KURWS: THE WELL-READ HOOLIGANS Translation of an article I did in Polish for the Polish culture magazine Dwutygodnik about the Wrocław based punk/jazz group Kurws.

Under the simple and vulgar name of Kurws (literally: Whors) hides one of the more intelligent and well-thought out band of the last few years.

Despite the Wrocław based band is often compared to jazz groups, they say that punk rock is more important to their work. The subversive, rebellious nature of the band can be found in the band name itself. Jakub Majchrzak, the bassist of the band, admits: “My assumption after the first rehearsals with Kurws was enhancing for my own use the definition of the word punk”. There’s a clear reason why a voice says in the beginning of “Tanz Mit Kommune I”: “Poor youngsters play punk rock and they’re happy with that”. Kurws have also collaborated with Maciej Salamon from the Gdańsk based punk unit Gówno (Polish for “shit”), with whom they have made a cassette entitled “2012” with as Pustostany.

After the 2011 debut release “A Hole in the Ghetto” (Polish title: “Dziura w getcie”), Kurws are back with a new release “All That Is Solid Melts Into Air” (Polish: “Wszystko co stałe, rozpływa się w powietrzu”) via Gusstaff Records. It can be said that at the beginning of their career their image was tongue-in-cheek and quite humorous. Now it seems that they have gotten more serious and their music got a more concise sound. These suspicions are confirmed by Majchrzak: “There’s definitely less stupid fun, less pastiche and less funfair-like style juggling. There is, however, a whole caleidoscope - conscious or not - inspiration, the enjoyment of the stuff we play and I think it can be seen live. This new material unveiled its depressive potential, which makes me very happy, because I don’t see the band’s image as too “hooray” optimistic”.

An important information about the output of Kurws is the fact that the leave lots of hints to the educated and well-read listeners, as exemplified by the track titles. Many of them may sound funny or absurd at the first glance, but upon closer inspection one can find references to philosophers, famous figures, works of literature or historical facts. The title of the newest album is a quote from the “Communist Manifesto” by Karl Marx. Hubert Kostkiewicz, the bassist of the band, points out in the direction of the work of Marshall Berman under the same title. He also admits that he does not want to fully expain the title, because “he likes understatements”. However, as we will find out, the text of Berman’s book - describing different forms of modernist pursuit of destroying and rebuilding (from Goethe’s “Faust” to the oeuvre of New York architect Robert Moses) - is surprisingly coincident with the music of this Wrocław group.

There are many more references such as Berman’s on the album. Under the musical layer of energetic pieces, combining punk fury and the freedom of improvisation, there are references to the Italian marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci (“Gramsci’s Nightmare” from the debut album) or the concepts of George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (new album’s opener “Weltgeist”). “Colossus on the Feet of Clay” refers to the term coined by the French writer Denis Diderot to describe Russia, taken from the Biblical Book of Daniel. “There Was no Wheel in the Inca Empire” refers to the curious fact of one of the biggest pre-Colombian civilization not knowing the invention of wheel. “Escape from Freedom” is an obvious nod to Erich Fromm. The band does not stay indifferent to current issues - dedicating one of the tracks on the previous album to Lech Wałęsa and making a composition about the Euro Zone on the new release. It can be said that each of titles has some sort of a second layer and the Kurws invite the listeners to explore the labyrinth not only of sounds, but also of ideas.

A certain toning down in the playful image of Kurws can be seen in the cover of “All That is Solid Melts Into Air” by Karolina Pietrzyk. The artwork is radically different from the parodistic cover of “A Hole in the Ghetto” by Janek Koza. On the cover the debut album we can see the fake, plastic-like pop star and… a pig. It works both as a funny contrast as well as an analogy (both are seen as products ready for consumption). Pietrzyk’s illustrations for the new album, depicting earthworks (and not digging of the grave, however the band members were aware of the comparison when choosing the picture) are sketchy, simple and seemingly made without much care and effort. Hubert Kostkiewicz explains the genesis of the cover: “The starting point when working on the new album’s cover was the renewal of the Nadodrze district a in Wrocław. Karolina Pietrzyk was exploring the area with a camera and a sketchbook and prepared an impressive documentation of endless renovations, excavations and metamorphoses. The material on the new album was recorded during many changes that we were experiencing. It was a very wide spectrum: from some prosaic changes to the awareness of an end of a certain period”. The metaphor, seen on the cover, refers not only to the process of recording of the second album and the changes in members’ personal lives, but also to the music itself. Anyone who has ever observed a construction process over a period of time, knows the feeling of chaos transforming into order - one gets the similar feeling when listenings to Kurws. With successive listens the seemingly mixed-up and messy music unveil the rigorous structure, showing the discipline in the band as well as the skill and the musical horizons of the band’s members.

The changes can be clearly heard on the new release: the sound of the band is still rowdy and rough, but there is more fluidity. Sometimes the rhythm and the melody can change several times over the course of one track, there is also more space for pure improvisation - however, Kurws consistently cut themselves off from jazz, often associated with improvised music. “If you treat jazz more as a philosophy, a pursuit of open forms, then I’m OK with this”, says Kostkiewicz, “But at the same time I really like the feeling of not knowing at all what is going to happen. Apart from that, to be honest, I don’t know much about jazz. This is how I imagine jazz”. Majchrzak too points out that the album is devoid of any “jazz-punk pretensions”. It is easiest to say that Kurws do not like to pigeonholed and labeled, like the case of often describing them as a noise rock band. “When it comes to noise rock and math rock, I don’t find myself in those traditions at all”, Jakub Majchrzak continues. “I don’t see any praise for mathematical beauty in our music - a few breaks in the 4/4 signature are not enough”. Kostkiewicz is also against the noise rock tag: “I was really tired and bored by the distortion, the amplification, the wall of sound. I was looking for a different dynamic. I was listening to a lot of garage, beat music and surf rock stuff from the mid 60’s, but also to Minutemen and Wire. Hell! I even listened passionately to Queens of the Stone Age and The Hives”.

I already wrote before about how Kurws tip their hat to the well-read, intelligent listeners. But that is not all. The members also treat their foreign listeners with special respect, translating the Polish titles of the tracks into English, Russian and even Spanish (with the American release of “A Hole in the Ghetto”). On the band’s Bandcamp page the English titles exist right next to the Polish originals in harmony. Apart from widening their fanbase with foreign language titles, the Kurws also have a rich history of touring across Europe. Jakub Majchrzak recalls: “the best reception is either in places where the people listen to a lot of music and have wide horizons or where the people are very open for new experiences and hungry for new music. There are two such extremes: Slovenia on one end and Bosnia and Herzegovina on the other”. He remembers the great reception of the Swedish fans, especially in Stockholm, where they are welcomed with bigger enthusiasm every time they visit the Swedish capital. Maybe it is now time to translate the titles into Swedish?

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Review: Tredici Bacci - The Thirteen Kisses Cassetta

(Cassette, NNA Tapes, April 2014)

The Thirteen Kisses Cassetta might be the most impressive release from the already eclectic roster of Burlintgon based label NNA Tapes. Recorded by Tredici Bacci, an orchestral ensemble of 14 (!) musicians from Boston under the direction of Simon Hanes, who also shows his wilder side playing bass in the deconstructo-punk unit Guerilla Toss. For Tredici Bacci, however, Hanes throws away abstract-punk leanings and dons a smoking, leading his orchestra through different shades of the 1960’s, recalling different film-related hypes and their soundtracks in all the vintage glory. A highly untypical yet oddly fitting release for NNA Tapes, this cassette is like a pill, transporting you to another era, when everything had that Technicolor tinge and the everything sounded strangely fake and cheap. Yet we love these times nad eagerly come back to classica Italian spy flicks, slasher hororrs or spaghetti westerns. This is what The Thirteen Kisses Cassetta is all about: evoking cinematic visions, being as imagination stimulating as possible.

And so: while the slow paced “Motto” presents a relaxing lounge tune, as if designed specifically for some slow Italian love-making, the funeral trumpet of western death-ballad “Lucertola” sounds like an invitation to a game of hangman, in which YOU are the hangman. The ghost of Ennio Morricone looms all over the place, putting a touch on the masterful execution by this Massachussetts 14-strong ensemble. The highlight of the cassette is “Lungo Ditchanza”, the 9 minute long baroque suite featuring ecstatic and operatic vocals by Sami Stevens, which sounds like Italian pop’s answer to Britain’s emerging progressive rock movement. And if you feel like dancing, the ending piece “Si No Questi Omo” is the answer for you: a fully instrumental, funky italo disco piece with a choral bridge that will make you shake your hips like it’s 1975 again.

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Review: Excepter - Familiar

(Vinyl LP, Blast First Petite, May 2014)

The NYC perennial experimental electronics unit Excepter have distanced themselves to other experimental or “difficult listening” groups with their sheer, surrealist sense of humor and their connection to the video media, creating a few music videos for every album featuring members of the band themselves blending crazy, psychedelic visuals with ritualistic acting somewhere between Jodorowsky and the music videos by the Spanish film studio CANADA. I can only imagine what would happen if Excepter and guys from CANADA joined powers to create the ultimately psychedelic music videos for one of their songs. That would be the next level. But so far we’ve got a pretty video for the opening track, “Maids”, made by the band themselves:

A perfect album opener, an energetic, uplifting piece that is practically pop music by Excepter’s standards (but still too weird for about 85% of the population), the Lala Ryan’s vocals soar angelically above the propelling IDM-ish rhythm and a Kraftwerkian synth with John Fell Ryan’s deadpan vocals hiding in the background, only to emerge once in a while between the reverbed wall of Lala’s vocals. The next piece is equally rhythmical, like something borrowed from Cluster and improved, with modern-day effects and structures added. Walls of reverbed and processed vocals roll over piano loops and an ascending and descending synth arpeggio.

The last time I listened to Excepter was in 2010, when they released their lengthy double album Presidency, where some of the tracks ranged between 10 and 30 minutes, focused on hypnotic repetition (the endless four-note sequence from the monstrous half-hour title track is now stuck in my mind forever). On Familiar, however, they return to the more song-oriented, shorter and more concise format, indeed creating somehting sounding eerily familiar (like I said before - certain Cluster influences for example). The influences and ideas are thrown all over the album, except molded and adapted for Excepter’s needs, and everything has that eerie semi-melodic air that follows all that is churned out by Excepter, both live and in the studio. The dystopian, chaotic “Destroy” picks up a dissonant, repetitive, paranoid state which can induce panic attacks: the wailing synth sounds just like an air raid siren, while sudden bleeps and bloops sound like machine guns blaring away. On “Grinning in Your Face” the urban paranoia is translated into a spoken word passage over a cavernous mutant techno rhythm, fried and tribal, nearly Swans-like in its intensity. The sudden release and a happy ending comes with the finishing “Song to the Siren”, a piano ballad with John on the vocals, with all the psychedelic bliss left in and all other Excepter dada weirdness out.

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Review: Datashock - Keine Oase in Sicht

(2 x LP, Dekorder, May 2014)

Among some of the freewheeling psychedelic folk/rock collectives on the scene the German open-ended collective Datashock seem to be one of the stronger forces in shaping the direction in which all the other forest elves should be going. With Keine Oase in Sicht (translated as “No Oasis in Sight”), a lengthy and drawn-out desert folk workout claiming a double vinyl from Dekorder, the same forward-looking label that brought Ensemble Economique or Scuplture to the world, which is always a good thing. Datashock already proved themselves with previous stellar LPs, 2011’s behemoth Pyramiden von Gießen, so with the new release the stakes are high. And Datashock jump through those stakes with ease and bliss.

Since they’re from Germany and they’re a communal, open-ended group with members changing and rotating it’s not hard to think of Datashock as the modern-day incarnation of Amon Düül I or II (or both). The krautrock atmosphere abounds and one of the major explosions of motorik energy comes early in the album, at the end of the opening piece “Mudschahidin der Liebe”, in which they sound more like Agitation Free. Desert themes prevail on the album, reflected both in the music and the track titles as well as the artwork of the album, with a bunch of colorful, strange individuals standing among the dunes. I like to imagine that they’re actually standing near some mine or a huge foundry or at a construction site of a new autobahn and that behind the clear skies are the roaring machines and complicated pipelines with a lovely smell of kraurockish Diesel fuel filling the air. In the meantime, the listeners are invited into the desert tribes’ tents, where the air is filled with spices and incense and the endless winds shape the dunes. Tracks like “Keine Oase in Sicht” are such cinematic, slow-paced spectacles, slowing the pace and taking the path somewhere between early Popol Vuh and less occult-oriented Silvester Anfang. Most jams here are kept in these areas: excursions into the tribal life, re-imaginations of traditional, early music of the desert people augumented with electronics and occasional lonesome drones or distant walls of soaring synths a’la early Klaus Schulze.

However, there are some exceptions from the rule, occasionally springing the listener up in their chair and providing a much-welcome (in the context of such a lengthy album) change of direction. Like the strangely retro-futuristic improv piece “Ekstase der Wahrheit”, which sounds like Peter Brötzmann soloing over a piece of 80’s John Carpenter soundtrack. Or the space-tinged jazz fusion of “Her mit dem Kelch, (das) hier muss es sein”, gradually turning into post-punk dancefloor killer, which kinda sounds like Gang of Four getting high on cheap weed instead of getting drunk on cheap wine. Interestingly enough, even with the most far-out pieces Datashock don’t lose their inherently “Eastern” sound, reeking of sunburned stones and sand. And for the proper bliss-out, the ending burner “Vor den Toren von Gewas” provides a 13-minute foray journey into the self, a hasheeshian meditation with gentle guitar licks and even gentler tape loops.

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Review: Homogenized Terrestrials / Andrew Quitter / Cruudeuces / Dog Hallucination - The Moon is Hungry

(2 x cassette, Intangible Cat, 2014)

The roads of Illinois may form a perfect grid, but the Illinois-born bastard psychedelia label Intangible Cat is certainly off the grid. Ever since their first akwwardly small 3” CD-R from the fried circuit outfit Amalgamated, I’ve been growing into the sound of the label collecting a bunch of otherwordly weirdos and their other projects, such as Dog Hallucination or Gushing Cloud. And it looks like that Intangible Cat team decided to step up their game and release something on cassette - but not just one cassette, but a double cassette, paired with some rad artwork carrying some signs of a cosmos-gazing Photoshop era Zdzisław Beksiński.

The first tape, the black one, is dubbed “The Moon Tape” and with a sticker showing a satellite panorama of our only natural satellite. Parting sides between Homogenized Terrestrials on side A and Andrew Quitter on side B. The Terrestrials decide to play more on silence than on sound and thus provide a slyly unfolding ambient piece based on tape loops and field recordings. Despite their “earthly” name, the Terrestrials present the more “alien” end of the experimental music spectrum, working on pre-recorded sounds in surprising and often spine-chilling ways, creating a wall of frozen ambience imbued with glitchy loops and fuzzy, intriguing textures whose source can no longer be identified. Andrew Quitter jumps onto the more cavernous, yet earthy primeval folk trip, with tribal drumming continuously beating a raw, simple path through the thick tapestry of electronic drones and darkened ambient aesthetics, with a bit of unplanned genius when the Facebook notification sound springs the listener back to awareness from the half-stupor induced by the psychedelic meanderings steeped in tape hiss.

Another cassette is entitled “Earth Tape” and is white and adorned with a satellite picture of the Earth itself. The Earth Tape is parted between Cruudeuces on side A and Dog Hallucination on side B. Cruudeuces’ Nathaniel Brennan (the owner of the Ghetto Naturalist Series label, btw) offers a murky, truly and absolutely no-fi noisy rambling not unlike the darkest, most chaotic moments of The Skaters, which is saying a lot, knowing how far from normal the work of The Skaters was. These are some post-apocalyptic hymns, with war robots walking the scorched wastelands and shooting the remaining victims, who are infected with radiation poisoning, but are still struggling and walking. Films like Terminator or Threads spring to mind, when conronted with rusted harsh drone of Brennan. The salvation comes with the last side of the Earth cassette, this time from Intangible Cat label owner Dog Hallucination jumping into the cosmic, progressive ambience with the Klaus Schulze feeling and finally some melody, as distorted and glitched out it might be. DH finally brings peace to the rattled soul and mind, after having survived the ragged death zone of Cruudeuces. Here one can gaze at galaxies and unnaturally large moons hovering in the night sky against the silhouettes of the bombed-out skyscrapers of what once could’ve been Chicago. Or Cleveland. Or whatever stood here a hundred years ago. It’s all gone. With a hypnotic, apocalyptic end Intangible Cat stands out with a solid four-way split between four differetn drone-heads.

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If Entertainment! is a series of flashcards with populist slogans written on them, Marquee Moon a grainy detective- noir potboiler with invisible plotlines and no discernable characters, The Ramones a Saturday morning cat-chases-mouse cartoon, Closer a meticulously drafted juvenile suicide note, and Suicide a documentary of despair filmed with a hand-held camera—-then The Modern Dance is a black-and-white comic featuring a grotesque, undersketched, permanently underemployed fat manic depressive walking cracked sidewalks in a torn trenchcoat under chronic Cleveland cloud cover, mumbling conspiracy theories gleaned while watching a distorted-tubed tv on the blink during long afternoons lying around in a bathroom-in-the-hall efficiency. Rate Your Music user leland on Pere Ubu’s The Modern Dance
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Review: Ben Warfield - Songs of Light and Dust

(Digital, Data Garden, 2014)

The Philadelphia based Data Garden is a label like no other in the terms of the format on which they release their music. It’s even weirder and more fascinating than the concept-pushing releases of Auris Apothecary, who tend to release their music on reel-to-reel tapes, floppy discs, stylus-destroying vinyl records, or even candles. Data Garden, in relation to their name, release music that you can… plant. Like a plant. Each physical release is a strip of seed paper, which contains a free download code. After downloading the album, the paper can be put into soil and flowers will grow. In the case of this album - blue Lobelias. As Data Garden’s "About" page explains this groundbreaking connection between newest findings in science and new ideas for music distribution:

"We seek to redefine traditional music distribution. Digital files are easily lost by the impermanence of computing. Physical objects like CDs, tapes and records last far beyond their usability and possibly even our existence as a species. Data Garden mitigates these challenges by releasing digital album codes on artwork that can grow into living plants. This addresses the need for easy access to music, as well as the natural human desire to own an awesome physical object."

But the science doesn’t endly on on employing seed paper for Data Garden. The newest album by the label is an ambient journey by Ben Warfield, a musically talented scientist and a lab researcher working on developing lighting systems for astronauts. The music and the themes on Songs of Light and Dust are like Brian Eno meeting Carl Sagan. It is a classic ambient record, “classic” in a sense that it’s soft and melodic, stemming straight from the kosmische Musik and early progressive electronic traditions, when there was much fascination and hope in exploration of space and the early synthesizers gave a lot of previously unheard, unearthly feel. It’s an ambient record which is a legacy of the classic stargazers, for whom ambient music expressed wonder with the unknown, not yet “polluted” by harsh textures or digital glitches that would come later. Some might call Warfield’s album unremarkable or derivative, but I view it more like a legacy for the man’s quest for breaking the borders and making step after step toward the stars. Songs of Light and Dust is a thoroughly enjoyable, wonderfully melodic old-school ambient album. And a reminder that this planet is just a mote of dust in space bathed in light from the Sun.

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Review: Simon James Phillips - Chair

(Vinyl LP, Room 40, 2013)

At first glance, the cover of Chair, an album by Australian contemporary classical pianist Simon James Phillips, appears to be completely white. But that’s just an illusion: after some further inspection, there appears to be a photograph of a chair on the cover. Cropped, barely recognizable (and God forbid if you have your white balance set high on your screen/monitor, then it becomes invisible), but the chair is there. It’s cleverly corresponding with the music on the album - it’s made with a piano, just an ordinary piano, but there are times it becomes an ambient mass of sound with no recognizable source.

Simon James Phillips’ album can be considered a sort of a “concept” album revolving around the idea of chairs - whether it’s just ordinary chairs you can meet in every public place you go to, or the chairs at your home, which often you yourself have chosen. One doesn’t usually pay much, if any, attention to chair. They’re just there, and they serve one simple purpose - to be sat on, to provide support and comfort to the body. The music on Chair is a bit like the chairs themselves - it’s importance and beauty can be easily overlooked, but once some attention and thought is lended to the album, it suddenly becomes an interesting, entrhralling concept. Phillips purposefully designs his sounds to be as ambient-like as possible to blend with the background, but without posing the risk of becoming mere “backgrond music”. Just like chairs, which simply are there, but once a simple thought appears - “what would happen if all chairs suddenly disappeared?” - it becomes an important and interesting problem.

Conceptual mumbo-jumbo aside, the music on the album is lush and powerful without ever getting too much “in your face”. It relishes in slowly growing clusters of notes being played with differing power, from barely audible single notes to a gigantic wall of sound over a course of many minutes. If you enjoyed Clusters by Super Minerals (still probably my favorite Super Minerals and Stunned Records release after 5 years), The Well Tuned Piano by La Monte Young or Strumming Music by Charlemagne Palestine, then Chair will be right up your alley. It achieves some of the most powerful emotional response from the listener with the minimal means - hence the name of the movement “minimalism”. The slow, delicate tracks, like “Posture”, “9er On Off Switch” or “Moth to Taper” stand against the much more powerful and massive compositions such as opening ascender “Set Ikon Set Remit” or my absolute favorite on the album, “Poul”, which is the musical transcript of a downpour on a summer day.

Chair is a must have for all fans of “furniture music”, as Erik Satie prophesized the coming of the ambient music back in 1917. It’s a music to be listened to while sitting in your favorite chair and to be focused on with distractions reduced to a minimum. Then the album’s full potential can be fully realized. It’s not the easiest, most accessible listening, but once it clicks, you may not want to leave the chair in the next few days.

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Review: [PHYSICS] - Spectramorphic Iridescence
(Vinyl LP, Digitalis Industries, 2013)

Kinda late to the party, but still, this album has turned out to be one hell of a grower. Illustrated with a rare & vintage render of one of the pavilions for the Expo ’67 in Montreal, this album is a shimmering journey through vintage sound-archeology, resulting in a life-affirming explosion of analog synth/New Age/New Wave sound, full of wild echoes and visions of the retro future, obviously put on the black vinyl record. It is a thoroughly electronic, computerized sound full of optimistic arpeggios and forward-looking drum patterns. Even the album’s name is incredibly scientific, like something taken from a PhD thesis in optics. And again, the groove of the album is almost like the musical translation of Syd Mead paintings, with smooth, long concept cars rolling through futuristic, minimalist interiors and sprawling vistas combining natural landscape (canyons etc.) with human-made architecture (skyscrapers etc.). It’s a polished, hi-def reflective surfaces and flat-screen computers hiding the uglier underground beneath the pristine visage.

Though the album starts light-heartedly with a scientific vignette “Anodyne Dream”, it soon descends into darker moods, often pushing the scientific tools of electronic music to the mutant-infested sewers and sprawling basements of soaring skyscrapers. Sometimes the synth noise will get pretty hardcore, finally morphing into drug-addled pulsating mess not unlike the more abstract moments of Monoton or Lee Gamble. The contact with the base is lost, there are only distorted, mangled distress messages left all over the place. Sudden whooshes and washes of white noise sound like a perverted take on alarm sound and there is a sinister tapestry of cut-up speech samples, ominous bloops and bleeps and a layer of digital slime covering every sound.

But then, in the next few seconds, when the next track kicks in, there is a sudden comeback to idealistic, super-clean-cut sound dreams. It’s almost like the album itself has a case of schizophrenia, or it attempts to sounds schizophrenic. It’s almost like the CIA’s ultra-secred Cold War MKULTRA program, where the poor research subjects would be subjected to various experiments and tortures with the use of brainwashing and powerful psychedelics, like LSD. While the New Age wonders is like the artificial “high” and the high-spirited mood is just a powerful hallucination, the distortion-laden mutant sounds of the darker tracks portray the horrific truths about the “anodyne dreams” portrayed in the beginning.

Spectramorphic Iridescence may be understood as a sonic document of the price some have to pay for progress. In order to make the next step, sometimes sacrifices must be made and this record unveils a piece of the mystery – the lost test subjects that have seen the glimpse of the Future before perishing.

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Review: Psychocukier - Diamenty (CD, Nowe Nagrania, 2013)

Is rock’n’roll dead? Every once and then some concerned music journalist will write a lengthy analytic piece of how the rock music idiom got gradually softened and/or replaced with a solo artist who needs little more than a laptop and an Internet connection to achieve success. But at the same time, every one and then a bunch of rock destroyers like Poland’s Psychocukier (translated as “Psychosugar”) will pop out, blow a cloud of smoke in everyone’s faces and say: “Hey, I’m still here, you motherfuckers!”

No, seriously, these guys rock. They don’t only rock, but they are rock. Their sound, their image, their everything - it’s just the epitome of the good ol’ “sex, drugs and rock’n’roll”. They’ve got booze, they’ve got smokes, they’ve got naked chicks rolling with them in beds (check out the photo session they did for Diamenty on the band’s website). They got the rock’n’rollin’ image down to a fuckin’ T, even with the fishnet wifebeaters and Holger Czukay moustaches. And while Diamenty is Psychocukier’s fourth full album, it might very well be also their best.

The first track on the album is usually the most important - this is where the listener begins their journey and where (when) they decide whether it’s worth to continue that journey - and the opening “Mgła” (“Fog”) couldn’t have been a better choice. It’s a churning, motorik blast of badassery, featuring hypnotic bassed accompanied with scorched, stoned guitar. It keeps the perfect groove for three minutes - it’s like everything you might ever expect from good psychedelic rock packed into a pill. It sets the mood perfectly and leaves yearning for more, more, more! The album is steeped in the sort of garage sleaziness that makes the greatest rockstars - there’s a lot of Velvet Underground spirit floating in the air, like opium smoke, with the ghost of Lou Reed watching everything - and approving of what he sees.

The lyrics themselves are equal parts humorous, dark, absurd and sexual - and in Polish, a refreshing (and patriotic) move when many Polish rock bands record in English. Like the lyrics to “Tonę w jeziorach” (“I’m drowning in lakes”), which features some serious “what the fuck did I just hear!?” moments - “I’m drowning in the lakes of your / I’m drowning in the lakes of your eyes / I’m drowning in the lakes of your / I’d like to fuck you your eyes” as an example. The smoky, groovy bass adds a sensual, slightly dangerous on the whole album while the guitar spews forth some of the crispiest and delightfully fuzzy sounds on all songs. Psychocukier are like a bunch of sailors who just came back from a long cruise and have stepped on land to raise hell and fuck bitches - a fact many reviewers pointed out, further supported not only by the rebellious, freewheeling sound, but also by marine-themed song titles, like “Dryfowanie” (“Drifting”), “Żeglarz” (“Sailor”), “Tajemnicza wyspa” (“Mysterious Island”), or “Laguna” (“Lagoon”). Diamenty touches on many moods and styles - there are some nuggets of melodic, indie rock songwriting (like the almost radio-friendly “Zło niesie wiatr”), and on the other side of the spectrum there is frenetic, overblown kraut-noise madness on “Ty”

Surprisingly, the band owes much of its crisp, energetic sound to Mikołaj “Noon” Bugajak, who achieved a legendary status with his hip-hop beats (and his work with such Polish hip-hop lumiaries as Pezet or Grammatik). Noon himself stated that Psychocukier were influential to his own work, so making an album together was just an extension of this influence. Despite coming from different scenes, the four gentlemen felt incredible chemistry and produced an exciting, simple yet ass-kicking album, recording with simple mics and a basic set-up, without resporting to overdubs, digital editing or any sort of polishing to make the sound pristine. Diamenty is a dirty, slightly kinky record that doesn’t give a fuck what other people think and simply has the time of its life. Looks like it’s time to say the truth: Psychocukier are the kings. And all hail the Kings.

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Review: Sean Proper - Design Engine (CD-R, Dying For Bad Music, 2013)

The common conception of Florida (at least to an European) is a constantly sunny and hot state filled with seemingly endless golden beaches, topped with luxury-dripping jewel city of Miami and the rockets and shuttles soaring upward from the JFK Space Center at Cape Canaveral. Musically, the most common connection people make is with southern hip-hop scene, especially the Miami bass genre. These are the urban sounds of fast cars and glassy condominiums.

However, one more aware of the geography of Florida will surely mention Everglades. The hardly accessible swampland is mysterious, almost magical. And this is the kind of dark magic fingerpicking guitarist Sean Proper conjures on his debut album, Design Engine, released from the German label Dying For Bad Music. Beautifully packaged in a hanmade cardboard folder, with the CD-R looking like an old-time vinyl record, the album is like a waterfall of sounds, a shamanic meditation taken in the most remote parts of the wilderness. Sean Proper shows the less known and less civilized face of Florida.

As I wrote in my review of Proper’s Canal Machinery, he sets himself apart from other American Primitivism revivalists such as Daniel Bachman in the mood of his songs: while Bachman’s style was more folk-based and optimistic, Proper’s guitar magic is moodier, more brooding and more melancholic. There’s something almost primeval and raw in those hypnotizing tunes, it’s like an addictive combination of raw playing style, the load of emotions and the pristine recording quality. Most of the tracks are fast, with cascades after cascades of notes, but without ever tiring or boring the listener. Instead, new nuances are discovered with each repeated play, this is one of the best growers I’ve had the pleasure of hearing in a long time. Occasionally, Sean slows down to a slow ballad, taking a break from the breakneck pace of most of the CD. He savours these moments, extending the lone notes over long seconds, before picking up the pace again and carving out another pagan jam.

Design Engine achieves the job of being sad and melancholic without being emotionally drained or utterly depressing, its sadness is expressed with incredible energy, almost a fury translated into masterful fingerpicking. The album ends in a series of crunchy, lo-fi drones that sound like a residue of some human presence in some abandoned wooden hut in the swamps (no wonder the track’s called “Wooden Building”). If the whole CD’s style was to be summarized by a track name, the perfect choice would the slow paced “The World Will Let Me Down”. This is the sound of the world letting you down, emotion in its rawest form. Definitely one of my favorite albums of 2013. Highly recommended!

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Review: Tara King th. - Hirondelle et Beretta

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(Cassette, Moon Glyph, 2013)

With a cover looking like a poster for a vintage crime film, the Paris based group Tara King th. (“th” standing for “theory”) seem to aspire to be the ultimate 60’s baroque/psychedelic pop revivalists in the category of both music and visuals - as stated on the Moon Glyph page, the album is the soundtrack to their own photographic series (check out the music videos they made for this cassette on YouTube, that’s some top-notch 60’s nostalgia right there). Add to this the wonderful vocals in French and we might be getting an overlooked gem of 2013.

Hirondelle et Beretta plays like both a homage and an anthology of most prevalent musical ideas in France and the United Kingdom - ranging from airy chansons to cinematic masterpieces and proggy interludes, all encased within the amber-colored psychedelic time capsule, which is intended to sound like the tape was unearthed after almost 50 years from some dusty record label archive. Actually, it could’ve been described like that on the Moon Glyph page and I would believe it!

Tara King th. brings out all the instruments that once were the staple of pop sounds and got forgotten over the decades: like the wonderful harpsichord, making presence on nearly every track, bringing a lighthearted, baroque feel to the already atmospheric album. Or the clarinets and flutes, perfectly arranged and never out of place. Add some early, delicate synth work in the vein of early 70’s Pink Floyd (“Drole D’Oiseau”) and the bliss gets more and more intense with every second. Most importantly, the duo have a knack for writing incredibly catchy, infectious pop tunes that stick in the listener’s head after one or two listens - like the opening masterpiece “L’Envol” that could easily be an opening theme for a classic film or TV series or the Farfisa driven 3-minute eargasm “L’Enquete”.

Out of all solid stuff released by Moon Glyph, the new cassette by Tara King th. stands out. Because of length, because of the ability to perfectly channel the spirit of the 60’s (it’s like “Mad Men” of music, seriously), because of the whole concept, which doesn’t end only at music and dares to extend further. Highly recommended!

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Review: Dwutysięczny - Jedwabnik

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(Cassette, Sangoplasmo Records, 2013)

The Polish label Sangoplasmo Records have already made a name for themselves and achieved a semi-legendary status in the cassette underground for releasing cassettes from both newcomers and experienced players, challenging the listeners to take up new sonic adventures. And the Dwutysięczny (that’s how we Polish folk say the date “2000”) project collects some of the finest names in the experimental underground, becoming a “supergroup” of sorts. First, there’s Jerzy Mazzoll, one of the founders of the legendary Polish avant-garde jazz group Miłość (Polish for “Love”), who spearheaded the movement later known as “yass”. Another member is Błażej Król, first playing in Polish indie rock band Kawałek Kulki, later going more experimental with his project UL/KR. There’s also Radek Dziubek, one of the members of the stellar psychedelic group Innercity EnsembleLast, but not least there’s Wojciech Kucharczyk in the group, a jack of all trades who has dabbled in probably every possible form of art known to man, including music, of course. Each and every member of the group has made a name for themselves over years with different musical visions and ideas. But how do they sound together?

The opening chord of lenghtily titled opener “W miarę jak wędrujesz podnóżem góry, tajemnica się pogłębia” (“As you walk along the foot of the mountain, the mystery deepens”) is delicate, almost fragile, yet it feels incredibly powerful, like the Genesis itself. The air trembles with mystery and anticipation before the bassy drone kicks in which seems not to solve the mystery, but further deepen it (akin to the title). In fact, the whole album plays like a jazz record hidden deep beneath under layers upon layers of embalming drone and heavy ambience, where the instrumental improvisations are obscured by heavy atmosphere enhanced with unsettling and strange titles, like “Ten, który kroi jeziora” (“The one who carves the lakes”) or “Śmierć pierworodnego” (“Death of the first-born”). There’s an occasional beat added to the all-enveloping drones, as if to give some blurry sense of direction, like the glitchy Fennesz-like beat in “Złamany, lecz niezłomny” or the nearly ambient tehchno beat in the closing “Sadachbia”, which cuts the metallic drone into small pieces.

Despite being a one-time musical project (unfortunately), Jedwabnik is a hugely rewarding and mysterious listen, difficult and adventurous. It jumps into some dark moods before showing the light to the listener. It’s also the proof that the Polish musical underground is bulging with ideas and sometimes what is needed is just a spark to ignite the action at the forefront of experimental music. Great cassette, highly recommended!

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Review: DSR Lines - Venndiagram

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(Cassette, Smeltkop, 2013)

Last time I listened to something from the Belgian label Smeltkop’s catalog, it was a downer industrial psych release Khomeini 99by Maan. This time Smeltkop is back on a lighter note with DSR Lines, a synth project by the Hare Akedod label boss David Edren. Since Hare Akedod’s output has been featured on Weed Temple a few times already, one might be already aware of how much delicious brainfood that label is providing with their sounds and with DSR Lines it’s no exception from the rule.

Because my first contact with the Smeltkop label was through the rust-covered sounds of the Maan tape, I associated their sound with “difficult listening”. I was somewhat reluctant to listen to this tape, because I was expecting (wrongly) a noisy, angular boneyard electronics. My fears turned out to be completely false when a stream of sunlit synthesizer droplets started raining on my head, pushing my mind into a pool of pulsing synaesthesia, where the relaxing ambient vibes translate into colors and shapes and form complicated patterns. This digital stream of consciousness follows the enlightened path of such synths revivalists as Le Révélateur, Panabrite or Lunar Miasma. Edren keeps his sounds tactly understated and instead of going for a full-blown Berlin school analog synth monument, he explores the scientific (and sci-fi) aesthetics with delicacy and restrain. To quote Robert Browning, “less is more”. He works with his music like a scientist with a valuable specimen, knowing that it would get damaged or destroyed if he went too far. So patience is key here.

The 32 minute tape is divided into 6 tracks, each one capturing a different little piece of the analog synth microcosmos, enveloping it into delicate sequenced melodies or vast synthesizer vistas, which sound like Klaus Schulze or Edgar Froese daydreaming while sitting at their rack. Listening to Venndiagram is like viewing electronic music under a microscope and discovering amazing patterns on something that does not look interesting or engaging when viewed from the distance. Just lend this cassette some focus (it’s not merely background music, mind you) and you will be rewarded.

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Review: Ø+yn - Tentaculeando a la puna (420th post!!!)

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(the cover picture courtesy of the great Honest Bag blog)

(Cassette, Taping Policies, 2013)

When it comes to psychedelic folk, the ultimate music completist Piero Scaruffi divided the genre into two handy groups: the bards and the trippers. While the bards keep the psych folk to the shorter, more song-oriented format which is catchier and more easily recognizable, the trippers focus instead on the freewheeling, lengthy, jamming experience that often gets lengthy and sometimes gets really loosely structured. Tentaculeando a la puna by the Argentinian folk unit Ø+yn is the tripper attitude taken almost to the extreme: the lo-fi, communal clatter following the school of No Neck Blues Band and similar outfits within the homespun brand of “New Weird [insert name of the country here]” aesthetic.

Even the band’s name forces it to stay in the fringe territory, as if intentionally left there only to be discovered by the true musical speleologists who dig into the musical substance and discover strangely named gems, inaccessible to the majority of human population. Because let’s face it, despite recording in super lo-fi environments (I like to imagine it was recorded in various natural locations like the members of the Jewelled Antler collective), the Ø+yn dudes can get pretty hardcore at times, operating with little more than a few twangy guitar-like instruments some simple drum instruments for a company. There is an air of mutation and savagery on the cassette, as in everything put on tape sounds like a murkier, more mutated or more raw, savage version of a cleaner, catchier folk tune you’ve heard somewhere else, but you just can’t nail it down. Sometimes the deceptive cloak holds up pretty well: i the slower, calmer tracks everything seems to be fine, we get a pretty tune played on a spring meadow, but a sinister drone in the background and the de-tuned instruments suggest otherwise; a plume of black smoke rises on the horizon and rolls in your direction. When it reaches you, a haunting choir of guitars and violins will surround you, chanting in unknown languages and fighting with each other, going for the noisier approach than most other folkers would dare.

With Tentaculeando a la puna we get a nug of unique brand of psychedelic folk from the depths of the South American continent, a glimpse of the mysterious underworld where the ghosts occupy the same space as the living and where they managed to get their voices recorded and use in their compositions.

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