The power of Blunoise!

Nicoffeine - Lighthealer Stalking Flashplayer
Jealousy Mountain Duo - No. _01

A pair of recent submissions from Germany proved to be a nice surprise. These projects are very different from one another, but both groups share drummer and producer Jörg Schneider, who tracked both albums at the Loundry Room in Hückelhoven. And both are released by Blunoise Records, a label founded by Nicoffeine bassist Guido Lucas in the 90s to document the experimental rock scene in Germany. Lucas also handled mastering duties for these releases.

Let's explore Nicoffeine first, a band that produces a tremendous amount of sound for a power trio. The stark black & white album art had me guessing that this was going to be some flavor of a metal album, and the first minute of the lead track, "Holy Hell of a Himmel," has a Goslings-meets-Load Records noiserock vibe that seemed to confirm that suspicion. There's even a touch of black metal in the first vocal passages, accompanying primal stop-starts that remind me of that brief moment where jazz-infused industrial bands like God were still making records. But the last minute of the track points in a different direction: the vocals are gone, and the guitar parts are flirting with playing a melody...

Fans of a wide range of music, including math-rock, noise rock, postrock, and even modern iterations of psych/noise ala Acid Mothers Temple, should give Nicoffeine a try. It's a very heavy record, but there are unexpectedly subtle transitions that take it between noise/textural and melodic camps in ways I've not heard before. The intensity level of these pieces tends to stay high, with riffs written in a clever, organic way that allows stylistic shifts to sneak up on you, wave after wave. I would find myself really liking some noisy, feedback-drenched sections, for example, and slowly realize that Soheyl Nassary's guitar had drifted toward tremolo picked textures, then to long melodies, then joined the bass and drums in more technical unison riffing. Nicoffiene sounds like what I expect that Explosions in the Sky would sound like if they actually exploded in the sky.

Except to add emphasis to those most intense tech-riffs, the guitar parts are written in a very exploratory and independent fashion. Many riffs are held down by Guido on bass alone, while guitars alternately slash and soothe on their own. Effects also play a substantial role in delineating the different roles assumed with the guitar: the more technical and noise sections are usually dry, while melodic and psych-solo passages generally include reverbs, delays, and occasionally other treats for punctuation. This independent guitar approach is the key to getting a power trio like this to sound so huge, and these parts are well written to lead the music through interesting stylistic combinations.

Schneider's drumming adds a lot to this music, too. In support of riffs, he alternates between tribal-sounding patterns and some parts that remind me a lot of early industrial beats. In the more free sections, he proves to be comfortable in open territory as well, playing busy fills that add momentum to passages that sometimes head into doom/drone territory. He's a hard hitter, but he also sounds like he's really enjoying himself. He and Lucas sound like they've played together for a long time, too, as their transitions in and out of technically structured parts sound effortless and natural.

There are vocals on a few of the shorter songs, which tend to stay closer to conventional forms, but most of the record is instrumental. Three long compositions form the heart of the record, and their epic wanderings include my favorite moments on the record. My favorite piece is the final track, "I Always Shine When You Say Nein," which adds a few new elements to their sound toward the album's close. We take laps through noise, math, psych, and postrock, and back to some noise, but at the halfway mark, synthesized sounds step into the mix at a moment of relative calm. As the texture thickens again, it includes some sitar-ish sounds and heartbeats via thumping bass strings, as well as melodic vocals that peek in and out of the mix.

Jealousy Mountain Duo's debut LP shows a totally different side of Schneider's drum work. This album has moments of intensity, but it's a very intimate album. Relative to Nicoffeine, it's practically pastoral, which is even reflected in the soft, hazy agricultural scene on its cover (which also reminds me how similar pastureland in Germany and Nebraska appear--no wonder so many Germans settled here!). Guitarist Berger (no first name given) plays with mostly clean tones, and these songs are built around his employment of a looping pedal, over which the duo builds slowly evolving compositions.

Using a looping pedal introduces a bit of a formula into most of these songs: typically a "bass part" or relatively simple riff is looped, and more complex parts are added over the top. But Berger mixes up his approach, sometimes looping higher parts first and performing lower riffs "underneath," sometimes looping rhythmically busy passages and playing long tones over them, and he continues to feed different parts into loops as the music evolves, sometimes recording extra parts toward the beginning on songs that don't get introduced into the songs again until much later, like the moments of intentionally microtonal guitar used in "Sidewalk Soul." Loops are sometimes used in reverse, too, adding a nice contrast in articulation.

Schneider's approach is on the busy side of the drumming spectrum for this project, though he's playing very gently compared to Nicoffeine. Jazz influences seep into this record's drum work, sounding like a blend of Zach Hill and a Buddy Rich solo at the most hyper moments. Like his efforts on the Nicoffeine record, there is a certain intangible sense of playfulness that comes through--his enjoyment of the moment while playing for these recordings keeps them fresh and invigorating.

Schneider must be applauded for the quality of this recording, too, which is a sensitively captured live-to-1'' tape affair. The drums are rich and warm, and the complex overtones of Berger's amp going into a touch of overdrive when it's overwhelmed with multiple loops is faithfully reproduced. This is one of those rare records that I'm guessing represents the sound of this band almost exactly as they are live.

Speaking of which, I was very bummed to realize that Jealousy Mountain Duo toured the US last fall--just missed 'em by a few months! Fortunately, they're planning another fall tour of the US for this year, and also hoping to make another record. If you're in the US, keep an eye out for Jealousy Mountain Duo dates around October. And if you want to investigate either of these albums in more detail, you can go to the Blunoise Records website, or you can find Jealousy Mountain Duo on Bandcamp.

--first published at Killed in Cars

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