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Prem's Faves for 2003
{no particular order}
KUSF San Francisco, 90.3 FM
Band/Artist Release Record Label Prem's Spew
Art Ensemble of Chicago Tribute to Lester ECM Records the AEC, reduced to a trio on this recording (Roscoe Mitchell, Malachi Favors Moghostut, Famoudou Don Moye), celebrates the life of the late trumpeter Lester Bowie with a set of extended pieces featuring many percussion-heavy phases (all three members tackle a variety of percussion instruments), some with tribal rhythms; several tracks interpose fluid interplays (between flute and acoustic bass, or sax and percussion, etc.) with more aggressive improvisation, and the heavy reverb with which most of the tracks were recorded affords them a mysterious, contemplative feel
Art Ensemble of Chicago The Meeting Pi Recordings another percussion-heavy release for the AEC (see above), with Joseph Jarman returning to the ensemble on woodwinds and percussion after an absence of several years to expand the group to a quartet and even to provide vocals on one track; while one track here ("Tech Ritter and the Megabytes," a Roscoe Mitchell composition) features a chunky riff and a funky feel, others are more reserved and eerie, frequently featuring dark passages with low-range flutes and recorders or jingling bells/chimes/gongs, and one of them ("The Meeting," another Mitchell composition) feels quite angular and frenetic
Cerberus Shoal Chaiming the Knoblessone North East Indie (NEI) an art-rock excursion into the recesses of one's mind--particularly one who's oft been dipping a bit too deeply into the pool of controlled substances; these expansive tunes--all extremely twisted in a most enjoyable fashion--feature a wide array of instrumentation, voicings, and textures...eerie to shocking, looming to freaky, droney to well as a wealth of psychotic lyrics and dialogue to confound any poor soul who may attempt to assign meaning to any of it
Code One Fourteen Parts Cloudfish Music opera veteran Cindy Lubar Bishop teams up with electronic music composer Peter Girard to create fourteen relatively brief, spooky pieces involving dark soundscapes and contortions of the female voice; Girard generates electronic approximations of a variety of instrumental and environmental components (clarinet, cello, fog horn, rippling water, thunder, bongos, creaking doors, etc.) and provides an occasional backing male vocal, while Bishop sculpts her voice to project sounds both human and inhuman, from operatic to mouse-like, on this fascinatingly dark offering [2000 release]
Deerhoof Apple O' Kill Rock Stars a consistently quirky, bizarre release from this kooky rock project which, unlike some of this group's previous releases, does not collapse under its own weight; Satomi Matsuzaki's cutely silly vocals have always provided a stark contrast to the raucous, convoluted, start-stop gyrations for which the band is known, but on this release everything melds magically, even though throughout the entire disc it feels it may all fly apart at any moment
The Double U White Night, Floating Anchor Emperor Jones imagine the Smurfs having succumbed to the Dark Side, and you might get an inkling of what awaits you on these recordings; each of these tunes calls to mind a magical land of mysterious trolls and sprites lurking gigglingly in the dense brush off the beaten path (though without the dungeons and dragons)--all kinds of curious elements turn up in these songs while gooney synth organs, whimsically silly vocals, and quirkily sculpted instrumental passages envelop you in a deceptively childly reverie [2002 release]
Entrance The Kingdom of Heaven Must Be Taken by Storm! Tiger Style Records what might seem to be your standard singer/songwriter blues/folk/rock fare, except that guitarist Guy Blakeslee sings like a male banshee, brings in unusual elements every so often (reversed sounds/tape tricks, etc.), and has overdubbed his own voice to provide background choruses on occasion; in addition to his own compositions, Blakeslee provides us with covers of Skip James ("I'm So Glad") and Bob Dylan ("Tommy Thumb's Summertime Blues") as well as two pieces inspired by blues masters Blind Willie Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson, often featuring mesmerizing slide guitar riffage
The Eyesores Bent at the Waist Handsome Records Eastern European music styles meet cryptic rock and avant garde flavors on this release, with traditional elements such as mandolin, accordion, piano, violin, banjo, lap steel and string bass encountering drums/cymbals and electric guitar as well as background radios, "arpp 2000," and e-bow guitar; a dark feel pervades these recordings--a sense of tension which frames the lyrics on the tracks featuring vocals and hangs heavily on the instrumentals, though one might expect otherwise from pieces featuring the rhythm structures more commonly associated with brighter Eastern European forms--and the murky tinges endow this release with an enticing yet dubious personality [2002 release]
Hans Fjellestad/Peter Kowald/Dana Reason/Jason Robinson Dual Resonance Circumvention Music jumbly, stark, aggressive, abrasive, absurd, eerie, ugly, chattery, weird--this recording definitely does not lend itself to casual background listening at the coffee table; Fjellestad commands the piano and synth, Kowald the contrabass (on half the tracks, recorded prior to his death), Reason the piano, and Robinson the sax and electronics for pieces which fully reject the concept of "easy listening," favoring instead creaking electronics, looming bassiness, blurts and blorts, creepy flanging, percussive slamming, scraping bowing, dissonant intervals, awkward lugubriousness--an exciting listen, but not for the faint of heart
Foibles Songs About Shoe People for Shoe People (7" EP) Fickle Fame just pure, fun, unadulterated dork rock--nothing more, nothing less; the eleven brief tracks on this 7" record revolve around the subject of shoes, feet, toes, and "shoe people"--with musical themes involving anything from kazoo to simplistic guitar riffs to circus-inspired melodies to outer-space keyboards to high silly male vocals {with one lyrical exception--the 16-second "untitled hidden track" is a tune about Steve Albini's snare drum microphone techniques (?!?)}
Fred Frith Step Across the Border Fred Records some of the quirkier of Frith's recordings from the period of 1979-1989, featuring everything from medieval influences to all-out goofiness; though many of Frith's recordings lean towards contemplative abstraction, you won't find any of that here--kooky, weird, dorky, cornball, oddball, nutso, silly...all these adjectives fit at some point or another on these recordings, though you will find none of the songs lacking in either substance or creativity [2003 reissue of this 1991 album]
Go-Go Fightmaster Go-Go Fightmaster Drimala Records/Pax Recordings Aaron Bennett (sax), John Finkbeiner (guitar/synth), Adam Lane (bass) and Vijay Anderson (drums) team up for some very aggressive performances, with a few laid-back numbers thrown in and a Sun Ra cover to boot; the pace changes continuously on most of the tracks, with frenzied electric guitar/sax interplay or rigorous drumming at some points and quietly reserved, minimalistic introspection (eerily snaking guitar lines, brushed percussion, etc.) at others, with the exception of the one or two pieces featuring more traditional walking bass lines and a friendlier countenance
Mark Growden Live at the Odeon [self-released] Mark's third full-length release finds him blending cabaret kookiness with folk-inspired falsetto caterwauling, humming through accordion reeds and blowing in glass bottles, indulging in foul-mouthed bluegrass, and showering his audience with quirky, peculiar renditions of better-known tunes by Dolly Parton ("Jolene"), The Who ("Love Reign O'er Me"), Tim Buckley ("Song to the Siren") and others, as well as several originals; he brings to bear his multi-instrumental talent (banjo, accordion, lap steel, more) in conjunction with his strong backing band (on some tracks, w/trumpet, electric guitar...) with a new twist at each phrase (for a very twisted listening experience)
Peter Kowald/Miya Masaoka/Gino Robair Illuminations (Several Views) Rastascan rigorous exercises for acoustic bass, koto, and percussion, mainly, with haunting Tuvan-style throat singing on a few tracks as well as ebow here and there; nothing on this release features a steady rhythm or an identifiable melody--rather, the pieces focus on abrasive textures and tapestries, for example weaving together deep, dark bass glissandi with koto equivalents in a higher register and accentuating cymbal scrapes, etc., and often create an environment suitable as the sonic backdrop to a stalking predator
Mahagitá Harp and Vocal Music of Burma Smithsonian Folkways a revival of this elegant though sadly dying classical musical tradition from the ancient courts of Burmese royalty from centuries past, featuring saùn gau' (sixteen-stringed Burmese harp) master Inle Myint Maung and classical/contemporary female Burmese vocalist Yi Yi Thant; the harpistry flows with subtle grace, reserved in its execution though by no means minimalist, while the vocal accompaniment (which may take a few listens for the western ear to fully appreciate) dances like a fluttering dragonfly in this choreography of sound
Wu Man/Tatsu Aoki Posture of Reality Asian Improv a genuine interplay of cultures and styles, blending the pipa (a Chinese lute played by Wu Man) with the jazz stylings of acoustic bassist Tatsu Aoki featuring some tracks leaning more toward traditional Chinese musical themes, others venturing into avant garde sound structures, and still others evoking a definite jazz feel; Wu Man continues to find new applications for her ancient instrument, and Tatsu Aoki's adept bass perspicuity provides the perfect counterpart
Melt-Banana Cell-Scape A-Zap a lightning-paced attack of gnashing electric guitar and bass, stun electronics, rapid-fire drums, and a chirpy, staccato female vox; this release offers a wealth of lengthy yet illogical song titles, most likely because it's virtually impossible to decipher the lyrics at this velocity--so rattle your skull 'til your neck's sore, as singing along really ain't the point
Pat O'Keefe/Jason Stanyek/Scott Walton/Glen Whitehead Tunnel Circumvention Music a disturbing excursion into the realm of doomed souls, relegated to an eternity of trudging forlornly amid the walls of an inescapable labyrinth; the sounds these musicians coerce from their instruments in these improvisations--from bowed acoustic bass dirges to gutteral clarinet and bass clarinet meanderings to trumpet shrieks to stark electric guitar flagellation and beyond--engender the darkest visions, the most futile aspirations, the most ominous portents
William Parker Violin Trio Scrapbook Thirsty Ear a grouping of avant garde jazz maestros William Parker on acoustic bass with Billy Bang and Hamid Drake on violin and percussion, respectively, for interpretations of Parker's compositions, ranging in mood from melancholy to manic, meek to psychotic; Parker and Drake most frequently provide the stability here (though not always) with complex bass riffs and abstract-but-comprehensible rhythm structures, while Bang's often haywire improvisation supplies the perfect foil, though many times it recedes to afford Parker the extemporary spotlight
Semiautomatic Wolfcentric 5 Rue Christine/Kill Rock Stars punk rock with 1980s-style drum-machine-driven "modern rock" flavor--and a bit of electro dub reggae, record scratching, and dark synths thrown in here and there; no, perhaps that may not sound like the most tempting blend, but the tight, angular female vox--at times gruff and menacing, at times spectrally coercive--manages to dominate the mixes and tie these seemingly incongruous elements together, as though by some form of auditory legerdemain
Matthew Shipp Equilibrium Thirsty Ear steady riffs (whether on the piano or on the vibraphone) dominate about half of the pieces included here, while the other tracks feature more of a free-form feel; Shipp again teams up with bassist William Parker and percussionist Gerald Cleaver, with Khan Jamal providing beautiful vibraphone interludes and backdrops on this recording and FLAM adding a touch of electronic textures (though much more restrained on this album than on Shipp's "Nubop" release) to thicken the mix
Vacuum Tree Head Bakuretsu Fukio [self-released] noizjazz meets nutso rock and a plethora of deviously deconstructed Asian influences; quirky, choppy, pompous, sappy, chaotic, chunky, bouncy, clunky, and altogether aberrant, this recording veers in and out of themes at the drop of a hat and attacks you with a barrage of instruments (guitars, bassoons, trumpet, drums, harpsichord, marimba, clarinets, junk percussion, vibraphone, bass, flute, timpani, piano, tabla, banjo, kalimba, harp, and much more) and vocals, leaving you in desperate need of a defibrillator [2002 release]
Xiu Xiu A Promise 5 Rue Christine the lugubrious darkness returns, infused at times with blisteringly dissonant electronics, metallic clang rhythms, electronic beats, melancholy piano interludes, and as always the shiverring vocals of Jamie Stewart, which often veer into fits of convulsiveness; if you find yourself questioning whether one's existence might truly plunge into such a state of hyperdepression as this recording seems to suggest possible, you'll enjoy the journey through this funhouse of horror and sonically begotten visions of exaggeratedly contorted caricatures...otherwise you'll kill yourself
ZGA The Flight of Infection Tariff dark, mechanistic music best characterizes ZGA's output, which in some ways reflects upon the mechanical music of Soviet avant-garde composers from the 1920s, but adds plenty of absurd twists to offset the stolidity; metallic rhythms of clangs and bangs created on homemade contraptions predominate, creepy crashes and thunderous rolls accentuate each track, male vocalist/keyboardist Nickolai Soudnick takes the back seat this time to allow new female vocalist Polina Runovskaya to take center stage with a variety of voicings from spectral to shrieking to churchy and beyond, and a saxophonist and electric bassist also add drones and tones to the turbulent mixture on this release, making some tracks harsh and others deliciously screwy and bizarre [2002 release]

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