Ægir – “Crooked Bangs” (2020)

A friend sent me a physical copy of Ægir’s January 2020 release Crooked Bangs. These CDrs were produced in limited quantities, the packaging handmade and the art and track listings handwritten. They’re individually numbered and mine is either #26 or #36… it’s hard to tell. I don’t see the CDs mentioned on Bandcamp so I can’t be sure how many were made, but my best guess is around 50. It was released on the Why Not? Plötuútgáfa! label, one that has an interesting collection of artists such as World Narcosis, GRIT TEETH, Godchilla, BSÍ, Brött Brekka, Dead Herring, and Laura Secord, most of who I’ve written about before. Ægir also runs the label, and I always keep my eyes peeled for anything he releases on it.

Crooked Bangs opens with what sounds like the artist getting ready to perform – not so much warming up as getting settled in for the set. What follows is a journey through subtle electronics and analog percussion, soundscapes that give the impression of being loosely outlined and then executed live in an in-the-moment spirit. Is it possible to describe Ægir’s approach? I don’t know for sure. At times quiet, at others frenetic, you can feel his flow in the drumming, almost visualize him in your mind behind the kit and lost in the moment. To my ears the most intriguing track is “Maybe A Bit Insecure”, probably because it utilizes sonics that sound like some kind of voice samples, though they’re barely recognizable as such.

You can listen to Crooked Bangs and purchase it digitally on Bandcamp HERE.

“God Bless America” Compilation (1985)

godblessamerica1I came across this copy of the 3 X LP box set God Bless America over at Easy Street Records when I was there for RSD Black Friday a few weeks back.  What first caught my eye was the packaging – a box set inside a bag made from an American flag.  A few searches later and I found out this compilation was put out in 1985 by RRRecords, a 31-song collection of experimental music.  What’s surprising isn’t that I picked it up and gave it a hard look, but that I put it back without buying it.  I even remarked to Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane that I showed some restraint not spending the money on something I’d probably only listen to once.

But because I’m an obsessive, I kept looking at it on Discogs, and when I woke up last Saturday morning I knew I was going back to Easy Street and buying it if it was still there.  And it was.  And it was marked down a few bucks, which was nice.  Which is how I find myself sitting in my living room on a Saturday afternoon and busting into this box.

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There were 500 copies of the vinyl release of God Bless America, with 200 of those coming in the screened flag bag.  The interior boxes are themselves artworks, with only 25 copies made of each version, meaning there are eight subsets within this group of 200, and in fact they’re even numbered to reflect this – mine is “16 / 25 / 500”.  The inside of each box is hand-painted as well, adding further to the uniqueness.  Inside are three record and a handful of flyers and inserts.  Based on the images on Discogs my copy might be missing a few, assuming that each box set contains the same inserts… which I can’t be sure of, though I do suspect that’s the case.  Oh well.  There are also some 2 X cassette versions of this release, though with only 21 songs the tape sets are 10 tracks shorter than the vinyl box set.

But let’s get to the important part – the music.  There is some wild stuff on God Bless America.  All of it experimental to a degree, but not all of it way out there.  Psyclones’ “Outta My Way / Food Stamp Dub” could easily have appeared on an On-U release from the same period, a funky, groovy dub made perhaps a bit absurd by the vocal subject matter.  That’s followed by the more disturbing Smersh and “The Good Life” with its discordant horns and strained, almost anguished vocals.  Clearly God Bless America is one of those collections that has you wondering what’s waiting for you with each new track.

A number of these compositions flirt with Americana themes and songs.  Dimthings’ “God Bless America” samples the song “God Bless America”, while Max + Mel’s “Parade With Baby” uses the “Marines’ Hymn” and, of course, Noizeclot’s “Star Spangled Strangled” uses the “Star Spangled Banner”.  I’m sure there are some others I missed along the way.  Plus America is specifically mentioned in the titles of a handful of tracks while others reference the Constitution (“The Bloated Constitution” by Screaming Dukduks) and phrases like “One Nation Under God” (by Blackhouse).  We even have audio from Ronald Reagan’s oath of office.  So there’s a definite political take here too.

I’m finding myself enjoying God Bless America more than I expected to.  I only recognized three of the artists (Smegma, Smersh, and Master/Slave Relationship), so I didn’t have much to go on.  In addition to the previously mentioned Psyclones, I’m also a fan of Un-Film’s “Rhythm of Fear” and Data-Bank-A’s industrial dance jam “Is God a Monster?”.  The first record was more chill and dreamy; the second more agitated and industrial (especially the closing track by Blackhouse – holy hell that thing is nuts); the third is, well… weirder than the other two.  I can’t full explain that last part, you’re just going to have to take my word for it.  I feel like I’ll play the first record from time to time, though honestly I’m not sure about the other two.

De Fabriek – “Schafttijdsamba” (1982)

When going through the used “New Arrivals” section at a shop, sometimes a pattern emerges, groups of records that seem to have come from the same collection.  It’s a bit less noticeable with more mainstream rock and pop, though you’ll still find groups of Zappa or the Stones or Yes together and think, yup, these records have been in close proximity to each other on a person’s shelves, and now in this box, for a long time, and they will soon to be spread among the seven collecting winds.  I’m more intrigued when there are interesting genre groupings, veins of punk or early new wave or soundtracks.  I find myself wondering who this person was and why the records ended up at the store.  Did they leave them at their parents house when they went off to college and the parents eventually got rid of them?  Were they moving and needed to downsize?  Did the owner die?  Or did they just lose the passion for them over time.  I’m as interested in these stories as I am in the records, but most of the time all I’m left with are the albums and my imagination.  If you’re lucky, every now and again you may find a hidden surprise in one of these used records that gives you just a sliver of insight into the owner.  I once found some  stamped postcards from Yugoslavia inside the jacket of a rock band from Sarajevo, and I imagine someone picked the album up while on vacation.  Maybe they were there for the Olympics?  I’ll never know, but it was kind of cool.

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Anyway… it looks like someone with some very intriguing and specific tastes sold a collection to Easy Street Records, because they have three big crates out listed with various phrases like “industrial” and “avant garde” and “Krautrock”, and they all seem to fit the same general aesthetic.  I’ve been through them a few times now, and each visit yields something interesting I passed over last time.  This visit it was the 1982 debut album by the Dutch band De Fabriek, Schafttijdsamba.  I’m not sure what it is that attracts me to these experimental albums, but I can’t seem to help myself when I come across stuff like this.  Schafttijdsamba is definitely experimental – electronics, samples, strange random vocals.  The individual tracks manage a certain level of cohesiveness, but with strange structures.  They’re like the drawings people make on LSD – you get a sense of an underlying form in what they are trying to show, but everything is off in different directions that both make sense and don’t make sense at the same time.

As near as I can tell Schafttijdsamba has never been released on any format other than vinyl, the original pressing in 1982 and a gatefold re-release in 2018.  The good news is that you can listen to the songs on Bandcamp HERE if you want to expand your horizons a bit, and I encourage you to go check it out, especially “Spacepatrol” and “Es Lebe Die Freiheit”.

“The Fight Is On” Compilation (1985 / 1988)

I have a fascination with extreme music.  It’s not so much that I like listening to most of it so much as I’m simply infatuated by how far outside the mainstream it is.  My self-perception is that I’m more interested in the fact that it exists, the people who perform it, and the people who actively follow it than I am in the music itself.  I’ve always been fascinated with subcultures, especially those on the extreme fringes, so I suppose this is a natural extension.  If I’m self-analyzing, and clearly I am, this infatuation is possibly a kind of respect (or envy….?) for those who live the life they choose to live even when it is well outside of what society deems normal or, at times, even acceptable.  Do I have some hidden longing to exist as an outsider?  Maybe… though I doubt it.  I don’t have any fundamental problems with my suburban life, or my job, or anything like that.  Most of the time I enjoy it.  Ultimately I think it comes down to admiring those with the drive to follow their passions, even when their passions take them to difficult places.  It’s not so much what they’re doing, it’s how they’re doing it.

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Which brings me to this recently acquired copy of The Fight Is On.  This comp is filled with the kind of outlier artists who intrigue me – Coil, Nurse With Wound, Current 93, The Hafler Trio… musicians who take approaches to music that are well outside of the mainstream, sometimes going so far that you could consider them anti-music.  I’m fascinated by them, and while none are on regular rotation in my life, when I listen to them their sonic compositions do have an effect on me.  Not anything clearly defined, mind you.  There are no fantasies that arise from hearing them.  But what they do is they change the way I perceive, which in essence is changing the way my brain is wired, opening me up to new and different and unexpected possibilities to see things in different ways.  And that’s something valuable, not just in how I interact with music, but also in how I interact with the world.

The nine tracks on The Fight Is On are on the more elemental end of the spectrum, songs that create a mood without generating a sense of anxiety or dread.  So once again I’ve been thrown for a loop, as The Fight Is On did not give me what I expected from these performers.  Instead I have something bordering on enjoyable.  Which of course begs the question – would I have felt this way hearing The Fight Is On say five years ago… or has my paradigm shifted in ways that change how I perceive these songs today?  My money is on the latter, and for that I’m grateful.

tate/allison – “Jazz Machines” Cassette (2019)

tate/allison is JR Tate and Billy Allison, a couple of guys who met in music school in the San Gabriel Valley, just outside of Los Angeles.  The duo have backgrounds in big band, jazz, and rock, but also an affinity for noise, and they brought all those disparate pieces together on their new release Jazz Machines.

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Jazz Machines opens with the 23+ minute “Rain”.  The first third of the track creates an overall ambient soundscape with a distinctly non-electronic, instrumental warmth about it.  The horn takes a more prominent place as we progress, the composition splintering into different subelements as the intensity attacks and relents.  There are elements of free jazz at play, but much of the vibe remains minimalist and some passages feel quite intentional and not so improvisational, the overall subtlety making the noisier portions that much more jarring.  “Washer/Dryer” hits the listener with more discordant sounds early on, taking a more aggressive stance.  I sense a broader range of instrumentation here as well, including some electric guitar feedback that would have made Hendrix proud.  The track is more reminiscent of experimental rock than free jazz, in part due to the more prominent place of the guitar and other obviously electronic elements.  At 36 minutes it’s a marathon, but one that never gets old or tired.  “Train” opens in a much gloomier place, like a dark night in a run-down harbor district, damp, cold, and dangerous.  It retains that somberness throughout, a film-noir-esque soundtrack (and at 28 minutes, it could indeed score an entire film) to those places that are best avoided.  Compared to the other tunes, “detergent” is almost punk rock at just over five minutes in length, a song that retains its ambient core throughout and serves as a relaxing outdo to the overall Jazz Machines experience.

Jazz Machines is available on limited edition cassette and digital download via the art throughsound Bandcamp page HERE.