Vol. 2, Issue #2 Feb. 16th - March 1st, 2007

Tiger Beat From Hell
By: Wilhelm Murg

The Best New Releases You'll Never Hear

I keep discovering a lot of challenging and fascinating music, but most of it is on tiny labels that are too far ahead of the curve to ever be taken seriously by the mainstream media. They do everything wrong: the songs are either too long or too short; the lyrics, if there are any, are often indecipherable or incomprehensible; the covers are confusing and purposely hard to read; and the bands don’t seem to put much time into creating new hairstyle fads. Every time I get one of these little gems, it warms my heart to see that there are bold record labels out there that might never have a mega hit, but they obviously have their cult audiences and are happy to release these CDs, if only for the passion of throwing new ideas into the world.

Explosions in the Sky MIGHT get a little airplay, if only because their music is used in both the film and television show “Friday Night Lights.” A friend of mine caught the movie on HBO and became interested in the soundtrack; he thought it was Robert Fripp – which is a pretty heavy compliment in my book, even if it is a mistake.

The band has just released their latest CD, “All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone” (Temporary Residence Ltd.), and it’s brilliant. Layers of treated guitars lead a completely instrumental suite that seems to be a nonstop roller coaster of emotion and dynamics for forty-five minutes straight. If ever there were an album that harkens back to the progressive rock days of long, indulgent album tracks, this is it – but it never gets tiresome.

The few breaths the album takes, like the split second between tracks, seems to be a place to muster up their wind for the next charge into the clouds. Each track seems to have a takeoff, followed by plateau moments where the band explores the soundscape world they have created, and ends with a beautiful descent back to terra firma. The album is majestic in scale, like a Glenn Branca guitar symphony with an agenda, or an ambient album that has something to say. Perhaps the most amazing thing is the lack of vocals; you feel like you’re listening to an album of passionate love songs, but it’s all simply guitars, bass, and drums.

One of the most haunting and mysterious albums to come out recently is “Samme Stof Som Stof” (“Same Fabric as Fabric”) by Under Byen (Paper Bag Records). Part of what makes them mysterious is that the lyrics are in Danish, so I have no idea what the album is about, but one gets the feeling that it has something to do with loss. It sounds like No Doubt collaborating with Nick Cave on an existential Ingmar Bergman soundtrack.

Led by singer/songwriter Henriette Sennenvaldt, the album dances slowly, but it does dance. While there is no shortage of attractive female singers trying to sound mysterious, the instrumentation - a mix of distorted guitars, moody drums, and violins and cellos, with a few pianos, and musical saws thrown in - come together to make a very interesting texture for the album. The sound is as cold as the frozen tundra, but with an eccentric angular classical bent. It’s not a great album, but well worth noting, especially for Mogwai fans. Hopefully you will hear them, as they are coming to Norman on March 14th at Opolis.

For seamlessly mixing the most genres together in a single album, the award goes to Thee More Shallows’ latest release “Book of Bad Breaks” (anticon). The album was created in the studio using a Casio keyboard; acoustic guitar, drums, and more instruments were layered on the top. As a whole, it’s a breathless take-no-prisoners attack that seems to mimic a world going out of control. Baroque violin solos break into death metal riffs as the buried vocals ramble on about mosquitoes, nights at the knight school, and proud turkeys with the gift of flight. It is either the rawest progressive rock known to man, an out of control pop album, or a punk rock outfit with bizarre flights of fancy.

“Book of Bad Breaks” burns with sparks of genius. Lo-fi noise is transformed into industrial strength drones, idiosyncratic singer-songwriter-type songs turn into slam dances, sweet vocals collapse into machine-like voices, and acoustic guitars battle electric guitars that are distorted to the point that they sound like electronic toy guns. Like a Jackson Pollack painting, you get the feeling that something important is going on, but there’s almost too much data to process. What sounds like an unholy mess at first is in reality a fully realized masterpiece that sets it own terms and further blossoms with every listening.

Maher Shalal Hash Baz’s “L’Autre Cap” (K) is one of the strangest albums I’ve come across recently. The “band” is a concept by Tori Kudo, who writes for amateur musicians. He’s further encumbered by his instrumentation, primarily electric guitar, drum, and horns, plus the fact that he sings in a mixture of Japanese and indecipherable English. While that might sound like the Portsmouth Sinfonia backing the Langley School Kids, it’s actually a fascinating album that is more of a musical journey than a listening experience. What’s fascinating is that so much of it actually works.

For example “Eve, Mary, and Juliett” has an odd lumbering rhythm that is nearly hypnotic. Of course I have no idea what it’s about. The rocking “Different Daylight” has a quirky Syd Barrett feel to it, with a swinging free jazz chorus, and the strident “Suspended Season” actually has some interesting musical resolves. With most of the songs clocking in at under two minutes, one gets the feeling that the musicians were seldom allowed to explore the sonic fields they were creating, but then the only nine minute song pretty much sounds like the shorter songs, only longer (I know: “Duh!”).

So there are a few places to start if you want to explore some current releases from the dark side of the music scene. None of the four bands fit comfortably into a defined music category (Neo-Psychedelia? Neo-Progressive? Post-Rock? Experimental?) I’m sure even they would find it jarring to see the four of them linked up together in this column. What they have in common is each album is as difficult to grasp as it is rewarding once you’ve digested it. Like all great works of art, more meaning is discovered as you keep going back to it. In other words, this will never fly in the modern world.

©2006 NONCO Media, L.L.C.