NEW RELEASE PICKS: Black Marble, Fast Idol (Sacred Bones) Beginning as a duo, with the early exit of TY Kube, Black Marble became the project of Chris Stewart, Brooklyn-based for a while though currently working in Los Angeles. Three full-length records precede Fast Idol in the Black Marble discography, with this set the second LP released by Sacred Bones, who also put out Black Marble’s pink vinyl 12-inch of cover songs last year. I dug that set, and feel the same way about Fast Idol, as Stewart’s approach to techno-pop benefits from vivid multidimensionality of execution. It’s clear by now that scads of folks can regurgitate this sound, but few pull it off as convincingly as Stewart. It comes down to writing as much as timbres and atmospherics. Style descriptors attached to Black Marble include darkwave, minimal synth, and coldwave, none of them inappropriate, but to my ear, the sustained high quality of the songwriting places this album firmly in pop territory, techno- or synth-, take your pick. Highly danceable, but more achily lush. The added guitar in “Say It First” delivers a standout moment. A-
Dinner, Dream Work (Captured Tracks) Dinner is Danish multi-instrumentalist Anders Rhedin, who has a few prior full-lengths out on Captured Tracks, though the man is in fact returning from a sojourn of sorts, as it is divulged that he delved into the potentialities of “ambient and meditation music.” As this is my introduction to Rhedin’s work, it was difficult to discern what kind of impact this break had on his output as Dinner, at least until penultimate track “Born Again” gave way to “Drøm.” There is the sound of running water, there are drifting fields of sound, and there is even a synthetic fluty thingy (maybe two). It’s a nice way to end an album, but leading up to that, Dinner is still squarely about the songs. There are synths, but it’s not synth pop. There are surely guitars, but it’s not exactly guitar pop. Indie? Sure, but it doesn’t easily fit into the old-school or new jack varieties. All of this definitely situates Dream Work as a pop-auteur situation that’s only enhanced by a few neo-’80s-isms, the occasional guy-gal harmonies and the distinctive quality of Rhedin voice, his accent adding value. A-
Kira, S/T (Kitten Robot) Kira Roessler is a bass player of distinction, one of the best I’ve heard in fact, with my esteem directly related to her work in the two-bass duo dos alongside her ex-hubby Mike Watt (her work in other contexts is also worthwhile, in particular her role in Black Flag as she replaced Chuck Dukowski). Kira (as she prefers to be called) is also a fine singer (a talent she sharpened in dos) and crafter of songs (with the bass always at the forefront), making her a triple threat (and even more, as she has multiple credits as sound editor for Hollywood films) who’s only gotten around to releasing her debut solo album in 2021. It’s a good one. A damned good one, even. Although she gets a little help from her friends (and production assistance from her brother Paul), this is firmly Kira’s show, the ten tracks unwinding with a relaxed maturity that still holds the power to captivate. At a few moments, I was reminded of Kim Gordon, though Kira’s work here is pretty firmly rooted in songs. Still her rock bona fides shine through, as she maximizes the potential of her instrument throughout. A-
REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Lena Platonos, Balancers (Dark Entries) The discography of Greek pianist and composer Platonos is extensive and begins in the early 1980s, with its fruits falling solidly into the electronic basket, but with clear arty and outright experimental tendencies. She’s particularly noted for three releases, Sun’s Masks (’84), Galop (’85), and Lepidoptera (’86), which have all been reissued by Dark Entries, along with three 12-inch EPs devoted to contemporary remixes of her work. Balancers offers 14 tracks, all unreleased and likely to tempt fans of avant-electronics, especially as the timeframe, specifically ’82-’85, overlaps with the above albums. The reality is that without a specific pointer to the age of these recordings, I would’ve been hard pressed to nail down their era. This lack of datedness is appreciated, as is the range; there are rhythms, but they don’t run rampant. I quite like the numerous tracks where Platonos recites poetry in Greek. During “Now, While You Wait for Your Love,” she even breaks into song. A-
Fire-Toolz, Eternal Home & Eternal Home [Instrumentals] (Hausu Mountain) Reviewing Skinless X-1 by Fire-Toolz back in 2019 in this very column, I related a sonic similarity to the sample-based work of John Oswald, though a point of enlightenment that is found in Eternal Home’s press release relates that Angel Marcloid’s work as Fire-Toolz “is built from the ground up without the use of external sampled music.” However, my comparison to Oswald still stands as my reasoning has to do with the calculated, productive dissonance in the mingling of pop and easy listening textures with approaches that can be described as noisy, experimental and extreme. In Oswald’s Plexure, the dissonance was brought on by a hyperactivity derived entirely from sampling, creating a short piece that was simultaneously familiar and alien.
Fire-Toolz’ juxtapositions are no less strange, as Eternal Home features smooth jazz sax, glistening ’80s radio pop cascades, drawn out synth bliss, ominous deep bass excursions, channel-surfing discombobulation, bursts of Industrial-strength abrasiveness, and full-on blasts of grind-core complete with vocal freak-outs that conjure visions of John Zorn circa 1990 decked out in camouflage pants and a Napalm Death t-shirt. The association to Zorn is doubly resonant, as stretches of Eternal Home sound like they could’ve been released on the Avant of Tzadik labels (the latter having issued Oswald’s Plexure) or even the Ipecac label of Zorn associate Mike Patton. I guess the point I’m making is that even at its most unhinged, the music of Fire-Toolz has links to precedent. And at 78 minutes long, there is a lot to absorb here. The 2LP of Eternal Home has been delayed (currently) to mid-November, the CD, cassette, and digital are out tomorrow. Eternal Home [Instrumentals], which offers the record sans vocals (a few samples do remain), is substantially different. It’s out on CD, cassette, and digital November 19. A-/ A-
Dave Liebman Expansions, Selflessness: The Music of John Coltrane (Dot Time) Paying recorded tribute to any esteemed musical figure can be a tricky undertaking. Using prior releases as evidence, the tribute task only becomes more difficult when the subject is John Coltrane, for in his case, far too often, the sound of these doffed lids is overly reverent, misplacing the palpable aura of exploratory risk that partially defines so much of Coltrane’s musical legacy. Well respected veteran soprano saxophonist and bandleader Liebman, who has cited Coltrane as his biggest influence and inspiration, isn’t playing it safe on this album, but as Expansions is his working band, the sheer togetherness of execution does drive home a firm sense of control. It’s through a loose, open-ended approach to the compositions that the overly polite is avoided.
All nine selections (seven on the vinyl plus a download card) are credited to Coltrane, though technically, “My Favorite Things” is Liebman’s interpretation of Trane’s interpretation of Rodgers and Hammerstein. It’s amongst the standouts here, though to understandably varying degrees the entirety of the recording is a pleasure to absorb. Just when it seems the collective touch is on the verge of getting too light, a spark of inventiveness flares up. It’s notable that none of the musicians here seek to approximate any of the distinctive voices that encompassed Coltrane’s celebrated Classic Quartet, not even pianist Bobby Avey in regard to McCoy Tyner. Additionally, the instrumental makeup broadens to include a frame drum, flute, wooden flute, clarinet, synth and wind synth (talk about taking risks). A-
Tricky Woo, Rock and Roll Music Part One, The Enemy Is Real, & Sometimes I Cry (Blow the Fuse) When garage punk is done right, it can be a transcendent experience. Rock and Roll Music Part One, the first LP from Canada’s Tricky Woo, originally released in 1997 on SSG Records (a label affiliated with Vice Magazine) gets in the ballpark. Their sound at this point has been compared to prime Detroit action a la Stooges and MC5, but the way they barrel forth has more to do with some of the rawer R&R friendly purveyors of ’77 punk. That’s sweet. At a few points the swaggering goes a little overboard, but that’s no big thing. “Kentucky Derby” reminds me a bit of Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet in a Girl Trouble frame of mind.
For The Enemy Is Real, which came out a year later on the Sonic Unyon label, the band’s attack is honed; the songs are denser, louder, speedier, and hookier. There is still swagger on the part of guitarist-vocalist Andrew Dickson (upon consideration, this is Tricky Woo’s most ’60s-like trait), but this time out it registers as fully earned. The extended needle drop of a rather mysterious Chinese song (recorded sometime in the mid-20th century, likely for a film) at the end of The Enemy Is Real’s final track “Lead Wings” seemed to foretell Tricky Woo lighting out for weirder territory, and with “Altamont Raven,” the slightly psych-bent “T.V. Eye” rip of the lead-off track from Sometimes I Cry, released in 1999 by Sonic Unyon, they did indeed flirt with this possibility. However, on the following 11 selections the band essentially returns to form. There are no surprises but also no fuckups, and that’s no small achievement.
B+/ A-/ A-