Original artwork by Cap Blackard (Buy Prints + More)
Next Little Things is a monthly round-up of limited-run, mostly experimental vinyl/tape releases reviewed by Grant Purdum.
Had a conversation recently with a label owner who is at his wit’s end. He can’t get anyone to review his releases, premiere his releases, or even listen to his releases despite their obvious relevance. Why?
I’ve also talked to a lot of great bands over the last year who can’t seem to find a label to put out, or even listen to (sound familiar?), their music despite a history of success in the cassette world. Why?
In my mind, a lot of folks have fallen in love with familiarity. Labels are releasing music by their buddies and refusing to give strangers a chance, and in turn a lot of us in the media world are doing the same, covering familiar names and rarely venturing outside of our comfort zones.
I don’t have any solutions here, only the resolve to push back where I can. In this very column (NLT’s fourth edition if anyone’s keeping track), in fact, I went so far as to cover an entity that may or may not exist in the present (Lewis). I also look into a 12-inch collaboration that literally avoided being reviewed (Silent Servant/51717), and several bands/artists (Swearwords, Julian Lynch, Opaline, Sparkling Wide Pressure, Porcelain Raft) I’ve never previously written about. It’s a start, right?
Low Jack – Sewing Machine LP [In Paradisum]
The four-on-the-floor, kick drum-worship of modern times can become repetitive. I get a half-dozen releases every month that contain little more than a metronomic beat, squiggles, and empty space deader than doorknob. Low Jack, aka Philippe Haillas, combats the icy detachment of modern electronic music and/or the techno resurgence by inhabiting a space similar to that of Esplendor Geometrico, wherein the chaotic beauty of noise and the precise machinations of electronics are spliced together like film strips. A gaggle of just the sort of beats I’m complaining about above present themselves on Sewing Machine, yet they’re doused in screech-y dissonance and set aflame. Haillas also employs a smear technique to blot the solidity of his sounds, a ploy that spreads the tentacles of his compositions and equates to blurring the edges of a drawing, fuzzing up an indie rock recording, or using soft light on a movie set: What you see/hear is more faded, gentler, and infinitely more inspiring.
Evil Twin – AYIN CS [Shit Music for Shit People]
Evil Twin manage to sound exotic even when they deal in suspect synths and oblong, obtuse piano drones, their ethnotronic explorations taking them to climes also explored by up-and-comers on the Hospital Productions/Sublime Frequencies/Discrepant rosters. AYIN wouldn’t work if the temperature weren’t just right for revolution; tunes like “Jawa” depend on exacting delivery and the patience to flush out the details that matter, much in the manner of The Books’ best work (though the similarities end there). When Evil Twin flail, they flail spectacularly, and that’s the price you pay when your experiments range far and wide. I choose to remember AYIN for its positive traits, which include trance-friendly chants, mystical, worldly electronic experiments, and enough intrigue to require several listens before a full understanding crystallizes.
Barnett / Ortmann – Seasonal Attrition CS [Centre]
Chicago exp-music maven Andy Ortmann (founder of Panicsville, the Nihilist label) and Alex Barnett (best known as one-half of Barnett + Coloccia) team up for a cassette that will frizzle-fry every brain cell you have left in your melon before it’s done. Seasonal Attrition is so vast and enigmatic I’m struggling to even effectively review it; every time I think I have a handle on the proceedings — whether it be fascinating pre-programmed patterns, dank, dark rumblings, or spaced-out oscillations — the mood changes, and I’m left holding my pen. To me that’s what a good tape is supposed to be. If you’re going to hang on a drone trope like the edge of a cliff for an entire side, feel free to dump your tapes off a skyscraper rather than send them to me (j/k, mail your tapes to me regardless), or at least consider offering the sonic diversity of what Barnett and Ortmann achieve with Seasonal Attrition.
Leafcutter John – Resurrection LP [Desire Path]
Much like John Butcher or Kevin Shea, Leafcutter John’s name seems to be plastered like a flier across the modern avant-jazz scene by dint of his contributions to combos like Polar Bear and his solo work. I’ll be honest: I had no idea what to expect from Resurrection, and was not only dazzled but enlightened by its contents. Or at least, I’ve found LJ carries with him a delightfully short attention span, a colorwheel of moods determining every next move. “I Know You Can” kicks Resurrection off with a cacophony of lost voices, odd, quasi-cowbell taps, and a surging drone that, with the other elements included, reminds me most of influential small-timers like Babe, Terror. “Endless Wave” sees Lea-Jo picking up the mic and revealing his squeaky voice and manic manner atop a bed of fresh avant-greens, of course. “Gulps” provides an almost life-changing serenity, overlapping tone waves absorbing each other until it all forms a huge rainbow, arcing far above the horizon. It’s probably the most recognizable tune, as far as carrying similarities to a ton of cassettes dubbed over the past half-decade, but Leafcutter John does it better than most of those amateurs, adding clarinet scales and other less-identifiable instruments to create a soft, soupy brew. The man’s done his homework.
51717 & Silent Servant – Jealous God 6 12-inch [Jealous God]
51717 (recording alias of Lili Schulder) and/or Silent Servant are tougher to get on the horn than Vladamir Putin. I have never encountered such difficulties securing audio materials for review, and as such, Jealous God 6 became Moby Dick as I chased it across the frothy seas of experimental electronics. I still never made contact, but I did finally procure JG6, and I must say, even with all the trouble, or perhaps because of it, I’m sold on its relevance in a crowded market. Schulder’s half of the project is enamored by a less-than-less-is-more credo, and tracks like “The Glove” and “Porsche” give away so little it’s almost excruciating, like a withholding parent, until a token beat or scheme breaks up the static gray. It all has the feel of the last few words before death; dance to that! Silent Servant occupy a space next to the Nostilevo label on the nihilistic post-darkwave circuit, rhythms existing as blobs in the background while a vague facsimile of a latenight newscast streams overhead. You could slap a million labels on Jealous God 6, so I’ll leave that to the kidz; next level jams, for sure.
Lewis – Hawaiian Breeze CS [Summersteps]
Lewis is purported to be a mystery, Hawaiian Breeze another lost album dug from the trenches of lord-knows-where. I don’t know about all that; I just like what I hear in a Dennis Wilson kinda way. If this was created in modern times, as I suspect, I can understand why they chose the PR angle they did because Breeze has a timeless quality to it, not to mention fine soul vocals that could come from a number of sources (i.e., they could have been manufactured somehow). The songs plod along to synths set in the ’70s, trumpets locked in the ’80s, and guitars locked onto, alternately, Jandek and arena rock. It’s all sorta jive-ass, like a lounge in Las Vegas where the cheap people go after hours, when pretty much anyone can take the mic, and just once, a cat jumps on who can razzle-dazzle just a bit, like a prize-fighter MC but with melody on the mind. Maybe no one notices, but we got it on tape, for all-time. The field recordings of waves only up the ante on the inquiry (or not), so latch onto Lewis while the web is still tangled.
Charnel House – Voiceless Hymns CS [Auris Apothecary]
Charnel House occupy a space on the nexus of dronoise, yet they bust out so HARD and HEAVY on “Infinite Instance” after six tracks of drift that I feel I must notate the influence of bands as disparate as Racebannon, Fadensonnen, Matta Gawa and Dead Reptile Shrine (the latter mainly because of the screaming). It’s tough to return to the desert after hearing “Infinite Instance”, but there’s nothing wrong with what CH set out to accomplish with Voiceless Hymns overall, their drum-driven (or at least -aided) drone provoking as many questions as answers as it puts forth a giant blur of lo-fi spume. For this reason, my instincts tell me Hymns is an experience best left to the intimate environs of headphones, but I’m listening to it on ‘phones right now, and I’m not getting a damn thing. I’d have an easier time picking bite-sized diamonds out of a sandstorm as it rushed toward me like an angry bull. I’m exaggerating a bit, of course, because take a cut like, for instance, “Introduction”, and there’s plenty of fidelity, or at least definition. Same with the “Borax Pillow” and its manic rhythms. Overall, though, Charnel House prefer largely formless masses that divebomb at the eardrum like an F-22 Tomcat. Don’t be scared to fly their unfriendly skies.
Marriage – Pool Blunt LP [Monofonus]
There’s a lot of egg on my face right now because I finally just realized Austin’s Marriage contains Mike Kanin, a former member of Black Eyes. ICYMI, they’re the sax-shredding quintet that rewrote a lot of the rules for experimental rock with two records on Dischord: a self-titled effort and my personal fave, Cough. While Marriage in no way apes what Black Eyes accomplished, Kanin’s keen ear for rhythm and the funkier tendencies of BE stick out like a couple of stubbed toes. “Oh My God” is the deadest giveaway, and when I mention “funky tendencies,” don’t get me wrong; this is the best kind of funk I can imagine, sharpened enough to be lethal and catchy enough to tap a toe or three to. Kanin, Nate Cross, Jeff and Greg Piwonka, and Alex LaRoche took their vows to bring you Pool Blunt after almost achieving a perfect “10” with 2013’s For Brotzmann, so I hope you give it a good tug. I was sent this LP without any info, and I cannot find a preorder yet; be patient and check up with Monofonus Press regularly.
Michael O. – Really? LP [Fruits & Flowers]
In the end, we’re all looking for truth, whether in literature or music; I guess that’s why I never turn down the chance to hear an intimate side project, even if its principal is from a band (The Mantles) I’m barely familiar with. Michael O., as a solo entity, isn’t out to change the world or detail its injustices to you. Really? is more an opportunity to unplug the feed and tune out. He’s taking notes off the best, from Michael Chapman to White Fence’s Tim Presley to any acoustic record you’ve heard a punk frontman put out, and he gets lost in his drowsy world, seemingly strumming his way out of a personal funk until he feels well enough to sing again. As a result, the songs attain a homier feel. There’s no rush to define any one sequence or phrase, no verse-chorus crutch to cling to, and no specific audience to genre-pitch to. Just a guy, his guitar, the odd-clarinet and his crappy home-recorder, workin’ it out, and if anything I’m underplaying it because Michael O. (Olivares) proves his mettle time and time again. Really? Really.
Sparkling Wide Pressure – Clouds and Stairs LP [No Kings]
Reviewing Lanterna CDs about 15 years ago, I’d never have imagined how much of this desert-ambient material I’d be evaluating in the future. Sparkling Wide Pressure’s Clouds and Stairs thankfully finds plenty to delve into beyond the obvious tropes (lonely guitar ruminations, even lonelier drones; mysticism, tendencies not unlike that of a film soundtrack). “Wrapped in a Blanket (Infinitey Light)” comes across as innocent, even quaint, spare guitar plucking and little else, until a tantric drone wave and deep, shamanic vocals swoop in like Tarzan on a vine and wreck the place. A lone six-string emerges, followed closely by digital bleeping and high, uncomfortable tones that settle into a comforting grasshopper buzzzzz. Then come the warped voice samples; you probably should have brought a sleeping bag, friend. If zoning out to Plankton Wat or any number of tape-drone acts appeals to you, Clouds and Stairs will reach above and beyond your expectations.
Trans FX – Into the Blu LP [Perennial / K]
Don’t tell Trans FX he’s communicating to a few hundred listeners at most. In his mind, he’s broadcasting to the world, and Into the Blu is the message in a bottle he’s tossing our way. As such, it’s pointless to resist his overtures, not to mention the ’80s mannerisms he’s so adept at spinning together with nary a smirk. The vaporwave gang would do well to learn from how sincere deliberately cheesy sounds can be; with tunes like “Living Thru Glass”, Trans FX is having his cake and eating it too, bringing the fun but surrounding it with darkness and confusion. Who knew Simple Minds could be so complicated, or Underworld so modern? What drives me mad is how stadium-ready Into the Blu is. Even with all its quirks, a cut like “I Want It All” could blast from ye olde main stage right next to the acts with much less underground cred. Trans FX demand to be taken seriously even if the idols they worship do not.
Julian Lynch – Orange You Glad CS [Baro]
Julian Lynch of Ducktails and Real Estate fame plugged Orange You Glad into wayyy few brains back in 2009, so Baro’s bringin’ it back, bro, and it’s mind-blowing how confident and free his vocal melodies are. My view of Lynch as primarily a guitarist shattered, I search for solace in the neon forest he’s constructed and find it. Problem is, the experience is more difficult to relate than most. I hear that signature Lynch wah-wah flowin’ and trippin’, but only intermittently. Clarinet and hand drums, on the other hand, are not only allowed, but encouraged; wood block makes an appearance, as it and other taboos are treated like perfectly reasonable bedfellows. It seems apparent now that in 2009 a lot of artists were trying to figure out what to do Next in the wake of Animal Collective, and if the indie-rock world would have taken more cues from Orange You Glad, it’s possible we’d be in a better place now. If dig Tonstartssbandht and Pumice and you missed this crisp, golden nugget the first time around, call the pharmacy.
Opaline – Spatial Awareness CS [Psychic Troubles]
At this point in the evolution of solo synth, what more can be learned from its, at times, predictable trajectory when everyone from Sam Prekop to Sam Shalabi has dabbled in it? Opaline popped right out of Portland to answer that question with Spatial Awareness, and if they have anything to say about it, there’s plenty of new ground to be tilled. Be ready to swear off drums, guitars, bass, brass, woodwinds and everything else because this is a purist’s take on the art form, more Tangerine Dream than Harmonia, more desert at dusk than downtown at dawn. “Awaiting Levitation” takes the time to notice the little things in life, unwinding its hypnotic patterns over 15 minutes like a digital fruit-by-the-foot roll-up, while “Clearning Beam” is more green, sticky synth-dro(ne), cured over time for maximum effect. Opaline’s Spatial Awareness claims there’s room for more keyboards in your audio diet, and I’m inclined to believe it.
German Army – Of Babongo CS [Discrepant]
As German Army continue to break through the lines of my subconscious with attack after attack, the Of Babongo offensive, care of Discrepant Records, might be the one that breaks through the hard-fought barrier once and for all. Peter Kris and his GeAr partners perhaps crafted this cassette to fit the Discrepant motif (?), leading to a bit more of a scattered, cluttered affair (a few of the vocals even seem distorted and double-tracked) that teases out even more potential avenues to take for future releases. The expertly lifted samples welcome you into the fold, giving way to a more challenging stretch that likely tested the creator as much as it does the listener, what with nothing but a light drone and what sounds like wrenches banging against drainage pipes for minutes on end. As usual though, save that they’re dedicated to worshiping the ghost of Throbbing Gristle, you can’t count on German Army to be reliable in any sense of the word. They’re going to get their kicks, and you’re just going to have to accept it (and you should). Of Babongo exists in an edition of 77 units, soon to be available exclusively at Experimedia in the US, so be on the lookout.
Many Arms & Toshimaru Nakamura – s/t CD [Public Eyesore]
I came up in the early 2000s listening to a lot of twisted-up instrumental rock; you might even say I obsessed over it. Besides filling my head up with the complex math of Zach Hill’s drum fills and the twin-guitar attack of Oxes, the time period ratcheted my tolerance for non-songs up to near-lethal levels as verses, choruses, and bridges became signposts I could do without. Thanks to this dizzying period in my life, imbibing a collaboration like this self-titled effort by Many Arms & Toshimaru Nakamura is not only doable but pleasurable, its many hitches, stops, and starts providing my ears with what commercial music can’t. But there’s even more to this one. As frenzied as Hella and the duos of yore were, Many Arms, the trio of Johnny Deblase, Nick Millevoi and Ricardo Lagomasino, chug free-jazz so hard their bellies almost burst, and when they spit their molten music onto Nakamura, it’s a fiery mess for your ears to clean up. As distinct and necessary as the more thoughtful intervals are, the trickling tom rolls of “III” among them, my recommendation of this album rests on its chaos. If you’re not ready to put your ears through a meat grinder, check out of Many Arms & Toshimaru Nakamura before the bellhop sees you.
Cloud Rat – Qliphoth LP [Halo of Flies]
The uncouth, ravaging shriek of Cloud Rat’s singer, strangely, provides the only familiar comfort on a record riddled with sudden shifts and quick getaways. Lest I assume power violence is a thing of the past, Qliphoth takes no shame in mixing PV with post-hardcore, grindcore, and a little doom, lulling the listener to sleep with slower, more grandiose sections then smoking through the rest of their tricks in a few well-earned minutes of thrashing. They’re at their best when the chaos is turned up because they sound a bit too much like Isis/Cloudkicker/Pelican when they grind down to a halt, chin-stroking when they should be making the most of every minute. I don’t know what it is that renders one scream more effective than the next, but Cloud Rat have a presence on the mic (annoyingly referred to only as Madison as far as I can tell) both powerful and bold, standing in the shadows of Botch and never blinking. Qliphoth isn’t typical in any way to this column, and that’s why I had to “go there,” try something new. What do you think?
Porcelain Raft – Half Awake CS [Volcanic Field]
Speaking of not typical to this column, Porcelain Raft, aka Mauro Remiddi, doesn’t exactly represent my usual fare, and as such I welcome Half Awake and its vague allusions to Silent League and the mid-aughts, when it seemed like a million great, synth-y indie-rock bands pivoted around Wolf Parade alone. Remiddi forges a personal brand of dreamy pop with Half Awake, and seeing as he specifically crafted these tunes to be a cassette release, the format can only benefit from these sorts of releases. Furthermore, he wasn’t slumming it. Tunes like “Love Chain”, delicate as silk, wouldn’t work if their author were anything but the most fastidious of studio tweakers. The beats are clean, the backup harmonies crisp, the guitars so spot on they sound baked into the cake, and anything beyond that merely accentuates Remiddi’s voice. The songs seem stuck in neutral, and that’s what an EP is for, a stopping-off point for ideas that might not warrant the full-album treatment.
Swearwords – Solar Vortex LP [self-released]
I’m assuming Swearwords sent me Solar Vortex for inclusion in this column, and that’s what happens when you open things up to all comers: You get LPs that you don’t quite know what to do with. Swearwords aren’t a bad band by any stretch of the imagination; they’re just extremely … indie-rock-y, from the post-collegiate dread to the bare signposts (Ezra Koenig, The National) to the tinge of desperation behind it all, like maybe they pressed up this wax with the last few bucks they had, then bet what was left on a horse. And lost. I’d even split the sides of the LP up that way: Side A was written before they blew their last few bucks, Side B after. Inevitably, Side B tanks in a cloud of confusion, and we’re left with a story split right down the middle. Not a triumph, but neither is Solar Vortex a failure because it definitively captures a period in time for these folks. I’m just not sure the rest of us need to be listening in quite yet.
Grant Purdum is a writer living in Corpus Christi, Texas. His work has been seen at Tiny Mix Tapes, The Wire, and The AV Club. He tweets.
To submit for Next Little Things consideration, mail Grant Purdum at:
2714 Bretshire Drive
Corpus Christi, TX 78414