Monday, January 18, 2021

Sticks And Stones-Unbreakable Strings; self-released, 2007

 

A week or so back, Disaster Amnesiac was rooting around in the "S" box of CD's, looking for some Stooges to listen to, when I came upon Unbreakable Strings, the 2007 release from San Francisco-based Sticks And Stones. Upon seeing it, I figured that it was high time I play the disc again, having probably not done so for good number of years. 

It's quite possible that I bought the disc from drummer Sam Adato at his drum shop on 9th St. in the City, or that Sam just gave it to me. So many years later, it's tough to remember the details. As I remain a a music nerd, and feel genuinely interested in what people are doing musically, especially people like Sam, I am glad to have kept this one. 

Sticks And Stones are/were an instrumental band that pulled from various strands of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal to get their point across. Disaster Amnesiac hears the influence of guitar greats such as Michael Schenker, Alan Holdsworth, Edward Van Halen, maybe a bit of Frank Marino, Randy Roads et al in the six string approach of guitarists Gretchen Menn and Mickael Tremel. Perhaps a bit of Davie Allen in there, too. You know, players that played. I can't seem to make exactly who is soloing at certain times, but it's clear that whomever it is is very interested in the more melodic side of the guitar's solo sounds. That's not to say that they don't get down into the rough stuff at times; just listen to May Be the One or The Bat Signal for proof of that. Plenty of heaviness in those tracks. Still, one can clearly hear the sound of players that practice their craft, and get things said with their own, thought-out and worked out instrumental voices. It's also really cool to listen to and feel the way that the rhythm guitarist within a given piece keeps things harmonically interesting within the context of the song's movement. There is just so much great guitar going on within Unbreakable Strings, as further evinced by a faithfully executed version of Kashmir by way of the Dixie Dregs, a cool tribute to Roads on Stay On the Roads, with its spot-on quote from one of Randy's shining Blizzard of Oz moments, and the close to ballad lyricism of Siddhartha. Menn and Tremel swagger, swing, shred, and riff in dozens of exciting ways, all the while never seeming rest on the lazy "cool" that sometimes seems to infect guitar players, especially in urban scenes. These two never slack, and it's fun to hear them dig in. 

Along with all of this great guitar playing on Strings, the listener is also treated to the bitchin' drumming of Hard Rock master drummer Sam Adato. Disaster Amnesiac feels confident in saying that Sam's talents would shine within any musical form, but it seems safe to say that hard 'n heavy guitar music is his forte (I have heard him swing the shit out of a Surf band, just fyi). Just pick any song on this disc: the rolling, stomping Wagon Wheel and A Line In The News, or energetic Turn the Page, with its fast fills, or the intricate Struck Sleepless; you'll find Sam's big bass drum, crackin' snare, and tasteful cymbal beats all over the place. The man just drives these tunes in ways that are rock solid and just perfect for the task at hand. Sam additionally adds really subtle percussive touches throughout, spicing things up with shakers, cow bells, and tambourine shakes. Disaster Amnesiac can recall going into his shop and seeing him in front of a practice pad or sitting at one of his many drum kits so many times. Sam seems to live and breathe drums, and that dedication really shines within the music of Sticks And Stones. 

Taken as a whole, Unbreakable Strings is a very well thought out and executed slice of Progressive Instrumental Hard Rock. Bring your ambitious listening side to it, for the players in Sticks And Stones certainly brought and executed theirs. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Naturaliste-Temporary Presence; Almost Halloween Time/Gertrude Tapes/Public Eyesore/Unread Records, 2020

 


Wait, what? More product from the Public Eyesore/eh? Records nexus? If things continue apace over there, it'll be SST Records circa 1988 all over again! Pace yourselves, dudes! Not that Disaster Amnesiac is complaining, especially when really fine releases such at Temporary Presence by Naturaliste show up in the mail. 

This quartet, made up of Bryan Day, Christopher Fischer, Charles LaReau and L. Eugene Methe, seems to have, in whole or in part, convened in Shanghai a couple of years ago, borrowed some instruments from a shop there (presumably to be paired with whatever unique rigs these guys were able to get past customs), and laid down some heavy sounds. These sounds were then augmented with sounds from the group members' various studios, and the whole thing pressed up onto a nice, thick, black slab of vinyl for the public's consumption. 

That public should be very damn glad to have access to Temporary Presence, too. Well, at least those members of the public that enjoy improvised Electro-Acoustic and Noise sounds whirling about their senses. See, this work fires on all cylinders within those aesthetics. Within its mix of strange piano chords, percussive clatter, keening feedback, and disembodied voices, the album treats the listener to two sides of consistently gooey and downright deep sonic exploration. Each piece is paced in such a way as to hook your senses in. Once this happens, their effect burrows down further and further, taking your mind with it. Disaster Amnesiac has been particularly enamored with It's Just the Air Conditioner, side two's longer track. This piece lowers a sonic boom that is consistently mind altering. Seriously, when that track has played in my house, things have just stopped and I've been frozen into a state of pure, immersive bliss. It's here wherein all of the various elements just combine into a very compelling whole, one which is just so consistently pyschoid and downright deep as to be a mind blower with every single hearing.  Elsewhere, you have the mysteriously titled The Swallows Have Returned with its ominous thrumming electrics and warped piano, Vitals which features some cool,  by turns glassy and popping percussion, and At the Worst Of It, which concludes things with a nice, thick atmosphere. All the tracks on Temporary Presence just exude this undeniable mood; clearly something special transpired at Sandy Music in Shanghai. 

Along with the great sounds, Temporary Presence benefits from a rich and sumptuous package that has some great Bryan Day asemic writing and cool type face. Dunno if the inner sleeve insert is just a blur by design, but that's kind of cool in its own way as well. 

As usual, Disaster Amnesiac is chuffed to be on the receiving end of another package from the House of Day. Temporary Presence checks all of the boxes for me. Seek this one out, as it probably will for you if you're at all inclined to dig the kind of psychedelia that Naturaliste are so adept at dishing up. 

Saturday, January 9, 2021

EKG-200 Years of Electricals; ernstkarelbandcamp.com, 2021

 


If Disaster Amnesiac was tasked with explaining effective ways to interact with Electro-Acoustic music to a person not familiar with its dynamics, I would consider using the graphic image of EKG's 200 Years of Electricals as a kind of portal into the discussion. One sees a small patch of grass, some chaff, and not much else, yes? Not so fast. One can delve further into the grass, getting down into the roots and the dirt and the filaments of the chaff, further and further, breaking these elements down into their constituent pieces. This act would surely reveal new dimensions, new thoughts, new insights into the tableaux. Far from being a simple patch of grass, this space is transformed into a world of interaction. 

This insight can be used for listening and analysis of 200 Years as well. Comprised of four pieces, this recorded has Kyle Bruckmann and Ernst Karel delving into their two decades long collaborative world, turning over the elements with which they interact and then combining into various zones of sound wonder and manipulation. St. Paul Suburb, episode 1, for example, fuses field recordings with analog electronics for a lengthy trip that takes a listener from Mayberry to Sirius B, with many stops in between. One isn't going to get through this trip without sitting back and paying some attention, but if one allows the time and attention, many cool sounds bubble up, or slash out, or emerge from the clouds of previous movements' dynamics. Again, it's really all about the focus that you bring to it. Periodicities mit Wurlitzer shows a very clear example of how Electro-Acoustic music often has a goal of taking the timbres and methods of instruments and seeking to find unexplored or under-explored facets within them. Disaster Amnesiac has sworn that I've heard said Wurlitzer and its amp hum here, but can by no means be certain. Ditto the oboe that Bruckmann plays. Are those clicks and clacks coming from its pads, or are they emanations of some other sound making device? It's all really heady and fun if you put your attention to it. Likewise, Rondo has scratching, scraping scenes that have me wondering what physical element is being played live or manipulated for its result, after which it flirts briefly with a more Noise-based feel before fading off. St. Paul Suburb, episode 2 floats along, mostly in a pensive quiet, with what sounds like wind hitting a mic for that field recording vibe again. 

Reading the press blurb for 200 Years of Electricals, Disaster Amnesiac sees that it is the result of many years' work by Bruckmann and Karel. Clearly, they've labored over its pieces in order to make a statement of Electro-Acoustic music that pleases them. After this recording releases next month, go into their sound garden, and start digging. If you're paying attention, you'll find a lot of neat stuff to please your ears as you go 'a grubbin'. 

Friday, January 8, 2021

Manifesto-History; Fire Records Blaze 42T, 1990

 

The first thing that attracted Disaster Amnesiac to  Manifesto's History 12", in some S.F. record store cutout bin most likely, was the bold cover graphic of a despairing lumpen dude and its strong lettering. Then, turning it over in my hand, I noticed the players: Michael Fellows, Bert Queiroz, and Ivor Hampton. Anyone familiar with these names will immediately intone "..D.C.!", as I surely did in my head as I held the cover. These three represent major sounds within the District's Punk and Post Punk developments: Untouchables, Faith, Rites of Spring, Embrace, Rain.....all groups that put out great, influential music, music that I have enjoyed for many years. Naturally, History stayed in my grasp and ended up within the Disaster Amnesiac stacks. 

Of course, it's stayed there, too. Lately I've been spinning it again, and really enjoying its three songs. Starting off with the title track, which features a great, chiming guitar lead line from Hampton and driving rhythms from Queiroz and Hanson, I am inclined to hear an almost Beach Boys influence from the hopeful lyrical intonations, delivered sweetly from Hampton. These songs, likely being written in D.C. in the mid-to-late 1980's, there is naturally a post-Revolution Summer slant to them as well, and well buttressed by the melodic guitar approach that characterized that aesthetic. I could play this track over and over, and indeed, that's one thing that I've been doing of late. Its clean lines display a sharp skill for song craft. Plus, that tambourine chatter helps a lot as well. Very cool stuff on History

On the flip side, we find the darker vibe of Burn, pushed by another stomping beat from Hanson on the tom toms, with what sounds like maybe a bit of help from some kind of rhythm generator, cool guitar picking that always makes Disaster Amnesiac think of flames rising up, and a catchy chorus. This tune must have moved some butts on some Urban dance floor somewhere in the world. It seems equally designed for that as it does for rocking out. Did these guys ever play live? History ends with Who Walks the Wire, which features a bit more of a fast pace from the rhythm section underneath yet another eminently catchy, melodic guitar riff. The group gets into some nicely syncopated changes in place of a guitar solo, then heads back to that cool verse phrase and repeats "then the world means nothing". Pretty spot on, Manifesto!

As stated, Disaster Amnesiac wonders if this configuration of D.C. stalwart players ever presented itself live at the D.C. Space or 9:30 Club or something. If you're a fan of any of these guys' work, and see History out in the wild or online, you'd likely want to swoop on it.