More Bent Notes from the Underground
Strange Rumblings from Seattle's Weird Sonic Underbelly
To put it bluntly, Dave Segal is a weirdo. He keeps his headphones on all day in the office, mumbles to himself, and occasionally curses at his computer. Every once in a while, we ask him to write up the most out-there stuff he's got in rotation. —Eds
BRAIN FRUIT, 1.1 (Debacle, www.debaclerecords.com): You'd be forgiven if on first hearing you thought Brain Fruit were a couple of German dudes with wizard beards. But the duo—Jon Carr on synth leads and drum machine and Chris Davis on filters, FX, and melodies—are Seattle bros who've changed from hurly-burly krautrock disciples to kosmische-ambience synthesizer meisters of the highest order. Think Cluster, Harmonia, and Klaus Schulze, and then congratulate yourself on your good taste.
Six of the seven tracks on this 35-minute double LP coalesce into one megapiece, linked by seamless transitions. "1.1" kicks things off with a methodically chugging rhythm and creepily modulating drone, preparing you for something momentous. The cosmic, sighing keyboard wonderment of "1.2" amplifies sensation, while the gentle motorik beats that nudge "1.3" burgeon with glistening analog-synth whorls. Things reach a giddy peak with the whimsical Mooglike deep-space curlicues of "1.4," evoking a blissful weightlessness. The kinetic rhythms of "1.5" buttress the synths' intensifying spangles and pulsations. "1.6" marks a gradual deceleration into a hypnagogic fantasia, and "1.7" serves as the album's morose, meditative coda. It's a somber, slow zoom out from a forbidding Plutonian desolation; this piece could've soundtracked some of 2001: A Space Odyssey's more poignant scenes, like when HAL 9000 gets disconnected—or even the Star Gate sequence. Science-fiction-oriented filmmakers, take note: Brain Fruit are ready and able to score your far-out images.
DJAO, Wuhn EP (Dropping Gems, www.droppinggems.com): DJAO's five-track debut EP, Wuhn, is a phenomenal work of beautifully atmospheric music—like an amalgam of My Bloody Valentine's hazy interludes on Loveless, Board of Canada's Robitussin triphop, and the cavernous ooze of oOoOO. DJAO's productions sound at once grave and ethereal, menacing and spiritually uplifting.
Wuhn starts with "Underbrush," which fades in with an ominous gust of ruptured Morse code and forlorn drones, until DJAO (25-year-old Seattle DJ/producer Alex Osuch) delivers brutal cudgels of bass and beats, the sound of a behemoth pounding on a castle door—very insistently. This is a deceptively infernal introduction, though, as "Through the Fields" drastically deviates from it, recalling—yes—the Field's sweeping, angelic techno. "Taigamoss" features calming "oohs," drifting guitar tones, Tibetan bell chimes, and erratic beats like heavy-bag punches. "Moon Sun Ravine" is a slow-motion avalanche of chill bliss, like hearing a heavenly mashup of Cocteau Twins' and Seefeel's mellowest material in a postcoital reverie. On "Green Lake," shoegaze-rock guitar and synth and lightly reverbed vowel sounds radiantly swirl over clipped funk beats, ending things on a disorientingly uplifting note. Wuhn is an incredibly promising debut release, and it primes one for DJAO's performance at the Dropping Gems showcase at Decibel Fest on September 28 at HG Lodge.
FACTUMS, Gilding the Lilies (Assophon, www.assophonrecords.blogspot.com): It's difficult to figure out Factums. At times they come off like a Pacific Northwest version of the Fall or Chrome, all gray-scale repetitive riffs that pummel with a kind of mutated, post-rock thrust in the best obsessive-compulsive-disorder manner imaginable. (If a riff's great enough, why not ride it for four or five minutes at a time, right?) At other times, Factums—drummer Matthew Ford, guitarist/bassist/keyboardist Jesse Paul Miller, and guitarist Dan Strack—ring in like the Residents meandering around the back catalog of Butthole Surfers at their most abrasive and abstract. Vocals come shrouded in murky megaphonic modulations, alternately agitated and sedated. Meaning and intent are elusive.
So while Factums' previous albums—Factums, Flowers, Spells and Charms, and The Sistrum—are plenty odd, they seem commercial compared to the new double LP, Gilding the Lilies.
This sprawling 29-track work continues Factums' strict adherence to lo-fi production values, but the profusion of budget-conscious drum-machine rhythms and industrial-grind guitar and keyboard harks back to Cabaret Voltaire's early experiments, before they started caring about keeping dance floors full and paranoid. The rudimentary canned beats (or is Ford craftily re-creating the sound of dice rattling around wooden cups on his kit?) recall those that littered some great songs in the '70s by artists such as Shuggie Otis, Sly Stone, JJ Cale, and Timmy Thomas.
Factums make music that's seemingly supposed to be heard out of the corner of your ears. Like the great Portland group Bügsküll, it's more implied than emphatically stated. Within its somewhat narrow sonic parameters, Gilding the Lilies sprouts some fascinating variations. "Over There" slows down the Normal's "Warm Leatherette" and defuses it of all panic. "Situation" is a dead ringer for Dif Juz's patient, cyclical post-rock/dub peregrinations with a crystalline, reverbed guitar motif to perish for. "Transmission," "Trap," and "P. Spirit" follow in the vein of Can's ethnic forgeries, but put through a fun-house mirror. What may have started as a goof has morphed into something mind-bending. "Come On" resembles Wire's "Lowdown"; that this mantric garage-punk ditty is the most conventionally rock moment here tells you how estranged from convention Factums have become.
Album closer "Earth Movement" is like a summit meeting of minimalist masters Angus Maclise, La Monte Young, and John Cale, as it profoundly delves into drone and percussion satori. It's a culmination of Factums' deepest musical instincts, an ultimate display of disorientation and spirituality—and a mysterious conclusion to a baffling album. Let's hope we live long enough to make some sense of it.