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Volcano the Bear / La STPO, "The Shy Volcanic Society At The Bear And Bird Parade"

cover image As fitting a split as could be, this album joins two of rock's most experimental experimentalists in a meeting of minds that, as any split should do, provides new insights into the output of both artists, creating a fitting relationship between these two diverging takes on weird.

 

Beta-lactam Ring

The disc opens with Volcano the Bear's five tracks, whose sumptuously layered take is, comparitevely at least, the more palattible of the two. Not that that means much here. "Our Number of Wolves" drifts from concrete scratch to ultra-slow New Orleans funeral music as covered by European avant-improvisers, while "The Boy with the Lips Inside" presents a spare beat and odd hummed melodies that trickle outward like some hi-fidelity field recording from hillsides yet uncovered, never presenting too much or getting carried away.

This comfort working with a single idea can be seen throughout here, as the extended "The Open, the Closed" presents sputtering synth lines and odd feedback that grows, shrinks, and grows again over its eight elliptical minutes. It is a compelling and, as is typical for the group, exceptionally well paced sonic descent before "Death Sleeps in the Ear" and the cosmically titled "The First Circle is the Eye" see the group moving deeper into the abyss.

La STPO, a relatively large ensemble of like-minded musical players (and I mean that in both senses) takes over from here, displaying their knack for oddly orchestrated mini-symphonies on tracks like "Guayaki," which could just as well be a meeting between gamelan classicists and early Zorn game pieces, and "Les Oreilles Internationales," whose silly and sputtering stop-starts, overrun with vocal antics, lunges deeply out of sync with any conventional genre trappings.

"Invalid Islands," opening with bent reed and string slides, eventually drifts into a kind of ether-drenched poetry before turning around and harkening toward a downtown aesthetic that's as much Pere Ubu as it is Branca, let alone Material. The closing "Colonies" is just as chaotic, jumping between sytles and approaches at a moment's notice while remaining entirely together and cohesive.

Given the strength of the music here, and the vast potential of such a tag-team as this, it seems a shame almost that the split wasn't done track by track. Given the world music influences, open sonic stances and moment's notice phrase changes of both groups, it seems like, rather than splitting the disc down the middle, this offering could just as easily alternate every other track. While the relationship of both groups is highly apparent here, perhaps there would be even more to discuss were they presented side by side and title by title. That said, this works too.

samples:

 

The Eye: Video of the Day

Black Dice

YouTube Video


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Review of the Day

Jeph Jerman/Tim Barnes, "Versatile Ambience"

cover image In Versatile Ambience’s second half, Jeph Jerman and Tim Barnes cobble together a sequence of individual words and short phrases from a small ensemble of speakers. As each solitary fragment, captured with varying degrees of fidelity, falls into place, a kind of instructional sense emerges from the cut-up poetic randomness: “Your voice arrested; the smithy’s forge displacing hard footfall with scrutiny of boot-leather. Attempts to redirect equally malleable.” A final exchange points the way to Versatile’s heart: “You, the anvil?” someone questions. A faded voice replies, “I’m the hammer.” Using insect and animal life, tape noise, and acoustic performances from Jacob Duncan and Ken Vandermark, Jerman and Barnes temper their field recordings like a smith tempers metal, constantly moving from ambiguity to particularity and back again, molding their music with heat and cold. Seemingly inconsequential sounds, like the dry splash of fallen leaves, become intricate explosions. The wooden hum of a violin unfurls and sinks like a wave at sea and the album sways between modes, constantly eluding the firm grip of a total view.


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