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Blah Blah 666, "It's Only Life!"

cover image Pooling members from inside the Toronto improv scene, Blah Blah 666 remain an iconoclastic outfit. Their chosen name and album title belie their relaxed spontaneity. Starting with a straightforward overture featuring soft vocals and slide guitar, their music quickly gives way to unhinged time signatures, consistently defying my expectations at ever turn. Their solipsistic approach to musical styles reminded me of staying up all night with good friends, and the slap happy feeling that comes from being sleep deprived.


Barnyard Records

This music is silly and unabashedly so, but like all things humorous the laughter comes as a revelation of truth, and with it, beauty. Buckets of mariachi and haphazard bits of klezmer are strained through a filter that leaves only the barest bones of structure; some of the players build upon it, while others work to break it down. Hawaiian steel guitar and melodica impart exotic tropical flavors while old boards quietly groan in the background.

The band move all over a musical world map, taking me into territory I wasn’t familiar with as they traversed slow to swinging passages. By the end I had thrown out the travel guide I was using and navigated my way by instinct, much as they seemed to be doing. Their sense of direction was as finely honed as their musicianship. Even when I was disoriented by the slapdash arrangements, or overwhelmed by the pervading sense of mania, I never got lost.

“Distracted by the Moon” is a carefree ramble halfway through the album, and the only song with lyrics. They take on the same featherbrained quality of the music. “I’m mistaken for a fool/when I fall down from tripping on my shoes.” I can sympathize. Sirens wail in the background, and some of the instruments are purposefully out of key, but only just so, leaving me enough room to feel disconcerted, but not uncomfortable, as I stumble down the streets with the singer, my eyes glued to the glowing orb hanging there.

There are a few familiar landmarks and guideposts moving through the songs. “La Cucaracha” is one of them. In the hands of Blah Blah 666 it sounds as if the insect has been sprayed with an unhealthy dose of RAID. Dancing frantically, it is about to die. I can hear its legs starting to twitch. Spraying roaches with chemicals has never been more fun.

When the belly hurts, it is hard to breathe, and you start to cry because the laughter has been hitting hard, I know it is time to go to bed. So does this band. The music would easily grate on my nerves if left to run the whole possible 80 minute course of a CD, but at 41 minutes of rollicking fun they know when to stop.



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Review of the Day

Philip Jeck always seems to surprise and surpass expectation every time I hear him perform. I've heard him spin out haunting loops for avant garde dancers to strut about to in art spaces. I've heard him spin stickered platters alongside guitarist Vergil Sharkya and fractal videographer Gerd Willschvetz in an underground car park in Liverpool. I've heard his scaffolded ranks of old car boot turntables mash up crackly memory traces from worn needles bumping into wires and stickers in a London gallery. I've heard him go walkabout at a festival opening, cutting up dictaphone recordings with the pause button. After his ambitious quartet of lengthily (r)evolving 'Vinyl Codas' released by the Intermedium label, he returns to Touch with seven shorter live excerpts from performances in Liverpool, Manchester, Osaka, Tokyo and Vienna. With only a single sample Casio keyboard to aid the junkyard turntables spinning varispeed deteriorating vinyl, he necessarily limits his options but unlocks endless potentials from abundant alternate histories coded in the grooves. When he loops records at low speed, worn old cliches morph into haunting new textures. A phantasmal keyboard hoot that forms the bedrock of "Pax" sounds like it might've morphed slowly from a cheesy old J. Geils Band charity shop hit. "Above" cuts scratchy old vinyl into train chug clunks and chicken squawk with some slowed speech narration to explain what exactly isn't going on. "Lambing" is a home recording, soundtracking a film by Lucy Baldwyn, and wouldn't sound out of place on his previous Touch CD 'Surf,' with groaning ghost vox repeating an eerie refrain over the crackle'n'drone spin, until slowly a sunrise glow cracks dawn beneath the locked groove rhythm faultlines. "Vienna Faults" waltz around like a music box in a tumble dryer. There's some crazily mangled sitar "Below," reversing into hollow metal hammering, cut dead by a sudden descending blues guitar riff. "Open" seems to rework familiar noises from 'Surf' into a noisier delayed clatter. "Close" does just that, with some more sitar loops, more meditative but just as playful as before. Stray starry plucked fragments drop in at odd angles until a loop locks and deteriorates to a stutter as a single piano note bashes to infinity. A ghost choir of Hamaiian folk singers emerges from the vinyl crackle fog to bid a fond farewell. If you haven't heard Philip Jeck before, this is not his most immediate recording and 'Surf' or the 'Vinyl Coda' series might be better ports of entry. He has not yet left the building.



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