REVIEW BATCH #1 – The Creation Room (Richard Youngs), Sick Llama, Calypso Borealis, Jim O’Rourke, Hobo Cubes / Mpala Garoo / Architeuthis Rex / Banana Pill

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The Creation Room (aka Richard Youngs) “The Creation Room” (no label, 1988)

The Creation Room - s/t

In my books, alongside Steve Stapleton (Nurse With Wound) and Matthew Bower (Skullflower, Sunroof! etc), Richard Youngs is the finest ‘underground’ star the UK has ever produced, so naturally when I read about his earliest solo sonic endeavours as The Creation Room a few years back in Wire magazine I was itching to hear them. Unfortunately it took me several years to get my hands on just one of these ultra obscure releases.

The A-side of this humble cassette features two home recorded a cappella pieces from summer 1988- “Apricot Tree” and “Will to Tedium”. The former is an English-translated version of the traditional Armenian song “Tsiriani Tsar”, as adapted by the composer Komitas Vardapet. Youngs’ take on “Apricot Tree” is a little wobbly and wayward in spots (though to be fair it’s hardly the easiest tune to get to grips with!), but is impassioned and powerful on the whole. The two sung sections of the song are broken up by a brief whistling interlude. Stirring stuff!! “Will to Tedium” (recorded a few days later) is a lot more light-hearted in mood, featuring a repeated multi-tracked nonsense chant over thigh slap percussion. The chant goes on and on and on with subtle variations here and there, before abruptly coming to an end. I’m sure this piece would get on most people’s nerves if they heard it, but after a few plays I quite like it! Not sure what that says about me…

Anyway, the B-side is home to the epic “Nineteen Used Postage Stamps”- recorded live in a St. Albans pub in 1987. This is an excellent piece- 13 glorious minutes of Youngs’ unique voice swooping, droning and occasionally yelping over a gorgeous quick-strummed two chord acoustic motif. “Nineteen Used Postage Stamps” was actually reissued on the ever-so-slightly less limited CD-R “20th Century Jams” in 2007- the only Creation Room track to receive such an honour as far as I know!

Overall this is an interesting little release from the primitive Youngs, but there was much better work to come in all the areas explored on this tape- see “Summer Wanderer” for his best a cappella material, “Lake”- his first collaboration with Simon Wickham-Smith- for examples of his eccentric prankster/Dadaist streak and “Sapphie” for guitar/voice minimalist wonderment!

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Sick Llama “Born Again to Die” (American Tapes AM345, 2004)

Sick Llama - Born Again to Die

This was the second ever release from Heath Moerland’s Sick Llama project, “busted” (just like its predecessor, 2003’s “Put Down”) for John Olson’s legendary American Tapes label back in 2004. It consists of roughly seventeen different noise miniatures…here’s a lowdown on the sounds…

Side A (or at least the first side I played when my un-rewound second hand copy showed up in the post) starts with a couple of minutes of what sounds like a group of hissing, rasping demons incessantly revving the engine on a motorboat. Cool!! Next up we get a recording of androids having a cutlery fight inside their no doubt swanky android canteen. By piece three Heath is seemingly feeding a flock of distressed seagulls and a laughing tramp to a giant rotating Leslie speaker. Eek!! Not even cool underground noise dudes can get away with shit like that though, so inevitably come piece four there’s a police helicopter on Heath’s trail, but it’s ok ‘cos before long the chopper’s got a UFO in hot pursuit through the night sky and I’ll be damned if the aliens on board ain’t desperate to abduct the cops to indulge in a spot of anal probing. Yowch!! The next piece takes us to a deserted school playground where the wind is having fun tickling the mic and rattling a few tins of beans about on the concrete floor. There’s a different kind of wind blowing through piece number six- probably as a result of munching the beans from piece five, two speaker-panned ogres decide to have a farting contest, after which someone switches on a high powered vacuum to clean up the resulting shitty ogre mess. The side concludes with a recording of a dosed up TV news reporter trying to find her way out of a maze filled with squeaking metal gates and dancing tin openers. Awesome!!

The other side kicks off with a gnarly guest appearance from none other than Lord Satan himself, who possesses a bit of factory machinery and whips up a real shitstorm in the process!! Go Satan, Go!! Meanwhile in a cave full of noisy bats, Heath has close-mic’d himself eating cereal and is throwing metal railings about. As you do. Following this we’re off to a clock factory, where a giant grey rubber ball is having a great time bouncing about, as giant grey rubber balls are wont to do. The next three pieces last a matter of seconds each- my favourite of these is the recording of clucking chickens jamming some mean minimalist drone organ!! Speaking of organs, following this trio of bitesize junk nuggets, Heath rises up with his through the floor of a haunted amusement arcade like some kind of Stoner Phantom of the Opera, busting out half-remembered fragments from long lost ’80s slasher films. Creepy!! Ever wondered what it’d sound like if you dropped a load of ‘service bells’ (the kind you get in old style hotel receptions) into a cement mixer?? Well, look no further than the eigth piece!! The answer is “rad” btw…anyway- remember the demons from Side A?? Of course you do!! Well, it turns out they got bored of fucking about in their motorboat, so later on they cruised by Heath’s Haunted Arcade and had a few goes on an old driving simulator game. Luckily Mr. Moerland was on hand with his 4-track to record their efforts for piece nine. You’ve got to feel sorry for the asthmatic robogoat that closes out the side, though…find that sucker his inhaler, pronto!!

All in all this is a cool, original tape and it ably demonstrates that Heath had his shit sorted right from the start. One criticism, though- what’s with the massive expanses of silence at the end of each side?? “Born Again to Die” contains less than 15 minutes of sound per side, yet it was dubbed onto a C60 cassette!! Actually, this is the case with a few Sick Llama tapes that I own (mostly the stuff Heath put out on his own Fag Tapes label). Perhaps it’s meant as some sort of conceptual ‘anti-art’ statement…or maybe Heath can’t be bothered tracking down shorter tapes to dub onto?? Either way, it’s sort of annoying…but I’ll get over it.

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Calypso Borealis “Sainyinan Daji” (Existential Cloth Recordings ecr41, 2010)

Calypso Borealis - Sainyinan Daji

The debut release by this French enigma starts off in a foggy, “half-awake in a dew-dappled garden” Sunroof!/early Hototogisu type zone, with hesitant clean guitar noodles, childlike xylophone tinkles, free folky percussion patters and brittle waves of distortion doing their thing over a reedy organ drone. About halfway through the piece (which is entitled “Epoung Nou”) a different, slightly darker drone hovers in and juxtaposes itself against the seemingly oblivious xylophone, while splashing cymbals and wah-ing synths battle for your attention somewhere off in the distance.

The next piece, “Kyangabukama”, could qualify as a lost transmission from the Planet Gong with its bizarre alien drones, subtle gliss guitar and “birdsong from the heavens”-esque synth twitterings.

“Oldonyo Sambu”, the third and final piece on side A, brings us swiftly back down to earth with a jarring “Jon Lord asleep on the keys during a session for “Fireball”” drone. Assorted wavering tones and a yearning organ motif occasionally break through the harsh wash of treble, but are soon swallowed up again.

Side B contains just one piece, the 12 minute long shapeshifter “Kimpatp-Eku”. Various ideas explored on side A are expanded upon and combined here, particularly during the opening minutes where further cosmic drones, groans, gurgles and chirps float above a heavy, devotional percussive attack (imagine jamming Limbus 4’s “Mandalas” at the same time as a Space Machine album and you’re there!!), before giving way to fizzy, ring modulated sounds. Eventually the percussion instruments settle into something more rhythmic and the once intense drone action quietens to a murmur, as short loops, wisps of guitar feedback and other one-off sounds come and go in an hallucinatory manner, bringing the piece to its conclusion.

This was a strong opening statement from Calypso Borealis- it’s just a shame it was so limited.

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Jim O’Rourke “Some Kind of Pagan” (Sound of Pig SOP 224, 1989)

Jim O'Rourke - Some Kind of Pagan
I have to say, I approached listening to this tape (Jim’s first ever full length release as far as I know) with a certain amount of trepidation, as most of his early works that I’ve heard leave me pretty cold. Thankfully the second “Hold These God Damn Chickens” started tumbling out of the speakers with its briskly-paced prepared guitar scrapings my fears were alleviated somewhat, as it sounds closer in spirit to something like “Remove the Need” (yay) rather than “Tamper” (nay) or “Disengage” (double nay). From what I can make out, said scrapings are most likely the result of O’Rourke bowing the top couple of strings, on top of which he soon adds distressed janglings, feedback tones and what sounds like an oil drum being smashed with a hammer. It’s not, though…according to the sleeve notes every track on offer here is a solo guitar performance with no overdubs and no electronic processing other than reverb!! So, in other words *somehow* Jim made these fairly varied sounds happen simultaneously and he used the absolute bare minimum of smoke and mirrors gadgetry to achieve them. Impressive!! If you have any idea how he did it, send your answers on a postcard to…

“Bound Up With Memory : In the Waiting Place” starts off with atonal plinkings and deep gong-like tones- freeform at first, then after a minute or so Jim teases out a relaxed rhythm with the same sounds. From hereon in, however, any notion of ‘pulse’ or rhythm goes out of the window. Stuttering, spluttering whines of feedback emerge, drifting over the ‘gong’ tones, which by now have become much louder and more distorted. For the last few minutes Jim cranks up the reverb to such an extent that the remaining bongs, whines and clanks from his guitar sound like they’re playing inside an aircraft hangar, or some such cavernous industrial space.

“Stayed a While Then Went Away” (the first piece on side B) opens with the sinister chiming of Satan’s own grandfather clock, backed by what sounds like metal tacks being dragged across a chalkboard. As if things couldn’t get any more wince-inducing, Jim then adds screeching dentist’s drill-esque feedback to this mélange of sonic torture, along with enormous bowed tones. At around the 8 minute mark all hell breaks loose…sounds fly about with wild abandon…it sounds like a whole band’s worth of people (and a dog- I can definitely hear a dog in there somewhere) going apeshit…remember, though- it’s not…it’s just Jim and his axe making the racket…after a couple of minutes the insane freak outery subsides, the clock chimes once again and the dentist resumes his drilling…

The next piece, “Solving Problems Until They All Disappear”, alternates between creepy mid-range bowed dronings and nice groaning feedback sections, while the closer “Heaven is No Longer Paved in Gold” consists of far off sounding atonal driftings, similar to the final minutes of “Bound Up With Memory : In the Waiting Place”.

If you’re bonkers for AMM, Keith Rowe, early Organum, “Homotopy to Marie”-era Nurse With Wound, Fred Frith’s prepared guitar stuff, Coil’s “How to Destroy Angels” etc then you definitely need “Some Kind of Pagan” in your life to provide you with your next spooked out, rusty, metallic improv fix.


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Hobo Cubes / Mpala Garoo / Architeuthis Rex / Banana Pill – Split (Jozik Records JZK007, 2010)

HC / MG / AR / BP - Split
Here’s the scoop on this nice four-way split, released by Banana Pill’s Jozik Records back in that funny old year we called 2010…

Hobo Cubes’ “Utopian Ocean” kicks things off on the green-stickered side (there’s no ‘official’ A or B side to this tape- the sides are identified by sticker colour) with delayed seagull cry guitar and (perhaps) flute dancing about on top of a curious droning loop in a ‘Fursaxa at her most wayward’ kind of fashion. “Dream Freeze” starts off sparsely with primitive drum machine thumps and alien organ warbles, before several small plasticine people enter the jamscape and begin vocalising down a narrow drainpipe. The piece ends with a pinch of spooked delay guitar. “Secret Reality” is Hobo’s final contribution to the split- a thin sheet of atonal drift and a waltz-time pulse beat lead into more bad trip woodwinds and some kind of incessant hairdryer-esque wailing. As the piece progresses, the beat speeds up and the wailing pitch-shifts higher and higher, giving the whole thing a definite ‘fairground ride from your worst nightmare’/”shit, everything’s spiralling out of control!!” vibe. Great!! Not a wasted moment here- all three tracks build to the action fast, then cut off before they have a chance to get tedious.

Mpala Garoo (aka Ivan Karib, also of the excellent duo project Kon Tiki Gemini) follows with three tracks of his own. The first, “Open Way Up High”, features a drum machine and clean toned electric guitar, both of which are fed through a delay device. The guitar figures start out fairly Velvets-y, but by the end we’re in “Let Down” by Radiohead territory. Quite a nice start to proceedings. “Primitiitoo” features catchy “Graceland”-gone-lo-fi guitar lines on top of a (presumably) sampled African beat. Other sounds, like subtle washes of organ are brought in as the piece progresses. The last Mpala offering is the solo electric guitar piece “Sister Lightning”, which moves through some serious early-Durutti Column zones. So much so, you could probably pass this off (in certain circles) as a newly unearthed, crusty “The Return of The Durutti Column”-era home demo!! In complete contrast to Hobo Cubes’ muddy atonal chaos, Mpala Garoo’s material here is sweet, melodic and uncluttered, but ultimately is a bit too…skeletal for my tastes. A bit more sonic depth might have been nice.

The blue-stickered side opens with the sole offering from Italy’s Architeuthis Rex- the epic “Victimae Pischalis Laudes”. It begins in a fairly peaceful way with backwards tribal drums, glassy synths and vocals doing their New Age-y thing, until what sounds like a chorus of croaking tree frogs heralds a change- a fat, grumbling drone creeps in alongside a blaring synth line and ’80s Industrial-style drums, turning shit considerably darker, vibe-wise. Eventually the synth blarings drop out, leaving the drones ‘n’ drums and an odd metallic pinging sound to plateau for a good while. Hereafter, the piece becomes a psychedelic mix and match, with all the above sounds (and possibly some new ones- it’s hard to tell!!) coming and going in myriad formations. I figured it was pretty pointless trying to work out exactly what was going on by this point- instead I let the remainder wash over me and drown my senses in waves of pulsating colour and psychotropic fervour. It’s recommended. Anyway, for what it’s worth I’d say this is probably my favourite piece on the whole split- marvellous stuff!!

Lastly, Finnish boy/girl combo Banana Pill offer up two long-ish assemblages of charming audio jumble. “Bonfire” begins with an airy organ drone and a repeated ‘electric period’ Jandek-esque 2 chord guitar phrase, before ’90s electro-style synth bleeps and ethereal female vocals slip into the mix. Everything floats about nicely for a few minutes, after which the drone vanishes and the guitar breaks off into twangy improv. None of the sounds in “Bonfire” ‘gel’ particularly, but the piece still manages to be wholly satisfying. Which is nice. “Hole in the Ground” also has a droning foundation- this time of warm, major key bowed electric guitar and synth, on top of which the duo place weird whooshing noises (presumably the result of an electric guitar connected to an obscene chain of effects) and a clipped organ phrase. As the piece nears its end, the drone quietens and some kind of haunting/haunted vocal comes in- not sure if it’s a human voice or like, whales or wolves or some shit, though. Oooh, the mystery!! Whatever the case, this is another great track. Yeah!! If we’re playing ‘side wars’, then this ‘blue’ side definitely wins out overall.

In a nutshell, this is a mighty cool split- varied enough so that short attention span cretins like me don’t get bored, but unified enough in its homespun fuzzy-round-the-edges-ness to still make me feel all nice and ‘complete’ inside when it’s over. If that makes sense??!! Err…OH YEAH- and did I mention that it comes packaged inside a cloth bag?? Woo!!

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