Tag Archives: Album of the Day

Album of the Day: VVV, “Why El Paso Sky”

Austin-based Iranian-American Shawhin Izaddoost established his VVV project with a handful of singles in 2010, followed by the hyperactive, dubstep-leaning LP, Across the Sea in 2011. His latest, Why El Paso Sky, he’s calling a mixtape; the 16-piece collection is officially comprised of “B-sides and rarities” of the ambient techno ilk. These supposed loose ends shape up, though, boasting the tonal cohesion of something more centered and singular—you might almost call it an album.

Izaddoost’s flair for rhythmic experimentation via sub-bass frequencies and fractious time signatures remains intact on Why El Paso Sky, though he’s moved even further stylistically from the glossy digital euphoria of mainstream EDM. There’s enough low-end ammunition on tracks like “Gauss Patterns” and “Lens & Filter Repair Station” to cross over as club cuts, but there’s also a brittle, industrial corrosiveness that gives off a certain air of exhaustion, as if the factory workers are taking a creaking assembly conveyor to counseling. The oscillating machine sounds are channeled through a warm, static buffer that give them a humane, empathetic overtone. The shrieking gears on “Near War Path” bear a trace of Hieroglyphic Being’s shrill mechanics, while the arcing, minor key “Limestone” suggests Demdike Stare horrors, or Pye Corner Audio dramas.

With “follow up releases” being planned for arrival later in 2017, this collection appears to be the quieter and more modest of the offerings. At least that’s what the cassette-only format and press release might lead one to believe. Nevertheless, Why El Paso Sky is a rarity—seeming cast-offs bundled into a complete, lucid statement.

—Joseph Darling

Album of the Day: Wear Your Wounds, “WYW”

If your only exposure to Converge has been gnarly teeth-gnashers like “Concubine”, “No Heroes”, and “Eagles Become Vultures”—three of the hardcore band’s ‘hits’—Jacob Bannon’s Wear Your Wounds project is gonna sound like it came way out of left field. It shouldn’t, though; the singer’s been hinting at a solo record as lush and layered as WYW for some time. The clearest through-line to the long-awaited LP would have to be Rust, a 2009 compilation that paired lots of four-track fiddling with the Supermachiner recordings Bannon cut alongside bassist Ryan Parker and Converge bandmate Kurt Ballou a decade earlier.

Wear Your Wounds embraces Bannon’s epic inclinations wholesale, as well as such admitted influences as Swans, Sparklehorse, and—no, really—Pink Floyd. As suggested by its moonlit album art, this is a record that reaches for the stars rather than the pavement, often pushing its post-metal experiments well past the six-minute mark. Bannon also knows when to let other musicians shine, as evidenced by a solid backing band that includes Ballou and heavy hitters who have logged hours with The Red Chord (guitarist Mike McKenzie), Coliseum (drummer Chris Maggio), and Hatebreed (guitarist Sean Martin).

It’s not going to convert any Converge hardliners who still listen to Petitioning the Empty Sky religiously, but that’s okay; Bannon transcended the scope of those scorchers years ago, and is showing no signs of slowing his creative growth anytime soon.

Andrew Parks

Album of the Day: Various Artists, “Oz Waves”

As fringe subcultures go, electronic music from Australia’s ‘80s underground is arguably one of the more neglected. Aside from deeply influential acts like Severed Heads, much of that era’s gems have languished outside of popular memory, at best graduating from tiny tape runs to obscure internet uploads.

Aussie reissue label Efficient Space excavates 10 such lost wonders on the new compilation Oz Waves, curated by Sydney-born DJ Steele Bonus. Though united in their unpolished, DIY vibe, the selections cover a wide range of sounds. Some are disturbingly dark (the engrossing bass throb of Prod’s “Knife on Top”; the jarring, competing layers of The Horse He’s Sick’s industrial-edged “Larynx”). Others are almost contagiously bright, like Moral Fibro’s bossa nova-kissed “Take a Walk in the Sun” and Zerox Dreamflesh’s dubby instrumental “Squids Can Fly.”

Of them all, the gleefully sacrilegious “Jesus Krist Klap Rap (Orthodox Mix)” from MK Ultra & The Assassins of Light is the most immediately danceable. Irena Xero’s punch-drunk “Lady on the Train” and He Dark Age’s itchy “Holding Out For Eden” feel like fever-dreams, while the previously-unreleased “Will I Dream?” by Andy Rantzen (half of seminal Aussie techno duo Itch-E & Scratch-E) has a frazzled, mechanistic hypnotism. Meanwhile, Software Seduction’s squiggly slow burn “New Collision” and Ironing Music’s twinkling “Don’t Wish it Away” seem to anticipate the likes of Stereolab and Broadcast.

The result of a diverse scene that extended to zines, visual art, and beyond, Oz Waves is a valuable invitation to explore these and other overlooked outliers of the time. Many of the artists featured here are still at it—among them, Ratzen and Irena Xero . Both then and now, they emerge as misfits seizing the means of production—via affordable synths, drum machines and cassette duplication—and bending it to their will.

Doug Wallen

Album of the Day: El Michels Affair, “Return To The 37th Chamber”

In 2015, El Michels Affair were the penultimate link in a particularly weird chain: A$AP Rocky’s track, “Wavybone,” sampled their 2009 instrumental cover of Raekwon’s 1994 RZA-produced “Heaven & Hell,” which itself sampled Syl Johnson’s 1974 song, “Could I Be Falling in Love.” But if “sample of a cover of a sample of a soul song” seems like a bizarre game of hip-hop telephone, it’d be harder to think of a more fitting participant than the El Michels Affair. The NYC lo-fi funk band became the live backup for a Raekwon tour in 2005, the same year their debut Sounding Out the City was released, and by the time Enter the 37th Chamber dropped in ’09, they’d actually gigged with members of the Wu-Tang Clan enough to have an all-instrumental album of Wu-beat covers make all the sense in the world.

Return to the 37th Chamber isn’t a more-of-the-same sequel, though. The sound is familiar—grimy psych-soul renditions of Wu and solo member classics like “4th Chamber” and  “Verbal Intercourse” are reproduced with a live-band fidelity that hews close to the spirit of the original productions while getting a little room to sprawl—but they bring a few new ideas to the plate. More oddball candidates make the cut, including the St. Ides ad “Shaolin Brew” and Ghostface’s Supreme Clientele interstitial track “Iron’s Theme” (here redubbed “Iron Man”). They slot in their own like-minded interlude cuts that expand on vintage RZA’s Stax/Hi-meets-Golden Harvest vibe (“Pork Chop Express”; “Drums for Sale”). And guest vocalists like Lee Fields (“Snakes”), Shannon Wise (“Tearz”), and Lady Wray (“All I Need”) are called in to put their own stamp on the interpolated Joe Tex/Wendy Rene/Mary J. voices that laced the originals. It’s not the homage to the gamut-running Murderer’s Row of Wu-Tang classics that its predecessor was, but Return‘s deep-dive strangeness is a complementary piece that Shaolin disciples and acid-funk enthusiasts should prize.

Nate Patrin

Album of the Day, The Buttertones, “Gravedigging”

One word comes to mind mid-way through The Buttertones’ latest effort, and that word is “Trouble.” Every character in the songs on Gravedigging, is either in it, or about to be, and there’s a dark undercurrent to lead singer Richard Araiza’s Jeffrey Lee Peirce-ian croon, making the danger feel both real and imminent.

Opener “Pistol Whip” plays out like a crime of joy. It’s a drunken teenage James Dean smashing tombstones with a hollow bodied guitar, wearing a skull for a mask, egged on by a moody saxophone, the “oohs” in the background sounding like police sirens. There’s a particular menace behind the surf jangle on “Sadie’s A Sadist”; the guitar riffs sound less like strings on a fretboard and more like a handful coins spilling out of snatched purse. In the sorrowful “A Tear for Rosie,” Araiza cries for his beloved; one could almost believe it was a cautionary tale if that driving disco beat didn’t seem to encourage a new set of midnight mistakes.

Since their inception The Buttertones have shown an uncanny ability to conjure cinematic imagery, from the twinkly ‘50s prom from American Brunch’s “Baby Doll” to the oh-so-casual ‘60s indie cocktail lounge of “Reminiscing” on their self-titled debut. There’s a touch of those same elements here (“I Ran Away”), but Gravedigging is more like a beach party movie set in a circle of Dante’s Inferno. The songs are as punchy as they are profane, a bottomless bottle of grim Americana that’s very easy to pick up, but almost impossible to put down.

Sim Jackson