ROTW: Spiritual Jazz Vol.8 Japan!

Ten years ago, the London-based Jazzman label launched this great series of comps devoted to 'Spiritual Jazz' from the sixties and seventies, what they describe as "esoteric, modal, and deep jazz from the underground." Think Pharaoh Sanders and Philip Cohran, but more obscure selections, for sure. We reviewed six volumes in the series on the aQuarius list, and while we never made any of 'em a Record Of The Week, we probably should have. As the series progressed, individual volumes delved into different scenes and aspects of Spiritual Jazz – you had your European cats, your American expatriates in Europe, a vocals-oriented volume, and then last year an installment concentrating specifically on Islamic inspired spirituality in jazz.

Released last month, now here's the most expansive entry in the series yet (eight sides of vinyl, or double cd), focusing on Japan's abundant and impressive progressive jazz underground circa 1961 to 1983, compiled with the assistance of Tokyo-based jazz collector and DJ, Yusuke Ogawa. Comes complete with liner notes in English and Japanese, and even boasts a mock obi, nice!

The only artist on here we were all that familiar with already was guitarist Masayuki Takayanagi's New Directions For The Arts, who contribute a fantastic piece called "Sun In The East" from their 1972 Free Form Suite album, not quite as intense and outside as Takayanagi can get* but still definitely amazing, gorgeous deep stuff (as is the rest of the compilation). It's one of the ones you can check out below.

*For a taste of really freaked out Takayanagi, our #1 recommendation is the 1970 recording released on PSF under the title Call In Question, which aQ once described as: "Some of the heaviest 'jazz' ever... The drummer should be in a hardcore band, the guitar player makes Sonny Sharrock sound like a wimp, and the bass and sax are equally intense... Noise guitar way ahead of its time. Beautiful, beautiful noise."


ROTW: The Prophet's Blood Is Boiling!

Originally from Tel Aviv, now based in Berlin, drummer/producer Arik Hayuk (one half of 'doom-tech' duo Gainstage) offers up a solo vinyl 12" slab of 'drum n' drone' under the moniker Arikon... Doom-tech? Drum n' drone? Yessssss, sounds Record Of The Week-ishly good to us!

Fascinated by decay and distortion, on this debut Arikon creates monstrously doomed-out and disjointed electro-acoustic 'techno' music that's crunchy, crackling and ominous to an exquisite degree. Self-constructed percussion instruments are involved as well as samples and other electronics. Pummelling, pounding, plodding, polyrhythmic, every beat an explosion – it's the sort of sound that could appeal to fans of Cut Hands (who have remixed Gainstage) as well as those of Author & Punisher. Necro Deathmort, too. And some heavier, out there dubstep.

Out this Friday the 13th on Portals Editions. Bandcamp this way or wait for FE to get copies.

Here's a taste – "Nahash Akalaton," track 7 on the record, the rest are just as good or better, even:


ROTW: The Album!

From the above album, for your consideration, "Professor Whiskers" (note: you have to stick with it a minute!):

Australian absurdist comedy collective Aunty Donna could get a WDYLI? Record Of The Week nod for this demented track alone but the rest of their debut album, The Album, is pretty great too, full of lots more sick, silly, WTF? humor. Surreal, sometimes a bit juvenile, very funny stuff. Really funny stuff that walks that fine line right next to stupid and kind of dares you to laugh. And they do a good job with the music side of it too, with techno pastiche, rap parody, and the Sparks-y bits in tracks like "Professor Whiskers." (Watch out, we know from experience that it can get stuck in your head.)

If this had come out back when aQuarius was around, we know it would have been played to death in the store and we'd have been forced to make it a ROTW by default (such albums as Great Phone Calls and Tenacious D's debut were ROTW's at aQ back in the day, after all).

The Album comes out this Friday, but we're not sure that the physical cd release will be available in the States then, maybe just as an import?


ROTW: Spiny Normen!

Whoops, we forgot what day it was. Well, this is our Record Of The Week, not Record Of The Tuesday, anyway… So, this time, if y’all haven’t met before, we’d like to introduce you to Spiny Normen.

Named after a mythical giant hedgehog from a Monty Python sketch,* the band Spiny Normen were a bunch of long haired community college students from Houston, Texas in the mid-to-late ‘70s, who were deep into English prog rock and heavy psych, a la Van Der Graaf Generator, King Crimson, Black Sabbath, etc. Inspired by such bands, as well as copious pot and acid, these trippy teenagers came up with their very own progressive, heavy, experimental sounds.

The RidingEasy label dug up a track by 'em called “The Bell Park Loon” for their Brown Acid: The Second Trip compilation in 2016 (that excellent series of seventies acid rock rarities is already up to Vol. 6, btw!) and have now just put out an entire Spiny Normen album, with that song and lots more radness, recorded circa 1979 but unreleased until now.

Check out the video (above) that’s been made for that comp track with what looks like vintage Super 8 footage of the band, and then imagine a whole album along the same lines – it’s quite good! Also, did we mention, FLUTE! (Plus vintage Vox Jaguar electric organ, fuzzy guitars, Mellotron, timpani, lots of echo effects, etc.)

Or don’t imagine, listen below... and you’ll forget what day (and decade) it is, too...

RIYL: Van Der Graaf GeneratorKing CrimsonBlack Sabbath, Sproton Layer, Gnidrolog, Los Dug Dugs...

*And they're not the only band to take their name from that particular Python sketch, see also Ethel The Frog.


ROTW: Demons Crawl At Your Side!

We can't let the release last month of a new album from our favorite formerly-one-man melancholic Italian doom act pass by without mention... That's right, there's a new opus from old pal Tony Tears, the cd version via Minotauro, vinyl forthcoming on Blood Rock.

Super atmospheric and spooky in the heavy, psychedelic style of Paul Chain, Demons Crawl At Your Side has got that whole vintage Italian horror film soundtrack meets metallic Sabbath-y sound that we love. Paul Chain associate Sandra Silver even guests with her dramatic, haunting female vocals, and there's plenty of spacey, eerie Moog synth creeping on you all over the place, amidst the lugubrious doom guitar riffery. Absolutely possessed of occult vibes, this album is all quite wonderfully spacious, dark and mesmeric, but boasts some surprising rockin' moments as well ("Demon Always Stands At The Darkness Of Fear" being one such example).

While nothing could ever surpass the primitive, lonely, almost-outsider charm of Tony Tears' cd debut Voici Dal Passo that we made a Record Of The Week at aQuarius back in 2009 (and really became a bit of a hit for us, astonishingly enough), we're pretty pleased with where ol' Tony has gone with his music in the years since, even as he's become less of a loner and brought other likeminded musicians into the fold (this album's lineup includes members of Abysmal Grief and Soul Of Enoch by the way). Bravo, Tony Tears!

RIYL: BlizaroJaculaPaul Chain's Violet Theater, Black Hole, Death SSGoblin...


ROTW: Stellary Wisdom!

Our last couple Records Of The Week have been loaded with synthesizers – the South African bubblegum boogie-synth of Gumba Fire! last week and the spaced-out kosmische cassette-culture synth of The Nightcrawlers the week before that. And at the beginning of the year, we made the Japanese video game synth soundz of the Diggin In The Carts comp a Record Of The Week too. So sue us, we like synth. Now this week, the question is: have you gotten into 'Dungeon Synth' yet?

We definitely had dungeon synth, and proto- dungeon synth, stuff at aQuarius, but mostly before it became a 'thing.' Don't think we ever used the term in any of our reviews (not even when we wrote up the awesome Cave Evil Radio Mix). Now, it's a entire burgeoning, Mortiis-lovin' underground genre of minimalist, medieval-sounding lo-fi electronic music that has a lot in common with DIY one-man black metal bands, but, like, consists of the intros only. Those troo cvlt nerds over at Bandcamp provided a great listener's guide last year, a good place for noobs to dip their toes. And the first act mentioned in that article is the one responsible for our Record Of The Week now – the 'Wampyric Specter' himself, Dutch dungeon synth maestro Old Tower, definitely one of our faves in the genre. The Profound Lore label are obviously also fans and jumped in to bring us Old Tower's first ever cd release (dungeon synth is usually more of a cassette or digital-only phenomenon, so glad to see some now on our favorite format – in this case, appropriately packaged with its "slipcase and booklet on matte cardstock for that old/decrepit feel").

What exactly is so special about Old Tower and new album Stellary Wisdom? Well, absorb about five minutes of the first of the disc's two lengthy tracks, "Deep Within My Somber Castle Halls" and you won't have to ask. Instead you'll be imagining crumbling stone passageways beneath an ancient fortress, lit by flickering torchlight, haunted by the specters of slain warriors, that sort of thing. Like a lot of the best dungeon synth, not surprisingly it's good, solemn ambient organ music for playing D&D – not for fighting battles, so much as for after the battle when your party is taking a 'long rest' to mourn fallen comrades, recover lost hit points and study spellbooks, keeping watch for any horrid wandering monsters that might intrude from the darkness.


ROTW: Gumba Fire!

There are plenty of funky, sunny, feel good grooves here on this awesome new Soundway compilation Gumba Fire: Bubblegum Soul & Synth-Boogie in 1980s South Africa! that comes out this Friday, March 9th on cd and triple 12", featuring 16 tracks fully living up to the description in its subtitle.

Basically if the terms "Bubblegum Soul" and "Synth-Boogie" sound good to you, you'll probably love this, and we think you'll understand why it's our Record Of The Week pick this time 'round as soon as your ears fasten on to the irresistible beat and catchy refrain of this comp's title track "Gumba Fire (Madlakadlaka)" by Ashiko – check it out:

Could spin that one again, and again, and again... but then, when would we listen to the rest of the cuts on this comp, which are awesome too?? Tracks by The Survivals, Stimela, Hot Soul Singers, Zoom, and all all the rest, so good.

For sure, the cover graphics don't lie (see below), it's very '80s sounding indeed, naturally with lotsa Yamaha DX7 as our synth loving pal Lee quickly noted, all of which means this has a certain retro nostalgic charm too, but the South Africa part of the equation means these are tracks that probably you (and certainly we) hadn't ever heard before, so super fresh sounding too, and thus extra ripe for the repeat spins alluded to above.

By the way, what IS a Gumba Fire? We're told that it's "derived from gumba gumba, the term given to the booming speakers of the old spacegram radios that broadcast music into South Africa’s townships and villages. The phrase later evolved into Gumba Fire to refer to a hot party." Aha, okay.

Of course, the unique cultural/political/historical context of this music is also doubtless interesting and relevant, we assume the liner notes delve into all that but we haven't read 'em yet, too busy grooving to the music...


ROTW: The Biophonic Boombox Recordings!

We're pretty stoked about this archival release on Anthology by eighties-era, Philly-area synth unit The Nightcrawlers!

I (Allan) just got the copy I ordered from FE in the mail today, and Andee has ordered himself one too, so we figured that makes it an excellent choice for our Record Of The Week.

Basically, as someone recently wrote, The Nightcrawlers "were like an '80s cassette-culture version of Tangerine Dream before them," and they were pretty good at it too, producing a proliferation of self-released recordings circa 1980-1991. 40+ tapes (and three LPs) of improvised ambient electronics with a definite seventies kosmische "Berlin School" vibe, as filtered through the lo-fi, DIY aesthetic of a bedroom or basement boombox recording.

This double LP or even more expansive (yet less expensive) double cd collection is a great summation of the trio's spacey sounds, and includes a 28 page booklet with liner notes, ephemera, etc. If you wanna hear more, well, there was an earlier double cd compendium of (almost) entirely different Nightcrawlers material called Traveling Backwards that the German label Manikin put out back in 1997, that's how I first encountered 'em (Amoeba bargain bin find!), but good luck finding one for a reasonable price currently, although it is available digitally via that label's Bandcamp page.

RIYL: Tangerine Dream, Tangerine Dream, Tangerine Dream.



Today's Record Of The Week is on a label that I don't think we ever stocked at aQuarius but totally would have/should have: Kraków, Poland's Instant Classic. They have a lot of cool releases, particularly when it comes to post-rocky, neo-krauty style stuff. Maybe someday we'll write about Lotto, Pin Park, Alameda 5, So Slow, et. al., but right now we want to highlight this recent release from October 2017, the second album by a band called BNNT.

'Tis totally rad, experimental noise/jazz/abstract rock heaviness (& atmosphere) from a mostly instrumental Polish duo, with guests including Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson. Sampling, sax, distortion, drone, yeah! Ambient metallic improv with tribal-industrial beats, whoo-hoo!

Comparisons may or may not be of much use, but we'd guess one semi-random 'recommended if you like' citation would include Supersilent. Very scary Supersilent. Like maybe if Supersilent were on Utech. Really, though, just click below, turn it up, check it out...

FYI, the Bandcamp link above is where you'll find the cd and vinyl for sale, for digital-only go to this one instead.


ROTW: Calamita!

Today's Record Of The Week pick is the debut recording from mesmeric 'free rock' power trio Calamita, put out on cd by the Beirut-based indie label (and radio show) Ruptured. It features two Lebanese musicians on guitar and bass, joined by an Italian drummer who also plays in a cool Spaghetti-psych/free improv fusion band called Squadra Omega that we should investigate further.

The drummer chugs along steadily, building upon serious plod with skittery, splattery energy, while the other two cut loose with some spacey and spidery psychedelic skronk on these four long instrumental jams, recorded live in one take.

Technically this came out in late December 2017, available then if you were at the record-release show they played in Beirut, but for the rest of us what remains of the 300 copies pressed will be available from the likes of Cargo UK and Forced Exposure in the very near future.

RIYL: Rhyton, 3 Leafs, Musica Transonic, Ash Ra Tempel, early White Hills...


ROTW: Black Death!

Finally reissued! We've been waiting for this for years, heck from the moment we first heard about it, let alone heard it. But the thing is, as significant and Black History Month appropriate (?) as cult Cleveland band Black Death's 1984 self-titled album is, as perhaps thee first album released by an all-African-American heavy metal group (see footnote below), it turns out this is a fantastic slice of raw n' heavy early '80s metal absolutely regardless of the skin color of the persons involved, full of over the top performances (vocally, especially) and killer riffage with a wild, raucous energy. Think Judas Priest, Mercyful Fate, Cirith Ungol, and some Venom. They don't make 'em like this anymore.

Rumors of a reissue had circulated for years, their original label Auburn was supposed to do it, but at last Hell's Headbangers stepped up and took care of business, doing it on fancy vinyl, cd (for the first time) and cassette (likewise).

Footnote: Black Death's origins date to when they were in high school, circa '77, which makes them contemporaneous with San Francisco's Stone Vengeance, who started in '78, another pioneering "black metal" band, but those guys took 'til like 1990 before releasing even a demo.


ROTW: Bat Fangs!

Real quick, Record Of The Week this week is a fun one we've been looking forward to ever since hearing a couple songs off of a 7" teaser last year. The self-titled debut long player on Don Giovanni Records from this big riffing, power poppin' all girl duo, Bat Fangs, is an undeniable good time if you like to rock.

These two wicked ladies – one from the fab Ex Hex and the other from Flesh Wounds – kick out the catchy, tuff (with two ff's, yes) tuneage, very '70s and '80s hard rock inspired, we can't help but think of the Runaways, and we just can't get enuff (with two ff's, too).

Yes, we've been bitten, we're smitten, so it shall be written. Check out the video for "Rock The Reaper," above, and listen to the track "Wolfbite" on Bandcamp, below...


ROTW: Howling Sycamore!

Our Record Of The Week today (well, it comes out this Friday) is the self-titled debut from something called Howling Sycamore, on Prosthetic, and it's a situation where at first the both of us were like, woah, gotta check this out just 'cause the band's lineup is so... unexpected... and then, on top of that, it turned out to be really an amazing album.

Which maybe should be expected, 'cause it's an international project featuring Davide Tiso, the main guy from eccentric, jazzy Italian avant-black metallers Ephel Duath, teamed up with folks including saxophone player Bruce Lamont from Yakuza, German drummer Hannes Grossmann who used to be in Necrophagist and Obscura, and, most crucially to our ears, none other than JASON MCMASTER, best known to the masses (or at least MTV viewers back in the day) as the vocalist for Dangerous Toys... but his association with Texan tech-thrash pioneers Watchtower is probably what lead him to this gig. He's also in true metallers Ignitor, and appears to make his living fronting a host of classic rock/metal tribute acts.

Weird combo, eh? There's even a guest appearance from Kevin Hufnagel (Gorguts, Dysrhythmia). We won't call it a 'supergroup' exactly 'cause these folks aren't exactly household names, except in our households, maybe yours... Anyway, definitely got our attention and then, wow, they deliver – it's like a blackened Van Der Graaf Generator in parts, almost, with blast beats, truly non-sucky saxophone, and Jason McMaster's tour-de-force vocals, which range all over the place, versatile and melodic and let's say, thespian, definitely in command. He really makes this; his performance is maybe an argument that all 'extreme metal' would be better with real singing, especially if it's as intense and over the top as his. And also that all avant-rock could be so much more metal with the likes of McMaster on board.

Yeah, McMaster of course kills it with the studded-leather-armband shrieking, and that's an awesome component of this right there, but we were also impressed with all the unusual parts where he doesn't sound as metal, too. They could have made a pretty good ol' prog album minus the extreme metal elements, actually – tracks like "Chant Of Stillness," relying pretty much on just some interestingly melodic vocals and acoustic guitar, prove it.

Recommended weirdness! Especially if you like VDGG, John Zorn, black metal, Watchtower, and being surprised.


ROTW: Book Of Sound!

Gonna reach back to a late November release for today's Record Of The Week... The latest from the Brooklyn-based, south side of Chicago-bred Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, on Honest Jon's, really, really, really lives up to the group's name, and brightened our day upon hearing it.

The Spiritual Jazz component of the band's ancestry sure shines through on these compositions that groove with gravitas and joy, sans drums but with horns galore, also with uplifting, droning vocals, synth, acoustic guitar, and more in the mix.

"Solstice," below, is one of our faves. Please give it and the rest of the album a listen – when you do, allow each track some time to sink in and work its magic – and you'll see that the band's name is indeed the best, most basic blurb anyone could come up with to recommend this particular release, anyway. (It's available from Forced Exposure, and they have sound samples on their site.)

By the way, when we mention 'ancestry,' that's 'cause that the group is composed of brothers, seven of 'em, all sons of the late jazz great Phil Cohran, who played with Sun Ra and co-founded the AACM, a interesting bit of info that somehow the both of us only just found out about, even though this isn't the first HBE album we've been into. Guess we should check out the documentary film.


ROTW: Monster Manual!

So, just imagine you're a hard working, wandering monster, lurking in one of the levels of some dark dungeon someplace. It's damp, it's drafty, it's a life both dangerous & dull. Wouldn't it be nice if someone cared? Cared enough to write a song just for you, all about you? A catchy ditty you could hum to yourself as you wait for the next party of "heroes" to show up and try to murder you for something they call "XP," whatever that is? Well, good news, now someone has written a song about you, that is, if you're one of the 26 classic D&D monsters paid musical tribute to on our Record Of The Week this week, which was released on limited edition vinyl not long ago by Frequency Rare and Peterwalkee Records.

Friend rock? Yes, O.K., so it is, we mean, singer/guitarist "Simon" from Simon LeBron does happen to be a friend of ours. But San Francisco's Simon LeBron is also a band who have made a record based on the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual!! Therefore, the awesome D&D theme of this way outweighs any niggling notions of nepotism.

Seriously, these 26 tracks, alphabetically A-Z, each one a concise and creative blast about a specific monster from the pages of the Monster Manual (hence song titles like "Carrion Crawler," "Dragon, Black," "Pegasus, Pegasi," and "Rakshasa"), make for a really rad platter of oddball indie rock. The band cites Rudimentary Peni, Frank Black and the Plastic Ono Band as influences, along with the writings of Gary Gygax, et. al., by the way. So this goes to show ya that "D&D" music doesn't have to be metal, or dungeon synth, or RenFaire fare...

We'll admit that when we first heard about this project, we may have had some misgivings, and not because of the "friend rock" thing. No, we were worried it was going to be a little too cutesy, or, what's the word...? Dorky. But no, the Simon LeBron trio, along with recording engineer Phil Manley (whoops, another friend, there) have crafted a really strong collection of songs. It's stuff that, even if you're not immediately, nostalgically ensorcelled by the subject matter, any fan of, say, GBV-esqe, eccentric indie garage pop goodness will enjoy.

Copies of the vinyl will soon be available from Midheaven Mailorder. Digital via Bandcamp, below.


ROTW: Diggin In The Carts!

Well, this is awesome!

The subtitle "A Collection Of Pioneering Japanese Video Game Music" alone put this in contention for Record Of The Week, almost before we'd even heard it.

Three or so years ago, the Red Bull Music Academy (never gonna drink the stuff, but gotta hand it to 'em for their brand's often obscure music related activities) produced a six-episode online documentary series about the history and lasting legacy of '80s Japanese video game soundtracks & their composers. Now, a companion compilation has been released by the UK's Hyperdub label, carefully co-curated by Hyperdub's Kode9 and documentarian Nick Dwyer.

This assortment of 34 mesmeric, loopy miniatures offers quite a variety of sounds and styles, amazingly so considering the strict limitations imposed upon the composers by the 8- and 16-bit technology of the day, which if anything spurred 'em to greater creativity.

Of course this has some retro-nostalgic appeal, but these themes still sound fresh and stand on their own, compelling repeat listens from folks (us) who have never played or even heard of most of the games being scored. The catchy melodies can be chippy-chirpy or pseudo-symphonic; some tracks are energetically uptempo (or downright hectic), others more moody & atmospheric. Tadahiro Natta's piece from Xak II is even kinda heavy, like some sort of proto- "chipdoom" perhaps.

A delightful sonic trove of incidental, overlooked electronic music to dig into for sure!