Anvil Salute‘s latest has been ‘several years in the (slo-mo) making’ and for whatever reasons those obstacles arose, Black Bear Rug plays out like it turned delay into gestation. Wonderfully atmospheric, Black Bear Rug must have simply come when it was naturally ready. Call it planet alignment or coincidence, there really isn’t a better time for this to come than Summer, just past the mid-point when Autumn is still far off, but soon enough to be a reality. Trite and clichéd? Maybe, but in those is usually a kernel of truth that gave rise to them, and that’s the pulse that Anvil Salute seemingly have their wordless finger on. Black Bear Rug exists in that time when day is giving into evening and night is turning into morning. In Anvil Salute’s hands those two times meet and become virtually indistinguishable. Taking that line of thinking further out, much of the album seems blissfully lost in thought, as well as blissfully thought out in its lack of premeditation. Some argue that a natural state is one of chaos. I’ll buy that, but when the elements that buzz, hum and flit all gel into a wider, far more encompassing vista, then that natural state is an embracing one. And one that is arguably 100% natural weave. Black Bear Rug spreads itself out over a wealth of tones and hues. Don Peyote (Superfluous Poncho) is downright playful in its pixie military cadence, while Your Telephone Body floats out and spreads with equal measures of longing and hopefulness. Get In When You Feel In plucks and tugs at the heartstrings without resorting to picking scabs. If one cut says what I obviously can’t and serves as the mission example, it has to be the stellar Fourth Person Singular. See a pattern emerging? A flat-out gorgeous song, it exists in multiple, and opposing, states like most of Black Bear Rug. Welcoming, warm, soothing…melancholic, yearning…grab that achy loose tooth and wiggle the cliché out of it. It’s not that there isn’t a use for words. In this case they would more than likely add needless form where it’s up to the end-user to add it. And that’s a bigger payoff, and message, for the listener to benefit from. An evocative one that makes Black Bear Rug all the more human, and a much stronger case for the human condition. Anvil Salute claim their influences as ‘the wind, rain and snow. sunshine too. everything. all sounds. all thoughts. all sights. makes you just feel good, doesn’t it?’ It certainly does.
Fourth Person Singular :: Anvil Salute :: Black Bear Rug (2012, Deep Water Acres)
Minneapolis trio Lighted light it, and scorch it, up with 4 royal cuts of relentlessly pulsing modern psych, following up their earlier release, Kingdom. Hammering Hawkwind-like drive with jackhammer krautrock and drone, Queendom revels in generating a greasy squall that is surprisingly accessible considering the ramped up wall of tension. The outstanding Non-Traditional Wounds starts out with a rhythmic campaign not dissimilar to Cave-thinking, then takes full flight by the end transforming into full outer-bound thrust by the end; a great example how they transform each cut by the end. Queendom is hard to nail down, with the sounds seemingly battling each other, but somehow dovetailing into an incessant grind that both pins you to the wall, and puts you in flight by sheer force of will. Room to breathe? Absolutely. Morning Miami Mega sacrifices none of the battering ram in using more open space and dynamics to offer up some (marginally) lighter fare. A heady and ruthless successor to Kingdom, Queendom is razor sharp, well-oiled and ruled with a solar flared fist in a velvet glove that hits you upside the head on full-stun. Long live the Queen.
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)
Dead Sea Apes continue their prolific run with the release of the long-gestating Astral House. Following the lead of Lupus, Land of the Sun fromKeep Off the Grassand a Kraftwerk re-imagining onHead Music, Astral House again takes their sound through inversion and subversion. Where the new full-length Lupus revels in a meditative and contemplative vibe, Astral House builds a sense of urgency. And considering the recent run of releases, it’s fitting that Astral House presents a more active Dead Sea Apes release. Each outing has shown a different side of DSA, slowly unfolding a deeper well of influences, mission statements and breadth. Astral House is no different, made clear from the stomp of opener Bikini Atoll. Using dynamics as much as sheer bulk to build drive and thrust, Bikini Atoll also, simply, brings the rock in more places than one. Much of DSA’s heft has been built around a sonic ebb and flow that uses expanse and space to define their size, but on Bikini Atoll much of the focus is on the fire, rather than the embers. Dead Fingers Talk dips into their spooky vibe mastery of other releases, but that overall pressing drive is there, making itself known through more tension-and-release than sheer brute force alone. The title cut collapses all this into a slow rumbling climb that builds into a release of its own without relinquishing control, a trademark of DSA. From the more overt fire of Bikini Atoll to the introspection and deceptive heavy hush of much of Lupus, DSA always have a firm grip on the wheel without veering into the ditch of rigidity. Though the origins of Astral House may precede much of what has seen the light of day and it does give a certain evolutionary footnote to their sound release-to-release, the real revelation is how it keeps pace with their run of releases, blurring any timeline restrictions, and how Dead Sea Apes continue to re-investigate exactly what their house is built on. And stands for.
Bikini Atoll :: Dead Sea Apes :: Astral House (2012, Dead Sea Apes)
Dead Sea Apes‘ Lupus begins with a ding…either the timer is done or the elevator is opening on the Apes’ new campaign. Time to go for a stroll; pack light, bring water…Pharmakon leads the way, rolling out to usher in Lupus’ expanse, both a new direction and an extension of where they’ve been before with their debut, Soy Dios. Where Soy Dios left you feeling like the remains of a hallucinogenic desert bake-off from multiple angles, Lupus plays out like the internal fever dream. If anything, Dead Sea Apes create atmosphere. Guitarist Brett Savage sums it up: “It’s got more of a witch-y, spooky, lost in the forest at midnight vibe – as opposed to our other style – the spooky, lost in the desert at midday vibe.” He would know. Along with Nick Harris (bass) and Chris Hardman (drums), they create the shifting soundstage for their vibes to flourish, to both define and be defined. The slow boils found in the pinging Still; the sonic ebbs and flows and soft edges of Something About Death; the rules may be vague, but they are their rules. It could be argued that they are an insular band, but the world they create to operate in is full-on Cinemascope and like the desert they wander in seems without edge or constraint. The lengthiest cuts that exploit this, like Knowledge and Conversation, don’t feel big or overblown; they simply and naturally take up the space they require to get the job done. They move purposefully and at times methodically, but they aren’t tied to the tracks by any means. Dead Sea Apes don’t wildly go off the rails, but you may blink or come back down and realize you’ve drifted off with them to a remote part of the landscape that was hidden from the main road. Like Soy Dios, Lupus is ghostly and menacing, resigned to carrying its burden as long and as far as it needs to be taken. If Soy Dios was the angry one prone to physical outbursts, Lupus tempers the anger with introspection and an almost battle weary reflection, both on the world they create and the sounds used to make it materialize.
After a bout of activity that saw the end of Lupus’ gestation and an appearance on the outstanding Keep Off the Grasswith a mind-warping rendition of Skip Spence’s Land of the Sun, Brett Savage took some time out to get us up to speed on the evolution of Dead Sea Apes…so far.
ma: Congratulations on Land of the Sun. Safe to assume you’re happy with it?
Brett Savage: Yes, very happy, not least because we have something out on lovely green vinyl, and we’re really thrilled to have something on the Fruits De Mer label. They’re a great little label, and lovely chaps. We’ve got something cooking up for them as we speak.
ma: Two parts: Why Skip Spence, and why that cut?
BS: I’ve always had a yen for the damaged acid-casualty type, and Skip Spence is no exception. I think Land Of The Sun appeals for lots of reasons, not least because it’s fucking amazing and sonically adventurous. It has a loose enough arrangement for us to add what we wanted to it. We recorded it in a fairly spontaneous fashion as well. We didn’t obsessively learn the original song, so we felt comfortable enough knowing the finished result would end up sounding like us. Funnily enough, Chris did some digging around and found out that Skip originally wanted drums and plenty of crazy guitar on it, and all this was stripped off in the mix. So in that respect, I feel we’ve honoured Skip without doing a carbon copy of the original.
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
With all the cuts released earlier on vinyl between 2007-09 and now out of print, Nadja’s (Aidan Baker & Leah Buckareff ) Excision works not only as a more available outlet for these cuts, but as a great 2 disc set on its own. Everything holds and bleeds together without sounding like a cobbled together set of previous releases. Excision is, as you’d expect, hefty and expansive, covering lots of ground and creating a dense atmosphere full of rolling detail and texture that despite its size is never oppressive or insular. Blurring the lines between doom and ambient, Nadja slow cook a sound that is both heavy and surprisingly afloat, made obvious by how comfortable a collection of earlier releases all blend together to make their own statement. Their gradual climbs and controlled releases ebb and flow from cut to cut filling Excision with slow dynamics without stripping away the emotional punch of each one. It would be easy for all this to become just a foggy pall more than a statement, but Nadja keep it snaking and winding while it also grows more expansive. Excision may function as a more readily available collection of out of print releases, but it works more importantly as an expression of what Nadja can do and who they are.
A cursory poking around reveals kogumaza translates into ‘little dipper,’ or Ursa Minor. I guess that would be ‘little bear,’ too…Regardless, it’s a potent, mysterious sounding word. So, if we don’t know what it means exactly, or why it’s used, we know what it sounds like. A stripped down drum kit and two guitars from Nottingham, with live assistance from a gentleman behind the sound desk, are what make up Kogumaza. Creating the sound of a much bigger bear, Kogumaza is a hefty, swirling exercise in building dense tension and for much of the time, stretching it out while not resting in one place for too long. Though each side has multiple titles, Kogumaza is essentially two sides with the tracks bleeding into each other into a sonic smear that after repeated digestion reveal far more dynamics, focus and variety than initially comes across. Equal parts textural widescreen landscape and droning juggernaut, it finds the sweet spot between the two, using repetition and digression to shore up a compelling take on ‘heavy.’ In fact, for all it’s weight, Kogumaza has more in common with more ethereal tangents than it does in exploiting a show of strength. It can lull and float on an open sea before the boat gets bumped by something rising below, or it can slowly build up into a buzzing, warm enveloping squall. And it does both with just the right amount of moderation to break free of the gravity of heaviness for heaviness’ sake alone. Or drone for drone, loop for loop…It’s a deceptive record, revealing more details on repeated spins that not only elevate the music but keep it much lighter on its feet than you might initially think. Go turn on your favorite animal channel, watch a bear run and that vagary will make more sense. Kogumaza will no doubt be lumped into the obvious genres and sub-genres we all expect, but their expanse is refreshing, and inviting, in a field littered with overused and overly insular rigidity.
Too many cooks don’t always spoil it, or turn into supergroup muck. Jefre Cantu-Ledesma (Root Strata, Tarentel), Evan Caminiti & Jon Porras from Barn Owl, Lisa McGee (Higuma), Gregg Kowalsky (Date Palms), Marielle Jakobsons (Date Palms), Maxwell Croy (Root Strata/EN), Steven Dye & Tony Cross (Tarentel alum) and Michel Elrod all collapse into each other and themselves for Portraits.
Finding a common target, let alone thrust, must be hard enough, but Portraits overcome and deliver on their promise, and yield an expansive, lush and introspective drone behemoth. D, the lengthier of 3 cuts, basically crawls into the frame, insistently simple and enveloping. For so many hands in the works, it’s to Portraits’ credit it doesn’t get overcooked and overstuffed. A study in economy if anything, D avoids turning into a dull hum by finding dynamics in between the spaces. Each tiny shift yields maximum and patient results. Gong begins pulsing out just as patiently; deeper and darker, it adds sonorous contrast to D, both sonically and in emotional heft. Gong says almost as much about D, as it does itself, making Portraits even richer. Closer Sa, shortest of the cuts, actually packs the most ingredients, wafting in vocal chants with buzzier strings atmosphere and a gentle percussion fade out. A different animal than opener D overall, and Gong for that matter, Sa is almost an encapsulation of the two in some ways, compressed for sharper definition.
Portraits is deceptively rich and luxurious not only in how it plays out and passes effortlessly, but in how it paints a sincere picture of economy, and what it says by being able to do so.
Gong :: Portraits :: Portraits (2011, Important Records)
"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.