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.
I’ve grown tired of all the mid- and end-of-year lists over the years, but at this point in NLT’s existence, I don’t see any way around it. Too many stunning releases eluded me over the first half of 2015; I’ve been a neglectful wretch. THIS ENDS NOW.
This grouping isn’t ranked or put into context in any way. If you’re looking for me to pontificate on these albums’ importance to Our Lady of the Year 2015, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
With that in mind, indulge in a thick brick of (mostly) untimely content 18 levels deep. Feels great to ignore the clock, doesn’t it?
Monocube – Blue Dusk /// Red Dawn box set + book/CD [Midira]
When an act like Monocube comes around, particularly in the drone phylum, it leaves us wondering why someone hadn’t thought of that yet. Blue Dusk /// Red Dawn doesn’t reinvent the genre as much as it refines the ingredients that can render it a muddled mess. Best of all, with “Red Dawn”, they add sparkling marching percussion (just snare), blowing up the formula and lending the proceedings an intimidatingly martial feel. Even when they’re not dabbling in drums, there’s something about Monocube’s jib; it’s cut so delicately, yet the shadows remain, blocking the light when you’re looking for a break from the darkness. Appreciators of Stars of the Lid and Silent Servant will dig into Blue Dusk /// Red Dawn with equal aplomb, its vague overtures reeling in the tapeheads while its experimental side hooks the out-sounders looking for a fresh rush of originality. The box set version of BD /// RD is limited to 21; if you somehow stumble upon it, either buy it or contact me at once using the info at the end of this column. That is all.
M/M – MMODS CS [videogamemusic]
When I saw the name of the label that released this gem, I had visions of vapor and all the fetishistic activity surrounding the video games of yesteryear that has invaded sub-popular culture of late (see: review of Welcome to the Warped Zone below). Turns out that is not the aim of M/M or the videogamemusic label in general. What we find instead is a spiritual sort of experimental electronics with a fuzzy feel whose bottom can fall out at the slightest change in temperature or dynamics. The larger drop-offs land us squarely in territory we didn’t think we’d be traversing, from delicate piano solos to tone remnants struggling under the desert sun with helicopters quietly buzzing overhead. I’m entranced by the care put into tracks like “End Presidio” and “ICanC”, the latter spurning the general ambiance of the proceedings with disjointed beats while the former stays in neutral, chasing its digital tail to delightful effect. Not sure where to get MMODS and other tapes on this label outside the UK, but it’ll be worth your while to find out how if you got into ISAN’s last record (Descette, on Secret Furry Hole) or enjoy thoughtful, worldly music that doesn’t explode in your ears as much as melt over them.
Edward Ka-Spel – The Victoria Dimension CD + CD-R w/ lathe cut [Beta-Lactam Ring]
Edward Ka-Spel, one way or another, finds a way to stand out, through more than three decades of recording and performing. I’ll never forget standing in front of a wall of CDs my first day at college radio in 2002 and picking out four bands to play, based on moniker alone: Death Cab for Cutie, Oneida, Town & Country, and Ka-Spel’s Legendary Pink Dots project. I still don’t know why LPD caught my eye that day, but Ka-Spel’s continued vitality as a solo artisan is no longer a mystery: He’s a sound shaman, constantly uncovering new, unique ways to twist his ideas up like infinity-hit audio spliffs. Most remarkably, his voice and material haven’t aged with time whatsoever, and no matter what’s going on around him, you’ll never hear Ka-Spel cater to the tastes of the day. It’s a terrible way to become a star, but a fantastic way to become an out-sound maven, and The Victoria Dimension is yet another card in his indie personnel file. He’s lost none of his juice, and the method with which he presents his ideas is similar to recent works like the Dream Logik series, wherein pale, almost Victorian semi-drones are laced with Ka-Spel’s stair-creak of a voice and little else. I wouldn’t call him a minimalist, but there’s something isolated and lonely as hell about these mini-tomes, not to mention something dark, sinister, and electronic. The Victoria Dimension is a great continuation of a vast body of work, but also serves as a worthy introduction for the late person.
PUFF! – PUFF! 7-inch [Burka for Everybody]
I’ve been wanting to write up this self-titled PUFF! artifact for what seems like at least a year, as a track or two from this bad boy were sent out way back in 2014. Now that it’s finally out, officially, and not enough people have paid attention, I’m ready to throw my hat in the ring for these space cadets. Not that I have much to report; other than two 7-inch releases, this and a three-track stunner on Las Vegas’ garage stable Slovenly Recordings, PUFF! don’t exist. But they’ve already left a mini-legacy because their motif is at once unique and claustrophobic, obsessively frightened of sounding like anything else, ever. “Durchtrainierte Ziftenkorper” must be considered the centerpiece because it’s slotted at no. 3 with two tracks on either side, it was the lead promo single for the record, and it’s the best cut I’ve heard in years. From its twinky synths to its garden-gargoyle vocals, “Ziftenkorper” is a stylish snippet of future-punk you’ll never forget, like hearing The Screamers for the first time. From there take your pick; either of the remaining tracks will take you from the punk pedigree of Can Can Heads to the absurdity of Les Georges Leningrad in a few moves, so sleek and stylish it’s tempting to predict an early exit for PUFF!, as such combustible clouds of talent rarely hold together. Let’s hope they don’t go up in smoke so quickly.
The Sandwitches – Our Toast LP [Empty Cellar]
I’ve been locked in a solitary thought process wherein I consider whether any of the umpteen albums I review every month for CoS and others will ever enter the pantheon of generally accepted “Best Albums of All Time”, to be revisited by grocery story magazines and purchased anew by the public every few years when it’s remastered for no reason. While The Sandwitches might have an uphill climb ahead of them to reach this status, they’re one of the artists in the underground that has this breakthrough potential I speak of. They conjure absolute rock ‘n’ roll gold while few are paying attention, Our Toast being just the latest in their line of quality products full of echo-y harmonies and rustic soundscapes. And yet that might be their biggest problem; The Sandwitches don’t view their songs as “products”; it’s much too spiritual a process for that kind of mental compartmentalizing. If they feel they need to wallow in somber tones for a few songs straight, or even an entire side of vinyl, they’ll do it. Radio programmers won’t know what to do with them, but I do: Serve up Our Toast like an entree, cut up into several warm pieces, and watch your guests melt into their chairs.
Part Time – Virgo’s Maze CS/2XLP [Burger]
Virgo’s Maze is so much fun you won’t have time to worry about the identity crisis that’s grabbed ahold of Part Time’s David Loca with the force of a nostalgia-spinning tornado. I remember a tape of his passing through my review compound via Voice Academy Recs a few years back, and that quaint cassette’s warbling fidelity has little to no bearing on the technicolor aspirations Loca’s chasing now. Bobby Trimble, Ariel Pink, The Cure, certain sections of Scritti Politti’s work; Virgo’s Maze is the shopping-mall radio-pop side of the ’80s stretched out on a rack (press-release claims of ’60s psych influences fall on dead ears, even if “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” comes outta nowhere with some early Floyd smog) and pumped full of the steroids available to us in the here and now. It might sound like I’m doggin’ on PT but quite the opposite. As obvious as the touchstones may be, the final product is sleek and affecting, particularly if you let Loca work his magic full-time over the full course of this sprawling double album. Spirit brother to Trans FX’s Into the Blue (reviewed last time, if you’re interested), Virgo’s Maze duplicates the spirit of cheesy music and in the process invents an entirely new language. The good vibes are palpable, the tunes pregnant with joy, and the grill hot. I dare you to find a better sndtrk to summer’s sinfully short siesta.
Chris Weisman – Living with Poison CD [OSR]
Chris Weisman has a lot of boosters out there. It’s almost as if these kindly souls understand that he’s going to be a tough sell, so they double their efforts to ensure his music will reach the right people. In my opinion, Weisman doesn’t need the help. He’ll be just fine as long as he keeps flying that twisted kite of his into the stormy clouds of pop songcraft. Much like fellow relative unknowns Dylan Shearer and Mason Lindhal, he’s such a natural talent it’ll drive you crazy to know he’s mostly being ignored by the mainstream. And yet that’s the beauty of the little underground lagoon we’ve fashioned for ourselves: the outside world might never come calling, but we’ve got each other. Weisman seems to be tapped into the quasi-hippy ethos of the Northeast. If he had his way, we’d all sell our cars and ride bikes to the center of the country for a sit-down and figure some shit out. Until then he’s got these spindly anti-pop ballads of the soul to share, so you should probably listen up, as his friends suggest. Don’t forget, snail-mailers: the OSR label has been taken off the internet. Physical, post inquiries only, just like the old days. YESSS!
Preview: “Nothing More But You”
Design a Wave – International Journey of Synthetic Emotion 12-inch [Alien Jams]
I’m overjoyed to have found a way to share International Journey of Synthetic Emotion with you because it came out awhile back and is still available from the label (if you’re overseas) and Experimedia (if you’re here). Oh, and it fucking RULES. Design a Wave, aka Tom Hirst, threw down hard on this one, tagging his slightly askew rhythms with the electronic arpeggios we’ve all come to crave in the Editions Mego era. No academics here whatsoever though; it’s all about bright pinks and oranges, parade streamers, hand-claps and fruit smoothies. Which renders its release in the frigid months of early 2015 that much more mysterious to me. (Maybe that’s why a lot of you slept on it?) In any event, you won’t have more fun, dancing or otherwise, than when Design a Wave’s latest is either blasting from your car speakers or bouncing off the hot pavement from a ghettoblaster, if those still exist.
Puce Mary – Fear and Pleasure CS [self-released]
If you don’t know Puce Mary yet, GET ON IT; just don’t expect to find Fear and Pleasure. It sold out long ago and already sells for $90 on Discogs. All I can do is tell you of its brilliance and maybe cut you in on a detail or two. Deal? So if you delved into Persona [Posh Isolation, 2014], you know PM inhabit a space somewhere between German Army, Social Junk, and Throbbing Gristle most of the time. Throw that out, save for one track wherein paranoid vocals and traditional bass blasts burst about. Fear and Pleasure affixes a more visceral kitchen-magnet sound to the refrigerator, even colder and darker than before and more reliant on subtly horrifying sonics. It’s exactly what you want out of a tape you’re only supposed to be able to buy at shows, offering a glimpse of a more extreme side of the artist. Where many Puce Mary songs boom from the speakers, much of this tape does a slinky drip through the woofers and tweeters like audio liquid from hell. It’s intoxicating and equal to anything I’ve heard from this enticing new artist, if you should happen to come upon it legitimately (I can imagine a vinyl pressing down the line, at the very least).
Dolphins into the Future / Lievens Martens Moana – Songs of Gold, Incandescent LP [Edicoes]
If you’ve gotten used to the field-recorded, camping-next-to-a-stream-in-a-quiet-jungle side of Dolphins into the Future, you’ll be surprised by the umpteen wrinkles Lievens Martens Moana sketches into Songs of Gold, Incandescent. “Lava” might be the most challenging recording Moana has ever birthed, a test of patience consisting of a rubber-band tone that sounds like it’s being stretched all the way to space. As it gets higher literally and figuratively, I found myself reaching for the skip button. Same with the annoying triangle of “The Gecko”; fascinating at first, perhaps, but ultimately forgettable. The appropriately titled “A Subtle Landscape” is the opposite, uplifting and aurally pleasing even as it relies on xylophone taps for minutes on end. Same with the sampled group chorus of “Sweeten the Mango”, sort of a creepy version of that Langley Schools record, and the next-level noisemanship of “Grottelle”; you’ll wonder if Moana’s attention is drifting, or maybe if he’s just messing with you. My money’s on the latter.
Cathode Ray Eyes – Eyes in the Melancholy Palm LP [Captcha/Cardinal Fuzz]
Cathode Ray Eyes is Ryan Delgaudio from Cult of Dom Keller, which will mean a lot to some of you and nothing to a lot of you. Well, the former are right on this one, as CODK kill it. So what’s up with Cathode Ray Eyes, you ask? Maybe too much; this is bonafide songcraft, the proper verses and choruses alone scuttling any comparisons between CRE and Delgaudio’s other projects. To these ears, Eyes in the Melancholy Palm fits snuggly in between the sorely missed psych craft of Velvet Davenport and a more freewheeling presence like, say, The Gris Gris. That’s high praise coming from me, and these well-considered tunes earn every inch of slack. “Harry Houdini” finds Delgaudio at the absolute tip-top of his game, channeling early BJM (specifically, Take It from the Man) without breaking a sweat, an angry high-hat tap the only semblance of rhythm. “Short Piece About a Piano” hops on a more Spacemen 3 vibe, cunning yet simple, while “The Unsuccessful Resurrection of James Dean” had me thinking early on that shoegaze was going to be more of a factor. No matter: Eyes in the Melancholy Palm once again confirms my belief in ye olde Solo Side Project. Keep ’em coming, y’all.
Swahili – AMOVREVX LP [Translinguistic Other]
Seven or eight years ago, AMOVREVX would have sounded like a lot of the material in my personal listening rotation and would have been quickly forgotten. Now, it rings of very little in my rolodex, and I’m a lot more receptive. It’s a cruel reality I suppose; deal with it the way Swahili do: With your chin up and a smile on your face. Their infectious energy and lack of pretense, backed by gooey synths and boisterous bongos, tend to paper over the dark moments, when a post-disco groove might represent a sugary rush that doesn’t last into the night. Swahili earn every ounce of sweat you shake into them, floating high on a vibe not all that removed from certain DFA acts (the better ones). They hit hardest when the synth oddities tip the scales of 80s dementia and each member of the quintet is freaking out rather than contributing a flatter, seemingly more planned-out part. AMOVREVX casts a respectable spell, but I’m guessing the live experience factors into the Swahili hype, too, because four-on-the-floor beats, spiraling synths, and sprightly vocals tend to work best when the lights are bright.
The Shouts from the Sea – The Shouts from the Sea CS [Power Moves]
One thing that hits you as soon as The Shouts from the Sea’s self-titled afterburner of a tape hits the player? DAMN, THAT’S HARSH, SON! Introductory track “A1” is such an excruciating 10-strip of acidic noise I’m reminded of why I never truly got into the harshest of noises: Shit hurts my ears! Thankfully the duo of Patrick Cain and Phong Tran dial the high-pitched whistles down for the remainder, focusing on making the sort of noises that stimulate the mind without revealing exactly where they came from. But I can cheat, via BandCamp: Cain is dealing in analog electronics, tapes, loops, amp and film stills, while Tran trucks in prepared guitar, bow, crackle box, cymbal, sitar, efx and amp. As complicated as these compositions could be, considering the many elements used to create them, what I find is that when they coalesce they tend to congeal into a steady, sturdy presence. My money’s on “A3” and its swarming current that reminds me of the relentless winds of Corpus Christi (better hold onto something, chap), if you’re looking for highlights, but the chirps and rapid thumps of “A5” and the approaching-storm menace of “B4” also hold a lot of water. The Shouts from the Sea are involved in experiments you’ll want to sit in on; this tape is sold out, but you can fall into a trance on a digital basis below.
Space Blue – Space Blue CS [Crudite]
When I listened to Space Blue for the first time, I’ll admit I brushed it aside just a bit, feeling it represented little more than another electronic fish surging out to sea. Now that I’ve had a little more time to zone in and, yes, imbibe this cool-blue vibe on headphones, I realize I couldn’t have been more wrong about this debut solo album from a former member of Florida’s Electric Bunnies (wax on Sacred Bones, Florida’s Dying, Columbus Discount). Space Blue, if that is his real name, is a straight-up banger, wetting his beak in several styles and never shrinking from the challenges presented by creating electronic music in a crowded field of competitors. “Lonely L.A.” is just one of the impressive compositions afoot, but its wiry frame and fascinating underbelly aptly represent why this tape is so unique: Its contents ever-so-patiently form a cocoon for the ear, fluffy and cushioned by all manner of digital distraction. “A La Luna” also tweaks the ear with a lofi drum-machine beat and strange flora/fauna that seem to bark at the listener. Quite the trip, quite the intrigue; Space Blue cracks enough codes to deserve a spot on your tape shelf, at the very least.
Alain Goraguer – Fantastic Planet LP [Superior Viaduct]
No offense to Noveller, but the best album named Fantastic Planet that came out in January 2015 was not her well-received LP; it was the long-awaited reissue of the Fantastic Planet soundtrack by Superior Viaduct. Film and music nerds alike have glommed onto the eccentric, surreal French masterpiece over the years; it was about time someone took the obvious step of pressing this bad-boy up again. Of course, DJ Shadow and other astute record hunters have had it all along, and they’ll tell you the same thing I’m telling you now: You need this wax in your collection. Alain Goraguer combines the output of a full orchestra with ahead-of-their-time drumbeats, each movement passing by in a few minutes or less, keeping you on your toes. Fantastic Planet is one of those records people ask about every time when you put needle to groove, and that’s just at my house. I can’t even imagine what the average shop employee has been through in the intervening years, people paying at least $75 to get their hands on this puppy since the ’70s. No more: at press time, you can still get a copy, just as the man upstairs intended.
Nmesh – Welcome to the Warped Zone 3XCS [Plastic Response]
There was no way this sleek, little package from Nmesh wasn’t going to make it into NLT. Welcome to the Warped Zone, whether you recognize the sounds lifted straight from Nintendo games or not (for the record I spotted Bubble Bobble, both the original sndtrk and a live-band version, Strider, and Duck Hunt), is a euphoric waltz through a world of pixels so sprightly and colorful the six sides of tape fly right by. Yes, you read correctly: SIX SIDES of luscious greenery you’d only previously been able to experience if you had a buddy with an emulator or a suspiciously well-developed video game addiction of your own. Yet I don’t find Nmesh’s music, in this case at least, to be more reliant on nostalgia than that of any other sect of the underworld. The lifted sections of Nintendo audio don’t comprise the be-all end-all of Warped Zones, merely a starting gun. From there, Nmesh sprints to victory by betraying a preternatural ability to arrange scraps of this/that into a compelling mosaic. Never has an audio artifact come so close to mimicking the feel of a video game adventure, right down to snippets of the advertisements that hooked us in the first place back in the ’80s. Get Warped again.
KTB – KTB CS [Feeding Tube]
No sooner was I thinking vaguely to myself about a Gorilla Toss side project than I learned about KTB (Ketamine the Benevolence), a donkey-punch of a sider that treats no wave like the unseemly lump of clay it is. Along the lines of Twin Stumps and other ensembles dedicated to slowly churning up the bones of bands like Landed, KTB never gets beyond the developmental stages yet unearths a lot of interesting ideas while it shuffles around in a gear barely above neutral. “Medic” sounds the most like … something … busting into rife screaming and torrents of distortion when the verse cedes its hold on the composition. “Sunset All Day” is pretty bad-ass too in an AIDS Wolf manner, barely allowing its vocals and rhythms to poke through the shield provided by a giant sheet of tactless noise, almost a ghetto version of The Melvins’ “Mombius Hibachi”. Maybe not quite as fascinating as I was hoping, KTB nevertheless keep the spirit of G-Toss alive, and for now that’s all we’ve got.
Gonzo – Ark Eulogy CS [Discrepant]
I was all set to put a review of a biting recent Ghost Miner tape on Out-Of-Body Recs (out in April) in this spot, then realized that if I didn’t get a Gonzo fix this go-round, I wouldn’t be able to review Ark Eulogy at all due to its extremely untimely release date of December 2014. So here we are. And it’s all worth it because I am close to straight-up worship of Gonzo when it comes to the construction of ethnographic soundscapes. Despite the admirable and varied work of labelmates Kink Gong and others, no one hypnotizes the mind’s eye quite like ‘Zo, so lethal quick-stitching together samples you wonder how he got past the metal detector. His work can be funny, dramatic, calm, wistful, political, shady, cinematic, and any combination of the preceding, but it’s always, always compelling like nothing else. There’s even some synthing on this one! Ark Eulogy is my favorite release yet by this Muppet-conjuring wunderkind, yet I’m not even sure if I can think of his catalog as a series of highs and lows. Everything he touches turns to glow-in-the-dark gold. Enough gushing, I know, but check Gonzo out before you question my dispensation of flattery. He knows all.
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