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.
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.
The Smiling Skull
Grand Rapids, MI
Now That's Class
Des Moines, IA
The Zoo Bar
Mutiny Information Cafe
Fort Worth, TX
New Orleans, LA
Conundrum Music Hall
West Columbia, SC
Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery
The Fuzz Factory
St Petersburg, FL
Kung Fu Necktie Upstairs
Episode 6 of the Words on Sounds Podcast is now available, featuring a piece from Matthew Dotson's latest digital release, a track from the new Jealousy Mountain Duo, a short Adam Zahller piece for toy piano, a track from the brand-new Giant Claw tape on Suite 309, a labyrinthine piece from Yowie's last LP on SKiN GRAFT Records, a great Yamagishi/Suhrke collab piece on the "In Flux" compilation on Brave Wave Productions, a quick acid-psych burner from the new Goat album, a sneak preview of the upcoming Strategy tape on Field Hymns, a stormy piece by O'Death on their latest from Northern Spy, a great solo bari sax piece by Jonah Parzen-Johnson from his disc onPrimary Records, great skatchbox-fueled improv from Music for Hard Times on their Public Eyesore / Eh? CD, a heavy electroacoustic headphone jam from Nick Hoffman and Miguel A. Garcia on their Intonema collaboration, and deep-listening improv from Zoor's disc on Umlaut Records. Grab your headphones and dig in!