Dark Stars

062099; Out of My Face (Umbrella)

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What should outer space sound like? Sonar echoes and rumbling rhythms, quoth Pink Floyd and Hawkwind. But in 1968, Stanley Kubrick (figuring that interstellar blips and bomps lack air to bounce off?) opted for György Ligeti's rhythmless, hovering Lux Aeterna to accent 2001: A Space Odyssey, and many thereafter have bandwagoned, from turn-of-the-'70s Tangerine Dream onward.

Though it uses 17 North Carolinians on mostly orchestral-type instruments instead of a few Krauts on synths 'n' cymbals, Micro-East Collective's 062099 (named for its recording date) tokes you back to 1971 and the slowly morphing mood of T. Dream's Alpha Centauri. The MEC slab's dominant composition, the 35-minute "Exploring the Metal Sphere," launches from the story of a spacecraft assigned to map the surface of the titular object, a perfectly smooth planet the size of Jupiter that's been discovered orbiting Beta Pictoris. For listeners, it's a mission worth undertaking at least once.

Giddily optimistic about the future of communism, the author of MEC's press release brags that the ensemble "foreshadows community orchestral music for the next century" in that all members share responsibility for direction and repertoire. All for one: Nothing on 062099 resembles a solo or even an identifiable melodic line. Instead, you hear swells, recessions, long sustains, scraped cymbals, as the musicians are cued to get louder, play a simple series of notes, modulate a whole tone up, things like that, generally avoiding dissonance. They're not prissy about the project; now and then you hear somebody cough or get up to take a leak. But the positive effect of the music -- a sense of wholeness and connection that settles in the diaphragm -- indicates that they know exactly how to take you on a satisfying textural voyage.

It's not a bit boring. In fact, for some reason I suddenly noticed while strapped in that I hadn't thought about sex for the first 28 minutes, which according to popular man-lore is some 150 times longer than average.

Recorded a few months after 062099, the new Out of My Face breaks the Micro-East experience into 12 more easily graspable hunks, a little noisier but no less focused. Ensemble percussionist Ian Davis' notes say the group references Cage, Braxton and George Crumb "whilst disobeying their instructions." Sounds like the players want to liberate themselves from traditional notions of music, then liberate themselves from the liberation. That implies they're actually more disciplined than their models, and the rigor pays off. It's easy to imagine that anyone could think up the kinds of structures they employ here: Everybody slide down like a car over a gentle cliff, crash into a tree and slide some more. Have a clarinet wander through a barnyard, now and then scaring chickens and ducks into a flutter. Build everything around a vibraphone­and­drum roll, with horns commenting. Maybe a lot of us could conceptualize as spunkily. But traveling between concept and music takes time and skill. And this is music. (

Ode Music; Guarapero: Lost Blues 2 (Drag City)

Will Oldham began his music career with his protean Palace (Palace Music, Palace Songs, Palace Brothers, et al.) project, and at first his muse seemed firmly planted on the postmodern back porch. His electro-acoustic take on Appalachian folk mixed archaic grammar and goofily offensive sexuality. He leavened the music's gloomy mood with mad cackles of joy. But soon it became evident that this was a guy afflicted with a Dylan complex. He changed aliases release-to-release (after a stint as Will Oldham, he now goes by Bonnie "Prince" Billy). For bandmates he looked to his own private Woodstock, playing with indie rockers and kin residing in his own boho stomping ground, Louisville, Kentucky. Here was a post-punker who had denied his love of the Band far too long. But sometimes one wondered about those mad cackles . . .

Country-folk-rock hasn't held the pop-culture spotlight for a long while, and, lacking constant illumination, Oldham's behavior often seemed more schizophrenic than mythic. It was no wonder that Oldham's first collection of singles and various odds and ends, Lost Blues, sounded like both a greatest-hits package and a hit-and-miss bootleg. It was also the first record that could claim to be representative of his varied output, serving up lightly drawn gems and raucous Southern rockers next to ill-advised experiments, live and tossed-off tracks next to meticulous, shimmering post cards from the beach. More postscript than traveling companion to Lost Blues, Guarapero: Lost Blues 2 is best when representing Oldham's penchant for creepy minimalism. "Patience," "Take However Long You Want," "Gezundheit" and "Let the Wires Ring" rest uneasily on roughly sketched acoustic guitar and his crackling voice, like the last sad notes out of a man fading into misery, obscurity or sleep. Sustaining such fragility
isn't easy, and these songs are oddly gorgeous.

While they sport fuller arrangements, tracks such as "No More Rides," "Drinking Woman" and the Lynyrd Skynyrd cover "Every Mother's Son" shamble along in like fashion, and display Oldham's Dylanesque skill at courting chaos. Sometimes, though, chaos takes over. Two badly recorded live tracks mar the set, and the techno-symphonic production on "Boy, Have You Cum" and "The Risen Lord" are so disconcerting that one is hard-pressed to generate any opinion on them at all. They sound a little like Woody Guthrie fronting the Pet Shop Boys. But that's what happens when you delve into basement tapes.

Also worth noting is Ode Music, a short record of soothing, chill-out Appalachia Oldham composed for a short film; it's certainly no Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid soundtrack, but Oldham's steel-string, synth and acoustic grooves are pleasingly repetitive. (Alec Hanley Bemis)


Soundscapes: Live From Melbourne (Phatt Phunk)

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The rave community has gotten a lot of flack lately. Tragic tales of too-high kiddies dozing off at the wheel and crashing to their deaths after a night of love, happiness and X trips enhanced with booze, pot and boomin' bass have served as sure-fire ratings boosters for more than a couple of prime-time news programs. But face it, drug usage in the rave scene is no more dangerous than it is anywhere else. Last year, fewer than a dozen deaths related to drugs and rave events were reported in the U.S., as opposed to the 150-plus fatalities nationwide blamed on the use of Viagra. Not to dismiss concerns about raves and drug abuse, or the current lean on rave promoters to push their brethren to play safely, but all this hype has overshadowed the core of raving, which is the music.

Inspired by a trip down under, rave veteran DJ Thomas Michael saves us the effort of mysterious checkpoints, late-night drives out to the middle of nowhere and blinding laser shows with his recent release Soundscapes: Live From Melbourne. Recorded at Melbourne's annual "Every Picture Tells a Story" party, these 14 fast-paced house tracks start off with the somber organ pipes of "Baby She's a Lot Like Me," and the tempo swiftly rises to a trippy strobe-light pitch on "Believe." Highlights include "The Gimp," a mad peak-hour track with swirling, hallucinogenic synths, and the disco vibes of "Gouryella." Michael does a good job of layering tracks, creating solid builds to get the hands up 'n' wavin'.

As with most progressive music compilations, you'd have to read the track listings to know where one cut begins and another ends. But that's the objective here, folks, and Michael smoothes it all out in one continuous flowing groove. (Thomas Michael performs at Giant on Saturday, March 11, and at Unified later that same night with DJs Tony, Justin Hale, Nic Nax, Thee-O, Chelsea, Deacon, Uncut, DJ W, Alder, SDF-1 and Jason Angel. For Unified info and location, call 323-960-4469 or 818-325-2068.) (Derrick Mathis)



Say It Is So (Periscope/Sonny's Pop)

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Over the last decade, Nashville, by continually choosing image over substance, has been responsible for not only tainting country music but making a mockery of a number of related genres. Still, like Las Vegas, the lure of old Nashville lingers in the hearts of many -- apparently including New Zealander Tim Finn, ex of Split Enz and Crowded House, and, perhaps most important, composer of the title track to Cane Toads, the best documentary ever. Drawn to Nashville by a friend's "epiphany," Finn and Cleveland-based producer Jay Joyce not only fend off N-ville's oppressive mediocrity but create a travelogue sufficient to vindicate him from his abysmal ALT project.  

Beginning with "Underwater Mountain," which owes more to the atmospheric acousta-pop of the Church or Simon Bonney than Finn's usual bag of Beatlesque tricks, the disc -- his first solo outing in seven years -- grows more interesting by the cut. Back-to-back, "Shiver" and the Pettyesque "Good Together" are two of Finn's best-executed tunes to date, with Joyce's production beautifully accenting lyrics and skillfully showcasing choruses. On "Roadtrip" he tosses in a cache of pulsing effects, sounds and loops to create a warm quilt of Eno-Lanois textures, and even manages to make alt-country singer Julie Miller's warbly backups sound good.

If "Big Wave Rider" is a bit schizophrenic, "Some Dumb Reason" answers with the set's most straightforward rocker, which sounds like it came right out of the Kinks' Village Green songbook. Finally, there's "Rest," which pairs a Finn original with a traditional New Zealand tune to bid a gentle, spacey adieu to the 20th century (N.Z. was the first country to greet the 21st century). Now, if we could just send some of those country singers to New Zealand . . . (Michael Lipton)


Gettin' High on Your Own Supply (Sony/Epic)

Electronic-oriented musicians acting as one-person multi-instrumentalists/arrangers awoke a long time ago from their computerized mode of merely layering one dream beat after another. Where would Tricky be without his nightingale Martina, Massive Attack and their mini-orchestrations, or Prodigy without synth Svengali and drummer Liam Howlett? Apollo Four Forty's Gettin' High on Your Own Supply has one hand on the turntable and the other strumming a guitar, a neglected instrument in electronica but one these Liverpudlians incorporate cleverly amid their heavy beats lightly thrown.

It all goes back to the band's 1997 "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Dub," with its inspired sample of Van Halen's "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love." This time, Apollo's Gray brothers are even more menacing, while refining a beats-and-bass bouillabaisse that can make the hairs in your nose tremble. Noko crunches his guitar strings through the theme to Lost in Space, "Cold Rock the Mic" and "Stop the Rock," a devil of a ditty that rides a swirling '60s surf beat and a "Smoke on the Water"­worthy riff that'll surely permeate your brain. The horns on the Portisheadish "High on Your Own Supply" and the Teutonic piano on "For Forty Days" make for subdued, hallucinatory numbers more suitable for goatee stroking than head bobbing. "Heart Go Boom" is savage reggae­meets­drum 'n' bass, and a schizophrenic standout. The album could, however, do without the lazy, short vocal punches from Mary Mary (apparently still reeling over the Thatcher years, he told New Musical Express last year that he'd like to "cut her so she bled to death alongside Pinochet").

Apollo's embrace of rock lacks the futurism of many of its peers', and the group's complicated rhythms and structures make for a mixology difficult to classify. So, purists of rave culture, this is not for you. (Siran Babayan)


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