Khlyst - Chaos Is My Name (Hydra Head)
He has never played (and certainly will never play) with Southside Johnny, Little Steven, or done a gig at the Stone Pony, but when someone writes the NJ History of Music book, a fat slab of it should certainly be dedicated to Mr. James Plotkin. Here's a guy who has taken ambient, electronic, and metal into the 26th century, and by the time your average knob-twiddler catches up to him he's miles ahead of the game in every one of those genres and has invented a template for something else entirely new that hasn't been done before. Starting out in the late 80's with O.L.D. (Old Lady Drivers), several Earache label LPs of churning, freaked out speedcore already confounded most metal fans' expectations. The band also unveiled the shrieking-from-hell vocalist ("vokillist") Alan Dubin who later slowed it down and got even unholier sounding ten years later in Khanate. This band was Plotkin on bass and some grim electronic laptop sounds; with Blind Idiot God drummer Tim Wyskida, and Stephen O'Malley of Sunn o))) on massive sludge guitar, they specialized in crushing, creeping compositions that circled around the rawest in doom-defining terrain (you can hear a 2002 WFMU studio performance in Real Audio here that still freaks me out). Somewhere in between, there was also Atomsmasher (later Phantomsmasher), where blasted hardcore laptop sounds went up against one of the most frantic, killer drummers in hardcore or metal, Dave Witte of Discordance Axis/Burnt By the Sun. Although the one live show I saw Plotkin worked his latop while other band members played a game of Jenga opposite him at the table. With Khanate retired this year, we're psyched that James hasn't missed a beat and gotten back into the game with a collaboration on the Archive label with Wyskida, and also a full length Hydra Head label release with Khlyst, his duo with Thorr's Hammer vocal banshee Runhild Gammelsaeter. Here, the physicality of live instrumentation that dominated Khanate gets replaced by Runhild's in-your-face Diamanda Galas howl; spastic, low-end barrages of spliced guitar, razor-sharp speed drum samples, run perfect accompaniment. Other times, there's barren soundscapes of otherworldly weirdness, rich drones accompany massive sheets of metal being scraped against the ground sounding more like Pluto than hell (or both), punctuated by yet more eruptions of insane vocal outbursts amidst total instrumental chaos. Genres get tossed around like toothpicks in a hurricane, it's all perfectly planned confusion. Bummed to have missed the live set during CMJ (there's a vidclip up here), but hope more shows are in the works. Here's an MP3 of "VI" (thanks James), you can find the disc here.
Ravi Padmanabha / Ed Chang - Elephant Calls (Utech)
I first heard guitarist Ed Chang in his NYC ensemble Spin 17 when they played on the Stork Club at WFMU many moons ago; having always been a fan of such out-there axemen like Derek Bailey and Fred Frith I was wowed by the leftfield applications on display; taking the instrument into terrain as wild as theirs while still staking his own terra firma with assorted toys and electronics thrown in for good measure. Chang's still quite active live and with assorted releases, one of my recent faves being Elephant Calls, showcasing his anything-but-conventional acoustic guitar going head to head with tabla player/percussionist Ravi Padmanabha. Utilizing the bare minimum, these two sound off with a pure celebrate of acoustic sound, zonked strings, thwacking on guitar to complement the Indian-style rhythms being thrown down, "Avatar"'s sandpapery string sliding vigorously enhances Padmanabha's fingers while "Elephant Calls" sounds like the ghost of Bailey turned loose with good old Dave Soldier's army of Thai pachyderms. As with most Utech releases, they're quite live and immediate sounding; this one is particularly rich and beautiful to bask in with the headphones. They're also quite limited, so grab it now. "Uhtan" (Real Audio).
Daniel Higgs - Ancestral Songs (Holy Mountain)
Higgs is a member of the Pupils, but better known for his activity in Lungfish, where he instantly defined himself as somewhat of an enigma. You see a lot of people in this crazy muzak world flying the freak flag, but I've rarely seen/heard someone who's overall identity of extreme weirdness encompasses their music so much in a way that you know that the music itself is just one of many extensions of creative activity. And yeah, Higgs' visual art certainly reflects the same twisted imagery as his sounds; and the sounds themselves are stunning. Somewhat in the realm of the occult, but oddly positive and uplifting, using lo-fidelity and abstraction to great effect but never distorts the mirror of what's happening in this guy's mind. Ancestral Songs is a mesmerizing document of some far out musical shit, blaring jews' harp goes against toy piano "Moharsing and Schoenhut" (Real Audio here) both approached with total conviction (Higgs actually issued a disc of purely jews' harp recordings a few years back), there's resonating guitar that sounds nothing like a guitar, his voice modulates from whispers-plugged-direct into the soundboard to distant cosmic chants. Yes, America has gotten "new" and "weird" in these modern musical times with everyone under the sun donning ponchos and cranking out CDRs wrapped in leaves, but Higgs brings true eclecticism to the table and creates a great documentation of art rather than vagueness cloaked in a riddle. As puzzling as these sounds may be (half the time you cannot even figure out what the instrument itself is the way it's distorted or processed) you can clearly discern the purpose that exists behind them.