Review: Fire Roast – Fire Roast (Single Girl Married Girl, Jan 13)

Both a member of innovative avant-rock trio Palberta and the sole creator of the modern outsider masterpiece I Hope All of Your Dreams Come True, Philadelphia-based multi-instrumentalist Nina Ryser is easily one of my favorite musicians at the moment. On Fire Roast she lends her always charismatic, charming vocal style to a new quartet that also features Ani Ivry-Block, Zoë Talkin, and Gabe Adels. The band’s sprightly brand of art punk is much less skittery and elusive than either of the other projects I mentioned previously, but with a decidedly reticent approach to songwriting and a warm, raucous power-pop energy, Fire Roast more than competes. Ryser is the only member credited with vocals and presumably also doesn’t lend her instrumental talents to this new band, a lineup configuration that frees up space for layered harmonies and other vocal idiosyncrasies while maintaining that distinctive post-punk power trio sound. From the magnetic guitar/bass interplay on “Smash” to the slow burn start and superb lyrical imagery of “What a Pity,” the twenty-minute debut covers a great deal of ground before even reaching the wonderful concluding track “Folly or Fate,” a long and ambitious cut that proudly displays every facet of the scruffy four piece’s irresistible charm.

Fire Roast is available on cassette from the Single Girl Married Girl website.

Review: Magog – Dances with Beast and Giants (Muteant Sounds, Jan 8)

As stated in the description, Dances with Beast and Giants is indisputably an album that suits a variety of environments, whether it’s “club, stage, [or] street.” The UK quartet, which features drum set, trumpet, trombone, and baritone sax, explodes into existence with a propulsive drum groove and cacophonous wind battles on “Bone Dance,” an incendiary opener that rivals the formidable presence of much larger ensemble pieces (one that immediately comes to mind is Angles 9’s “Equality & Death,” a track produced by more than twice the amount of musicians). Magog displays this unique ability to sound like much more than just a quartet not just on “Bone Dance,” but many times throughout the record. On “Rising,” the second track, power is found in tightly orchestrated unison licks, but “Dancing with Giants” returns to the fiery fray with clashing simultaneous solos, but eventually the jagged, unaligned cells fall into step with each other, crossing the chasm between chaos and unity in an impossibly short amount of time. Truly both a “mini brass band” and “deranged modern village band,” Magog combines traditional jazz sensibilities, exceptional musicianship, ecstatic harmony, and an ever-astute collective ear for the abstract to produce an enrapturing “dream time jazz for today.”

Review: The Serfs – Sounds of Serfdom (Detriti & Wasted Tapes, Jan 10)

For me, “local band” has long been an implicitly derogatory, or at least separating phrase. The “local” qualifier always seems to denote a musician or act that has little appeal other than being based closed by, something that’s unfortunately true for many local bands. But if you’re fortunate enough to live in a city or town with an active scene, dig deep enough and you’re almost guaranteed to find something (or multiple things) that break the mold. This is part of the reason I’m so appreciative of Cincinnati post-punk bands like Crime of Passing and Mardou, whose releases I’ve reviewed here previously (Winter ’19 and Bitter Energy, respectively); they remind me of how amazing it is to have exciting musical output being generated so close to home. Now, musicians who have played with and written for both projects have formed a trio with The Serfs, whose reclusive, nocturnal brand of minimal wave first made an appearance on 2019’s Songs of Serfdom. All six tracks released on that EP are also featured on the similarly titled and covered Sounds of Serfdom, the band’s debut full-length released on LP by German imprint Detriti and on tape by Cincinnati label Wasted Tapes. I was lucky enough to see The Serfs play a live set a while back, and every ounce of their mysterious presence and outsider scruff is conveyed by the beautifully lo-fi production of Sounds. Energizing chants defiantly emerge from dark, dank caves of moody synth and muted drum hits on “Vanishing Act”; piddling electronics morph into cheerful, infectious melodies on “Perverted Disco”; and “Imitation” joins the ranks of other incredible “I—–tion” songs—along with Mardou’s “Information” and “Immersion”—for a lovely conclusion. Pretty much every song on this album is fantastic though, those are just the three that stood out the most on my most recent listen-through. I send eternal love to The Serfs for not just being a “local band,” but also making me feel like I’m truly a part of something by being in close proximity to them (not that I actually am, but it still feels like it).

Review: Christian Mirande – My Friend Went to Heaven on the Frankford El (Anathema Archive, Jan 3)

Christian Mirande is one of those few musicians whose releases I buy without hesitation. The Philadelphia-based sound artist can always be relied upon to produce wonderfully difficult music with distinct and unmistakable emotional resonance; see the simultaneous domesticity and seismic rumble of Trying to Remember a House, the criminally underappreciated sprawling sonic odyssey Scaled Deposits, or even the minuscule field recording collages of Strangeways if you need proof. It’s immediately apparent that his newest work, My Friend Went to Heaven on the Frankford El, is a very personal outing for Mirande; the title, along with the tape’s dedication to “Jason & Sean” and a link providing instructions for administering Naloxone, immediately evokes a profound sense of loss. But My Friend Went to Heaven is not cheaply elegiac, never tugging on low-hanging heart strings with monologues about grief or other clichés. Instead, Mirande bases what may be his most elusive release yet around the strange milieu of American life during a rampant opioid epidemic. There are no warnings, no time to say goodbye; your friends and family are simply there one day and gone the next, and the surrounding world is heartbreakingly apathetic to your grief—trains rattle by with countless passengers all oblivious to what you’ve lost, conversations carry on without you, classic pop anthems are snatched away by the same uncaring, unceremonious hands that yank so many lives from their human vessels. The world of My Friend Went to Heaven on the Frankford El is one that is at once familiar and distorted, an unyielding constant viewed from the fragile perspective of a single consciousness.

Review: Prism Shanks – PINK (self-released, Jan 5)

At the heart of PINK, Prism Shanks’ debut cassette release, is percussion—not only the “hand built” rhythmic devices the duo utilizes but also the way in which they approach the other elements in their music. This “largely improvised audio collage” finds footing amidst almost entirely formless cascades of manually struck drums and other objects, yet snaking in and out of this tactile clatter are the unmistakable metallic scrapes and ragged, distorted howls of a prepared guitar, an instrument here used with the same percussive predilection as its fellow sound objects. To my knowledge I’ve never heard any music by either James Worse or John W. Newman, the two members of Prism Shanks, but their abilities to construct immersive atmosphere and hypnotic headspace are immediately clear when you hear PINK; despite never quite falling into the familiar comfort of conventional rhythm, the tape nonetheless draws a magnetic energy from the dark, ritualistic timbres at play in the music. Every instant of the release’s thirty minute duration radiates a powerful, mystical force, concluded in the sublime final moments of the B side, where uneasy beauty is hewn from electric hum and Prévost-esque bowed cymbals (I can’t be the only one reminded of the formidable drone-scapes of Crux / Flayed).

Note: each copy of PINK comes with a unique custom collage overlay.

Mix: Free Rock

There’s not just an essential, but also an audible difference between an orchestrated, technical maelstrom and total improvisation. The former may sound chaotic or random but cannot match the complete, blissful freedom of the latter. The songs in this mix, however, lie somewhere on a spectrum between those two endpoints, tending towards spontaneous gesture without disregarding or eliminating the fragments of structure that still linger in the music. Some of them gradually fall back into a conventional meter, others remain formless and ease through fluid dynamic changes, and still others play rhythmic patterns so loosely that they often don’t appear to be rhythmic at all.

Gorge Trio

00:00. Dilute – end of “Apple” from Grape Blueprints Pour Spinach Olive Grape (54º40′ or Fight!, 2002)

02:14. Storm & Stress – “And Third and Youngest, Unnamed” from Under Thunder and Fluorescent Lights (Touch and Go, 2000)

07:22. Gorge Trio – “Roof Halves and Dewdrop Gems” from Open Mouth, O Wisp (Skin Graft, 2004)

10:41. Coptic Light – “Mix the Races” from Coptic Light (No Quarter, 2005)

18:27. Who’s Your Favorite Son, God? – “Tapestry Mouth” from Out of Body Diva (KDVS Recordings, 2006)

20:40. Sister Iodine – “Western Lei” from Helle (Textile, 2004)

23:57. Fading Tapes – “O-bon” from Radio Okinawa (Katuktu Collective, 2018)

29:09. Jackie-O Motherfucker – “Dark Falcon” from Ballads of the Revolution (Fire, 2009)

33:46. zOoOoOm – “Ablution” from Eight My Heart (Condor, 2004)

Review: Richard Pizzaro – Actually Stupid (self-released, Jan 4)

I know I repeat this ad nauseam, but Bandcamp is a truly wondrous place. There are endless bewildering, obscure gems to be mined throughout the depths of the popular music hosting service, finding something like Actually Stupid is the equivalent of finding a mysterious old cassette at the very back of a rack or an unmarked CD amidst the stacks filled with bizarre sound. What makes this discovery even more valuable, however, is the fact that what is ostensibly New York based artist Richard Pizzaro’s first release is defiantly new and fresh, released on the fourth day of the new year and adorned with an artfully low-effort cover image made with Snapchat. Actually Stupid is also not a work that distances its aesthetic from the zeitgeist; featured on the cover is someone’s iTunes music library, “Aria” gets extensive mileage out of samples from Ariana Grande’s “God Is a Woman,” and everyone knows sex dolls are all the rage right now—but the music itself could hardly be any stranger. Opening track “Draining” evokes an arresting feeling of isolation, stripping fuzzy field recordings of a running tap and rushing air currents down into a single, spectral drone like the feeble sound of the arctic wind as you lie freezing to death in the snow. “Sex Doll I & II,” a continuous two-part piece that is itself part of a “Sex Doll” track trilogy, collapses into chaotic clusters of malfunctioning percussion patches and contorted electronic glitches; the soft synth washes of “Midwit” battle against jagged, unpredictable intrusions of silence and grating radio grabs until the whole track is commandeered and we’re left with an absurd yet strangely melancholy mass of monotone text-to-speech, a grandiose pop ballad, and what seem to be field recordings from either a cacophonous construction site or a violent firefight; and download-only bonus track “White Powder” concludes the proceedings with another delirious pop song dissection. Three cheers for democratic hosting platforms, hilarious album covers, and the people out there able and willing to make shit as weird and wonderful as this.