Sonic Reducer: The Fertile Crescent of the 90s.
Sonic Reducer returns to the fertile crescent of the late 80s – early 00s, probing for sonic caviar. Again, the disclaimer: I had a small thing to do w/the Whirlees record and did some work about 100 years ago with with The Oblivion Seekers. What can I say? Good is good.
Morning 40 Federation, Trick Nasty (2002, self-released): if there’s a better drunk-funk band anywhere in the world, I want to know about it. These New Orleans gutter snipes drag R&B, funk, blues and Crescent City music hall booze-alongs into the garage, dose them with near-fatal amounts of liquor, and let them stumble back into the streets. A 365 day a year drunk-punk rent party, the 40s really do put most other garage bands out to pasture with the utter purity of their trash. Their almost militant indifference to the norms of society (work, food, clothes, other people) pretty much puts them on their own little island in the Mississippi River: the island of revels, where everyone is smashed before noon, of willful irresponsibility; a humid Saturnalia, forever showered with cheap whiskey and beer.
Sugar Plant, After After Hours (1997, World Domination): a perfectly titled release. Dreamy nocturnal ambient pop from a Japanese duo to while away the hours before dawn to. They occasionally break through the placid surface with waves of humming electric guitars and effects, and finish strong with a rumbling, feedback heavy “Brazil.” This World Domination was Dave Allen’s (from Gang of Four, Shriekback, etc.) label in the late 90s and early 00s-I don’t believe they are affiliated with the current World Domination Records.
The Whirlees, self-titled (1993, Schizophonic): I’m paraphrasing here, but a reviewer once described the only full release by the Salem, OR combo thusly: “If The Whirlees were a car, they would be a ’73 ‘Cuda with a Hemi dropped under the hood and humongous side-pipes.” This is true-in a paraphrased sense, of course. Thick, rumbling gobs of mid-tempo hard rock cruise through the CD like Dazed & Confused teenage traffic driving in circles on a Friday night. That’s hard rock; not metal, not glam, not punk. Remove the blues from the first three ZZ Top records and fill the gap with stacks of Marshall Amps, wah-wah pedals and fuzz boxes; place under the hood of an El Camino, drop a Quaalude and add Rainier Ale; presto! The Whirlees. They buzz and lumber, they growl and howl, they occasionally pick up speed to approach take-off, they toss in a bit of “Train Kept a Rolling.” They make Salem proud.
The Oblivion Seekers, self-titled (1992, T/K-Tim/Kerr): The Oblivion Seekers are Mark Sten and whoever he says is an Oblivion Seeker. This debut CD is the first in a long line of thoroughly fine records, a criminally underrated body of work that is (as far as I know) still on-going. Most Oblivion Seekers CDs morph back and forth between twin poles of snarly, electrified rockabilly and super-charged rock & roll and more pensive, even tender material – ballads, mid-tempo numbers and the like. The first record offers that but also something different: a collection of attitude-heavy, gospel influenced material, split into collections of “Saved” and “Damned.” Covers of the Carter Family, Mack Self and others sit next to Sten originals. The sound is trebly and jacked-up, with odd separations in the mix, and a hot/cold feel; it sounds both dry and drenched at the same time. Duality at work: “Roadhouse” is vintage rockabilly, while “Fine, Fine, Fine” sounds like it was mixed by David Lynch. 1993’s Spirit of America is every bit as good or better, a 20 song-cycle opus that goes gold from A to Z.
Steve Fisk, 448 Deathless Days (1987, SST): for the sake of being conveniently reductive, Steve Fisk has at least three musical personas; band member (Pell Mell, Pigeonhed, etc.), the crafty producer of bands like Mudhoney, Nirvana, Beat Happening, Geraldine Fibbers and many more, and the sonically schizo auteur of solo records like 448 Deathless Days. Loaded with samples and tape manipulations, shifting syncopations and backwards beats and a dark, somewhat foreboding vibe, 448 Deathless Days is the sound of someone cutting up in the studio, indulging his darkly surreal whims. Unfettered indulgence can, of course, be a colossal wank; thankfully, Fisk has a well balanced sense of the weird, knows his way around the musty back-rooms of his gear and can make a racket and be tuneful simultaneously. Members of Screaming Trees and other pals from Seattle and Ellensburg keep it coming.
Steven Jesse Bernstein, Prison (1992, Sub Pop): Steve Fisk also had the unprecedented task of finishing the music and production on Prison by Seattle’s poet-provocateur Steven Jesse Bernstein after he took his own life in 1991. With only one track completed, Fisk was left to intuit his way thru Bernstein’s thorny mob of words, a white-knuckle life story poured out with breath-taking venom, cryptic word collage, sweet humor and bared-soul vulnerability. Summing up all the multiple shards of Bernstein’s complex persona and fucked-up life and death is pointless and impossible. He was street-wise and wise-wise and crazy and damaged/sweet and had an astounding ability to tell stories and create complex knots of images and ideas that never felt anything less than 110% genuine – there wasn’t an ounce of guile in the man. The fantastic flights of fancy in “This Clouded Heart” and “Party Balloon” never wear thin, while the brutal honesty of “Face” can be hard to take; apparently it got to be to much for him, as well.
Life Garden, Pry Open My Mouth With The Red Knife Of Heaven (1992, We Never Sleep): One of several infinitely deep, mind-altering Life Garden CDs (including Seed, Caught Between The Tapestry Of Silence & Beauty and The Hungry Void),Pry Open My Mouth… is ritual, start to finish. David Oliphant, Su Ling-Oliphant, Peter Ragan and Bil Yanok were Life Garden. Their metier was acoustic instruments, largely percussion, stringed or blown into/through, manipulated electronically, but with no synths or (on this release) samples. Bells, bowls, flutes, gongs, PVC pipe and multi-tracked voices all get the digital effects treatment to create ghostly, hypnotic soundscapes that range from unsettling to profoundly peaceful. Life Garden’s mission was transformative, not entertaining; the exact opposite of emotionally neutered new age muzak, they shared a little piece of common ground with Art Ensemble of Chicago, Current 93, the tribal-industrial underground and a few top-shelf dark ambient acts. They had more in common with pre-historic cave painting and pagan, pantheistic ritual than popular music; their music seems to emanate from the very earth itself. This is the real stuff: sound as emotion, the fusing of past and present, the melting point of mind and matter in the infinite flux of the cosmos. I am, absolutely, serious.