Freak Scene #24

January 08, 2008



This week, Freak Scene goes droney and improvisational.





During the waning weeks of 2007, Cleveland’s Emeralds came to town for a few memorable shows and a solid collaboration with Carlos Giffoni. Along for the ride was fellow Ohio drone hound Sam Goldberg. To commemorate their trek, Emeralds and Goldberg released a split tour cassette showcasing the Midwest American drone phenomenon. Goldberg plays solo ambient guitar that recalls the expansive rolling glides of such groups like Windy & Carl and the Azusa Plane. This one long drone definitely echoes the late 90’s Terrastock invasion of psychedelic travelers. While not reinventing the wheel, it’s a solid listen. Emeralds come strong on the B-side with a heavy dark cloud of analog synth and phased electronics. There is more of a menace to these tones than pastoral waves making a nice contrast to Goldberg’s more shimmer-drenched sounds. The second track is a further detached dark rumble new to their vocabulary from what I’ve heard so far. Emeralds here move into realms of solitary confinement and it works for em just fine.


One band I have had the hardest fucking time trying to figure out is Kentucky’s own Warmer Milks who release their first long player in a minute entitled Let Your Friends In on the Release the Bats label. The first few minutes are a jumble of highly distorted audio collage and bizarre caterwauling. Things settle into a noise-rock heavy dirge of twisted guitars and rumbling distorted bass. There are some terrific, nasty vocals that are almost Black Metal sounding in their miserable far off yells. This is miles away from some of the crappy improv recordings I’ve heard from these guys and their fractured death rock definitely works for these ears. The whole ten-minute riffs breaks down and comes back in three times, ridiculous but awesome fun nonetheless. The second half of the record devolves into the more drooling stoned nonsense that I’ve come to expect from them. But that’s kind of the thing about the Warmer Milks, even though they are wildly inconsistent there’s certainly no formula being adhered to here. I just tend to like them when they are in their more “composed” setting.


While it may come as a shock to indie rockers out there, melodic pop band Meneguar have done some serious time in the improv trenches individually and in pairs in various projects most notably with Wooden Wand as the Vanishing Voice, who have several records w/and without Mr, Wand Toth himself. Meneguar have decided to document their more informal rehearsals with a cassette series on drummer Jeremy Earl’s Fuck It Tapes label called Tone Banks. Volume 1 of this series, “Some Downs” starts innocently enough with a classic downtempo begrudged bummer jam that picks up right where their last full length left off. Instead of the song ending the band just keeps it going and begins to drift off into free territory of disjointed melodies and no end in sight horizons of open road, Kraut rock style. Things slow down considerably for some woods music free psych loner style babble. Later on there is some nice piano/drone duets that languish on after the melodies unravel. For some reason I think this is what must sound like in their heads on the downtime of long tour drives of various states of hung over. Its interesting how the band framed the context of a more public display of their “free” material in the sense of extending it directly from a traditional indie rock song showing the link that the transition makes sense for these players. Good stuff.


Another guy who’s tough to pin down is Geoff Mullen, who after a series of releases treats us to a double LP called Armory Radio released on the Barge Recordings label. Mullen employs tape loops, feedback pedals, handheld transistor radios as well as more traditional instrumentation. Somewhere where the genres of drone, noise, collage and composition come together is where Mullen dwells. From creepy to contemplative, Mullen runs the gamut on these four sides, showing a knack for both sound craft and organization. The trap of much experimental music is the tendency to let instinct override the natural progress of the piece. Mullen conjures some stormy brews as well as some quiet interludes but never does he become dull or predictable. What’s immediately clear is attention to detail and craft. The way his radio samples complement the mood of his noise is essentially complimentary and not at all contrived. His drone work has movement and pulse, never static or monolithic. This music is not haphazard. Mullen’s disregard for genre ghettoization is refreshing for a work of this magnitude and never seems forced. I’d suggest taking these one at a time. There’s a lot going on.


Finally I’d just like to take a moment to thank all the bands, labels and readers of the column. In an age of disposable media the vibrancy of home recorded, self-released, anachronistic formatted underground music and art continues to thrive. Stay tuned for lots more to come here.

-STEVE LOWENTHAL

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Freak Scene #24