Freak Scene #11

September 04, 2007

This week, Freak Scene delves into a couple reissues—one of an eclectic 1960s Japanese film composer, the other Swedish psych dudes who opened for Hendrix—along with new recordings from FS favorite Fursaxa and the lo-fi drug drone of GHQ.

There are some very serious sounds to delve into this week. With the long weekend in recognition of labor I had some time to cue up some new finds. First up is a release on the Belgian cassette label Sloow Tapes, by GHQ entitled Square Growth Sessions. GHQ consists of Marcia Bassett (Hototogisu, Zaimph), Steve Gunn and Pete Nolan (Magik Markers). GHQ is all about the sustained slight evolutions, the material seemingly improvised as opposed to some of their more folk oriented works heard on their last LP. Its lo-fi charms befit an opium den in its hazy rhythmic movements. The A-side features some particularly fine light raga, space tones of a vaguely middle-eastern flavor while conjuring images of flea markets as guitars feedback and glow, talk to each other in muted tones. This material here is fairly raw; the second side offering a dark meditation giving way to blasts of free-form mind squall that’s heavy enough to jar one out its initial dream lulls. In the end they bring it back down to a tempered finale. Drummer Pete Nolan really shines on his performance on this side, offering percussive dynamics rarely seen in the drone medium. This release ranks as the best GHQ I’ve heard as I prefer their spontaneity anytime.

Next up is a fantastic piece of vintage Swedish psych by Baby Grandmothers from the mid 60s, issued by the Subliminal Sounds label. Baby Grandmothers play long guitar stretches in the vein of their contemporaries Trad Gras Ocht Stenar, Parsen Sound and the like. What I always liked about the Swedish psych bands was their looseness and these guys are no exception as these tunes are open-ended. Stockholm was a city that embraced free jazz in the early 60’s. One can see Ornette Coleman’s At The Golden Circle records for evidence of out-sounds from the city’s premiere venue. Later on the Golden Circle opened its doors to the city's own progressive rock bands as well as touring artists like Jimi Hendrix who had the Grandmothers open for him. Basically, Stockholm was real fuckin hip, and Baby Grandmothers were in the middle of it all. At various times the line-up is a classic power trio of stretched, driving freak out psych rock. At other points on the record there’s an organ player in the mix. Over the course of two lps we get only seven tracks culled from various sessions and performances all of which are mostly instrumental brain fry rock. Its primitive stomp retains a genuine search for freedom. The lifeless liner notes leave more questions than answers, but it hardly matters when everything else is so top-notch.

It’s always a particular treat for me to hear new music from Fursaxa. Fursaxa is the mostly solo work of Tara Burke and has been releasing record after record of ghost ballads and poppy field minimal psych. Her work culminated with the release of the brilliant Alone in the Dark Woods LP, which is at this point my favorite LP of the year. Now we have the Maidenstone EP, released on 7” on the Mount Saint Mountain label. The a-side “Seven Stones” is a remarkable direct approach as it features completely unaffected vocals and acoustic guitar. Burke’s guitar playing has become increasingly sure-footed lately and her voice is always narcotic, represented finely on this tune. The interesting part is how you take everything away and her music still is enchanting, spacious and affecting. The b-side “Throne of Chalcedony” returns to full spectrum of bells, drones, amplified sounds and more of Burke’s vocal hypnosis. Certainly haven’t seen a Fursaxa 7” before so this is definitely something for 4am headphone late night singles parties.

Lastly we have the soundtrack work of Teiji Ito. Ito moved from Japan when he was six, ran away from home at fifteen and in 1952 at the age of 17 he met avant-garde voodoo priestess Maya Deren outside a bodega in New York. That night she decided that Ito would score her films. The couple eventually married, with the much older Deren serving as a muse to her young composer husband. The pair embarked on a series of work together that yielded some of the most enduring and successful legacies in the realm of American underground cinema. John Zorn’s Tzadik label has just issued a two cd set of all of Ito’s work for films entitled Music For Maya. Ito performs all the music on this set, consisting of Haitian percussive elements, Japanese traditional music as well as elements of jazz. Ito also used the tape player in his compositions incorporating overdubs and splicing movements, executed sparingly. Taken outside the context of film this music serves as a remarkable introduction to a particularly broad palate of Ito’s interests and formidable skill. Ito certainly was an accomplished guitar and clarinet player as heard on “Bagatelle for Willard Maas,” in which Ito’s playing evokes a myriad of textures and melodies, hinting at a romantic but turbulent undercurrent as the score to a story if a doomed marriage. But Ito’s love for Deren and her work inspired some amazing soundtrack work, which can now be enjoyed on its own merits for the first time. Essential listening.


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Posted: September 04, 2007
Freak Scene #11