Sunday, March 20, 2011

98 The Hard Way: EPs, Days 17-19

Coil: Spring Equinox (Moon's Milk or Under an Unquiet Skull) (Eskaton)
Spring might actually be my least favorite season if I were to rank these things. It could just be that the comedown from winter in my particular area is quite harsh and uneven - this year alone we've had 3 thaw outs that then refroze making the roads extra hazardous - but more than that, it's a transitional season. One where you can't go out and do much. It's too damp to start thinking about a game of touch football with your friends or softball. Outdoor volleyball's out of the question unless you like frequently slipping onto partly frozen ground. It's the one season where it's possible to feel stuck inside - the weather's nice on the surface, but underneath it's not ready for you to do much with it.

Coil get that feeling. The first of their 4 Equinox/Solstice EPs is the most uniquely foreboding, the most claustrophobic. The mix is simple and uncluttered, letting the usual elements of this era of Coil have ample room to breathe and resonate, which pays off wonderfully in the second part when William Breeze's acoustic guitar and violin enter the mix to add a soaring melody yet can't stop the tension that's been built up for the previous ten minutes or so. Jhonn Blanace's vocals are used as an unsettling underlayer to the mix, swirling around Peter Chrisopherson's ambient synth pads like a ghost in the machine. The pump organ that acts as a hook to both parts is just as haunting, sounding like a relic of a time long past that can't bear to never be heard again. Everything comes together in a quietly unsettling package, like a microcosm of all the things that would make the Musick to Play in the Dark LPs so wonderfully frightening. It may not sound like spring in the classic sense, but it captures something about the season that I can relate to; this is a season where you can't quite get to doing what you wish you were doing. This is the one season where you are trapped. [8.9/10]

Download link courtesy of The Pop Stalinist. Contains the full series of Equinox/Solstice EPs, all of which are worth your time and the others of which I'll be discussing a bit later.

Modest Mouse: Other People's Lives (Up)
This one's a moderate disappointment. Think about it, all the other Lonesome Crowded West-adjacent singles were either epic, godly or at least featured one utterly transcendent moment. This one tries to have a bit of each in it, but it fails a bit. Neither "Other People's Lives" no "Grey Ice Water" are as good as they want to be. The former is too long without any of the interesting rhythmic flourishes that a lot of MM's longer tracks did, the latter is too slight and ephemeral to make any sort of impression. Both have their good elements - the harmony vocals on "Grey Ice Water" and the feedback rhythm of "Other People's Lives" - but they don't do enough with them to really cause me to consider either song a winner on any particular level. They're still good songs, but when the band had been on such a roll leading up to this one it stands out like a bit of a black mark by stopping there and not making the leap into being extraordinary. [7.7/10]

Third Eye Foundation: Fear of a Wack Planet (Domino)
Think of this as a step into the light. After the suffocating darkness of Ghost it's only logical that Matt Elliott might make overtures towards a slightly less downtrodden sound, and while this is still in his moderately foreboding wheelhouse it's infinitely sunnier than the material that came before. Part of that comes from it being much, much less oppressive in its darkness. Ghost was a suffocating album, one where any time you thought you'd found a patch of sunlight, Elliott would conjure up a cloud to mask it before you noticed. This EP though is much more open and dare I say inviting. The elements of Elliott's sound are still there, but there's space between them this time out. The trip-hoppy percussion skitters where it used to crash. The melodies that used to crawl along like they'd just washed down their uppers with Nyquil here soar almost angelically, be they the choral vocals o nthe title track or the string loop on the extended take of You Guys Kill Me's "A Galaxy of Scars." The atmosphere that used to roll in like a dense fog is reduced to a fine mist. And yet at its heart this couldn't be anything but a Third Eye Foundation release. It's still foreboding, but it forebodes with a much more subtle touch than previously. [8.4/10]

The Beta Band: Los Amigos del Beta Bandidos (Regal)

 This is probably the most overlooked of The Three EPs. I can understand why at least; if you're listening to the whole compilation it's the final set of songs, and since there's no real stand out track here there's nothing to draw you into it the way that "Dry the Rain" did for the Champion Versions section or "Inner Meet Me" did for The Patty Patty Sound. I know that when I first got The Three EPs none of these songs stood out no matter how I approached them, but in the end that becomes their charm to me. This is the most unassuming of the set, I guess. The one that goes about its business with a sort of quiet, professional confidence that doesn't need those big moments to assert itself. It's by far the most consistent of the set too, not having a high point as towering as "Dry the Rain" that the rest will never reach, nor a point as low as "The Monolith" to drag it to a halt. On its own it's probably the most fully realized EP of the bunch too, much more unified than Champion Versions but much less one-note than Patty Patty Sound. All that's a way to say that it's definitely better than many would give it credit for on first go round. Each listen makes it rise a little bit in my estimation, and while I doubt it will ever usurp Champion Versions as my favorite of The Three EPs, the much more subtle joys it offers are well worth revisiting. [8.4/10]

Boredoms: Super Roots 7 (Warner Music Japan)
Step One: Don't think of the remixes as such, think of them as the build up (EWE) and comedown (EYE) necessary to make the centerpiece (Boriginal) have the impact that it does. Think of the EP as one 33 minute piece, not a mammoth, all destroying 21 minute slice of manna from Yamatsuka Eye's heaven bookended by pointless remixes thereof. I won't ever claim that they're teh best parts of the EP, but I will also never claim that they aren't essential to my enjoyment of it.

Step Two: Know your context, part one. The concept of this release pulls it into focus a bit. It's one riff, explored for all its worth for 33 minutes. That riff, from Mekons' "Where Were You" pops up in various contexts, forms and variations over the course of the EP, but it's never not recognizable. The core repetition announces itself quite clearly, but the variance therein gives the release an out from being dismissed as too one-note. It's almost like the original song was handed to bands as diverse as Neu, Boards of Canada, Talking Heads and Sick of It All to cover, themn those covers were played sequentially by Boredoms as they would interpret them. Yet for all the jarring changes of pace and mood it plays out as a unified piece. Quite an achievement, really.

Step Three: Know your context, part two. Think about where this falls in the Boredoms chronology; they've just released Super Ae, which was a big departure from the noisy, ADHD punk of their early material (and even from the refinement thereof that gave us Pop Tatari) into the fields of rhythm heavy nirvana. After that would come Vision Creation Newson, which might be the most trance-inducing album ever made by humans. This is the bridge between the two, taking the somewhat rudderless exploration of Ae and giving it a focal point. The results from the basis for what the band would do on VCN; go far afield but keep it all in focus and tied to something tangibly of that song.

Step Four: Listen to it on headphones. Like with all later period Boredoms, this is the key. [8.7/10]

Can Can Heads: The Formation of Oxen With Fire (Bad Vugum)
Putting it bluntly, this EP sounds like shit. It's impossible to describe the sound of this particular release without the descriptor 'as recorded on a late 70s model tape deck' being tacked on to any sort of comparison point. Those comparison points, however help redeem the whole endeavor; it's obvious from the first blast of "Happy Birthday Jesus" that these guys studied their Dog Faced Hermans and Contortions albums about as diligently as they could before they recorded anything, and that dedication to the right influences gives even the most tape-hiss addled, overly trebly moment of this release a high enough base value that the irritation of the recording method is minimized somewhat. It also helps that the recording style has a bit more charm in this context than in most others. Noisy no-wave is one of the few genres out there where horrible recording quality can come close to enhancing the experience, and on a particularly forgiving day I might even say that the 6 songs here benefit from the lack of production value - "Deep Bed Granular" especially has a high degree of grit in this circumstance that makes it bite a bit more than might be expected in a better recorded format. So let it be said that even I, who rails against the purposeful fucking up of a recording by means of tape deck recording, can find a circumstance where I'm grateful for its presence. Just barely. [7.7/10]

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