Saturday, October 22, 2011


Gorgeous, hazed out trip through ethereal, ghostly guitar bliss captured live in 2010 courtesy of otherworldly Japanese psychonauts Suishou No Fune, eschewing anything remotely heavy or damaged in favor of sweet and elongated astral wandering. Like their psychedelic brethren, Suishou No Fune are capable of universe-quaking intensity when they want, channeling the awesome power of regret and a palpable sense of the unknown into something infinitely larger than the space hoping to contain it; here that intensity is dialed down and reworked into four pieces that are yearningly fragile, gentle, soothing and exploratory. The record reads like magic, grasping your hand tight as it flies you through spaces and pockets of reality carved out from the night, the stuff of stars and heavenly light glaring off your eyes and holding you close in its luminous embrace.
There's a warmth that permeates "Bonsai No Le," and it's not just from the pillowy washes of fuzz guitar that coat the songs like acid-drenched molasses. It comes from the intimacy of the performance, a naked and spectral communication between artist and audience that leaves nothing obscured. Suishou No Fune give everything, completely unafraid of sentiment or emotion; this music is reaching out to you because it wants to share something with you. You're meant to have a reaction to this. The earnestness and honesty present here practically beg for a dialogue. What that dialogue ultimately consists of is a matter between the listener and their heart; whether it's a memory or a feeling or an image makes little difference. What matters is the willingness to let the record's honesty work with you and extract something that is meaningful to you and you alone. It's privacy in terms of spectacle, confession in the context of performance.
And it's fucking beautiful. Suishou No Fune whip up a froth of swirling guitars, delicate and snaking their way through one another, creating vines of melody that shoot up into the sky, leaving the notion of reality far behind them. Lilting voices carry across the clouds, searching and prodding, pulling you closer with each breath. These vocals reach a wordless sort of ecstasy that's as impassioned as it is cracking, the feeling far exceeding the ability. I'm reminded of Keiji Haino, whose vocal explosions approach a similarly scarred emotional terrain. Suishou No Fune's work is far more inviting than Haino's, but the feelings present in both artists' output is too obvious to dismiss. Both reach deep into their own experiences and emerge with something almost frightening in its universality, an offer of connection that extends well beyond the reach of the physical. This music is experience. I can only imagine the power this performance must have had over those in attendance; just listening to this recording of it transports me to another place of consideration, a recess of allowance where experience recedes and perception blooms.
Like the flower adorning the cover, this record is open and unashamed of its own beauty. It's an invitation, a welcome, with no denials and no rules. This is completely for you. Few bands are as generous with what they do as Suishou No Fune; "Bonsai No Le" is a gift, and it's absolutely perfect.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Supremely somber and understated Buckethead album, standing in stark contrast to the attempted emotional manipulation found on "Shadows Between the Sky." This is where the shit gets real; the feelings here are pure and intense. Even though "Captain EO's Voyage" is also about restraint, the gravity of its ultimate intent allows it to ascend to something other than simply another release.
The cover art makes it pretty obvious, but this record is one of Buckethead's tributes to the late Michael Jackson, paying homage in both sound and image to Jackson's sci-fi affinities. Jackson seemed capable of movement not of this world; he was certainly viewed as alien (towards the end) and appeared entirely out of place at any given moment. In his art he was a wizard, doing things no one else could do. Little wonder Buckethead felt such closeness to him; as a child of the 80's he was no stranger to Jackson's artistic output. The "Captain EO" film was a high point in that output, fusing together the talents of Jackson, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola along with Disney to create a sci-fi spectacle that sought to totally immerse viewers in the future. I remember seeing it at Disneyland when i was 10 years old and feeling like meteors were headed right for me; it seemed magic then.
Buckethead doesn't exactly capture that feeling of removal and magic but he does turn in a record that both mourns and exalts Michael Jackson, crawling through a grinding set of songs heavily indebted to the dub tradition (if you've ever seen Buckethead live you know this is a huge part of what he does) while sacrificing none of the aching melodicism that defines his strongest work. "Captain EO's Voyage" is severely minimal by Buckethead's standards; most songs are comprised of little more than simple, thudding bass lines and static, closed drum patterns over which Buckethead layers quizzical and vaguely spaced-out guitar work, pulsing through the cosmos and snaking around the few spots of life existent in the void. The entire affair has a narcoleptic, hypnotic effect, grasping you by the hand and pulling you out into thick masses of stars and dark, a comet through the nothing, a light amongst all the black, calling for you and guiding you through so much unknown. Even the title betray the hopefulness at the heart of the work: "Light," "Infinity Appears," "Trails of Moondust," and the beautifully named "Dancing the Dream." All of these point to the wonder found both in science fiction and Michael Jackson's work as an artist, referencing a world of possibility available to those brave enough and daring enough to try for it.
This is one of my favorite recent Buckethead recordings. It's different, it's thematically rich, and its played with total conviction and dedication. It's perfect for late listening with dim lamps bathing your bedroom in red; maybe the television is feeding static to the night and the low hum of electricity charges the night. This record can take you on a journey; like the huge open window gazing into the reaches of space on the cover, "Captain EO's Voyage" shows you an expanse stretching into infinity, an affirmation of imagination that's as moving emotionally as it is sonically. These are the hidden worlds that exist in all of us; these are the fields of invention that lay spread out before us, vast and accepting. Buckethead's tribute touches on what was best about Michael Jackson: his willingness to take risks, his utter individualism, and the ultimate strength of his vision. The body of work will outlive the reputation; the power of what he left behind leaves no room for argument.
Listening to this album, i feel like i did as i was sitting in that theater in Disneyland. I was wide-eyed, fixated, totally engulfed by the grandeur of what was before me. I didn't totally understand it, i couldn't exactly put it all together, but i knew it was special. I knew it was magic. When those meteors flew towards me a felt like i was in space; i ducked and dodged and felt the breath going out of me. There was immediacy; there was fear; there was excitement. I felt alive. I felt the enormity of the world and i felt how small it was compared to beyond. There was so much. So much to explore, so much to feel, so much to create. It was there, and it was mine. It was everyone's. Buckethead captures that. This record is a stunning testament to the possible. Highly recommended.


A lot of people tell me their favorite Buckethead album is "Colma," and with good reason. Easily one of his prettiest efforts, and therefore one of his most accessible, "Colma" showcased a side of Buckethead that downplayed the shred and focused more on the composition. At a time in his career when his discography wasn't as clogged as it is now, "Colma" seemed super different. The hazy echoes, the melancholy chord progressions, the restrained yet tasteful soloing-it was something he had hinted at but never fully embraced. Gone were the overt metalisms and in their place was a sensitivity and maturity that was less Shrapnel Records and more Windham Hill. In a sense it was Buckethead's "Hot Rats," the Buckethead album for people who didn't like Buckethead. I rarely reach for "Colma" anymore; i prefer to hear Buckethead tearing the shit out of the fretboard with full-on metal cliche roaring behind him. That's me though, and i represent a specialised niche in the Buckethead audience at large. There's a lot of people wanting another "Colma."
"Shadows Between the Sky" looks to answer that request, as have several profoundly boring albums before it; this is the most simplistic side of Buckethead with none of the invention or emotional resonance. Pure self-cannibalising and soulless regurgitation disguised as something new. Fifteen songs that serve as little more than sketches eat up 45 minutes and leave you with little memory of their passing. This is background music that happens to be played on guitar; there's so little personality to it that it could have been any hack with a knowledge of minor key and a couple delay pedals. I love that Buckethead more or less seems to be writing and recording all the time-there's nothing inherently wrong with being prolific, and i certainly don't mind more music from artists i admire. But i do mind the glaring inconsistency in Buckethead's output, and it pisses me off more than a bit when there's not a single guitar solo on a record by a musician who's made his reputation by playing insane guitar solos. It can work once, but after that the shit just gets insulting.
Even the aura of "Colma" is missing here. "Shadows Between the Sky" has no warmth, no connection, no mystery. "Colma" basked in a sense of loss and nostalgia; there was a feeling throughout of sadness and regret. It was beautiful but it hit you, sometimes hard, and tried to extract something from you that it was touching. That focus is not present here. Instead there's a self-satisfaction on the composer's part, the woeful idea that if it was recorded it has to be heard. While some of the songs here arrive at something close to the loveliness that defined "Colma," they're nothing other than skeletons. The record feels bare and empty, and not in an intentional or aesthetic way. It's because there's nothing truly there. I'm sure there's some people out there in the Buckethead base that dig this type of record; i know he's got a broader palette than majestic forgotten riffs of the '80's and double bass onslaughting. I just don't want to hear it anymore.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

JAMES BLACKSHAW "HOLLY" (Important Records)

Newest EP from amazing celestial guitarist James Blackshaw, showcasing both his incredible strengths and nagging weaknesses. "Holly" features two new compositions, the title track being more of the sort of material he's been cranking out lately; the flip side, "Boo, Forever," is something more like a return to form as well as an acknowledgment of influence. "Holly" opens up promising, with some simple, lovely and sparse (by Blackshaw's standards) guitar playing, creating the sort of aching atmosphere that categorised his best work for Celebrate Psi Phenomena. That spell is quickly broken, though, as Blackshaw adds all manner of unnecessary instrumentation to the piece, giving in to the compositional waywardness he displayed on "All is Falling" and "The Glass Bead Game." There's simply too much here for the piece to sustain-it works best as a study for solo guitar, and its most beautiful, yearning moments reinforce that, being played by Blackshaw alone. The cellos and pianos only serve to distract, taking away from what's otherwise a very elegant and hypnotic bit of music. I can understand Blackshaw's want to move beyond his being thought of as simply a guitarist, but bogging your music down with things it doesn't need in the service of some frazzled concept of symphonics doesn't mean you're a composer. It just means you can write music. That isn't to say that "Holly" isn't worthwhile-it is, it's gorgeous, and there's so much melody here that you'll get lost in it on repeated listenings-it just can't support the weight of Blackshaw's ambition. What he does is altogether too fragile to exist in anything but skeletal form and all the extra sounds tend to tear me away from the emotional gravity of his playing.
The second piece, "Boo, Forever," fares much better. This is Blackshaw in full-on fingerpicking mode, ripping out a lovely meditation that nods to both the otherwordly guitarscaping of Robbie Basho and the slightly country-fried twang of the Takoma school proper. Blackshaw's fingers weave nimble webs, threading in and out of consciousness the same way a memory starts to fade from mind. The feeling of loss is the same-regret tempered with beauty, the treasured memory slowly becoming cloudy and lost to the span of years, nostalgia as a haze, a flurry of notes painting a washed out portrait of loss and sadness. Here too Blackshaw adds instrumentation but it's in service to the song, rather than the overwrought bouquet of sonic ingredients that sinks "Holly" like a stone. "Boo, Forever" works as minimalist maximalism precisely because each element makes itself known for only as long as it has to. The guitar remains hyper and constant and everything else recedes into it, creating the blur that typifies Blackshaw's best work.
There's something kind of magical about this record. On the one hand it's a glut, overflowing with dead weight. On the other it's a reminder of why Blackshaw's name is spoken of so highly amongst guitarists, myself included (his early material still pulls pieces of me away from myself when i listen to it)-there's no one out there right now playing like this. Plenty of people can set the fretboard blazing, and still more can make notes and melodies that cut like knives, but i'm hard-pressed to think of anyone that can make the sound of a guitar feel like you're living in a memory. James Blackshaw is a guitarist, but he's also a painter, one who truly understands the importance of recollection and contemplation, the weight of regret and the haunt of sadness. All missteps aside, "Holly" is worth hearing. Very nice artwork as well.

CRAFT "VOID" (Carnal Records)

After a lengthy hiatus during which i wasn't even sure they'd return, Craft come out of hiding with the masterful album "Void," continuing their vaguely avant take on traditional black metal classicism and fusing it to something more progressive and disorienting. From the moment the guitars roar from the speakers you're in the thick of it-this is an album by an entity that isn't fucking around. The sound is massive to the point of flatlining, thick and viscous but dusty enough that the atmosphere is a gravelly choke and each drum hit sounds like the bludgeoning sound of club meeting skull. Few black metal band can sound this violent and unhinged, especially in such a controlled way, without resorting to blastbeats and low production value, but Craft shows that it can be done, and when it is you're going to be carved the fuck up in its wake.
"Void" continues the Craft aesthetic of obvious styled black metal reminiscent of Darkthrone and meshing in the more frightening elements of outsider nobles like Ved Buens Ende and Thorns, creating a sound indebted to industrial mainlining but rocking enough to still belong to some semblance of thrash. The atonal moments lend a nausea to Craft's approach, a feeling of something just slightly off kilter. I was distinctly reminded of the Melvins in several places across "Void," testament to the strength of Craft's grinding, strangled slower riffing, much more prominent here than in previous work. Also present are some seriously shredding guitar solos, insane virtuosity in a genre that most often rejects it in favor of trying to attain something more primitive and feeling oriented. Craft's decision to give space over to instrumental prowess does nothing to diminish from the album's atmosphere; instead the searching meandering quality of the soloing helps further the wandering feeling that "Void" so methodically cloaks itself in. The road of violence is replete with many detours; Craft are willing to explore these darkened underpasses with a bloody heart and malicious vagrancy, arriving at a place far more complex and hysterical.
The heart of Craft's sound, though, is their knowledge and embrace of classic black metal form, and those elements are showcased throughout the record's 49 minute runtime. "Serpent Soul" boasts unbridled chromaticism redolent of "Deathcrush"-era Mayhem or Gorgoroth at their most historical, bashing away at riffs that shouldn't make sense but do. "I Want to Commit Murder" trades on one of the dumbest titles of all time and produces a song that actually makes you believe that this is a personality capable of it, that violence and terror are looming in the glint of an eye and the rusted twinkle of a dying star. The riffs recall Slayer at their most convoluted and mathematical and the vocals almost threaten to carry over into grotesque histrionics; it all becomes the troubling confession of a diseased mind basking in its own narcissism. But the true fire burns most brightly in the majestic title track that closes out the record, nine minutes of mid-paced black metal fury that evokes all the sorrow, anger, rebellion, and yearning heard in the legacy of the old masters. Echoes of Bathory's epic war pieces are filtered through the suicidal repetition of Burzum, culminating in a piece that simultaneously screams for nullification and addresses the promising future of modern black metal. In the hands of a unit like Craft, that future is being created with tremendous attention to detail and a reverence for the attitude and philosophy behind the movement's inception. "Void" is powerful stuff, a rejection of self that embraces contemplation and openly minimalizes the worth of the individual. This world is all empty; Craft has the map. Highly recommended.

Friday, October 7, 2011


Tremendously powerful elongated work of time stretching minimalism courtesy TenHornedBeast, trading in much of their usual extremism here for a trio of records that open up a ripped fabric of meditative consciousness reaching for the darkly sublime. For me this record stands near equal to Eliane Radigue's masterful "Trilogie de la Mort," grasping for the same hidden endlessness buried amidst the cosmic drift, a desire to make sense of our most shattering experiences and render them into something emotionally resonant and larger than our senses of self.
Each record has a distinctly different tone. The first record, "Choose for Yourself the Might of the Earth," is the most aggressive and dense of the three. It trades in mist and shadow, loaming across a barren wash of sonics rife with crevasses and gulfing ravines, the pitch black eruptions of torpor rising to the cracked surfaces like so much forgotten alchemy. These are rivers of detritus, flowing free and obtuse, threatening you with the unknowns that lurk in the bends of the infinite. This piece perhaps owes most to TenHornedBeast's usual aesthetic, with an emphasis on darkness and malice, here tempered down into a constant rather than a split suite of loosely connected rumbles.
Record two, "Celestial Pathfinder," is altogether more inviting. While still shot through with industrial strength tension, this is where the contemplation truly begins. Whirring sounds circle and repeat in on themselves, creating an effect akin to the recordings of LaMonte Young and Marian Zazeela-the tones become truly droning and eternal here, the screams of feedback wrestled down into earth, sky wrought into soil and transmuted into vibration. It's a stunning piece, one that both calms and sets on edge across its 65 minute span, resulting in a troubling haze that soothes the mind and sets the skin to crawl. If you could imagine yourself living inside a giant gilded horn, blaring gold and endless, you'd begin to get an impression of the environment on display here. Even the heavens have their pockets of darkness; here those hidden areas are opened up for you, the temptation of exploration too much to bear. "Celestial Pathfinder" is a promise unfulfilled, an audial trick where the atmospheres hide the true meaning.
The set closes with the third record, "The True Voice of God is Silence." Easily the loveliest of three works as well as the one most indebted to the Radigue brand of minimalism, the sounds here are pulsingly alive, nearly jumping through the speakers to enshroud you. Crackles and exceedingly high pitches fight through a soupy trajectory of thick, brittle drone that lilts itself ever downward towards a bottom unknown. Like rotting flowers or the vaguely sweet and sour smell of curdling milk, this third record finds TenHornedBeast clutching the listener tight under a blanket of rancid aromatics and haunting, airy figures that seem to dance away just one step ahead of you. The dance is worrisome, the smiles cracked and taunting, but the beauty so mythic and enthralling that you have to follow. You may stumble and trip, you may fall into vines and brambles, your skin may crack and sting and bleed, but the frail and austere gorgeousness of the piece ensures the worth of the endured punishments. This is the slow and steady drag into the realms beyond sleep, the pulling of consciousness to achieve the pure astral weightlessness, void of physicality and teeming with the true enlightenment, a descent into nonbeing that seems to stretch out into the forever, into the great and wasted nowhere past the stars.
To come back to a comparison with Radigue's three record journey, "Ten Horned Moses Descended the Mountain" looks to nullify and condense whereas Radigue's piece looks to pull upward and outward. This is a towering work of blackened drone aesthetics, a new standard by which much of the genre's future output must be judged. Like Radigue, the thematics here are as important as the sounds and the two work in concert with one another, creating a hallowed sphere of sonic philosophy as concerned with immolation as it is with transcendence. TenHornedBeast are out there exploring the beyond, bringing back frozen chunks of physical emptiness and negative space and transforming them into something frighteningly attractive. The pull is near inescapable for those seeking to go beyond. Those grounded will immune themselves to these crushing silences, forever lost to the true awakening. Actualization begins with questions; TenHornedBeast will carve the answers out of you. Highest possible recommendation.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

THE RITA "THE RACK" (Handmade Birds)

The artwork says it all. Two HNW explorations sourced from knives and nylon, a near penultimate intermingling of violence and sex, the errant whiff of fetid eroticism transformed into waves of throbbing, pulsing, manipulated tone. While the volume is beyond intense, the actual feel of the two pieces here is quite restrained-the nylon side especially showcases something close to the caressing side of HNW (if such a thing exists), a deep and subtle massage of hidden recesses infrequently torn asunder by the shatter of yarn separating from yarn, the shimmer of gleaming nylon wrench astray from loom and weave. To shape beauty out of destruction takes a deft hand, and The Rita masterfully immerses itself in pinup bondage fetish aestheticism to warp the vestiges of atrocity and violation into a sound experience that resembles the cloudy murk of hallucination. Nylon oozes lust, the glimpse of a stocking welt almost universally accepted as taunting, the lurid pull of the forbidden, the feminine, the denied. Thrown in the face of the supplicant, the beggar, this tease whips itself into a froth of unchecked libido screaming to erupt, the inevitable bloodplay tied to its resolve the only truth remaining, perhaps the only truth possible.
The piece sourced from knives veers harsher but only by a bit. This, too, is a game, one which The Rita knows all too well. The gleam of the knife is like the gleam of the stocking, the smooth, clean, pristine surface of the blade like the shimmering yarn clinging to the smooth contour of a leg. Light glints off of both, both betray a feminine core, both admit the lustful attentions of personalities fractured by societal neglect and disdain. One within the other, light upon light, a shivering dance of pale glossy reflection in the midnight. In the narrative of "The Rack" the nylon invites the violence and the knives commit it. The knives reek of metal and clang, their sounds treading closer to the industrial snuff film roots of power electronics, the implications betraying that particular influence completely. But whereas those acts needed words to convey the ideas of degradation and misogyny, The Rita relies solely on sound and image. The artwork is appropriately stark, referencing the simplicity of the items and the gravity of the actions they incite.
This is a unique and powerful record. The shapes The Rita coaxes out of these two totem items are severely oblique but really only open to one interpretation. This is the new face of PE. While other wall recordings are more vast and encompassing, "The Rack" is a study in focused (and maybe unwelcome) intimacy. As immersive as these sounds are, they're but a mere gloss of the lips against the skin, the dank breath of the panting wanton against the barren skin of the controlled object. Bound in the chains of sex and imagination, helpless against the conceit of power. "The Rack" is a definition, an evocation, a wisp of the puerile and the immediate. Gratifications are to be taken; nature must be sated. The need is an infection, the nylon and the knife existing as evidence of its festering. Sick and warm, a stench is in the air. The streets stretch almost endlessly into the night. The hunt is on.