1. A Song for Krom by Conifer. From Crown Fire, Important, 2008.
While doom/sludge bands aren't a primary listening area of mine, I do like the genre and try to keep up with new developments. And Conifer's "Crown Fire" is a great example of evolution within the genre. We get the long, epic arrangements, massive riffs, walls of distortion, layers of feedback, and long dynamic buildups one comes to expect from the style, but there are a lot of different touches, too: there are post-rock style melodies hovering a little bit from the top of the mix, made by tremolo-picked guitars, for example. We get stacks of sophisticated polychords in breakdown sections, which have a huge pitch range courtesy of the guitar/baritone guitar lineup. There are interesting rhythmic variations that remind me of classical theme and variations. And in tracks such as "A Song for Krom," we get fascinating, almost Krautrock-sounding passages around the 7:30 mark, where flute melodies and samples take over the music, while the bass and drums hold down a subtle groove. The guitars jump back in around 9:40 with subtle colorations before the next doom-ish section is introduced at 10:10. The recording quality is excellent, too, with less reverb than many doom acts, and a sort of crisp "air" open in high frequencies that makes the whole project very listenable.
2. Gankino Horo by Farmers Market. From Musikk Fra Hybridene, Kirkelig Kulturverksted, 1997.
Farmers Market is a Norwegian act formed among music students at the Trondheim Conservatory in the early 90s. I first heard of them in music school in the late 90s, when a Norwegian trumpet player arrived in our midst (thanks, Oyvind!). I was especially in love with the fast-changing montage and collage approaches of this band back then--they sounded like a more exotic and instrumental version of Mr. Bungle to me. This album is still a lot of fun, but it didn't age as well for me as their other efforts. They intended it to be a fun/funny album, though, and that's often what happens with those. Nonetheless, short tracks like Gankino Horo can be a ton of fun, the whole record is one of the best-recorded experimental albums of all time, and they've matured stylistically on two subsequent albums. I especially admire how they're able to incorporate the wild melodic ornamentation of Bulgarian/Balkan folk music styles into their music, like this:
3. Tropical Fish: Selene by Gong. From Camembert Electrique, BYG Actuel, 1971.
I wanted to play a few classic "other music" acts tonight, and here's one of them from Gong's second release. This band went through a staggering number of permutations over time, but my favorite period remains the first albums through the Radio Gnome Trilogy which concluded in 1974, when bandleader Daevid Allen left the band. During this period, the band combined a high-energy psychedelic rock style with some of the melodic jazz/rock instrumental tangents of Zappa's earlier Mothers albums. It worked incredibly well--some of this music sounds as fresh today as the day it was written. I could do without the "Gong Mythology" conceptually, mostly related to "Pot Head Pixies" visiting the Planet Gong, but the music is awesome.
4. California Uber Alles by Duckmandu. From Fresh Duck for Rotting Accordionists, Duckmandu, 2005.
Another short track to break up our evening, Duckmandu takes on an album of Dead Kennedys covers with nothing but an accordion and his voice--and it sounds fantastic. It's eerie how close Duckmandu (real name Aaron Seeman) gets to sounding just like Jello Biafra. He has the range, timbre, and weird warbly vibrato totally nailed. And his accordion arrangements manage to capture the spirit of each song, something I wouldn't have guessed was possible. Check out this live version, which also includes a little shamisen in the background:
5. K. A. I by Magma. From K. A., Seventh Records, 2004.
The other "classic act" for the night is Magma, whom I've made reference to as an influence for several acts played on the show so far. Most of their classic work was released in the 70s, and this 2004 release has an interesting story: the first two of its three movements were composed in the 70s, but for some reason they weren't recorded until 20+ years later. Though this is a new album, it retains the sound and style of classic magma: lots of plodding basslines propelling the music, Vander's kinetic drums locking in with the bass while adding lots of conversational accents to the music, bits of piano to color the sound, and LOTS of harmonized vocals sung in Kobaian, Vander's made up "celestial language" found on Magma and even some other bands "Zeuhl" styled albums. Since the release of K.A., another Magma album of old and new music combined has been released, last year's "Emehntehtt-Re." Both come highly recommended. Here's a glimpse at a the classic Magma lineup ripping through one of their most significant compositions, "De Futura":
6. Bach is Dead, by Idiot Flesh. From Fancy, Vaccination Records, 1997.
This short track from Idiot Flesh, the Bay-Area act that eventually spawned Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, is a cover of a Residents track from "Duck Stab." I love how organic they were able to make this rigid-sounding original, and how they turned the beat around for most of the track. Here's the original for comparison: