Kowloon Walled City – Grievances

R-7628626-1445469445-4042Kowloon Walled City’s “Grievances” is one I discovered through an NPR countdown of the 100 best metal records released in 2015 http://apps.npr.org/best-songs-2015/#. It was one of a handful on the list that grabbed my ear.  I admit that I’ve lost my patience with most of what passes for metal these days, but curiosity got the better of me. I”m glad it did simply for turning me onto this band.

In metal, a good riff needs to bury itself into your soul after passing through the brain, otherwise it becomes forgettable. A large swath of the songs I found in NPR’s metal picks fell into the technique trap and I haven’t really been impressed with the Yngwie Malmsteen approach to metal in a very long time. Kowloon Walled City’s riffs avoid going down that well traveled road, instead opting for a more thoughtfully designed chaos rather than military order.
Hailing from San Francisco, Kowloon Walled City’s third full length release and is an incredible record, one that could rest easily in the Touch & Go or Amphetamine Reptile catalogues just as much as it does on Neurot’s. Like the bastard son of The Unsane and Slint, this album tumbles and claws it’s way through a jagged edged world of modern hell on earth. A sudo study of the modern working stiff similar to Cop Shoot Cop’s “White Noise” with slightly less pointed solipsism.
Sonically, this record has a touch of professional polish to it that doesn’t over shadow the music, and instead enhances it. Much in the same way that Shellac’s “Live at Action Park” sounded like it was recorded at Abbey Road (because it was), this album sounds like it was recorded somewhere with either good treatment or a lot of hard work on mic placement and plenty of DI boxes. Clean without being obnoxious.
The bass has a certain lower mid range growl to it that sounds really tight when blended with the not-so-overly-compressed-and-distorted guitar used in most of metal. Once the guitars do open up, the bass still comes through and never seems to get lost in the mix. I’m a bass player primarily so this I’m always on the lookout for these things. Go with it.
I understand from some of my research that Scott Evans, the guitar player and singer in the band, engineered and produced this album. Having done that myself, I know how hard that can be, yet he pulls it off, it seems, with little effort. Guitarist Jon Howell, bassist Ian Miller, and drummer Jeff Fagundes all get ample space to breath on this record and overall the album is very well balanced.
My one complaint is that the album feels short to me. By the end of “The Grift”, which also happens to be the shortest song on the album at 3:47, I’m left with an overwhelming feeling of want. I needed more than this album was giving me and that’s a good thing. I’m looking forward to delving into their back catalogue (Bandcamp) and can’t wait to hear what they do next.
You can find them and their recordings at their website or their Bandcamp site.
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Adventures in amp repair.

This past weekend I spent a great deal of time working on a few of the amps we have in the studio. Three of them have issues severe enough that I thought I’d have to take them in to Al’s Diner for proper repair, but after doing some reading I decided to at least attempt to simply clean them up. To do so, I purchased a can of DeoxIT and a can of compressed air.

The first amp on the bench was a Gallien-Krueger 800RB that has been in the basement for several years. It was essentially abandoned by it’s owner and has been sitting unused since the last repair I had done. It worked for about a week before becoming a noisy inconsistent wreck. Taking the top off was a breeze. Getting the front panel off and pulling the preamp, which had all the pots and jacks on it, was less fun.

Once I got it apart I blew out as much dust as I could including blowing out each pot individually. I then sprayed the DeoxIT into each pot and switch. I was afraid that three of the pots would need to be replaced because they were a bit loose, although none of the solder joints were cracked. I worked each pot and switch for a bit then left it over night to dry out.

The next morning I put it back together and plugged it in. The difference was amazing! No glitching, no static, no sudden bursts of volume; just gloriously even sounding solid state tone. With this first amp working I was emboldened to start on the next two: a Fender Deluxe 85 and a Peavey TKP 65.

The Fender was another amp that was given to me by Steve Toth. He told me at the time that it didn’t work and if I could fix it I could have it. I left it alone for quite awhile but got curious one day and plugged it in. The reverb pot was broken and it was somewhat scratchy sounding on about half the other pots, but it worked. Anthea has used it occasionally, but never really liked fussing with it tonally because of the static bursts from the EQ pots.

I ripped into this amp and cleaned it up in the same manner. This was much easier to work on. I found that the speaker was not secured in place. There were only two screws, both on the same side of the speaker from and they were about an 1/8 of an inch unscrewed. I moved one of the screws to the opposite side of the other screw and tightened them both down. Issue number one solved.

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Cleaning this amp up took quite some time. Steve’s a smoker and I had to scrape a bit of cigarette tar off the knobs and face plate. I also sprayed the pots three separate times to loosen them up. I found a spider nest under two of the input jacks as well.

I was going to put it back together and plug it on, but decided to look for the replacement pot for the reverb. It had been sheared off prior to my receiving it. I was able to find the parts list for the amp and ordered the pot and knob from Darren Riley’s Guitar & Amp Shop. Darren Riley was a blind Google search find, but was super awesome to work with and had exactly what I needed in stock. He even emailed me to let me know they shipped. On a Sunday. He was awesome and I highly recommend using him.

Since the parts were on order for the Fender I turned to the Peavey. I bought this from Eric Brown sometime in the 90’s and used it on stage a couple times, but mostly used it for occasional band practice since it was much smaller than my stage rig, which consists of a the second Fender Bassman 135 (Blackface) on top of a Fender Spectrum two 10″ by one 18″ cabinet that I bought in 1989 for my first Bassman head (Silverface). It’s been pretty good in the studio as well both direct and mic’d, but over the years it’s gotten more and more nasty sounding.

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I’ve pulled this amp apart a few times so no surprises here. I followed suit with the pots and jacks as I did before, but on this amp the attached power cable needed to be replaced. It was frayed at the plug and the amp. This was more difficult than I had wished for. There is a  protective clip that surrounds the power cable so the metal backing doesn’t cut into it. I ended up having to cut the cable off to figure out how to get it out. It’s a squeeze clip that cute into the cable a bit. This proved more difficult to get back in later than it was almost worth, but I got it on the end.

The parts for the Fender arrived on Thursday. I pulled the preamp board out with little difficulty and propped it up. Since I had no solder sucker I had to use braid to pull the old solder out. Not ideal but after some time and with a little patience I got the broken pot off. Putting the new one in wasn’t that difficult, but my soldering skills are a bit rusty. I’m hoping I didn’t do any damage.

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Once together the amp sounds much better but the reverb is still not working. I banged on the reverb pan and got it to make some sound but nothing being driven from the amp. It seems to need more work. For now I’ll leave it alone.

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Slayer – Reign in Blood

R-367069-1328284299.jpegFor the record this is not going to be a review of the album. That’s been done to death. What I want to write about is the relationship I have with this album. First released in 1986 when I was in high school, Slayers “Reign In Blood” hit me like a dead body from a lacerated sky. Up to that point I had heard of Slayer, but my friends at the time pretty much dismissed them as juvenile devil worship music.
“Hell Awaits”, their previous record, was steeped in demonic imagery much more than any other metal record I knew of to date. By that time I liked my metal to be literate or at least have something less stupid to say. Motorhead, Maiden, and Metallica were the metal bands I started listening to as I abandoned hair metal all together. The S.O.D record that started the crossover scene even ridiculed Slayer (i.e. “Chromatic Death” and “Fist Bang Mania”), and I had read Anton Lavey’s “Satanic Bible” by then and found satanism to be simply humanism dressed in drag. So I dismissed them right along with everyone else.
Then comes “Reign in Blood”. By this point the Def Jam label was permeating certain parts of the trailer park I grew up in and I was only slightly interested in hip hop (except Luke Skywalker). So I was surprised when Scott Neff brought the cassette to me.  I put it on in the tape deck of my stereo in my bedroom and let it play.
Two things happened by the time it got to the part in “Altar Of Sacrifice” where Tom Araya bellows, “Enter to the realm of Satan”: 1) My mother the catholic came into the room crying begging me to turn it off and 2) I decided this album would be a constant in my life.
To be fair I loved my mother but at that time in my life we saw things the exact same way. She saw a loser who couldn’t do anything right and was likely going to wind up dead and  so did I. The difference was she cared and I didn’t. I honestly just wanted to be left alone to try and sort myself out.
Now this is where I’m going to blow your mind. It was this record that helped mend some of that disrepair in my relationship with my mom. You see, she was a jazz head. At some point Eric Brown and Steve Goossen started introducing me to hard-bop jazz. I fell in love with the avant-garde. The rampant use of the chromatic scale and the reckless abandon in which it was wielded were very reminiscent of “Reign In Blood” to my ears.
Think I’m wrong? Go listen to Albert Aylers “Ghosts”. Go listen to Grachan Moncur III’s “Evolution”. Go dive into Charlie Parker’s great body of work. Then go listen to this record and pay close attention to the solo’s. Tell me I’m not right. Slayer prepared me to accept jazz into my life.
This was great because my mothers taste in jazz was fairly straight although not square. Brubeck, Stanley Turrentine, George Shearing, Johnny Mathis; not entirely boring but not very “out there”. I got to turn my mom onto Mingus records she’d only heard of. I got to turn her on the Eric Dolphy.  For this I have Slayer to thank.
Getting back to the Def Jam label, this record also brought another great record into my life, Public Enemy’s “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back”. I dare you to try and say this perfect hip hop record is also not a punk rock record. It is. Using the break down for “Angel Of Death” as the main riff in “She Watch Channel Zero” was incredible and far ahead of it’s time. Since then hip hop has been a constant in my life, and is ever expanding.
“Reign in Blood” is to this day one of those rare records that I just turn on and let go and never skip a song.
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Thelema – Hearing the Light

7894C7D2-2B9E-47E9-9D13-B267FB4079C2Thelma’s “Hearing the Light” is one of several albums DJ Anomaly threw at me for Christmas. I knew nothing of the record or the artist going into it so I had no expectations short of it likely not sucking. He has impeccable taste.
Thelema have been making music since the mid 90’s in Austria and their name may have been taken from a philosophical law developed in the early 1900s by Aleister Crowley. The law of Thelema is “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the law, love under will.” They make no claim to such, but getting a proper biography of the group was next to impossible.
On a first pass of this record evokes a very slowed down take on John Zorn’s Filmworks XVIII (The Treatment) with a slightly more extended range of instruments. Where that album clung to a trio and occasional quartet, sans drums, this album uses a much broader pallet, yet still has the same level of simple consistency that Zorn’s record does.
The opening track “Close your eyes and see” begins with flourishes of bowed strings run through massive delay and reverb. Slowly a very low organ tone begins a very methodical bassline. Eventually the higher registers of the organ are brought into play with very subtle brushed drumming. Equal parts avant-garde noise dancing across a very slow jazz like piece, this sets the tone for the rest of the album.
The next track “Ljos” introduces the use of vibraphones and our first vocal. Used mostly for effect rather than trying to tell a story it sounds like a slavic language run backwards. It’s very haunting and one of two tracks that make use of male vocals on the record. The rest of the vocals being female vocals all of which are used as another instrument rather than a force of language just as they are on this track.
One of the stand out tracks for me is the title track “Hearing the Light”. I’m a huge fan of vibraphones under any circumstance and a huge fan of organ when it’s applied correctly. This track makes great use of both, adding a loan violin to handle the melody.
Sonically the recording and mix is very well done. Case in point the guitar pass off on  “Heading Forward”.  Two distinct guitars come together, tonally different yet complimentary. The first guitar sets up the melody and the second doubles it in a higher register. Shortly after the first guitar drops out letting the other carry it on to the end.
This sets up my favorite track very nicely. “Grey Evening” would feel right at home on the Psychomania soundtrack or “A Fist Full of Dollars”. The organ and drums holding down the rhythm while electric guitar takes the melodic spotlight, occasionally dueling with itself to great effect.
The album as a whole is very cohesive and doesn’t stray to far from it’s base European soundtrack like formula. This is a good thing. A great thing actually. I find that I can listen to it in it’s entirety without feeling the need to skip anything. It’s also light enough that it works equally well as background music.
A-
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New release from Edweird! “The Hunt for Blue Harvest” available now!

SU0013_lgCover_72dpiSoiled Utilities Productions is proud to present the first full length album by Edweird since 2011’s  Day Trip To The Insane Asylum.

The Hunt for Blue Harvest is a short story told in sweeping soundscapes about grand space exploration, cosmic battles, great escapes, and… awww who are we kidding. It’s a blatant homage to one of the greatest movies ever made. Minus the lens flares of course.

Recorded primarily live in the studio with very few overdubs during the fall of 2015 and mixed and mastered early winter this is a small taste of what we hope are grander things to come from Edweird.

You can listen to and purchase it from our BandCamp page in multiple formats including FLAC and MP3. Also included is a PDF copy of the liner notes and CD gatefold suitable for printing.

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The Body-I Shall Die Here

IShallDieHereI Shall Die Here is the fourth studio album by American sludge metal band The Body. Released on April 1, 2014 through RVNG Intl. record label, the album was produced by British electronic musician The Haxan Cloak.

It’s rare sometimes that a recording comes along that won’t allow you to skip tracks. This is one such record. From the opening pummel of “To Carry the Seeds of Death Within Me” to the final track “Darkness Surrounds Us” with it’s reverb drenched violin dancing thru the stereo field nothing feels  like filler. The album feels like a post apocalyptic statement on the cruelty of life itself, and is breathtakingly intense and dynamic.

I’m in awe of The Haxen Cloak on any given day, but the production here is impeccable. If this band collaborated with him again I would buy that record without a second thought nor a need to hear it first.

This album begs for a good set of headphones, a single lit candle, and a thunderstorm off in the distance.

A+

This album can be purchased direct from RVNG.

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The Haxen Cloak-Excavation

HaxanExcavationBritish musician and producer Bobby Krlic takes a step forward with his second full length album as The Haxen Cloak. Released in 2013 and using more electronic gear than the self titled album, this album is an amazing work of sound sculpture. Dark and brooding with some seriously well placed bass drops and field recordings I find myself inspired to take my time and more care in my own work.
The producer in me wants to meet Krlic just so I can pick his brain. I’m in awe of the opening of “Excavation (Part 2)”. Sonically it sounds like a collection of dot matrix printers were ran thru a harmonizer or pitch shifter then some heavy deal and reverb only to be tossed around the stereo field like so much flotsam.  Chaos from order.
The use of bass really stands out on the track “Mara” as it slowly builds up under the whirring noise element that sounds like a bull roar. Suddenly colliding together into a lumbering monstrous war zone replete with sirens in the back ground. Simply stunning.
The final 13 minute track “The Drop” is beautiful in it’s synth chimes and analog bass synth tones until, near the mid point, they devolve into a near harmonica and string mix flows over a low growl. Percussion slowly building into a militant driving menacing force. Mind blown.
A+
Album available for purchase from Amazon.
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Nisennenmondai-Live at Clouds Hill

Nisennenmondai

Nisennenmondai are a Tokyo-based instrumental trio who make music that is both raw and danceable in equal measure. They formed in 1999 and took their name from the Japanese translation of the then-current phrase “Y2K bug.
Live at Clouds Hill is the first record I’ve bought from them and what an entry point. The opening track simply titled “A” is a lengthy drum and guitar track that blends house-like dance beats using live drums along with hyper effects drenched semi-ambient guitar work. I streamed this track from Boomkat and it grabbed me enough that I bought the record
As strong as the opening track is, the rest of the record doesn’t deliver quite the same way. It’s not that the rest of the record is bad. It just doesn’t build the same way as “A”. The next best standout track is “B-1” which touches on some of the same themes as “A” without directly copying it. Slightly more up tempo with much more sparse guitar flourishes, “B-1” is a solid track.
B+
The album can be purchased here.
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KK Null-Eternal Implosion

Eternal_ImplosionKazuyuki Kishino has been making harsh music for decades, both as a solo artist and as the leader of noise rock band Zeni Geva. He also has a cute Chihuahua.
I’ve been following his work since first having Zeni Geva’s Desire for Agony thrust on me. It was their show at Alvin’s in Detroit in 1993 that caused my ears to ring for three days. I’ll never forget how Kaxuyuki asked the sound guy to bring up the vocals in the mix. The guy shrugged at him and essentially said, “Your maxed.”
Eternal Implosion is probably my favorite album from his solo work. A stellar piece from a magnificent discography. It’s one track. The piece opens as if someone is taking a sledge hammer to a piano sound board. In a catacomb. Then that sledgehammer is tossed into space. Spinning and spinning thru space and time being knocked aside casually by forces much stronger then itself only to come back around to that piano sound board.
The secret to this track is something I found quite by accident. As a commuter I do most of my listening in the car either on my way to or from my day job. My phone was set to loop playlists and I caught myself not realizing when the track ended and didn’t care. It loops back on itself perfectly. I went through it two and a half times during my ride to work that day and didn’t mind. Highly recommended for those looking for an entree point into the noise and harsh noise music scene as this is very well thought out and “musical” composition.
Purchase it here.
A+
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The Sea and Cake – Car Alarm

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I admit readily that I’m a huge fan of The Sea and Cake ever since purchasing The Fawn at a gone but not forgot record store in Chicago called The Quaker Goes Deaf in 1997. Formed a few years earlier in that same city and releasing the bulk of their work on the Thrill Jockey label, The Sea and Cake have been one of the more consistent bands that I have in my collection.
Prior to the release of this album, my two favorite records of theirs were The Biz and Oui. I place this record amongst them in quality and craftsmanship. More raucous than their earlier work with a much more raw guitar sound on much of the record than I was expecting, it really straddles between the familiar and the new quite well.
The high spots for me are:
“A Fuller Moon” – A high rev Bossa Nova style song reminiscent of the Biz with some light calypso touches from the steel drums two thirds of the way into the track with a very nice interplay between the guitar and steel drums near the end.
“Car Alarm” – This is the perfect blend of the new and familiar. Grittier guitars even in the quieter parts yet still has that up tempo Bossa Nova approach that the Sea and Cake are known for.
“CMS Sequence” – One would think this small analog synth driven piece would be the weak link on the album but I bought this record at the same time I purchased Sam Prekop’s great solo synth record The Republic. This track is brief prelude to that and makes total sense to me.
From the upbeat and dynamic opening rocker of “Aerial” thru the the steel drum flourish of “Mirrors” this is a solid effort thru and thru. If you’ve never heard The Sea and Cake and wanted a starting point this is not a bad place to jump on, but I would urge you to dig further into the back catalog.
Grade A
You an purchase this record direct from Thrill Jockey here.
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