Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Silver Apples- Silver Apples[1968]

Determination and a good idea can go a long way in terms of creating a lasting impression on the world around you. For Simeon Coxe III(aka Simeon), the good idea came in the form of a massive, self-constructed synthesizer known as The Simeon. Consisting of "nine audio oscillators piled on top of each other and eighty-six manual controls to control lead, rhythm and bass pulses with hands, feet and elbows", The Simeon proves capable of producing some pretty interesting sounds, ranging from wobbly drones flute-like burbles, and coupled with drummer Danny Taylor's metronomic, yet engaging backbeats, generates some compellingly eerie psychedelic music.

Silver Apples were one of the earliest groups to fully embrace synthesizers as more than a novelty, and the devotion shines through brilliantly. "Oscillations", probably the duo's most recognizable track, rumbles along over a two-note bass vamp, with Simeon's ...distinctive vocals echoing around way out front. Some tracks, such as "Seagreen Serenades" and "Program", have a certain dirge-like quality, droning on and on over warm, yet spooky flutes and random samples, whereas others, like "Whirly-Bird", have a broken-toy sort of thing going on. "Dust" is all oscillating drones and cymbal washes, with Simeon's inherently creepy vocals repeating vaguely unsettling mantras over everything, and is probably the most far-out track on the album. One exception to the funky chugs and drones of this brilliant debut is "Dancing Gods", which is Silver Apples' take on a traditional Navajo song, complete with pounding toms and tambourine.

This album has got an undeniably weird sound to it. If the drones and repetition don't turn you off, then Simeon's freaky vocals might do the trick. If you don't mind either, then feel free to listen and see where all that synthpop came from.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Thee Oh Sees- Thee Hounds of Foggy Notion[2008]

Thee Oh Sees is merely the most current name of San Francisco garage mastermind John Dwyer. Given how energetic they're known for being, it can be shocking to learn that they're actually one of his more sedate projects. From the two-man guitar and drums madness of Pink and Brown, to the naughty bass throb of Ziegenbock Kopf, Dwyer has been involved in some of the wildest and most original garage acts of the last 15 years. Thee Oh Sees has been his most stable project yet, despite all the name changes(Orange County Sound, Okinawa Crash Suite, OCS, Ohsees), and their echo-laden stomps have been gathering a surprising amount of attention, landing them spots at multiple ATP shows.

"Thee Hounds of Foggy Notion" was my first Thee Oh Sees album, but it's not really an official member of their catalog. This release was accompanied by a dvd in which the band played acoustic renditions of old and new material in such diverse locations as the sides of roads and on beaches. Consider this the soundtrack.

It wouldn't seem like the raw electric energy of Thee Oh Sees would translate well to acoustic sessions, but to be honest, they pull it off with aplomb. "Gilded Cunt", known as "The Guilded Cunt" on "The Cool Death of Island Raiders", is a lilting, drifting ode to reverb, and "Ship"s tight, rolling shuffle sounds terrific in this acoustic setting. "Block of Ice" is far tamer than its plugged-in counterpart, but still works well. "Curtains" is the first of the songs on the album that can only be described as "surprisingly beautiful". Cozy vocals blend with warm guitar tones and finger-picking to create an unexpected delight. "We Are Free" is a hissing, echoing dirge(complete with road sounds from the live recording) that fades into a reverb freak-out, and "Make Them Kiss" is a weird little lounge number with a drunk guitar plonking its way along in the background. Other tracks amble along amiably("If I Had A Reason"), while still others drone and oscillate eerily("Highland Wife's Lament").

"Thee Hounds of Foggy Notion" may not have the raw, sweaty energy of Thee Oh Sees later releases, but it's a fabulously warm record, full of beautiful moments wrapped around weirdo lyrics(see:"Second Date"). Not representative of their work by any means, but a pleasant listen for anyone.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Growing- The Soul of The Rainbow and the Harmony of Light[2004]

Growing have been one of my favorite drone acts for a while now. They're that nice, calm sort of drone, even when they're loud. Most of their sounds even (used to) come out of real instruments, which is always a good thing.

"Onement" is sort of the boot-up sequence of the album, beginning with an oscillating, ethereal chime of possibly a guitar. Around two minutes in, a half-dozen layers of harmonic, pulsing drones come in, eventually drowning out the chittering intro. Gradually, a single note swells out of the mix, nearly drowning out all else. While this is happening, the chorus of drones slowly shifts up until it suddenly dissipates into field recordings of wind and waves interspersed with bell-tones and BAM, it crescendoes into the first percussion of the track, a minutes-long crash roll. The drones are angelic as ever, but grow more and more distorted, creating a wall of sound far thicker than anything Billy Corgan ever made. The clean drones cut out, and all that's left is an ultra-heavy wave of cymbal rolls and bass drone. This ending reminds me a lot of Boris' Flood- just devastatingly heavy. Then silence.

"Anaheim II" has a single mid-range drone mixed way up front, with runs going from way low to way high all over the place behind it. It's the simplest track on the album, and the shortest by far, but it manages to condense Boris' dark-matter heavy drones with Stars of the Lid's beautiful harmonies.

The first major use of any stringed instrument on "The Soul of the Rainbow" comes on "Epochal Reminiscence". As a result, it sounds a bit muddier than the rest of the tracks, but the distortion on the guitar matches up pretty well with the ever-present drones- it's just got a different timbre going on. The last few minutes of chiming and echoing guitar swells remind me a lot of Explosions in the Sky before they drop their crescendoes. Probably my least favorite track, but still pretty grandiose.

Closer "Primitive Associations/Great Mass Above" actually does a good job of tying the entire album together. It's gentle enough to settle you back down after the heavier middle tracks, but the bass rumbles in the back seem sort of like shadows of "Anaheim II" behind far off mountains. This track also features more field recordings than the rest- lots of birds, waves, and wind. It honestly feels like a shrooming trip in an especially verdant forest, with the moss vibrating all around you.

This is probably my favorite Growing album, and is definitely the most pure-drone. Unfortunately, I'm not a fan of their more recent works. They've sped up, added a lot of rhythm, and (to repeat just about anyone else concerned with them) moved pretty deep into Black Dice territory. This is still a great album of beautiful, heavy drone though.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Gaa- Auf Der Bahn Zum Uranus[1974]

There's supposed to be an umlaut over the middle "A" in the name. That would be pronounced "Gaia". Gaa were never very successful on the Krautrock scene, but it's actually a lot more accessible than giants like Faust or even Can. The german vocals were probably a turn off. But you know, if you don't listen too close, you might almost understand it.

 Auf Der Bahn Zum Uranus isn't as experimental as some of their contemporaries- in fact, there's nothing too revolutionary here at all. Gaa excels, however, in blending similar styles to create a somewhat familiar, while still highly unique sound.

"Uranus" sounds pretty similar to the quieter bits of Thick as a Brick or Tarkus, with some German spoken-word business about death and the planet thrown in on either end. "Bossa Rustical" features some vaguely latin guitar work, eventually bringing in a nice bass groove and some echo-laden congas that kick into a sort of psychedelic bossa nova, backed by a sloppy, yet very Neu!-esque backing beat. "Tanz Mit Dem Mond" is pretty standard early-prog, with loads of big harmonies and echoes. "Mutter Erde" is probably my favorite on the album, and to be honest, it sounds a lot like some major western acts of the period(Deep Purple or Uriah Heep, mostly because of the great Hammond work)."Welt Im Dunkel" continues the organ trend, but brings the congas back for a groovy midsection and a pure space-rock outro.

So there. First post, nothing too revolutionary, but a fun listen with lots of great hooks. A good stopover between the big names in Kraut and some of the less immediate acts like German Oak or Broeselmaschine.

Mission Statement

Seeing as the semester's wearing down, and knowing how bored I'll be when I'm not working this summer, I decided to start the ol' blog machine back up. It won't be pretty, but I guarantee that there will be no shortage of posts in the wee hours of the morning.
If I had to describe a general leaning in my selection, it would probably be "psychedelic", but I'm not too hardline on that. There will be a lot of post-punk, kraut, drone, jazz, probably some metal as well.
I guess I'll just play it by ear! Haw