Communion by Various Artists

Compilation albums are a lot like a mixtape. The best ones are built of different artists and vibes, but when set together in one singular time frame form a truly inspiring listening experience. Compilation albums can be as intimate and involved as that homemade mixtape you made back in high school for a friend. You want that friend to keep listening to that mixtape, but you also want to expose them to an artist or two they may not have ever heard before. You want to be their guide into a new musical landscape. The best compilations work that way. They invite you into a world you may not be familiar with, but once you’ve finished that first spin you’re ready to spin it again.

Burning Witches Records have put together one of the coolest mixtapes you’ll hear all year. Communion is their late night, homemade music collection that they’re handing to us in the hallway between classes. It’s a collection of some of the most exciting artists working in the electronic/heavy synth scene now. It works both as some lost soundtrack and as this sampler platter of the best and brightest blowing minds with synthesizers.

If you celebrated Record Store Day in the UK, you may have had a chance to snag Communion. And if you did you are one lucky guy or gal. If you didn’t, don’t spend your rent money for a copy on Ebay. Burning Witches will be selling some copies on their website at some point, so just sit tight and keep up with those guys on Facebook and at their website.

Now, about the music.

The roster on Communion is filled from start to finish with incredible talent. I mean, when you open an album with Deadly Avenger you know things are getting real. The steely and hard-driving “Nightcrawler” works perfectly as the opening salvo to what turns out to be an epic set of tunes. Damon Baxter never disappoints, and on this track he shows why Deadly Avenger is such a sought after musical project. Alone In The Woods’ “I Never Came Up For Air” works on both an eerie vibe and a very dance-y 80s tilt that sounds like both early Depeche Mode and soundtrack work. I’ve been pretty obsessed with Graham Reznick’s Glass Angles album recently, so seeing that he was on this set I was pretty excited. “Faking Point” takes the late night vibe of that album and gives it a more sinister groove. His mastery of sound design comes into play here as you feel all the blips and beeps are swirling around your head in a hallucinatory haze. Another Burning Witches alumni is Isvisible Isinvisible. His debut cassette release earlier this spring was a bubbling cauldron of pure analog bliss and on “The Level Crossing” he continues that vibe to stunning effect. You can practically see blinking lights, wires crossing, and a circuital world forming right before your eyes as the song plays on. Espectrostatic’s “The Locust Accord” is all sinister dark grooves with an almost NIN vibe. Imagine “The Perfect Drug” slowed down to a shadowy crawl with an almost Brothers Grimm twisted fairy tale feel.

Elsewhere, Cory Kilduff’s “LV426” emotes with an almost melancholy feel. It’s lifted from his excellent re-scoring of Ridley Scott’s Alien and it works perfectly as a Goth reinterpretation to Jerry Goldsmith’s more sparse, cold score. Timothy Fife’s “Erotic Rites” is inspired by old school Giallo of the sultry  variety and it works incredibly well. Fife can go from moody swirls of Berlin School to Mario Bava-inspired melodrama at the drop of a hat. Here he takes the moody Giallo path to wonderful effect.

New to me, Ian Alex Mac’s “Winona ’88” amps up the hard-driving sound of 80s-inspired film music. He melds perfectly both 80s synth pop radio sounds and the work of Tangerine Dream into a perfect mix of mood and feel. Harglow’s “Candle Wax” crank up the industrial drive, putting me more in mind of early work by Skinny Puppy or Nine Inch Nails than anything on a John Hughes film. Closing out the set is worriedaboutsatan’s “Figures, Data”. These two guys are the kings of subtlety, building an almost ambient world through careful sound design and a slow burn dedication to creating mood. It’s a stunning finish to an overall exhilarating musical journey.

Communion is a stunning music trip. It is both an impressive display of the talent Burning Witches Records has brought together under one roof, as well as masterfully-curated compilation that could be the lost soundtrack to that movie you never knew you wanted to see.

It’ll be the coolest mixtape in your collection, too.

RSD 2018 : Early Bird Gets The Weird-Shaped Vinyl

Every year when Record Store Day comes around I find myself in bed around 6:30 am on a Saturday morning wondering if I really want to get up out of bed and venture to a record shop and wait in the cold. With each passing birthday and newly sore muscle and joint I really ponder whether I’m gonna jump in the van and celebrate this thing called Record Store Day. This year was no different and like every year before it I grumble and moan out of bed, throw on some clothes and put on a hat to cover my balding head and make my way to that chilly line in front of the record shop and wait till 8am. The doors open and everyone makes their way into the warm record shop and like sharks we attack those milk crates full of exclusive records. The moaning subsides as I leaf through and find things I wanted and things I didn’t realize I wanted until they meet my eyes. I mingle with others, talk to the record store owners, and have a sense of ease and calm come over me. I’m then happy I rolled out of my warm bed where my lovely wife and little dog keep on quietly sleeping and dreaming.

This year was no different.

No grand gestures here, no contemplative thesis on the meaning of vinyl and what it means to me. I leave the warm embrace of a Saturday morning in bed so I can share a few moments with strangers and grab records I can then return to home with and spin them as I sip on a cup of coffee and talk to my wife who sits on the couch listening with me.

I think that says it all, folks.

What did you pick up?

Record Store Day 2018 : 11 Years Of Vinyl Love

I grew up with vinyl.

Some of my first memories are of my dad changing records on a Zenith console stereo in the basement as my parents and their friends drank longnecks, smoked, and played pool all the while Led Zeppelin, The Doors, ZZ Top, and Three Dog Night spun on the turntable. I recall bugging my mom to put on The Beatles’ White Album so I could hear “Back In The U.S.S.R.” on the upstairs stereo. Then as the song faded out and “Dear Prudence” came in I’d ask her to play it over again(my love for “Dear Prudence” would come later.) I would go with my dad into town sometimes. Usually in the hopes that we’d take his 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am. That car felt like a spaceship to me. On these trips into town we’d either end up at a Napa auto parts(cause we owned a Pontiac Trans Am) store or Butterfly Records so my dad could grab a vinyl of some album he was told he’d like(usually by someone at work.) The one trip to Butterfly Records that always sticks out in my mind is when my dad bought Alice Cooper’s Welcome To My Nightmare. My older brother and I went with him. I can recall sitting in the backseat of the Firebird holding that record and looking at Alice Cooper, full regalia staring back at me. It freaked me out. My older brother kept whispering “Don’t look at him too long or he’ll come out of the cover and get you.” As the song “Steven” played I can remember staring down the dark hallway from the living room waiting for Alice Cooper to appear. Whenever I’d hear that song I’d always imagine the opening sequence to Night Gallery as well. A kaleidoscope of madness running over and over in my head. It would play on repeat in my mind as that song would play.

As I got older the first album I bought with my own money was not on vinyl, but cassette. I bought Ratt’s Out of the Cellar when I was 10 years old.  It was Butterfly Records once again, only this time they were hooking me up instead of my dad. Cassettes were my first foray into music consumption, but when I was 13 my parents bought me my own console stereo. It was one of those all-in-one jobs from Soundesign. There was a dual cassette deck, AM/FM stereo, and a turntable. It had tower speakers and the stereo was in a faux wood cabinet complete with wheels. This was Christmas of 1986. I was on Christmas break and the day after Christmas my mom took me to Butterfly Records(of course) so I could spend some Christmas money. My brother had bought me Judas Priest’s Unleashed In The East on vinyl, so I could break that crappy Soundesign tonearm in of course. Being in a Judas Priest mood I picked up their album Screaming For Vengeance. I also bought Vinnie Vincent Invasion’s self-titled(don’t judge.) I picked up a couple more vinyl throughout the next few months before cassettes took over once again.

Cassettes filled my music urges till the summer of 1992 when I boxed them all up and began the CD binge. That would last for the next 16 years until in the fall of 2008 when I got the ridiculous urge to start collecting vinyl. Maybe it was nostalgia, maybe it was hearing about this “Record Store Day” craziness, or maybe it was a brain tumor; whatever it was I followed the little voice in my head. I bought an Audio Technica AT-PL120 and I’ve never looked back. I actually bought my first two records a couple months before I bought the turntable. On an October trip to Chicago to see My Morning Jacket, my wife and I headed to Jazz Record Mart where I bought Wes Montgomery’s Smokin’ at the Half Note and McCoy Tyner’s The Real McCoy. I guess I was calling my own bluff. “You said you wanted to collect records, well here you go. Now you HAVE to buy a turntable.”

The first Record Store Day celebration I attended was RSD 2010. I headed to Fort Wayne with my 5-year old son and we made our way to the North Anthony Wooden Nickel. The place was packed. There was coffee and chocolate chip cookies being served(my son was thrilled about the cookies.) I got to see Wooden Satellites perform. I didn’t buy any of the RSD exclusives. The one I wanted was Wilco’s Kicking Television 4LP boxset, but I didn’t have the $75 large for that acquisition. I ended up buying a used copy of Elvis Costello and the Attractions’ Armed Forces and a signed copy of Matthew Sweet’s Blue Sky On Mars for my wife.  For some reason I missed out on RSD 2011, but RSD 2012 I ended up back in Fort Wayne(this time with my 9-year old daughter) and we hit Neat Neat Neat Records. It was already after 9am so they were pretty much picked over. I still ended up with an Of Montreal/Deerhoof split and bought Wooden Shjips’ West LP. There was coffee and donut holes(my daughter was thrilled about the donut holes.) What I’d really wanted that year was The Flaming Lips’ The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends, but NNN was out of it and so was the North Anthony Wooden Nickel. As we made our way out of the Fort we made one last stop at the Clinton Street Wooden Nickel and low and behold there was one copy of Heady Fwends waiting there(just for me, obviously.)

Since 2013 I’ve celebrated Record Store Day right here in my hometown. Karma Records of Warsaw, which is run by John Vance and a small crew of very cool folks, have striven to make Warsaw a cool place to spend your cash on the Christmas of music buying days. Much like Neat Neat Neat Records’ Morrison Agen and Wooden Nickel’s Bob Roets, John is a music lover first and foremost. I can remember meeting John over ten years ago when he worked at the Sam Goody here in town. Even then he was passionate about music, even if half his job was putting out action figures and DVDs, while the other half was dealing with music. John started out with his Record Store Day quantities being rather small, but he’s built it up year after year. The line outside Karma at 7:30 AM went from a handful of folks to 30 to 40 people by the time the door opens. I loved hitting NNN and Wooden Nickel in the past, but driving an hour wasn’t as much fun. And if I wanted a chance to get something I needed to leave sooner.  John Vance and Karma Records of Warsaw have made Record Store Day something special, and just ten minutes away from my house.

Tomorrow, April 21st, I’ll be celebrating Record Store Day 2018 at Karma Records in Warsaw for the 5th year in a row, and with the usual crew of misfits and music nerds. I’ll rub elbows with familiar faces and new ones. I’ll(hopefully) grab those exclusives I’ve been dreaming about, and maybe grab a surprise or two. I’ll work my way back to the family van and head home to spin my vinyl acquisitions with a freshly brewed cup of dark roast and maybe fall back asleep in my chair for a bit.

I grew up on vinyl. And it seems I’m growing old with it, too.

 

Happy 4/20, Now Get Some Sleep

As if some bleary-eyed, cosmic stoner wish came true, the Kush Gods have bestowed upon the universe, on this 20th of April 2018, the best possible scenario any stoner/doom fuzz fan could ever hope for: Sleep have dropped a new album into your pipe.

Commence smoking it.

We’ve heard hints, rumors, and allegations for years now that the stoner/doom metal Godfathers were working on new music. Though they broke up nearly 20 years ago it was never because the guys didn’t get along. It was more out frustration for the clusterfuck that was the several failed attempts at releasing Dopesmoker in its single hour-long form. But in 2009, after Pike had found great success with High on Fire and Al Cisneros and Chris Hakius found equal success with Om, the band reformed with Jason Roeder on drums and intermittently played shows and got together to work on new, dank riffs and vibes. In 2014 they released the single “The Clarity”, which showed Sleep still at the top of their form.

Now, as if some higher power were listening in on a joke between two stoned metal fans,(“Could you imagine man, if like, Sleep released a new record on 4/20??” “Oh shit, man. That would be kick ass!”) today a new Sleep album has indeed dropped from the indica-colored skies. The Sciences is the first new Sleep record in almost 20 years(Dopesmoker was released in 1999.) The record is out via Jack White’s Third Man Records and is accessible on all streaming platforms and should be at your local brick and mortar today(just keep that shit on the down low when you nonchalantly ask if they have a copy for you behind the counter, you dig?)

How does it sound, you wonder? It sounds like Sleep, so it sounds great! I’ll post a review soon. For now, I’m just going to sit in the haze for a bit longer while the coffee is kicking in.

All hail Iommi.

Bryce Miller : Operator

It’s always a thrill to come across an album that makes music seem exciting and intriguing just when you think you’ve heard it all. The electronic/heavy synth genre has had a massive resurgence over the last few years. Coming from a place where I love the world of synth and electronic music this is a very good thing to my ears. I’m inspired by these circuit and tube-built worlds where dystopian landscapes, grimy city streets, and desolate space can converge, sometimes even in the same song. There are far too many artists building musical worlds that I love to mention here. I’ll just say that I’m honored to have interviewed quite a few and learn about their process.

Anyways, back to that album I mentioned.

I recently was introduced to the music of Bryce Miller and I’m very happy regarding that introduction. Miller works in the world of film music and design, where his music and sounds are used in film trailers. But if his 2015 album Operator is any indication he should be doing entire films. If you’re familiar with Disasterpeace, Cliff Martinez, Reznor/Ross, and Tangerine Dream then you’ll be right at home on this album. Operator is a dizzying array of 80s movie references, as well as noisier circuit-fed distortion and headier 70s Berlin School fare with a heaping dose of dark synth.

“Voltage” is short and sweet. A melancholy blip of synthetic bubbling and wavering keys that lead into “Ampere”. “Ampere” is full-on sci fi, deep space groove. It’s a mixture of 80s Edgar Froese with more modern touches, ala Ben Lovett’s Synchronicity score. There’s wonky vibes in the underlying synth line, while a slick melody is placed over top to keep things from drifting away. Deft sonic touches make this a beautiful track to get lost in. “Operator” is driven by a late night techno rhythm that is colored in a sweaty disco sheen. A clean key line keeps the track from getting too down and dirty. There seems to be all kinds of moods and emotions fighting to set the vibe here, which makes this track rather mysterious. “Circuit” puts me in the neon decade. The DX-7 sound of the synth, along with that menacing bubbling underneath the melody takes me back to some nondescript Friday or Saturday evening  back in my adolescence watching some questionable film I rented. I’m sure killer androids, time travel, and a scantily-clad heroine were involved.

Everywhere on this album there’s a turn to some magical spot that reminds me of growing up on video cassettes. Each weekend it was some other ancient video cassette box I was renting, most of them covered in dust and grime. Some horror, some sci-fi, and most were probably on the Video Nasties list. But despite the schlock-y horror and blatantly exploitative violence and nudity, there was almost always an earnest and emotive score created with magical boxes called synthesizers. They were the hardwired heart and soul of these films. Bryce Miller would have built some serious film score creds in the 80s.

Elsewhere, “Transistor” beeps and blips its way through like some recently-awakened android, while “Static” is absolute analog dread, building tension to maximum levels in just under 2 minutes. “Polarity” feels oddly triumphant in its densely-layered wall of electronic symphony. “Element” has the sonic touches of Tangerine Dream’s late 80s film work, but with a darker backbone and slightly more sinister intent. I could imagine this as end credit music, or listening to this overlooking the ocean. Or another planet.

Operator was meant as a concept album of sorts, with Miller going thru the process of showing, through music, how the mind processes information. If you’re listening to this on cassette(which was released on Cinematic Disco Records here) it works as two parts, with “Part 1” being side one and “Part 2” being side two. It’s a stunning work, both in the scope of the concept and in the execution of composition. But don’t worry, if the concept seems too heady just hit play, grab a beer, and let the songs blanket over you for a bit. It’s a great zone out album, too.

Bryce Miller’s Operator is a beautiful musical work built on a foundation of classic 70s Berlin School, classic 80s film music, and modern sounds. But with all next-level work, it’s tied together by the mind of a truly innovative and original artist. Bryce Miller is that. In the heavy synth resurgence, Miller’s Operator stands very well on its own.

7.9 out of 10

Rival Consoles : Persona

Ryan Lee West’s music as Rival Consoles feels far more lived in and worn than many of his producing peers. He makes electronic music that sounds and feels organic. Past records like Howl, Kid Velo, and Night Melody evoked a truly emotional heft, while still drawing you into sultry grooves and heady electronic rhythms. There is this neo-futuristic vibe to the music of Rival Consoles that brings to mind the vastness of space while still sounding from the earth. It’s not overwhelming, either. The music is subtle and patient, getting you to musical conclusions in a manner that soothes you into a contemplative state. West’s Rival Consoles is an intellectual music journey that never dissuades you from dancing if the mood hits.

With his newest record, the epic and glorious Persona, Ryan Lee West gives Rival Consoles the double album it and we deserve. A dystopian, musical landscape covers the nearly hour-long album, giving us a measured, detailed world of beats and synthetic melodies to lose our minds in for a bit. The sounds and textures on Persona are alone worth the price of admission.

I’m not completely sure whether Ryan Lee West is an Ingmar Bergman fan, or whether the new Rival Consoles is indeed named after Bergman’s masterpiece Persona, but I’m just going to assume there is some correlation between the two. The album cover, which depicts two shapes each looking like one half of a face coming together to form one would indicate that there could be a slight Bergman/Rival Consoles connection. The album, like the album art, does feel like at times two sides coming together to create one.

“Unfolding” opens on what sounds like echoing 808 hits that seem to float off into space. Soon enough the rhythm regulates and a glitchy synth line forms from the darkness. There’s elements of sci fi strewn throughout here that meld into an almost deep space techno feel. All of this leads into the beautiful title track “Persona”. The organic rhythm forms right in front of you as waves of melody seem to twist and turn like musical taffy. If there is a proto-Rival Consoles sound, this song is it. West creates mystery and melody seemingly out of air, then twists it and shapes it into something strange and beautiful.

Elsewhere, “Phantom Grip” builds up glitchy drama and wavering melody over a cloud of electronic looping and dense sonics. “Sun’s Abandon” has the sticky, tacky rhythms of Baths with the dreamy electronic purrs of Massive Attack. There’s a truly unique sound world to get lost in here. “Untravel” would’ve fit nicely on the Blade Runner 2049 score, had Hans Zimmer needed any help. There’s a certain melancholy locked inside this song that is hard to shake. “Rest” is warm, beautiful bubbles of analog noise mixed with what sounds like a cello. “Hidden” is the longest track on Persona at over 7 1/2 minutes. There’s a vastness to this song that feels like slowly falling through space. A mix of Moderat with a touch of Four Tet and a heaping dose of Rival Consoles makes this one of the best songs on this record.

I love electronic music, but I’m very picky about the electronic music I listen to. I’m not opposed to dance floor numbers, but I prefer my electronic music to carry with it some existential heft. Entrancer, Massive Attack, Stereolab, Boards of Canada, Flying Lotus, and when I’m feeling cheeky MSTRKRFT, are all electronic music worlds I love to delve in. Rival Consoles is also on that list, for Ryan Lee West’s ability to create worlds with circuits, tubes, and heavily-affected acoustic instruments seem to affect me on a molecular level. Persona is by far Rival Consoles best record yet. It encapsulates everything that came before it, while expanding the musical world it exists in to more far-reaching territory.

8.1 out of 10