KILLED in CARS

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KILLED in CARS is a 'thank you' to the musicians who enrich my life, and a way to reach people curious about expression through sound.

This site has thrived as a destination for discussion and listening thanks to its disregard for the canon and its dedication to making esoteric genres accessible. I appreciate your readership, and I hope that you choose to participate!

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KILLED in CARS
c/o Paul Banks
2644 N 192nd Terrace Ct
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Elkhorn, NE 68136

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Posts tagged pop

Three From Bob Bucko Jr.

The next few reviews are going to cover some artists working mostly on their own. DIY is more challenging than ever when you consider the sheer volume of releases every year, but these folks are producing work that rises to the top with its sheer brilliance.

After a weird, wild, and wonderful month+ that kept me from writing reviews, I’m firing up my keyboard again. All the while, a batch of excellent releases from Bob Bucko Jr. (bbJR) have never been far from my turntable/Walkman/CD player/iPod. bbJR submitted an LP and a CD to the Killed in Cars headquarters some time ago, and in corresponding with him about those releases, he sent a few more recordings along. For this review, I’m going to focus on three discs, but I’m sure we’ll be discussing more in the future.

Let’s start with an overview: mostly working DIY, bbJR recently ramped up the release schedule on his own Personal Archives label (of which 22 releases can be found on his BandCamp site), including solo work and many collaborations. He’s done a few releases with label support, but on the whole, this is a fellow who spends his time organizing, mixing, mastering, and duplicating his own work by hand when he’s not writing, recording, or helping to coordinate shows in the Dubuque, IA area. While it can be daunting to create and package your own work, bbJr is making some beautiful hand-produced cassettes and CDs in small batches. But the batches are truly small: editions of 20, 30, or 40 are typical. This music is incredibly high-quality, so hopefully a few reviews can bring some attention to this body of work, as it deserves to rise out of the potential obscurity of small-run duplication.

bbJR - Rest in Infinity

The most traditional/tonal of this batch of releases, “Rest in Infinity” is a record of live guitar performances from 2008. At first, I was a little leery of this recording, which bbJR described as “loop-heavy improv,” because it seems like every other recording sent my way lately is another “looper’s delight” of some kind. But this is exceptional. bbJR plays his ass off on these recordings, demonstrating solid guitar technique and a powerful sense of thematic development.

With loop-based guitar music, most recordings seem to stay solidly in either melodic/guitar-jock territory, or else they reside entirely in the noise/texture/soundscape arena. Having heard some of bbJR’s other work before this, I suspected this record would be solidly in the noise camp. Instead I was amazed to find that this recording is not only melodic, but it’s almost a pop record in its way—an impressive feat for instant-composition improvisations.

Generally, bbJR builds systems of moving chords and ostinato lines, eventually looping them into place and adding melodies. But the melodies themselves are very unusual for loop-based music. Take “Waiting On Beth,” for example: in the first round of playing-over-the-loop, bbJR takes an approach that reminds me of Zappa’s solo playing, with rhythmically playful punctuation, mostly scalar motion, and playing against the time established by the rhythm section below. But at the halfway point, the loops turn off. A related but new rhythmic idea is established, and it’s embellished with a buildup of melodic stabs, washing into shifting chords, and finally building up into shifting three-note sequences. In other words, there is an unusual amount of development and variation in these pieces, rather than simply establishing a loop and riding it home.

bbJR’s pop sensibility and some of his tonal choices, like the really scrunched overdriven tones during frenzied moments in “There Is No Other” and “Joni Mitchell,” remind me a lot of Adrian Belew’s work. Like Belew, bbJR uses timbre and technique to bring out often-ignored nuances of melodic potential hidden in the resonance/overtones of each note. When considered within the larger body of bbJR’s work, “Rest in Infinity” also demonstrates how pop/folk/punk/alternative influences can be part of a musical approach that often seems closer to avant-classical/jazz camps. No matter how “out” bbJR’s music might go, it’s clear that he’s found a way to integrate (and respect) his more conventional influences. This one is available in an edition of 40 on CDr, and you can also hear/buy it digitally via BandCamp.

Aural Resuscitation Unit - Dubplate Volume Three

The other bbJR-related releases in this review are both solo efforts, but I thought I’d include this album from Dubuque’s Aural Resuscitation Unit for a taste of his collaborative work. The ARU is headed by Randy Carter, who also operates the Dubuque Strange Music Society. On “Dubplate Volume Three,” Carter is joined by Jorge Anthony Tapia, Jay Schleidt, and bbJR. These pieces are very short—generally around a minute each—and bbJR contributes banjo and sax to three tracks.

I was especially taken with bbJR’s contribution to “Patrol Call,” on which he plays a very sharp-sounding banjo into a wall of effects that turn the sound into a sort of envelope-filtered chime. It almost sounds like an old casiotone xylophone patch—very cool. His sax playing is featured on “Dual Axis Access Dub” in a relatively sustained fashion, and on “The Cobra Stirred,” where he plays into some delays and headphone-feedback distortion.

As a whole, this record is a sample/electronics-based affair, full of noise and aggression tempered by thoughtful arranging. A few tracks start with percussion in a foundational manner, featuring more clearly delineated samples, but more often the drum machine sounds are in hyper-tempo mode, causing them to function more texturally than rhythmically. When there are relatively conventional percussion sections, they tend toward harsh early-industrial sounds, including a favorite of mine, “Tracing Vapour Trails.” The final piece, “Prepare Yourself for Europe,” is longer, its eight minutes taking up a third of the album’s running time, and it spends most of its duration in a sort of channel-surfing mode, with different sections emerging and replacing one another in an assortment of collages and montages. By the final few minutes, the focus is on low frequency sounds with bits of identifiable rhythm peeking through and ultimately cutting off abruptly at the end. Recommended.

BBJr - Tearjerker

I’ve saved my favorite of these records for last. I’m going to get right to the point with “Tearjerker”: this LP was released in an edition of 100 by Captcha Records last summer, and the fact that some physical copies still seem to be available is quite surprising to me. This has quickly become one of my favorite records of the last year and is a must-hear for fans of avant/outsider music.

Described in its promotional materials as “instrumental and vocal improvisations recorded to 4-track,” “Tearjerker” isn’t a free improv album; rather, these are improvised song forms, a sort of overdubbed improv solitaire. And these aren’t entirely improvised. The final LP track, “There is No Other,” for example, appears here as an organ riff-based piece, but it’s also present in a guitar rendition on “Rest in Infinity.” But the versions are very different. Perhaps one can think of these pieces as emanating from a few basic riffs and ideas that already exist, but their arrangements are left open and subject to drastic change at the moment of recording or performance.

"Tearjerker" is well-sequenced, with a relatively aggressive A-side and a gentler B-side. The album opener, "Terminal Sac," is a brutal jazz/noise/skronk piece featuring drums, bass, sax, and vocals—I thought I was in for a neo-Borbetomagus act for a few minutes. The first few tracks continue in a similar direction instrumentally, while increasingly picking up a bit of an avant-rock and no-wave influence.

I’m impressed with bbJR’s skills on every instrument he uses. The drums are solidly played, the bass and guitar lines positively shine, and his sax work is simple but very effective. And again, these pieces may be semi-improvised onto a 4-track, but there must be substantial preparation to make sure everything will work together. A listener would surely assume that the first five tracks were tracked in pass by a live band.

Then we arrive at my favorite section of the album: the three movements comprising “Triptych.” The first section of this piece emphasizes subtle vocals and auxiliary percussion toward an early-industrial sound, haunting and building toward an unknown menace. The middle section gets much more violent, using mic feedback for a large variety of high squeals and low-frequency rumbles. The final “right panel” of “Triptych” loops several vocal parts toward a sudden dropout, after which some softer vocal sections interact with sounds that seem to go through envelope filters and some kind of bass tracking synth (having played with similar vocal textures using an old Zoom 505II made for bass, that’s my guess on the effects, anyway). Various phrases commingle and fall away while gradually being overtaken by sharp synth blips. An amazing and otherworldly piece, full of great unconventional vocals. Totally grab this LP while you still can. You’ll be one of the lucky ones who will have the 2010s equivalent of a first printing of early Faust, AMM or This Heat someday. It’s available through bbJR’s BandCamp, or from Captcha.

More projects


We’ll surely be investigating more of bbJR’s work in the future, but in case you’re already looking for more, Captcha just released two more bbJR projects: “How to Fuck All Your Coworkers in One Sitting" is available on cassette or digitally, and "Trilogy + Addendum" is a giant 57-track digital release. There are a number of solo and split cassettes coming out on bbJR’s own Personal Archives, too—keep checking the bbJR BandCamp and Personal Archives BandCamp for what seem like almost weekly updates.

—Scott Scholz

I’ve been listening to a pair of recent cassette releases from Crash Symbols for a few months, and I just remembered how quickly one must strive to turn out reviews when they pertain to small-run cassette releases—my favorite of these releases is already sold out on cassette. Apologies. I’m still going to review it, because it remains available digitally, because it’s very much worth hearing, and because the proceeds go to charity. I don’t think I could have reviewed these any quicker, as my relationship with both of these recordings evolved through repeated listening. And I’ve been thinking a lot about cassette distribution in general—stay tuned for a little prognostication following these reviews…

Ender Belongs to Me - Memory

I hadn’t heard of this project before receiving this for review, and I’m glad to have checked this out. Ender Belongs to Me is apparently a duo, according to their press info, and they mostly focus on electronic pop drying itself off from a bout of melancholy. All of the tracks feature danceable arrangements, especially in terms of percussion programming, though the tempos stay a little short of high-energy dance music, and there is an extremely introverted vibe that indicates dancing alone might be more appropriate. Or moving your legs under the table. Go for it—no one will know.

The introversion is the real strength of this EP, in my estimation. So much music incorporating the kinds of percussion and synth sounds found on this recording carries a sort of timbral demand to join some kind of anthemic party. But this music is enjoyable while keeping to itself, making no demands that you match its mood. It’s conversational rather than manipulative. Sonically, many sections reminded me of the Nihiti full-length I recently reviewed, minus occasional full-on intimations of gloom. While there are glimpses of sadness that surface in these tracks, and minor keys are the order of the day, the textures are gentle, the songs evolve carefully, and you get the feeling that the redemption these songs work toward isn’t far away. 

In terms of orchestration, I really like the way piano sounds are blended into synth textures in many songs, such as the album closer, “teddymuffin,” where envelope-filtered synth tones move around a pedal-point piano in the first section, shifting to half-note piano chords with piano/synth melodies treading lightly above. The mixture of male/female combo vocals on the track work very well, too, creating melodies that transcend gender considerations. And the artwork fits nicely with the project, an abstract palette of blues and golds fractured by a diamond matrix. This one, I’m happy to report, should still be available from Crash Symbols here.

Power Animal - Exorcism

As I’ve mentioned a few times before on my blog, I was a huge fan of Power Animal’s 2010 debut, People Songs, which remains available via Bandcamp. For the last decade, I’ve followed a lot of Philadelphia-based bands with an appreciation for the unique sense of fun and joy that Philly’s fine citizens seem to impart in many genre-bending projects. To my ears, People Songs sounded like a continuation of the fun that Need New Body had been spreading in the first half of the ’00s, making deconstructed/reconstructed pop that simultaneously celebrated weirdness and togetherness. In particular, I adored the song “Copernicus,” which I still return to frequently for a pick-me-up from its repeated phrase: “Love is alive and well.

I was very excited to hear the new Exorcism EP, and Crash Symbols was kind enough to send me a copy for review. To be honest, it’s taken me a while to warm up to it, because I had particular expectations in terms of orchestration: People Songs was a very organic record, full of live instruments, and Exorcism is much more sample-based. Both recordings started as “bedroom” demos made by Mr. Power Animal himself, Keith Hampson, but the circumstances of their completion differ significantly. People Songs was taken to Denton, TX, and its songs were converted into ambitious full-band affairs courtesy of collaboration with Sleep Whale, while the music of Exorcism remains in a sort of sample-based state that I guess I imagined would go through a similar “workshopping” process.

While I still prefer the orchestrational creativity of People Songs, I continued listening to Exorcism, trying to approach it on its own merits instead of hoping it would compete with, say, Whales and Cops. And it grew on me tremendously. Hampson’s enthusiasm and steady optimism remain fully intact, and his melodic sensibility is no less powerful. It just reminds me how significant the role of timbre has become in modern music—it can be just as important as melody, harmony, and rhythm to the reception of a given piece of music. Ordinarily, I don’t listen to much music that works with the kinds of textures on “Exorcism” compared to the more acoustic instrument emphasis of “People Songs.” But the music was there when I worked through my own feelings about the kinds of sample-edited juxtapositions that predominate here, and now I really like the record.

Considering how sample-based the original recordings already are, it’s interesting to note that this EP is  supplemented by remixes on the B side of the cassette, recontextualizing the framework of the songs and even further deconstructing their many samples. Most of them are gentle with the songforms themselves, bringing out different percussion textures rather than obliterating the original melodies, so considered together, they form an alternative look at the album rather than heavy-handed deconstructions.

Sadly, the physical version of “Exorcism” on cassette has already sold out, but you can still get it digitally here.

The future of cassettes—is the end near?

While researching Power Animal in general, I came upon this recent interview with Hampson that includes some interesting details about the process of building “Exorcism.” Many of the samples he works with in its songs were made by playing cassettes through a talking book machine. These machines can play conventional cassettes, but the audio formatting of the tapes intended to work with them is 4-track mono at 15/16 ips, rather than the 2-track stereo 1 7/8 ips of commercial cassettes. As a result, you can get ultra slowed-down and backwards audio effects out of these players if you put a commercial cassette in them, and you can drop the results into a sampler for further use.

This is tremendously interesting to me, because I work at a talking book library. The reason for these specialized-format cassettes has to do with protecting copyright—audio versions of many books are made by the National Library Service (NLS), a division of the Library of Congress, to be used by visually and physically handicapped people around the United States. In order to protect the copyright of the books, they were made into specialized format cassettes so that they can’t be used on a regular cassette player.

Much has already been written about “cassette culture,” and I’m not going to get into it here other than to say that I share an adoration for the humble format, and I treasure its significant role in reducing the grip major labels had on the distribution of all music back when vinyl was the dominant format. But I may have some news of interest to the many labels, artists, and fans who are participating in the current revival of cassettes: the end may be near.

When commercial cassettes declined in popularity, NLS continued to make books on cassette for its collections around the country, and the millions of cassettes they use were enough to keep some cassette manufacturing and duplicating places in business. But talking book libraries are transitioning to a new flash memory-based format right now. No books have been produced on cassette for several years, but magazines have continued to circulate on cassette, still requiring a lot of cassettes to be made.

That is likely to change within a year—there is currently an rfp being offered for companies to produce magazines in the new digital format. Once that happens, NLS will no longer have a need for cassettes, and the already-diminished number of sources for blank cassettes and duplication (which NLS was already monitoring in 2005) will probably disappear very quickly. So if you’re a tape label, or a fan of tape labels, my advice is to make 2012 your best year ever. If you’re relying on new cassettes and professional duplication, I wouldn’t delay your projects. Get those tapes out this year, or you may find yourself trolling thrift stores for tapes and boxes in the near future.

—Scott Scholz

This is my annual Summer Mix. I went a little bit more “DJ” this time around, building a few original productions to aid in transitions, and adding in annoying watermarks here and there. Also, the Shabazz track is a micromix of my favorite moments from their Live at KEXP EP. Enjoy.

1. Shabazz Palaces - A Replica of a Copy of a Knock-Off

2. Dj Liliocox Feat Dj EDyFoOx - Acredita 2o12 # Locura Produções V.1 #

3. Le1f - Wut (Prod. by 5kinAndBone5)

4. Araabmuzik - Lost In A Maze

5. Kingdom - Bust Broke

6. Hudson Mohawke - Allhot (Feat. Nadsroic)

7. Traxman - Rock You

8. Tom Ze - A Felicidade

9. Rustie - Hover Traps

10. PPP - Luv Affair (Feat. Coultrain)

11. Dj EDiiFOx - Tatiana Paris 2ªVersão[2010].wmv

12. French Montana - Shot Caller/ Lords of the Underground - Funky Child

13. Prince - The Ballad of Dorothy Parker

14. Dj edifox - Outro Mundo

15. Jorge Ben - Jorge De Capadocia

16. Kitty Pryde - Aw Shawty 2:: THE SHREKONING!!!!!!!!!

17. Jam City - Strawberries

http://soundcloud.com/alex-tedesco/summer-mix-2012-5

Three from lo bit landscapes
I’m going through a bunch of submissions to KiC and planning to showcase a series of releases organized by label. Let’s start with a trio of albums from Brooklyn’s lo bit landscapes: 2 from Nihiti, and one from Viktor Timofeev.Nihiti - Other People’s MemoriesThe oldest of these records, Other People’s Memories dropped in late 2010 (10/10/10, to be exact). There are a pair of slightly different 1-sheets included in this package, one of which indicates that “not much is known about the actual members of Nihiti.” The same generally holds true for the label, whose website isn’t exactly information-packed. A bit of the “Theory of Obscurity,” ala the Cryptic Corporation, perhaps? At least one person involved in the proceedings seems to be Viktor Timofeev, whose solo release on the label we’ll be exploring shortly. Outside of these recordings, Timofeev is best known for his work as a visual artist, and both the album cover for Other People’s Memories and an included foldout poster feature a rather arresting multipanel work of his entitled “Red/Black: The Cyclical Nature of the Practice of Architecture.”Nihiti takes a wide stylistic path on Other People’s Memories. There are elements of experimental music, ambient, industrial and pop, played on acoustic instruments, rock instruments, and synths/samplers/drum machines/computers. While that might sound like it has the potential to be very unfocused, it is a very cohesive album: Nihiti mostly employs their ample resources toward creating very dark atmospheres. But I think what makes this album so interesting is how those vibes are sustained through so many stylistic variations: the first few tracks had me thinking the band was on a Godspeed/krautrock/electronic bent, but the third track introduces some 8th note-based piano chord stabs so popular in 60s pop songs, ultimately serving as the introduction to an actual pop song in the fourth track, “the ringing in (the sun is rung).” But it’s still a very weird form of pop, repeatedly overwhelming itself by bringing different instruments out of proportion in the mix. And the ride continues, through passages blending melancholy cello lines with piano and sine waves, more pop songforms, and ultimately an impressive blend of postrock and krautrock textures with early industrial-sounding beats.This record is largely instrumental, but occasional vocal passages are weaved beautifully into the variety of textures. I found it difficult to make out lyrics, as they’re generally mixed relatively low, treated as another instrumental voice. But the few sections I could make out clearly, like the spoken moments in the center of “the return of kind ropes (laku noc, dusan k), seemed fairly bleak and melancholy, a fitting supplement to the music. This is the kind of music that you have to live with for a while and let it take effect, but it will definitely find itself on return trips to my turntable.Nihiti’s Faced With Splendor 12” EP shows a very different side of the band. Songs, instead of atmospheres, dominate this music, and the orchestration is mostly acoustic, compared to the heavy electronic leanings of “Other People’s Memories.” This is a melancholy pop effort with folk leanings—not usually my favorite kind of music, but it’s very well performed and recorded, and the arrangements are very thoughtful. Generally it’s very sparse compared to the previous album, but with great harmonies and instrumental countermelodies in perfect places to bring out the best in the songs. The simple precision behind these songs makes me think that this record is a totally different aspect of Nihiti’s stylistic range, rather than suggesting that their previous work was a case of psyche/kraut/electronic deconstruction techniques applied to more basic pop songs. In other words, tossing some noisemaking devices at these songs won’t make them into electronic-style Nihiti—they stand in their own unique way. But fans of the approach on the first full-length will be excited to know that the upcoming Nihiti release, “For Ostland,” promises a return to the more expansive attack of “Other People’s Memories.”The biggest surprise for me in this lo bit landscapes package was Viktor Timofeev's release, GIVE HEALTH999. Nihiti gravitates toward melancholy and surreal landscapes, but most of their music still functions in relatively conventional tonality, gravitating toward minor keys with dissonant and textural passages. In contrast, Timofeev mostly transcends the major/minor duality and dives into bleak, yet very addictive walls of sound.Like Nihiti, Timofeev uses a wide range of instruments toward the production of rich atmosopheres, though all varieties of beat-oriented percussion are absent. The emphasis here is on the building of layers that don’t use much percussive delineation—postrock sounds serve as a brief jumping-off point, but most of the album trends closer to drone music, alternating focal points between distorted guitars, voices, synths, and found sound/field recordings/samples. The opening and closing tracks are heaviest with guitars, accompanied by some distant piano stabs in the opening “December 22nd,” and blended more evenly with oscillating frequencies in the closing “July 28th.”In between, my favorite two tracks are the longest: both of them build slowly to nightmarish, oppressive walls of sound and slowly thin out again. There are some legitimate, though still very dark, melodies played on clarinets in the 14-minute “Flying Zonogons,” which are gradually stacked upon themselves through overdubs and heavy reverb. Voices are used over sounds of moving water in a similar overdubbed, reverbed, and delayed fashion to create the center portion of “WorldWideWaterWorld,” eventually adding a ring modulator or similar filter that obliterates pitch into metallic densities that rise and fall with the pauses in the vocal overdubs. I really enjoyed the less-effected vocal buildups comprising “1.1.1.1.,” too, which evoke some of the best moments in modern choral writing like that of Gorecki or the micropolyphony of Ligeti. It’s this blend of modern classical, drone, and guitar noise approaches that impresses me more with each listen. I’m captivated by it now, and I suspect this music will continue to reveal more of itself with time.—Scott Scholz
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Three from lo bit landscapes


I’m going through a bunch of submissions to KiC and planning to showcase a series of releases organized by label. Let’s start with a trio of albums from Brooklyn’s lo bit landscapes: 2 from Nihiti, and one from Viktor Timofeev.

Nihiti - Other People’s Memories

The oldest of these records, Other People’s Memories dropped in late 2010 (10/10/10, to be exact). There are a pair of slightly different 1-sheets included in this package, one of which indicates that “not much is known about the actual members of Nihiti.” The same generally holds true for the label, whose website isn’t exactly information-packed. A bit of the “Theory of Obscurity,” ala the Cryptic Corporation, perhaps? At least one person involved in the proceedings seems to be Viktor Timofeev, whose solo release on the label we’ll be exploring shortly. Outside of these recordings, Timofeev is best known for his work as a visual artist, and both the album cover for Other People’s Memories and an included foldout poster feature a rather arresting multipanel work of his entitled “Red/Black: The Cyclical Nature of the Practice of Architecture.”

Nihiti takes a wide stylistic path on Other People’s Memories. There are elements of experimental music, ambient, industrial and pop, played on acoustic instruments, rock instruments, and synths/samplers/drum machines/computers. While that might sound like it has the potential to be very unfocused, it is a very cohesive album: Nihiti mostly employs their ample resources toward creating very dark atmospheres. But I think what makes this album so interesting is how those vibes are sustained through so many stylistic variations: the first few tracks had me thinking the band was on a Godspeed/krautrock/electronic bent, but the third track introduces some 8th note-based piano chord stabs so popular in 60s pop songs, ultimately serving as the introduction to an actual pop song in the fourth track, “the ringing in (the sun is rung).” But it’s still a very weird form of pop, repeatedly overwhelming itself by bringing different instruments out of proportion in the mix. And the ride continues, through passages blending melancholy cello lines with piano and sine waves, more pop songforms, and ultimately an impressive blend of postrock and krautrock textures with early industrial-sounding beats.

This record is largely instrumental, but occasional vocal passages are weaved beautifully into the variety of textures. I found it difficult to make out lyrics, as they’re generally mixed relatively low, treated as another instrumental voice. But the few sections I could make out clearly, like the spoken moments in the center of “the return of kind ropes (laku noc, dusan k), seemed fairly bleak and melancholy, a fitting supplement to the music. This is the kind of music that you have to live with for a while and let it take effect, but it will definitely find itself on return trips to my turntable.

Nihiti’s Faced With Splendor 12” EP shows a very different side of the band. Songs, instead of atmospheres, dominate this music, and the orchestration is mostly acoustic, compared to the heavy electronic leanings of “Other People’s Memories.” This is a melancholy pop effort with folk leanings—not usually my favorite kind of music, but it’s very well performed and recorded, and the arrangements are very thoughtful. Generally it’s very sparse compared to the previous album, but with great harmonies and instrumental countermelodies in perfect places to bring out the best in the songs. The simple precision behind these songs makes me think that this record is a totally different aspect of Nihiti’s stylistic range, rather than suggesting that their previous work was a case of psyche/kraut/electronic deconstruction techniques applied to more basic pop songs. In other words, tossing some noisemaking devices at these songs won’t make them into electronic-style Nihiti—they stand in their own unique way. But fans of the approach on the first full-length will be excited to know that the upcoming Nihiti release, “For Ostland,” promises a return to the more expansive attack of “Other People’s Memories.”

The biggest surprise for me in this lo bit landscapes package was Viktor Timofeev's release, GIVE HEALTH999. Nihiti gravitates toward melancholy and surreal landscapes, but most of their music still functions in relatively conventional tonality, gravitating toward minor keys with dissonant and textural passages. In contrast, Timofeev mostly transcends the major/minor duality and dives into bleak, yet very addictive walls of sound.

Like Nihiti, Timofeev uses a wide range of instruments toward the production of rich atmosopheres, though all varieties of beat-oriented percussion are absent. The emphasis here is on the building of layers that don’t use much percussive delineation—postrock sounds serve as a brief jumping-off point, but most of the album trends closer to drone music, alternating focal points between distorted guitars, voices, synths, and found sound/field recordings/samples. The opening and closing tracks are heaviest with guitars, accompanied by some distant piano stabs in the opening “December 22nd,” and blended more evenly with oscillating frequencies in the closing “July 28th.”

In between, my favorite two tracks are the longest: both of them build slowly to nightmarish, oppressive walls of sound and slowly thin out again. There are some legitimate, though still very dark, melodies played on clarinets in the 14-minute “Flying Zonogons,” which are gradually stacked upon themselves through overdubs and heavy reverb. Voices are used over sounds of moving water in a similar overdubbed, reverbed, and delayed fashion to create the center portion of “WorldWideWaterWorld,” eventually adding a ring modulator or similar filter that obliterates pitch into metallic densities that rise and fall with the pauses in the vocal overdubs. I really enjoyed the less-effected vocal buildups comprising “1.1.1.1.,” too, which evoke some of the best moments in modern choral writing like that of Gorecki or the micropolyphony of Ligeti. It’s this blend of modern classical, drone, and guitar noise approaches that impresses me more with each listen. I’m captivated by it now, and I suspect this music will continue to reveal more of itself with time.

—Scott Scholz

Perhaps the Ergo Phizmiz phenomenon is better known in England/Europe, but I hadn’t heard of him until a promo copy of “Things To Do and Make” landed at KiC headquarters. A quick online search reveals the rich career of Mr. Phizmiz over the last decade, who looks to be a well-admired fellow working as a multimedia composer, artist, and sound art archivist. If you’re interested in exploring his work, he releases a substantial portion of his output directly to Archive.org and Free Music Archive, where just a few clicks will yield many hours of Phizmizian glory.

While most of his previous work focuses on plunderphonics, collage, and bizarre cover arrangements, “Things To Do and Make” is what he considers his first recorded foray into pop music. It’s an incredibly catchy album that I’ve found myself playing many times over. In its way, though, its brand of “pop” belongs to your eccentric great uncle. Ergo’s “pop” manifests through deep influences from vaudeville music and late-era Tin Pan Alley arrangements, while his lyrics and even his accent deliver the project with a whimsical attitude redolent of the Canterbury scene of the late 60s. Phizmiz also reveals himself to be a capable multi-instrumentalist, using a wide range of acoustic instruments with confidence (and occasional electronic supplementation from drum machines/synths/samplers). Many string and keyboard instruments are featured, and I also hear a lot of wind instruments, from clarinets to low brass to tinwhistles and slide whistles. While a lot of songs are very short—half of the album’s tracks are around 3 minutes or less—many of the longer compositions feature well-played instrumental passages.

Ergo is a great vocalist, too, and he’s filled many of these arrangements with layers of satisfying overdubbed vocals. Vocal melodies generally move quickly, creating rich layers of bizarre vaudevillian rhymes. The straight mid to uptempo rhythms found through most of the album sustain the carnival atmosphere, but harmonically, Phizmiz stretches out with experimentation closer to the Canterbury vibe: half step motion like that of the verse endings in “Busby Berkley,” or the meandering faux-Baroque falsetto lines of “The Dapper Transvestite,” wouldn’t have been common in the early 20th C. pop this music expands upon. Some songs seem to come from more of a 50s or 60s rock & roll approach, like “Dirty Shower Honk Stomp” and “Late,” but my favorites point toward older influences. Homemade instruments and junk percussion frequently appear, punctuating a lot of arrangements with toy squeaks, jaw harps, and slippery low-tuned plucked strings. 

One doesn’t hear many people this far North of Syd Barrett continuing to expand on the potential of vaudeville songwriting, but Phizmiz has proved to me with this record that there indeed remain “things to do and make.” And I’d highly suggest exploring Phizmiz’s many online recordings, as they’re clever and beautifully conceived on their own, while also contributing to a rich overarching career quest toward music that can be both touching and fun. Related to his pop music efforts, one can find similarly chimerical instrumentals in excerpts from his music for operas and plays, and amusing “utility music” applications of his pop music made to solve problems like repairing or comforting household appliances, or musically addressing irritating neighbors. The next Phizmiz pop release looks to be titled “Look, Do and Listen,” which seems to have been released last year. I don’t see any ordering information for it online, but if anyone knows of a way to locate this record, feel free to mention it in the comments—I’d love to give it a workout on my turntable.

—Scott Scholz

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