erasing clouds

5 Music Reviews

by dave heaton

Arrial, 2003 demo (self-released)

Restrained, graceful, classical-sounding guitar offers both melody and mood, while easygoing electronic beats and textures give the affair an old-meets new feeling on Arrial's four-song demo cd. Four instrumentals, each named for a month of this year (February - May): each is charming and compelling, if nothing that's going to change the face of music. Arrial comes off like someone who knows how to skillfully play guitar in traditional ways but wants to do something new as well. The music here interests me most the more it bridges that divide and pushes towards a fresh sound, as it does from time to time. Nonetheless, a pleasant, enjoyable beginning.

Broadcast, HaHa Sound (Warp)

Broadcast are always written about like they're Stereolab Jr., probably because of the ample synthesizers and suave female vocals. Yet much of their sound seems to come from music a few decades before Stereolab; Broadcast sounds more like a 00s version of 60s psychedelic-pop. Their second full-length HaHa Sound begins with "Colour Me In," a invitation to dream which sounds like Nico fronting the Velvets, if that group was as filled with modern-era laptop experimentalists as it was art-school weirdo rock kids. A few songs later is "Valerie," an updated version of a Leonard Cohen ballad that floats you along a melancholy but starry river. "I've got to get away from this town/don't want to face the ominous clouds, lead vocalist Trish Keenan sings during one song, expressing a desire to escape that runs through the whole album. That same song ("Ominous Cloud") also contains the line "Though you said goodbye/you did not leave my mind," and it's clear that much of the traveling here is done within not without. Broadcast epitomize the psychedelic idea of escaping within your own mind; yet musically they're not just backward looking. Ha Ha Sound is a textured, very alive album which is in the spirit of the past but sounds quite like a product of our current techno-savvy world. They take the tools of today and yesterday, the sounds of today and yesterday, and use them to paint a brightly colored dream of an album.

Heathen Noise, Sturm und Drang (Black Orchid)

On the cover of Slovakian instrumentalists Heathen Noise's Sturm und Drang CD is a photo of actor Klaus Kinski giving one of his famously intense stares. Described in the linter notes as a "personal homage to german legend Klaus Kinski, 'the Ultimate Actor'," Sturm und Drang is to capture on a CD the dark and powerful forces that pulse through Kinski when he acts. They go for the same visceral impact that filmgoers go from his acting. The CD opens with a dialogue clip from Nosferatu which is soon overtaken by a rising storm of guitars and mechanical noises. On the one-track, 24-minute CD one member is credited with "organ, noise, soundscapes; another, "weird noises, insanity, percussion, tapes"; and a third, "guitar, noise, sound manipulation." That list should give you a solid idea of where they're coming from. Heathen Noise seem to use anything they can find that will make a scary enough sound. With this mysterious grab-bag of instruments they build a wall of sound that evokes the madness inherent in the films Kinski did with director Werner Herzog (Aguirre, The Wrath of God, Fitzcarraldo, etc.) without imitating the fantastic scores that Popul Vuh created for the original films. They capture the same impact as Popul Vuh, Herzog and Kinski through a multi-headed sonic creature that builds to a cacophony and then lurks around in near-silence. Sturm und Drang is overpowering, seriously intense music.

Minmae, Microcassette Quatrains (Bluesanct)

Sometimes it takes a blast of noise to clear your mind. That's where recordings like Minmae's Microcasette Quatrains come in to do the job. Originally released on cassette in the late 90s, the album is now out on CD with two bonus tracks, the songs from Minmae's debut release. One of those DIY, lo-fidelity bedroom projects, the album's essentially a cloud of fuzz. Quite reminiscent of a slightly angrier less-into-dreams version of Flying Saucer Attack. Microcassette Quatrains isn't nearly as soothing as that band's output, but it shares with FSA both the appearance of being some type of alien object, something dropped from a UFO in the forest somewhere, and the effect of being a vacuum for your brain, emptying out the excess thoughts and leaving you in a zen-like state of something. The group's become more of a rock band these days - with an album called True Love due out this fall - but this recording feels like more than just a remembrance of Minmae's more experimental days. It's not a fragment of memory, it's a raging, noisy sonic beast, one that might strike you as beautiful or might scare you half to death.

Rollerball, Real Hair (Silber)

Rollerball's Real Hair is one of those recordings, like Sonic Youth's Bad Moon Rising and "The Monster Mash," which reminds me of Halloween each time I hear it. I'm not sure why, but I'm guessing it has to do with an overall creepy atmosphere and lyrics like "Like all your friends, they're there to bleed." That line comes from the first track "Girls Higging Trees," and it's right after the line "Sun was blocking out the church sign today/thank God," which might be another clue to the devilish feeling of the album. Those lines are sung in a weirdly gothic tone, but I can't say for sure that Rollerball wear all-black and worship Satan. These are slippery folks, too tricky to hang many judgments on. Drums, bass, piano and horns are the dominant instruments, but they don't always use them as you might expect. Their music is a form of jazz-inflected midnight-mood pop that has an arty distance about it, yet they're always out to surprise you, getting moodier and more minimalist here, slipping into a marching-band funky stroll routine there. On one song they'll conjure up the ghost of Miles and on the next they'll sound like folk music from some long-forgotten place (Translyvania, maybe?). On a song called "Spine Delay" one member of the group even breaks out an off-kilter, sort-of rap about fairies and palaces which feels completely out of the blue and then melds into an organ playing church music. Real Hair ends with a song called "Eight Inch Nun": the title sounds like it should be on a Dr. Demento compilation, but the song itself is a haunting, meditative piece of music with an intriguing poem read over it. What's the deal with Rollerball? I can honestly say I have no idea what they're up to with their music, but I like it. They confuse me, but sometimes it's good to be confused.

Issue 15, September 2003

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