Ultra Milkmaids - Pop Pressing
As Pop Pressing opens, I wonder if my CD player is damaged. "1...2...4...6" lurches and disappears, and I have to struggle to find the lyrical thread in the damaged melodies which stutter and burp from my speakers. Then, suddenly, "1...2...4...6" is gone, and I'm dropped into a field recording of birds. When the guitar melody surfaces once more -- several minutes into "My Electric Ladddy Land" -- the digitized breakdown of its sound is still there, filled with hollows and excised chunks that leave empty spaces within the body of the melody. My ambience is disturbed by digital artifacting: this is the effect the Ultra Milkmaids have on records.
During interviews over the last year or so, the Ultra Milkmaids have threatened to do a pop record. Those familiar with the Milkmaids -- brothers Jan and Rodolphe, who operate without a number of safety nets including the security of a familial name -- know that their method of glitching minimalism hardly encompasses the idea of a pop record. Those familiar with the Milkmaids have waited for Pop Pressing with a hint of apprehension and glimmer of caution. As it turns out, Pop Pressing is music that has been bleached into near silence before being randomly sliced into a thousand splintered bits. The Ultra Milkmaids recorded a "pop" record and then disassembled it -- leaving pieces out, destroying whole phrases and instrumentation, performing cut-up operations with the precision and arbitrariness of a skilled surgeon whacked out of his mind on speedballs.
"Nenver" is a tone and drone piece fabricated from the extranenous tape of the brothers tuning their instruments. All sound has purpose and possibility for the Milkmaids, and the broad drones and particular finger-picking of a slightly tuned guitar become a wash of ambient sound, a coalescing of the musical atmosphere prior to a more refined recording session. The first minute of "Pop Star" is nothing more than the hum of an amplifier, waiting for input. The Milkmaids channel Kevin Shields into the studio and the guitar unleashes a storm of sound, the thick layers of sound colliding and echoing like the endlessly multiplying brooms of Disney's Fantasia. The acoustic "Balade" starts in the country with its single guitar and bird song. But they are invaded by the echoes of "Pop Star" as the shimmering wall of guitar noise wanders into the pastoral landscape. "My Personal TV System" is a bit of surf music buried beneath a shivering buzz of static energy as if the surf were included, transcribed as digital noise.
The final track, "New Wmind," is a nod to Sonic Youth and Scenic and Dick Dale even, a coherent instrumental landscape which would one could find on any of their records. It is only in the final minutes that the Ultra Milkmaids apply their stuttering, slicing methodology again, reminding us of their intent: Pop Pressing is all about breaking songs down, breaking songs apart, and discovering how much can be removed before the melody loses its cohesion. Here lies fractured listening.
Unknown Ghosts - Transfer at Dub
John Roome, lately of Witchman and Goldwater, has a new project: The Unknown Ghosts. Mixing Witchman's penchant for beats and Goldwater's miasmic atmospheres with a street-style of scratches and dub echoes, Transfer at Dub is a record that bumps along rain-slicked city streets at 2am. Roome has been working in a production capacity with The Orb as well as being part of their live experience (Alex Patterson is credited as a participant on nearly half of the tracks of the record) and Transfer at Dub does display some of the synergy of this time: a vast openness to the sound, a dub echo which goes all the way back to the beginning of time.
"Dreadnaught" rolls through the back streets of a ravaged city, beginning with a raspy reverb of metal scrapping across metal, highlighted by a bleeping tone -- a machine's alert signals shot through with an oil-based dub infusion. The heart of the record fills into the space next, the scratches and beats which become the soundtrack to the lost streets which this machine patrols. Voices and a brass section make up the remainder of the texture and the whole monstrosity powers along, taking you, your dog, and everything that isn't nailed down along with it.
Mako and Rosanne provide vocals for "Reality Check," a organ-infused steam-driven wagon which circles the block, the catch-phrase echoing from the WWII-era loudspeakers attached to the roof of the old wagon. The other track to feature guest vocals is "Revolution" and the vocal work is done by Baby Johnson, a Hail Mary preacher working from the back of his open wagon, calling upon the masses to reach for a brighter world.
"Sleepwalkin" is haunted by a flute melody, a Pied Piper type lilting which drifts in on a thick platform of dark beats sounding like nothing more than a DJ Krush tune. The Piper persona is a mask, an empty vessel acting as the avatar of a sinister creature which waits for you beneath the city streets. The flute brings you down to its lair, your body twitching and jerking with the spastic rhythms of its black heartbeat.
"Motown" spins us through Detroit, powered by a 12-inch record from the late 1970s. This record is a sequence of layers, layered historical strata which is peeled back, scooped out and placed again, becoming fresh asphalt to be poured on new streets. This is 21st century dub which requires the weight of the previous time period to lend gravity to its presence. Roome doesn't try to hide his influences, rather they are stretched out and laid before you, each song having certain elements and aspects which seem so familiar on the first listen. But you've never been here before; the road just feels like your old neighborhood.
Transfer at Dub is rife with that sensation: familiarity. But Roome's accomplishment is that he transcends this feeling. The beats, the scratches, the rhythms, all of it seems to be comfortable and welcome as it slips into your brain like an old friend come to visit. But, after a few minutes, there is an unsettling thought which creeps into your consciousness: you don't really know this guy. This record is haunted by ghosts, phantoms of songs we think we remember. Maybe they never existed. The Unknown Ghosts name is more appropriate than you realize. Transfer at Dub turns out to be much more than what it appears. The Orb, Witchman, and Goldwater all thrown into a blender and spun at high speed for three minutes. What happens inside that blender is not quite what you think. There is a black hole at the bottom of the container. Prepare to be sucked in.
- U -
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Publications I've Written For
- Eraldo Bernocchi
- Fields of the Nephilim
- Peter Gabriel
- Chris Randall
- This Morn' Omina