New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: mogwai

A Hauntingly Relevant World War I Concept Album From Bare Wire Son

Multi-instrumentalist Olin Janusz records under the name Bare Wire Son. Whether kinetic or atmospheric, his music has a relentlessly bleak intensity. One obvious comparison is the gloomy, cinematic processionals of Godspeed You Black Emperor. Other dark postrock acts, from Mogwai to Swans come to mind. His latest album Off Black – streaming at Bandcamp – is a World War I song cycle, often utilizing texts from journals by mothers who lost their sons. Janusz is a one-man, lo-fi orchestra here: everything is awash in reverb, vocals often buried deep in these slow but turbulent rivers of sound.

The parallels between the Great War and the lockdown are stunning, making this album all the more relevant. Chemical warfare played a major role: poison gas in 1918, deadly hypodermics 103 years later. Propaganda campaigns of unprecedented proportions are central to both events. The drive to get the British and the US involved in the war was inflamed by stories of hideous atrocities on the part of the “Huns,” as the Germans were rebranded. The ubiquitous, multibillion-dollar ad blitz promoting the needle of death also relies on many fictions, from grotesquely inaccurate computer models, to blood tests rigged to generate false positives.

The album’s opening track, Involuntary is a crescendoing conflagration, possibly a parody of a Catholic hymn, with a cruelly cynical coda. Percussion flails out a sadistic lash beat over the organ textures in Cenotaph, struggling to rise against a merciless march that finally hits a murderous peak.

Janusz assembles Saved Alone around a series of menacingly anthemic, twangy reverb guitar riffs and whispered vocals, shifting from a lulling organ interlude to a roughhewn crescendo. From there he segues into CSD, a brief, portentous, organ-infused tone poem.

Simple, ominous guitar arpeggios linger over an industrial backdrop of cello, percussion and organ in Ends Below: the visceral shock about two thirds of the way in is too good to give away. The Gore is portrayed more minimalistically and enigmatically than you would probably expect, resonant washes of slide guitar and organ behind a crashing guitar loop

Close-harmonied organ textures and cello drift through Antiphon, joined by guitar clangs and slashes in The Bellows and extending through the dissociative flutters and funereal angst of Kampus. Spare, Lynchian guitar figures return in Fingernest, an emphatic, pulsing dirge rising to Comfortably Numb proportions.

Heavy Grey is the closest thing to indie rock here, although it reaches an anthemic vastness at the end. Janusz trudges to the end of the narrative with the hypnotic Red Glass and then a quasi-baroque organ theme cynically titled Voluntary, This is one of the best albums of 2021 and arguably the most haunting one so far.

Disquieting, Enveloping, Psychedelically Layered Sonics From Lord Buffalo

What was this haunting, savagely layered one-chord epic with a weird, possibly Pacific Island title doing on the hard drive here? Turns out that it’s Raziel, the seven-minute opening track on Austin band Lord Buffalo‘s latest album Tohu Wa Bohu, streaming at Bandcamp. They like slow, menacing themes; they don’t change chords much but they make them interesting.

That particular song is the missing link between the Friends of Dean Martinez’s southwesern gothic and Mogwai’s grim, cold concrete council estate tableaux. Through D.J. Pruitt and G.J. Heilman’s layers of guitars over the slow, steady beat, the heathaze is impenetrable, and frontman Pruitt makes that clear. But he holds out hope, dodging shards of reverb as they filter through the mix.

The band pick up the pace, building to a steady stroll with Wild Hunt, which has two chords, smoky sax, Brockett Hamilton’s piano and a Nick Cave influence along with the guitar torture. Troubled music for troubled times.

“This is the night, she don’t need nothing at all,” Pruitt intones, cold and deadpan, as the third track, Halle Berry gets underway, jagged quasi-funk guitars over a murky slink. Very early 90s New York gutter blues, a slower take on the Chrome Cranks maybe.

Dog Head comes across as a strung-out blues take on Joy Division’s The Eternal. “Be careful, you don’t know this song,” Pruitt warns as Patrick Patterson’s violin joins the guitars and the cloud congeals to toxic density. The title track is a slow, loopy mashup of jagged 70s no wave and early Dream Syndicate.

Cicadas cry, vehicles break down and night looms in all too soon in Kenosis, a mashup of understated Oxygen Ponies menace and sunbaked My Education atmospherics leavened with tinkly vibraphone and piano. The band open Heart of the Snake as a venomous take on an early 60s summer-house theme, then bring in creepy layers of organ and guitars: Alec K. Redfearn‘s work comes to mind. They segue from there into the loopy, careening Llano Estacado to wrap up the album in a ball of flame. You might ask why, in a time where we need to focus on shutting down the tech Nazis who keep flipping the script behind the lockdown, that it makes any sense at all to listen to something this amorphous and escapist. Hey, we all could use a break right about now.

A Relentless Gothic Postrock/Metal Hybrid from Alltar

Portland, Oregon’s Alltar bridge the gap between gloomy, dystopic Mogwai postrock and doom metal. Their new album Hallowed is streaming at Bandcamp. No shredding, no stoner blues, no boogie, just slow-baked, grimly swaying grey-sky vistas punctuated by the occasional upward drive. Interestingly, 80s gothic rock is a big influence along with the requisite Sabbath references.

The opening track, Horology starts out as a watery, spare chromatic bass-driven vamp and then explodes with a firestorm from guitarists Tim Burke and Colin Hill. The vocals are buried in the mix: if the dark early 80s Boston bands like Mission of Burma played metal, they would have sounded like this. Likewise, if the Cure were a metal band, they would have built War Altar as this band does here, taking a morose, drippy stalactite theme, finally making snarling doom metal out of it with a long series of distorted 6/8 guitar riffs and disembodied vocals. There’s also a sarcastic cynicism to the lyrics.

The most epic track here is Induction, opening with a clanging, bell-like, slowly syncopated art-rock sway. “Society has lost its connection to humanity, and I can’t understand why,” keyboardist/frontman Juan Carlos Caceres ponders. “If chosen, what would you say?” Drummer Nate Wright’s careful accents foreshadow grinding doom metal crush: again, It’s rare that you hear a guy behind the kit who’s as dynamic as he is here.

Hailstorm tremolo-picking and a slow, evil chromatic riff open Spoils before the relentless crush and lo-res distortion kick in, with a final rise from super-slow, to just plain slow and ceaselessly grim. The band seem to care more about vocals than most metal acts: the apocalypse seems awfully close. Four solid tracks to smoke up to and contemplate the end.

Towering, Hypnotic, Psychedelic Korean Postrock Majesty from Black String at Lincoln Center

Korean postrock band Black String’s show at Lincoln Center last night seemed much more terse and minimalist than their feral set last year at Flushing Town Hall. Yet while the songs this time out seemed more focused and stripped-down, the music was no less psychedelic. There, bandleader Yoon Jeong Heo was all over the place on her geomungo bass zither, delivering every texture and timbre that can possibly be plucked – with a stick! – from that magical instrument. Here, she was more percussive, and in that sense, hypnotic, and the band followed suit.

At that Queens gig, guitarist Jean Oh let loose majestic, David Gilmour-esque flares and got lowdown with some gritty Marc Ribot skronk. Here, he played mostly big, icy, resonant block chords, adding contrasting delicate flavor via flickering electronics. Last night, it seemed more than ever that multi-reedman Aram Lee has become the group’s lead instrumentalist, switching between wood flutes of various sizes, running endless variations on simple pentatonic riffs, often with a bluesy majesty. Drummer Min Wang Hwang made the tricky time signatures and metric shifts look easy, whether adding marionettish cymbal accents, fullscale stomp on a couple of floor toms, or with the thump of his janggu barrel drum.

The enveloping, persistent unease brought to mind the insistent, grey grimness of Mogwai, Godspeed You Black Emperor at their most focused…or Jethro Tull playing a Glenn Branca symphony (that’s where the flute comes in). To max out the psychedelic factor, the band rode the sonic rollercoaster, often bringing the music down to a simple pairing of instruments: there seemed to be fewer moments when everyone was charging along in unison.

At one point, Heo marvelled that the ancient Korean folk themes which the group use as a stepping-off point seem absolutely avant garde today. She could just as easily have said no wave. Black String’s most hammeringly emphatic instrumentals would have been perfectly at home in the early 80s downtown scene.

The most poignant moment of the night was a gently imploring prayer of sorts wafting up from Lee’s flute: here as elsewhere, the electronics (when they were working) added subtle echo or sustain effects. The most explosive interlude was a ferocious geomungo-drum duel: it was astonishing to witness Heo snapping off so many volleys of notes against a single, pulsing low pedal tone.

They closed the set on an insistent, triumphant note with Song of the Sea, a mini-suite of ancient fishermen’s songs that Hwang delivered in his powerful pansori baritone, modulated with a wide-angle, Little Jimmy Scott-style vibrato.

What’s become most clear after seeing this band in two very different spaces – each with an excellent sound system – is that they need better gear. The guitar rig Oh was using delivered a cold, trebly, flat, transistor amp sound that died away too soon. And Heo needs some custom pickups for her geomungo. She was out of breath at the end of several numbers, yet there were too many places where her riffs got lost in the mix. A performer so mesmerizing to watch deserves to be heard.

The next free show at the atrium space at Lincoln Center on Broadway just north of 62nd St. is their more-or-less monthly salsa dance party. This time the featured band is oldschool Cuban-flavored charanga Son Sublime. Showtime is 7:30; the earlier you get there, the better the chances of getting in.

Object Collection Stages a Deliciously Noisy, Messy. Provocative Piece at LaMaMa

Longtime LaMaMa impresario Nicky Paraiso reminded last night’s sold-out crowd at Object Collection’s latest experimental opera, Cheap & Easy October, that the experience would be what used to be called “total theatre” back in the 80s – a description that really nailed it. With a tight, often scorchingly intense four-piece band playing behind a ratty knitted curtain of sorts and cast members scampering, leaping and chasing each other around the stage, it’s more of a concert with a cast acting out a dadaesque video of sorts than it is anything else. And what a show it is. As immersive and pummeling as composer Travis Just’s score is, it’s far less abrasive than it is enveloping: you are drawn into the heart of the cyclotron, violently thrust out or, surprisingly, cast gently into a starlit reverie. Earplugs will be handed out, hut you don’t really need them. The run at LaMaMa is coming to a close, with final performances tonight, October 17 and then tomorrow at 10 PM; tix are $18/$13 stud/srs.

The band shifts abruptly but strangely elegantly through dreampop, post-hardcore and Mogwai-esque nightmarescapes, with acidic mid-80s Sonic Youth close harmonies, furious percussive interludes that recall taiko drumming, moments of what seem to be free improvisation, and echoes of the cumulo-nimbus swirl of guitarist Taylor Levine’s quartet Dither. Violinist Andie Springer uses a lot of extended technique and nails-down-the-blackboard harmonics; she also plays bass. Explosive drummer Owen Weaver doubles on Telecaster, while keyboardist Aaron Meicht also adds the occasional trumpet flourish or joins the stomp on a couple of floor toms.

The text – drawn from Soviet revolutionary histories by Leon Trotsky and John Reed as well as conversations between writer/director Kara Feely and cast member Fulya Peker (whose butoh background informs the simmering menace she channels throughout the show) veers from lickety-split spoken word to a bizarre, falsettoey singsong. Sardonic symbolism is everywhere: there’s a zombie apocalypse subplot, a telephone gets abused, and swordplay abounds. The rest of the cast – Deborah Wallace, Daniel Allen Nelson, Tavish Miller and Avi Glickstein – take on multiple roles, some of them living, some of them presumably dead.

There’s some toying with poststructuralist japes, springboarding off the premise that if you control the conversation, you control the situation. “Do you think a revolution of words can be as profound as an actual revolution?” one of the cast poses in one of the performance’s less chaotic moments. Much of the iconography in the set is sarcastic and ultimately portends a lot of very gloomy endings: as Feely and Just see it, revolutions tend to disappoint.

No less august a personality than Robert Ashley gave this group’s work the thumbs-up. For those who need their ideas packaged neatly and cohesively, this isn’t going to work. And it raises fewer questions than it intimates – which by itself is reason to see this provocative piece, one more nuanced than its sonic cauldron might initially suggest.

Majestic, Sweepingly Cinematic Instrumentals from Arms of Tripoli

Los Angeles instrumentalists Arms of Tripoli play exuberant, anthemic, frequently cinematic postrock, a swirling, pouncing, enveloping, propulsively percussive mix of guitars, bass, drums and keys. No verse or chorus is ever exactly the same. The music takes on majesty and grandeur as it goes on, with unexpected dynamic shifts that peak out and then hit quieter interludes. Guitarists Jaime Galvez, Michael Bouvet and Robert Bauwens, keyboardist K.C. Maloney, bassist Vic Lazar and drummer George Tseng don’t waste your time with lyrics, they just hit you with the hooks, one after another. More bands should be doing this. Their latest album Dream in Tongues is streaming at their Bandcamp page.

The opening track, Miniature Habitats, opens with an insistent guitar figure over resonant chords, shifts tempos back and forth as the drums kick in and then out, echoing Aussie art-rock legends the Church but with the faux-vintage keyboard voicings that are all the rage in indie circles. Then hits a long, hypnotic vamp and pretty much stays there. All this in just six minutes and thirty seconds: it gives you a good idea of what’s coming.

Velcro Thunder Fuck balances variations on a countryish guitar lick with layers of tinkling keys over a galloping rhythm as the bass shifs around, tremolopicked Mogwai-ish guitar giving way to a more echoey, dreampop-tinged chorus, then back up to the galloping theme. Scraping Skies shifts through even trickier tempos, anthemic guitar countermelodies rising over a midtempo sway, adding layer after layer of guitars and twinkling keys in the background.

Escalator Jazz turns out to be really cool. You think from the circular hook that opens it that it’s going to be a dorky mathrock song, but it comes together mightily on the chorus and from there it’s a big, majestic, atmospheric 6/8 anthem. The band works that same trick a little later with 10th Graders Forever, the most dreampop-flavored track here, and Canna, which eventually winds down to an unselfconsciously pretty art-rock lullaby of sorts.

Snowed In, with its allusions to surf music and spacious chords over nonchalantly galloping drums, is the most ominous of the tracks. Addendum begins with a country guitar lick and then builds to a spacerock theme with layers of distorted, ringing and echoing guitars – while it’s the most metal-ish and dynamically charged track here, it’s far from buffoonish. The final track is one of the simplest and most memorable melodies, a big ELO-ish anthem blended into an opaque, dreampop/postrock background, lush ambience contrasting with guitar snarl and bite.

Break of Reality Bridge the Gap Between Indie Classical and Cinematic Art-Rock

 

Break of Reality occupy a kinetic, often cinematically original space in the center of the postrock spectrum, with the atmospherics of bands like itsnotyouitsme and Victoire off to one side and more rhythmically-fueled groups like Mogwai and My Education to the other. Break of Reality transcend the cello rock label, considering that their songwriting is closer to indie classical or the mathrock side of Radiohead than, say, the lustrously moody chamber pop of Serena Jost or the gothic menace of Rasputina. Saturday night the four-piece band treated a sold-out crowd at Subculture to an eclectic release show for their latest album, Ten, highlighting every facet of their shapeshifting compositions, from their chamber music roots to their current adventures at the fringes of indie rock.

While co-founder Patrick Laird delivered several of the night’s most breathtaking solos and cadenzas, his fellow cellists Laura Metcalf and Adrian Daurov got their share of moments to add creepy glissandos, rapidfire staccato passages, nimble pizzicato lines and the occasional austerely suspenseful interlude. Percussionist Ivan Trevino played judicious, terse, sometimes Middle Eastern-inflected grooves on djembe during the night’s first set before going behind the plexiglass shield to a full drum kit (and supplying piano on a couple of tracks as well) for the second part of the night. He emphasized the group’s dedication to jamming, in this particular instance more of a brave attempt to craft an anthem on the spot than it was about sharing ideas, or banter, or jousting in the way that your typical jamband, or jazz crew, will do onstage.

The quartet opened with hammering circular riffage which gave way to serpentine, intertwined countermelodies and then towering, pulsing crescendos that would make for memorable action film themes. A bit later they brought down the lights for a warmly inviting original arrangement of a Bach cello suite, each cellist getting to pass the baton to the next, the group maintaining a perfectly precise, old-world wide-angle vibrato. Laird wowed the crowd with a knottily tuneful, Appalachian-tinged solo piece written by Turtle Island String Quartet cellist Mark Sommer. After that, the group hit a peak with an anthem from the new album, Light the Fuse, which Laird explained was inspired by the populist response to current global unease. The highlight of the second, generally harder-rocking set, was another new song, Star, following a long trajectory upward to a triumphantly swaying, toweringly optimistic theme before receding back into deep-space lushness and then the hypnotic cross-string motives that opened it. They encored with an older number that blended resonant neoromantic melody with a challenging rhythmic drive, evoking the work of Lukas Ligeti. This perfectly capsulized the ensemble’s appeal: they’re clearly just as at home in the avant garde as they are on a rock stage. Their upcoming US tour kicks off with a free show at Jamfest in Victoria, Texas on April 19.

Edgy, Brilliantly Original, Heavy Psychedelic Sounds from Eidetic Seeing

Brooklyn Band Eidetic Seeing play a smartly tuneful, unpredictable, defiantly original mix of noise-rock, third-generation post-Sabbath stoner metal and postrock, veering from a focused Mogwai attack to sunbaked, fuzztone Kyuss riffage, to uneasy interludes that echo Goo-era Sonic Youth. Their new second album, Against Nature, is angry and dirty, haphazard but intricate, packed with catchy hooks and abrasive noise. Tempos shift and unwind as guitarist Sean Forlenza and bassist Danilo Randjic-Coleman plunge from restless jangle to a roar over the artful and richly dynamic, even understated drumming of Paul Feitzinger. His individualistic, coloristic groove is one of this band’s most instantly distinguishing features, with a heavy, echoing snare sound in contrast to his nimble attack on the kick drum and intricate cymbal work. The whole album is streaming at their Bandcamp page.

Dial up the opening instrumental, A Snake Whose Years Are Long and name that riff: it’s something iconic from the 80s or 90s. The band quickly takes it from there to an uneasily jangling, slashing pulse, then shifts into a fuzztone rumble, then back and forth with shrieking SY-ish guitar and up-and-down dynamics. Like the rest of the tracks here, it’s a long one, but because it’s so unpredictable it never loses your interest. White Flight morphs from atmospherics to a bolero beat to an undulating stoner groove with all kinds of tempo and timbre shifts, from early 70s bluesmetal to squalling noiserock.

The sarcastically titled Froleuse works the tension between fuzztone riff-rock and lingering, apprehensive, 80s-tinged lo-fi sonics, acidic chords, endless metric trickery and finally a screamed, anguished hardcore outro. Ashplant Blues is sort of their Electric Funeral, a ten-minute epic that begins as a macabre, chromatically-charged dirge that once again gets abrasively noisy, then morphs into janglerock, then leaps around before falling away into atmospherics. The longest and final track is K2, which seems to be an account of murder high above the treeline. Again, it opens as a dirge, the most anthemic thing here. The way Feitzinger keeps the menacing groove going even as the guitar and bass fuzz out and recede toward the horizon is one of the album’s high points. There’s so much more going on in these songs; this is just the Cliff Note version. This is one of the most consistently original and interesting albums of 2013. You can catch Eidetic Seeing (the band name means photographic memory) on January 23 at Grand Victory in Williamsburg.

Volcanic Antiwar Instrumentals from Sleep Maps

Postrock/dreampop instrumentalists Sleep Maps have a ferocious, politically spot-on new antiwar album just out, titled Medals. Inspired by the 1971 Winter Soldier protests – led by Vietnam vets who publicly disowned their medals as a repudiation of war crimes at the highest levels of power – the long 4-track ep sets smartly chosen samples of commentary from across the decades against a backdrop of blistering, murky guitar-fueled swirl and roar. More bands should be making music this powerful and relevant. The whole thing is streaming at their Bandcamp site.

Frontman/multi-instrumentalist Ben Kaplan played all the instruments on the band’s previous, more metal-oriented album, Fiction Makes the Future. Although he’s got a full band now, it’s not clear if the latest album is all him or not. Whatever the case, he’s a tremendous guitarist. Tremolo-picking is his thing: he’s got a right hand that Dick Dale (ok, if Dick Dale was a righty) would kill for. Wailing up and down on the strings, his amp ringing with reverb or smoldering with distortion, he sounds like a one-man guitar orchestra, something multiplied many times over as he multitracks himself. Immediate comparisons that come to mind are Mogwai and My Bloody Valentine; Kaplan is also obviously into the more interesting side of metal, and will occasionally reference an atmospheric indie band like Explosions in the Sky. And unlike the previous album, this one goes in a goth direction when Kaplan puts a watery chorus box effect on his guitar.

The first track, The Final Weapon opens a la Siousxie’s Icons with muffled cannon-fire sonics, followed by a brutally disingenuous Lyndon Johnson sample. Kaplan taps and then tremolo-picks over a tricky tempo, rising and falling and then bringing in the watery 80s jangle. The dirge Blackout Eyes looks at the alienation and disillusion faced by veterans, with quotes from the January, 1971 Winter Soldier demo interspersed among moody atmospherics spiced by savage picking and what sounds like a string patch on a guitar synth. The Heavens Gaze Empty explodes with eerie MBV-style close harmonies and macabre chromatics, lush and ominous, as much a dismissal of the insanity of war as the samples of the vets throwing their Purple Hearts and Distinguished Service Crosses into the pyre. The final track, Horror in the Telescope  is the most careening and haphazard, and maybe for that reason even more powerful, at one point revisiting a gothic riff from the second song as crunchy Pantera-style metal. This album ought to pick up a lot of fans on both the metal and indie side and makes a killer reel for Kaplan in the event that he’s looking for film work.