Crock Oss (one Spaceship Mark Williamson) gives it a go on One More Time For Stupid. Where does it go? Quite a few places, none of them stupid either. OMTFS transmits an electro/synth heavy psych pumped in key places with some jagged chrome guitar grind that broadens the appeal without veering off its mission. Out on Williamson’s own Spaceship Pictures, OMTFS cuts a pretty good swath in packing its punch … if only for one more time … to ‘reflect the quick and dirty of both the tracks and the way they were recorded.’ Opting for more structure than in other projects, Williamson paired the advantage of ‘cheap smartphone apps’ with synths, noise boxes and guitars on OMTFS. After spending some time with Black Tempest, Williamson has said that that time reanimated his interest in guitar and it’s on display here. There’s plenty of synths to go around—pulsing, pumping and even ambient leaning (especially on the run up to the spiraling Furthest Terminal From Check-In)—but there’s also plenty of metallic crunch. Invitation to View makes that clear out of the gate with some nasty bashing over top some spacey synth textures that give it a sound of the combustion that’s happening inside the tank. It’s gritty, repetitive space rock that uses the contrast between the synths and strings to create as much tension as release. Eunice Huthart is far less brutal, but no less coiled in delivering something more approachable without squelching the contrast. Moore’s Winter Marathon treads heavily more than races, opting for a lumbering swagger that never trips into a slog even when Crock Oss’ gravity boots leave a big footprint. So far, all are on target with the ‘quick and dirty’ intent mentioned earlier, creating a tense vibe of Williamson’s admitted cheap tools making big sounds. The more ambient Furthest Terminal From Check-In turns inward and contemplative while still heading up and out. Sounding thoroughly modern and classicist at the same time, Terminal slowly winds up into a corkscrew of synths and pings that seems far more driven by the end than it really it is. That’s not the case with Warm Fairy Liquid (The Taste Of), a wicked little electro jack hammer that sounds like the guidance system escalating into overdrive. There’s an unhinged level of artificial synapse firing that is somehow kept in check and steered into usefulness by the relentless single-mindedness of the backbone. On the surface, it may seem a bit more lacking in substance than some of the others, but it makes a different statement with the same tools that places it right in line with what’s come so far. For all its ramped up nature, it also functions as an expressway bridge to Küchenspüle, a lengthy future motorway run that hearkens back to Eunice Huthart by way of its affable and buoyant sonic sheen as well as some Krautrock underpinnings that keep it moving. For all the admitted quick and dirty cheapness in the construction and execution, OMTFS never comes across as under-realized. There is certainly a sort of junkyard sculpture framework built upon here — doing more with less as much as using what you have — but that is a big part of the appeal OMTFS. Though it doesn’t overshadow or worse yet, overtake, what’s spinning at the core … which is neither stupid. Or a crock.
Plastic Violins of Darkness is a one-man army from Leipzig with a self-released debut of atmospheric, stoner infused space rock that, though dark and heavy, escapes gravity and any hints of oppressiveness with a wide-open vista of sounds. Taking leads from 90s electronic ambient and post-industrial music, PVOD also tips its hat to metal without relying on the repetitive riff. Cuts like the cascading Triskaidekaphobia offer up the requisite grind, but going for the patient slow-burn gives PVOD a good dose of enigmatic expanse that keeps it free-floating without taking away from the heft. Full of texture and ‘unavoidable artificial aspects,’ PVOD keeps the journey moving forward and swinging wide without meandering into mopey formlessness. With flight times between 12 and 20+ minutes, it would be easy to veer off into the void and lose your way—and there is much in PVOD to make you feel unanchored and untethered—but our pilot keeps purpose in mind as the tracts of space go by. All build and elongate, some slowly whiplashing back into themselves with a rubbery and fat thickness that gives the listener maximum chewing satisfaction.
Tip of the hat to Chybucca Sounds for the lead, and maximum enjoyment recommend…
After a deep, stellar journey to The Sun Behind The Sunwith Dead Sea Apes co-piloting, our alchemist shouldn’t have much left in the tank to head out again. Set to prove that wrong, Black Tempestarmed himself with ‘battery operated noise machines’ to fire up the Tao Engine. An EP of four tracks, it may be small in scale, but Black Tempest’s scope remains the same. There’s no mistaking his hand on the noise machines, though this time out the engine runs with a bit more stealth. Our gutted space program might be able to regain some ground copping some Tao Engine technology as the title cut probes the outlying void. Rise On The Ruins makes its own astral inquiries, sending out oscillating pings in a call and response search for the architects, but as the name implies, those ruins may be terrestrial. Which is, believe it or not, a trademark of Black Tempest. With all the electronic execution and arsenal on hand, Black Tempest conjures a wave of sonics that are tied to this common rock. Keenly aware that the journeys up there begin by gazing from here, Tao Engine exists under a star-studded night vista as well as finding breath, and breadth, on the other side where we may not supposed to be going, but have to nonetheless. Mama Sutra, ‘recorded at night, in the dark, in the cold and snow, in a greenhouse’ finds our traveller in the same situation. A predicament to some, this is where Black Tempest, and Tao Engine, thrives and thrums. The Devil’s Masquerade, a gently sinister—and melancholy—wash of ethers disperses itself with no pretense, slowly turning into a processional of the ‘noise machines,’ winding down the Tao Engine. The familiar and the unfamiliar, the earthbound and the free-floating…the yin and yang of our operator Black Tempest…all are here in a slightly different form, driven by the Tao Engine.
Lunar Testing Lab‘s latest transmission, The Winter Void, is another soundscape laden excursion that continues LTL’s tradition of sounding like LTL, and not. Each release has its own vibe saturating the sonics that dovetails with LTL’s mission and redefines it at the same time. A cut titled Glacier Ridge is more than appropriate toput a finger on their slow-moving, incremental shifts in broadcast. You don’t necessarily need patience to appreciate their dispersing waves, but it goes a long way in getting the most out of them. Like shifting plates of ice, The Winter Void moves slowly, imperceptibly at times, moving forward at its own pace with the results not always fully taken in until you realize that the glacier has somehow sailed by. And there’s another one in full view. Some tracks cut bigger swaths than others, like the 20+ minute opus Sun Arc or the lengthy Proxima Station that pings and ricochets to submerge the trip under the ice. Like a majority of LTL, Proxima Station simultaneously sends out signals to find its way as well as delineate the space it travels in. The Winter Void revels in an icy fragility and delicateness that belies the deceptive richness and weight of the overlapping flows. Take it as a sonic wash of the winter void itself, conjuring up expansive vistas that are as endless as they are welcoming. Or, true to LTL fashion and possibly more on target, these are the borderless bodies to fill that void. The gorgeous Influoresence names theprocedure by definition, flowering and blooming like a coasting bed of ice that’s rich with quiet life. Life is below, hinted at on Proxima Station, but revealed fully on the Sunken City of R’lyeh as it discharges and emerges through the void, revealing and constructing the skyline in icy chorus. In many ways The Winter Void, and LTL, are all about the reveal. The music unfolds slowly, some attenuating out until form is no longer needed, some turning back into itself to be reformed into another un/familiar shape. All illuminated by that aurora in your own head; switch flipped on courtesy of Lunar Testing Lab.
Hailing from Dublin, Hugh Doolan is a songwriter, singer, guitarist and composer whose styles vary as much as his job skills. Moving easily from soundtracks (Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey, Gloves & Glory) to more ambient work to a range of collaborations and folk-tinged pieces, Doolan’s mark is made clear through his compositions and his atmospheric and understated guitar. Lilting, flowing and smooth in about everything, Doolan also traffics just as easily in straightforward acoustic heavy pop songs on his ’10 release Slopey, fleshing out an already wide resumé. His newest single, Maiden Speech is a short, ethereal outing dedicated to Burmese opposition politician Aung San Suu Kyi. Both appealingly mournful and oozing a wispy lushness, Maiden Speech passes quickly by leaving an evocative vapor trail of promise and possibility. It leaves you waiting for another cloud to pass and fade in, but it has a completeness that marks it as a statement, rather than a quick excerpt.
Maiden Speech :: Hugh Doolan :: Maiden Speech (2012, Hugh Doolan)
Lunar Testing Lab (Eric Watson, ringleader of Secret Station Records) mines the vault for Nightmusik, a collection of unreleased tracks from ’09 – ’11. As usual, it sounds like Lunar Testing Lab, and it doesn’t…each LTL release conjures up some kind of slippery vibe that is hard to nail down, but is always familiar in their sliding boundaries (sonic postcards Unauthorized Frequencies and Seashore Blvd. are stellar, highly recommended examples). To cop an overused phrase, it’s like pornography: I know it when I see it. And you know it’s LTL when you hear it. Nightmusik is darker in tone, the cuts a little longer than some releases, but the richness of LTL’s electronica is at the heart. It may be called Nightmusik, but it exists in an intangible space that lies between. Between what is up to you, and that’s always been a big part of the appeal of LTL: as meticulously crafted as it is, the final definition, and resolution, is up to the listener. Night or day, waking up or going under…it’s not one or the other, nor is it homeless. Much of LTL appears to be about space. Not just occupying it, not solely using it sonically, but creating a space where their pulse thrives and you’re welcomed in. Nightmusik maynudge the tone to the dusky and the mysterious, but it’s as pliable as ever, shunning any sense of the impenetrable. No matter what the title implies.
Into Midnight :: Jon Porras :: Black Mesa (2012, Thrill Jockey)
Jon Porras (Barn Owl) takes a trip to, and from, the Black Mesa on his second solo outing. The ties to Barn Owl are obvious, and expected, but Porras takes those cues and strikes out on some different tangents. The meditative expanse of his work with Barn Owl makes itself known, but here the vistas are distilled down to shorter excursions that take that sweep and scope and make it more personal, more of a pilgrimage. Porras constructs a voiceless, omen filled narrative that may exude a barren melancholy, but is also brimming with promise, as formless as it may be. You can inject yourself into the lead role of the ‘outlaw wanderer who ventures deep into the desert only to discover the Black Mesa, a bridge between worlds’ just easily as you can put on the walking shoes and go for your own trip. Possibly in an attempt to not step in the footprints left by Barn Owl, the trip and flow isn’t as fluid as it could be; some cuts feel truncated, cut short from rolling out to full depth…and width. That’s a small criticism considering the whole outing has a soundtrack vibe and some of the changes from cut to cut essentially act like film edits, heightening not only the unspoken narrative but an unseen visual side. Black Mesa, for as concise as some tracks are, is still open for the interpretation and introspection you can find in his other job. It’s an understated adjustment from his work in Barn Owl, but these are sister panoramas where the slightest shift and detour may not be immediately obvious, but still yield deep and resonating results.
Deep Water Acres is a state of mind, a way of being, and a place up in some old, old mountains where things work just a bit differently.
The recent release from Dead Sea Apes, Lupus, wasn’t just an introduction over in these woods to a different tangent from Dead Sea Apes, but also to Deep Water Acres. Located in Pennsylvania, Deep Water Acres was described as a micro-label, and in their own words are engaged in ‘midwifing a range of sounds that share our particular aesthetic and world-view.’ When I hear micro-label, I think of a result that is hand-crafted, something that values process just as much the end product, ingredients that can be as natural as they are modern and a concern for quality over quantity. That fits not only Deep Water Acres, but the sounds they are releasing. There is a ‘particular aesthetic’ running through their artists’ work, an unhurried, at times meditative, slant that takes the hoary over-used credo of ‘still waters run deep’ back to its core so it can ring true.
Dead Sea Apes’ Lupus is just one release of many that, for as different as they all are, fall in line with the smoky and amorphous manifesto of Deep Water Acres. Hazy drones to rural tinged outer-bound flights to nebulous, synth-based excursions, all share an intangible approach, a way of thinking, that take the small-batch appeal and turn it universal.
Pittsburgh’s Brother Ong (Mike Tamburo) exploits the shahi baaja, a 22-string electrified Indian zither, on Deep Water Creations. Exotic and hypnotic sounds are looped, tweaked and set free to lure you into a space where you can simply go for the ride and stretch out, or you can get lost in the subtle and subversive details that reveal themselves with repeated visits. It’s not a matter of how long you stay, but rather why you came in the first place…let Brother Ong do the driving, or grab the wheel and navigate your own way through the trance-y signposts.
Intro to Creation :: Brother Ong :: Deep Water Creations (2011, Deep Water Acres)
Philadelphia’s Enumclaw (Norm Fetter) dove-tail sounds perfectly into the deep waters with the ‘electro drone’ outing Painted Valley of the Mineral Monks. It’s a stellar release that should appeal to those looking to pulsate their way up the apogee, leaving their feet on the ground…or not. Enumclaw collapses the modern sounds, and tools, into a gentle cadence of throbs and emanations that are seemingly free of gravity, without meandering or slipping into electro-noodling. Slightly deceptive in its pull, Enumclaw rewards the patient, those who enjoy the flight as much as they enjoy the joy of orbit…or the promise of drifting.
Dire Diamonds :: Enumclaw :: Painted Valley of the Mineral Monks (2010, Deep Water Acres)
Mike Tamburo of Brother Ong and Matt McDowell, who have crossed paths in one form or another over the years, are Psychic Frost and their 2011 s/t is their first recorded venture. A 43-minute modulated trip made up of two cuts, but with infinite entry and exit points, as well as destinations, Psychic Frost requires a healthy attention span to get the most out of the trip and detours, but isn’t taxing or overbearing in its scope or execution. Mysterious and moody, Psych Frost conjure up a sense of something big, something lurking as well as hovering, that is inflated with more portent and prediction than it is with dread. Heavy in an inverted sense, Psychic Frost blur the line between the spaces being created and the sonics created from those spaces, here or out there. Cinematic in scope and cosmic in size without the bombast, Psychic Frost manage to steer their sonic exodus into something personal without cutting short the inner and outer voyages.
Taste the Frost :: Psychic Frost :: Psychic Frost (2011, Deep Water Acres)
An aptly title outfit, or collective, if ever there was one. Evening Fires, stoking their ember-rich psychedelia from ‘their secret den in a northern Appalachian forest,’ materialize their 11th release in ’12, the outstanding Flora and Fauna. Basic tracks were recorded live, then augmented in the studio to great effect, keeping a looseness that spreads out like a warm blanket of stars and buzzes and hums like the ingredients of a perfect night. Incredibly inviting and encompassing, Flora and Fauna moves effortlessly, existing and finding direction through hints and suggestions. Formless? Absolutely not. Evening Fires opt to find it through shifting sonics that feel as comfortable and customary as striking out on a walk in the woods…then realizing later just how far you wandered. And just how little you care. Gather some kindling, nurse some new embers, enjoy where you are and start again…start enjoying the promise of where you’ll go next. Evening Fires create incredibly heady, and trippy, sounds that bob, weave and undulate, but remain, for all their success in releasing the head from the body, rooted. From the instrumentation to the execution, Evening Fires just feels natural…natural in their concentric rings of sounds that emanate from both far above the tree line and under the branches.
Recorded between ’07 and ’10, their release Medicine Man takes their approach and mission on another walk to (from?) the secret den, again yielding the familiar…and the completely different. Naturally.
If We Do Not Disappear, We Don’t Know What We Are :: Evening Fires :: Flora and Fauna (2012, Deep Water Acres)
Supernormal Recordings, a document of Black Tempest‘s (AKA Stephen Bradbury) second-stage headling at the Supernormal Festival last August is just that…and more. It’s a 3-disc tempest itself of the live appearance, plus 2 discs of rehearsal recordings made at his Tempest Towers prior to the festival. My first exposure to Black Tempest was on the outstanding krautstravaganza Head Musicwhere he took on Klaus Schulze’s Bayreuth Return, a seemingly perfect match. Black Tempest builds on Schulze’s work, and approach, as well as others such as Tangerine Dream, Jarre and the Orb to these ears. But that’s not the only eye of the storm. Fans of the kosmische will assuredly be lulled in by the droning lush soundscapes, as will those with a leaning to progressive rock and psychedelia who don’t run for shelter when those definitions and linkages are twisted, stretched and presented as something seemingly removed from where they started. Like the name of the album that carries Bayreuth Return, Black Tempest truly makes head music. As you take in his stew of vintage and modern sounds, you can either immerse yourself and become voyager and co-pilot, hone in on certain sounds and tangents for digressions and digestions or simply let the head gently undock itself from the Mothership (recommended) and ride the modulations and oscillations to your destination of choice. It’s not surprising that your cruise director is shown in the CD booklet wearing a lab coat; Bradbury is certainly a sound scientist and aggregator. Shunning some of the detachment and coldness of similar experiments that arise in less capable hands, there is a constant reminding thread that this all boils down to springing from a very human mind. The live cuts are broken with snippets of Bradbury’s wry humor and wit that not only shore up a snaky amorphous narrative vibe (Tanks But No Tanks, in any variation) but help wind down his cosmic sojourns and bring them back to the original well-spring to be refitted and restocked for more flight.
Tanks But No Tanks :: Black Tempest :: Supernormal Recordings: Live at Supernormal (2011, Black Tempest/Tempest Towers)
Supernormal Recordings, and Black Tempest himself, are hard to pin down, continually shifting and morphing. Bradbury’s nom de guerre itself is somewhat hard to nail down as well. Sounding like the moniker of some heavy-duty metal machine, Black Tempest is surely a nod, and a wink, to Bradbury’s early forays of improvising in that battlefield. There is an underlying ominous and brooding pall that wafts in and out of his work, though it never becomes oppressive or showy in a display of power. In fact, turning things on their ear again, much of that mood is actually given heft by some of the subtler details. Which makes total sense and follows Tempest’s primary (though not singular) choice of using electronic weapons (stage schematic thoughtfully provided) to produce sonic vistas that revel in warmth and a sense of something very human, approachable and universal. If that sounds indecisive, it’s not. This is meticulously crafted and executed material, in both the live goods as well as the behind the scenes run up work. The 2 discs of Tempest Towers rehearsals and groundwork never sound incomplete or unrealized compared to the live outing. Their addition to Supernormal Recordings are as equals, not as afterthoughts, or hackneyed bonus tracks. Each disc stands on its own, but together they give the end-user (and I’ll hazard a guess Bradbury himself) a much fuller appreciation of not only Black Tempest’s lab work, but also of the experience of the festival, for those lucky enough to catch a rare live appearance of our alchemist.
Proxima Beta :: Black Tempest :: Supernormal Recordings: Supernormal Recordings Volume 1 (2011, Black Tempest/Tempest Towers)
Also highly recommended are Black Tempest’s Proxima and Ex-Proxima, both stellar looks into Bradbury’s own hovering eye of multiple storms.
Zomes’ (Asa Osborne of Lungfish) second, Improvisations, is a repetitive, slow bed of washes that, though good and well done, is sort of slight. Or will be to some. Originally recorded on cassette, Improvisations doesn’t have much in the way of conventional song structures, but that’s obviously not the target. More focused on tonal and cyclical swells that drone in and out of vague and shifting edges, it takes some engagement to get the most out of it. Probably nothing more than light background noodling to some, it still has thought and purpose behind it and isn’t a headless free for all.
Nice droning, spacey soundscapes that, as expansive as they are, don’t drag on until they go nowhere. There’s some processed vocals in a few places, but it’s instrumental for the most part. Manipulated and manufactured on Urick’s laptop, it waffles between being somewhat eerie, slightly exotic in some spots, and pretty cosmic throughout with lots of details to get into, or enjoy as they float by. It’s spacey and full of sonic washes, but also has a contrasting and complimenting rhythmic underbelly to give you something to hold onto if you need it, and also keeps the whole thing warm. Urick “strives to bridge the gap between the familiar and the unfamiliar” and that’s what he does on I Love You; there’s a good sense of moderation and control throughout that might make this pretty approachable for people not usually into this kind of work. (Photo by Josh Sisk)
Ageless Isms :: Jason Urick :: I Love You (2012, Thrill Jockey)
"This show is 110% … one of the most consistently awesome programs we have come across."
The Sunrise Ocean Bender sets sail every Monday morning, 1 – 3 a.m. on WRIR lp 97.3 FM, to find something for your ears, and something for your head … From psych to prog to pop and whatever tributary we can find on the way … and right back around again. There might be a map, but the destination is up for grabs. If it all goes right, we may just get lost. Meet me at the muster station … it might be a long week.