By Ed Huyck
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By B Fresh Photography
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By Ed Huyck
5. Träd Gräs och Stenar, "Dibio," from 2002's Djunglens Lag(1/2 Special) It's hootenanny time, 21st-century Swede style! No need to worry about the language barrier though--the entire track by these psychedelic Scandinavians is delivered in lip-heavy freeform Muppetese. Despite its New Christy Minstrels flavor and acoustic guitar accompaniment, "Dibio" is primarily a launching pad for Träd Gräs och Stenar's inspired vocal harmonies: The translingual quintet (whose name means "Trees, Grass, and Stone") ooheoohoo and lalalolo like no one else in showbiz. At least that's what it sounds like to me--if this song turns out to be in an obscure Swedish dialect, somebody's going to be mighty embarrassed.
6. No Doctors, "The Quarry," from 2002's No Doctors(Freedom From) Someday, the mayor of Las Vegas will present these Chicago-based emperors of soul with the keys to his city, where they will then engage in a massive superjam session at the Luxor with Celine Dion, Wayne Newton, Blue Man Group, and everyone in Cirque du Soleil. No Doctors already have the fashion sense, the panache, and the jacked-up tempos an act needs to work the big rooms--now all they need is a break. Until one comes, they'll have to settle for playing rat-infested shitholes and shit-infested ratholes, with the occasional incursion into Fine Line-level showplaces. "The Quarry" begins bluesily with a snaky solo guitar, then explodes into full-on Pussy Galore tribute turf, right down to the Exiles on Main Street-style horn riff, which is executed on guitar. The trumpet player blows so frantically, you'd think he fills his spit valve with one breath.
7. Burning Star Core, "White Swords in a Black Castle," from 2003's White Swords in a Black Castle(Dronedisco) On this monumental rumbler, Death Beam mainstay and Cincinnati monster of drone C. Spencer Yeh steers his solo vehicle straight into the mouth of an underground volcano. The track is all lushly layered ringing harmonics for a minute or two, then the sucker erupts, instantly vaporizing any earwax in its path. But you can almost hear life forms swimming in the molten maelstrom--whirling anemones, metallic flying fish, and creatures that look like sentinels from The Matrix. We reckon those beautiful strings in the distance must be coming from Zion. Sorry Neo, but when we get replaced by machines, lullabies will sound like this.
8. Dead Machines, "Discontented Statics" from 2003's Discontented Statics(American Tapes) Calling all UFO buffs, ceremonial magicians, and weenie-wagging Tantric masters! Here's the working soundtrack you've been searching for. Judging by this cassette-length alien soundscape, Dead Machines are deploying maniacally rewired electronics in the service of establishing contact with civilizations in faraway galaxies. Tovah O'Rourke-Olson and Wolf Eyes' John Olson channel thickets of rhythmic whirrs and apoplectic chitters through ancient oscillators, coaxing burled crackles out of wormholes too small to be seen with the naked eye, and plucking subatomic disruptions from dimensions that have nothing in common with ours. Listen, and learn Venusian in your sleep.
9. Borbetomagus, "Untitled," from 1992's Live at Inroads (P.S.F.) Challenging jazz has been a certain type of hipster's lingua franca ever since Bird, Diz, and Mingus started flatting more fifths than they drank. But Borbetomagus don't play for the poseurs: They're not just jazz musicians, despite their origins in that realm. Using saxophones, guitar, and electronics, Jim Sauter, Don Dietrich, Donald Miller, and Brian Doherty whip up a veritable hurricane of bona fide insect-killing, houseplant-shriveling, lease-breaking N-O-I-S-E. This demolition-grade brawler, recorded in 1982, finds these aural assault artists earnestly engaged in a rough approximation of kamikaze power tools fighting really mean pterodactyls on meth, a cage match executed smack dab in the middle of Armageddon. And those are the quiet parts.
10. Devendra Banhart, "Michigan State," from 2002's Oh Me Oh My...The Way the Day Goes by the Sun Is Setting Dogs Are Dreaming Lovesongs of the Christmas Spirit(Young God) Sometimes, there's nothing more comforting than the simple sound of an acoustic guitar and a human voice--even when you suspect that the singer has pointed ears, hooves, and tiny horns. In fact, there may be nothing extra-human about this wandering gnome except for his fortuitously unearthly vocals. Imagine a cross between Tyrannosaurus Rex-era Marc Bolan and Billie Holiday in her prime, between Nick Drake's tenderness and Tiny Tim's stratospheric yen, and you'll have a pretty good idea of the enchanting mischief that finds its way out of Banhart's pipes. The outsider music prodigy celebrates everything from the earth and sea to his own toes on this surreal ode to the Wolverine State, but the song's crowning moment comes when he sings: "My friend has my favorite teeth/They bend backwards when she breathes/And it whistles." Sooner or later, everything in Banhart's universe whistles.
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