SEWERS OF MARS #5

Music Features
SEWERS OF MARS #5
By James Jackson Toth
Oct 18, 2007, 04:13

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It's been a quick month, and I've been listening mostly to music I rather cynically assume will be of little interest to fans of such a hip forum as this—the latest Down album (unholy swamp boogie riffs + a sober Phil Anselmo = transcendence), nu-country in general (the only non-ironic sentimental music left—see upcoming essay / rant), and this killer slow jam by Musiq Soulchild called “Teach Me.” But a few very excellent things have come cross the desk this month, so let's roll…

Sunroof - Panzer Division Lou Reed

For starters, Matthew Bower's latest under the Sunroof! moniker, the awesomely titled Panzer Division Lou Reed (VHF), is an expectedly heavy dose of supersonic drone that continues to move further from the improvisational group-clatter of yore and closer to Bower's work in Skullflower. In fact, Panzer Division Lou Reed is a close cousin to Skullflower's recent Tribulation CD on Crucial Blast, itself an exceptional document of demon invocation. Sunburned's John Maloney and Vibracathedral Orchestra's Mick Flower guest star on awesome opener “Slew Plateaus #1,” but the solo tracks here are best, presenting Bower at his most direct and unyielding. Blast it and unleash hell!

I was a fan of Pearls and Brass's The Indian Tower album, but was unprepared for this solo outing by that band's Randall of Nazareth, whose Drag City debut is an acoustic affair of country blues reminiscent of folksy-minded troubadours like Bert Jansch and Davy Graham. While very little about the album sounds modern, Randall's voice sometimes favorably recalls Tim Rutili of Califone, and fans of that band's narcotic melancholy will find much to enjoy here. A perfect Sunday morning listen.

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Belbury Poly - The Owl's Map

Anyone not checking out the slew of releases on the Ghost Box label is missing out on some seriously worthwhile shit. The groups on the label—most of whom seem to revolve around the same bunch of dudes, namely label heads Jim Jupp and Julian House—all share in common a love of strange sounds and an ambiguous interest in the occult. The best I've heard so far is The Owl's Map by Belbury Poly, an album full of half-remembered soundtrack melodies, disembodied voices, and spooky sonic deja- vu. The overall aesthetic of the album—and, from what I've heard, of the label in general—is subtle enough to allow the imagination to prescribe its own cultural touchstones, but provocative enough, contextually, to lead it down a path of ill ease. But maybe that's just me. The influences of such whimsical hucksters as V/VM, the synthesizer delirium of Mort Garson or Wendy Carlos, and the similarly nostalgia-obsessed Boards of Canada can all be heard, but Belbury Poly inhabit a world all their own. An exciting new label and one I'll be keeping close tabs on.

Om - Pilgrimage - EP

Those of you hoping to hear female vocals, a string section, or a piano on the new Om album will have to keep waiting. Pilgrimage (Southern Lord) continues the band's unrelenting exploration of trance-drone with little variation from the bass / drums / vocals formula for which the band is known and loved. Recorded by Steve Albini, Pilgrimage does add a certain clarity to the duo's uncompromising modus opernadi, and Al Cisneros's chillingly monastic vocals sound exceptional sitting so high in the mix. While certainly more of a grower than the band's previous work, Pilgrimage is devastating in large, loud doses. How else you want it?

Oakley Hall - I'll Follow You

Oakley Hall's latest, I'll Follow You (Merge) is the Brooklyn band's best work to date, an unpretentious and well played set of rock tunes that sounds like it was recorded the night after they drove old Dixie down but the day before the music died. It's hard not to compare the band's two vocalists, Pat Sullivan and Rachel Cox, to John Doe and Exene Cervenka, and the best songs on I'll Follow You all prominently feature their pitch-perfect harmonies. I bet they're pissed it isn't 1970 and that Jo Jo Gunne isn't opening for them at some huge muddy festival. Me too, dudes. Me too.

Six Organs of Admittance's Shelter From The Ash (Drag City) finds leader Ben Chasny at his most varied and, as such, most compelling. Teaming with an all star crew that includes Fucking Champ Tim Green (who also produces) and Magik Marker Elisa Ambrogio, Chasny has crafted an enthralling set of tunes that fuses modern psychedelia with classic song forms, and the effect is an album worthy of his legacy. “Strangled Road” is a forlorn dirge that's as close as Chasny has come to channeling Richard Thompson, while “Goddess Atonement” – a tribute to the Sun City Girls—is the album's high point, sounding like Loren Mazzacane if he grew up listening to Tommy Bolin. No lie. Captivating and necessary.

Imagine Ian Curtis poised atop the Golden Gate Bridge humming “Gloomy Sunday” to himself quietly in the night, a distant look in his watery eyes. That mental picture ought to prepare you for Lazarus's latest, Hawk Medicine (Temporary Residence), the most haunted and harrowing record you'll hear all year. Though conceived and written as a full band, the earnest, naked vocals of Trevor Montgomery steal the show. It's probably mere coincidence, as the two albums were recorded and released around the same time, but Hawk Medicine makes a perfect companion piece to PJ Harvey's latest, White Chalk—both albums unnerving and sad, both brimming with rare beauty and delicate songs that appear to teeter on the edge of sanity. Fans of Xiu Xiu and Antony & The Johnsons, step right up and meet your new favorite band.Â

Michael Yonkers - Grimwood

I'll tell ya what's pretty insane, is this Michael Yonkers reissue. Fans of the Minneapolis eccentric's Microminiature Love reissue on Sub Pop a few years back might be surprised by the lonely folk styling of Grimwood, an album recorded in 1969, and unreleased until 1974, at which time it disappeared almost instantly. The great Destijl label has generously exhumed this album, and it forsakes Microminiature Love's forward rock action for lonesome outsider folk. Yonker's songs are inherently beautiful, but remain outwardly strange—many overdubs, which include electric guitar and trumpet, sound like they're playing in a different key, and trippy instrumental “Tripping Through The Rose Gardens” sounds like a piece for funny mirrors and twigs. For fans of Simon Finn, Tom Rapp, and Roky's, erm, darker moments.

Ju Suk Reet Meate - Solo 78/79

Speaking of Destijl, album of the month goes to another reissue, this one by Ju Suk Reet Meate, he of Portland's long running institution Smegma. Allow me to puncture the fourth wall for a moment—I originally heard this album, titled Solo 78/79, several years ago, at my buddy John Olson's crib in Michigan. I feverishly dubbed it onto a cassette and spent years looking for a vinyl copy. No dice. Anyway, Solo 78/79 is plainly some of the best weirdo / avant music ever committed to tape, and, though Side B lets up just a tad, you won't find a more engaging slab of psychedelic proto-everything tomfoolery. For those of you keeping score, Solo 78/79 predates Twin Infinitives, Durian Durian, Plunderphonics, and thousands and thousands of far less worthy heirs to the hallowed throne. And the (hilarious) liner notes, written by none other than John Olson himself, are alone worth the price of admission. File under: crazier than a soup sandwich.

Next month, I'll sing the praises of this Christian Family Underground LP on the always great Woodsist label, explain why the latest Witchcraft album is one of the year's most essential purchases, and generally talk loud and say nothin.' Don't miss it. As for now, umma go jam me some George Strait.

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