Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Symbolick Jews "God Is You My Brothers, My Sisters"

OK, so The Symbolick Jews have never been a particularly polished band. Their music crashes around recklessly, bumping into and knocking over your grandmother's precious music genres like an autistic 5 year old whose twisted uncle thought it would be fun to slip booze to at Thanksgiving. But it's that very same recklessness that makes The Symbolick Jews an absolute blast to listen to. Perhaps it's because they've never had the same lineup on two albums. Perhaps it's because they never take themselves terribly seriously, and it usually shows...but once in a while they'll write a song like "Book of Love" (from their debut Confession Time) that is so heart-wrenchingly genuine, you can't help but sit straight up and wonder "Wait, what band is this again?"

Just recently the Symbolick Jews embarked on their third North American tour, heading South through California, East into Arizona and eventually wrapping things up in Texas. In typical Symbolick fashion, they also quietly released their third LP (2nd this year), entitled God Is You My Brothers, My Sisters. However, the music here is anything but quiet. It's ballsy, it's sweaty,
it's completely rambunctious. The songs that aren't are brooding, hypnotic slow-burners that steadily build in intensity until everything collapses under the pressure. Actually, most of the songs end like that.

It's at this point that I am haunted by the fact that I never wrote about their 2nd album, Can I Trust You. I'd like to make all sorts of comparisons...like how God Is You strips away the vocoders and many of the electronic trappings that made their previous LP so weird and unique, instead returning the band to their raw rock roots (say that 10 times fast). But I can't (to either). All I can do is recommend you check out Can I Trust You, encourage you to make your own comparisons, and beg your forgiveness for my oversight.

God Is You begins with a bang, as lazily crashing waves of guitar provide context for a wailing singer who is "so f*#&king tired". This is no hazy, bleary-eyed dirge, a la The Beatles' "I'm So Tired", but rather the sound of a band waking up, making coffee, plugging in and preparing to rock. The Jews then proceed to launch into a Dadaist/Krautrock workout in the hypnotic "He Got a Job" (which spurned the band's very first music video, in which everyone pees on each other).

The Symbolick Jews are the paranoid, babbling voices in your head...and this time there are more voices than ever. Frontman Adam Healton shares vocal duties with at least 5 others, which seems to take a bit of pressure off of him, and because of this the whole band sounds like it's having a lot more fun. In fact, this is their first album that really seems like a true communal effort.

Other noteworthy tracks include "I'm Lucky", which is a fuzzy, blissed out guitar-driven song about being grateful to wake up next to that special someone, and "I Got To You", which quite possibly is the band's catchiest song to date, with "lead" singer Adam's unique voice blending wonderfully with one of three female singers scattered on this LP. If you're more into the avant-garde, Symbolick Jews have got you covered with the brief, unclassifiable freakouts "Sly's Salad Bar", "A Rare Hope", and in typically-lengthy album closer fashion, the crazy 14 minute epic "Peace Be With You".

God Is You
certainly rewards repeated listenings, as drummer/producer Brian Davy has seen to it that each track is a dense forest of sound, populated with subtle electronics mixed just low enough so as to make listening with headphones a real treat. My hat goes off to Adam, Brian and the rest of the Symbolick Jews...whoever they are this time around. They've crafted a loose-yet-focused masterpiece that few other bands could convincingly pull off. The Symbolick Jews are a wild beast with a heart of gold, and here's hoping they'll never be tamed. -Matt

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Music Video: Symbolick Jews "He Got the Job"

Here's a brand new song and video from our friends, the Symbolick Jews! This song is loose and catchy, and brings to mind a mix of Pere Ubu and Lou Reed (with perhaps a little Pixies thrown in there as well). I'm really looking forward to hearing whatever new album they're cooking up next. In the meantime, be sure to check out two other stellar albums right here.

P.S. This video might be NSFW, unless your boss is cool with stuff like pissing on other people through a hole in a pizza box.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Instagon "Sleepwalking"

I've toyed around with the idea of doing live show reviews here on The Informed Conformist for a bit, but it's just not realistic at this point for a couple reasons...one, other than the occasional contribution from Adam or Willwave, I maintain this blog by myself, and there's just no way I can get out to see and review enough shows by myself, and two...I'm not entirely certain live music is the most reviewable thing anyway. Sure, a supposedly 'well rehearsed' band could go out on stage, forget all their songs, break all the strings on their instruments and that would be a 'bad' show. But what about improvised music? What about all the bands that don't rehearse at all? How does one discuss the sort of free-flowing, formless music that seemingly comes from nowhere, has no inherent musical genre, and thus cannot be distinguished from right or wrong, good or bad, correct and not? And what happens when these types of bands record an album?

Luckily for most music critics, not many bands like this exist to be reviewed. Surely this fact must make the days between paychecks easier to bear. But here in Sacramento, we have Instagon. Instagon is a band whose name I see everywhere...whether thanks to the tireless self promoting of head Instagonian/bassist LOB, the fact that he's been up to this for more than 17 years now, or (more than likely) both. But what is an Instagon? And why should you care anyway?

Essentially, Instagon means "instantly gone", a reference to the band's spontaneous and improvisational nature. This nature extends well beyond the music, however, and into the very core of the band's identity. Plenty of bands can go out and "jam"...what makes Instagon so unique is they are never the same ensemble twice. In over 551 shows since 1993, Instagon has never once had the same group of musicians onstage. And Instagon isn't the sort of band you audition for...when the time is right, LOB will recruit YOU. Naturally, some nights are an unorganized mess of people turning up their amps and stepping on each others' toes. Other nights, everything will fall into place in such a way, you'd swear the music was tightly rehearsed or manipulated into being via a series of complicated hand signals or some secret language known only by the band onstage.

This chaotic, unpredictable nature makes Instagon an absolute blast to experience live...but what about on record? I've been given an advance copy of Instagon's new studio album Sleepwalking to enjoy and review, but before that, there are a few things I'd like to note. First, this album features a static group of musicians. Right away, a large part of what makes Instagon so unique is thrown out the window. However, this isn't much different than your typical single Instagon show, and this isn't a trait you can really appreciate until you've seen them play several times anyway. Secondly, the music, or rather, the fact that it's recorded to CD sort of goes against the whole "instantly gone" concept. I've listened to the same Instagon track 3 times now, and it hasn't changed once. The universe SHOULD begin to implode any second now.

All kidding aside, LOB has recruited a stellar group to record Sleepwalking, so none of my petty gripes actually matter. As far as I can tell, Sleepwalking was recorded live in the studio, so I feel I'm being fair when I say that this may be the best hour of live music I've heard yet from these guys. There's a lot of ambient space on this album, as opposed to the busy, noodly playing that bogs down a lot of "jam" rock music. There's room to breathe here, which makes it easy for the music to drift in and out of your consciousness, as the album title seems to imply/encourage.

Tracks like "Freeborn" build slowly and steadily, though instead of coming to a noisy crescendo like one might expect, the music becomes farther away and more reverb-drenched, chugging along like some phantom train disappearing into the night. Others like "Cosmic" and "Brainwashed Love Pt. 2" feature the melodic sax work of Jaroba, who brings a very distinct flavor to the album's sonic palette. Jaroba's sax playing is well utilized here, lingering in the balance of things and never "saying" any more than it needs to. He's not just a "saxophonist", he's a member of the band. He knows not to play out of turn, lest he be sucked into the undertow of the psychedelic abyss.

The most adventurous track here is the 12-minute "Dripfall", which begins as a modest, rhythmically synchronized experiment in non-melodic minimalism, and eventually morphs into this musical Hydra of sorts...each head thinking and moving independently while still sharing the same heartbeat. This sort of music could almost be described as "sentient". It seems to have a mind of it's own...like hundreds of microorganisms that are individually insignificant, until the pieces form together and create this pulsating, living organic alien mass...an abomination unto God, and a miracle of Science (er, Music).

Sleepwalking is a nicely-produced-albeit-no-frills album that both embraces the chaos as well as spits in its face. This music is HERE, damn it. Rather than surrendering itself as a cosmic offering to the powers that be, Sleepwalking is instead an offering to the curious ears of anyone bold enough to take the journey. The music opens doors in your brain that are similar to those open when daydreaming or sleepwalking. It seems created specifically for the subconscious mind. This is patient, aimless music for everyone and no one.

Sometime, I'd really like to see Instagon experiment in the studio, perhaps bringing in a new group of musicians to record each track. So many people have played with Instagon over the years, I can see how that would be a challenging, yet extremely rewarding project. However, the musicians present on Sleepwalking don't leave much to be desired, and help create the strongest recording Instagon has put out yet. Instagon ARE a live band, though, and there is no substitution for seeing a show. Be sure to catch them whenever you can, and enjoy the experience for what it is...you'll NEVER see that band again. - Matt

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Doofy Doo "Fingerpaint"

Listen to / Download Fingerpaint (direct link)

"I am a player and I will not lie / I have a couple of girls on the side", so begins Fingerpaint, the most recent offering from Sacramento's shamanic one-man-band Doofy Doo. Hell, if I could sound this much like a Collective of Animals (specifically a Panda Bear) I'd probably be seeing a lot more action myself. However, in just under 17 minutes, Fingerpaint is able to evoke the absolute best of all of its influences, and evens takes things to a new level by lightening the mood and never dwelling in one place for longer than absolutely necessary.

Fingerpaint is a psychedelic tapestry of sound. It's so unique and brief, it's more of an event than an album. "Whoa, did you hear that?" "What just happened?" Come to think of it, it seems perfectly designed in both length and mood for a salvia trip (although, speaking from experience, I can't recommend salvia to anyone but psychonaut masochists).

It hasn't been long at all, before "Hands" explodes into this incredible reverb-soaked sonic landscape of jangling guitar, howling vocals and crashing cymbals. It's so uplifting and exciting that it makes it difficult to sit with my arms crossed like the jaded hipster douche bag I sometimes worry I am. The music video Doofy and his friends made really captures the intensely joyous mood of this song.

The title track is also worth noting for it's kaleidoscopic quality. Gentle arpeggios and a brisk drum beat set the mood nicely for the choir of heavenly angels that descend to sing/ask "Do you like playing with fingerpaint?" The music evokes a strange nostalgia and reminds me of being a little kid, laying on my back on the grass and watching the clouds. It's hard to believe so much can be done in under two minutes...but that might also be because I keep listening to it over and over again. In fact, this album sort of demands repeated listening, and my one and only gripe is that it's so short. Whenever this guy takes the time to record a full length LP, he's got the potential to create a real masterpiece.

Tracks like "Fingerpaint" and "DeeGeeEmBeEs" really showcase Doofy's agile and creative drumming abilities. He is also known as Drew Walker, contributor to one of the tightest rhythm sections I know in his band, The Happy Medium. On this record, he demonstrates that he's also a very skilled guitarist, singer, and manipulator of pedals and various looping devices. However, what's even more impressive is the fact that he can do this sort of thing live, and with what looks like a lot less gear than you might expect.

I look forward to (finally) seeing one of his live shows, and if you take 17 minutes out of your day to listen to this strange, hypnotic and oftentimes hauntingly beautiful album, you certainly will too. - Matt

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Mark Aubert "The Escape Tape"

Listen to/Download The Escape Tape

San Fransisco's Mark Aubert makes mind-melting cassette tape trip-hop, essentially making him the lo-fi equivalent of DJ Shadow or RJD2. There, I said it. I can't be any more blunt than that. And if Mr. Aubert's the type who despises being compared to others, I sincerely apologize. But this is one of the highest compliments I can give.

All those weird, fuzzy-eyed, cotton-mouthed feelings I get when I listen to this album are eerily reminiscent of the first time I ever heard Shadow's Endtroducing way back in high school. Simply put, The Escape Tape easily is the chillest trip hop record I've heard since I was 17. OK, perhaps my (admittedly) limited knowledge of the trip hop's genre's back catalog could be considered a bit of a handicap here. Maybe. Who cares. Whatever. I'm just writing the first thing that that comes to the top of my head. Incidentally, listening to The Escape Tape makes me feel like I'm floating out of the top of my head.

For example, tracks like "Outlook" carefully creep into your consciousness and wrap around your brain like a warm, furry caterpillar. The intimate snaps, crackles and pops of the vinyl draw you in, chimes twinkle brightly in your aural peripherals, while looped string-pad samples build and decay, creating a pulsing sensation like some organic, glowing neon heart beating inside an alien womb. This may be a lot of hyperbole to digest, but this relaxing instrumental music certainly encourages the mind to wander.

I mentioned lo-fi earlier... Yes. But it's that most wonderful kind of low fi. Aubert skillfully mixes all his turntable wizardry via battery operated cassette recorders. Every sound, every sample is ever so slightly distorted...so that if you really crank the volume up high, The Escape Tape has potential to knock you on your ass and cause a bad case of couch-lock. Yes, I know I'm making a lot of references to being stoned, but...uh...yeah. Yep.

The Escape Tape is a fantastic listen, and perfect background music for coming down after a long night of raving, or whatever the hell it is you kids do these days. Dim the lights, smoke a bowl and enjoy. -Matt

Friday, October 15, 2010

JANG "Scissor Palace"

Listen to/download Scissor Palace

Recent Phoenix, AZ transplant JANG is one of the most modest musicians I know. I'm not sure if it's due to a bad case of nerves, a self esteem thing, or if he was just raised that way. He's soft spoken, big haired, rather self critical, and in my short time playing in a band with him, he never acted much like a "guitarist" (if you've ever been in a Guitar Center, or know anything at all about rock music, you know the type).

However, if anyone deserves an inflated ego, it's this guy right here. Known to friends/family/Big Brother as Nick Stanifer, he wrote music, played guitar and basically spearheaded the tragically short lived Sacramento glam-prog supergroup known as Order of the Golden Mirror...as well as play on and produce the bombastic aural adventure that is Prism Riot. The fact is, although he doesn't act the least bit like it, JANG may very well be underground experimental rock's next big name.

His latest solo offering, Scissor Palace, certainly does live up to its title. If music can be compared to tangible, physical art, whereas most albums are like paintings or photos, Scissor Palace is like a humongous, wall-spanning mixed-media collage. That's the easiest way to put it. Apparently, these are all bits and pieces of music recorded over the last few years that have been chopped and edited into...well, this. If ever there was an album seemingly designed to be listened to on "shuffle"...

There are 25 tracks here, very few pieces over two minutes in length. To try and describe the album as a whole would be almost futile. There are no genres to fall back on here. This is music for fourth dimensional beings with ADHD. So I'm going to try something new on Informed Conformist and listen to this album track-by-track and try my best to describe what each one brings to mind. Take from it what you will. Oh, and I invite you to listen along!

1. Arrival - Distorted drum fills accompany an angular guitar riff. Sounds like a fanfare. A gong sounds, and we're off.

2. Zeta Reticuli - Driving riff rock gives way to dreamy, bubbly synth and then just kind of ends...

3. Slivery Whine - Programmed drums skitter in some strange meter, while elevator jazz keyboards lay down an alternately soothing synth wash. Then what sounds like a completely random sax/synth melody mixes things up nicely.

4. Drag Them Stones - A 5/8 pattern with some organ and an epic, soaring synth and guitar melody. Then everything kinda freaks out at 38 seconds and ends suddenly (as most of these tracks do).

5. Discordant Prolifics Dustbin - More crazy programmed drums, more soothing keyboard patches, more frantic guitar. Similar to track 3...they may be blood relatives.

6. Altar of Gibraltar - Sounds like an organ and a tape reel having sadomasochistic sex...and then giving birth to a small bundle of cheez-funk.

7. Dig Up Bodies To Sell To Doctors - Aha, our first real "song". Phased out guitar, a cartoon "boing" sound effect and then...a pretty little organ interlude. Drums kick in and everything goes into double time. Sounds like Beethoven on methamphetamine. Song returns and wraps up nicely.

8. I Feel That Mental Breakdown A-Comin' - Scary video game music from the final boss' lair...if performed by a hybrid King Crimson/Frank Zappa supergroup .

9. Mail Order Bride - Grinding, delay soaked programmed drums.

10. Jagged Edges of Shattered Vinyl - Sounds exactly like the title suggests. Intro reminds me a bit of Tom Morello.

11. A Black Cat Throws Salt Over Its Shoulder - A brief drum workout, some tweedling guitar, and then an adorable kitty cat sound. Meow!

12. 28th Dimension - My favorite track. This one's in 7/8, possibly my favorite meter. Sounds like everything is peaceful in the land of the frolicking pixies...until some awful portal to hell opens and a dark shadow castle takes form in the dense, poisonous mist. The pixies warily take note, but continue with their happy party anyway.

13. Thing Of Being - Some of these tracks are hard to describe...this is just one of them. Starts in familiar, frantic territory, but suddenly dissolves into a spacey Eastern groove, reminiscent of The Doors' more psychedelic moments, before it all comes crashing back down on your head.

14. Smoke Break - Another favorite of mine. Out of left field comes a beautiful, layered acoustic melody, accompanied by shakers and bongo drums. Like the title suggests, a breath of fresh air...or a breath of SOMETHING, anyway.

15. Theme For Anvils - A pretty little four-note keyboard melody, reminiscent of the melody to The Symbolick Jews' "I Disappointed My Parents". Not complete plagiarism, but an interesting coincidence.

16. Windfall - More video game music...the intro is straight up Mega Man 2. As usual, this one doesn't sit still for long, and it's over just as you really start to get into it.

17. AYBABTU - Picks up nicely where track 16 ends, and features a really cool warbly piano effect.

18. Who Is Clock Maker? - Clockwork chimes and programmed drums run through some sort of ring modulator setting.

19. Chattering Teeth - This is straight up cowboy music that seems equally inspired by the Wild West as it does 80's pop (I was gonna say equal parts Tortoise and Toto, but it seemed like a stretch). Effective use of mouth harp here, which is an alarmingly underused instrument in modern rock music, if you ask me.

20. Something In My Eye - 8 seconds of cut up babyish vocal samples over a dance-floor beat. Yes.

21. It's Your Funeral, Round Eye - If a gamelan were abducted mid-performance and imprisoned in a floating glass bubble by pixelated aliens from the Space Invaders arcade game, it might sound a little like this.

22. Garbage Man - What sounds like Muzak played over a belching dragon.

23. Twitch of the Panic Nerve - Even more crazy, chopped up sounds...and then what sounds like a UFO revving up for takeoff.

24. Snow Falling On Eyelashes - Equal parts gentle beauty and foreboding darkness, this 3 minute piece sounds like an unused Danny Elfman composition from "Edward Scissorhands", which is really cool. For some reason, reminds me of a snow globe.

25. Soy Bean Rights Activist - The sound of the atoms that make up your brain matter converging together at once and then imploding into nothingness. After 12 seconds, the chaos subsides...and it's over.

So yeah, Scissor Palace is as brilliant as it is completely random. If you weren't compelled to listen along as you read the track-by-track breakdown, I'm not so sure I want to know you. Anyway, this is definitely not the sort of music you'd want to play for your grandmother, unless she did a lot of weird experimental drugs in the early 60's. Grandmothers ARE getting weirder, I suppose...

Personally, I had a great deal of fun listening to JANG's album. It feels a hell of a lot shorter than it really is, probably because it hops around so much and always keeps you guessing. This is definitely one that gets better (and weirder) with each listen, especially if you remember to shuffle the track list. Keep and eye on JANG, friends...and if you do like what you hear, be sure to check out his other albums, they're all refreshingly ambitious. -Matt

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fat Transfer "My Heart, the Cave"

Listen to/download My Heart, the Cave

What if The Residents made a bossa nova record? What if Arto Lindsay were locked in a room with only a tape recorder and a casiotone? Fat Transfer answers these questions and more on her recent bandcamp release, My Heart, the Cave. Drum machines and synths clang and distort against one another in tracks like "Empty Chairs" and "Space", over which a soothing and reassuring voice directs the listener toward the pulsing heart of a woman in love with love.

On both the title track and "The Curse of Sensitivity", this soothing voice is warped (perhaps via Tascam Pitch control) into crooning chipmunks and singing fetuses. What is so striking about the warped voice is it’s ability to transcend its own silliness into something quite heartfelt and endearing upon further listening. What if Bjork released an Alvin and the Chipmunks record?

Seas of synths and lush chords flood songs like "The Boat", and "The Water". These tracks seep even deeper into the psyche thanks to some rather choice samples of what sounds like laughter from a party or a concert, and the sound of running water on the latter. These were actually two of my favorite tracks on the album, leading me to hope that the next album has an aquatic theme.

My Heart, the Cave is an album as enveloping as it is mysterious. I am hard pressed to come up with an album that has transported me to the realm of dreams and fog as effectively as this one has. If you really want to know what it feels like to exist in some one else’s head, I recommend you download this record right away. Why not download her other releases while you’re at it? Weird, intriguing, and more and more rewarding with each listen. -Adam