Capsule reviews, week ending Jan. 2

Bits and pieces from the Jan. 2 playlist:

I’m experimenting with ways to reconcile my full-blown, old-school playlists with WordPress, so we’ll see how this works. Consider it a work in progress.

Mary Halvorson and Weasel Walter — “Bald Eagle Tartar Washed Down with a Cup of Melted Gold” — Opulence (ugEXPLODE, 2008 )

    A nicely vicious track that opens with keening blares of guitar. On some of theseOpulenceimprovised duets, Halvorson shows the same kind of rock-oriented approach as on parts of Dragon’s Head. On others, like this one, she goes the full improv/noise route — with squeals, or fast clicking noises, or sounds like a cat getting stepped on. Walter goes nuts on the drums, of course, but the really delicious parts are in his quieter playing, which is fast and accurate and marvellously textured.

Richard Pinhas and Merzbow — “Ikebukuro: Tout Le Monde Descend! [excerpt]” — Keio Line (Cuneiform, 2008 )

    Interesting mix of Pinhas’ space-music electronics (including laser sounds harkening back to ’80s synths) and Merzbow’s white-noise antics. The two can blend better than I’d thought. This track is particularly effective, starting with Pinhas alone, a pleasant buzzing of bees. By about the 7-minute mark of this 17-minute track, Merzbow’s wall of noise has taken over, colored by Pinhas’ electronics tones, like a crowd scene with individual people rushing past in the foreground.

David Leikam — “F-Lense” — David Leikam’s Dance Clippings, Vol. 1 (self-released, 2008 )

    It’s power-ambient, if that makes any sense, a mature and polished sound with flapping sheets of music, an angrier Harold Budd. We at the station know Leikam for the aggressively improvised music he plays — and we happen to know him personally too — but this is something different, and quite impressive. “Sideways Trigger Slip” is aggressive and appropriately dance-y, while other tracks like “F-Lense” (flense?) focus more on washes of synths.

Frank Rothkamm — Opus Spongebobicum (Flux, 2008 )

    Forty piano variations on the first line of the Spongebob Squarepants theme. The concept is apparently inspired by Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, for what it’s worth. It’s quite classical-sounding, and you wouldn’t know anything was up were it not for variations like the fourth one, where the theme is in plain sight. After that “Waaaait a minute…” moment, you start being able to pick out the theme in other tracks — No. 30, for instance, features stern low-note hammering for about a minute before decelerating into the theme. The variety adds to the fun; No. 39 has a “hit single” feel, using rock techniques for an Elton John effect. No. 40 is a cheat; it’s a recording of the inner locked groove on a vinyl record.I played No. 4 as an easy introduction to the concept, then added No. 34 as further illustration. No. 34 is six seconds long (five, if you don’t count the opening fraction-of-a-second silence) and doesn’t even get through the theme all the way. A very smart-ass trick that just adds to the charm.

    Apparently, the CD comes with a sponge. Gotta love that.

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