If there is an award for The Saddest Music In The World, I present it now and forever to William Basinski's Disintegration Loops. This isn't music that makes you weep; this is music-as-weeping, the sound of the lament of the universe itself, sorrow on the order of Miles Davis's "He Loved Him Madly". Some of the impact stems from the concept, both in its scope and execution, but at the end of the day (or the end of days, ha ha), it's the sound itself here that causes the tears to be shed. Anything more lachrymose than this wouldn't leave an audience behind to appreciate it.Read more
Among my favorite records are the happy accidents. Out of some mistake, some fluke in the studio or some miscalculation, emerges an unduplicatable miracle. It happened with William Basinski's The Disintegration Loops (that's worth a discussion all its own), and it happened with Nurse With Wound's Soliloquy for Lilith, an album far, far out of gamut even for those purveyors of the cheekily strange. Steve Stapleton and his revolving crew of merry pranksters had long been making bunny ears and funny faces behind the heads of noise, experimental music and prog-rock. Now they ventured into a dreamtime with no sky above, no floor below, just an abyss unrolling without end in all directions.Read more
There's a curious arc that I take with some records: loathing, indifference, morbid fascination, paravritti, adoration. Paravritti is a Buddhist term for a kind of deep-seated turning-about of the soul, sometimes used as a synonym for enlightenment, the kind of total change of heart you couldn't ever see yourself having because you've transcended yourself in such a fundamental way. When Filth Pig first came out, I don't think I could have ever imagined a state of affairs where I liked the record, let alone loved it. But here we are, twenty years later, and it's my third-favorite thing of theirs behind The Land of Rape and Honey and Twitch.Read more
I will be blunt: The chief reason I ordered this two-disc collection culled from the bowels of the On-U Sound record archives was because of the presence of Tackhead. They were (still are, really) the funk-tronics collective that melded the backing band of the Sugar Hill Gang — as in, the actual members of the band — with an industrial-strength drum machine, the blaring vocal assault of On-U Sound leader Gary Clail, and the grimy studio malfunctions of Adrian Sherwood. Over the years, most of their catalog has been issued digitally, but even many of those discs have fallen out of print or grown hard to find; while their landmark album Gary Clail's Tackhead Tape Time remains available as a digital download — at least, for now — too many other bits and pieces that leaked out as 7" or 12" vinyl are still only found in DJ's milk crates.Read more
If we can credit Miles Davis for the birth of the cool, maybe we can credit Klaus Schulze for the birth of the drone. Strictly speaking, I know others got there first — La Monte Young, for instance, was producing "musical environments" a good decade before Irrlicht was waxed. But Irrlicht serves the dual function of being Schulze's first album proper — the start of one of the longest and most durable careers in electronic music — and one of the first works to point people at when they ask, in all innocence, so what's this "ambient" or "space music" thing all about anyway?Read more
There was at least one kid like this in every class. Turn your back on him for five minutes, and the entire surface of his desk (and maybe the floor around his desk, too) would be lacquered with crayon scribbles. Not one school supply in his possession was used for its intended purpose: erasers up the nose, paper clips attached to the earlobes, and hole punchers used to create confetti that would be sprinkled into his own hair and then shaken off into your lap as fake dandruff. If a kid like that doesn't grow up to become Yamatsuka Eye, lead singer of the Boredoms, and go on to record shrieking, twitching, roaring, shaking, shocking albums like Soul Discharge, then the universe makes less sense than I thought it did.Read more
John Zorn is arguably one of the few people who has done something with jazz that isn't redundant or insulting ever since Miles Davis hung up his machine. Execution Ground is an exhibit A for why: he's fearless. Who other than Zorn would have the nerve to pair up not only with Bill Laswell — whose career has hopscotched between jazz, downtown New York avant-gardism, and psychedelic dreamtime world-music — but with Napalm Death drummer Mick Harris? And not as a stunt, either, but because Zorn sees and hears things in the way folks like Laswell and Harris work that deserve more than just marginalization, ridicule, or sniffing dismissal.Read more
After Dead Can Dance burst onto the music scene in the early Eighties, with their mix of tribal, classical, and popular sounds, it was tempting to draw connections back to them from just about everyone else, no matter how remote, who seemed like they belonged on the same shelf. Vasilisk was, and is, one such unit, even if the group itself hailed from a completely different direction: they didn't have anywhere nearly the consistency of output of DCD, and consequently their work tended to be far more fragmented and fleeting. But what they did produce is worthy of attention, and Liberation and Ecstasy makes it easier to find out what the band was about than hunting and pecking for the various bits of vinyl released by them.
Formed in Japan after the collapse of the noisy, SPK-ish White Hospital — the other half of which, Jun Konagaya, went on to continue as Grim — Vasilisk consisted of Tomo Kuwabara and Yukio Nagoshi, with other members (including longtime fixture of the Japanese underground, drummer Tatsuya Yoshida) joining in from time to time. Liberation and Ecstasy was compiled from various EPs and full-length discs recorded from 1987 through 1990, and the results were released through the Italian Musica Maxima Magnetica label (which also put out their album Acqua).Read more
The more polished and capable our artistic tools become, the harder it becomes to go for the gut — or the throat. A black-and-white movie from the black-and-white era has a grit that isn't possible today, a grit that only comes from having no choice but to use black-and-white. Likewise, many of the albums from the early years of electronics in popular music somehow hit harder and cut deeper than their present-day contemporaries, by dint of being the most made from the least. Bit-depth-reduction plugins and analog-synth recreation modules are one kind of sound, but they always bulk tiny next to the epic hiss and rumble of a Farfisa organ and a low-end drum machine fed through a plate echo. (See: the first Suicide album.)
As The Veneer Of Democracy Starts To Fade might well be the absolute first and last word in the power of low-fi as an artistic statement. It's not low-fi because it sounds cool; it's low-fi because that was all they could get their hands on, and also because any record whose mission is to tell you that the earth has been sold out from under your own feet can't afford to sound like a studio confection. The second attribute may be no more than a by-product of the first, but such by-products are part of how art becomes more than a technical affair. Tape hiss, leakage, overloaded vocals, overloaded keyboards — overloaded everything, really; the meters probably all got stuck in the red the minute they hit PLAY — it's one of the best bad-sounding records you'll ever hear.Read more
The term samurai has unfortunately suffered much of the same kind of denaturing in English (and maybe in Japanese as well) as genius, or rock'n'roll. The root of the word samurai was a verb that meant "to serve", but even in its native Japan the implications of the word have drifted. It's since become a connotation for the kind of dogged-but-proud loner whose closest analogue in the West has been the noir detective. Decades of noir-influenced chanbara cinema — everything from Yojimbo to Zatoichi — have only cemented that drift all the more.
Small wonder Samuraiera feels like a "soungs from the motion picture soundtrack" album for just such a 1970s-era film, with the blue-tinted cover shot of a hand gripping a katana hilt serving as its poster. The fifteen tracks on this disc, collected and programmed by DJ Kaoru Inoue (a/k/a "Chari Chari", one half of the duo Aurora Acoustic), survey a whole range of jazz, funk, and Latin grooves from Japan's byways. With a few marked exceptions, most of the artists are apt to be total unknowns to Western ears, but that only magnifies the pleasures inherent in stumbling across all the little gems found here.Read more