Categories
Music Reviews

Human Impact

Human Impact

Ipecac Recordings

When people reference ’90s music, they usually mean grunge, alternative, or hip-hop’s second golden age. Underneath the mainstream, however, were a number of genres bubbling around that, while influential, never became as well-known as they should have.

One of these strains was an abrasive form of post-punk sometimes called “Noise Rock” or occasionally “Pigfuck” (Hey, I think I just figured out why this genre didn’t become better known!). Keeping the aggression of punk, while adding a bit more musicianship and reveling in the darker side of life, noise rock was the genre of choice for ex-punks who missed the emotion and and freedom of the genre, but weren’t down with the metal licks and tough guy attitudes that were prevalent at that time.

Three members of groundbreaking noise rock bands, Swans, Unsane, and Cop Shoot Cop have recently teamed up in Human Impact, a band bringing the ’90s noise rock revolution into the 21st century with their self-titled album.

“November” kicks things off with a bass-heavy lurching Jesus Lizard-esque song complete with dental drill guitars and Chris Spencer’s Albini-like howls. “E605” utilizes synths in an effectively creepy way, recalling Italian ’70s horror soundtrack crossed with Big Black. “Consequences” combines classic Joy Division post-punk mixed with Big Black metallic guitar washes propelling the song from brooding to explosive.

The majority of the songs on Human Impact clock in over the standard 3.5 minute song limit, giving the songs time to stretch out and mine the uneasy emotions in the songs. The shortest song, the 47 second “Relax” is brooding, ominous synth soundscape, and works well as the intro to the punishing “Unstable.”

Combining brooding intensity with explosive aggression, Human Aggression have blended different strands of post-punk into a 21st century noise rock showcase, that fans of Helmet, Melvins, and the Ampthetamine Reptile roster would do well to pick up.

Categories
Screen Reviews

Desolation Center

Desolation Center

directed by Stuart Swezey

starring Anthony Ausgang, Joe Baiza, Bob Bert, D. Boon

Mu Productions

By 1983 the early risers in the LA punk scene were dead or with a label. The punks offered a lightning rod for the hatred of the LAPD; police chief Daryll Gates spent most of his time busting punk clubs. Busting punk shows made good TV, but it drove producer Stuart Swezey and his punk buddies out into the Mojave desert. How to get the punks out there? He rented a bus, picked them up and dropped them off, just like grade school. All sorts of artists tagged along, including some guy working with high explosives. No one was hurt, and it was as cool as possible. The bands were unsigned acts like The Misfits and the Swans and Red Kross, and the audience came home feeling special. Swezey called the event Desolation Center, and the location was in fact about as desolate one can find.

Only three of these events took place but they set the stage for other remote concerts like Burning Man, Lollapalooza, and Coachella. We get performances from Sonic Youth, Minutemen, Redd Kross, Meat Puppets, Einstürzende Neubauten, and the Swans. None of the audio tracks are terribly clean, but what do you expect from vintage VHS technology? Swezey guides us through this post punk journey, and it’s one of those exciting things that worked, and can never be replicated. But best of all, the LAPD couldn’t bust them if they couldn’t find them.

Today everyone involved has grown up or died, that’s the price of rock and roll. The archival footage is a little rough but clear enough to give sense of what’s happening, and in the last show someone thoughtfully brought 800 hits of high-quality LSD. Try THAT today. Here’s some great punk nostalgia and a look a show that you probably weren’t cool enough to attend.

This film was presented as part of the 2019 Florida Film Festival sponsored by the Enzian Theater in Maitland, FL.

www.desolationcenter.com www.floridafilmfestival.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Swans

Swans

The Seer

Young Gods Records

I’m flat out too unhip to properly appreciate this record. It’s an oddly wandering sludge of compositions, some sounding like experimental metal, others like the soundtrack of a horror film, and even some frustratingly beautiful compositions that tease and leave. While I maybe dissing the next Velvet Underground, this record feels self-indulgent at best, and purposely annoying at worst. I know mine is the minority opinion, but it needed to be said.

I’m working with the two-CD version of “The Seer” but the turntable-enabled can collect the three-disc LP and the digital fan can get the recordings with a companion. Having been through the valley of experimental free-form composition, let me tell the tale. Opener “Lunacy” might just induce that state. There’s a promising vocal chorus with a rising guitar riff behind it, the chorus chants “Lunacy” over and over, and this cut is my favorite part of this project. “Mother of the World” quickly settles down to a repetitive riff and beat; it’s not exactly a vinyl disc stuck on repeat, but it’s heading in that direction and, at nine minutes long, leaves enough time to pop popcorn, eat it, and clean up. “The Wolf” is a dreamy poem leading up to the half-hour long title track “The Seer,” with its dissonant bagpipe opening. The bagpipes fade, and by seven minutes in, a driving surf rhythm appears with the mantra “I see all.” The rhythm washes out with the tide and a few crashing drum choruses make it sound like the song is ending, but it’s only another transition to a delayed and phase-shifted guess at what space would sound like, if space had air. The bagpipe returns, wounded and bleeding, a tribal chant replaces it, and we slide into the sequel. “The Seer Returns” opens with a mystical mantra and Mr. Gira chants, “My life pours into your mouth, your life pours into my mouth.” Heavy. “93 Ave. Blues” is filled with squealing brass and a slowly plodding cello; I’m not so much depressed by it as annoyed. We wrap disc one with “The Daughter Brings the Water,” a nice acoustic tune in the style of early Neil Young, and I dare to say I “get” this cut.

Karen O sings a gentle song to start disc two. “Song for a Warrior” picks up the gentle accessible pace of the track that closed disc one. “Avatar” then goes deep weird, a repeated change of bells is gradually overtaken by more slowly rising guitar work and more and more insistent drums. The drums peak, then lower to allow more cyclic vocal work, that too fades, and we are back to just the bells. The long track here is “A Piece of the Sky,” synthetic raindrops on a tin roof fall, and when the digital storm stops, a cello begins to drone as voices call occasionally over this ominous assemblage. Higher tones clatter together, giving us a not unpleasant sound, just a sound that seems to need more context. Half-way through this 20-minute E-ticket ride a more traditional melody takes over. It’s pleasant, if a bit long and winding, until the vocals appear, now we have a coherent piece of poetry inquiring “Are You There?” Yes, I’m still here, I’m committed to the project, and there’s one more track, the impressive 23-minute “The Apostate.” More classic outer space sound arrives, slide whistles pass by, a march makes us feel like we are in the Mines of Moria, and six minutes later the Orcs attack. The battle rises and falls as the background drone hangs on and we must repel one more vocal assault. Light appears around the bend, there’s only a drum duet between snares and congas, and… over.

At two hours, and you ought to get a free t-shirt for sitting through this asonic collage. Let’s grab a beer.

Swans: swans.pair.com

Categories
Event Reviews

Faun Fables

Faun Fables

Jack Rabbits, Jacksonville, FL • September 13, 2012

One of the biggest quandaries in the whole art-life equation is whether it is at all realistic to integrate your domestic/family life into the confines of a touring, recording “rock” band. The success rate is very low, the surprise divorce of Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon being a recent example. That said, I guess we’re lucky that (a) Faun Fables isn’t a rock band and (b) Dawn McCarthy doesn’t give a good goddamn about what’s come before. What I saw tonight wasn’t just another rock show in just another rock nightclub in front of just another group of iPhone-fixated narcissists; what I saw was a fucking incredibly affirming demonstration of music and art’s abilities to provide a niche, a nurturing space for FAMILIES instead of just some escape route for Peter Pans gone wild. (And, disclaimer, I usually hate kids but this was just too joyous for even me to resist.)

Faun Fables

Matthew Moyer
Faun Fables

From the beginning, McCarthy makes it clear that, though she follows her creative muse relentlessly, her LIFE takes an equal space next to her art. She walks onstage with a regal bearing, but immediately beams at her two daughters stageside, as she takes her place behind a tangle of percussion and drums. Joining her onstage is longtime partner and creative foil Nils Frykdahl, looking like a younger member of Saint Vitus, toting a goddamn flute and still looking metal as hell. They immediately launch into a strange, spry, otherworldly flute/drums duet.

Anyone else, I would have walked RIGHT out. But Faun Fables, they make it work, they challenge your ears with musical forms that are new and mysterious or hoary and seemingly uncool and recast them right in front of you, disparate musical traditions from centuries of songforms from the various folk idioms collide drunkenly into the darker nether regions of pop music to craft something timeless but in time, eldritch, and yet gleeful, like stumbling into some late night revel during the first stirrings of autumn. It’s something to behold.

Faun Fables: a family affair

Matthew Moyer
Faun Fables: a family affair

From there it’s a raucous blur of instrument changes — guitars, basses, all manner of drums, bells make appearances — and making the setlist up on the fly depending on a momentary whim. The two young daughters dance maniacally at the side of the stage, and squeal things like “Hi Mommy!” in-between songs. And somehow that doesn’t puncture Faun Fables’ witchy mystique at all. Maybe it’s McCarthy’s voice, recalling one of Monica Richards’ of Faith and the Muse at her best. Maybe it’s Frykdahl’s leather vest-with-no-shirt look and kinetic stage presence. Or, I don’t know, maybe it’s because THEY DO A SONG ABOUT WEREWOLVES?

Dawn McCarthy and Nils Frykdah

Matthew Moyer
Dawn McCarthy and Nils Frykdah

Faun Fables dip in and out of their own rich catalog, but play ethnomusicologist as well, airing a song by Polish composer Zygmunt Konieczny, and a skeletal, bass-voice-mouth-percussion cover of a Brigitte Fontaine number that swings like all fuck. They gamely attempt to bring their daughters onstage to play bells during one song, but the girls get totally bored with that about 45 seconds in. (Lesson: All kids think their parents are perpetually square.) The Fontaine cover, with full family participation, ends the night, and emblematic of the puckish sense of mischief that’s pervaded the evening, Frykdahl earnestly enthuses, “Thank you very much! There’s more music to come. I’m not sure who the next band is, but I saw them loading in a drumkit. So if you’re a devotee of drums, you’re in for a treat.”

Genius.

Faun Fables: www.faunfables.com

Categories
Event Reviews

Liturgy

Liturgy

Freebird Live, Jacksonville, FL • February 9, 2012

This isn’t good. The lineup was puzzling to begin with… the whole premise, I mean. A Florida-only tour featuring Kills-lite Sleigh Bells, buzzbomb producer Diplo, and transcendental black metal overlords Liturgy begs disbelief. Especially in the South. This isn’t good. Two girls in glittery crop tops slither past me in line, try to sweet talk the bouncer into letting them in, fail utterly and then bounce over to the tour bus idling nearby, where they immediately start pounding on the door and squealing, “Diploooooooo!” This isn’t good. I’m hearing the white light/white heat roar of Liturgy burst to life from inside the cavernous Freebird Live and I’m stuck in line behind a bunch of clean-cut kids who look like the cast of How I Met Your Mother. A towering bro bends to the waist and asks me, “Which band is this? Is this Diplo?” This isn’t good.

Liturgy

Cameron Nunez
Liturgy

An eternity too long later, I’m rushing inside and soaking in the delirious strength through joy that is Liturgy 2.0. Frontman/guitarist Hunter Hunt-Hendricks no longer has the hailstorm rhythmic backing of longtime drummer Greg Fox, leaving himself and guitarist Bernard Gann tonight to reshape the triumphant roar of last year’s Aesthethica into something altogether more wild and uncontrolled. Fox’s punk-influenced blastbeats are long gone, replaced by rigid electronic beats, courtesy of a Macbook incongruously perched on a stand next to Hendricks, and their already unruly song structures are even further twisted up by a forbidding series of pedals and effects. This could very well be the new sound of U.S. Black Metal. A song ends. The most tentative of polite applause. The front rows frantically check their smartphones. The back rows look confused.

Cameron Nunez

Hunt-Hendricks begins one of his vocal chants, but instead of the ecstatic energy poured into these vocal experiments in Aesthethica, the sound is mournful and disappointed. Eclectic bills like this may very well be a better idea on paper than real life, depending on the audience you’re courting. And Liturgy’s music demands an audience hungry to lose themselves in blinding sound. The music bursts back into life. Aesthethica may have refined and brightened black metal’s dark corners, but tonight Liturgy sound as ferocious and unhinged as Immortal in their prime.

Cameron Nunez

Hunt-Hendricks’ vocals are a self-loathing shriek (in the spirit of Satyricon and Burzum), the tandem guitar assault with Gann is a wondrous mix of clinical precision — stackin’ riffs like Jenga — and masochistic primitivism. For the briefest of seconds I’m reminded of Godflesh, in terms of harnessing technology to present a personal and intimate reshaping of heavy fucking metal to communicate truly heavy concepts and beliefs. As the music reaches a frenzied crescendo a burst of deep blue light sizzles the irises of everyone in attendance. And when we blink away the spots. The band is gone. Soon my fellow audience members will be relentlessly pandered to by Sleigh Bells, and they will have put this unpleasant business far behind them. Their loss.

Liturgy: liturgy.bandcamp.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Bestial Mouths

Bestial Mouths

Hissing Veils

Dais

Exhibit T54 in the “Good Year to Be a Goth” case is Bestial Mouths, a group of young degenerates who make a sacrilegious musique concrete din reminiscent of the heavier end of Jarboe-era Swans and Shadow Project (oh yes, oh yes). As in “industrial” before the term got watered down to include any bunch of nu-metal no-hopers with a under-amplified keyboard player in the mix, and shiny-shirted Eurodisco goons with high-and-tight haircuts. Hissing Veils is upsetting and unerringly angular. The brief, audio-verité pieces are built around the hellfire lungs of singer Lynette Cerezo (multitracked to a dizzying multiplicity), and the bizarrely limber drumming of Ebrahim Saleh, all speed runs and cavernous fills. On top of that foundation are layers of harsh synthesizer buzz and broken-glass scree from Christopher Myrick. Mysterious and queasy, Bestial Mouths’ music is devotional in it’s all-or-nothing intensity. This is how industrial music should be. Motivational music for bad, bad people.

Dais: www.daisrecords.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Prince Rama

Prince Rama

Shadow Temple

Captured Tracks

Unfettered is a good word to start this on. Shadow Temple is an unfettered album, full of avenging spirits, elemental forces, ghostly vibes, ancient curses and wild trances. Shadow Temple is the perfect title to describe the galestorms of visceral, witchy noise that this trio of young Brooklynites (via Florida, my god!) conjure up. But there’s something strangely familiar to much of this music. Now, I wouldn’t expect the trio of musicians in Prince Rama to own a large chunk of the Projekt Records’ early back catalog — they were probably too young — but Prince Rama’s music is subconsciously reminiscent of a particular strand of early ’90s tribal Gothic music. Faith and the Muse, Mors Syphilitica, Lycia, This Ascension, that kinda thing. Alhough Prince Rama are signed to the Captured Tracks label and even enlisted the help of Avey Tare and Deakin for recording/production (this thing was recorded in Kurt Vonnegut’s grandson’s cabin?), I hear Swans, the drum heavy nightmares of the Cure’s Pornography, and ESPECIALLY Siouxsie and Budgie’s Creatures project. It’s there in the crashing, massive percussion and the untrammeled, free, oft-operatic female vocals, reminiscent of a preverbal Siouxsie. The songs on Shadow Temple build to epic, incantory, Wagnerian crescendos of voice, cybernetics, and warlike percussion, never failing to beguile. Here be monsters!

Captured Tracks: www.capturedtracks.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Trees

Trees

Freed of this Flesh

Crucial Blast

Portland’s Trees continue their deliberate descent into atavistic drone nirvana with Freed of this Flesh, an even more uncompromising and accomplished record than 2008’s VERY impressive Light’s Bane. With Freed of This Flesh, composed of two stygian, towering 14-minute tracks (AND NOTHING ELSE), Trees have fully transcended their influences — KHANATE, Burning Witch, SunnO))), Eyehategod, and the Melvins at their most oozing — to be fully in command of their sound. In fact, I’d vouchsafe to say that with the likes of Monarch and Weedeater, Trees are at the forefront of a new phase of doom music.

And what is Trees’ sound exactly? It’s a sickened hesitation, the clenched night-terror panic when you’re trying to breathe or talk and no air will enter your lungs. It’s nausea and indecision, a primal shriek. Trees’ songs are decentralized, nonlinear affairs that bring to mind free music as much as winter, but without any chance of virtuoso wank. Trees keep it simple and evil. Familiar motifs and chord progressions emerge from a thick green fog before dissolving again, feedback and bleeding noise hangs in the air like a fetid stench, there are long pregnant pauses, percussion is an erratic heartbeat, and the vocals, fuck man, it’s like an exorcism, a manic episode, and a Burzum album all combined into one antisocial bundle. Despite the disregard for song structures and enthusiasm for sonic degradation, Trees do seem to have this very, VERY strong discipline and vision underlying their sound, which makes their music compelling and harrowing listening.

Crucial Blast: www.crucialblast.net

Categories
Music Reviews

Swans

Swans

My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky

Young God Records

Swans are beautiful, graceful birds known for forming monogamous bonds. The Swans are a legendary noise rock band known for their violent, abrasive music. The avant-garde group formed in 1982 and broke up a decade and a half later. They’re back with their first studio album in 14 years, My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky. Released on frontman Michael Gira’s own Young God Records, My Father expands on the Swans’ uncompromising formula of unnerving, atonal, dissonant sounds. This ain’t dinner music.

The opening track, “No Words/No Thoughts” is an epic nine-and-a-half minutes. The ironically-titled song is the most thoughtful and diverse on the entire record. The first few minutes could be described as the soundtrack to a snuff film — what with chimes and violent chords pounded incessantly over swooshing guitars. Menacing marching beats provide a sturdy backbone a third of the way through along with more chimes and special effects noise. It’s as if a possessed orchestra was playing all the instruments backwards.

“Reeling the Liars In” follows “No Words/No Thoughts” by being completely different in virtually every way except for one — creepiness. Gira sings the demonic acoustic hymn in his trademark deadpan, “we are removing their face/ collecting their skin/ we are reeling the liars in.”

The Swans sidestep any potential boredom from their relentless rhythms with intricate orchestration and confounding progressions. For example, folkie oddball Devendra Banhart (who released his debut album on Young God Records) and Gira’s three-year-old daughter share vocals on “You Fucking People Make Me Sick.” Awwwwww. The young girl repeats after Banhart “I love you/ I need you/ oh show me/ how to shine/ I love you/ young flower/ now give me/ what is mine” before the song descends into what sounds like a piano falling down a flight of steps amid a cacophony of out-of-tune horns.

To keep us on our toes, the Swans finish My Father with a “normal” love song. Hell, you could slow dance to “Little Mouth.” Gira harmonizes over the same four chords and ends a capella with “may I find… ” With his reformed legendary Swans and busy record label, Gira likely won’t have to search long.

Young God Records: www.younggodrecords.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Interpol

Interpol

Matador

What does it signify when a band returns to its former indie label, where it released two really great records, after venturing forth into major label territory without making much of an impression? What does it mean when that same band names its fourth album, back at its old label, eponymously?

Those questions reel through my mind listening to Interpol, by Interpol, as if we needed any kind of a reminder about this band that helped kickstart the New York rock revival around 2002. Along with The Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, this was one of the best new bands of the new millennium.

Maybe they lost their way at Capitol, and maybe they are trying to get it back on this album. It is rich, epic, grand, and sweeping in its vision, and the music is lushly orchestrated, full of masterful tempo changes, tricky drumming, staccato strings that sound like stiletto heels on cobble stones, shuffling drum beats, even horns!

“Success” is the opening track, and it starts off with a great bass riff but never goes anywhere. The second number, “Memory Serves,” is riveting with its buzz-sawing guitars and strings and Paul Banks singing in anguish over an Ooh-la-la-la refrain. Very atmospheric. Dense. “It would be so nice to take you/ I only ever tried to make you smile/ No matter what we’re gonna keep you occupied/ but only at your place” sounds ominous. Disturbing.

“Summer Well” follows right along in that theme, and may be the best song on the album with its slashing guitars and bouncing bass lines. Then the album goes into “Lights” (which drags on for one minute-thirty seconds without a drum beat and never goes anywhere) and brightens up with “Barricade” with its cheerfully tongue-in-cheek observation, “I did not take to analysis so I had to make up my mind.”

And then the album ascends into the amazing opulence of “Always Malaise (The Man I Am).” The song just keeps shifting keys and tempos as it climbs uphill to its climax. This is a work of musical sophistication like nothing Interpol has done before. Symphonic.

One big misfire: the annoying piano intro and extro of “Try It On.” But it recovers from the opening and turns into one of the better songs on the album. And from that it segues into the next-to-last track “All of the Ways” with its sadistic, “Tell me you’re mine, tell me you’re mine to break, to break the ice” and the chilling “I know the way you’ll make it up to me.”

It almost seems necessary after the intensity of that song to have one last number to close out the album, and Interpol finds the right note with “The Undoing.” Cello and organ huff below a chiming guitar as the singer says, “I was on my way to tell you it’s no good/ I was on the way to chasing my damage.” It sort of lets you know that the protagonist of this tortured song cycle has recognized himself and come to peace with it.

The songs spiral further deeper and downward into the obsession and despair of this character mooning over a lost love. I know that lead singer Paul Banks gets compared to Ian Curtis a lot, and the band is given the post-punk nod for molding themselves after Joy Division and the Chameleons, both dark and brooding bands from Manchester UK.

But the orchestral grandeur of the music on this album nods darkly to The Swans, a 1990s post-punk band that earned the mantle it wears and is still playing and recording to this day. Listen to “(She’s A) Universal Emptiness”or “Miracle of Love” or their cover version of “Love Will Keep Us Apart,” and then tell me if you think Paul Banks still sounds like Ian Curtis.

In a lot of ways, this album marks a turning point in the level of musical sophistication that Interpol has displayed on previous outings but also marks a turning point in its attitude. No longer guitars, bass, and drums and defiant attitude, this album takes a more adult look at relationships, especially the variety gone wrong.

It’s ironic and sad that it also marks the last time Carlos D. was recorded with the band. Other critics have said his bass playing was the backbone of the band, and that he was probably the most talented musician in the group. Well, if this is to be the swan song of Carlos D., then why not go out with the band’s most richly satisfying, most musically ambitious and satisfyingly difficult album to date.

It seems to me that Interpol is saying, with this self-titled fourth album, back at Matador, “We’re back, and you may recognize us, although we’re not the same.”

Interpol: www.matadorrecords.com/interpol