Saturday, February 28, 2009

Albany Sonic Arts Collective – Experimental New Music (C)

Featuring Century Plants, Grab Ass Cowboys, Ghoul Poon, Bad Costume, and Bone Parade

After nearly a year of watching good shows pass me up at the Upstate Artists Guild down the street from my apartment in the lovely lands of Albany, I decided to brave the unseasonably warm February weather to see Century Plants for the second time. To seal the deal, I perused the myspaces of the other acts playing and started getting pretty psyched for Bone Parade and Bad Costume, as well. So, I headed down to the fabled UAG to see what all the fuss was about, grabbed myself a seat, and waited. For a long time. Apparently Grab Ass Cowboys were supposed to be the opening act and one of their members was running late, so the show was delayed for about an hour. Eventually Century Plants offered to go first, and first they did go.

I had high hopes for Century Plants, of course, after their smashing success with Sunburned Hand of the Man last year. Unsurprisingly, their set was entirely different than the one I had experienced before. Where the “Sunburned” set trafficked in drones and beauty, this one began in stark contrast. The drones from before were still there, but this time they were pierced, interrupted, and ushered by the furious and percussive abuse of the second guitar. The set’s steady progression from beginning to end, eventually switching from bowed soundscapes to more chaotic tremolo picking, was gorgeous. The set was a highlight of the night, and ended up being a fantastic starting place.

Grab Ass Cowboys were up next. They had a cool noise set with a decent drummer backing them. Unfortunately, the drums were mostly inaudible, but what I could hear was a cool addition. The most memorable aspect of the set was seeing a rather tall dude climb on top of a precarious stack of amps, lay his guitar down, and then climb on top of that as well - all to have what I can only describe as a personal adventure with his head up between the rafters of the gallery. The music that ensued was a good mix of noise and face-ripping guitar solos that would do Matt Pike proud. The only proper way to wind down music of this proportion was the unorthodox, and fun-to-watch method picked by our gallery-astronaut… And that would be to get off his guitar, and use it as a tool to unplug everything in sight one by one until there were no sounds left but the backing ambience and drums.

Ghoul Poon. Apparently they played too long, but I didn’t notice until somebody turned the lights on. I’ll admit I never really understood Ghoul Poon on record, I don’t know whether it’s just not my thing or if it’s because I’ve never heard anything like it before, but it just strikes me as kind of confusing… Their set was good, though. Much more centered and slow than I was expecting. It ended up being sort of drones with pulsing bass underneath. It did run a bit long, long enough for the pre-recorded projections to run once and a half, and there wasn’t much to watch, but the projections were well done and provided a good companion to the music.

Bad Costume were easily the highlight of the night. Their improvised set, half electronics and half drums, was nearly flawless. Hella-mad-dumb-wicked-stupid props go out to the drummer for being able to play so intensely for so long. Until that night, Sunburned’s drummer was my hero… And now I have two. His playing style was innovative, full of unique fills great rhythm changes, and musicality. The electronics aspect was various samples mixed with lots and lots of heavy synthesizer to create a whirlwind of sound that could be compared with noise, but in no way similar. The combination of such a powerful sonic experience with easily the best projector piece of the evening was mind-blowing.

Bone Parade were a great cap for the evening. Right before their set I picked up a t-shirt and an album (Along with some Century plants, and a free Ghoul Poon album since nobody else was selling merch… If only I could get my hands on something bad-costume-related!), and hunkered in for some great dark-ambient-ish-industrial-whatever. Bone Parade offered a great, if a little repetitive, set full of material that would fit right on Einsturzende Neubauten’s Silence is Sexy right between “Alles” and “Redukt”. The very full bass and drum machine sounds created a fantastically desolate atmosphere as a platform for some great operatic vocals. To top it off, they made the excellent selection of a largely high-contrast black and white video that added some excellent light play t the atmosphere. A+, I say. Very enjoyable in all respects.

The Albany Sonic Arts collective managed to gather a great and diverse group of artists for a fantastic show. I really do look forward to seeing many more in the future, and encourage those that have the opportunity to attend shows by any of these artists to do so without fail!

Weak Sisters - Final 7" (V)

Weak Sisters is fucking noise. Harsh, like it's supposed to be. It's not a "rhythmic noise" thing or "noise rock" or any of this other shit, it's noise. Loud. Hard to endure. Dark. Unimpeded by guitars and blather about genocide and genitalia. He does wall noise, he does cut-up chaos. Aside from the usual chaos of pedals and electronics, he makes noise through violence. Don't ask me how it's wired, but he uses people as contact mics and fucking attacks them. It's like BDSM - consensual abuse. And it makes harsh blasts of sound. This is what hateful music should be - a direct expression of emotion through action. Pretty much amazing.

Weak Sisters recordings aren't exactly common, but many are still publicly available. I have here a clear 7" - first vinyl I've purchased for myself in a while, since Weak Sisters seems to mostly release vinyl and tape - called Final. As of this writing, it's still available at Hanson Records ( for $5 plus $2 shipping in the US.

The first side begins with a pulsing drone for a moment before Weak Sisters screams and switches into a blast of wild changes . . . before repeating the process with a longer, changing drone, screaming, and blasting into a wall of noise. Noises blast and loop and scream like a dying electronic animal. Glitches break and clip and flex their muscles and growl bloodlust. Then, silenced, the disc trails into the rhythmic sound of the needle on uncut vinyl.

The second side starts out with a fucking howl of hate and feedback. Weak Sisters blasts this into disorienting, uncomfortable shrieking soundscapes. The electronics are moaning, wailing, cursing their pain. The initial wails turn into blasts of hatred that freely wander between wildly shifting noises. And stop. And start. And redouble themselves. And change. And end.

This is one of 300 copies, released last August as the first release of "Secret/Wasting." I haven't been able to find out anything about Secret/Wasting - much like Weak Sisters, the label seems to have no presence online - but if this is the direction they're going to continue with, I'm going to keep buying.

This is some of the best noise I've heard to date.

Vision Éternel - An Anthology of Past Misfortunes (V)

Vision Éternel is the soft, instrumental work of Quebecois artist Virkelix, previously operating under the name Triskalyon. Virkelix calls his music "ethereal," and this is certainly an apt label. The music consists at least primarily of smoothly ambient clean guitar work, and the minimalism of his composition leads one to drift along in the soft mourning he's left on tape without noticing the time pass. "An Anthology of Past Misfortunes" has been playing on repeat for most of an hour now, and it still feels like I've just put it on. "Love Within Isolation" is pulling me to stop writing and weep softly instead.

I will unquestionably be listening to this record a great deal. The only thing missing from this release is a soft, wistful vocal, and even that would only give me words to whisper to myself in the dark of night. Sometimes, when artists ask that we give their music a listen, we sit as a group and wonder what possessed these people to waste their time and ours with their music. Vision Éternel, however, is a real treasure. His first two EPs combined here, both stories, combine for a listening experience that is somehow compelling and timeless.

This is the sort of music that becomes a sympathetic friend and an embrace through pain and misfortune. Looking forward to hearing the upcoming split with Ethereal Beauty on Abridged Pause Records. In the meantime, pick up a copy of this from Frozen Veins at

Mount Eerie – Lost Wisdom (J)

"10 songs recorded quickly and quietly during a surprise visit by Julie Doiron, keeper of the world’s greatest and saddest voice, and Fred Squire, hidden guitarist of the floating riff, in a small wooden room in Anacortes, Washington before they returned home to eastern Canada. Songs with the expression of the face of a baby in a burning world, in the swirling dust. They hang on a theme of impermanence and destroying forces. The river is revealed to be going right through the house, the river of inevitable chaos, sorrow and love." (Taken from Phil Elverum’s site

Yes. Oh my god, yes. Sweet, merciful Jesus, yes. This album is…astoundingly good. But not just good…it’s great. It’s wonderful. It’s tear-jerkingly beautiful. I sat on the train today with this playing, watching the lights whir by as snow fell and it just…made sense.

Coming from my black metal roots, I couldn’t help but chuckle the first time I saw this album’s title (yes, this is a Burzum reference), but take heed, black metal fans, for this will not tickle your Varg/Grishnackh fancy.

“Lost Wisdom” fills every category needed on the good non-metal/rock album checklist:
Is it folk? Yes, yes it is. Check
Is it sad? Oh god, yes. Check
Are there male/female vocal harmonies? Yes. Yes. Yes. Check
Are the female vocals done by Julie Doiron? YES! Check
And last, but probably most important and relevant to this analysis: Was it recorded in a cabin in rural Washington? YES. YES. YES. YES. Check.

This time around, Phil Elverum meant business. After the spring release of the extraordinarily fuzzy, dense, almost metallic “Black Wooden Ceiling Opening” EP, he’s dropped the distortion, keyboards, and drums for a much more organic, desolate sound, and presents ten songs of love, loss, confusion, angst, existential confusion, and loneliness written alone in a cabin in the farthest reaches of Scandinavia. Songs written alone about being alone (how existential *chuckles*); I think this guy’s lyrical credibility went up a few notches in my book.

As mentioned earlier, Elverum enlisted the help of Julie Doiron, holder of the saddest voice on Earth, to harmonize with his quiet, distant yet familiar voice. When I first listened to this album (I feel so bad…I downloaded it off of a blog…), I heard the folky guitar enter with Phil’s voice and was pleased as is, but my eyes widened and my jaw dropped when Julie’s voice came in to complement his. In a romantic sense, their voices were almost meant to be together. Their voices waltz together, trade verses, build a choir behind a lead vocal track…they allow the other to grow their roots in the audience’s ears. This album is built around their voices; without these voices joining hands, the underlying theme of love lost and shared loneliness would be lost.
Elverum puts the acoustic guitar in the background, playing simple droning folky melodies as a backbone to the rest of the music. In this simplicity lies vast beauty and emotional complexity. Would the introduction of the first track be the same without the single note guitar beneath it? Would “Who?” lose its dark, nostalgic tone without the one-chord base? This simple style hearkens back to a more primitive time where music was a vessel to tell stories and express; not to prove technical prowess.

Fred Squire’s electric guitar work beneath Elverum’s adds a new layer of depth to these songs. A light fuzzy-yet-clean guitar flutters behind everything (“hidden” guitarist… “floating” riff…get it?), contributing to dynamics (note the louder strumming during the louder vocal parts in the title track, “Lost Wisdom”). The electric work of Squire gives “Lost Wisdom” the right amount of space to accentuate the loneliness felt by the narrator.

Speaking of loneliness and desolation, these dang lyrics are so bleak and excruciatingly sad, once you understand them, it’s pretty hard to “keep your cool” whilst giving this album a spin. My personal favorite lyrics are those to “O My Heart,” especially the second verse, starting with, “Oh, what’s this?” (following a very tasteful guitar solo):

“Oh what’s this? Is this my heart? Is it thumping? O my heart, there you are; I’ve stopped hunting. I thought you would be as big as a whale. My nets were knit, my heart moves on; I’ve had my ships sailed.”

These surreal lyrics that rely on a very nifty extended simile, surreal in the fact that his heart would be as big as a whale, though if his heart was that engorged he would probably die, but a cool image is seen in the mind’s eye, and the extended simile thus explaining that since the narrator thought that his heart was to be as big as a whale, he knit his net too large and his heart simply fell through the holes in the net, lost in the sea. Of course, his heart is lost in a sea of depression and turmoil; he wasn’t able to save love in time and thus it can’t be saved. Every song on this full-length demonstrates Elverum’s very strong grasp of prose; everything has an alternate, profound second meaning.

Mount Eerie’s “Lost Wisdom” is a wonderful work of deep, honest music. Every song is perfect the way it is, and is put in its logical place in the track progression. Needless to say this is probably my favorite release of this past year. It will accompany me on many coffee-drenched lonely nights and long drives. Let’s hope that Mount Eerie and Julie Doiron’s paths cross again.
Recommended for fans of: Low, Songs: Ohia, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Syndicate X, Thanksgiving, Charalambides, Nick Drake, Birch Book, Leonard Cohen, Ida, and the like.

Locrian - Drenched Lands (V)

I've been a fan of Locrian since I first saw them - probably not a surprise for a veteran pair whose performance consists of incredibly building passion, raw volume, and sound ritually and emotionally evocative throughout their work.

I've often found that a vantage point at the top of a PA speaker is often a perfect way of experiencing Locrian, but last night at the Mopery in Chicago I couldn't help but add a semi-prone form of self-reflection and blind, thoughtless emotion. It comes through in the recordings on Drenched Lands.

This recorded material spends a great deal of time away from the walls of sound that I'm accustomed to seeing Hannum and Foisy create live, but perfectly captures the atmosphere of their rituals and tells a story that resonates perfectly with the almost colorless images of human loss and civilisational decay in the oddly black metal case. And when Hannum first cuts through the ache of their soft sounds with passionate screams in "Barren Temple Obscured By Contaminated Fogs," the images of "stagnant pools [infinite depths]/among the pylons" come through as a painful, tearful memory of an empty, lonely dream.

Locrian has no problem carrying their emotions and visions through this masterful work and through all 30 minutes of the closing track, "Greyfield Shrines." Locrian explores new and intense sounds and images throughout this work, and I'm still reeling in the experience.

Liam - Two Years and a Fragment (J)

Behold the bastard son of post-rock, black metal, and doom metal. Think of it as a more uniform Caina (first full-length), slowed down, and with HUGE production; not to mention desperate, fantastic vocals (both harsh and clean).

Starting off as a regular post-rock/post-metal band a la Mono/EITS, the folks in Líam released the "My Journey to the Sky" EP in 2007. Realizing that this rehashed post-rock sound that hundreds (if not thousands) of bands use is getting old, these guys take a massive black/doom approach to post-rock. This change in style gives us "Two Years and a Fragment, " released in late 2008.

Though this EP has only three songs, it will not disappoint. Long have I waited for a band other than Agalloch to meld these genres together in such a tasteful, beautiful, and crushing manner.

Recommended for fans of Wolves in the Throne Room (they’re playing with them soon), Agalloch, Shining, Esoteric, Caina, Panopticon, ISIS, jesu, Trist, Parabstruse, Lantlos, and so on.

Heat from a Deadstar - Seven Rays of the Sun (V)

Seven Rays of the Sun is the latest in a slow but steady trickle of releases from Boston label Ace of Hearts - possibly best known for Mission of Burma records in the early 80s.

I reviewed Heat from a Deadstar's Lighthouse EP in our July/August issue last year, and this full-length is unquestionably continuing to fuck with my mind. The only familiar track is "Elusive Ways." The version on this record is a lot cleaner-sounding and catches the ear with a sort of despairing Nirvana vocal melody. I have a feeling that within a few more listens I'll be mumbling half-remembered words under my breath and staring into space.

This album runs all over the place - from some sort of twisted punk to light almost relaxing music with ample pieces of dissonance, yelling, strange guitar sounds, and slowly developing minimalist structures. I can only imagine that this trio writes in a horrible mood in a basement somewhere most of the time. On the plus side, it's hard to ever pin Deadstar down to a genre or set of influences - they're always shifting, and something about them always focuses on a groove and a downward gaze. Deadstar is a repository for all the emotions we don't know how to put into words while they fester inside.