German born Günter Schickert, whose ‘name barely registers among most of the Krautrock intelligentsia,‘ was an active devotee of the Berlin jazz scene in the 60s who didn’t make his first solo album until 1974. Initially, it was a small-batch private release, later picked up by the venerable Brain label, the outfit responsible for getting out Neu!, Guru Guru, Embryo and even the Scorpions (undoubtedly when it was still fun). Between June and September of ’74 with what he had on hand, Schickert put his own brain and fingers to work and the result of that flurry of activity was Samtvogel.
‘When I was recording Samtvogel in 1974 I had only 2 Taperecorders. I played one track and while listening I added the second one. And so on. Four times. When I mixed all together I borrowed a 3rd taperecorder. And still added the last track to the master. I had a small mixer with 2 stereo and 1 mono but it was possible to pan tracks. No equalization. It all came out of my still living G2000 Dynacord guitar amplifier, of course valve, with no master, even the voice recorded through it. If I made a mistake in 1 track I had to repeat it from the beginning. And if while mixing I was not fast enough in changing the tape I had to start again. So it took me more than 3 months to get ready.’
Schickert, whose main instrument was the guitar, had made some sessions of ‘echo-guitar’ before Samtvogel (not dissimilar to Achim Reichel of A.R. & The Machines fame), but here is where it apparently all came together in classic form. Samtvogel is not only a prime serving of early Krautrock pioneering with acid flares, but a gem of experimental, as well as personal, music. With echo-guitar in hand, Schickert laid down 3 cuts that go exponentially beyond that small number. The 6 minute Apricot Brandy eases in, minimally and deceptively, laying down more than one path that Samtvogel will expand down with the lengthier Kriegsmaschinen, Fahrt Zur Holle and Walde. Kriegsmaschinen, Fahrt Zur Holle builds slowly, layering up on itself until it becomes a vibrating push that doesn’t just cut through the air–here and up there—but infuses itself with it. It’s a chiming, shimmering and, at times delicate, loopy vortex that has as much going on outside it as it does inside…like a soundtrack to a chemical reaction, randomly choreographed particles bouncing and ricocheting off of each other generating new energy. Schickert weaves in some vocals that resonate with what’s generating sonically, giving Kriegsmaschinen, Fahrt Zur Holle even more lift, but also a tether to the human factor of the trip, as alien as it all feels. Walde moves the flurry to the front end, thickening the pulse and flattening the curve a bit as sounds and proddings push in from all sides, exploratory fingers testing the flexibility of the force field Schickert is provoking out of thin air. Walde has the feeling of being broken into sections, but the demarcations are so fluid and bleeding into each other, drawing a line in the sand is pointless. Not being able to put your finger on it, or deciding if the trip is inner or interstellar is a huge part of Walde’s pull, and Samtvogel’s gravity.
Samtvogel was also hard to put your hands on so you could get your brain around it. In another example of forward thinking by looking back, April sees a re-issue of this personal and seminal gem from Important Records.
Kriegsmaschinen, Fahrt Zur Holle :: Günter Schickert :: Samtvogel (2013, Important Records)
Fresh out of the oven from ’89 comes Tony Mentzer’s Varicose Brainsfor your baking pleasure. Originally a 90 minute cassette only release, Crabapple Records have teamed up with Bakery Records to bring Mentzer’s 4-track opus up from the deep. A dizzying collection of ambiance, texture, collage, pop and flat-out wood-paneled basement weirdness, Varicose Brains is the first of this joint venture’s campaign to bring Tony’s work from ’89 through the here and now out into the wider open. Whether they strike you as field recordings from the fringe or a cry for help is your call. The last thing on Mentzer’s mind, I’m sure, was how this was going to be received, though at least one smitten recipient apparently back-packed through Europe armed only with VB for sonic digestion. In some skewed way, that’s about as telling about Mentzer’s catalog as anything; minimally armed, setting out on your own, seeing where you end up and taking that for what it is. That said, this isn’t tossed off wankery or thoughtless knob-twiddling pushed off as ‘art.’ Lengthy excursions like Empty-Headed Overture in “C” and 9 Miles From Titan lay those potential accusations to rest, as do the more straight-ahead offerings like the psychy garage pop of Four Leaf Clover. Bereft of mass appeal and sure to alienate as many people now as it did then, VB succeeds on its own terms. And with Mentzer’s output over the years doing the same, that says as much about others’ brains as it does his.
Keeping in line with his prolific condition, Mentzer already has something new out, bringing his catalog full circle to the now without (thankfully) taking the shortest path…don’t take the straightest line and certainly don’t color within them. He doesn’t. Swell on…
Aidan Baker, multi-instrumentalist and half of duo Nadja, takes a dive into a different pool with his new outing, Already Drowning. Overflowing with his atmospheric calling card, Already Drowning builds on more straight-ahead song structures, employing the talents of guest vocalists on each track. Using myths and folktales centered on ‘female water spirits’ as his springboard, Baker weaves a hypnotizing and enigmatic song-cycle that quickly elevates itself beyond his inspiration becoming a rich tapestry that not only invites the listener’s participation, but encourages it. It’s not surprising that there’s a cut with ‘common tongue’ in the title: with some vocalists opting to sing in their native language, they all get across their messages and intent in the tongue everyone knows. Already Drowning is impeccably crafted, rich and dense. Already Drowning exudes a metropolitan, and melancholy, sexiness that is packed with the isolation and seeming desire to lessen the disconnect that can come with being buried in the crush of humanity, or lack of. That said, those things—and feelings—are everywhere, and what Already Drowning is about in many ways, with the locale of your choosing, is the human condition. And that’s equal whether you’re bathed in the high-rise neon glow or the blue of the TV eye that stands watch. The fact that it crosses that line, to become inclusive rather than insular speaks volumes to the humanness of Already Drowning. Something we’re all doing, have done, or will be at some point.
I’m not exactly sure when it became necessary to quantify everything, and subsequently spoil the fun, but putting exact figures on Big Plastic Finger is not only impossible, but would be as slippery as the music (we’ll get to that). Besides, they already got a big finger hooked to Launching The Tone Arm, their first full length. I’m pretty sure they know what they’re doing…even when it sounds like they don’t. Now, isn’t that the beauty of it all? It is when it’s 3 parts Brian Wilson Shock Treatment, a few beakers of molten psych rock, a healthy dose of noise rock, a whole lot of improvisational deep probe space rock and a myriad of other ingredients from space dust to garage grime under the big fingernail. Shaked, baked and refried to a glorious luster, the one thing you can say about Big Plastic Finger with certainty is that for as unhinged and freak-flag waving as LTTA is, it welcomes you in with multiple open arms. Collectively, Big Plastic Finger have played with The Boredoms, Hawkwind, Nik Turner…if that gives you an idea of where they are coming from, and try to head to, that’s only a start. If you co-pilot with the likes of Can, Alien Planetscapes, Zappa, Gong, AMT, Beefheart, and not in the least, Brian Wilson Shock Treatment, then you’re getting warmer…but absolutely nowhere near the sun. For as overwhelmingly toxic as all that might seem to the timid, LTTA—like those other like-minded travelers’ exhaust—is highly breathable and life-giving…where there may not be any. Inside their avant-cauldron of sound, BPF never leave you without something to hang onto, and by doing so never collapse into mindlessly tiresome wankery. Scott Pratos’ guitar is laced with a loose history lesson of psych guitar pyrotechnics that he smelts into his own, able to cook and contemplate equally. Mark McClemens and Brian McCorkle work the bottom end engine room giving a nucleus that is as rock-solid as it is shape-shifting, letting the whole storm swirl around and in them, while being constantly on the go themselves. Both are doing their own thing for sure, but it’s not two cats soloing unaware of some basic work that needs to be done; both fundamental and far-flung. And then there’s Bonnie Kane with a self-described secret weapon of ‘avant-core’ fired from saxophone and flute that’s integral to BPF. All make their presence known, and felt, while serving the big picture…and the big finger. Launching The Tone Arm is bracing stuff, not to be fully enjoyed in one session. Each return finds the tone arm launching to a new destination without losing sight of the mission. Big Plastic Finger have the remainder of their collective appendage confidently on the handle…thankfully the rest opts to go off it.
Launching The Tone Arm is available via download and limited edition vinyl from Starry Night Records.
Finding a Good Use for the Growing Pile :: Big Plastic Finger :: Launching The Tone Arm (2012, Starry Night Records)
A star exploded 4.5 billion years ago and set in motion the gravitational collapse of a molecular cloud…Great Cosmic Music, Ancient to the Future
Crash Galactic is a stellar, and eclectic, set of transmissions from Austin’s Sungod. Moving all over the universal map, Sungod keep it all tied together with an intangible web of threads that allow them to work form into cosmic formlessness as well as fire the boosters when needed. Both strong and subtle, the underlying Krautrock shimmers that run throughout Crash Galactic keep it all of one mind, one that’s wide open. Sungod work in the space rock, the Krautrock grooves, some more ambient drifts, piano and synths, and even some swampy and snakey acoustic…and it works. The flight plan might sound like a mess on paper, but this isn’t about reading instructions, this about the inner and outer space between your ears, and Sungod’s. Though it aims far and wide, Sungod keep Crash Galactic suffused with a surprisingly warm intimacy that keeps it all within reach, and cosmically rewarding.
…Overhang Party is criminally overlooked. From the heavily psychedelic noise-rock of their first album to the piano-rock anthems of 4, Overhang Party was somehow impossibly consistent and seamless. This box set flows as an even, open document of this fearless and inventive Japanese rock group…The Complete Studio Recordings of Overhang Party includes each of their studio albums (each with a bonus track) and their unreleased final recording sessions. While this 4 CD set is sure to please aficionados of Japanese underground rock The biggest surprise, however, will be for the uninitiated who can finally confront the groups emotional depth and stylistic breadth head on…
As encompassing as it is exhilarating, Complete Studio Recordings might seem overwhelming in scope, and style. But only in concept. Ears here were unfamiliar with them, but the new 4-disc testament from Important Records changes that. Certainly not the only band to cut a wide stylistic swath by any means, Overhang Party certainly did it innately. Depending on where your loyalties lie taste-wise, it might be evolution vs. de-evoltuion, but there’s no arguing that Overhang Party approached each tangent with as much commitment and fervor as the next. And did it successfully without disappearing into the shifts. They move effortlessly from subdued, elastic stretches to garage-fueled psych flare-ups, and handle landing just as comfortably on more straight-ahead ‘modern’ fare; progressive, powerful and daring. A true showcase, Overhang Party call to mind—and join—a vast history of artful and aggressive rock, fluent in its many splintered tongues.
“We are not scared of staying in the same place, but we always need a change. I want to make a truly alternative style.”—Rinji Fukuoka, from Sake-Drenched Postcards
Then The Ship Sank :: Overhang Party :: Complete Studio Recordings (2012, Important Records)
Compared to much of Mugstar‘s earlier work, the new opus Axis plays as buoyant, almost jubilant. Their characteristic drama and intensity (found in full flower on their recent Ad Marginem) is here, but orbiting around that one-of-many axes, Mugstar set into motion a new set of celestial bodies. Still fully capable of creating their own gravity,this excursion finds them playing with it, giving it an elasticity that hints at Mugstar riffing on themselves as much as the influences and touchstones they draw from. Those influences abound; a dizzy smart mix that is breathed in and returned distilled as a breath of fresh air that still leaves oxygen for the furnace blasts. Axis is at once a classicist Mugstar album and one that takes their sonics and execution to a new, and…here it comes…approachable level. It’s an aptly titled record spinning around Mugstar’s internal turbine and body of work, strengthening older orbits and introducing new ones. Case in point, opener Black Fountain. Retooled from an earlier split with Carlton Melton, it’s a slight bridge from what came before to a subtly more open vista, both an introduction and exposition. Somewonderfully theatrical organ turns Hollow Ox into a cathedral-esque illumination in the church that Mugstar built, showing that they haven’t forgone the coiled tenseness, latent promise, and threat, of explosion. Tangerina completes the one-two punch with Hollow Ox, pulsing with a Krautrock heart that understands that means far, far more than a beat. No disrespect intended, Tangerina is proof positive that Mugstar create some of the best driving songs this side of any sun. In Earth resurrectsthecathedral-esqueonce more, born deep in the ground, swelling up like a funereal hillock until elevation and levitation. Axis Modulator, all about the rhythm and the pound,might be the most overtly straight-ahead Mugstar cut on Axis, the wizard behind the curtain working his mojo with almost-wordless vocals taking the cut somewhere new and binding it with earlier sounds. It grabs and doesn’t let go until you’re Upturndownside while Mugstar achieve the goal, but on a different tangent. A more fluid vibe washes ashore on this one, with the drums hinting at a tribal feel as loose-edged sounds and flares give Upturndownside form without hard definition. Vehicles of Spain brings Axis to a close, keeping the doors widen open for more travel. The looser, almost frolicsome side of Axis is brought to the forefront for an exhilarating, and uplifting finish that lifts Mugstar up to peak over another new horizon line. Axis, with its subtle, elusive modulating of Mugstar’s sound makes a statement of the journey so far, leaving the other end of the tunnel open. Axis shines with their knack for reaching deep down into the core (and there is more than one) grabbing it with both hands and dragging it up and outward. They spin around the surface, under it, through it, more often than not far above it. If there is a surface for Mugstar, a place to land, Axis isn’t it by a long shot; as Vehicles of Spain makes clear, there are far more places to go before making a landing. If Axis is your first ride with Mugstar, it’s as fine a point of entry as any. If you’ve been along for the ride so far, then you’ll get exactly what you expect as Axis ups the ante again.
More…baked…goodness from the fine folks at Bakery Records…Wigdoor/Jimmy/Holsum
Lying dormant and buried in a time capsule of unheard cassettes for 22 years laid Jimmy – Holsum, a discarded mishmash of rudimentary drum machine beats, simple synth bass lines and answering machine messages from a hazy and sometimes violent past. Jimmy, the band, never materialized to finish and release Holsum, and the album was destined to remain etched in the long term memories of the select few who heard it at the time.
On this 2012 reinterpretation, Wigdoor has taken samples of Holsum’s source material and using the same simple themes has created a modern day reintroduction to the whimsical and often twisted psyche of Jimmy and of those that left the cryptic messages.
A teeth rattling collaboration from The Chasms and the mighty vert:x in the form of vs. Mark Whitby…I’m not sure who Mark Whitby is, but from the sounds these two behemoths pound out, I’ll take an educated guess that he lost. Big time. The Chasms have a wealth of other material to sample (Alchemical Postcards is as a rewarding place to jump in as any), but if you’re familiar with the chugging and insistent space rock of vert:x, here’s a shot to hear them in a harsher light, flexing their impressive muscles in a different way. Abrasive, tough and packing enough squall for a perfect storm, vs. Mark Whitby is also surprisingly accessible…for those willing to replace Whitby’s name after the ‘vs’ with their own.
Regional Variations :: The Chasms (and Vert:x) :: vs Mark Whitby (2012, The Chasms)
"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.