The Rummage

Tag: Europe

. issue XXIII : vi .

. artist : raising holy sparks .
. album : a mendicant hymnal .
. year : 2013 .
. label : deep water acres .
. grade : a .


By the loose standards, or paradigms, that seem to be developing, here’s a another one for the ‘goat-hair tent prog’ camp. Now, before I bury myself, let’s stop there briefly. That appellation came by way of a serious passenger, and though it might seem flippant at first, it cuts to the heart of the matter. Underneath the obvious sense of humor —and wink— to it, there’s a real honing in on what makes albums like Raising Holy Sparks’ A Mendicant Hymnal a shimmering example. What it really means, for pilgrims like Raising Holy Sparks and outfits like Mountains, Anvil Salute, Date Palms, and label-mates Evening Fires … is that there are some serious, and traditional, knots in the tree rings … even when the songs seem to be effortlessly eschewing conventional form as much as expectation. There’s a decidedly rural (for lack of a better word and vocabulary) spine running through them, intertwining the humanist and the spiritual. Whether it’s the instrumentation, folk foundations and mutations, intent, execution or simply the bones of the song, there’s a definite leaning towards embers smoldering or raging flames. Not that things aren’t susceptible to blazes at any given moment (check the slow ride out on “Within the Painted Desert”), but if there are you can be sure it will be accompanied with an intoxicating smoke that makes you breathe even deeper rather than choking. And as your lungs expand, so do the vistas that the music conjures up, dwarfed only by the panoramas blossoming between your ears. Open your ears and watch the” Meteors Over the Mesa” where those two environments coexist, with yourself right smack dab in the middle of the overlap with a full 360° view. It’s all big music, even in the quietest of moments, yet full of space. Space you can breathe in, either here on grounded Mother Earth or up there where suspension replaces oxygen. That right there is a shared perspective, a perspective that can look up, deeply, and move into it without forgetting the view below of a starry night. Or the wood for the trees if the band is so inclined. Does this mean they sound alike, a singular soundtrack to a transcendental Groundhog Day? Hell no. Not anymore than anything else we cram into a requisite pigeonhole. It’s a vibe that is both planetary and intimate, and one with endless tributaries, as well as confluences (as luck would have it, that’s a position you can take “At The Confluence Of The Potomac & Shenandoah”). Though not without willing and substantial revisits on our part, ones that breeze through the doldrums easily, morphing and assimilating themselves as they make successive grasps to maintain motion without sacrificing drift.

The musicians have this to say: “Inspired by 7000 miles of travel across 30 states, A Mendicant Hymnal draws on the vast & ever-changing American landscape, from the mountains & deserts of the West through the empty plains & onto the endless forests of the East. The first in a continuing series, trying to get, in the words of Edward Abbey, ‘close to the West of my deepest imaginings, the place where the tangible & the mythical became the same.’”

Raising Holy Sparks is, fundamentally, David Colohan of United Bible Studies and Agitated Radio Pilot. In every way, A Mendicant Hymnal comes across as a deeply personal album, even a journey. And in no way does that make it insular or impenetrable to passers-by. Colohan’s “epic slow-motion electro-acoustic soundscapes” not only envelop, they embrace. Any feelings of mournfulness or longing that might arise through these deep devotional drones quickly dissipate through a sifter that scatters stars and spirits in equal measure. By the time the waters of the Potomac and the Shenandoah have been crossed, the enigmatic “Plains of Kansas” or “A Stretch of Haunted Road” walked, or the wounds licked, swaddled and healed in “Shadow City, Missouri,” A Mendicant Hymnal —for intimate it is— simply doesn’t belong to Raising Holy Sparks anymore. Whatever journey it takes you on, it’s yours as much as it is Colohan’s. The universality of it doesn’t just allow that, it encourages it. Contemplative, spiritual, and ‘holy’ transcendent, A Mendicant Hymnal is far richer than its order’s subscribers claim to be. Whatever amount you put into their hands or collection plate is returned tenfold, at the very least. Here’s to sharing the wealth.

by Mr. Atavist


. issue XXII : iv .

. artist : black box .
. album : dreamland .
. year : 1990
. label : rca .
. grade : b .


Dreamland is just a bunch of House — house music, that is — at the height of its popularity: sampling and legal troubles. Black Box, an Italian house music collective with a penchant for electronic beats and plagiarism, produced its first album, Dreamland, in the 1990’s, amidst legal battles of copyright infringement. But in spite of all that, the album turned out all right. This nine-track dance-fest was very much of the times; with its punchy beats and its Bez-like attitude, its main goal was to corrupt movement with a bit of soul, and the voice of Martha Wash (the initially uncredited vocalist of the group) did just the trick. The album is no groundbreaker, neither a fluid listen nor a story-teller, but the individual track-by-track quality makes it work. Each tune seems to pulsate with non-stop rhythm: Dreamland’s symbolic mood is “the party goes on.” It’s very much an album for mindless movement — party-time music without social responsibility. With dance-or-die tracks like “Ride On Time” and “Strike It Up,” it would be a risk to sit still. The overall verdict is one of vindication precisely because it’s such a dancers’ album.

Grace Aiyedogbon

. issue XXII : ii .

. artist : cave art .
. album : piña colada .
. year : 2013 .
. label : lom .
. grade : off the charts .

Eclectic duo Ondřej Merta and Václav Peloušek are known for this scatterbrained, relentless, uncompromising art of the future — characterized by genius, levity, and multitasking. On Eastern European avant label Lom, whose biography says, with candid candor, “We publish all kinds of stuff.” Indeed, everything about Piña Colada is utterly refreshing.

The album consists of seven studio-produced tracks and three tracks of live improvisation, but intertwines the two (very different) sensibilities (one utterly pristine, crystalline with poise, one wretched, raw and yawping with braying guitar and senselessly scatting vocals) by presenting a four-track set that reworks a single song: first, live; second, live and “faster;” third, in the studio; fourth, polished in the studio. Everything about this album is a meta-level accomplishment, but this is its crowning achievement: music ceases to be understood as product and becomes understood as produced, and to place value judgments on any stage of the process is to unravel the new insight instantiated in every incarnation of the piece. By reincarnating the original impulse again and again, an impulse individuates into one of its potential selves. Cave Art — at least, their press release — claim to be “post-music,” and if the four-track re-re-re-visitation helps one to see what “post-music” might mean apophatically, rest assured that its positive, the “music” in “post-music,” is striking.

The same press release also cries “weird pop,” and this is certainly true. For all the avant in Piña Colada, it’s indubitably a pop music: appetitive and catching. The feat is even more impressive because of Cave Art’s strange but spot-on sensibilities by which they disrupt all norms but being them back together, resolving any tension they create with deft treatments. The compositions are masterful marinades, seemingly as directionless but channeled as a lazy river at a bleepy blippy theme park where every attendee holds a tuning fork as the spool of their tempest-tossed kite. The balance between meta movement(s) and short-term tuneful evolution is flawless, and the compellingly-executed novelty of these pieces drowses the listener into not noticing either.

by Brittany Tracy

. issue XX : vii .

. artist : dead sea apes & black tempest .
. album : the sun behind the sun .
. year : 2012 .
. label : cardinal fuzz .
. grade : a .


On the surface (to the casual ear) there might not seem to be a whole lot in common between Dead Sea Apes and the sonic alchemist known as Black Tempest. The former traffics in rolling, and often boiling, maximum sized sonic tectonics, while the latter conjures up electro-kosmische wonders that lay out flight paths as much as they elevate you onto them. Though both cover huge tracts of land both here and out there with a beguiling agility despite the size of their crafts, they don’t deal in surfaces only. They may create them, but they journey far above them and often through them, glowing with a slow-burning cosmic light that blankets like the sun or provides the safe-harbor lure of a lone flame. Dead Sea Apes and Black Tempest don’t just create deep music. They operate along the other axes as nimbly as a spider, swirling around them, coaxing them into shapes far beyond the linear. Sounds and tangents turn in on themselves, gathering and jettisoning, until The Sun Behind The Sun becomes a gloriously constantly weaving knot, a sonic array with bodies that somehow orbit themselves.

Many collaborations sound good on paper, the lure of a pairing too much to pass up when talking about two bodies that generate as much space and gravity as Dead Sea Apes and Black Tempest. And that’s as far as they get; the sum far less than the parts. Here’s one that effectively generates a third entity to stand toe to toe with its parents. There’s not one point on The Sun Behind The Sun where either outfit feels like they are selling the project short by not being true to their mission. This isn’t Dead Sea Tempest. Both give the other wide berth to ply their trade and paint with with big strokes that turn soft edges into the outline of that unseen third party, the third stone behind the other sun…. Nothing feels grafted onto another or bolted in place; it’s a 100% natural weave. Dead Sea Apes and Black Tempest get down to the core of their individual work, finding the plasticity so they can coil around each other like a double-helix. Getting together to push their envelopes, they’ve turned the spotlight on the DNA that makes them both what they are. Consequently, that’s given birth to something that’s both bigger than both of them in some ways, while fitting seamlessly into their own continua.

The Sun Behind The Sun’s common ground between Dead Sea Apes and Black Tempest isn’t a limp superficial overlap of both. This is new ground, new territory for both, not limited by redundant points of interest and intersections. Its three cuts lay out orbits that ripple and pulse around—as well as in— each other as much as they do the sun of your choice. Both governing bodies become indistinguishable, the gears not so much meshing as melding into each other for a giant self-perpetuating solar fire. Considering the inherent pull and force of each respective gravity well, this is a match made in heaven that actually delivers on the promise, leaving Dead Sea Apes and Black Tempest fully redeemed, and their passengers fully satisfied. Highly recommended for new and old sun worshippers alike.

by Mr. Atavist

. issue XX : v .

. artist : manthra dei .
. album : s/t .
. year : 2013 .
. label : acid cosmonaut .
. grade : a .


Italy’s Manthra Dei lay down a classic in more ways than one with their self-titled stoner prog chronicle. Manthra Dei is equal parts lunar rock, runestone and an often unhinged, keyboard soaked love-letter to the 70’s. They themselves say that inside you’ll find “Hawkwind, Causa Sui, Can, Kyuss, Earthless, Black Sabbath, Colour Haze, King Crimson, Motorpsycho, Popol Vuh, Sleep, Goblin, Hypnos69, Jethro Tull, Ozric Tentacles mashed-up, with no criteria, but with horns up against the sky.” Absolutely.

The whole package is infused with a furious proggy 70’s devotion that oozes out of every instrument, especially Paolo T.’s keyboards. There’s Deep Heep wizards lobbing fireballs, liquid soundtrack vibes and plenty of prog freak outs from the heavier end to the more baroque. The rest of Manthra Dei relentlessly keep up; filler free, active and effective drum work are whipped tight with muscular bass that’s agile, careening and hairy. The guitars have an expansive sound that matches the deeper, spacier probes yet stay intimate and near at hand. Lead single “Stone Face” is about the perfect introduction to what’s to come. Easing into a nebulous space rock glide, “Stone Face” eventually erupts into a prog dervish, replete with bell-bottom worthy crunch. “Xolotl” follows a similar template, with a swampy layer of haze over the intro. And like “Stone Face,” “Xolotl” ultimately breaks free, this time into a whole other animal. Vocals come in on “Legendary Lamb” as well as a bowl full of desert sand and swagger, whipping up a groovy bluster not that far removed from Brant Bjork and comrades. Paulo T. gets the spotlight on “Urjammer,” a solo organ outing that’s part soundtrack and doom laden prog hymnal. “Urjammer” oozes and encroaches with a mad scientist’s determination. Determination is what “Blue Phantom” is all about; 17+ minutes of running multiple paces, stoking embers and infernos while still finding time to whip up whiffs of some exotic traveller setting the sextant for that heart of the sun. Manthra Dei wrap it up by revisiting “Stone Face” with an acoustic reprise that is given enough room to fully become its own entity. Rather than tack on some throw-away ditty at the end of the firestorm that gets relegated to an afterthought, the reworking seems like a genuine attempt at easing you out without putting you to sleep. Or worse yet, negating said firestorm.

Excluding the breath of air Manthra Dei gives at the end, band and album virtually consume all other traces. Manthra Dei is incandescent, incendiary and at the right moments, unhinged. A highly recommended progeny of progsters, astronauts and highway stars.

by Mr. Atavist

. issue XX : iii .

. artist : kohwi .
. album : hidden trees .
. year : 2010 .
. label : black tent .
. grade : a minus .


In case it’s been a while since your hard heart got to be in love with the tremulous, warm, ether-borne fantasia of Panda Bear’s Person Pitch, pre-pretension, the spunky sap of Kohwi’s Hidden Trees might be just what the metacultural music doctor ordered. It’s an appreciatively substantive approach to the sort of free-floating freak folk whimsy of the past decade, and, in being so delightful, also functions as an antidote.

by Brittany Tracy

. issue XVIII : v .

. artist : mechanik .
. album : velut stella splendida .
. year : 2013 .
. label : r.a.i.g. .
. grade : a .


My biggest beef with the run of EPs by Mechanik, granted a small one in many ways, was that they were too short. Not that the cuts weren’t lengthy and hearty. They were, and they all delivered a full payload of Mechanik’s space- and kraut-heavy presence. Part of the cortex always wanted to ‘see’ them in the context of an album, but those EPs, like the tracks themselves, certainly stand on their own. Mechanik paints a big, deep space and didn’t need to make any more statements — but room to spread and to think bigger always seemed appealing, if not appropriate. ‘Lo and behold, I got what I wanted; delivered and delivery. Velut Stella Splendida takes more than its name from an early EP. Made up of new cuts and revisits to earlier trips, Mechanik’s full-length uses that wiggle room to maximum effect. Spreading out, digging in and heading out, Mechanik don’t retool their sound for a full-length or forsake the work those EPs did. It’s more akin to inflating to explore the extra room, a ballooning up that inhales as well to make them even more malleable to their new environment.

“De Tepenecz,” “Inner Temple,” “Bliss & Gloss,” “Russian Doll” and, partially, “Pills” get some new limbs here, opening to full wingspan. “De Tepenecz,” like new cut “Zum Traum,” tips the collective hat to earlier Floydisms. The obvious difference is that “Zum Traum” quickly discharges the cascading Syd-era sparks to fully ignite into a driving, determined and indefinite juggernaut, not unlike the album’s start with “Wherever You Are Is The Entry Point” and the vibrating and rubbery drive of “In The Faith That Looks Through Death.” “Pills” (birthed earlier with “Did You Have To Take So Many Pills?”) retains its sense of humor but gets a new body more suited to moving with the rest of Velut.

Both the revisits and the new songs stand as equals; neither are filler to the other. There’s no mistaking Velut Stella Splendida as anyone other than Mechanik, but their mixing of those two ingredients make for a fuller Mechanik, one that seems to fly a bit higher and coast a touch easier all the while taking on some weight, or at least casting a bigger shadow. They also can let out a bigger breath, or hold it in while it’s being patiently replaced, as they show on the more recent “Most People Were Silent.” The lengthiest outing here at 22-plus minutes, Mechanik strip down their suits to the essentials and forgo any finish line in pursuit of a tranquil departure. Before they go, though, Mechanik leave this space refashioned and still undisturbed, explored but not exhausted. If you’ve been consuming the earlier EPs, Velut Stella Splendida is the full course meal you’ve been waiting to savor. Space fans and krautheads alike will fully devour their plate, and even members of those camps that somehow feel the need to be mutually exclusive will end up sitting on each others’ laps, rather than just pulling up a seat next to each other.

by Mr. Atavist

. issue XVII : ii .

. artist : the fierce & the dead .
. album : spooky action .
. year : 2013 .
. label : bad elephant .
. grade : b plus .


The Fierce & The Dead (possibly splitting time between London and Morecambe) return this November with their second full length, Spooky Action. If words like fierce, dead, and spooky lead you to believe that you’re in for some atrocious, postured behemoth more cadaverous than meaty, you’re in for surprise. What’s really spooky is how The Fierce & The Dead seemingly keep refining their sound, getting leaner and meaner in some aspects, yet also increasingly expansive. Nothing here gets close to the physical sweep of their debut outing, but they cover as much familiar and unfamiliar ground as they ever have, even continuing that once nascent saga with “Part 4.” The Fierce & The Dead almost reach contradiction status with a brighter, more open production that makes them crystalline in the gentlest of moments and more jagged and frayed when the furnace is fully stoked. Spooky Action’s closing statement, “The Chief,” is a prime example in full length, though you’ll hear that all through the album. It has a quality not dissimilar to Crimson, a band that The Fierce & The Dead nod to not only in construct, but in purpose. If the above word gave you pause of any kind, then ‘prog’ may do even more damage. The Fierce & The Dead definitely have stakes in that camp, but in encompassing so much more, they tie themselves tighter to its legacy by distancing themselves from it. Actions and reactions fold in artful post-rock tendencies and structure, the abrasiveness of metal, an almost punkish fury in Kev Feazey’s wonderfully up-front and fraught bass work … all with a dedication to the melodious, no matter how discordant they sound. With time spent in the hinterlands between the cerebral and the corporeal, The Fierce & The Dead don’t forget a sense of humor, a dose of playfulness in the intricacies; for examples, see the frenetic “Let’s Start a Cult” or the hand-clapping call to arms rock-kicking off the title cut that morphs into something else altogether. The Fierce & The Dead call Spooky Action a collection of ‘songs about cults, quantum physics and absent friends.’ If you don’t find cults, science and your comrades terrifying and absurd in equal measure, and consequently intriguing, then you might actually be the one that’s dead.

by Mr. Atavist