Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Celan - Halo (Exile On Mainstream)

Celan is somewhat of a musically cross-cultural super-group, initially conceived as it was by composer/conductor Ari Benjamin Meyers of Redux Orchestra and Einst├╝rzende Neubauten and Chris Spencer, guitarist and vocalist with seminal hardcore noise-rock outfit Unsane, and also featuring, amongst others, guitarist Niko Wenner, the driving musical force behind Oxbow. For all this, it is the heavy hardcore influences that loom most prevalently over the album, as the five piece power through a series of aggressive, dynamic, undeniably rocking blasts. The riffs are crunchy, fast-paced and heavily catchy and Chris Spencer's savagely screamed vocal delivery is as emotional and intense as ever. With the ex-flu.ID rhythm section of Phil Roeder and Franz Xaver behind the bass and drum-kit, the songs hit hard, with plenty of dynamic shifts and pummelling, precision beats to keep things moving. Beyond undisclosed compositional duties and the epic slowly crashing chords of 13-minute long closer 'Lunchbox', Meyers' keyboard work is relatively discreet, with just a handful of subtly atmospheric passages bringing him to the foreground via subdued piano interludes that nicely accent when the band do kick back in with raw riffing and heavy power once again. As befitting the luminous line-up, Celan's debut "Halo" is an emotionally intense, subtly diverse and masterfully crafted and executed piece of work.

'Halo' is available now on Exile On Mainstream.


Elfin Saddle - Ringing For The Begin Again (Constellation)

Elfin Saddle is another sign of the diversification of the Constellation label away from its bedrock family of art- and post-rock bands, and 'Ringing For The Begin Again' is the latest in a short string of releases that step away from the label's stalwart artists (Do Make Say Think, Silver Mt Zion, Fly Pan Am and their many associates) in favouring of bringing some new names to the fore. The musical project of artistic and real-life partners Jordan McKenzie and Emi Honda, Elfin Saddle betrays some of the same interests as the label's earlier Black Ox Orkestar releases, with its rootsy, ethnic folk stylings, albeit this time travelling further east to Emi's Japanese homeland for some of its influences. A breadth of acoustic drones, bells, bass, strings and percussion meld with Jordan's English and Emi's Japanese vocals to give much of the album an intimately mystical feel. Even with its handful of still skewed, but more pop-oriented stompers, the album has the definite sense of being a musical realisation of the odd but endearing, finely-crafted, otherworldly miniatures that Jordan and Emi construct together and that adorn the album's sleeve.

'Ringing For The Begin Again' is available now on Constellation

Elfin Saddle

Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. - Lord Of The Underground: Vishnu & The Magic Elixir (Alien8)

With a discography stretching across tens of labels and hundreds of releases, it is no exaggeration to say that keeping up with Kawabata Makoto and his Acid Mothers Temple outfit is something of a Sisyphean task. Comprising of two typically extended psychedelic workouts and one shorter intermissionary piece of acoustic folksy oddness from bassist Atsushi Tsuyama, this latest offering is released by Alien8 to honour the band's trip to North America at the start if the year. First track "Eleking The Clay" pitches Kawabata's amazing "speed guru" guitar playing front and centre and accelerates over 14 minutes of ravishing rock histrionics, with flurries of notes falling over themselves as the band power us full-speed towards the heart of their psychedelic sun. After Tsuyama's "Sorcerer's Stone Of The Magi" intermission, the final track, "Vishnu And The Magic Elixir", provides the usual Acid Mothers style epic album closer. Starting quietly with eastern-soaked acoustic explorations, it builds gradually into a head-swirling cosmic extravaganza, powered by racing bass and drum grooves underpinning more of Kawabata's fiery soloing and plenty of Higashi Hiroshi's trademark swooping spacey synthesisers, finally staggering to a ravished close some 25 minutes later. Amongst the seemingly endless cavalcade of AMT releases, this is one for the psych-rock fans to keep their third eye open for.

'Lord Of The Underground: Vishnu & The Magic Elixir' is out now on Alien8.

Acid Mothers Temple

Tortoise - Beacons Of Ancestorship (Thrill Jockey)

Though synonymous with the post-rock tag right from their beginnings in the early nineties, Tortoise have always played with a much broader palette than most of the quiet-loud rock instrumentalists that predominantly inhabit the genre now. Tortoise may be an indie rock band in the broadest sense, but the diverse worlds of jazz, electronica, dub and the avant-garde are still out in force on this, the band's sixth studio album. Escaping the clutches of overly cerebral po-faced-ness, what makes 'Beacons Of Ancestorship' so immediately appealing is the sense of fun and playfulness that infuses much of the record, with synthy krautrock barn-stormers, prog rock bassline grooves and all manner of swirling rhythmic instrumental jams firing the album along. The album's real strength (and Tortoise's by extension) is that this immediacy is backed by a vast depth of influences and by their assured musical expression, to make 'Beacons...' a genuine thinking man's head-nodder of an album.

'Beacons Of Ancestorship' is available now on Thrill Jockey.


Clues - Clues (Constellation)

A splendid slice of raucous pop energy and indie rock idiosyncrasy that continues the strand of wonderfully individual yet oddly accessible releases of the last few years proving that there's a lot more to Montreal's Constellation label than the apocalyptic post-rock epicism of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and A Silver Mount Zion for which the label is still most famous. With rough-hewn authenticity, infectious vocal harmonies and multi-instrumental exuberance, Clues offer up garage rock stomp, post-punk angularity, occasional melancholy interludes and a host of soaring, anthemic, indie rock stormers, all delivered with just the right slant of oddness and genuine originality.

'Clues' is available now on Constellation.


Gregg Kowalsky - Tape Chants (Kranky)

On this, his second album for Kranky, Gregg Kowalsky documents a full-length studio incarnation of the Tape Chants compositions and live installations that have been the focus of his work since shifting away from the digital realm following 2006's 'Through The Cardinal Window'. Using cassette players, tape loops, analogue synths, sine-wave oscillators and various acoustic instruments and sound sources he constructs a series of long, slowly-shifting drone pieces, with the warm ambient analogue fuzz underlayed with subtle rhythmic textures and amniotic pulses to create a beautiful lost-in-time other-world drift.

'Tape Chants' is available now on Kranky.

Gregg Kowalsky

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Pan American - White Bird Release (Kranky)

'White Bird Release' is the sixth album from Pan American, the solo project of Mark Nelson, guitarist and vocalist of long-hiatused ambient drone rock outfit Labradford, and is a return to his spiritual Kranky home following the brief dalliance of 2006's 'For Waiting For Chasing' on the Mosz label. Chicago's Kranky, with its quietly experimental aesthetic, most definitely feels like the perfect home for Pan American, as Nelson uses the name to field his beautifully restrained and subtle musical explorations. While previous albums have occasionally given more of a resolute nod to Nelson's electronic, techno and dub interests, on 'White Bird Release' these surface in only the most subtle and minimal ways (except perhaps for the deep layered beats and glitchy rhythms of "How Much Progress One Makes"), as the album is one of gorgeous hushed ambient drift. Long layered echoes of processed guitar and electronic ambiance unfold slowly, reverberating with occasional breathy vocals or atmospheric minimal percussive touches, to create a hypnotic, deeply immersive piece of perfect womb-like listening.

'White Bird Release' is available now on Kranky.

Pan American

Monday, April 13, 2009

Crystal Antlers - Tentacles (Touch And Go)

From the very first minutes of this, Crystal Antlers' debut full-length (following last year's 25 minute long EP), when a short instrumental introduction pitches pounding rhythms against relentless organ riffs and howling guitar soloing, before giving way, with barely a pause, to the full raw-voiced rush of 'Dust', it is clear that the band's ferocious energy is in full flow. Recorded and mixed on old-school analogue tape over the course of a single feverish week, the raw immediacy of Crystal Antlers' sound positively burns from the speakers as they blast through 13 tracks of psychedelic organ-drenched garage rock fuzz. With a host of breathless raw vocal howls, breakneck bass and percussion propulsion, screeching guitar soloing straight for the stars and melodic organ whirl, there's barely a moments rest until we reach the prog-psych closer 'Several Tongues' which brings a epic blow-out finish to the rich vitality of this gloriously exhausting debut.

'Tentacles' is available now on Touch And Go.

Crystal Antlers

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Land Of Kush - Against The Day (Constellation)

Taking its title, and allegedly its musical structure, from Thomas Pynchon's most recent novel 'Against The Day', this suitably epic album documents a sprawling multi-instrumental work from the Sam Shalabi-spearheaded Montreal ensemble Land Of Kush. Sam Shalabi has long been a staple of the Montreal music scene and is perhaps best known for the mind-expanding psychedelic voyages of his band Shalabi Effect, or his numerous solo and collaborative albums on the Alien8 label, but this is the first appearance on record of his massive Land Of Kush project, which has performed sporadically in Montreal over the last couple of years. Boasting a line-up of over 30 musicians and vocalists, including fellow Shalabi Effect member Anthony Seck and such Constellation luminaries as Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Silver Mt. Zion bassist Thierry Amar, Silver Mt. Zion cellist Rebecca Foon and Godspeed You! Black Emperor cellist Norsola Johnson, it is perhaps no surprise how rich and complex the album is. The music expands with a vast orchestral scale and depth, with the players weaving some masterful complexities through the driving rhythms that underpin the three central pieces, each featuring a different solo vocalist, with all of it beautifully recorded and mixed by Efrim Menuck at the regular Hotel2Tango studios. Moving from abstract atmospheric drones and wordless vocal and instrumental explorations to extended passages of more straight-ahead rousing rhythmic big-band jams and then back again, this massive, daunting work has a strong feel of non-western, and particularly middle-eastern, influence throughout. 'Against The Day' is a glorious and much needed document of the richness and intensity of this grand rock orchestra and is perhaps the most epic realisation yet of Sam Shalabi's sprawling and complex psychedelic visions.

'Against The Day' is available now on Constellation.

Land Of Kush

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Pink Mountaintops - Outside Love (Jagjaguwar)

With this being their third fully-realised album for the Jagjaguwar label, it would be a mistake to call Pink Mountaintops a side-project, though it is Stephen McBean's other music endeavour, the similarly named Black Mountain, who have gained more of a prominence and following in the last few years, even with just two albums behind them. As the leader, primary songwriter, guitarist and vocalist of both groups, it is rather that McBean uses the two alter-egos to express different parts of his musical visions. While Black Mountain offer up classic psychedelic-tinged heavy rock, Pink Mountaintops take a more epic pop direction, with a barrage of musicians lending their skills to this record, including Destroyer's Ted Bois on piano and organ, Godspeed You! Black Emperor's Sophie Trudeau on a multitude of instruments and voice and Jesse Sykes and many others on various vocal and instrumental duties. With such a plethora of collaborators involved and McBean's classic catchy song-writing, it is no surprise that 'Outside Love' has the lush orchestral pop/rock feel that it does, with soaring vocal choruses and melodic layers of guitar, organ and piano playing a strong role and a vast Americana, classic country-rock sensibility pervading the album. Maybe, with the strength of 'Outside Love', this could be the year that the Pink overtakes the Black for Stephen McBean.

'Outside Love' is released on Jagjaguwar on 4th May 2009.

Pink Mountaintops

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Lotus Plaza - The Floodlight Collective (Kranky)

While Deerhunter might almost unanimously be thought of and acclaimed as pretty much the sole product of main man Bradford Cox, this first solo album from the band's guitarist Lockett Pundt gives many a hint that there could be more than one master of pop psychedelia at work in the Deerhunter camp. Operating under the Lotus Plaza alias, Pundt has created a wonderful 10 track, near-perfect 45 minute collection of multi-layered dream-pop beauty. With deep, reverb-soaked washes of guitar and synth and dreamy vocal echoes drifting through the spacious instrumental textures, this is a luscious, hazy, summer afternoon of a record, perfect for long journeys laid out on the grass going nowhere, with the setting sun burning warmly through your eyelids. Striking the balance between the ambience of Bradford Cox's solo Atlas Sound recordings and the more full-on shoegaze rock of Deerhunter, 'The Floodlight Collective' tackles both sides of this divide, moving from the catchy harmonic pop swirls of "Red Oak Way" and "Quicksand", through the soaring shoegaze of "What Grows?", complete with endless echoes of deeply-buried vocal reverb, to the kraut-psych synths of "Antoine" and the album's title track. With such consistently rich greatness coming from the Deerhunter camp, Lotus Plaza's "The Floodlight Collective" is yet more evidence that whatever it is they're putting in the water down in Atlanta, Georgia, it certainly seems to be doing the trick.

'The Floodlight Collective' is available now on Kranky.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

White Hills / The Heads - Collisions V.1 (Rocket Recordings)

Rocket Recordings, the Bristol-based home to all kinds of heavy psychedelic guitar antics, kicks off a new series of split vinyl LPs with this suitably fuzz and feedback-drenched double-sider, pitching New York's White Hills against Bristolian home crew The Heads. True to form, both bands offer up 20-odd minutes of head-nodding, effects-laden spacerock jams. Things begin as they mean to go on, with the White Hills' 'I Will Find Peace Of Mind' fading in medias res from pealing feedback into a slowly unfolding, deliciously stoned groove, topped with distant, echoey Spacemen 3-esque vocals and a fuzz of psychedelic guitar soloing. After a brief street-recording respite, we hit the flip side, where The Heads' even more epic 'Camden Brain Slurry' blasts off on a particularly monstrous cosmic voyage. Their decidedly heavier instrumental maelstrom throws pummelling drum and bass blasts and eventual krautrock repetitions into walls of rocket-ship guitar, everything screeching and screaming to blistering feedback crescendos, creating a gloriously heady mind-expanding sonic trip.

'Collisions V.1' is released on Rocket Recordings on 20th April 2009.

White Hills

The Heads