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   January 30, 2013  
Shugo Tokumaru
Michael Pisaro, Oswald Egger & Julia Holter
The Holydrug Couple
Squirrel Bait (2 LP reissues)
Jeff Keen
Local Natives
Pantha du Prince & the Bell Laboratory

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$16.99 LP


Somewhere Else

"I Am Haunted"

It feels like just yesterday that we were waxing ecstatic about Indians' debut 7", a record that seemed to drop out of nowhere (actually, Copenhagen) fully formed. A couple seasons and an expired year have come and gone since then, and now we have a full-length, perfectly timed for the dead of winter in America. Soren Lokke Juul's icy, minimalist dioramas conjure images of the northern lands from where he hails, utilizing a naturalistic simplicity that feels familiar in all the right ways. At times it comes across as a more modern take on folk music -- the kind of melodies and songs that have been working their way through the collective unconscious for thousands of years.

Juul wisely hews close to this template here, taking what was already a fully realized vision and filling it out with a slightly more expansive sound. Where tracks like "New" referenced the folk tradition as interpreted by synths, there are more formal nods here, with new songs like "Cakelakers" and "I Am Haunted" employing acoustic guitar as the backbone of the song. Juul seems to be cultivating his melodic ear even further on the aforementioned tracks, almost resembling a young James Mercer in his melodic choices and vocal inflections. Fear not though, the drum machines haven't been put on permanent ice yet, and "La Femme" is an uncharacteristically upbeat outing, sounding like a chance meeting between a less... well, young, Grimes and a more subtle OMD. It's what we've all been waiting for! Dress up a like a baby seal, charter a steamer to the last solid ice field in the North Pole and jam this out the on-board foghorn speakers to the polar bears as they scurry for a solid seat to take it in. Dreams come true, y'all. [JTr]






In Focus?


It's been a few years since we heard from this bedroom maestro, whose last album, 2010's Port Entropy, actually cracked the top 40 in his homeland. Though far from the flashy, saccharine-coated J-Pop sounds that most Americans probably (and perhaps wrongfully) assume are filling the Japanese charts, it's really not surprising that Shugo Tokumaru could find mass appeal over there, given the man's talent in assimilating pretty much anything and everything into a truly unique, gentle yet kaleidoscopic pop concoction -- in a way he's following the mix-and-match traditions of Shibuya-Kei artists like Pizzicato Five and Cornelius, and though his music is just as playful those, it's far more folky and very organic. In Focus? is an apt title for his newest album; mastered at Abbey Road, it's much more detailed than his charming lo-fi debut, 2004's Night Piece, and indeed, many of Tokumaru's productions have never sounded this full, especially during tracks like the rollicking "Down Down" in which he plays it pretty straight until the latter half of the song, when it all breaks down into junkyard band cacophony filtered through swirling Technicolor production.

But let's not get too far ahead -- in spite of a bigger recording budget, his music still retains that intimate, childlike wonderment, zigzagging along from start to finish, with crisp, strummed and finger-picked guitars (frequently sounding like they were sped up on a tape machine) bouncing along scurried rhythms and a toy box full of recorders, whistles, toy pianos, singing-saws, and hand percussion, often interwoven with orchestral swells and breezy harmonies, and of course, Tokumaru's gentle yearning croon. Like any of his records, he's going to take you on a ride, and he does just that here, from the joyous, percolating world-folk-pop of "Katachi" to the jaunty "Call," complete with cascading baroque flourishes that would be at home on a Sufjan Stevens record, to the bossa-inflected "Poker" which eventually reaches a tropical-swirl of a climax using everything but the kitchen sink. Of course, there are also plenty of Tokumaru's signature playful detours, including skittering interludes like "Pah-Paka" and "Gamma," both sounding like a band of happy-faced Muppets dosed on psychedelics creating incidental songs for Sesame Street. Tokumaru's world is truly of his own making and yet it's some of the most inviting music you'll ever hear, and always sure to leave you with a smile on your face. [GH]






The Middle of Life (Die Ganze Zeit)
(Gravity Wave)

I'm happy to announce that Other Music has finally begun stocking releases on the Gravity Wave label, run by and devoted primarily to the works of composer Michael Pisaro. Pisaro is perhaps best known to enthusiasts of contemporary composition as a member of the Wandelweiser collective, an international group of composers who share the common bond of exploring and integrating the sounds of silence into their works. Their music is of a different sort of minimalism than the more rhythmic styles more commonly associated with that term, and while Pisaro has a great number of works under his belt, this most recent, breathtaking piece is perhaps the best entry point for the uninitiated listener. The Middle of Life draws upon many of the most common elements of Pisaro's work; the single 48-minute piece blends field recordings, sine waves and quiet electronic tone generation, and sparse, gentle acoustic instrumentation. This work adds something more, however: the human voice. The Middle of Life draws upon the words of author Oswald Egger's 742-page poem Die Ganze Zeit, and Egger himself recites the bulk of the recitation in a calm voice that pans, fades, acknowledges and then disregards the sonic environment created around him by Pisaro.

There are other vocalists in the first section of the piece, among them experimental figureheads Taku Sugimoto and Graham Lambkin, as well as the voice of Julia Holter, who was a student of Pisaro's and a regular collaborator of his before making a name of her own with her recent solo albums. Holter plays a larger role here as well, as she not only provides both spoken recitation and wordless vocal harmonies, but also composed the piano motif that Pisaro plays during the piece's end section. It's both a new context for Holter fans to appreciate her talent, yet as a whole something that also makes perfect sense next to the overarching thematic concept and radio-drama pop of her Tragedy album. Pisaro's piece is no pop fare, though; rather, it falls in line contextually more with composers like Robert Ashley, whose innovative fusion of recitative text and sound design is very beautifully executed here. The piece is quite calming, even during moments when the electronic sine tones are at their most audible, and while most of the text IS in fact in German, from a purely textural and aesthetic perspective, Egger's foreign recitation offer no distraction. Rather, his gentle anecdotal tone pulls you in deeper, often making the piece's duration feel as though it is moving much more quickly than has actually occurred. When Holter's vocal harmonies softly emerge in the stereo spectrum at the start of the final third of The Middle of Life, the isolation that thematically ties each participant's spoken voice together in the piece has washed over the listener as well. It is a gorgeous, flawless work by a composer who deserves much more attention in the wider listening world; hopefully with the release of this stunning CD, Pisaro will be making his way into your world as well. To my ears, it's without question one of the best, most relevant works of composition to see release thus far in 2013. [IQ]




$13.99 CD


The Flower Lane

"The Flower Lane"
"Assistant Director"

Matt Mondanile's hazy lo-fi explorations under his Ducktails guise have slowly been coming into clearer focus over the past few releases, but nothing could prepare the listener for this giant leap forward of a fully realized pop album. Working with members of Big Troubles and Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never), you can actually now hear shades Mondanile's better known gig, Real Estate, ringing through the phased jangly guitars and melodies that recall the autumnal lure of Anglo-indie icons Felt or Australia's Go-Betweens. But almost equally noticeable is a strain of late-'70s/'80s soft rock that often appears alongside, rich with bubbling synths and keys, and laidback funky, jazzy grooves that bring to mind Steely Dan as much as the Style Council or Prefab Sprout (check "Sedan Magic," which features Cults' Madeline Follin dueting with Mondaline, the track replicating the airy atmospherics of Steve McQueen/Two Wheels Good almost to a T). Even so, the pang of nostalgia you'd find on a Real Estate record is here in spades, from the pastoral haze of album opener "Ivy Covered House" to the title track, which walks a nice middle ground between the languid jangle of the Chills and the white-boy soul of a Todd Rundgren ballad. Of course, given Ducktails' predilection for experimentation, The Flower Lane isn't as straight-laced as it first appears on the surface; halfway through the album Mondaline and his band offer up a pretty obscure cover by way of onetime Clean and Chills member Peter Gutteridge's "Planet Phrom" and then, a few songs later, take a short Neu!-esque romp with the motorik instrumental, "International Date Line." The biggest surprise, however, comes near the end of the record with "Letter of Intent," an unexpected detour into sparkling, R&B-influenced synth-pop with Future Shuttle's Jessa Farkas handling most of the vocals, the track having far more in common with Nite Jewel than anything Mondaline is normally associated with. It drives the point home that Ducktails has entered a new chapter, and while the experimental tendencies of his past releases as a solo project may have been eschewed for bona fide songs and band mates, the flower lane that Mondaline now travels will surely continue to offer great and colorful surprises at almost every bend. [GH]




$15.99 LP


(Sacred Bones)

"Counting Sailboats"
"Red Moon"

Psychedelia seems to be a hot topic right now down in Santiago, Chile; the uprising underground scene is blossoming with artists such as the Psychedelic Schafferson Jetplane, La Hell Gang, Föllakzoid, and plenty others. The Holydrug Couple also falls into the 'Modern Chilean Nuggets' category, and is a collaboration between close friends Manuel Parra and Ives Sepúlveda (also of Föllakzoid). The duo spent months confined in their home recording studio producing Noctuary, their second full-length release on Sacred Bones, and it's a wonderful 40-minute atmospheric excursion, laced in shimmery psychedelia, echoing reverb, and otherworldly vocals. The Couple at times mirror the '80s psych revival brilliance of Revolving Paint Dream (especially on the opener "Counting Sailboats"), and Arthur Lee's Forever Changes casts a shadow throughout (check out "Follow Your Way"). Here's hoping the grandchildren of Nuggets will take a time machine back (forward?) from the Summer of Love and tour the States in support of this swirling psychedelic masterpiece. [ACo]



Squirrel Bait EP
$12.99 LP


Skag Heaven
$15.99 LP


Squirrel Bait EP
(Drag City)

Skag Heaven
(Drag City)

With a sound heavily indebted to hardcore but drenched in melody and tinged in metal hues, Squirrel Bait emerged in the mid-'80s without a lot of precedent (Hüsker Dü comes to mind, the earliest Replacements stuff and some Dischord contemporaries). Nearly three decades later, it's hard to imagine a time when bands meeting that description weren't playing at a nearby club on any given Saturday, but these Louisville kids did it first and did it better, before splintering and moving outwards towards the fringes -- David Grubbs got his start in this group, as did three members of Slint (for more, check out this super-cool hand-drawn Squirrel Bait family tree). When the then-teenaged quintet released their debut EP in 1985, the sound was explosive and fresh, with a heavy rhythm section, careening melodies, and Peter Searcy's scruffy, angsty vocals. You could call them the best high-school band ever, but really that is underselling this great group, whose talent needs not be qualified with the asterisk of age, and these vinyl reissues are a must have for anyone who loves high-octane melodic punk.

Squeezing eight songs into 18 minutes, the debut EP is one book that can be judged by its cover: a photo of a hilariously juvenile Brian McMahan, donning '80s-smart pageboy glasses and pretending to eat a first-generation Sony Walkman. So yes, they were snarky smart-asses with chops to spare. This is best heard on winners such as the opening assault of "Hammering So Hard," with its undulating rhythms, the blood-letting "Sun God," and "When I Fall," which would sound great on a mix tape, er playlist, next to something from Rites of Spring. A bit more complex but only two songs and eight minutes longer, Skag Heaven is a more complete statement of similar ideas -- at the time, some of their fans felt they had "abandoned hardcore," but the full-length holds up. Anthemic songs like the tempo-changing "Kid Dynamite" and the head-banging "Slake Train Coming" could be older brothers to "Slack Motherfucker." The band members presage their later forays into math rock with tracks like "Choose Your Poison" and "Kick the Cat" and again display their un-ordinariness by closing the LP with a cover of Phil Ochs' "Tape from California," an unlikely but feverish finish to an album, and a group, that merits reexamination. [LV]






Noise Art

"Song of the Plasticator"
"Omozap to Plasticator"

The newest release on Trunk Records is easily one of their most unique and important to date. Noise Art is a stunning collection of fourteen sound works by multimedia artist Jeff Keen, best known to many as an experimental filmmaker, yet whose dense collage aesthetic also often found him working in text and sound. Keen, who passed away in 2012 at the age of 88, comes across on Noise Art with brilliant fusions of text cut-ups and dirty, DIY electronic synthesis, heavy on texture but also displaying a chaotic rhythmic hypnotism. The results often remind me of William Burroughs let loose in Raymond Scott's Manhattan Research laboratories, displaying a very punk-like embrace of chaos on the surface; with deeper inspection and study, however, one begins to recognize the intense skill and craft that has gone into the editing of these pieces. Keen plays with and cuts up his own speaking voice, as well as the voices of anonymous TV broadcasts, machine gun fire, radio static, gurgling, buzzing synthesizer textures, fragmented machine rhythms, and other assorted onomatopoeic ephemera. These recordings are simultaneously primitive yet refined, familiar yet alien, avant-garde yet strikingly pop. While certainly not to everyone's taste, this is a hugely important document of one of Britain's unsung creative multi-disciplinarians, and this collection will hopefully help to elevate his status as more than just an outsider oddball. This gets my highest recommendation. [IQ]




$10.99 CD
$14.99 CD DLX
$15.99 LP+MP3
$22.99 LP DLX +MP3



"Wooly Mammoth"

Local Natives return with their second album, Hummingbird, a record that finds the Los Angeles-based group expanding upon their anthemic brand of indie rock first heard on 2010's Gorilla Manor, but with more nuance and melancholia. Produced by the National's Aaron Dessner (who is also credited with co-writing some of the tracks), it's a bit of a departure from their tribal rhythm-propelled debut, here Dessner and the band relying more on restraint and atmosphere to guide each song to its emotional crescendo. That's not to say that Local Natives would rather gaze at their shoes than soar, because they do soar -- it just may take a little longer to get there, but the pay off is downright cathartic. The arrangements are lush, thoughtful and dynamic, built from lingering piano chords, swelling strings, trembling chimes of guitar, and cascading drums which often fade in from the distance before taking the band into propulsive flight. It all makes for a perfect backdrop for Taylor Bryce's striking, clarion-voiced melodies, which undoubtedly bring to mind Fleet Foxes' Robin Pecknold, especially when joined by the rich harmonies of the rest of the band. But while comparisons to the Foxes, Grizzly Bear, and the like are inevitable, Local Natives' music is delivered with a heartfelt sense of urgency that isn't prevalent with the aforementioned, and Hummingbird really does present a group that's come into its own. (For a limited time, CD and LP are also available as deluxe editions, both housed in special packaging with the LP pressed on colored vinyl, each deluxe format featuring three bonus b-sides and poster.) [GH]




$16.99 LP+MP3


Elements of Light
(Rough Trade)


From his debut album Diamond Daze on through the minimal techno classic This Bliss and the genre-jumping Black Noise, Hendrik Weber has always astonished with his productions made as Pantha du Prince. And his latest is his most ambitious to date. After hearing a bell carillon ring throughout the city of Oslo in 2010, Weber composed Elements of Light in collaboration with the Bell Laboratory, a five-membered Norwegian percussion ensemble. Centered around a three-ton, 50-bell carillon, Elements first premiered in 2011 at Oslo's Oya Festival, with Weber and the ensemble performing the piece live to an enraptured crowd. Subsequent photographs and iPhone videos on the Internet showing the musicians cloaked in dark hooded robes and surrounded on stage by all sorts of bells, gongs and chimes only added to the mystery of this collaboration for those of us who weren't able to catch any of the European shows. For this studio recording of Elements, a bell carillon was shipped from Denmark to Germany, and the album reveals a monstrous modern classical piece of music, one closer to Steve Reich's epochal '70s work than the minimal techno scene. The first seven minutes of the record are beatless, just polyrhythmic layers of ringing bells and chimes eventually joined by Weber's evocative 4/4 kick, and throughout Elements, his always-restrained atmospheric production is sculpted with an even lighter touch than on past Pantha du Prince releases. It all makes for an amazing accomplishment from one of our favorite producers of recent years. [AB]
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[AB] Adrian Burkholder
[ACo] Anastasia Cohen
[GH] Gerald Hammill
[IQ] Mikey IQ Jones
[JTr] Jon Treneff
[LV] Lydia Vanderloo

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