The Ghost Eaze – Raw

The Ghost Ease – Raw

The Ghost Ease
Raw

Cabin Games/ K Records
Street: 09.04
The Ghost Ease = Ex Hex + Bleach-era Nirvana + 
Slant 6

In the spirit of extraordinary female-led rock trios, from Sleater-Kinney to Ex Hex, The Ghost Ease’s new album, Raw, showcases their ability to distill rock n’ roll down to its very essence. Legendary producer Steve Fisk (Nirvana, Soundgarden, Unwound) lends his magic to the band, reinforcing the loud-quiet-loud ethos that the great Northwest constructed in the early ’90s. Hailing from Portlandia, The Ghost Ease celebrate the region’s priceless vault of music. Outward aggression gives way to introspection, shifting from themes of loves lost and isolation (“4BV”) to astronomical phenomenon’s effect on human behavior (“Pareidolia”). The whispered intro of “Neptune Sun” shapeshifts into explosive bombast. Unrelenting, “For Naught” charms with playful harmonies as the song’s narrator lets their lover go. “Bye, Love,” Raw’s closing track, trades the fuzz guitars for piano that feels like the softness of a kiss goodbye from a lover you don’t want to see go. Simplicity in music is becoming a lost art, however, The Ghost Ease is seeking to prevent it from disappearing forever. 
–Stephan Wyatt

Seven Feathers Rainwater
New Wig

Moondial Records
Street Date: 01.08
Seven Feathers Rainwater = Animal Collective + Pink Floyd + Robert E. Howard

Seven Feathers Rainwater write psychedelic music for fantasy lovers. If a NeverEnding Story reboot takes place, move them to the top of the list to score the film. New Wig finds novel means to present psychedelia’s old ideas. Pristine production techniques supplant noisy hisses and random, indecipherable bursts of sound. Seven Feathers Rainwater restructure the narrative lost by neo-psych bands like MGMT and Tame Impala. The minutiae distinguish them from their contemporaries: intricate arrangements, electroacoustic fusion and early Pink Floyd aesthetics.

Seth Mac, Neizon, Jeffrey and TC exhibit patience in an age devoid of the noble virtue. “Oysters” flood the valley with undulant waves of harmonies and tempos swelling themselves into observable shapes to those possessing a wondrous imagination. The track’s opening drone sets the stage for a faux-raga beat, lifted around the 4-minute mark by glissando keyboard lines and a beat at the edge of the tempest.

Themes of water, dreams and self-realization run through New Wig. Space between the opening moments of “Spiral Fantasy” and the ruminative vocals in the Avey Tare register calls to mind the finer moments on Fall Be Kind. Like unfulfilled dreams, the song pushes toward the surface, reaching it but without resolution as it quietly transitions into “Silent Ides.” The instrumental segue boils over the subconscious unrest with analog beeps and unsettling arpeggiations and Moog-like drones. All travelers beware the ominous warnings beneath the surface.

To listen to New Wig with petulant, adolescent-like tendencies, skipping furiously from one track to the next on whatever streaming service occupies space on your smartphone, is a grievous misstep. Playing this as background music to entertain friends on a lazy Thursday evening after work will cause them to miss the nuances that are meticulously placed within each song. Played as foreground music while convening with friends with psilocybin intentions on a Thursday evening, on the other hand, will lay the foundation for a memorable journey.

Start with “Wooden Cup.” Allow “Moon’s Milk” to work its way onto your soul’s surface as each glistening tone corresponds with the harmonies, free of contention. When “Dreamin’” erases the previous thought, just go with it. “Oysters” will help retrace steps between the past and future. “Altered Egos” fills the spaces between shifting colors and timelessness, while “Bradycardia” reminds the host to press “repeat” on the device communicating through each person. New Wig taps the well of genuine mysticism that fans of neo-psychedelia thirst after. –Stephan Wyatt

J Hacha De Zola – Escape From Fat Kat City

J Hacha De Zola – Escape From Fat Kat City

J Hacha De Zola
Escape from Fat Kat City

Self-Released
Street: 01.08
J Hacha De Zola = The Hold Steady + Tom Waits + Soda Stereo

Most concept albums require patience and devotion to endure. Listeners must wade through an ocean of esoteric references to understand the album’s intent. More importantly, introspective music bores more than entertains. This is not so for the Latin-fused baroque pop solo-performer from New Jersey, J Hacha De Zola. Not since The Hold Steady’s Separation Sunday has a concept album provided both emotional depth and entertainment. “Strange” conjures the voice of Jim Morrison surrounded by a backdrop of Tom Waits–like carnival sounds. Capturing the sounds and visions of post-industrial New Jersey, “Hold Tight” blends cumbia rhythms and brass explosions over lead singer and multi-instrumentalist J Hacha De Zola’s bluesy croon. The piano balladry of “City Girls” reflects on the album title’s irony: There is no escape from Fat Kat City. –Stephan Wyatt

Swans – The Glowing Man

Swans
The Glowing Man

Young God Records
Street Date: 06.17
Swans = Jesus thrashing the tables in the Temple + Howling Wolf + Art Ensemble of Chicago

If an artist’s career always begins tomorrow, as James Whistler once mused, then what happens when one of those tomorrows never comes? Being an artist is not getting a fine arts degree, working for 30 years and then giving way to retirement. Being an artist is living, breathing, eating, disposing, destroying, rebuilding and recreating every day. Michael Gira embodies the definition of an artist, even though he claims that The Glowing Man will mark the end of Swans’ arguably finest period in their 35-year history. Unlike the band’s previous three offerings, The Glowing Man crafts a two-hour elegiac ending to a chain of mordant masterpieces unprecedented in music history.

Fourth in an amazing polyptych of albums that began with 2010’s My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky, The Glowing Man features a curtain call with the band’s best lineup: guitarists Christopher Hahn and Norman Westberg, bassist Chris Pradvica and drummers Thor Harris and Phil Puleo, with a little help from Ministry and Nine Inch Nails drummer Bill Rieflin in the studio. The band focuses on space and silence throughout The Glowing Man, distancing itself from the previous three, where punitive percussion and guitar sounds like slaughterhouses maintained the band’s penchant for violence. The album opens with “Cloud of Forgetting,” where synths swell free and boundless until the single-chord rhythm played by Gira interrupts the brief meditative movement. The 12-plus-minute epic includes intermittent piano glissandos. When Gira’s voice emerges four minutes later, his voice is pained, but not with disdain. It is grief-stricken. Yet, his long, drawn-out notes move at the speed of woe.  “Cloud of Forgetting” sets the table for the entirety of the album, but not without delving into vicious battles between the unknown time that remains and death.

For a few seconds during the intro of the album’s second track, “Cloud of Unknowing,” disorientation comes in the shape of a band, like an orchestra settled in a pit of battle, preparing for war. The 25-minute track (!) resembles the Swans motif—grinding rhythms and disquieting guitars rumbling over Gira’s deep clarion call for annihilation. Midway through the song, its arrangement falls apart, piece by piece, descending into more ruminative moments. Gira chants into the eternal and hears nothing in return. Dissatisfied with the answer, the band destroys what remains without remorse.

Sonic Youth stole the words from Confusion Is Sex’s “The World Looks Red” from Gira, so Gira stole them back on “The World Looks Red/The World Looks Black.” If there existed such a thing as an obvious single for Swans, this track would have to do. Like pulling skin from a live person, Thor and Puelo’s percussion perform differing tempos, struggling to find a comfortable groove. Gira repeats “The world looks red/The world looks back,” not like a mantra, but like a tortured lullaby. Devoid of melody or mercy, the track—one of the album’s shortest, at 14-minutes—falls apart by design, ending without resolution.

In the spirit of chanting Buddhist Thai monks, “Frankie M” marks Swans’ most adventurous and heartfelt effort to date, featuring ruminative vocals by Gira and company. Airless, they chant in unison with every attempt to find peace in the moment. Sounds explode like car bombs, breaking the calm, only to return at the 12-minute mark with Gira’s ode to Frankie M., a character who succumbs becomes enslaved by heroin. Strangely, however, the track ends with a hint of optimism.

Creating chaos is an art form. This is nothing new or noteworthy for Swans. Moments emerge in The Glowing Man reminiscent of Cop and Children of God. Purists see this period without Jarboe, the jazz-trained vocalist who breathed puffs of sweetness into Gira’s thick bitterness. From Children of God to Soundtracks for the Blind, she infused her melodicism into the band, influencing them enough to cover Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” a song that features acoustic guitars and lush harmonies—conversely, their flair for taking risks waned. Including the last three releases, The Glowing Man is the definition of making chaos and destruction and annihilation things of beauty to be admired. (Urban Lounge, 09.09) –Stephan Wyatt

Timmy’s Organism – Heartless Heathen

Timmy’s Organism – Heartless Heathen

Timmy’s Organism
Heartless Heathen

Third Man Records
Street: 10.30
Timmy’s Organism = The Stooges + Captain Beefheart

Detroit is a veritable dystopia, and Timmy’s Organism provides the soundtrack to its perpetual decline. America’s largest municipality to file for bankruptcy has become the capital for rock n’ roll’s revival. Under the auspices of Jack White’s Third Man Records, legendary Detroit native Timmy Vulgar (Clone Defects, Human Eye) and his demolition crew look to Don Van Vliet and Iggy Pop for inspiration and find it in large (over)doses. Wasting no time, Heartless Heathen’s opening track, “Get Up, Get Out,” burns and razes everything around it, leaving nothing in its wake. Vulgar’s howl rivals no one. In “Please Don’t Be Going,” Vulgar switches between bluesy crooning and drunken wailing as he pleads for his love not to leave. The sound of rust emanates through the speakers. Distortion intends to destroy speakers and headphones alike. Every track oozes grime and may require a tetanus shot after listening. Heartless Heathen provides a much needed analog pulse in a digitally driven world. –Stephan Wyatt

Various Artists | Killed by Death Rock Vol. 2 | Sacred Bones

Various Artists
Killed by Death Rock Vol. 2

Sacred Bones
Street: 11.11
Killed by Death Rock Vol. 2 = Joy Division + Gang of Four + Sisters of Mercy + Gratitude

The bona fide, flesh-and-blood definition of a connoisseur is Caleb Braaten, founder of Brooklyn’s finest music label Sacred Bones Records. Not since 4AD Records has a record label dangled from the jagged edge of music’s void to shape tastes 20 years from now.

Since 2007, Sacred Bones Records brought the masses Zola Jesus, Pop. 1280, Timmys Organism, Pharmakon, The Men, Marissa Nadler and the femme du jour, Jenny Hval. Tilting toward outsider art and its insouciant influence on the world’s cultural fabric, Brooklyn’s finest moved to release music from two giants in filmmaking also known for their fierce love of composition: David Lynch and John Carpenter. Sartre did say the past is dead, and the future does not exist. Sacred Bones begs to differ.

The Killed by Deathrock Vol. 2 10-song compilation teases the future with an imperfect collision of post-punk, industrial and goth, doing their best Lazarus trick as un-silenced voices from the past welcomed today. Flowers for Agatha’s “Freedom Curse,” originally released in 1985, is pleasantly remastered here. The Leeds, England, band wore their earnest love for Joy Division on every single brokenhearted track they ever penned. “Freedom Curse” boasts the same tinted lenses and darkened riffs in the color of Daniel Ash’s guitar tone. Hearing this for the first time in the 21st century prompts the question of why Flowers for Agatha never saw the same success bands like The Cure and Sisters of Mercy enjoyed. Despite their brief success, lead singer John Darwin turned his lyrics into poetry, thus becoming well known for his verse and less known for his contribution to the post-punk canon.

Gatecrashers brought their psych-driven punk and rolled their amphetamine-laced riffs right into the Thames. Their 1980 7” “Spectator” illustrated punk’s deepened affection for Jerry Lee Lewis’ ill-tempered but virtuosic piano performances, imitating his attitude and desperate need to thrill audiences. Too see “Spectator” performed should become a rite of passage; yet, handling this captured moment of flame-throwing zeal will do instead. Likewise, Belgium’s Red Zebra did a better version of Gang of Four than even Gang of Four did when they sloganeered and razed capitalism with Andy Gill’s percussive playing. The curator for this historiographical compilation chose finely, selecting “I Can’t Live in a Living Room,” possessing the same cheeky references found in their post-punk counterpart’s “At Home, He’s a Tourist.”

West Yorkshire’s Skeletal Family is one of the few featured on Killed by Death Rock Vol. 2 who continues to perform gloom n’ doom in real time. Reuniting in 2002, Skeletal Family reminded listeners that, like Flowers for Agatha, they, too, could have shared the spotlight with many of their contemporaries, namely their once tour mates, Sisters of Mercy. “Promised Land” is every bit as intense as anything S.O.M. produced; additionally, Editors’ guitarist Tom Smith needs to send Skeletal Family a thank you note for influencing their downstroke, rapid fire attack.

Diminished by the band’s too-familiar Joy Division veneer, Crank Call Love Affair teetered between their best Ian Curtis impression to John Lydon’s P.I.L. chants found throughout their first three albums. “What’s Wrong Yvette?” cannot avoid the too obvious nods to their Manchester heroes; however, what made them distinctly different from their polarized influences was lingering in the instrumental moments, shaping songs in melody and mood. Multiple listens reveal the curse immediate comparisons misshape our understanding of a band’s artistic intentions. A gemstone, Sacred Bones posits the track toward the end of their curated collection to remind diehard followers of the post-punk past that many good bands exist in the ether of infinite digitalia. –Stephan Wyatt

Cold Sweats

 

Cold Sweats
Social Coma

Six 3 Collective
Street: 11.06.15
Cold Sweats = Quicksand + Brutal Juice + Scratch Acid

“Mock Me Gently” disguises itself as a hardcore song deeply rooted in the blues. Melodies mark Cold Sweats’ separate and distinct identity from Brooklyn’s deeply rich hardcore history. Equal to the band’s melodic motifs is their coarse veneer and razor-blade-slicing rhythms. Social Coma does not repent; it does not confess. It cuts through socialization’s steaming pile of bullshit one track after the next. In “Hater Failure,” an unforgettable chorus blisters and burns its former loving counterpart. “It’s not your fault / but I’ll blame it all on you / because I am nothing / but a failure” is the Hallmark card each of us would love to purchase if such candor was permitted within that company. Basslines and low-bottom barrel notes pulse like a headache after a hangover. Exposing the weakest of all forms of socialization, “Hive Mind” sneers with a surfer’s swagger at those who cannot think for themselves. Hive minds are useless, but Social Coma is important, revelatory and necessary. –Stephan Wyatt

Self Defense Family

 

Self Defense Family
When The Barn Caves In

Iron Pier
Street: 11.27.15
Self Defense Family = me-withoutYou + Embrace + The Fall

With J. Robbins (Jawbox, Burning Airline) Midas hands on the controls, nothing ever goes wrong. This two-song single and photo album released on American Capitalism’s favorite holiday, Black Friday, embodies Dischord’s post-hardcore spirit. Self Defense Family’s songwriting continues to sharpen into well-crafted swords. Robbins shapes the raw and ephemeral in a manner that resembles a listener’s very own private show. Guitarist Benjamin Tate weaves a musical narrative that rivals the lyrical ones. Normally, the band explores character sketches outside their own musical circle. The most revealing track, “Alan,” tries to make sense of multi-instrumentalist and photographer Alan Huck’s departure. The diary entry explodes with grief and ends with acceptance. –Stephan Wyatt

Pop. 1280
Paradise

Sacred Bones
Street: 01.22
Pop. 1280 = Ministry + The Sisters of Mercy + Killing Joke

Pop. 1280 establish Paradise as an unoccupied city filled with breathtaking buildings and perfectly paved streets. What a waste, considering that the album’s ironic title and industrial cityscapes create an ideal community for humankind’s damned. Owing as much to Harlan Ellison as Ministry circa The Land of Rape and Honey, Pop. 1280 borrow their vocabulary, but they further it to set them apart from their legendary predecessors. They illustrate their fictitious, nihilistic worldview layered in artificial intelligence and diminishing empathy using modern boxes and primitive tools.

Along with the rest of the band, lead screamer Chris Bug weaves together eight vignettes and one instrumental deeply rooted in doom and despair. Beginning with “Pyramids on Mars,” the song’s narrator encounters several characters who try to deter him from discovering what he knows to be true. The mood permits no light inside, with the slowly beaten toms and two-note synth riff. Bug’s Al Jourgensen–esque howls explode over a vintage Bo Diddley beat on “In Silico.” The seven-minute-long lament climaxes with Andrew Chugg’s uptempo drums accenting Bug’s polemical declaration “I dream in infrared!” “Chromidia” fails to yield, with the sci-fi sounds best suited for the upcoming Blade Runner sequel, panning from one circle of hell to the next.

Uniformity and concision sets Pop. 1280’s Paradise from its two previous albums, The Horror and Imps of Perversion. 2012’s The Horror attempted to scare in ways like Bauhaus and Sisters of Mercy had done so flawlessly in the past. Imps of Perversion drew nefarious characters and provided the wretched soundtrack to lives already waist deep in the results of their bad decisions. The synthesis of the first two records bring to head the band’s best laid plans. Paradise’s evenness lies within the sonic and lyrical narratives wound to near symmetrical precision. “USS ISS” charges forward like a line of infantrymen, undeterred from its mission to destroy everything in its path. Like Killing Joke before them, “USS ISS” can do without choruses and conventional arrangements. The song succeeds in its mission, taking no prisoners and leaving nothing in the wake of the band’s destruction.

A sharp shift in mood and timbre drives Paradise off of the cliff during the album’s sole instrumental bearing the same name. Ivan Lipp’s atonal, Daniel Ash–like guitar lines amid heavy drones float over the remainder of the tracks like the eye of a hurricane. The percussion rattles and swings like a train hoping to avoid derailing in “Rain Song.” Bug takes note of how little control individuals have over their own fate, moaning “Invisible hands have invisible plans.” The single-note bassline pulsates indefinitely while advice is rendered to an unnamed character: “You want my advice? Don’t play this game.” Never gaining momentum, “The Last Undertaker” again features Chugg’s dependency on his intermittently-played toms. The beat comes and goes, and comes again. The synth bassline suffocates the desperate breaths taken by the song’s narrator. It never changes—nor does its character’s fate.

Folk tales spun from the future’s dismal end, Paradise makes their brand of catastrophe hymns sound stunning and pleasant. It reminds us that at the end of each day, tomorrow brings with it another Sisyphean boulder to push upwards. And in between each day’s malaise hides our mischief, something Pop. 1280 articulate without shame or judgment.

Tortoise

Tortoise
The Catastrophist

Thrill Jockey Records
Street: 01.22
Tortoise = Ornette Coleman + Art Ensemble of Chicago + Robert Fripp/Brian Eno

Tortoise are not a post-rock band. Being clumsily lumped in with the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Mogwai sheds little light jazz fusion’s influence on their music. With intelligently performed improvisational music, owing plenty to Krautrock and esteemed minimalist Terry Riley, The Catastrophist is conservatory music. John McEntire, former Oberlin student, plays fusion drums and Doug McCombs continues to profess a love for avant-garde jazz music and electronic minimalist composers. Jeff Parker collaborates with jazz great Joshua Redman. Because Tortoise use traditional rock elements, the post-rock label is lazily used to describe their performance style.

Tortoise’s last album, Beacon of Ancestorship, expertly mixed current electronic elements with darker, atmospheric textures rooted in both rock and jazz music. Nothing much changed, however. The album certainly explored jazz fused with sequenced rhythms, but Beacon felt like nothing more than an extension of their most influential work, Millions Now Living Will Never Die—the same recipe for a dish with a different name.

So much time had passed. Fans of the music wondered whether or not the band would write another album. In the seven years between Beacon and The Catastrophist, Tortoise curated All Tomorrows Parties in 2010 scored a haunting soundtrack for the box-office flop Lovely Molly and performed batches of shows. According to Thrill Jockey’s website, the band was commissioned by the city of Chicago in 2010 to create music that reflects the city’s rich history in jazz and blues. What the city of Chicago asked for, they received in The Catastrophist.

Chicago gave us the shuffle boogie of John Lee Hooker, which shaped rock n roll as we know it. The StonesExile on Main Street wouldn’t exist without Hooker’s influence. At the same time, it inhabits the risktaking collective Art Ensemble of Chicago, a pioneer in jazz’s avant garde movement. Each of these elements are found on The Catastrophist. The album opens with heavy Stereolab-inspired Moog riffs. But the song skirts the electronic direction and immediately flirts with traditional, 12-bar blues. “Ox Duke,” on the other hand, toys with the space it inhabits, allowing the notes to float freely in the air. McEntire’s drums interrupt the beat-less beginning before descending back into the music of the “Great Migration,” paying direct homage to Bud Freeman’s style.

“Rock On,” a cover of David Essex’s best known song featuring U.S. Maple’s Todd Rittman on vocals, is The Catastrophist’s most accessible track. Unafraid, the song’s original ethos is preserved in the midst of dubstep bass sounds. In contrast to the straight-ahead rock approach in “Rock On”’s, “Yonder Blue” featuring Yo La Tengo’s Georgia Hubley’s tender alto vocals crooning above the ballad-like structure. Rittman and Hubley’s appearances break the monotony of Tortoise’s instrumental-first standards. Their contributions redeem the less eventful sonic quips “The Clearing Fills” and “Gopher Island.” Neither song reflects the album’s original intention to create an ode to improvised performance.

The Catastrophists single, “Gesceap,” demonstrates the result of Tortoise’s film scoring experience. Looping electronic arpeggiations circle like buzzing bees around the tightly wound rhythm section. Each section adds hues to an imagined cinematic scene. McCombs’ bass riff dynamically pushes uphill, not even yielding the song’s dysfunctional ending.

The irony in recording music that is meant to sound improvised is that it demands to be performed live. And it will for certain, considering Tortoise’s penchant for inimitably powerful performances. Obviously, they wanted to capture the effect of composing music in the moment. Yet, like the jazz tradition to which they pay tribute, The Catastrophist takes risks without the benefit of reward.