Monday, December 15, 2008

The Phantom Band - Checkmate Savage

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Label/Date: Chemikal Underground Records, January 2009
Genre: rock, indie, krautrock, post-rock, folk, pop, experimental, country
From: Glasgow, Scotland
Similar: Gutter Twins, Nick Cave, Black Heart Procession, Alabama 3, Neu!, Magyar Posse, The Jimmy Cake, Twilight Singers, Tom Waits, Decemberists, Can, Morphine, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Murder By Death, Johnny Cash, Josef K, DMST, Crippled Black Pheonix, New Model Army, Tom Fun Orhcestra, QotSA, Black Mountain, Low, A Silver Mt. Zion, Beefheart, Elliott Brood, Porcupine Tree, Calexico, Flaming Lips
Website : Myspace

"Over-population, dwindling natural resources and the yawning void within every one of us caused by society's unnatural social contracts and mass sexual repression means one thing: its checkmate for the human animal."

"So say The Phantom Band, with an invisible tongue firmly in an invisible cheek and if the sibylline verdict delivered by this mysterious Pan-Scottish sextet leans towards the dark side, then at least they’ve had the good grace to supply us with a fitting soundtrack for our spiral into the void. All universal matter can converge in a black hole - Checkmate Savage is where Beefheart meets Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, where Neu! meets Nick Cave, and we reckon it's a very early contender for album of the year."

Nisennenmondai - Neji/Tori

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Label/Date: Bijin record, 2008
Genre: noise-rock, experimental, all-female instrumental trio
From: Tokyo, Japan
Similar/Related: Psychic Paramount, Lightning Bolt, High Rise, Hey Colossus, Warhammer 48k, Cave, Grey Daturas, Neu!, Sonic Youth, Boredoms, This Heat, Afrirampo, Acid Mothers, Guitar Wolf, Noxagt
Website : Myspace

"With this album, comprising two earlier EPs, Japan’s Nisennenmondai take their gloriously groove-centered noise jams to the international stage. This all-female instrumental trio has garnered plenty of attention in their native land and has recently been lauded by members of groups like Battles and No Age, who on tour had discovered their fearsome live shows. Although they come saddled with a wealth of influences, partly due to their habit of naming songs after influential experimental-rock outfits, they still manage to own it uniquely, deftly careering from krautrock lock-grooves to industrial clang to nihilistic overdrive.

Like ESG, the other all-female rhythm juggernaut, the main muscle behind Nisennenmondai is the drummer: Sayaka Himeno’s standout playing is the group’s indispensible motor. It’s a mighty sound, and it’s sometimes difficult to fathom that it is emanating from three adorable Japanese girls just out of college. The group’s loosely improvised playing style is such a deliciously dissonant freewheeling caterwaul that it’s surprising to find out, for example, that the jarring steel-cage fight of opener "Pop Group" wasn’t recorded by an impromptu studio horde, Red Krayola-style. The track is also a compelling example for the benefits of lo-fi recording: The oversaturated sonics only make the metal-machine stomp sound that much more unhinged and out there.

The follower, "This Heat," is dominated by lower-gear but even more relentless, blood-stirring wonky rhythms. The jagged, unpredictable drumming and guitar/bass interplay produces a whirling whiplash that after long enough begins to make you feel like you’ve been staring too long into the sun. "Sonic Youth" indeed bears an unmistakable kinship with the titular group’s early releases, like their own self-titled debut EP or the epic tour collage "Sonic Death." But instead of steering and swerving away from the angular rumble in true no-wave fashion, the girls mind-meld into the kind of clamorous thunder that fans of Liars and the Boredoms are certainly familiar with.

The album highlight is "Ikkkyokume," a psychedelic burner presented here in two different takes: a whirling torrent of cymbal crashes and guitars that makes it sound like the girls are riding out the currents at the deepest end of the "Diamond Sea." Such force and free-jazz intensity produces a momentum that feels simultaneously propulsive and extremely static. It’s a trance-rock maelstrom that’s Not Safe for Work because there’s a fair risk you’ll end up in a glazed-eye stare while coworkers wave their fingers to check for signs of life.

The record’s back end sees more of a return to more traditional no-wave maneuvers, all straitjacketed skeletal beats and razorlike guitar work that befits any student of noise-rock luminaries like Lydia Lunch, DNA, Mars, or James Chance: Seems like the New York late '70s no-wave scene is these days not only ripe for scholarly book treatment but fit to be an object of the powerful mimetic impulse that Japanese culture is so renowned for."

Fire on Fire - The Orchard

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Label/Date: Young God Records, 2008
Genre: folk, bluegrass, gospel, psych
From: Portland, Maine
Similar/Related: Cerberus Shoal, Akron/Family, Bonnie Prince Billy, Joanna Newsom, Fleet Foxes, Beirut, Eden Express, Grizzly Bear, Carter Family, Comus, Nick Drake, Pygmy Lush, Brightblack Morning Light, Phoebe Killdeer, Lau Nau, Iron & Wine, Neil Young, Yma Sumac, Fairport Convention, Amon Dull II
Website : Myspace

"Fire On Fire used to be the art-punk-prog-chaos collective Cerberus Shoal, but they ditched their electric instruments, went into hiding for a while, and now play all acoustic--stand up bass, mandolin, banjo, harmonium, accordion, acoustic guitar, dobro etc etc, and they all sing and harmonize on the songs. Live, they do it "old school" and just use two mics placed in front of them on the stage, like a bluegrass band. They all live in the same house up in Maine, across from rusting green oil tanks, apparently. To me they sound like a backwoods, fierce, psychedelic Mamas And The Papas or a crazed and joyously vengeful gospel string band." - Michael Gira/Young God Records 2008

The Mirimar Disaster - Volumes EP

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Label/Date: Undergroove records, 2008
Genre: progressive hardcore, post-metal
From: Sheffield, United Kingdom
Similar/Related: Burst, Taint, Gospel, Wetnurse, Eleventh He Reaches London, Converge, Isis, Helms Alee, Kylesa, Zozobra, Dilinger Escape Plan, Botch, Buried Inside, Circle Takes the Square, Burnt by the Sun, Black Ships
Website : Myspace

"From the off, with 'Alms For Strangers', 'Volumes' is a barbed-wired cluster fuck of pounding drums and twisted riffs, which continues into the colossal 'Control. Alter Delete'. 'Volumes' also features a vocal guest appearance from Maria Christopher (of Massachusetts' 27) in 'The Town Of Empty Sound' - showing a bleak and experimental nature of the band. The title track is a vitriolic groove-fest, while closer 'Sing Hera' brings 'Volumes' to a logical conclusion that leaves you wondering what's just hit your ears!"

Wetnurse - Invisible City

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Label/Date: Seventh Rule Records
Genre: fierce, progressive hardcore/metal/punk/grindcore
From: New York
Similar/Related: Burst, Dilinger Escape Plan, Botch, Mirimar Disaster, Converge, Today Is the Day, Akimbo, Helms Alee, Gospel, Kylesa, Zozobra, Unsane, Keelhaul, Buried Inside, Circle Takes the Square, Burnt by the Sun, Black Ships, Fuck The Facts
Website : Myspace

"If your record encompasses as many different forms of extreme music as Wetnurse’s second disc, Invisible City, chances are it’s bound to sound jerry-rigged with piano wire and scotch tape. So how did Wetnurse avoid sounding like a third-rate Mr. Bungle? By attacking each facet of its genre-blind aesthetic with the same groove-heavy, ten-ton beatdown. These NYC boys find the common ground between Today Is the Day’s skronk-metal, Unsane’s drill press riffs, the arty hardcore of Converge and thirty years of psychedelic rock, erect a barbed wire fence around it, and thrash all over the place 'til it all becomes one pulpy meta-genre. There’s blood, dirt and spiritual transcendence aplenty to be found in the Invisible City.

It takes gumption to imagine At the Drive-In as a death-metal band, like Wetnurse does in "Not Your Choice," and a whole lot of ingenuity to make the song flow so well from harmony to discord, alt-rock to filthy hardcore. Flow and urgency are at the heart of Invisible City. Even as songs stretch out long past single length, every riff propels the record forward. Wetnurse’s experiments aren’t always successful -- Stephanie Gravelle’s guest vocals on "Missing Lion Returns" are a bit placid for the metallic raga swirling around her -- but they’re always purposeful, and usually underpinned with a killer swing.

Let’s not forget that Wetnurse is a damn fine metal band, capable of battering ears with the best of them; take the savagely direct "Your Last Flower," a compact shitkicker that finds vocalist Gene Fowler deploying every one of his multiple personalities, from Chihuahua yelp to guttural death growl.

Aggression isn’t the only tool in Wetnurse’s shed, though, and Invisible City is stronger for it. After the band breathes fire through the first half of "Slow Your Spell, Miss Hell," a grungy, major key vamp turns eyes heavenward, a ragged guitar solo rains down cosmic dust, Curran Reynolds’s rumbling toms pat out the flames, and you can almost see the stars poking through. It’s pretty beautiful. And after such a frenetic 50 minutes, the calming acoustic guitar that closes Invisible City seems like a kindly peace offering to send us on our way."