1. Lt. Columbo's Wife by I Am Above on the Left. From s/t, 2004, self-release.
I don't know much about I Am Above on the Left except that they're from Russia, and they put their debut album on their last.fm page for free download. And that it's amazing, taking the usual kinds of tropes that bore me with "postrock" instrumental bands and turning them into something really special that includes the energy of the Chicago Touch and Go scene, and the sort of monastic attention to detail of Zs. So go check out the record for yourself and enjoy!
2. Combat by Miniature. From I Can't Put My Finger On It, JMT, 1991.
Miniature is a trio formed between drummer Joey Baron, saxophone maniac Tim Berne, and bassist Hank Roberts. They cut two albums in late 80s/early 90s and went back to their (many) other projects. And they're great somewhat forgotten albums of that era in the NYC downtown scene. Tracks such as Combat meander through many sections, anchored by really heavy "head" sections that spiral off into some really dense, agressive playing. This is my favorite era of downtown scene stuff, which is mostly known for Zorn's Naked City band of the time (also featuring Joey Baron) and projects like Zorn's Spy Vs Spy recordings (also featuring Berne). But this album, and Berne's solo efforts around this time, Bill Frisell's duet with Vernon Reid, and slightly later albums like the Polytown record are all definitive statements, too, not to mention the many releases Zorn put out through Avant Records around this era. If you can find any of these records, you'll be doing yourself a big favor by picking them up. And in the meantime, here's an incredibly rare case of a Downtown Scene ensemble on TV:
3. Good Day Today by David Lynch. From Good Day Today/I Know single, 2010.
Filmmaker and artist David Lynch has participated in some musical projects before: we played a track from his BlueBob album a few weeks ago, and he's also collaborated rather directly with composer Angelo Badalamenti to get the kinds of 50s music colliding with contemporary weirdness he enjoys. He's produced and done sound soundscaping for Lux Vivens, a record made mostly of Medival era Hildegard Von Bingen compositions. And recently he released Fox Bat Strategy, a batch of recordings made by and for the Twin Peaks era. There's certainly some variety in these musical efforts, but none of them would have prepared me for the modern electronica of his newest single. Hear it for yourself:
4. Free-Non-Jazz Powerviolence Sonata by Psychofagist. From Il Secondo Tragico, Subordinate Records, 2010.
Psychofagist might fit in with noise/grind acts like the Locust for most folks, but their free jazz influence and their frequent use of horns make me think of them as somewhat closer to an updated version of what Zorn tried to accomplish with Naked City. This band isn't nearly the technical equal of Naked City, but they have the attitude and the updated hardcore influences to make up the difference. If you miss Naked City, and the Prelapse album just isn't enough to keep you satisfied, I would highly recommend Psychofagist.
5. Omnium by Brown vs Brown. From Intrusion of the Alleged Brown Sound, Reapandsow, 2006.
This is another band I've only recently started following, but I thought they'd sound great in a set with I
Am Above on the Left and Miniature. They also have more than a little in common with the kind of jazz/rock/punk/prog flavors found in the Andrew D'Angelo bands we've explored in the last few months like Morthana, Skirl, and Tyft. You get great jazz playing and head-writing blended with some angular guitar riffing, and dynamics hover between intense jazz sessions and outright punk/metal, occasionally diving fully into both camps. Beautifully played, and beautifully written--another worth addition to modern developments integrating jazz and rock idioms. And here's a rare video on the internet of these folks in action:
6. Death That Sleeps in Them by Jonas Hellboug & Buckethead. From Octave of the Holy Innocents, Day 8, 1993.
This is a weird album when you consider Buckethead's participation: it's acoustic guitar with strong Arabic oud-playing influences and energetic drums, pulling Buckethead far outside of his usual electric-only catalog of Slonimsky licks played at lightning speed. It sounds more like the kind of music you might expect to hear from any number of other Laswell-related collaborations, where B-head usually is invited to add a few moments of his "usual" routine. Instead he takes the role of players like Nicky Skopelitis, becoming a supportive player and keeping the music moving forward with relatively conservative approaches.
7. God is on the Red Phone by The Dagger Brothers. From Space Trumpet, Seed, 2010.
The Dagger Brothers are a relatively straight-ahead "pop" project by the same folks who brought us the avant-prog act Eftus Spectun. This record somehow reminds me of XTC filtered through Renaldo and the Loaf. And that's a compliment. And they have a video they'd like you to see, and a single they'd like you to download, before Dec 18th, so here it is:
8. Today by Robby Moncreiff. From Who Do You Think You Aren't, Porter, 2010.
Though Robby Moncrieff's name is on the album, it seems like most records featuring drummer Zach Hill tend to be discussed in terms of his involvement. Like Buckethead mentioned above, Hill is a fantastic musician and has some really interesting techniques...which get used repeatedly on every project he touches. On this album, though, he at least has to stop and match lots of fascinating phrases created by Moncrieff, who creates a mostly synth-based music for this album that features melodic elements that remind me alternately of Zappa's Uncle Meat era and Brutal Prog like the Flying Luttenbachers. It's good stuff, and Hill's playing is kept restrained enough that it gains more interest again.
9. Bela Lugosi's Dead by the Dead Brothers. From 5th Sin-Phonie, Voodoo Rhythm, 2010.
This is the best cover of this famous Bauhaus track I've heard. It manages to stay quite faithful to the original while replacing almost all of the instrumentation with folksy instruments: cello, washtub bass, violin, etc. Very cool. See for yourself:
1. My Bones Colossal by Rob Kleiner and the Satanics. From s/t, 2010, self-released.
Keeping things fresh on 11-28: Kleiner just made this album available on his website earlier in the week. Let me make this clear: Kleiner's record RIPS. Perhaps best known for his work with Tub Ring, or as touring guitarist with MSI on occasion, this is a truly great weirdo pop record. Great writing, great arrangements, and I'm especially impressed with the many flavors of trip-hop influenced percussion treatments found throughout. This album has very little stylistic overlap with Tub Ring, highlighting Kleiner's broad compositional range. I think most listeners of Other Music will find a lot to like in this album. Go download it for free and see for yourself, and kick RK some cash via Paypal to keep the magic coming.
2. Solo for Vibes and Piano by Mark Clifford and Conrad Kehn. From Eris Mask, self-released, 2010.
This is the lead track from a series of collaborations between Conrad Kehn, Denver-based composer, educator, and founder of the Playground Ensemble, and vibraphonist Mark Clifford. While these recordings are the result of live improvisations including live electronic manipulation, they often sound very composed and/or manipulated in postproduction. There is a great synergy evident in the interplay between Mark and Conrad, where musical phrases evolve in a compositionally thoughtful manner and textures build with an inevitability that reminds me of some of the best "granular buildups" found in Ligeti and Stockhausen's electroacoustic compositions. Occasional pointillistic rhythmic moments (the piano jabs at the beginning of this track are among my favorite) and a musical interaction consistently sensitive to dynamics also help to make these improvisations into "instant compositions" worth repeated listening. Recommended!
3. Smiles Warm Red Light by White Moth. From s/t, Angel Oven Records, 2010.
This album is combining two styles I never thought I'd hear together: the psychedelic metal stylings of bands like Pyramids (whose R. Loren is behind White Moth), and the digital hardcore style of band like Atari Teenage Riot. In many ways, the two approaches are almost opposite in terms of tempo, articulation, phrasing, etc, but White Moth makes it work: the percussion approach draws more directly from digital hardcore, while the sustained synths and drones draw from psych-metal, to describe the basic approach to combination. If you're looking for an album that manages to be high-energy and haunting at the same time, check out White Moth.
4. Tall Story by Cosa Brava. From Ragged Atlas, Intakt Records, 2010.
With Cosa Brava, the legendary Fred Frith returns to form as leader/member of a full band project, something he hasn't done so formally since the days of Art Bears and Henry Cow. This music has a strong folk influence, which makes the choice of violinist Carla Kihlstedt a perfect choice for this band. If you can imagine the folk/Americana of Carla's Tin Hat Trio blended with some of the RIO tendencies of Frith's career, you're getting close to the approach of this album.
5. The Believers by Fol Chen. From Part 1: John Shade, Your Fortune's Made, Asthmatic Kitty, 2009.
Fol Chen's debut album was easily my favorite record of 2009. On this opening track, Fol Chen's demonstrates their ability to juggle and combine all kinds of contrasts: sparse, electronic percussion and synth sounds are blended with rich overdubs of trombone. Male and female voices are blended throughout, turning into rich harmonies in pre-choruses. The overall song does a wonderful job of dynamic buildups, becoming more and more intense into the first chorus, and eventually descending into a great acoustic guitar/bass outro. And there's a really great video for this song, too:
6. The Straw by Idiot Flesh. From Fancy, Vaccination Records, 1997.
Idiot Flesh was one of the bands I discovered in college when I was digging around for "bands that sound like Mr. Bungle," a notion that has bitten me in my own posterior many times over the years when my own efforts get quickly dismissed in that direction. And I imagine the Idiot Flesh folks grew weary of those comparisons, too. In retrospect, they were a decidedly different kind of band, who took their theatrical influences deeper than Bungle in performance, who took their conceptual/philosophical notions far further by inventing John Kane and Rock Against Rock to articulate their thoughts (a process that continues in the mythology behind Sleepytime Gorilla Museum), and who were devoted to a different sort of organic composition and recording process that resulted in some spectacular recordings. In the case of The Straw, Idiot Flesh created a sort of "tone poem" if they'd survived into the days of avant-rock, setting selections from T.S. Elliot's The Hollow Men to a sophisticated musical ride.
7 and 8. Popfest and Death March Skull by Need New Body. From UFO and s/t, File 13, 2003/2002.
A couple of Need New Body tracks back-to back that show off a little of this band's range. Need New Body was the first band I became aware of in the Philly avant-rock scene of the 00s, and they were one of the best, combining folk, dance, Krautrock, jazz, video game synths, and a zillion other influences into a nonstop party. Death March Skull gives you a little Krautrock-meets-freejazz routine, and Popfest is a great dance groove, still with a touch of the Kraut, a great repeated lyric line, and a lot of fun. Need New Body is the perfect antidote for any moment of boredom. And you can't go wrong with any band whose members are in one way or another associated: Man Man, Icy Demons, Bent Leg Fatima, Whales and Cops, Buffalo Stance, and on and on. Philly must have had the most friendly avant-rock parties of all time in the 00s! Here's a video for their "Brite Tha Day from 2005," to give you some idea of the fun:
9. Strange Birds by Coil. From Musick to Play in the Dark, Volume 1, Chalice, 2000.
I pulled this one out in homage to Peter Christopherson, aka Sleazy, of Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV fame, not to mention his own incredible work in Coil and as Threshold HouseBoys, among other projects. Coil might be a "difficult" radio band even for a show format like Other Music, simply because the music generally evolves slowly and quietly, demanding your full attention to follow. But it's worth the effort to meet this music more than halfway. Like most TG-related acts, there are so many potential layers of meaning and experience in every track, you're simply never finished listening.
10. Interzone - 3 by John Zorn. From Interzone, Tzadik, 2010.
I was beyond psyched for this album: another "file card composition" from Zorn, which has long been my favorite of his musical approaches, and a piece for and about the work of William Burroughs, probably my favorite writer overall. And this features a great lineup of musicians including Trevor Dunn, Ikue Mori, Mark Ribot, and many more. Regrettably, though, I've spun this recording a few times and found it pretty boring and predictable compared to most of the other file card compositions. The playing seems uninspired and repetitive, the styles covered don't get nearly so far into Moroccan music as I would have hoped, and the technique of using a square wave in between other sections of music to simulate the "cut up" method seemed really forced and cliche. If this were anything other than a Zorn record, I would probably have mostly positive feelings about it, but coming from the same person who composed Spillane and even recent works like Ipissimus and Femina, it's pretty weak.