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Astral Social Club, "Neon Pibroch"

Neal Campbell continues his strong run of releases as Astral Social Club. This album should satisfy fans of his impressive back catalogue, but the music here is good enough to deserve separate treatment and should not be caged in by references to the past.


"Tripel Foment" begins similarly to Campbell's other experiments in ambient beatscapes. A bassy, four-on-the-floor techno pluse pushes the track along pleasantly. But the track becomes compelling when he ditches that rhythm and lets his sounds fly untethered. The song keeps its momentum as scraps of sound detritrus float over the mix like luminous insects. At 12 minutes, the pitch bends up sharply as the song hits its crescendo. A looped guitar riff breaks in while a tremeloed static whirls in the foreground, carrying the beat for a few more minutes till a sudden and jolting rest ends the song.

The rest of the album lacks the percussive backbone which holds up "Tripel Foment," but they hold their own unhurried vitality. The title track meanders for more half its length before finding critical mass. Reversed chime swells and subdued guitar picking float lazily into a thicket of resonate beeps and flanged bellowing. The signal processing fights against this dense buildup, diluting the racket until it becomes a limp mass, percolating into gradual silence. "Big Spree" has the same meditative pacing, being built around a cloudy snyth drone peppered with icy, ringing tones that build into a snow storm of radiant sound particulate.

As detailed as each composition on this record is, they are certainly not fast paced. No song here is under 12 minutes, but Campbell is not the kind of musician that mistakes subtlety for monotony. Stale sounds are gently taken away from the mix or processed into something entirely different. The basic components are very simple: a three note guitar figure; pieces of static; some bells and chimes. Isolated from the whole they would sound thin and artificial, but within the tightly wound arrangements of this album they take on a cosmic immensity.




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Review of the Day

Beta-Lactam Ring
In adidition to a fourth LP side not available on the CD edition, Beta-Lactam Ring's double vinyl edition of Audiosapien also comes with a bonus 12" billed as Earthmonkey vs. Nurse With Wound. Hanu @ Basecloud is a welcome companion to the album, and could even stand on its own quite well as a short LP. The record is introduced by the legendary Jimmy Carl Black of the Mothers of Invention, intoning his famous line which will be very familiar to Zappa fans: "Hi, I'm Jimmy Carl Black, I'm the Indian of the group, and you're listening to...Earthmonkey!" This auspicious introduction is sampled, spliced, chopped and poured like lumpy gravy over the rest of this sidelong track, a powerfully hallucinogenic slab of fierce, majestic psych-rock that phases all over the stereo channels. I'm guessing that Nurse With Wound's contribution lies in the incongruous vocal snippets and samples sprinkled liberally throughout these tracks, adding just the right amount of strangeness and complexity to the primitive Kraut jams. Side B is a different beast altogether, a Middle Eastern-textured psych excursion with a dark, shuffling beat overlaid with snaking funk guitars, horn bleats and hair-raising washes of surrealistic sound. It's a bit reminiscent of the soundtrack to Fantastic Planet, pulled through the other side of an hashish tent filled with ranting bedouins. This 12" is just as accomplished as Audiosapien, but with an intensity and focus that makes it even easier to return to.


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