Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Edgetone Mega-Roundup

One of the many apologies I’m sending out in this period (the reason being the same for everybody: delayed reviews) is definitely owed to Rent Romus, whose Edgetone label is among those imprints that don’t know what “predictable” means. In their catalogue we find a lot of interesting stuff – and, honestly, also a couple of question mark-raising outings which I won’t mention, this time – but everything is as non-commercial as you can hope for, which is always a good thing. Here’s a condensed report of what was sent on my desk from El Cerrito, California in the last eight (ten?) months or so.

EDDIE THE RAT – Out Behind The 8-Ball

Eddie The Rat comprises Peter Martin (pianist with his hands, percussionist with his feet), Molly Tascone, Ronnie Camaro and Dan Ake. All of these musicians are multi-instrumentalists specialized in exotic percussions also lending their voices to achieve the aim of a half-ritualistic, half-punkish potion largely influenced by Balinese gamelan but - in this occasion - with a sinister Stravinskian mood creeping around. What’s really strange is that these structures - taken singularly - sound pretty simple, even basic at times, including certain repetitive flute figurations that add a “melodically wooden” nuance to the magic potion. When the sum of the parts is heard, the music can reach levels of freakish difficulty, and one wonders how in the world these guys are able to perform this stuff live without the addition of other participants. This is not your typical serene voyage to the East full of postcard quotes, good only for those shops run by converted yuppies where incense suffocates and rainsticks gather dust in a corner. Eddie The Rat are snarling and acrid, kicking serious ass when they want to. An uneasy yet stimulating release, despite a few pauses; in any case much better than the previous Insomnia Sound Bible, which I hadn’t liked at all.

C.O.M.A. – Big Words

The California Outside Music Association – whose personnel is in constant change – is represented this time by John Vaughn (sax, voice, electronics), Dax Compise (percussion) and Zach Silver (electric violin, Theremin). Improvisations that could be described as halfway through idiomatic and completely scheme-free, sometimes pleasant, in any case not exactly memorable. Often quite abstract, at times very nervous (“Veridical”) but never transcending into perniciousness, these sounds seem to exist only for the moment in which they were created, apparently exclusive of any disguised or intentional meanings. Silver’s violin might recall Don Sugarcane Harris, and the Theremin can’t sound much different from the usual correlations with Ed Wood or cheap sci-fi. Loops and delays are deployed, without excessively exciting results, in “Rectrix”. What can I say? Two listens didn’t manage to let me think about greatness for this disc, even if it’s not really bad. It’s…normal, which is strange for this label.

SAY BOK GWAI – Chink In The Armor

Punk and doom metal, hardcore and splatter. The whole sung in English and Cantonese, to create a new genre: CantoCore. The duo of Alex Yeung (guitar, bass, vocals) and Andre Custodio (drums, vocals, electronics), Say Bok Gwai present 31 mostly short tracks in which they show a remarkable technical command – the overdriven mess hides nice chops. A lot of positive energy, screaming lyrics, power chords and “terrifying scales 101” a go-go, powerful drumming. Everything very funny and in some case exciting, the only exception being that several of the pieces sounds too similar, causing a little bit of humdrum to kick in after about half an hour, which would have been the perfect length for an album like this instead of its over 50 minutes. Otherwise, amusing stuff.

JESS ROWLAND – The Problem With The Soda Machine

I’m admittedly partial towards Rowland, a rare specimen of ironically intelligent artist, her eyes, ears and mind perennially open to observe human cheapness, which is one of the main themes that this scribbler has deepened throughout his own existence since the school years, hence the affinity with this music. Where else could you find a song cycle whose lyrics are made of company emails dealing with the problems related to a vending machine placed in the office’s break room? Absurdly lyrical, these beautiful tunes are arranged in a mixture of nightmarish Beatles and Pink Floyd circa Atom Heart Mother, and rendered with uncertain vocals that add a morbid appeal to the plot. But don’t expect stoned jams or else: there’s a considerable degree of finesse in here, and the record remains extremely and completely pleasant also after repeated spins. The songs are interspersed with “free-jazz explorations of unwrapping consumer items and popping bags of processed chips”. Delicious (the CD, not the chips).

YEHUDIT – In The Zone

Yehudit is a cultured violinist (both electric and acoustic) flanked by a group of deft musicians - Sheldon Brown (saxes, clarinet), Steve Erquiaga (guitars), Dan Feiszli (basses), Curt Moore (drums) and Gerry Grosz (vibes) - producing appetizing morsels of timeless music that shows many influences – from gipsy jazz to south American rhythms – played with flawless technique and chamber-esque stylishness. This is that kind of album which, whatever the moment in which you spin it, provides pleasant company while orientating the barometer of our temper towards “mildly good” even during hard times. Cute tunes whose thematic memory is affirmed with tasteful grace, the archetypal exposition of the basic concepts followed by never-invasive soloing. Great interplay throughout, a sense of lightness pervading the air. Useful for dancing, too. One of those instances in which we prefer a hint of splendidly rendered normality to (presumed) avant-garde by people who can’t play a lick.


An unexpected duo project between two apparently opposite artistic entities: Rent Romus and Tobias Fischer, aka Feu Follet, working with an array of instruments which includes PC electronics, loops, field recordings, piano, analogue electronics, alto & soprano saxes, voices, radio and flute. The prevailing component is one of oneiric – lysergic, perhaps - abstractness: reiterative successions, constant alteration of the morphology of timbre and (more rarely) thoughtful melodies played by Romus on the sax place the concoction in the land of transgendered studio construction. In parts, this sounds very good with several engrossing juxtapositions; elsewhere, the ingredients don’t mix that well, resulting as a hotchpotch of abnormal deformities constantly moving on a cyclic basis. Certain bizarre outbursts of semi-farting synthesis upon placidly hallucinating landscapes featuring chanting, chattering and assorted weird items are amusing, though. A difficult-to-cubbyhole patchwork that you might like or not, but whose essential honesty is tangible.

CONURE – Stream

Conure is Mark Wilson, a laptop artist whose previous CD The Generations Of Our Grandfathers was respectable. Noise is the name of the game in his music: avalanches of distorted sources coming at you from everywhere, muddy voices barely recognizable amidst a jumble of saturated frequencies, subsonic poundings that - via headphone - seem to push the auricular membranes down the throat. The record’s content, it says here, was created by processing field recordings and “other mic’ed sounds” with a battery of effect pedals. Supposedly, there are also underlying “themes” in there, but I didn’t manage to understand what and where they are: to these ears, it’s an amassment of angry dissatisfaction with what happens around, camouflaged in a kind of racket that sounds good enough to sustain the weight of more than a few listens. A massive perpetuation of what most people (NOT including yours truly) don’t want to hear in a recording. Still, if Merzbow has reached a cult status, why not Conure?

JIM RYAN – Subjects Of Desire

My admiration for Jim Ryan is notorious (sort of), therefore fresh fruits from the tree of his creativity are at all times expected here. Subjects Of Desire is a strange record at first, but it does grow with each listen. Now, I never loved words – which might sound illogical, given my role – and much less spoken word-based music, although putting in the best effort to understand what an artist tries to convey is always a correct starting point. However, the juxtaposition of trippy-ish stories (recited by Ryan together with Aurora Josephson) dealing with “individual freedom and its disturbed relationships with desire of all kinds” and refined improvisation (the quintet also includes Bob Marsh, Scott R. Looney and Marshall Trammell) results, at least in this case, well planned and cleverly realized. Of course the album is not advisable to non-speakers of the English idiom, and even this reviewer had a hard time trying to follow the plot in certain sections. However, when the intertwining of bewildering sounds (instruments include flute, cello, keyboards, electronics and percussion) and voices reaches the boiling stage, we finally realize that one thing is unrepentant liberty informed by skilful eagerness, another is hypocrite mediocrity dispatched as substance. For specialists and aficionados only, but a high-quality CD nevertheless.

STEVEN BAKER – Lunar Etudes / Time Differentials

Debut release for Baker, who is a sound installation and instrument builder active in the same sonic regions of people such as Hal Rammel, Alan Bloor (aka Pholde) and the late Harry Bertoia, just to quote vague references. The machines used in this disc include things called Chalice, Microtonal Drone and Leaf Springs on Daf, through which the performers feed a Boss DD-20 digital delay. Except for “Plumb Deed”, whose tolling qualities give a little movement to the aural picture, the essence of this material is made of continuously lulling, metal-derived drones which remain more or less unvaried for long minutes. If on the one hand this causes a tad of dullness at times, on the other the soothing temperament of this music is helpful when we decide to use it as nerve-rubbing background. My definitive opinion? Neither unforgettable, nor bad; overall, a pleasant listen.

WARISTERROR TERRORISWAR – TheBrutalRealityOfModernBrutality

Eleven stray-cat songs against all wars recorded by Thollem “Sickofwar” McDonas, Megan Baer, Matteo Bennici, Andrea Caprara and Jacopo Andreini during a pause in one of McDonas’ many Tuscan tours. The customary digital riddles characterizing the genius of this master pianist are all but forgotten here, for this sounds more as a semi-acoustic punk album. Beaten-up instruments, muttered vocals, rhythms and keys often disrespected; the exclusive wish is crying out loud that “we can’t do this to ourselves anymore”, as per one of the tracks titles. At first I found the record funny, after a while it looked like an unremarkable thing, good only for a bit of sincere idealism. Then, when we compare the fusion of these sensations to a sort of feverish pagan ritual and listen to this set with the same attitude of, say, looking at a shaman dressed like a young Joe Strummer, the honesty of intentions begins to clash (pun definitely intended) with our previous ideas pretty hard. Bizarrely frank stuff.