Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Adrian Knight - Vacation Man (Galtta Media, 2018)

This gentleman is a Swedish ex-pat who lives in New York and is a mainstay of the Galtta Media empire, which is helmed by one David LacknerAdrian Knight may call NYC home, but he truly resides in a universe where corporate training videos, Club Med advertising, and a sort of post-nostalgic, morose funk all collide into a broken-down version of the American Dream.  On the surface, everyone is all smiles, with perfectly coiffed hair, the right clothes, a great car, and a bronze body.  Dig deeper and wage slavery is the rule, and we are all pining for some time away, all-inclusive, where we can plow down cocktails and gorge ourselves at the buffet trough.  Enter Vacation Man.

The artwork accompanying this cassette is a painting of either a waiting room at a travel agency or the antechamber of a timeshare sales enclave.  Fluorescent lights are dispersed in a T-bar drop ceiling, and the flat screen TV is probably displaying thinly-veiled advertising on a loop.  The magazines on the coffee table most likely offer maximum relaxation and all-you-can-eat.  Perfection, at a price.

Sonically, Adrian Knight and friends (Lackner on woodwinds, Michael Advensky mans drums and percussion, Alice Cohen provides backing vocals, and Nick Stevens plays the trombone) echo the illusion of unlimited pleasure masking a woozy collective sadness.  The music is almost polished, but cracks in the fa├žade pop out frequently: an off-beat rhythmic element here, an out of tune synth there, a hint of melancholy in the lyrics.

But as much as Knight acknowledges the gloom, he’s sanguine and asks us for a similar perseverance.  Be positive!  Revel in the illusion!  And his music leads us to succumb.  We close our eyes, a wan smile on our faces, as we dream of our next escape.  Thank you, Mr. Knight.  Vacation Man – with its smooth rhythms and luscious woodwinds – might just get me through the rest of this brutal winter.

Released in an edition of 125, Vacation Man is still available from the Galtta Media Bandcamp, so head on over and drift into an alternate plane of existence.  Don’t worry, be happy!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Me, Claudius - Good Diz, Bad Bird (Bezirk, 2018)

First thing’s first: I love the name Me, Claudius for a musical project.  I actually went to YouTube to find the Sesame Street skit from which the enigmatic English tape sorceress pinched the moniker, and it brought back a wave of nostalgia.  Now take the name of this tape: Good Diz, Bad Bird.  As far as I can tell, this isn’t bebop, and there aren’t any horns or saxes to be found.  There’s certainly a sense of virtuosity at play, as the artist is a wiz with the ferrous loops – slicing, dicing, and mangling her samples until they fold in on themselves in a repetitive haze of maximalist minimalism.  There is genius here, and it becomes apparent when one navigates deep into the crevices of this evocative cassette.

The first side of the tape is one lengthy beast of a piece, eponymous and difficult to pin down.  Piano chords stagger, stutter, and turn on themselves until they become a pool of undifferentiated timbre and tone.  Disembodied voices and a percussive rhythm eventually overtake the piano maelstrom, along with shards of white noise that are smeared into the sonic equivalent of extracellular fluid.  This is musical DNA being replicated, mutated, carved up and manipulated by an expert pair of hands.

On the flip is the diptych called “Lifestyle”.  Both pieces feature damaged drum machine loops in some regard, and both travel in an orbit where dubbed out Foley effects and an ever-present beeping noise are commonplace.  The second half is where strange becomes bizarre: the beats become subterranean and barely existent while the noises (including what sounds like a pneumatic nail gun being discharged repeatedly) are at the forefront and ring clearly.  Imagine going clubbing in a busy construction site and you get the picture.

Physical copies of this sample-delic array of tape loops are still to be had, and they’re beautiful (hand-printed on a printing press from the 1960s by Me, Claudius herself) so pin your eyeballs to your browser and navigate to the Bezirk Bandcamp to obtain one of these delightful artifacts for yourself.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Ross Birdwise - Stumble (New Motion, 2018)

Vancouver-based artist Ross Birdwise tugs at and tears the rigid grid that bolsters most electronic music, warping space-time in the process.  His mutant rhythms are both intoxicating and mind-boggling.  He has also been on a tear lately, releasing four cassettes in 2018: Drunk Formalism(s) for Orange Milk, Nine Variations for Hotham Sound, Eschatology for Collapsed Structures, and finally this luscious set of uncanny electronics for the New Motion imprint.

The music on Stumble is in a sense the connective tissue between Birdwise’s Frame Drag tape from 2013 and the more recent Drunk Formalism(s) and was conceived in the interstitial period between those releases.  The gradual maturing of the compositions reveals a producer whose confidence has grown immensely, with an oeuvre that has expanded in complexity over the years.  Interestingly, both the artist and label refer to these sounds as being more minimal in nature than those of his other work, but a minimal Ross Birdwise record is still fairly maximalist in execution.  Oblique beats, shattered fragments of noise, dense melodic content, and jarring samples are all stirred together into a heady concoction of sound.  Sure, there is more breathing room here, but the air is vaporous and thick.  This is humid music.

There are twenty-four distinct compositions on offer here, at a running time that exceeds an hour.  The track titles evoke places, dates, and emotions (e.g., “No-Wave Suspense Thriller, Mid-1980s”) and the music calls back to the creative core that birthed Frame Drag.  It becomes evident as soon as “Bells Corners, 1981” kicks into gear that Birdwise is still messing with the structures of the club.  With its variable speed, broken tape deck rhythms and suspense-filled cinematic pads, the track is instantly gripping.  A salvo of randomly applied gut punches is applied again and again, until we’re left reeling like a glass-jawed boxer down for the count.  It’s the attention-grabbing samples and suspenseful melodic elements that keep us from completely losing consciousness.  Birdwise applies this method across most of the tape without the proceedings ever veering toward the formulaic.  His limitless imagination and unwavering creativity are sustained across the entirety of Stumble, which is a mind-blowing feat if there ever was one.

Stumble is available in both physical and digital forms, direct from the New Motion Bandcamp, so you too can navigate space-time with Ross Birdwise if you dare.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Lime Eyelid - Week of Wonders (Self-Released, 2018)

Through the feverish haze of an influenza-turned-bronchitis epidemic that ravaged three quarters of my family, Week of Wonders was there.  Its ramshackle, ultra-lo-fi, sludge fed my disease and – along with a hefty dose of antibiotics – pushed me through to the other side, the healthy side (or at least I hope so).

The product of one Lime Eyelid (a.k.a. Josh Schultz), a drummer turned multi-instrumentalist who plays in the Brooklyn-based psych band Travelling Circle, this album takes the concept of private press to the extreme, right down to the sparsely decorated album sleeve.  Adorned only with text and what appears to be some sort of found family photo, the artwork is almost as bare bones as it can be.  The music, however, is pretty thick; codeine-based cough syrup thick; the contents of my infected sinuses thick; brain fog thick.  Its heft is what ultimately keeps it afloat in the mind, with little earworms of melody invading the grey matter, usurping traditional thought.

Only one of the songs has a title (the only one with words), the most straightforward of the bunch, “I Saw Waves”.  Its sparse electric guitar chords (drenched in space echo), falsetto vocals, and ghostly theremin unfurl like an LSD-lased rockabilly classic played in ultra-slow-motion.  The remaining tracks are pretty intense, and range from loping psych rock creepers to sludge-drone feasts.  Schultz plays everything: drums, synths, guitars, theremins, tapes, and ghostly vocalizing.  Each of these elements is wielded like a brick-layer’s trowel as he constructs each song, piece by piece.  The resulting miasma, although alien, is highly engaging, the perfect antidote for the evil sickness that invaded my body last week.

Lime Eyelid is as enigmatic as his music.  Those interested can try to reach out via SoundCloud for a dose of his psychedelic medicine.  Enjoy!