There’s been a lot of roiling over The Terror, pro and con. Love it or hate it (and part of me hopes many people do hate it), in the context of the cultural wasteland, and in the context of the Lips’ canon of work, it’s an album to be reckoned with. It’s nigh on impossible to talk about the Lips (and many others with this kind of longevity and circuitiousness) without talking about them. To a point, that’s OK and fully expected. That aspect is part of the package, part of the escape plan they offer. If you don’t buy into a fraction of their damaged technicolor schtick—and I use that in a neutral way—you miss out on a lot, or at least bonus tracks. That’s nothing exclusive to the Lips. On the other end of the spectrum(s), so far it all comes back around, if you don’t sink your teeth into some of Hawkwind’s interstellar lunacy, or Sabbath’s lumbering persona, or even the detached clammy glam of Roxy Music, there’s still a staggering amount to get off on, but you do miss out on a little bit more. Consequently, it’s all about the same things…whether you think putting on a meat dress is something new, wrap yourself in a gold lamé cape or don a leather jack for some kind of credibility. One thing it doesn’t do, when you’re like the above, is hide the music. They can do it because they have the chops to back it up. One thing it does do, is add an element of fun. Everybody’s still trying to remember laughter, but no one remembers fun. And the Lips are fun. In their own way. And what is fun if not escape, or at the very least the illusion of it? Fun comes in many forms…Hell, I think Trainspotting is a fun movie…and in the Lips’ own inimitable way, The Terror is too. Thankfully not in the way the meat dress wearing crowd wants. There’s been a lot made of how bleak The Terror is. Well friends, welcome to the machine. The Lips don’t do much more than point out some of the facets of the human condition…again. Which is the real terror…the good and the bad, the fun and the not so fun. Strip out the sonic wizardy, the corrupted and interrupted alien transmissions and you can draw a line (not a straight one) back to the simple and effective Godzilla Flick, or the lush beautiful poignancy of Feeling Yourself Disintegrate, the masked aching heartbreak of They Punctured My Yolk…the inevitability of Do You Realize? is actually a downer by standard conventions. In that sense, The Terror is really a logical step, sonically another mutation in a long line of many, and a glorious culmination. Reveling in a wide open sonic palette, it’s still open season on interpretation. The Terror can be molded into whatever you really want it to mean. Couple that with a pulse that sounds like a transmission from a dying star…or a plea for help from a dying star…it becomes escape, or an attempt. The point might very well be that you can’t escape, and if that’s the case, then we need goods like The Terror for a valve. Wallow in the layering of sounds, slather on some meaning or just enjoy some damn cool sounds, and you can find release. Here is some of the disjointed fractures of Embryonic perfected and applied to maximum effect; not the only effect, just one of many. More importantly, in the framework of the Lips evolving/mutating with each record or at the least every other one, it’s the tense latent energy in much of Embryonic finally set free, breaking some remaining shackles and spreading out. It’s the sound of motion. Whether it’s the Lips moving forward is a whole other animal, and truthfully a pointless one to hunt. Part of the appeal of the Lips is that with each record they either are or they aren’t the Lips. If you don’t listen to the Lips, do they really exist? More fascinating is that when it all fires at the right time, they’re both at the same time. That might be hard to latch on to, but part of The Terror is about drift, about things out of hand, especially sonically. Lyrically it may be insular, and the initial sheen of the music may seem claustrophobic when married with that, but the pulses, buzzes, and throbs are in such abundance that it actually flies in the face of some the apparent intent of the record by being so alive. The Terror, for all its supposed impenetrability, isn’t really that dense. Be Free, A Way is in a constant state of flux, and where there’s movement there’s escape, there’s breath. It may breathe with an alien sounding life, but life is life. There are songs in here, elusive ones. If it was straight up noodling, there wouldn’t be anything at all to hang onto. But there is if you pay attention. The vocals of Try to Explain lead you through, and give form and core to the vibrations and undulations. The vocals are vital even if they seem buried, subdued or squelched. In the context of all the broken signal to noise ratio and half-transmissions, it’s not only elemental to the song, but highlights just how human of a record this is, despite all the knob twiddling. You Lust, the arguable centerpiece…that warped toy-sounding opening is the hook, maybe not the kind we’re used to, but it sinks in and drags you right through a prog rock tour de force. Lyrically, like most of The Terror, the opening salvo of ‘You’ve got a lot of nerve, a lot of nerve to fuck with me…’ doesn’t come across as belligerent or confrontational. If anything, it has a weary weight of wisdom—a personal wisdom to be sure—that’s been earned. A band, a viable band, that’s been around this long has earned the right to flash some of that. Always There… In Our Hearts might be the most concrete song in here, and that’s not by accident. It’s the period, or rather ellipsis, to a long snake sentence that may be hard to decipher, but is decipherable nonetheless…with your input. When compared to the opener Look … The Sun Is Rising, it becomes a conceptual and musical bookend to contain, but not constrain, the stories in between. When The Terror ends, you know what it means, and more importantly you know what it means to you, even if you can’t quite say it. Just because the Lips are ‘rock stars,’ and darlings, doesn’t mean they should be held up to another set of rules that demand clarity. If we put them in that position, that’s not only trapping them in a hamster ball, it’s nothing more than bending over to be spoon fed. The Terror isn’t meant to go down easy. It’s challenging, changing, malleable and what you make of it. That sounds like life to me, however maudlin and trite that comes across. In all it’s terrifying bone-crushing weight. If they had gone for a happy ending that would have been avoidance. And irresponsible in my book. The Lips are in a position to make a record like this—or at least try. If they hadn’t they would have been irresponsible with all the leeway they have been given, and earned. Love it or hate, enjoy it or loathe it as a piece of art or simply as wonderful trippy ear candy (you can have your cake and eat it, too…they do…) the fact that a band as non-linear and yet identifiable—in all forms—as the Lips have twisted and turned for 30 years and released an album like The Terror, through a major label conduit no less, is really something that should be celebrated. Because most of the time, it’s terrifying out here…we better take what we can get, and be thankful when we get something as lavish and fierce as The Terror.
You could have a field day deciphering their name, spaces, open spaces, how it relates to their art…blah blah blah blah…point made, but the real fertile soil to ponder and get between your toes is the music itself. And it’s ripe for digging, right through the concrete if you have to. London-based L A N D’s debut Night Within is a stunner of a package, everything coalescing into a deep, deliberate and physical statement that, as they say, works at “approaching an apocalyptic noir narrative.” There is undoubtedly a narrative, melancholy nightcrawler coursing through; mysterious, moody, giving form to that feeling of being alone and dislocated in your own city…your home. The one cut with vocals, placed at the outset, starts the story that follows, seamlessly unfolding one into another, constructing and painting their stomping grounds. After letting Nothing Is Happening Everywhere sink in, it’s almost impossible to think of any one other than David Sylvian doing the vocals. It’s a damn near perfect fit; his unmistakable delivery, the two-way support between the music and the voice, that emotionally surreptitious vibe. It’s hard to tell if Sylvian made it his own, or if L A N D made him one of them. Rather than stand out as an oddity, Sylvian’s contribution is placed for greatest impact, ushering in the rest of the evening’s crawl. L A N D create their own alleys and streets to take up residence in, full of insinuating jazz specters and trumpets, gut-rooted bass and subdued industrial framework. There’s an audio/visual side to L A N D which is shored up by how cinematic Night Within feels; both insular and inescapably large…alone in the city, among thousands…finally stalling in a hotel room with the only thing left that’s probably your own, Cold Desire. As effective and as strategically placed as the prologue Nothing Is Happening Everywhere, Cold Desire brings the wee hours to a close, ramping up the latent, coiled energy that’s been following you around all night. Night Within is amazingly self-contained; from production to execution to impeccably erecting its own enigmatic cityscape to exist in and to explore. An enriching and restless night-owl pilgrimage and trek, Night Within is out July 10, on CD and limited edition first-run vinyl, from Important Records.
At the core of Mugstar, among a swirling mass of other ingredients, is their undeniable heft. Whether ramping up blistering avant-space rock to an incendiary release or a meditative sprawl with reimagined krautrock underpinnings, there’s an elemental pull that goes beyond mass and becomes gravity. From the pummeling to the pensive, there’s a draw back to their marrow that defines them. That sonic fulcrum is more prevalent than ever on the Ad Marginem soundtrack. The music is Mugstar through and through, standing on its own as an album proper, but this principle nucleus is the star. In some ways, Ad Marginem might be their most personal album, letting this base turn more outward. Soundtracks often get relegated to incidental music, taking a backseat to serve the film, or at least accent the narrative. Ad Marginem comes across as a partner to the visuals, both serving the other with a goal beyond each. Though a fair share is minimal by their own standards, there’s nothing marginal and there’s no mistaking this is Mugstar. Their tension is calmer, partly a result of the music’s function to the film in one case, but it also moves Ad Marginem forward at a languid and at times dramatically brooding pace that welcomes introspection. Without hamstringing themselves or exerting an unnatural control on their sound, Mugstar partially redistribute their weight, not lessen it. It’s not without the release that Mugstar nail when needed, or wanted. The end of Red – Island proves it, or the visceral locomotive denouement of the stellar Rite II that comes to a rousing blow-out: pure and primary Mugstar. Throughout, some of the breaks and stops/starts translate to what would be the sonic equivalent to a film edit, surely marrying the sounds to the visuals further, but also pushing Mugstar to different dynamics.
We normally play very free and open and are more likely to go off the feel rather than a rigid structure. So, songs which may be 10 minutes on an album could last anything between 7 – 12 minutes depending on the feel of time at that time. Whereas with the ﬁlm soundtrack we had to focus on timing… — Jason Stoll
It’s tempting to say Ad Marginem is somehow more ‘mature,’ but that’s a disservice to their other records and in some ways would trivialize this one. Mugstar have always been cerebral, muscular and as each of their records show, evolving. Ad Marginem is no different.
Ad Marginem, CD/DVD/LP, is due this June on Agitated Records.
Rite II :: Mugstar :: Ad Marginem (2012, Agitated Records)
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)
“(Sounds like) speed washed guitar abusers who make Hawkwind sound like Julie Andrews raping The Sex Pistols.”
Strong words…fighting words in the hands of Worthing’s Men of Good Fortune on their new EP, Mind Control. I’m not sure who would be more offended…Pistols, Hawkwind or Julie Andrews. To be honest, I didn’t think Ms. Andrews had it in her, but maybe she had it in someone else…but it works. Mind Control is a bruising, dissonant assault, not limited to the above reputations. Underneath their frenzied squall and founder Grant Foster’s fried lyrics, there are hooks and choruses to give you something to hold onto, or hide under. Girl Scum of Middle England, hiding under pink eye shadow,indeed kicks off like a battered Hawkwind flight, working up the frenzied psychotic psych of modern purveyors like Human Eye or three dimensional tanx. Relentlessly driving with angular, pummeling breaks it’s a frantic surge of pissed-off energy. Modern Man, pissed too like he should be, tones things down just a touch to put the accent and focus on the lyrics and the drama-horror of everyday life. Teen Slits, like the others, is full of ire, but the chiming roll of the guitar reveals not only the control in the chaos, but their sense of melody as well as handling a lighter touch when called for. Closer For David maintains the half-empty glass of vitriol, but brings the tirade to a close more in line with Teen Slits bent. Rancorous, bitter and raising sonic welts, Men of Good Fortune keep it all in line without crippling their drive or letting the message dissolve into bilious ranting. It’s not a big leap from angry young men to bitter old bastards, but Men of Good Fortune have found a literate place to thrive in between the two without hamstringing themselves, or caving to the limitations of either.
Girl Scum of Middle England :: Men of Good Fortune :: Mind Control (2012, I Blame the Parents Records)
Hey Mother Death (Denma Peisinger and Laurence Strelka) mix French, English, poetry and spoken word, minimalism, ‘avant-guitar exploration’ and a whopping dollop of drama into a dark, and often stark, debut. Spontaneously composed and recorded, Hey Mother Death EP may come across as some gothic cabaret, but any kitschiness or insincerity is left at the gate by deconstructing some of the traits that lure you inside in the first place: a sense of the foreign and exotic, melodrama and flat-out mood. The scratching and scrawling guitar carries as much emotional heft as the vocals in the same way their minimal approach, and execution, seems to fill up the spaces and also leave plenty of room to move, and use your own imagination. Black Monday conjures up some sort of ghostly narrative out of seemingly formless instrumentation, whether you understand French or not; Desert of Trees and Water moves into English without changing the tone or intent of anything. Decidedly, and artfully, unhurried Hey Mother Death EP moves at its own pace and focus in any language.
Desert of Trees and Water :: Hey Mother Death :: Hey Mother Death EP (2012, Hey Mother Death)
The Fierce & The Dead, with a new body in Steve Cleaton (keys/fx/guitar), return from Morecambe with their new release, On VHS, continuing their mission of taking post and instrumental rock to places they sometimes don’t go, this time with a focus that makes On VHS seem both leaner (and meaner) and more expansive. All the trademark discipline and top-shelf execution is there of their other outings, but On VHS has a much more immediate punch and thrust that elevates the urgency. Opener 666…6 is the calling card, not so much setting the pace (Hawaii picks that up with a speed-metal gallop) as it does the intent. One thing TFATD have had out of the gate is an inherent class; from composition to skill to their uncanny grip on not strictly what they do, but what they can do. The use of loops is lessened somewhat (countered by the addition of Cleaton) without disavowing where they’ve already been and are coming from. The title cut is more contemplative than the twin barrels of 666…6 and Hawaii, eventually ramping up the intensity by the end without leaving their past accomplishments in the dust. Part 3, an obvious nod to their debut,stretches out the running time, but not the welcome. As mysterious and brooding as Part 1 and 2, it’s undercut with a vibe of melancholia, and given it’s place in the line, a whiff of nostalgia. Packed full of dynamics, introduced by 666…6′s meticulous waffling between quieter lulls and bursts of thrust, On VHS surrenders to neither finding a sweet spot between heft, drive and thoughtfulness. Those who have followed TFATD this far won’t disappointed. If this is the introduction, it’s as good a place to start as any to discover what they’re all about, where they’ve been and, more importantly, all the places they can still go to.
Had a blast sitting in on Wind in the Pines. Thanks for having me…and thank YOU for your donation to WRIR during our Spring Fund Drive…What? You haven’t donated?
804.622.9747 or go online at wrir.org and keep the Mothership flying…
The Sun Of The Natural World Is Pure Fire — Jozef Van Wissem & Jim Jarmusch — Concerning The Entrance Into Eternity — Important Records — 2012
Human Qualities — Explosions in the Sky — Take Care, Take Care, Take Care — Temporary Residence — 2011
Etude 4 (Rendition) — Christopher Cavaliere — Monrovia Suite — Christopher Cavaliere — 2010
Black (Take Four) — Daniel Bachman — Grey-Black-Green — Debacle Records — 2011
Somewhere Over the M6 — Benjamin Shaw — There’s Always Hope, There’s Always Cabernet — Audio Anti-Hero — 2011
Schiavi — Lullabier — Verita’ riveste d’ombra — Lullabier — 2011
untitled 3 — My Cat is an Alien — Living on the Invisible Line — Divorce Records — 2011
Happy Like Jazz — Marc Broude — Medicine — Black Square — 2011
Trans Europe Express — Anla Courtis — Head Music — Fruits de Mer — 2012
Vatican — Gnod — In Gnod We Trust — Rocket Recordings — 2011
Land — Vampillia — Alchemic Heart — Important Records — 2011
Sa — Portraits — Portraits — Important Records — 2011
Pharmakon — Dead Sea Apes — Lupus — Deep Water — 2012
"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.