REVIEW BATCH #4 – G Sweems / Tricorn + Queue, Aloonaluna, Heatsick, Sylvester Anfang II, Weirding Module

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G Sweems / Tricorn + Queue “Split” (Housecraft Records housecraft no. 135, 2012)

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Here’s a few words about this hyper limited Housecraft split, released during the wet, wet summer of 2012…

G Sweems (aka Kaisha King) gets things underway with “From a Great Distance”- scuffed sounding backwards keyboard loops do their thing over cute ’80s synth bass and bell-like tinkles, after which a phased steam train-esque huffing enters the zone, accompanied by low sustained notes and far off dream drift. Nice!! “Red Delicious” (a collaborative piece with Jeff Astin’s Xiphiidae, apparently) is next- its combination of low bit rate electric piano, angelic rippling arpeggios and a simple three note bass loop is pitched somewhere between some forgotten slice of Tropicalia and old 16-bit computer game music and would make the perfect soundtrack to your next psychedelic holiday on a paradise island. As the piece winds on, the sound becomes more and more degraded, before a sun-warped Mariachi melody floats in, eventually joined by a heady drone, taking things to a weird good trip/bad trip netherworld. “Bayou” redresses the balance somewhat with its sweet, though clichéd New Age blend of held synth chords, water sounds and bird calls, followed by a stretch of Oriental sounding glitchy high tones. Good stuff overall, particularly “Red Delicious”. I’m looking forward to checking out further Sweems for sure!

T+Q (the duo of Kane Pour and the aforementioned Jeff Astin) weigh in with the side-long opus “Mona Versa”, which opens in a ‘jazz fusion gone lo-fi’ fashion with assorted electric piano noodlings underpinned by hollow, ethereal drones. Imagine a bootleg recording of a late night Mike Ratledge rehearsal circa The Soft Machine’s “Third” album captured by his next door neighbour and you’re somewhere close. After a good few minutes this section cuts out suddenly and is replaced by much closer and warmer sounding church organ-esque swirling drones with vague field recordings pushed way into the background…or am I just imagining them?! Following this stellar opening, unfortunately “Mona Versa” then turns into a disappointingly vanilla ‘drone slideshow’- heavily blurred guitar loops and/or synth washes bob along in an inconsequential, anonymous ‘background music for aquariums’ kinda way right ’til the end, leaving me decidedly unmoved. As with certain pieces on the B-side of Pour’s solo tape “Wand in the Beak of the Yellow Bird”, this stretch feels pretty half-baked- perhaps a little more musical flesh on the skeletal ambient framework would’ve lead to a more satisfying listen? We’ll never know now! So, not the greatest material I’ve ever heard, but I guess lopsided Tricorn is better than no Tricorn at all!

All in all, there’s some cool music to be found on this split, but truth be told it does feel like a pretty minor entry in the vast Housecraft catalogue.

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Aloonaluna “Bunny” (Hooker Vision HIV105, 2012)

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Following a few releases on Concertina Records with an expanded lineup of performers, “Bunny” was the first Aloonaluna effort produced solely by founder Lynn Fister. It came out on the dependable Hooker Vision, the label with the dodgiest catalogue numbers this side of err, my own…

Despite a promising intro of warped fairground sounds and poignant piano arpeggios, “Southern Terns” doesn’t get things off to the best of starts, the problem being the ensuing unappealing soupy mess of yowly vocals that hovers in and dominates the mix. Some way into the song a lone ray of organ light attempts to penetrate the gloomy grey vocal cloud, but its efforts are in vain. Thankfully the vocal excesses are pared back on the early Low-esque “Locusts Kiss”, to the point where it’s possible to make out some lyrics about “walking around in your underwear”- excellent!! This time the musical accompaniment comes in the form of a lone, chunky electric guitar chord and light sprinklings of xylophone. The track ends with a sleepy, mantric jam. “Bloodletting is So Boring” is a bit more animated than the opening tracks, with simple, light as a feather keyboard triads and dreamy, “Loveless”-style sighing vocals, all carried along by circuit bent Casio beats, while the following “Watercolor Rabbit” does the whole smeared, slow mo Grouper thing much better than “Southern Terns” managed. The A-side’s closer is “Antarctica”, which, for a minute or so, inhabits a strange electropop kinda place, with slightly tentative, cooing vocals over a brain-razzing two note synth figure, before a freeform section of improvised electronics floats in, then back out again all too soon. It’s a shame that neither of these sections really gets the chance to develop- with a bit more work, “Antarctica” could’ve been a monster!!

“Boom Boom Porn Radio” opens the B-side in a spooked as hell, desolate kinda way with its ‘wind blowing around a long, dark corridor’ drones and vocals, minimal guitar picking and pitch-shifted animal noises (dogs, perhaps). Next up, “Saturday Came to Fly” is a shambling, bluesy number (with whistling!!), while “Seedling, Wait to Grow”- all muffled vocal lines and sparse beats- sounds like a field recording of a bunch of noisy spirits having a late night minimal techno party in the woods outside someone’s house. “Fall Like Leaves” is a melancholy affair- a haunted vocal melody sits atop a two chord electric guitar pattern and a throbbing waltz beat. Brooding synths fade in eventually, but unfortunately the song peters out before they can really add much. Once its playful, skittery intro is over, the main portion of “Electric Firefly” consists of a nursery rhyme/folk song-simple vocal melody, backed by a watery drone and delicate drops of xylophone. The sweet, ‘dozing off on the river banks’ vibe I get from this song is spoilt somewhat by the ill-fitting guitar outro, though. Darn!! The combination of a cool, naive Casio beat and a truly lovely organ motif on the penultimate track, “Micah Across Silver Oceans”, brings to mind the much underrated 1998 album “Pulse of the Rooster” by Richard Youngs and Simon Wickham-Smith. It’s a shame Lynn didn’t crank the vocals on this occasion, though- as a result they never quite interact with the music as much as I would like. “Bunny” goes to ground with the volume-controlled sine wave-y melody, nice vocal layers and ultra minimal beat of “Lost and Strange Creatures”.

Ultimately this tape is a rather frustrating listen- don’t get me wrong, there’s some good stuff on here for sure…it’s just that there’s nothing GREAT, which is a shame ‘cos the potential is definitely there for a clutch of the material, but due to the various flaws noted above re: the production/the arrangements of the songs etc, nothing quite makes it to that level.

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Heatsick “Pre-Cum Fog Ballet / Total Afternoon Sundae” (Relax With Nature no catalogue number, 2008)

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This handy little box bundles together two hard to find ‘pre-fame’ releases from the earliest days of Steven Warwick’s Heatsick project, both of which were originally released on Alcoholic Narcolepsy in 2006.

“Pre-Cum Fog Ballet” begins with a primitive mono-chordal trance jam- all steadily strummed acoustic guitar, a featherlight synth drone and simple, looping raga guitar mini-melodies. It sounds a lot like something Siloah might’ve kicked around circa their 1st album and indeed- the ‘zonked out hippies jamming eternally in a damp, dingy barn somewhere in Europe’ vibe I get from the music is furthered by the warm, hissy sound of the tape. After some time, mewling alien kitten synth sounds enter and eventually begin to dominate the mix, thus concluding the side. The B-side of “PCFB” consists solely of what sounds suspiciously like further mutations of said alien kitten mewlings- the piece starts off sparsely with whooshing, gritty tones and gradually becomes more layered and ominous sounding as it progresses, though after a while it gets a little tedious. I dunno- maybe I was just hoping the cultic jam from the A-side would fade back in at some point??!! Yeah, that might’ve been nice…

The first piece from “Total Afternoon Sundae” (“Previously Unseen Brook”) is another side-long affair. It melts forth from the speakers with yet more mewling, which sits atop a bed of ‘power chord’ organ goings on. Wobbly, swooshy, grainy noise then burrows through the heart of the drone action, eventually unmasking itself as a mid-register organ cluster, fading in and out like a mad bastard and eventually shifting its shape to that of an atonal Krauty shimmer, before levitating itself over proceedings for the final minutes like some kind of tormenting spirit. Cool!! The concluding side in this Heatsick double bill features four much shorter pieces (“Later Mirror”, “Exactly, Exactly”, “Singing Mist” and “Unspent Realisation of Dawning Release”), though I counted err…about five haha, so I dunno exactly which title corresponds with which piece. What I do know, however, is that Steve goes veritably backwards sound bonkers for the first few minutes, offering up a brief flurry of metallic Industrial tones, followed by warbly Far Eastern psych keyboard noodling, then a modal drone on the same voicing…hmm- so far, so underdeveloped, though I suppose the drone might be ok for practising yer scales over, if nothing else. Once this fit of sparse reversed-ness has passed, Warwick gives us something a little more substantial, first of all tinkling his keys in a naive fashion and coming over a bit like “Ralf & Florian”-era Kraftwerk or Cluster circa “Zuckerzeit” in the process. Before long though things descend into loop/delay pedal hell, the piece sounding uncannily like the soundtrack to your next ‘stuck in Satan’s toy shop’ nightmare as a result. To finish, ol’ Steve gifts us a further slice of the Orient in the form of a theme from an imaginary 1980s martial arts arcade game. ‘Tis a sweet little tune for sure, but it might’ve been sweeter without all the drone malarkey that slithers in and clogs things up.

Nowadays Warwick’s Heatsick material is more dance-oriented and is quite a hit in the clubs (from what I can gather he’s particularly popular in Germany, where he’s now based). Obviously the kind of music gathered on this compilation would go down like a shit sandwich in a club environment, though the loop-heavy, minimal approach found throughout the two featured releases is still apparent in his latterday shizzle…plus it’s funny to think that Warwick still performs and records with the same knackered old keyboard that we can hear on “Total Afternoon Sundae”!!

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Sylvester Anfang II “Van Stekene tot Zomergem” (Sic Sic sicsic045, 2013)

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Sylvester Anfang II are- of course- the psychedelic improv offshoot group to the long dormant Silvester Anfang. “Van Stekene tot Zomergem” was released by the German label SicSic in a hand-numbered edition of 110 in early 2013 and sold out in what seemed like ooh, all of 20 minutes…

The tape opens with “Fakir van de geest”- a slightly murky/crusty Middle Eastern jam, located somewhere between Siloah (yes- them again, though the “Sukram Gurk” album this time) and something off the soundtrack to Jess Franco’s “Oasis of the Zombies”. Instrumentally we’re talking cool snake charmer guitar, loose drumming with plenty of tom and splashy cymbal work, lolloping camel’s head bass that occasionally breaks off into a nightmarish tritone trance pattern and an organ noodling away quietly behind a moonlit sand dune. The jam doesn’t change much save for the guitarist adding touches of fuzz and/or wah to proceedings, but it doesn’t much matter- ’tis a nice place to stay awhile.

The fresh, green “Undulatus Asperatus” is next- sonically it kinda opens a window and lets out some of the pungent smoke that “Fakir…” leaves behind with its dreamy and reedy out of focus loveliness from a melodica or accordion (?), ever-changing, cute IDM-type synth bass and assorted echoed percussion and guitar tinklings coming and going as and when they please. The track becomes much dronier as it progresses, but the sweet, pastoral, almost-but-not-quite melancholy feel remains. A violin subliminally enters the mix and solos away nicely towards the end.

The B-side commences with “De likkepot van de Duivel”, which can be neatly summed up by the following description- “doomy booming bongos, rich medieval harmonium wanderings, sharp and twangy surf/raga hybird lead guitar and a smattering of flute for ten and a half minutes”. Like “Fakir…” it sounds pretty darn ‘vintage’ and if you put it over some sort of weird sacrifice/ritual scene in a tripped out ’70s horror film it’d fit perfectly (oh wait- they already did…see YouTube…the film is “Sisters of Death”).

“Lof der zotten” closes the tape and consists of zoned out acoustic strumming, wah-goat mouthdrone action, moronically simple tambourine shaking and some pretty cool unpredictable/’selective’ drumming. Said drumming doesn’t quite manage to stop this being the least inspired jam on the album, though- on the whole it sounds like something SAII probably churn out in their deep, stony sleep.

As you might be able to guess, I find the A-side to be stronger than the flip, but overall “Van Stekene tot Zomergem” is not a bad effort- it’s not the most significant of Anfang releases by any stretch, but if you already like what they do, then this is worth picking up for sure.

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Weirding Module “Enter the Canyon Entrance Entranced” (Senseless Empire no catalogue number, 2010)

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As well as being a kind of weapon in David Lynch’s film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” novel, Weirding Module is also the name of Michael “Awesome Color” Troutman’s solo electronics project. This tape came out in 2010 via Troutman’s own Senseless Empire imprint.

The slow build 16 minute “Detroit, Michigan – Traveling” is the first track on offer- it begins with ‘on the one’ ’80s tribal/industrial rhythms and croaky/bubbly acid basslines, followed by sulky single note synth interjections and eventually several overlapping minor key melody lines. With all these elements in place the track resembles Conrad Schnitzler at his most focussed and carries a distinctly chilly, dystopian mood- both good things in my books.

Distant conga patterings open “Atlas Drugged”, to which Troutman adds a misty two note synth loop and a bassline ripe with urban melancholy. Some way in unsettled freeform synth squiggles and ‘ghost in the machine’ random static noise threaten to turn the piece into an industrial nightmare, but things never fully darken- the original loops and rhythms are never completely swallowed up.

After this duo of epic A-side tracks, the flip’s palate cleansing curtain-raiser “Weapon of Choice” features catchy mid-paced Krauty bass pulses under frothy glitches and rusty gate loops- nothing much else, though it sets the scene nicely for the closer “Surfacing Thoughts”- a 20 minute plus monster of a jam. Like “Detroit…”, “Surfacing…” takes its sweet time to build with a simple three note synth riff and various quiet loops/drones hovering in the background. Eventually the riff fades, after which we hear a loop of trumpets (??) in glorious ‘on hold’ fidelity, then an echoed bass pattern, which starts quietly, then gets meatier and altogether more neighbour unfriendly. Then, for what seems like FOREVER, Troutman teases out complimentary synth doodlings and spooky modified vocals on top of said pattern. It’s all very minimal and subtle, but I think it’s pretty cool- there’s always just enough going on so that the piece doesn’t stagnate.

I picked this tape up pretty much solely because I liked the artwork, so it’s nice to report that the actual musical content doesn’t disappoint- while it never gets as psychedelically lurid or gaudy as the cover may suggest, it still manages to take me to strange, intangible places, which is ultimately what I want from my electronic music!!

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