spots have a place in that sprawling, sun-staring canon.

THE CLEAR SPOTS - "Chain Drive" from Electricity for All

Sunday, September 03, 2006


Noiseweek HQ is being physically reassigned, so gotta be quick this time...A few weeks back I busted on a Monotract review seen on the Belgian Mangenerated noiseblog, and to his eternal credit, the author (I think his name is Wim?) not only took it super well, but sent me some of his own noise, and shit - it's really fucking good. From what I can tell both the CD-R's he sent are by Wim all alone - one under his current moniker, Portable Noise Kremator, and another of stuff he made in 1996, so that's what he's calling it. Both are fiery displays of abrasive distortion and damaged electronic overload that teem with overflowing thought and effort.

The PNK disc is called Three-Headed Sickbed, and consists of five thorough tracks of eerie, reverberant growl. Lack of time and the fact that you can listen to samples of all five tracks at the Mangenerated site makes detailed description both unfeasible and unnecessary, but I will say that I really dig how PNK's core sound is so familiarly elusive - at times it sounds like stellar guitar noise, say Sonic Death-style feedback mixed with the majestic howl of Rudolph Grey, other times it sounds like partially-electronic industrial clatter in the vaunted vein of Non, PBK, or even Hive Mind. All those comparisons are just starting points though - Three-Headed Sickbed is ultimately more than a sum of its precedents.

1996 isn't wildly different than PNK - the tracks are shorter, and there's more reliance on samples, loops and rhythms, but overall the effect is the same: idea-heavy, interest-capturing noise filled with detailed, granular sound. Wim cites Reich, Crass, and Smell & Quim as influences on this one, and I can see them all, especially Reich - some of these tracks sound like dark-basement interpolations of his best phase loops. Sometimes the repetitions outlive their inspiration, and a few of the over-beat drum machine things are slightly monotonous, but shit, this was made 10 years ago - the fact that any of it, much less so much of it, holds up this well is kinda miraculous. My favorite pieces are the most noised-out ones, like the clamourous collection of skull drilling linked below, but there's more than enough hot drool spilling here to make it your duty to become one of the planet's 40 lucky owners of 1996. Go forth.

1996 - (track five) from 1996
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