Coil: Spring Equinox (Moon's Milk or Under an Unquiet Skull) (Eskaton)
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)
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)
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)
Boredoms: Super Roots 7 (Warner Music Japan)
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]