Best of 2017: Kelly's Personal Picks

Posted by Kells, December 22, 2017 07:45am | Post a Comment

sometimes the past burns itself down

This year has been, in a word, unbalanced. Thankfully there was a wonderful array of music and movies to take the edge off the chaotic instability. Here are ten or so of my personal favorite new releases that got me over and through this year's peaks and troughs...

Once & Future Band - Once & Future Band
(Castle Face Records)

This molten monolith of masterful musicianship dropped back in January and, dammit, it is without a doubt the best record of the year. Sounding a little bit like a bygone vision of future sounds, I like to think of this album as the melodic equivalent of going thirty years into the future and replacing the plutonium fission reactor on your homemade time machine with Mr. Fusion before returning to 1985. You could wear yourself out trying to dial-in the potential influences that inform the shifting paradigm of sonic cues, fluid syncopation, beyond-the-friend-zone journal excerpts et cetera at work here, or you could just let go and let this progressive psychedelic jazz-rock splitter take the wheel. Either way, you'll be totally taken in by this beast. It rules!

Check out this trippy rainbow Rorschach sponge art video for "Rolando":

Grace Sings Sludge
- Life With Dick
(Empty Cellar)

I've already said a lot of what I wanna say about the wrapped-in-plastic, trauma-folk singer/songstress stylings of lady Grace Sings Sludge earlier this year in my review of Life With Dick right here, but I wanna reiterate my love for this spooky-ooky mood record by urging everyone to creep up on it and let it smother you with its provocative freakouts and unabashed bedroom devotionals. Sounding not too, too far from her contributions to The Sandwitches (RIP), Grace's solo works harbor a larger, almost uncomfortably huge, betrayal of her competence for crafting ominous pop dirges and unchained melodies that shatter whatever home-recording confines she commits herself to.

Here's the second music video from Life With Dick, "Everlasting Arms"—a single-take shot and directed by Chiva MF of Tirando Terror (Mexico):

OOIOO - Gold & Green
(Thrill Jockey)

This is has been one of my “desert island” records since the very first time I heard it nearly seventeen years ago. It still sounds fresher than fresh today, in a delightfully almost alien way, as if it were the kind of music weather would make if it could stop shifting Earth’s elements long enough to galvanize an improv rock band for a interstellar open mic gig. From the opening clarion call of “Moss Trumpeter” to the moment “I’m A Song” bursts wide open into concentric sonic layers, Green & Gold plays as much like a visionary “headphone album” as it feels like a guided navigation of pulsating terrestrial rhythms, atmospheric river melodies, and electric celestial sorcery. Thankfully available for the first time as a proper and complete vinyl release (the very limited 2001 edition was available only in Japan or at some international shows and didn’t include the full album or it’s extensive lush artwork), this is probably the pinnacle of OOIOO’s output to date and a great place to start for anyone curious about Japanese underground rock and the wonderful women who continue to lend their experimental musicianship to the genre. Fun fact: I named my little corner of this here Amobelog after a song on this record because it rules so hard("Grow Sound Tree"—see the vid below). Bonus fun fact: The Flaming Lips found a muse in OOIOO founding member Yoshimi P-We and named their 2002 album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots after her.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

(Death Waltz)

This year there were not one, but two reissues of this devastatingly essential masterpiece of a motion picture soundtrack composed by Angelo Badalamenti (with David Lynch), and this "Black Lodge" styled 2LP set is the one to get if you've already splashed out on the "White Lodge" companion package Death Waltz created for their reissue of the original Twin Peaks soundtrack last year. Having been haunted by the mysteries of the music created for Fire Walk With Me since my best friend gave me this soundtrack on cassette as a Christmas gift in 1992, I'm almost at a loss for adequate words to describe how these songs have impacted and inspired me over the years. Simply put, it is a beloved piece of work that continues to move me deeply (with real indications spurring longing urges for nighttime drives of yore). Also, Criterion bestowed Fire Walk With Me with its patent deluxe DVD/Blu-Ray treatment (including crucial bonus content) for new release earlier this year which, altogether with Mark Frost's Dossiers and Twin Peaks' return to the tube in what is likely the most unbridled televised art-moment to date, makes 2017 one helluva twelve-month for Peakers, or I don't know—what do TP nerds call themselves?

Anyway, I wanted to button-up this blurb by including a video for "The Pink Room", but the best one I could find is essentially the entire scene from Fire Walk With Me that occurs while said song is playing and, movie spoilers aside, it features a little too much rude nudity so here's a barely there video for "Sycamore Trees" instead (RIP Jimmy Scott).

Speaking of films... 

The Bandit (2016)
dir. Jesse Moss

I fell in love with this documentary in 2016 and now it's finally available on Blu-ray! That is, it is available as a bonus feature included with the Smokey and the Bandit 40th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray (which makes perfect sense because even if you're buying it to own a hard copy of the doc, you're gonna wanna see the OG Smokey and the Bandit movie). Although created for and funded by CMT, San Francisco-based film maker Jesse Moss' motivation to make the documentary was the relationship between actor/wanna-be stuntman/star of Smokey and the Bandit Burt Reynolds and his best friend/stuntman/wanna-be actor/director of Smokey and the Bandit Hal Needham. From this key moment in their careers, Moss' documentary takes an archivists' dive into the lives of Needham and Reynolds, following their trajectories from humble upbringings to the titular buddy/road movie that solidified their status as 1970s superstars and beyond. What's more, the film conceptually explores the past, present, and future of "the Bandit" as a character (a part originally written with country music super-picker Jerry Reed mind, but it's all good 'cause he ended up in the movie in more ways than one), a car (specifically the iconic 1977 Pontiac Trans-Am), a look (apparently Reynolds bit Needham's personal style pretty hard in his portrayal of Bo "Bandit" Darville in the film), and an American cultural artifact (as Paul Williams says in the sneak peak video below, "you know, in the South they think of Smokey and the Bandit as a documentary.").

Chock full of incredible footage, photographs, interviews, and insights, The Bandit is more than a documentary about the making of a definitive buddy/road movie, it is itself a buddy/road movie defined by a creative union the likes of which we may never see again (not outta Hollywood anyway). I only wish some of the loose ends that lend a bit of mystery to all this sweet tea could have been explored a more thoroughly, even if they couldn't be completely tied up due to those who passed on before this doc was made (namely Needham, Reed, and Jackie Gleason) and those who apparently passed up on being included (Sally Fields). Still, it's an entertaining viewing experience overall, and super dank cross-section of high seventies culture made possible in large part by Reynold's contributions (you can almost smell the Florida funk on the artifacts and ephemera featured throughout the film) and Moss' skills and interests as a deep-diggin' documentary filmmaker.

- The Blood of Gods
(Metal Blade)

After all the feces GWAR has faced in the last few years, the simple fact that they managed to release a new record during these feculent times is proof that 2017 hasn’t been a total flush. The Blood of Gods is a tribute to founding member Dave Brockie, who also portrayed GWAR’s lead vocalist Oderus Urungus until his death in 2014 and whose influence clearly lives on despite his untimely passing. That said, the big question remains: this being the first record released after the death of their fallen leader, does this shit shred like a GWAR album ought to?

While I miss the uniquely raspy, round depth of Oderus’s voice, current GWAR vocalist Blothar the Berserker (Mike Bishop) possesses a bellowing vocal vigor that really suits these new tracks, especially catchy single “I’ll Be Your Monster”. It seems the band is attempting a nostalgic return to 90s GWAR sound, which is rad, and each song delivers a lot of fans might expect from any GWAR record: pristine guitar-work amid heavy riffage with plenty of political satire (“El Presidente”), humorous social commentary ("Death to Dickie Duncan"), anti-humanity anthems (“Fuck This Place”, "Swarm"), and a grand continuation of the GWAR saga (“War On GWAR”). So yeah, this shit shreds, but there’s also a closing dirge/tribute ballad for Oderus/Brockie called “Phantom Limb” that punctuates this curiously satisfying new chapter in the GWAR epic with grace. Actually, the real closing track on the album is a cover of AC/DC’s  "If You Want Blood (You Got It)" which really shows off Blothar’s 70s hard rockin' Bon Scott-like vocal capability, but ultimately serves as a reminder that GWAR is best experienced as a live show (so they can drench you in blood during this song) therefore this last banger feels more like a bonus track than a part of The Blood of God's total package. All told, GWAR lives! Rest In Power Dave and Cory.

Cold Beat - Chaos By Invitation
(Crime on the Moon)

Ever since Oakland-based visionary artist/musician/filmmaker Hannah Lew (Grass Widow, Bridge Collapse, Generation Loss) founded Cold Beat to channel her, uuh...”cold beats” into, the band has consistently delivered cool, catchy, icy-glazed dark waves of contemporary post-punk computer goth fantasy for your nerve despite any shift in creative contributions, style, or direction. This third LP of theirs may begin (and end) with a quasi-standalone transmission of blown out gossamer synths accentuated with subtle yet driving basslines (see the video for "In Motion" below), but it perfectly bookends the record's inner spacial shifts from dreamy hypno pop smog to danceable electro art punk static and back again as Lew's crystalline ethereal vocals soar over every swerve along the way.

Speaking of inner spacial shifts...

Earth Girl Helen Brown - Mercury, Mars, and Saturn
(Empty Cellar Records)

Described as limited edition "seasonal series" and initially offered on "100% post-consumer recycled cassette tapes", Earth Girl Helen Brown (aka Heidi Alexander from The Sandwitches) has thus far released three really great mini-album EP thingies with the enlisted assistance of a veritable mega-group of musicians known collectively as the Earth Girl Helen Brown Center for Planetary Intelligence Band (featuring a lotta earthlings from Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, Sonny & The Sunsets, Citay, Mikal Cronin, and The Fresh & Onlys and so many more it's as if the band idea came second to establishing a roadside artists colony). Beginning with Mercury last April, Mars in August, and Saturn this past November, each installment tributes, tackles, or aspires towards a bounty of Earthsongs focused on universal issues via fuzzed out twangy outsider pop abstractions n' things. I don't know what it is about Ms. Brown's vocalizations, but I've had noting but time for her melodies, harmonies, and spoken word treks since I picked up Story of an Earth Girl way back when. Here's hoping the series continues and Venus or whatever is ready for lift off.

Peep this video for Mercury's "Earth Elevator" (directed by Ryan Browne):

Speaking of Earth elevators...

Various Artists - Voyager Golden Record: 40th Anniversary Edition
(Ozma Records)

"Experience the historic interstellar message for extraterrestrials the way it was meant to be played," says the kickstarter campaign created by Ozma Records to get the historic Voyager Golden Record recordings from the original tapes (that sat untouched in an underground warehouse since the Voyager launched in 1977) into the hands of the humans that need these kinds of things—who doesn't need more records?! This mega-deluxe 3LP box set includes all of the same music (from Bach and Beethoven to Chuck Berry and Louis Armstrong, Navajo Indian chants to Gregorian chants, Japanese shakuhachi to Solomon Island panpipes), spoken greetings (in 55 human languages and one whale language), and other sounds of our planet (weather, birds, insects, animals, tools, transportation, etc.) contained on the original golden phonograph records as curated by a visionary committee lead by astronomer and science educator Carl Sagan before being mounted to the two Voyager spacecrafts launched by NASA forty years ago. That's nearly two hours of audio attempting to tell a brief yet comprehensive story of life on our planet, can you dig it?

The set also includes a bunch of other great Golden Record relevant goodies, but considering that Voyager I is currently the farthest human-made object from Earth, chilling somewhere in the interstellar medium, I can't get over the simple quiet thrill that comes with putting on this record, hearing a song like Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Was The Night" and knowing it's somewhere out there floating like a message in a bottle, inching ever farther into deep space. Pardon the idiom, but it'll hit you right in the feels.

Various Artists - Seafaring Strangers: Private Yacht 
(Numero Group)

I'm a sucker for a conscientiously curated compilation, and 2017 was not short on great collections of various artists. This year was so good in fact I could make a whole other Best of 2017 blog post focused entirely on comps (maybe I will?), but whittling all the top contenders down to one, this "wreck-diving the private American AOR ship graveyard" effort released by Numero Group, a label well-known for sorting treasures from trash with the masses in mind, is golden. For more love on this jam check out my blog post from earlier this year here, or peep the preev below for a taste, or take a dive and come all aboard this sweet collection of breezy n' smooth soft rockin' deep cuts by pickin' up your own copy cold turkey. My favorite track in the cut is still "One More Time" by Salty Miller (a.k.a. Nelson Miller of The Monzas—I'm eternally a sucker for anything remotely Carolina Beach Music related).

Only Yesterday (1991)
dir. Isao Takahata

Saved the best for last! I'm not much of an anime nerd, but I absolutely adore Studio Ghibli's works, especially the films written and directed by Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata (the Yin to Hayao Miyazaki's Yang). When it was announced some years ago that Disney had acquired the worldwide distribution rights to all Studio Ghibli films I was worried that some of their best movies (i.e. Takahata's films) would be shelved indefinitely for being too culturally anchored, not kid-friendly enough, or, even worse, suffer heavy editing to make them more appealing for global consumption or something. Over the years, however, Studio Ghibli's high quality filmworks have slowly surfaced one by one and now finally, finally, Takahata's 1991 masterpiece Only Yesterday is available in North America, something I never thought possible because, aside from it being an animated feature film, it is realistic drama that seems to be specifically made for an adult female audience.

In Japan in 1982 an unmarried woman over the age of 25 is considered past her prime, but 27 year old Taeko, a Tokyo professional tired of her office job, is too busy planning her upcoming vacation to the countryside to help harvest safflower at family friend's farm to fuss about guy troubles. The one thing she didn't count on was meeting the hunky farmhand man of her dreams along the way—just kidding! No, the one thing she didn't count on was unpacking a constant stream of vivid memories of her fifth grade self while embarking on her agri-tourism getaway. The seamless mashup of Taeko's mid-1960s flashbacks within her real-time traveling to and working in rural safflower fields makes for a meditative sort of storytelling that is effectively heart-warming and melancholy in the best way. And yeah, okay, maybe there is a guy, but don't get it twisted. This movie is about adult issues, processing childhood memories, embracing nostalgia, and facing your truths in order to live your best life.

The English dub ain't half bad and features the voice talents of Daisy Ridley (speaking with an American accent for some reason) and Dev Patel (who's rockin' some sort of decidedly non-American accent), but I find that so much of the nuance and tone of the original dialogue is lost in the English versions of Ghibli films (Spirited Away being one of the most difficult English dubs to endure). That said, I'll take what I can get. Check out the trailer for the English dub new release below, and have a happy new year everybody! xoxo

My Promiscuous Cochlea: Everyone My Ear Took Home in 2014

Posted by Mark Beaver, January 8, 2015 05:33pm | Post a Comment

Vinyl isn't cheap, nor is is tawdry, so the collecting of it has become much more a matter of discernment than it used to be.

The following is a list, alphabetical, perchance by merit, of the vinyl (new titles and re-issues) that made the cut in 2014. It doesn't presume to be a "Best Of," as I am very aware of the peculiarities of my particular set of listening apparatuses. It is a list of the vinyl that my scattershot attention locked on to, brought home and allowed to bed down in the limited space that I allot for records in my home.

Love (Sacred Bones)

Folky, trippy, with that under-water production we've heard from the likes of KURT VILE, except where VILE is stoned and hanging with his buddies, AMEN DUNES' Damon McMahon is lost in a vast open space, deep in the mushroom and calling "Marco Polo" to the night sky. Stark and brittle while somehow managing to remain lush. I don't think I listened to any album of 2014 as often as I've listened to this.


Yeti (Purple Pyramid Records)

Do we need another re-issue of one of the landmark achievements, one of the single-most definitive artifacts of Krautrock? Well, sure. And if, just if, it were to be re-issued with a lenticular cover and deep blue vinyl that sounds, well, just terrific. Hells yes! The most expensive piece I laid out for this year (#375 of a limited edition of only 500!), but absolutely worth it!


Syro (Warp)

What is there to be said? It's been a long wait for another AT release and it was well worth it. Alternately playful, serious, clubby, experimental. Elements of rave culture snuggling shoulder-to-shoulder with 21st Century composition. Fun for thinkers.


Heartleap (DiCristina)

The crush of the modern world requires Vashti Bunyan. Her music is salve, balsam, emollient.  She skirts the edges of twee but the weight of her sheer, simple musicality pinions her into the real. Repeated listenings have locked Heartleap in as my favorite of her releases to date, and, sadly if her claims are true, the last.


To Beat Or Not To Beat (Editions Mego)

There's very little to be found regarding the name(s) behind this mysterious Russian(?) electronica imprint. The music is playful and spooky in the way that only experimentalists with a toe on the dance floor seem able to do. "eena ferroix" is my stand-out track, a slow build like a soundtrack to a horror movie in which Kraftwerk come back as zombies and shuffle a path of destruction through Algiers. Side D features a Ryuichi Sakamoto remix of it, as well.


La Isla Bonita (Polyvinyl)

So many things going on here: The base layer is solid pop rock with far-flung polyrhythmic tendencies. It's weird, it's sweet, it's clunky and angular. I'm often reminded of pre-Eno Talking Heads, but only in brief moments, then it's buried in Henry Kaiser/Fred Frith-ish guitar-jabbing and sparring. I dig it. "Baseball is cancelled/E.T. is running late."


Gymnosphere: Song Of The Rose (Numero Group)

Numero Group was not to be outdone by last year's Light In The Attic overview of the history of New Age music, I AM THE CENTER.  Here they re-issue a near-forgotten 1976 treatise of piano-reverb magic. For when you need to just stop what'cher doing.



An Evolutionary Music (Original Recordings: 1972-1979) (ReRVNG)

Clearly there's a hippy buried deep within me that is dying to be recognized. More tripped out experiments in piano, modulators, percussion and voice that we should all have known about all along. RVNG is my vote for label of the year, as there are 2 more re-issues by them in the list below.


KINK Under Destruction (Macro Records)

Not real sure what to make of the fact that two of the few Electronica records I brought home this year were of Russian origin besides the fact that something strange and awesome is going on over there. Not as dark as the COH title listed above, but rather much more playful and silly and even tribal. Made me giggle.


K. LEIMER A Period Of Review (ReRVNG)

Again on stellar re-issue label, RVNG, recordings by Kerry Leimer compiled from the years 1975-1983. Exotica flavors much of the proceedings, as does a particular New Wave quality. Some tracks seem cousins to Jon Hassel's Dream Theory In Malaya, while others feel ready to open for Flock Of Seagulls. 


Anthology Of Interplanetary Folk Music Vol. 1: Nommos/Visiting (ReRVNG)

The third item I collected from the RVNG label. Re-issues of two albums that were intended to be issued together in 1981, but were issued a year apart due to numerous obstacles. Leon was a producer for Suicide, Blondie and Richard Hell, the only obvious alignment being with Suicide. Similarly repetitive electronic patterns mark these albums, interspersed with modulating meditations and Japonesque rhumbas.


Mess (Mute)

How about a little "truth in advertising." The LIARS have always been a mess, but here they admit it. Their longevity seems poised on one driving principle, "do not let them guess what's coming next." The closest they've been to the dance floor yet ("Dress Walker"), but at the same time, the closest they've been to the dark ambient disturbance of psycho-sexual warriors like Current 93 or Coil ("Left Speaker Blown"). I love that I don't know what they're thinking.


Talk To The Sea (Music From Memory)

Take a pop song and then start pulling pieces away. Make it less and less and less. Install wide open landscapes between all of the few remaining parts. If you've loved this process from the likes of Talk Talk and Bark Psychosis, you're gonna love what Gigi Masin's doing.


This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About (Glacial Pace Recordings)

The original 1996 LP remains my favorite and so glad Glacial Pace made it possible for me to have a shiny new, slightly expanded copy. Hey, thanks!


Golden Skies (Brainfeeder)

So I heard this album, bought this album, dug this album deeply LONG before I ever read anything about them. I guess this guy, Charles Dickerson, is associated with Flying Lotus and Thundercat, which caught me by surprise, as I thought it HAD to be somebody associated with Fuck Buttons. Really great, intricate, open-horizoned electronica. Lots of forward drive and lots of things to see and do while you're driving there.


MARISSA NADLER July (Sacred Bones)

As always, here on her 8th album in 10 years, Marissa Nadler is witchy and trippy and adept at finding ways to pry up the lid on the beautiful things that squirm around under love and time and lonely locations. 


Gamel (Thrill Jockey)

As per the title, OOIOO have pulled their inspiration from Indonesian gamelan music, incorporating the rhythmic gongwork into an angular, artrock document that makes more and more and more and more and more sense the more you listen. A conceit that I was unsure of became logical, then obvious, then essential. Could everyone please add gamelan to whatever their doing? Now, please.


Works (Naxos)

Naxos has started pressing vinyl?! You could have pushed me over with a feather, but then I bought this gorgeous item and it burned my face off, instead! Penderecki's the honey-badger of 20th Century composition; he doesn't give a s$%& and he will scare the behoozits outta you...but in a beautiful way.


Didn't It Rain expanded re-issue (Secretly Canadian)

It feels strange for their to be an "expanded" issue of what was one of the late Jason Molina's most contracted and sparse albums. So, that means there's a lot more of as little as possible. The last album under his moniker SONGS:OHIA before he would ever-so-slightly expand his vision into MAGNOLIA ELECTRIC CO., Didn't It Rain is a document, a complicated heart's soulprint direct-to-wax.


Faith In Strangers (Modern Love)

The first track from Stott's newest is akin to 6 minutes of foghorn, digitally created, of course. The album slowly lifts off the water from there. Faith In Strangers is the first Stott release that I've connected with, mostly due to the sheer unusualness of being completely captivating while having next to nothing taking place. Not really ambient, as there are beats, but he's a DJ that won't lay one down until you're looking at something else. He's acting the shadow person, performing in the periphery of your vision.


Typical System (Iron Lung)

Saw these guys open for THEE OH SEES in 2011 at Alex's Bar in Long Beach (IMHO, one of the area's best venues), and they were awesome. The hooks and vocal detachment of Joy Division delivered with raw punk energy over SUICIDE-al beats. Their 2012 debut, Henge Beat was killer, and Typical System ups the ante. The perfect balance of New Wave ethos and Punk attack.


(aka TR/ST and TRST) Joyland (Arts & Crafts)

Here are some of the words reviewers used in their luke warm reception of TRUST's sophomore effort: "slick," "repulsive," "disturbing," "lewd" and "numbing." Add all those up along with the album being described as, "a dance record for the club underneath the club," and I'm hooked. 


Nikki Nack (4AD)

Forget all the hyped, songwriter-fed, jetset-producer-fixed R&B that is force fed to you during every network halftime event. There's a new soul sound as angular as the Buzzcocks, as nutty as Ivor Cutler and as smart and confounding as your last Statistics final. Get smart!


WOVENHAND Refractory Obdurate (Deathwish)

Let's imagine that IF the GUN CLUB's Jeffrey Lee Pierce had wrested control of SOUTHERN DEATH CULT away from Ian Astbury, turned his life over to the Lord Jesus by way of revelation and slipped down into the catacombs to dust off all the Apocryphal texts that he could (but probably shouldn't) get his hands on, then we might be approaching the sound of David Eugene Edwards' WOVENHAND. This is a revival tent I will enter.


Extra Painful! (Matador)

Yo La Tengo's songs are a lot like planets: They're out there spinning around us and some of them are warm, some are cold, some of them are lush or stark, and some of them we're not sure we can even say are planets, maybe moons or just satellites. But when they align, you can really feel the pull. Their 1993 release Painful! was one of the band's true harmonic convergences, a perfect flow of dream-pop, jangle and full-on jam. Extra Painful! adds another disc's worth of live and demo proof that it wasn't a studio-manufactured fluke.


Savage Rhythm (Stag-O-Lee)

There is hope. A while ago I watched GOLDDIGGERS OF 1933 on DVD. I figured I might have to groan through some real cornball antics, but what struck me was just how razor-sharp the comedy of those early talkies truly was. Similarly, record bins all over every town in America, in every Goodwill and St. Vincent De Paul thrift store, in every Salvation Army and swap meet are full of the likes of Tommy Dorsey, Charlie Barnet, Bob Crosby and Artie Shaw. You see them there marked 50 cents and figure they're just corny and square and stale. This beautifully packaged and brilliantly curated set proves we're wrong about that.

Kelly's Choice Albums (and So Fourth) of 2014

Posted by Kells, December 30, 2014 03:15pm | Post a Comment
This is it, we made it to the last Tuesday of 2014. With nothing but a new year's worth of new release days ahead, here's to looking back over the past three-hundred sixty odd days filled with sonic revelations and reverberations. With that in mind, I've complied my very own short stack of yummy black plastic pancake picks -- my favorite records released this year. Mmm, pancakes....

1. Once & Future Band - Brain EP

Listening to this sprawling progressive precipice of a rock record for the first time was like slipping backwards over a ledge built by everyday mundanities and falling. Falling but never bracing for impact, maybe never touching Earth again. Just like "looking ahead with no backwards glancing," as vocalist/keymaster Joel Robinow puts it in the nearly nine minute eponymous opening track, I was besotted and entirely overcome with feels. I mean, as much as it urks my nerve when folks misuse and overstate things as "literally" being or doing this or that, I can state without hesitation that this record literally blew me away. Well, in a figurative sense. Add to that the fact that this sweet baby is obviously a passionate labor of love, deftly crafted by a couple of local backyard Bay Area wizards, and GAH! my esteem for this band couldn't be any more swollen. These guys are pretty much the best band around right now.

2. Cold Beat - Over Me

Existing somewhere between cold Summer in San Francisco and the dark side of planet Pop, this band is more than just another notch in SF local visionary (and Grass Widow bassist) Hannah Lew's ever-prolific timeline of creative projects. Described by NPR as representing "the best of new wave — in title, metaphor and roster of influences alike", Cold Beat has made an utterly sincere record in Over Me, and it kills the competition with controlled aggression in the form of pretty vocal harmonies, tense rhythms (courtesy of Erase Errata's Bianca Sparta), and fetching melodies. Choosing a standout track among an albums-worth of two-ish minute long choice cuts is difficult, but I tend to gravitate towards the songs that bear the influential mark of Lew's affection for Science Fiction, like "Rumors", "Year 5772", and "UV" (see the dark n' strobe-y music vid for "UV" below). This band rules so hard.

3. Various Artists - Warfaring Strangers: Darkscorch Canticles

Some folks might balk at counting compilations in their year end tally of besties, but this little elemental gem of ineffable heaviness shalln't remain untold nor uncounted here. Like a wizard's spellbook drafted by NWOBHM acolytes in the smokey, basement recesses of a nearly forgotten realm (late seventies/early eighties middle America), this compilation of little known underground rockers, made by chaotic neutral antiheroes, fueled by their love of the halfling's leaf, and achieving the sort of arrested development forever associated with Dungeons & Dragons, is perhaps one of Numero Group's greatest collections to date. With stand out tracks aplenty, this record dominates its dusty niche of a bygone genre with delightfully half-baked riffs and lyrical oubliettes, some of the best of which can be found in "Warlord" by Wrath, as featured in the promo vid below. Don't sleep on this one, it's a knife in the dark.

Perhaps the prettiest of all the records I've had the pleasure of spanning time with this year, Barragán continues to lend me life in loosely measured increments and sparse, atmospheric beauty. I can't begin to understand why this record received so many tepid, if not just plain bad reviews. Such bitchy, dismissive responses to the trio's ninth studio album could've been generated by a lack of understanding, but at this point in the Blonde Redhead timeline what kind of fan would have calculated expectations? And anyway, I believe the gorgeously detailed album artwork and packaging (stickers!) are dripping with enough symbolism that any clueless hipster with an actual attention span that takes the time to sit down with it and give it a spin might run the risk of actually "getting" it. That said, this record is made possible by familiar palette of post-Melody Blonde Redhead sounds (both guitars and keys this time), and incorporates generous splashes of everyday found sounds, field recordings, experimental improvisations, and a structurally stretched out approach to composition that seems to say, "no one told us we need to worry about how these songs end so we're not gonna," hence the horse fetus. In short, this may be a slow-grower, or whatever, but it's worth the wait for its infinite listenability.

The video for "The One I Love" presents a pleasant visual companion to the quiet pleasure-of-everyday-things vibe that I found so enthralling about listening to this record repeatedly. Sometimes it's the simple, fleeting moments that makes a lazy day feel like time well spent. Check it out below:

Bonkers, off-his-rocker, Willy Wonka cruising through the psychedelic fudge tunnel, commercial breaking at Sir Saves-A-Lot and stoking grey poop-on levels of top 40 kitty litter is how I envision Ariel Pink shaking off his Haunted Graffiti short shorts and covering his bum one jegging at a time for his umteenth record thing, pom pom. Pink's pop-savant savoir-faire oozes like Tiger Beat nectar from this Pepto slab of AWATS-era Rundgren-esque romp of a party record. He can be so horrible sometimes, but his ability to consistently sow kitchen sink genre kitsch, glamorized street trash, and a can of your own ass into a bumper crop of enjoyable tunes, in this case a whole album's worth (I rank it right up there with The Doldrums and Before Today), makes loving his music in spite of the man okay for another day. My favorite track at the moment is "Dinosaur Carebears" because the insane juxtaposition of duck-quackin' barnyard samples sandwiched beneath Gregorian chanty bits ragging on the City of Industry or some such plus its randomly heavy "oriental" intro riffs and final steppin' out with a "you're no good" reggae vibration finish makes me laugh like Santa Claus on Jello jigglers. Drugs are a hell of a drug. Here's a so-crazy-it's-very-un-crazy video for the perhaps the most dangerous song of all the rides in the pom pom theme park, "Put Your Number in My Phone":

6. OOIOO - Gamel

OOIOO has achieved in Gamel two great tastes that taste great together. Specifically, the patent flavor-spectrum and singular scale that Yoshimi P-We and company have brought to each and every one of their recordings plus the equally-singular and similarly flavorful spectrum and scale of one of the world's most magical music-making devices ever, well, devised: the gamelan -- a wondrous ensemble/orchestra of Indonesian percussive instruments. An album seemingly dedicated to this musical match-up doesn't completely come as a surprise given that the ladies have performed with gamelan more than a few times since 2012, often giving beloved favorites like "Moss Trumpeter" and "Be Sure to Loop" an awesomely live gamel-ing, but digesting this new chapter in OOIOO's creative congression only makes me hungry for a second helping.

7. Grace Sings Sludge - Red Light Museum

There's a lot I could say about this little album, but I feel I've said too much already. No really, you can read my lengthy review of Red Light Museum here. But, for the benefit of anyone driving by this here Best-of post, Red Light Museum is a hauntingly haunted collection of recent solo works and private recordings made by Grace Cooper, local ghost hunter and member of beloved SF trio The Sandwitches. Like any great singer-songwriter, pinioned by an aversion to modern methods and the lusty limitations of one's mortal baggage, she can be something of an elusive creature 'round these parts. That said, you can sometimes find her swaying behind a stack of go-backs on the main floor of Amoeba Music's SF salesfloor, singing almost soundlessly to herself in witchy warbles as she shuffles about her business between the aisles. Here's hoping we see more of her, even if she's difficult to luv.

I fell for this in an instant, as soon as "Preface" rushed in with a chant to grind. In some ways, this record makes me cringe at the teenaged feelings that still live on inside me, deep down in a dark place that shines and pulses not unlike the electric sex-vibe that permeates pretty much every song on LP1. It's a sensuous, teasing sort of odd-beat laden electronica that sounds a lot like any Tujiko Noriko album, but plays more like a blanket Prince nod or a series of Betty Davis shout outs punctuating a forty minute masturbation session, in a good way. Though I find "Lights On" to be a tad disturbing, like a modern anti-incarnation of Janet Jackson's "Let's Wait A While", the record as a whole has me hyped for future audiovisual kicks from this tiny dancer formerly known as Tahliah Debrett Barnett. The vid below for "Video Girl" includes "Preface" from LP1 as well as a whole lotta Ms. twigs' sick body motion. 

Speaking of Tujiko Noiko, the very aptly named My Ghost Comes Back (or, 帰って来たゴースト) marks the return of Ms. Tujiko after quite the lengthy hiatus. Here she seems to remain grounded by her usual unusual approach to weaving sonic tapestry (what with the jagged, staggered rhythms, shimmering electric flickers and ethereal vocal whisps long beloved by vigilant fans) while stretching out to incorporate pleasing acoustic elements like guitar, mandolin, viola, koto, and musical saw, among others. This makes for a perfectly fitting gathering of apparatuses because has there ever been a more suitable instrument for expressing ghosts or the spiritual beyond in song than the musical saw? Immediate standouts include the oddly titled "Minty You" and the delightfully melancholic and world-weary banger "Under the White Sheets".

Tujiko Noriko - "Under the White Sheets"

11. Violent Change - A Celebration of Taste

In a world where music-based product continues to routinely receive golden rewards for achieving universal appeal and pop cultural "relevance", it remains a comfort to dig into a low-flying record made by some real-ass small-time punkers that key the car of commercial viability ever so lovingly. One listen to a track like "Malleable Love" or "Faster" from their 2014 Celebration of Taste is all it takes to understand Violent Change has never truly given a fuck about making, breaking, or even faking it when it comes to any kind of bottom line. For them it's clearly all about fucking your couch and submitting to loudness, which is to say it's all about the Sex Pistols, and the Bee-Gees, and a total disregard for any criticism whatever, be it pointed at their wonderfully maligned celebration of taste, or the bored, gored, and grinded appropriation of the commercial sludge their rock 'n roll forebears begrudge them.

12. Takako Minekawa and Dustin Wong - Savage Imagination

Takako Minekawa and Dustin Wong must be on a roll or really into each other or both because it had be take a special someone or something that coaxed an artist like Minekawa out of a thirteen-year hiatus to make an album, Toropical Circle, only to follow that up with another album, Savage Imagination, less than a year later. If anything, these albums are indicative of their compatibility and their collaborative imagination must be savage indeed to have produced two albums back to back like that. The latter of the two is similar to the first with it's playful electropop experiments, but Savage Imagination offers an ever more vibrant picture of their sonic marriage in that the duo have achieved a higher level of seamless stitchery in combining vocal threads, samples of Minekawa's incomparable keyboard magic and Wong's inventive guitar loops.

13. The Geneva Convention - Hundred Nights

I've only just lately gotten my ears around this fiendish piece of experimental summoning. The genesis of this record is rooted in a soundboard grab of an entire performance of recent rock-musical Hundred Days (as given to the guitarist for the production, Josh Pollack). The entirety of said recording, however, includes naught but the isolated drum mics, specifically the drumming of one Geneva Harrison, as well as some of Pollack's own lead/textural guitar and precious little else (ghostly vocals, etc.). Using this seasoned canvas, Pollack proceeded to recorded a wholly other, synth-shadowed album over it. The end result is a series of neon-lit nighttime vignettes fit for a soundtrack, or two (think Michael Mann's Manhunter or John Carpenter's They Live). I liiive!

Reissues and Compilations that ruled my world in 2014:

Ned Doheny - Separate Oceans
Malibu singer-songwriter Ned Doheny's Separate Oceans is beyond essential for any Yacht Rocker or AOR nerds and, speaking of nerds, Numero Group never fails to kill it in the pressing, packaging and presentation department when it comes to any gem in their ever-growing catalog of treasures. The 2LP collection of songs, exploring ten years of Doheny's easy, breezy SoCal marina-rock compositions, features demos, photos, and details aplenty (what with the 8,000 word essay) which is cool and all, but it's the additional limited edition Record Store Day release of Ned Doheny's “Get It Up For Love” (b/w a demo of “What Cha’ Gonna Do For Me” recorded with AWB) that really does it for me. Done up as a pretty little 45 rpm nugget housed in a  black, white, and blue Japanized sleeve, it makes for an aesthetically pleasing yet unassuming outfit for one of the hottest, slow-burnin' late night summer jams ever.

Ned Doheny - What Cha' Gonna Do For Me (demo with AWB)

Feelin' hot, hot, hot, hot...
Ahhh, comps. I love comps. Comps can make a cold day seem like it's ninety degrees in the shade and make a lonely night indoors feel like a grade-A pool party safari. All my life I've been romanced by themes and a desire, nay, a need for escape and compilations sometimes supply where books and films can fall short of the sort of sensory diversion I require. These four collections in particular have given me the fever of the flavor of a world I wish I could remove to at will. A world without overwrought American Idols and overpriced boxed sets. Just a quick flip on the turntable and I'm swaying in the arms of Carlos Molina's "Karabali" or shaking my daquiri to "Cup-E-Co" by The Journeymen.

Thus I raise my glass to toast Soul Jazz Records' first volume (of what is sure to indicate many more installments to come) of New Orleans Soul: The Original Sound of New Orleans Soul 1960-76. Here's a sampler platter mix thing:

And cheers are also due to Jazzman Record's second volume of Jukebox Mambo: Afro Latin Accents In Rhythm & Blues 1947-61. Lastly, but certainly not in the very least-ly, my sweatiest of thank yous to the fine fine folks at University of Vice for both Voodoo Party Vol. 2 and Poco Loco in the Coco Vol. 3 -- may your well never run dry.

Featured on Poco Loco in the Coco Vol. 3, here's "Cup-E-Co" by The Journeymen

Good golly, there are so many others to cover it almost feels like this could go on indefinitely. As I am starting to recount my summer-long rekindling with two of the Luaka Bop reissues that dropped back on Record Store Day, namely Los Amigos Invisibles' Arepa 3000: A Venezuelan Journey Into Space as well as their West African collection extraordinaire World Psychedelic Classics, Vol. 3: Love's a Real Thing, I also recall Numero Group's most excellent and extremely limited one-off riff on those low-rider comps, South Side Story Vol. 23 and, from there, my mind begins to slowly clog with number twos.

No, not poop, but good shit like Sheila B.'s "dream list" revisited/second helping of her wondrous Nippon Girls compilation, Nippon Girls 2: Japanese Pop, Beat & Rock 'N' Roll 1966-70, and Light in the Attic's double-down on their Country Funk thing, the aptly titled Country Funk 2 -- it's all too much! And then there's that raw n' rowdy San Francisco is Doomed cassette comp that Hannah Lew shepherded via her new Crime on the Moon label (pretty much in tandem with the stellar Cold Beat rec mentioned above), a real pisser of a number-one collective response to the great SF Tech Invasion from Bay Area bands that continually struggle to stay rooted in a town where hoards of newly minted "brogrammers" are effectively evicting the local art/music scene. Which is just a good a note as any to end this post on: 2014 - the year the music didn't die.

Bonus slice of 2014 year-end, best-of, you-made-it-to-the-bottom-of-this-list celebratory ridiculousness: this year marked the return of DJ Hennessy Youngman's CVS Bangers series Kicking down the doors of Valhalla...

Rock On Their Own Terms: Japanese Women Making Music Beyond J-Pop

Posted by Kells, March 25, 2013 06:06pm | Post a Comment

"Rock You in a Tatami Room" by artist Yumiko Kayukawa

It's Women's History Month and, as time would have it, I am missing the Underground Japanese Rock section that I used to upkeep at Amoeba Music's San Francisco location. Having dedicated not a small amount of my life to the study of Japanese language and culture over the last thirteen years, caring for and discovering Japanese music at Amoeba in tandem with my academic duties has been and continues to be a pleasure, though the enjoyment of filing them neatly into their own cozy little vicinity is, sadly, a notion of the past. We do keep a J-Pop section up and running, but I digress.
With this post I seek to celebrate Japanese women in music, specifically the musicians performing on the (alternative/avant-garde/experimental or whatever you want to call it) flip-side of the produced-for-mass-consumption J-Pop norm, and, even more specifically, my favorite artists in the cut. Whenever possible I have included live footage of these artists because, frankly, I find the fact that some of these performances are available at all is incredible. Case in point:



I first came to know multi-instrumentalist, singer, composer, sound artist Haco (also known for her 1981-1991 ensemble After Dinner, featured in the above video, and Hoahio, among others) when a friend recommended her 1999 release Happiness Proof. That same year I picked up Ohayo! Hoahio! by Hoahio, not knowing it was a Haco thing, and became so entranced by her view master melding of acoustic with electronic compositions and her clarion clear vocals that I went whole hog into her back catalog and have been an avid follower ever since (an experience I reckon many fans of Björk's music can relate to). I fell in love with Haco, it was just that easy.

For those interested in checking into Haco's world I suggest you start near the beginning and pick up the 2001 reissue of After Dinner's 1987 masterpiece Paradise of the Replica (included with the reish is a bonus remix EP, Paradise of Remixes).  Her best song ever is probably "Less Than Lovers, More Than Friends" from the Ohayo! Hoahio! album released via John Zorn's New Japan imprint on his Tzadik recording label.

Hoahio - "Less Than Lovers, More Than Friends"

p.s. If you're already waaay into Haco, like me, I recommend keeping a vinyl digger's eye out for a record circa 1987 called La Debutante by Sonoko -- it's pretty much the equivalent of Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette if David Lynch had made it in the late '80s.

?????  Nikaidoh Kazumi

I learned about singer/songwriter Nika, as she is often called, via my interest in K Records flag-bearer artists like Phil Elverum and Karl Blau, both of whom have not only toured and recorded with her but have also covered some of her work. She has an enchanting, often arresting vocal style that sometimes veers startlingly into lowslung growl-like warbles not dissimilar to those attributed to Louis Armstrong -- a power that embellishes her borderline experimental acoustic folk melodies, when it doesn't override it completely. Her work under the alias Nika Soup, with  Saya "Source" Ueno of Tenniscoats and Maher Shalal Hash Baz, is some of the most stunning improvisational avant garde music she has ever made (check out the trailer for the 2008 Nika Soup and Saya Source documentary Harmonies here).

For Nika's solo works I recommend beginning with her 2003 album Mata Otoshimashitayo. For her more esoteric jams look into Ipiya by Nika Soup and Saya Source, released in 2005.

Watch Miss Nika silence a rowdy crowd of SF hipsters with her power chords in the video below.


When Buffalo Daughter guitarist Sugar Yoshinaga got together with former OOIOO and DMBQ drummer Yuka Yoshimura in the mid-aughts to form supergroup duo Metalchicks it was like a dream I didn't even know I had coming true. Buffalo Daughter has long been a favorite of mine, especially their 2001 to 2003 releases I, the A Long Life Story of Miss Cro-Magnon EP (containing their best effort to date, the nearly ten minute electro space odyssey "Son of Altair"), and Pshychic. As for OOIOO -- see below. In any case, hearing Sugar's applied shred-ability and TB-303 skill set paired with percussive powerhouse "Yoshico" in a quasi-metal mash-up act is, in a word, tits. Their debut album rules.

There's not a lot of footage of Metalchicks out there, but this video here doesn't suck.

What can I say about this band that hasn't been already said? I mean, just the fact they allegedly started out in the mid-'90s as a hastily thrown together fake band for a magazine photo shoot so that Yoshimi P-We (Boredoms drummer and member of indie supergroup Free Kitten, among others) wouldn't have to brave the exposure alone is enough to kiiind of make me love them even if they couldn't really "play anything" at the time. Six albums later and their sound has come to be described as something that is both structured yet improvised, a cyclic and untethered polyrhythmic wizardry that evokes infinite primal wonders and a definite tribal urge. While Yoshimi herself claims that her compositions are inspired by "weather," an atmospheric state of complex simplicity. The group seems to garner a great deal of focus on their being an "all-girl" ensemble, but the recordings are anything but a prohibitive, "females only" space. Begin with Gold & Green.

Late last summer OOIOO played live with (are you kidding me?!) a gamelan orchestra, see below!

?????? / Afrirampo
Oh, Afrirampo -- I feel another case of "what more can be said" coming on. For starters, though only active for eight years, duo Oni (guitar, vocals) and Pikachu (drums, vocals) managed to produce eleven releases and rode their raw and raucous African-influenced call and response rock around the world, including a stay with pygmy tribes in Cameroon (as can be heard on their 2006 record Baka ga kita!!!). They've collaborated with Acid Mothers Temple and toured with Sonic Youth and Lightning Bolt and while they've cast their trademark Afrirampo-red raiments aside, both Oni and Pika continue to make music these days (thank heavens). Oni's more recent acoustic folk efforts, apparent on her solo release Sunwave Heart comes as a somewhat jarring 180 degree departure from her Afrirampo roots, but for all its hippy-dippy love vibes her sound is no less unchained. As for Pika, she 's maintained the A.M.T. connection, touring recently with Kawabata Makoto.

Still, there's nothing that can beat the frenzied, anything goes energy of an Afrirampo live show. Check out their 2CD/DVD final release Never Ending Afrirampo to reminisce or catch a glimpse at what you missed. Otherwise I suggest starting with Kore Ga Mayaku Da as it will probably be the easiest to find. Uchu no Ko is my personal favorite. And if you're jonesing for something similar I urge you to check out Kiiiiiii.
Watch Afrirampo perform "Akan Konomama Kaesanai" circa 2009 below:

???? Takako Minekawa
Because Takako Minekawa's music is associated with that of Cornelius and Kahimi Karie, not to mention the whole Shibuya Kei scene, this will be by far the most J-Pop inclusion in the cut. Though she is probably most quasi-famous for being the voice of "Playstation" commercials et al, Takako's child-like electropop compositions for and about cats, specific colors, and other cutesy bits seem to be the thing that draws admirers to her music. Judging by the broad scope of synthesized sounds steeped into all nine of her records I'd wager a guess that she's been a nerdy keyboard collector for as long as she can remember. For me, I discovered her music via her 2000 release Maxi On and moved back through her catalog, even scouring the dusty depths of Book Off to find her Christmas CD. Sadly, she hasn't put out any new recordings since then, a fact that I'm prone to bemoan at length at any given moment. Her website hasn't been updated since 2004 so I suggest that anyone interested in her music start at the end, work towards the beginning, just don't expect anything new. [*sniffle*]

Here is a video for "Fantastic Cat" from Roomic Cube (1996)

???? Tujiko Noriko

Around the same time I was getting into experimental folk singer/songwriter Aiko Shimada I picked up From Tokyo To Naiagara by Tujiko Noriko and fell hard for her at first listen. Already primed by Shimada's melancholic compositions that combined classical instruments and toy piano with dabbling electronic elements, Tujiko Noriko's layered vocals singing in both English and Japanese, drowned in heavy blankets of electronica, conjuring cinematic scenes of unrequited love, necessary separation, stylish trappings, and the romance of a repeatedly bruised ego continue to fascinate me. The perfect soundtrack for an haute couture fashion presentation.

It's difficult to choose just one starting point from her many offerings, but I recommend Make Me Hard, From Tokyo To Naiagara (the opening track, "Narita Made," being Ms. Tujiko operating at the top of her game check out the track below), and her collaboration with Aoki Takamasa, 28 -- a recording that is still, in my opinion, too beautiful for this world.

First things first: Syzygys actually have a new album currently in the works, coming out soon! This odd duo featuring violin paired with the discordant 43-tone organ of one Harry Partch and cute, if somewhat atonal, vocals and twisted lyrics that'd make Shonen Knife eat their bonnets for brunch possess a strange magic for making music that sounds so wrong yet so right. Listening to their mystic, Middle Eastern influenced microtonal meanderings makes me feel like a child following the pied piper, somehow I can't help but want more and more and more. Of all the artists I love that seem to have packed it in, Syzygys would be one of the very last I'd expect to still be active after all these years. You can find their complete studio recordings (spanning from mid-'80s to early '90s) on Zorn's New Japan imprint, but I suggest beginning with their live in '85 CD, Eyes On Green -- it's just so weird and so, so wonderful.
Here's a little bit if Syzygys live performing their instrumental "Fauna Grotesque" circa 1987:


Hailing from Okinawa, trio Kanna (guitar/vocals), Suke (bass/vocals) and Sayuri (drums) continue to challenge the way people perceive a band's image versus sound. The first time I saw Bleach03 (then known as just plain ol' Bleach) at a Japan Nite event in New York City in 2001 was also the first time I had ever seen anyone literally bloody themselves playing bass. Suke's berserker approach carries over into her mic-swallowing vocals as well, but it's just another detail in Bleach03's overall anything-but-cute powerful punch.

My favorite album of theirs, Kibaku-Zai ("Triggering Device"), features a rash of their patent incendiary shred-a-thons with such titles as "Santa Claus" and "Town of Good Children." Bleach03 even played live at Amoeba Music in San Francisco, they completely ruled! Check out the video below:

When a band's bio begins with what planet they hail from, in this case the planet Kero Kero, you know you're in for a ride. Making a live show of their homespun extraterrestrial fetish wear and affinity for frogs eX-Girl make music like an electropop, prog-punk trainwreck of three-part operatic acapella acrobatics, psychedelic space rock, jazz fusion, and heavily SciFi influenced lyrics, one song at a time. Having toured with the likes of Fantômas and Siouxsie and The Banshees, eX-Girl have secured many avid fans, including Jello Biafra and Mike Patton, and endured many line-up changes. The sole original member, Kirilola, has also stretched out her compositions in a number of side projects, her spiritual cleansing music under the name Asakau being a favorite. eX-Girl also starred in the film Legend of the Waterbreakers by Japanese comedienne and Ass Baboons of Venus member Naoko Nozawa. A good place to start with eX-Girl is their fourth album Back to the Mono Kero which features a fantastic cover of M's "Pop Muzik," otherwise I suggest checking out Endangered Species (2004) as it is eX-Girl at their furthest out and fully-realized.
See them perform "Hettakorii no Ottokotou" from Endangered Species in a sketchy video below:

Angel'in Heavy Syrup
In conclusion, I offer this bonus helpful hint for all you diggers out there: if you ever happen to come across any Angel'in Heavy Syrup CD while flipping through the rock bins just do yourself a favor and pick it up. Chances are it's overlooked and under-priced and way worth your time. Formed in 1990, these ladies were making far out krautrock-influenced progressive psychedelic rock during the height of the Japanese noise rock scene which kind of seems like a ballsy move, no? But it's this kind of puzzling trajectory that made for such satisfying take-a-chance-on-it discoveries through the Underground Japanese Rock section (R.I.P.)

Aside from the aforementioned "anything you can find" tip, I recommend Angel'in Heavy Syrup's III album and/or IV (you know, titles like Zeppelin). A very lovely, very underrated band.

Someone loved them enough to construct an appropriately trippy video for their song "First Love" --
check it out:

Armonico Hewa says what? ask OOIOO...

Posted by Kells, November 18, 2009 11:34pm | Post a Comment

It must be good being Yoshimi P-We. It seems to me that she's had a pretty great year, what with her Boredoms gig at All Tomorrow's Parties in New York, her ambitious sounding project aboard a Russian ferry, soundtracking this past summer's solar eclipse off the southern coast of Japan, two releases on the side: Bar-Cozmik (as Yoshimio) and Tingaruda (as OLAibi), not to mention the big fat recent new release from my favorite branch of the Yoshimi tree -- the all-girl, always exciting OOIOO. Amidst all this artistic activity, Yoshimi also gave birth to her second child this year. No wonder Wayne Coyne named a record after her

When OOIOO released Taiga a few years back I fancied that listening to it was a lot like journeying into an hour long, aural tour de la nature -- a sonogram for one of those excellent macrocosmic David Attenborough documentaries where frozen, aurora-enshrouded forests of the North exist minutes from warmer climes where glacier-fueled rivers rush chuckling over rock and mud towards temperate seas. What stellar programming like Planet Earth does for your eyes in the comfort of your home, extraordinary sounds like that of OOIOO do for your ears within the infinite expanse of your mind. This may come across as cheesy (only the easiest cheese, please), but it reminds me of something Obi-Wan Kenobi explained to Luke as he struggled to find his bearings with the Force: "your eyes can deceive you; don't trust them...stretch out with your feelings." Listening to OOIOO, for me, is like letting the Force flow through you, no blast shield required.

OOIOO's latest release (on Thrill Jockey) is just as steeped in the sounds of nature worship as its predecessor, but the environment that gives rise to such faith seems to have shifted, or rather, evolved. Gone are the rhythms and melodies that suggested earthly symphonies of pounding tides, rambling rivers, wind-blown boughs and weathered rocks; on Armonico Hewa (an amalgam of Spanish and Swahili origin meant to suggest "air in a harmonious state"), it is as though OOIOO have blasted off into outer space and found some other planet's primitive weather gods to draw their polyrhythmic paeans and tribal chants from. The video for the opening track "SOL" prompts me to revisit my Star Wars analogy (see above) as it seems to focus on the sun (our sun?) as a thematic platform from which the album, ahem, blasts off.

Armonico Hewa could be called OOIOO's most random record to date in terms of musical composition due to the abundance of unexpected melodic and rhythmic twists and turns made within each track, resulting in a hodge-podge of a record not wholly unlike their previous works yet somehow alien to them all the same. But just like one might refer to their first record, Eight, as their "most punk" or Feather Float as their most, um, "techno-Lisa Frank-rock" or Gold and Green as their most "transcendentalist-rock," attempting to affix a label on the varied works these ladies create is as fruitless an exercise as pinpointing exactly how they create the sounds they make. I mean, did they auto-tune that Kaoss Pad this time around or what? And they must've ordered out for greens at one point because that bass line on the final track "Honki Ponki" -- a cover of a little known Turkish disco tune -- is as funky as that on "All Night Long" by the Mary Jane Girls. Here's hoping their next record is as near (in terms of completion) as it shall surely be beyond (in terms of creation). A++

p.s. Armonico Hewa is available in limited quantities on vinyl so get it, don't regret it. And...

Dear Thrill Jockey,
How about some OOIOO vinyl reissues already? Not everyone won the "I found it magically one day at Amoeba" game (in which I miraculously scored an copy of
Feather Float on turquoise wax a few years back). Can you even fathom how much saliva a proper vinyl run of Gold and Green would draw from the collective maw of the music munching community? Gross! I mean, yes please!
Thanks, bye