10.23.2014

Street Priest - More Nasty


It's been just over a year since drummer/composer Ronald Shannon Jackson died, and I'm still way bummed about his passing. What an amazing career: after jamming with Albert Ayler in the 60s, he was behind the kit on my favorite Ornette Coleman albums, "Dancing in Your Head" and "Body Meta." He's all over Cecil Taylor's killing late-70s LPs, and his work in the 80s leading the Decoding Society took Ornette's funk/jazz vibes into even deeper and darker places. And the avant-jazz supergroups, Power Tools and Last Exit? Jesus. I don't often hear him referenced among the most iconic of jazz-related artists, but he should definitely be part of that discussion.

With that in mind, this seems like the perfect time for Bay-Area trio Street Priest to get their first tape into the world. "More Nasty" is an impressive debut, making reference to the Decoding Society by band name and album title, and harnessing the raw energy of RSJ projects at their gnarliest. This rhythm section has a serious pedigree in aggressive music, with Matt Chandler of Burmese on bass, and long-time Ettrick co-conspirator Jacob Felix Heule on drums. As an aside, I was lucky enough to catch Ettrick on a tour that stopped in Lincoln years ago (thanks, Unitarian Church!), and they laid down a duo free-grind set that I still think of often, trading duties between sax and drums. Definitely get some Ettrick in your ears if you haven't already. Guitarist Kristian Aspelin completes the trio, a perfect fit whose diverse approaches to the guitar give Street Priest a lot of musical latitude.

"More Nasty" captures the intensity of the Decoding Society, but this isn't a "heads and solos" project: Street Priest are working mostly with a non-idiomatic free improv approach. They occasionally bring out splinters of free-funk grooves, and their extreme music backgrounds inform the most dense, heavy moments on the album, like most of the album-closer "Market," but I'm especially taken by how often this trio plays in careful, hushed passages. In its frequent quieter passages, this album can sound like a saturnine electroacoustic project. This power-trio-to-lowercase-improv feat is difficult to pull off successfully, but they totally nail it with style and thoughtful interplay to spare. I'm reminded of that Sandy Ewen/Damon Smith/Weasel Walter disc from a few years ago: with both recordings, the heaviest moments leave an immediate impact, but there are plentiful subtle gestures that continue to reveal themselves on repeated listening.

Like a lot of the best improv albums, there are times where it's hard to tell who is playing what: on opening piece "Turk," for example (and all four tunes are named for streets in SF's Tenderloin), the whole trio work themselves toward a crescendo of short, scraped sounds, but generally the bass seems to be working with higher pitches than guitar--or are those metal percussion sounds? Most of the sound manipulations in this music sound like they're done with little fuss, simply digging into instruments with a little help from distortion pedals, but there are times when I'm pretty sure someone has a loop pedal handy, and there must be a lot of harsh-sounding auxiliary percussion at the ready as well. But there are times when individual contributions are clear: Aspelin digs into deep guitar feedback workouts in "Taylor," his amp alternately singing and screaming, and the outro of that piece has some great busy kit playing from Heule. The best bass work here is probably found in "Sixth," and it's heavy on extended technique, with slowly bowed and scraped rumbles, detuned strings, and hammered-sounding articulations dominating the soundstage. Everyone plays their asses off here--and the group listens to their own interplay with just as much discipline.

The first release on Heule's new Humbler imprint, "More Nasty" is pro-dubbed on some especially fine chrome tape--this is probably the best-sounding tape I've heard in a while, loud and full-frequency. The album art has that "metal demo" vibe at a distance, but it's on a heavy, textured paper that feels as substantial as the music in your hands. A fine debut that definitely leaves me hungry for more--and considering that these recordings were made before passing of RSJ, this project feels much more like a celebration than an elegy. More "More Nasty," please.


10.08.2014

Bus Gas - Snake Hymns


I've been a fan of Nebraska drone-zoners Bus Gas for a few years now. While there is a long-running tradition of quality experimental music 'round these parts, nobody gets close to the epic dreamscapes of the Bus Gas crew. Their gradually-widening, nuanced textural workouts have often
felt like improvised songforms, a droned-out distillation of postrock guitar timbres, but deliberately improvising toward those kind of weighty triumphant meridians one finds at the climax of Godspeed or Explosions tunes. Their first two tape releases, "Six Movements in Four Hours" on Sweat Lodge Guru, and "Train Out" on Germany's venerable Sic Sic, are beautiful documents of their approach.

But "Snake Hymns," the new Bus Gas album just released by Spring Break Tapes, is a heavy surprise: the pieces here are generally shorter but hit your psyche like a new concentrated form of ambience, feeling much longer than their actual running times. An arsenal of synths and threadbare looped fragments, all immersed in various overdriven and outright distorted environments, have wrested control of these pieces from guitars and basses, evoking the thornier periods of Tangerine Dream or early Cluster mixed with Badalamenti soundtracks. And rather than improvising on basic ideas, these pieces feel deeply composed, richly layered, and carefully refined for maximum impact.

Album opener "20/20 Vision Quest" establishes a murky, film-noir kind of vibe. It's held together by a short, hypnotic synth loop until its last third, where a subtle rhythm sneaks into the mix, seemingly made by capturing the sound of a distorted tremolo pedal revving a speaker cabinet. Fragments of melodies and synth/environmental pads swell in and out of the mix, and the goal here is sustaining a dark mood, as opposed to building to a crescendo. Then things get a little sweaty with "Positive Throckmorton," a piece suspended between low rumbling oscillations, an ominous low bass riff, and a long-running snarl of feedback that serves as a pedalpoint for some pizzicato-sounding muted guitars. The distortion on parts within this mix feels disorienting at times, and you have to grab onto the resonance of the never-ending feedback as a kind of safety rope.

The variety of overdriven sounds and fearless experimentalism with these otherwise "ambient" mixes opens up a wider emotional spectrum than one often finds in ambient/new-agey recordings that stick with clean tones and clinical mixing. The clarinet lines in "Night Slugs," for example, take on a dirty saxophone sound in their distorted/reverb-drenched treatment, a great contrast with clear guitar tones competing for melodic space. The bass lines that gradually overtake and release "First Scum, First Serve" contrast similarly with symphonic loops treading through that piece, while rumbling away any dust that might have gathered near your speakers.

I love the layered, thoughtful approach throughout this album, but I must admit that the last track, "Sad Hill," is my favorite. Though it's a very minimal piece compared to the rest of the record, it hits me right in the chest (and it has a few tricks up its sleeve). The tape rolls up to speed at its beginning, revealing low Duane Eddy guitar tones and buzzing amps, A touching, somber riff repeats multiple times, with occasional pauses and distorted embellishments. The tape machine warbles toward the end, struggling back to unity pitch, and eventually it's switched off. But that crazy lo-fi tone: we must be listening to a very loud performance that was recorded to tape, being played back itself through another loud playback system and re-recorded for our pleasure. That's some serious meta-post-noir, folks. And it sounds decayed and beautiful and full of memories, and I wish the tape machine inside the recording didn't get turned off so soon. Interestingly, the piece ends differently on the digital version than the actual cassette--on the cassette, it cuts off abruptly (and it's not a dubbing issue--there's still a few seconds of tape left), as though to imply that in another "Schrodinger's cassette" universe, it might go on forever. Choose your own adventure. Well played, Bus Gas!

A fantastic release. Bus Gas has found the essence of their sound, and it really shows. It's not often that one can think of drone/ambient music as the source for earworms, but that's just happens with pieces like "20/20 Vision Quest" and "Awake, Awake, Awake"--they resurface in your mind later, continuing to alter your senses and salt your wounds. This one's in a small edition of 100, pro-dubbed and featuring some beautiful, understated artwork on both sides of the j-card. Grab one from Spring Break Tapes while you still can.


Bus Gas Snake Hymns Teaser from Uphill Downhill on Vimeo.

10.05.2014

Jealousy Mountain Duo - No. 3


I've happily covered their fantastic albums before, here and here, and I'm glad to report that Jealousy Mountain Duo is back with a new album and a new US tour. While still feeling like a familiar set of pieces for those who dig the first two records, the band leans into new directions on No_03: this is simultaneously a more playful outing, and an investigation into the possibilities of strategic dissonance within what is generally a very tuneful duo.

To my ears, guitarist Berger has especially stepped up his game on this album. Opening tune "DACKEL DIE BELLEN HEISSEN" immediately embraces a new set of approaches--like most of the JMD catalog, he establishes some looped riffs early in the piece and plays over them in a variety of contexts, but the looped section here employs more dissonance and chromatic movement than one often heard on the first two records. Atop these vaguely ominous, shifting chords, Berger digs into extended technique, grabbing a lot of harsh, metallic-sounding muted notes, punctuated with scrapes, aggressive unisons and octaves, and weird interval leaps. The piece occasionally pauses, lurching forward into new directions after each breath.

The second tune, "FRIENDS OF SONNY FOSCHINO," finds JMD working in a sort of opposite direction that's even more playful than previous albums. Berger's softly-articulated octave slides at the opening of the piece give way to a pointillistic riff propelled by Schneider's frantic drumming. The chorus passages sound absolutely massive as Schneider invents new ways to hit fifty drums at once, and then the band drops back down in dynamics to the subtle introduction parts again and again. A great use of dynamic range, rhythmic pauses, and all-out glorious abandon in the choruses. It's hard to believe there are only two musicians producing this wild din at times.

Later in the album, it sounds like Berger is working with some heavy guitar processing, wild high-frequency oscillations rising from the thunderous low riffage he establishes earlier in "THE RINCON PIO SOUND." That's followed by another especially playful piece, "NORDIC WALKING," which was featured on a great split 7'' with Don Vito last year. I really dig the fun behind-the-scenes false start to that tune, too.

My favorite moments on No_03, though, come in "GOTT IST NICHT NETT," which sets up another slinky chromatic riff that's decorated with some subtle hands-across-the-strings sounds in its establishing loop. Berger adds some heavy palm-muted punctuations to the primary figure as Schneider finds ways to work with and against the main rhythmic pulse, pumping the tempo slightly up and down with tasty work all around the kit. A melodica seems to make an appearance at the perfect moments in this tune as well, adding a nice legato contrast to the crisp, short drum articulations.

Another excellent album from one of the most interesting avant-rock duos working today. And for folks located in the states, they're visiting our humble shores on tour right now with fellow German band Don Vito, a hard-to-pigeonhole avant-punk trio (for Lincoln readers, join me at the Zoo Bar on Wednesday, Oct. 14th where JMD and Don Vito will be joined by Ron Wax and Gnawstic at 9 PM). You can find other tour dates below the BandCamp player, and having seen JMD live myself a couple of years ago, these are shows you really want to catch.




Oct 05
Sugar City
Buffalo, NY

Oct 06
The Smiling Skull
Athens, OH

Oct 07
The Bunker
Grand Rapids, MI

Oct 08
Now That's Class
Cleveland, OH

Oct 09
Cactus Club
Milwaukee, WI

Oct 10
Grandpa Bay
Chicago, IL
Oct 11
Schlafly Tap Room
St Louis, MO

Oct 12
PDM
Columbia, MO

Oct 13
Vaudeville Mews
Des Moines, IA

Oct 14
The Zoo Bar
Lincoln, NE

Oct 15
Mutiny Information Cafe
Denver, CO

Oct 17
The Yeti
Tulsa, OK

Oct 18
1919 Hemphill
Fort Worth, TX

Oct 20
Circle Bar
New Orleans, LA

Oct 21
Stone Fox
Nashville, TN

Oct 22
Conundrum Music Hall
West Columbia, SC

Oct 23
Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery
Atlanta, GA

Oct 25
Flicker
Athens, GA

Oct 26
The Fuzz Factory
St Petersburg, FL

Oct 27
Burro Bar
Jacksonville, FL

Oct 28
Hang Fire
Savannah, GA

Oct 30
Kung Fu Necktie Upstairs
Philadelphia, PA