AMN Reviews: The Dead C – Rare Ravers (2019; Ba Da Bing Records)

Aotearoa’s greying heartthrobs, the Dead C, blast us off into the end times (aka 2019) with their latest long-playing petroleum slab, Rare Ravers, courtesy of Ba Da Bing.

The A-side grooves lead in to “Staver,” a 20-minute plunge into the depths of Dante’s rings o’ hell. Fear not, feeble mortal, Michael Morley, Robbie Yeats, and [Dr.] Bruce Russell ditch the edifying Italian humdrum and instead crank out the sonic panacea one so badly craves in this blustery modern epoch. The trio incant a spellbinding and dizzying mélange, that is sure to send you swiftly whirring into phaser-laden no-blues bliss. Just as the track starts to lull around the 18-minute mark,  there is a deee-licious metallic scrape, sure to send you into fits. This listener is unsure if it is our Kiwi protagonists dragging an iron-framed bookshelf across the shop floor or if one is hearing a bit of cymbal manipulation courtesy of Robbie Yeats. If it is the latter, this is one of the few (if only) instances of Yeats employing this particular extended technique with the Dead C – a refreshing piece of sonic craftsmanship, that it is indeed one of the highlights of the A-side. In truly antagonistic fashion, “Staver” does not ride off into the sunset, leaving you and your pop sensibilities with a snug and hearty sense of resolution, instead it abruptly ends, leaving you in the company of your stylus’ incessant picking at the run out groove.

The B-side opens with “Waver,” a two-minute piece that falls somewhere between kosmische and something that might appear on a meandering private-press country release. This brief penultimate tune – which wouldn’t be out of place on any of the Dead C’s more recent output –ends before its starts, fading surreptitiously into the album’s final track (admittedly, this listener listened to the B-side three times and it wasn’t until hearing the digital version of the release, with its clearly demarcated tracks, that it became apparent there were distinct cuts on the B-side of the record).

The album wraps up with “Laver” (an obvious theme here), another extended free noise canter which starts in trademark Dead C fashion: the playing is vacant, hypnotizing, and slyly non-committal. At approximately a quarter of the way through the piece, the trio’s sun-bleached sauntering takes a wild shift and is vaporized by an atomic blast of heavily-saturated distortion that crumbles out of the speakers. From the wreckage, the group rebuild in a similar mold, yet the playing possesses an equal degree of both trepidation and tenacity. Despite employing ye olde blunt cut to the end of the A-side, the group’s decision to again employ this technique at the terminus of Rare Ravers’  B-side remains jarring and unexpected.

This isn’t so much the soundtrack to the end times as it is the very blueprint. Fans of the Dead C, Siltbreeze devotees, doomsday prophets, and owners of the Faust back catalog are sure to find Rare Ravers a treat. Everyone else… well, you can wait for the twin suns to scorch your shadow into the pavement.

– J. Sebastien Ericsson Saheb

AMN Reviews: Donald McPherson and Tetuzi Akiyama – The Kitchen Tapes Vol. 1 (2018; God in the Music)

If one could synthesize the murmurations of the common starling into sonic form, the resulting product would invariably sound similar to the twin guitar duo of late-Aotearoa / New Zealand artist Donald McPherson and Japanese improviser Tetuzi Akiyama. Consisting of three parts culled from a 2010 live performance in Christchuch, The Kitchen Tapes Vol. 1 features some enjoyable Akiyama and McPherson riffing, with the duo crafting sonic landscapes that evoke a gamut of emotions, from splendor to pathos.

The opening segment, Part One is the longest piece on the tape, clocking in at just over 19 minutes. The side features much of what you’d expect from the pair: the playing is both prodding and prodigious, yet the listener is spared the cloying blows of virtuosity and one-upsmanship. Instead, McPherson and Akiyama weave in and out of each other’s playing and remain content in their explorations of bucolic motifs that taper off as soon as a new thematic turn reveals itself. At times the guitars are cinematic and even orchestral (5:04); at other points, the pair’s playing is evocative of flamenco (11:58). In all, Part One possesses enough whimsy and a number of (very) high points that assuage any moments in the performance that may feel awkward or too tentative for some listeners. 

Part Two opens the second side and is most likely to elicit the John Fahey comparisons. While understandable to a degree, they ultimately miss the point and serve only as inchoate shorthand for those unwilling to settle in and listen to the unique artistic voices, nuance, and timbres that belong to Akiyama and McPherson, both individually and as combined as a unit. At times, a bit tedious; however, the duo never sound lost and retain their ability to engross the listener throughout. The closer, Part Three, is both the shortest cut on the album and its strongest piece by a mile. Reminiscent of Indian raga, Nick Drake, and even Neu!, the piece is vibrant and captivating and like the best of dreams, ends far too soon…

While the sparsity and relatively restrained dynamics on The Kitchen Tapes Vol. 1 may make it a bit more demanding than the pair’s 2006 Vinegar & Rum, this listener would argue the peaks surpass and outweigh any troughs from the moment you hit play on the deck. What’s more, not only does this release help mark the arrival of new End of the Alphabet / Astral Spirits collaborative spin off-imprint, God in the Music, it marks almost one year since McPherson’s death. What better way to remember the guitarist than to enjoy his collaborative work with his friend and kindred spirit Tetuzi Akiyama. 

– J. Sebastien Ericsson Saheb

AMN Reviews: Tashi Dorji and Tyler Damon – Soft Berm (2018; Magnetic South Recordings)

Hear ye, aesthete! Hear ye, free music(s) fan! Hear ye, improvisers! The brash, virulent duo of Tashi Dorji and Tyler Damon hold the keys to the kingdom and are ready to storm the palace of non-idiomatic form. Shimmy Soft Berm, the latest from guitarist Dorji and drummer Damon’s ever-proliferating corpus, into the deck. Comprised of a single live performance from Fall 2017, this one has all the hallmarks and hits the high points.

Soft Berm is a fine specimen of contemporary audio verité: the wow, flutter, and hiss of the original source recording, the sounds of shuffling feet and crowd noise, and even a few unsteady moments during the duo’s sonic explorations remain preserved and presented. Whilst their studio releases afford the pair a degree of forgiveness and/or rumination on the productive process, make no mistake, Berm’s fleeting moments of disorientation are as fascinating as the eons of pure exhilaration captured on this performance. From Damon’s crystalline drum paradiddles to Dorji’s prepared guitar hypno-raga, the duo spends just over 40 minutes trekking through three distinct sonic movements, in which they sanguinely explore space, syncopation, timbre, tension, and release. Damon is easily one of the most exciting percussionists to appear on the scene since Chris Corsano and having recently witnessed Kuzu, Damon and Dorji’s trio with Dave Rempis, I can assert that his technical proficiency and stamina behind, around, and in front of the drum kit are top-notch. Meanwhile, Dorji remains one of the few contemporary guitarist possessive of a Bailey-esque sensitivity, which is manifestly apparent in his tasteful engagement with his looping pedal.

Barring any wanton self-indulgence or dives off the proverbial deep end, this duo is walloping towards canonization. You heard it here first. Don’t be surprised when you hear someone half your age name-checking Damon and Dorji alongside Rashied Ali and John Coltrane as a force to be reckoned with in the realm(s) of free/improvised/art rock.

– J. Sebastien Ericsson Saheb