Pine Smoke Lodge “El Ahrairah” (Sweat Lodge Guru SLG001, 2010)
As you may have already guessed from looking at the catalogue number above, this little yellow peril was the first release out of the gates from Sweat Lodge Guru (which is currently ‘on ice’, unfortunately). Come to think of it, Pine Smoke Lodge haven’t put anything out in a fair while either…hmm…double bummer…but anyway- let’s skip back in our minds to happier times when both were very much fully active and get this review party STARTED…
“El Ahrairah” (rabbit speak for “prince with a thousand enemies”) is structured the same across both its sides, offering up a 22 and a half minute monster first, then a sub-10 minute ‘palate cleanser’ to close. With the first double digit beast, “Evenk Tent”, we’re instantly thrown into a wild mesh of sound, pitched somewhere inbetween ‘devotional’ and downright scary- clanging bells, high peaking shards of noise and low arcing groans are the order of the day. Eventually certain looping patterns emerge from the fray, offering up glimpses of beauty. As the piece progresses, an angelic vocal loop floats in, quickly followed by a murky wall shaker of a drone, over which the duo chuck in massively reverbed jarring sounds- feedback-esque snatches of birdsong (or are they birdsong-esque snatches of feedback?), the ringing of a school bell and what could very well be the sound of a hand powered whisk grinding into a stone wall. After a time the claustrophobic, metallic ‘mesh’ present from the early stages of the piece fades completely, giving things a more spacious, cavelike feel…the ‘whisking’ is looped atop the remaining sounds…then things plateau…for a long time…indeed, it feels like “let’s keep this stuff running while we go for a smoke and/or make a cup of tea” syndrome has kicked in, until some kind of New Age-y woodwind instrument flutters to our rescue, heralding an end to the reverbdroneloopy frolics and ultimately an end to “Evenk Tent”! To be honest, I could’ve done with a bit more of said flutterings rather than the persistent err, ‘whisk/wall interplay’. That said though, this is still a pretty cool piece.
“The Children and the Child” is up next and it’s a goody! It gets underway with a drone reminiscent of Richard Youngs circa “Festival”- y’know, blissful, but with ‘bite’- under which a solitary synth gurns and burbles. Further down the line we’re treated to almost subliminal “aaah”-ing lady vox and occasional loud smashes of white noise, after which the piece drifts into a much more noticeably melancholy zone thanks to some gorgeous additional chord drones. With the end of the side approaching fast, PSL bring in some high bowed metal tones to great effect. A spiffing effort!
“Eternal Ground Imagery” is side B’s marathon jam, though unlike with “Evenk Tent”, this time we’re eased into things more gradually, with a distant loop of echoey violin torture and gentle metal tinkles hovering over a vaguely threatening guitar feedback or organ drone, which always pulls back just as you think it’s gonna ROAR in your face. Slowly but surely the intensity builds, as bowed guitar and violin loops pile up, turning things…not quite ‘melodic’, but certainly a lot friendlier than they were at the top of the piece. With everything circling nicely, Matt and Hillary nip off for another long fag break, though to be fair this is a much better place to be stuck than the one in “Evenk Tent”. I guess in these sorts of “eek- nothing seems to be changing!!” situations, you can either feel swizzed or you can try and lose yourself in the sonics- thankfully for me this particular extended passage errs toward the latter option! Again, a woodwind instrument signals a change, tooting its refrain from a faraway hilltop, after which a sound like someone scrubbing clothes in a river enters the mix, leaving “Eternal Ground Imagery” to fade back from whence it came.
Closer “Munkh Khukh Tengri” (Mongolian for “eternal blue sky”) rides in on a tribal pulse beat and frail, ‘as if played in a deserted school classroom’ xylophone/bicycle bell jinglings, which sandwich the subsequent ‘mammoth stuck in a tar pit’ horn tones and assorted rattles and whines from hard to place sound sources. A short while after the peyote takes hold, as it were- an excitable yelped chant commands your attention, which is soon joined by ominous rumbles and swathes of bowed guitar. The sounds swell to a point where our friend the pulse beat is all but obscured, then- whaddayaknow- just before the piece comes to its abrupt end, we’re treated to one last dose of woodwind! And it feels good…
Overall, “El Ahrairah” is a fine piece of work for sure and will be of particular interest to those into music that inhabits the twisted netherworld twixt free folk and noise.
Obscene Caller “Attachments” (Scumbag Relations no.143, 2010)
Side A begins with what is probably best described as a stretch of low key kitchen improv- what could very well be a bunch of pots, pans and jars are rattled about and struck with some kind of implement (a wooden spoon, perhaps?) in a freeform manner, before being abruptly cut off by a quick succession of groans, scrapes, rattles, squeaks, whistles, rustlings, tinkles, knocks and hisses. It literally sounds like Frye is walking about his pad with a hand held tape recorder, jamming about on whatever household appliances he has to hand, opening windows to record the sounds of the streets outside etc. One standout snippet involves Frye blowing down a plastic pipe- nice circular breathing!! He keeps things pretty sparse for the most part during this ‘audio scrapbook’ section- apart from the occasional background hum/drone, there’s never more than one sound happening at a time, though the performances are active enough to still be engaging. The sounds are kept natural and raw, though I did detect a touch of reverse reverb (maybe??) in a couple of places. The side concludes with another slightly longer passage, which includes the sound of a ping pong ball bouncing on a table top (or thereabouts!!).
The first few performances on side B feel a little fuller and more developed than those on side A, with Eric multi-tasking like a demon- for example, droning on a metal pipe while simultaneously creating small skittery sounds with err, other stuff. This particular section is perhaps the highlight of the tape for me. As with the A side, we’re then treated to a collection of shorter, sparser bits, including the sounds of masking tape being ripped off a cardboard box and coins being rattled about inside a jar.
“Attachments” is a strange one for sure- it doesn’t particularly feel like it’s working towards anything or that it’s trying to send out any kind of message, but yeah, taken for what it is- an extremely intimate half an hour or so of collaged improvisations on ‘non-standard’ instruments/field recordings- it’s still pretty enjoyable, though I can’t see myself ever playing it that much.
Bermuda Link “Exit” (Excite Bike EXBX-104, 2009)
Bermuda Link was, of course, a short-lived duo project made up of the many-monikered dudes Jeffry Astin and the ‘notorious’ Josh Burke. Despite the brevity of their time together, Bermuda Link managed to pump out a fair amount of releases, of which “Exit” is the easiest to get hold of.
I’ve no idea which side is which ‘officially’, so I’ll just comment on them in the order I played them. The first side has a brief muffled intro of squonks, warbles and vaguely Arabic noodlings, followed by a longer section of dark judderings/drones and primitive low bit rate vocal modifications, all of which conjure up images of dirty industrial estates, seedy back alleys and abandoned warehouses in my poor addled brain. Said ‘industrial menace’ eases somewhat with the introduction of a synth drone that coats the outer edges of your speakers in a thin blue/green fur. This carries everything along nicely up until a glitch section, in which a ghost tries its hardest to sing us a happy little tune through an ancient, malfunctioning radio sequestered away in the back of a fusty junk shop. A ‘typical’ peaceful, airy Sky Limousine-y part then drifts in while we’re not looking, which builds gradually, before being interrupted by what I can only describe as a ‘mid-plane flight drone’…yeah- if you can imagine nodding off on board a plane and having a wonderfully vivid dream in which you’re travelling through fluffy clouds on the wings of a giant dove, then being woken up with a start only to remember that you’re actually mid-way through a turbulent flight with some crummy budget airline or other, well err, this sudden transition feels just like this!! As the side winds down, the dreamy ‘dove’ drone floats back in, before giving way to more plane noise.
At the start of the flip side a plethora of garbled, reversed sounding video game sounds sit atop deep, cold drones, which segue into further spooked vocal modifications (lots of delay/pitch shift action goin’ on here). Eventually a beautiful aquarium synth line enters the mix, doing its beautiful aquarium-y thing beneath detuned radio sounds. A second dose of odd low pitched/delayed vocals turns out to be the intro to a strangely familiar alt rock song, which chugs along underneath an oppressive rumble and various fucked up drones, making you feel like it’s 1993 all over again and you’re conked out on the sofa having a ‘flu induced nightmare with MTV playing in the background (poor you!!). As the plundered song melts away into nothingness, a whole muddy mess of stuff hovers in to replace it, wrapping things up rather nicely.
“Exit” certainly covers a fair bit of sonic terrain within its brief running time, factoring in and mixing up many ideas familiar from Astin and Burke’s solo endeavours, mostly to interesting effect, though sometimes to the point of impenetrability. So yeah- if you like your music dense, murky, screwed up and unpredictable (though maybe not so unpredictable in this case seeing as I already told you what happens- make sure you wipe your brain clean once you’re done reading this), then give it a go by all means.
Andreas Brandal / Blood on Tape “Split” (Rotifer Cassettes RC46, 2011)
The excellent Rotifer Cassettes put out this interesting pairing of prolific Norwegian drone man Andreas Brandal and the US duo Blood on Tape a couple of years back in an edition of just 68…allow me to say a few words about it…
Mr. Brandal gets things underway with a simple, but rather effective Conrad Schnitzler-esque piece consisting of a basic minor key melody over a shifting backdrop of synth textures- from fast pulses to high and low drones. Later in the piece an atonal dronescape takes command, seemingly replicating the sound of a plane flying overhead (very closely overhead in this case!!). The second piece on offer opens with a chilly, sawing drone and *that* same bloody progression that you’ve heard in a million Black Metal intros/interludes, but *still* can’t get enough of (you know the one!!), before things get way more spacious, but no less moody. AB’s third contribution warbles in a dissonant fashion, until some brittle Spaghetti Western guitar chords and a lovely, ghostly ‘school science’ synth melody prick your ears up, then lastly he gives us a wonderfully macabre synthesized funeral march with echoes of Eastern European folk music, which concludes in a melancholic free time manner. Great stuff for sure, though it’s kind of a shame that all the tracks were left nameless- stirring sonics such as these deserve evocative titles, not relative anonymity dammit!! But we can’t always have it all, I guess…
Blood on Tape’s side sprawling “Sunless Spirit” (this is the title given on Discogs- there’s no mention of it on the tape insert) floats in with an ominous, churchy drone, rusty gong washes and far off guitar melodies, all adding up to an undeniable dark medieval dream vibe. Further into the piece, the guitar breaks through the mix a little more with peals of impassioned single note ecstasy, while the organ/gong drones continue to swirl up inside the church dome. At around about the halfway mark, some kind of accordion/concertina tune ushers in a different, much more oppressive section- reverbed cymbals sulkily skirt the edges of the mix, while dark, heavy tones swell and swell, before spunking out triumphantly into Black Boned Angel/Sunn O))) realms- all ‘shifting tectonic plates’-style guitar chords and wayward lead. Following this veritable doom-gasm, the ‘air clears’ somewhat- assorted smokey drones, rippling harp-esque arpeggios and drifting clean toned lead guitar doodles bring us back down to earth and light our aural post-coital ciggie, as it were, after which a steam train chugs into the mix (no- really!!) alongside a persistent microtonal synth/guitar drone, bringing things to an end. Fantastic!!
This is a stellar split of shadowy, remote sounding material- well worth checking out if that’s your particular bag.
Robedoor “Stoner Reaper” (Fuck It Tapes FIT036, 2007)
A scalding guitar feedback drone gets things underway on this 2007 effort from the boys Brown. Said scorching tone belongs to the titular track, which occupies about two thirds of the A side. “OK, but how does the piece develop after this molten beginning??!!” I hear you scream- with echoey amp shakings and hollow beatings…with sudden swooshes of white noise, that’s how!! Once these wicked additions have ceased to ravage your speaker cones, the initial drone foundation becomes more noticeably layered and complex, as a rough audio approximation of a biting, frosty wind whistles in the background. With everything rumbling along nicely, high vocal cries begin to skim the underbelly of the drone- they are atonal to begin with, but eventually they tune to the drone, turning things ‘a bit raga’ in the process!! Following this modal plateau, the vocals disappear down the same black hole that swallowed all of “Stoner Reaper”‘s previous sonic garnish and various feedback frequencies swoop in to replace them. I hoped that the piece would begin to scale to a higher sonic peak at this point, but- the odd teasing spike in volume aside- unfortunately it didn’t happen. Shame!!
“Opiate Cloak” is up next and it’s a much uglier piece than its predecessor. Overloaded practice amp vocals and obscure grumblings ooze above a dissonant, machine-like looped drone for the first half, until primitive floor tom beats bludgeon their way through the chaos, gradually growing louder alongside the increasingly twisted and disturbed vocals. Yet again I readied myself for the mother of all climaxes, and when someone started twatting some cymbals I thought I was gonna get one (or a drum solo at the very least haha), but yet again I was denied the pleasure- instead the “…Cloak” crumpled into a sloppy heap and the side rolled to a close.
Side B is stuffed to the gills with a piece entitled “Nightmare Traverser”- its opening drone is a wavering, seasick one, to which our Robedoor friends add tentative caveman drums and swallowed mic groans that occasionally billow into feedback clouds. Some minutes in, waves of disgruntled yeti guitar fuzz rear up, adding further to the piece’s woolly, stuffy atmosphere. Then, following a short but sweet bit of vocal/floor tom interplay, “Nightmare Traverser” enters its main phase- the drones and fuzz take a back seat, the vocals shift off again into a private improv realm, whilst the ever more prominent/dominant drums hold down a simple, incessant beat. This long ass stretch of slack, grimy, grease flecked basement trance reminds me of the great, but sadly underrated Big Whiskey album “The Bloated Museum of Treachery”. Mmm!! Eventually things wind down and peter out, the nightmare evidently traversed quite enough for one evening!!
So yeah- “Stoner Reaper” has a pretty good A side and an excellent B side. Sounds like a party to me!! Err, maybe…