Friday, March 19, 2010

YØGA—Megafauna (Holy Mountain)

YØGA deal in pure sound, delivered in bursts of confusion and terror. The duo of Vatten Häst and Eld Anka don't give us much to go on, aside from the sound. The credits in the CD are minimal: no producer, no studio, no equipment lists, no thank yous to everyone they met on the road. Obscurity adds to the intrigue. Megafauna comprises 12 roiling vortexes of synths, guitars, drums and noise, swirling with soot and scattering debris across fields of sonic loathing. It’s like Darkthrone lighting incense and blissing out with Popol Vuh, with Kevin Shields mixing the results. The song titles reference a flying witch, the hidden people, a treeman, a warrior, the dreaded chupacabra. YØGA drag us down onto the mouldy earth, cowering from misshapen things glimpsed amidst the trees. Sometimes a riff works its way up from the mire—the martial doom theme of “Treeman” is especially strong—but when it does, the atmospheres over top threaten to snuff it out. No clean sounds exist on Megafauna. Everything is filthy, perverted beyond its natural resonance and oscillating out of control. Each track is its own little world—all fearful, haunted places—and the flow within each one demonstrates YØGA’s consideration for composition. Chaos resides on the surface, yet all is controlled inside. Sick minds are clearly at work, and I hope they're well stocked with ideas. I want to hear where they go next.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Cheer-Accident—Fear Draws Misfortune (Cuneiform)

Me: Hey, honey, I have the latest album from Cheer-Accident here. They got their name from a category of greeting cards. Mind if I put it on?
Wife: Be my guest, Mule.
(I fire up the CD player and “Sun Dies” begins playing)
Wife: (laughing) What the hell, Mule?
Me: Jesus, it sounds like Gentle Giant throwing up. Sorry.

Chicago’s Cheer-Accident thrive on absurdity and perversity. Nothing travels in a straight line. Their songs bend, snap, fall over, bounce back. They’re like Thinking Plague’s drunken uncle, spilling beer, cracking wise, and hogging the stereo at family gatherings with way-out records selected just for the occasion. As Cuneiform puts it, “Recommended if you like: Art Bears, The Association, Faust, Magma, Nomeansno, Steve Reich, Shudder to Think, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, This Heat, Time of Orchids. Playing simultaneously.”

Which is true and not true. Yes, they sound like a clustercuss at times, but they’re also capable of great beauty, and they never stop being fun. A trio at its core (all three members write), Cheer-Accident includes an impressive cast of vocalists and brass and wind players on Fear Draws Misfortune. It’s impossible not to get caught up in the melee when everyone gets going. The songs (and despite the chaos, these do feel like songs) sometimes bleed and segue neatly into one another, just in case you weren’t disoriented enough. Although the whole album is terrific, there are some standout tracks. “According to the Spiral” is a languid little gem that glides on an elusive rhythm, while “Blue Cheadle” is a compelling jumble. “Humanizing the Distance” traverses several movements and constantly shifting arrangements to unwind with the entire band playing a lovely extended riff that dissipates to a single guitar. The song heaves a great sigh. Beware of “The Carnal, Garish City,” however—I just have no idea. Are they singing in French? Is that supposed to be duck? You’re on your own with this one.

The band are stingy with the lyrics and other mystery-busting documentation, so I don’t know what it all means, but I’m on board nevertheless. I’ll champion them and take them to my breast as though I were comforting an orphaned porcupine. They’re lovable and cute, but those quills can be a bitch.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Rotting Christ —Aealo (Season of Mist)

Rotting Christ’s basic sound is extremely masculine, even by metal standards. It’s precise and regimented. The band is in lock step and fit to fight. Even when they bring in contrasting elements, like reed pipes or female vocals, their warrior stance doesn’t flinch at all. The vibe on Aealo is inclusive— “Come, do battle with us. Together we are stronger.”

The opening title track is a mad rush of sound that reminds me of Hüsker Dü’s "New Day Rising" with its four-on-the-floor momentum. The wailing female voices add a disorienting twist that transforms the track into something truly novel. Above all, no matter how elegantly they’re constructed and adorned, songs like “Eon Aenaos” are catchy. Every last detail has been honed, right down to the guitar solos, which show some serious time invested in composing them rather than being tossed off to fill obligatory solo space. It’s impressive that the guitars are frequently playing three or four different lines at once, yet nothing is lost or muddled. I wouldn’t accuse Rotting Christ of “grooving,” but when they hook up the wah-wah pedal on “Demonon Vrosis” it’s hard not to get ensnared by the rhythms they lock into. “Noctis Era” is the album's ultimate anthem, with its Celtic-sounding guitar harmonies (you could play them on a tin whistle) mixing with band leader Sakis’ desperate screaming and “hoo! ha!” gang chants in the background. The guitar riffs are so simple that a beginner could pick them up. This all may sound like it’s a dumbed down play for accessibility, but there’s nothing dumb about it.

Guests contribute to the Rotting Christ arsenal. As co-vocalist on “Thou Art Lord,” Alan Nemtheanga is in his element. The track is the sort of battle-ready, passionate metal that his band Primordial trades in. Nemtheanga’s commanding voice provides a nice foil to Sakis’ rasp, making the track an album highlight. Diamanda Galas adds half-spoken vocals to a metal arrangement of her own “Orders from the Dead.” Some listeners may be turned off by her domineering incantations; others may find the track an impressive, imposing album closer.

I’ve never followed Rotting Christ’s career too closely, but I’ve gained a new appreciation of them via Aealo. Their eleventh release is a superb piece of work full of deadly intent, craft, and a cunning mix of elements, and I’d believe anyone who says it’s their best album to date.