BAND OF THE WEEK: NOEL BRASS, JR. (… again …)

17 Dec

Our year began with our introduction to the music of Noel Brass, Jr., the Seattle-based musician whose “Another Solo Mission” album has been perhaps our most consistent headphone companion throughout 2015. With the curtain being drawn on another year, Brass has unveiled another metaphysical masterpiece, entitled “Zero Utopias and Counting,” and it seems only right to bookend our year with a second salute to this sonic poet.

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All the words we wasted in vain, attempting to describe Brass Jr.’s sound, twelve month again remain valid (thought equally pointless). The flight path as described by Brass – “part ambient, part psychedelic, all soul – influenced by early sci-fi soundtracks, film noir, and improvisation” – remains the closest description of reality.

Nothing’s perfect – we join Brass in arriving at a to-date calculation of zero utopias. But the music of Noel Brass, Jr., is as close to perfect as we need anything to be. Highest possible recommendation.

“Zero Utopias and Counting” is available now from Noel Brass Jr.’s Bandcamp page.

“We have been taught to spend our lives chasing our thoughts and projections. Even when the ‘mind’ is talked about, it is only thoughts and emotions that are referred to; and when our researchers study what they imagine to be the mind, they look only at its projections. No one ever really looks into the mind itself, the ground from which all these expressions arise; and this has tragic consequences.” – Sogyal Rinpoche

BAND OF THE WEEK: ANDREW BERNSTEIN

10 Dec

Andrew Bernstein is a name we did not know until a few short months ago, and is now a name we have a slim chance of ever forgetting.

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The source of this unforgettable feeling is “Cult Appeal,” a recently released collection of extraordinary sound experiments from the ever-reliable Hausu Mountain label. Nominally, “Cult Appeal” is the recorded sound of Andrew Bernstein playing the saxophone through an assortment of effects, processors, and an otherwise indiscernible variety of sonic alchemy. The effect, however, is something far, far beyond this meager description, ultimately residing in an arena that exists far, far beyond words.

“New York’s alright if you like saxophones” declared an ancient mystic, seemingly unconcerned with the out-out-way-out contributions of people like Steve Mackay and Nik Turner, not to mention Albert Ayler. And if it helps to contextualize the radical appeal of “Cult Appeal,” please feel free to lump Mr. Bernstein in with such heady company.

However, for these ears, the music of Andrew Bernstein on “Cult Appeal” has come to represent something immeasurably broader in scope. Andrew Bernstein reminds us of the ability of music to inspire, to confound, to outpace obstacles and break down barriers. These are all different ways of saying the Andrew Bernstein’s music has blown our mind in an inspiring, indelible way. Spirits rejoice, indeed. Highest possible recommendation.

You can “name your price” on Andrew Bernstein’s “Cult Appeal” at the Hausu Mountain Bandcamp page. We feel you’d be silly not to.

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“The whole point here is to destroy impure perception. So what do we mean by impure perception? Impure perception is basically everything that we see, perceive, and label at the moment. It is not that something is wrong out there and that’s why everything is impure. Instead, it is because, at the moment, whenever we perceive something, it is always filtered through our emotions, our desire, jealousy, pride, ignorance, and aggression. When we look at a person, we may see him or her through the filter of our passion, and will therefore see him or her as very desirable. We may look at another person through the lens of aggression, which will cause us to see him or her as very ugly and hideous. When perceiving others through our own insecurity, we make judgements, refer, and compare, and end up trying to defend or boost our pride, which all stems from ignorance. The list goes on and on. All the different perceptions we have arise from our very own minds and are coming through these emotions. That is why everything we experience ends up being a disappointment. Regardless of whether it is felt in a big or a small way, the point is that there is always a little bit of disappointment. This is what we are trying to purify.” – Cortland Dahl

BAND OF THE WEEK: VERMA

19 Nov

With a radical expanse of subtlety, Verma’s latest, “MUL.APIN” (out now on the ever-reliable Trouble In Mind Records) is an utterly engrossing album, leaving an indelible impression, serving as a crystallized image of the band’s colossal creativity.

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Verma – long masters of the motorik, well-praised as wizards of space rock both epic and anthemic – couldn’t be accused of anything so simple as a “reinvention” on “MUL.APIN.” The pieces of this album’s puzzle have always been present in Verma-land, though they’ve never manifested in quite this way.

Opener “Nerebu/Overture” lays the foundation, serving as a pulsing prelude to the album’s infinite layers of wordless wisdom, molten lava atomically diffused through amplification and cooled to obsidian. “Elil.Sa.Ursag/Hero’s Theme” propels the beat to prime position for the first time, but as the final minute drones and fades, giving way to its mesmerizing sister-song, “Irhandi/Sorcerer,” it’s clear that whatever spell Verma is under won’t be broken any time soon. The culmination of “MUL.APIN” is the Side-B-spanning “Gal.Damhara/Last Battle,” nearly sixteen minutes of aching enchantment, the sound somewhere in-between J.D. Emmanual and, say, “Somewhere In Time”-era Maiden buried in volcanic ash. Wasted years or not, there’s not a wasted moment across Verma’s latest.

“MUL.APIN” is a deeply dramatic album, a stellar, slow burn synth séance whose sonic palette finds color in a hazy hue that’s less draining than despair, less illusory than optimism. “MUL.APIN” is in some ways the sound of the stoic observer to the cosmic void, the soundtrack to stargazing while standing in the middle of a deep, ceaseless grey winter wind whipping through the pines. Yet the beating heart of Verma pulses firmly, if often faintly, throughout the album’s monolithic thirty-six minutes. The effect is something like catching an unexpected amber glow at the very edge of the horizon, a light that may (or may not) signal the end of a desolate road – “Keep a little fire burning, however small, however hidden.” Highest possible recommendation.

“MUL.APIN” is out now on Trouble In Mind Records.

“For a barrier could only arise from association with the past or expectation of the future. So the present moment has no barriers at all. And then he finds there is a tremendous energy in him, a tremendous strength to practice patience. He becomes like a warrior. When a warrior goes to [a spiritual; not physical] war, he does not think of the past or his previous experience of war, nor does he think of the consequences for the future; he just sails through it and fights, and that is the right way to be a warrior. Similarly, when there is a tremendous conflict going on, one has to develop this energy combined with patience. And this is known as right patience with the all-seeing eye, patience with clarity.” – Chogyam Trungpa, “Meditation in Action

BAND OF THE WEEK: TERMINAL CHEESECAKE

12 Nov

Intensities in ONE city, dude. Better than “Pet Sounds.”* Highest possible recommendation.

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“Cheese Brain Fondue: Live in Marseille” is available now from Artificial Head Records.

“We are so addicted to looking outside ourselves that we have lost access to our inner being almost completely. We are terrified to look inward, because our culture has given us no idea of what we will find. We may even think that if we do, we will be in danger of madness. This is one of the last and most resourceful ploys of ego to prevent us from discovering our real nature. So we make our lives so hectic that we eliminate the slightest risk of looking into ourselves. Even the idea of meditation can scare people. When they hear the words ego-less or emptiness, they think that experiencing those states will be like being thrown out the door of a spaceship to float forever in a dark, chilling void. Nothing could be further from the truth. But in a world dedicated to distraction, silence and stillness terrify us; we protect ourselves from them with noise and frantic busyness. Looking into the nature of our mind is the last thing we would dare to do.” – Sogyal Rinpoche

*C’mon.

BAND OF THE WEEK: BRAIN RAYS

5 Nov

Music for Abandoned Beach Parties” is the perfect title for this perfect, thirty-two minute, six-song collection of cosmic thumps courtesy of Brain Rays. Of course, this may depend on your definition of “beach party,” or “ abandoned,” or even “music.”

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Of these, “music” is the one least in question. If this is the sound of being abandoned, it’s a friendly, funky way to get freezed out. And if this is the sound of a beach party, it’s fair to say The Potato Bug wouldn’t recognize it (though he’d surely bob his head and wiggle his hips and ride that Brain Rays wave). But this is music. If pressured to describe the music made by Brain Rays, we’d be quick the raise the white flag of surrender, nervously looking downward and mumbling something about “weird synths” and how we know “nothing about hip-hop.”

The good news is no one needs to know anything, define anything to any one; remember, this beach party has been abandoned. There’s no one else around. But there remains a sound, and the echoes of the party remain, revealed and reverberating with grandness and gravity, translated from the dizzy language of late-night longing to the sound of Brain Rays.

“Music for Abandoned Beach Parties” is warm and electric, a thick, cobalt-blue haze of sound from the very beginning of “I Just Dream,” where seagulls crash into the waves of synth-stabs sublime, sucked in and seduced by the beat, the beat, the beat – the everlasting beat. Before you can even begin to wonder where Brain Rays is coming from or where Brain Rays is going, you’re likely to crest and crash as well. We should all be so lucky as to be abandoned. Highest possible recommendation.

“Music for Abandoned Beach Parties” is available now from Bizarre Rituals.

“Desire can be compared to fire. If we grasp fire, what happens? Does it lead to happiness?
If we say, ‘Oh, look at that beautiful fire! Look at the beautiful colors! I love red and orange; they’re my favorite colors,’ and then grasp it, we would find a certain amount of suffering entering the body. And then if we were to contemplate the cause of that suffering we would discover it was the result of having grasped that fire. On that information, we would hopefully, then let the fire go. Once we let fire go then we know that it is something not to be attached to. This does not mean we have to hate it, or put it out. We can enjoy fire, can’t we? It’s nice having a fire, it keeps the room warm, but we do not have to burn ourselves in it.” – Ajahn Sumedho

 

BAND OF THE WEEK: TOMAGA

29 Oct

Describing the trip through “Familiar Obstacles” is no easy task; the accent here is on the obstacle, rather than the familiar. It’s an EP by the two-piece band Tomaga (a previous “Band of the Week” victim), with fourteen songs spanning forty minutes. But distinctions like “LP” or “EP” or even “band” or “songs” are more or less stripped of their meaning by the capable hands of Tomaga, or at least handed over to exponentially broader definitions. This process allows “Familiar Obstacles” to emerge as a pair of explosively engrossing, superb and subversive side-length explorations through musical landscapes that are anything but familiar, and where the obstacles are transformed – sometimes elegantly, sometimes violently, never less than compellingly – into openings.

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The opening moments of “Familiar Obstacles” sound almost haunted by Tomaga’s potential for radical reinvention. An alarming drone eventually gives way to a looped, insistent bass rumble, creating a kind of sound-sutured, industrial skin laid atop a wheezing motorik-heart, which we initially expected to eventually erupt forward in full “Hallogallo”-mode.

But what’s expected seldom finds purchase in the territories explored by Tomaga; five-and-a-half minutes into Side A of “Familiar Obstacles,” we’re deeply embedded in an indescribable percussive pattern, a staggering, shape-shifting illusion of sound presented with alien aplomb by Tomaga. The battered, distorted-Dictaphone dub bass-line that follows allows for some equilibrium adjustment, but throughout “Familiar Obstacle,” Tomaga confronts the listener with a constantly shifting sonic landscape, one always imaginatively perceived and radically presented.

“Familiar Obstacles” is a brilliant meditation on the sounds that arise at the edges of our waking consciousness, where the structures that separate rationalism and hallucination are in a constant state of breakdown. Highest possible recommendation.

“Familiar Obstacles” is available now from Hands in the Dark Records.

“When little obstacles crop up on the spiritual path, a good practitioner does not lose faith and begin to doubt, but has the discernment to recognize difficulties, whatever they may be, for what they are—just obstacles, and nothing more. It is the nature of things that when you recognize an obstacle as such, it ceases to be an obstacle. Equally, it is by failing to recognize an obstacle for what it is, and therefore taking it seriously, that it is empowered and solidified and becomes a real blockage.” – Sogyal Rinpoche

 

BAND OF THE WEEK: EARTHEATER

22 Oct

We come to praise Eartheater, not to bury Eartheater.

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Eartheater cannot be buried – not now, not when Eartheater is very much alive, as alive and alienated as anything currently or previously existing on the planet, as evidenced by “RIP Chrysalis.” It’s not only Eartheater’s second standout release this year (both coming down from the holy Hausu Mountain range), but is our present time’s ultimate, unassailable high doctrine of high weirdness and, frankly, freaky shit. This is the real and imaginary Maginot line of sonic mutation. It’s glorious and there’s nothing like it.

“I’ve got time,” declares Eartheater in one of the most instantly understandable moments of “RIP Chrysalis.” “RIP Chrysalis” is not a wish to “rest in peace”; “RIP Chrysalis” is an action phrase, where “RIP” is a verb and Eartheater is ripping, clawing and tearing at all that needs to be torn apart – this chrysalis, all traps, your delusions, all confinement, all conception. Rip, rip, rip, rip. Highest possible recommendation.

“RIP Chrysalis” is available now from Hausu Mountain.

“Fixed ideas are like a wisp of cloud or smoke, but nonetheless people find themselves blocked or captured by these. You would laugh if you saw someone tripped by a cloud, or if someone claimed that they were imprisoned by the air. But, in fact, people are endlessly being trapped by things no more substantial than air or clouds. They make a wall with their mind, and then it imprisons them. Inherently, there is no wall or anything to trip over. These things are mirages they’ve created from the thoughts they gave rise to” – Daehaeng Kun Sunim 

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