(Un)easy Listening - July: Featuring Omit / K-Group, Bruce McClure and Blowhole

I set out on a mission this weekend to hunt down some great records at the local music shops whose summer sales going on right now are all worth-while. By Saturday's close I had found and purchased a handful of long sought after vinyl – not to mention a few surprises – at bargain prices. A successful outing to say the least. Here are three of those records that won't leave my turntable for at least a week.

Omit / K-Group
Storage LP
(Fusetron, 2001)

Scratch Records in downtown Vancouver is an interesting place. Because of the fact it is both a distro and label with a tiny store front that could never contain their whole musical inventory, so many great records are simply forgotten about in storage. Eventually, certain gems do surface, where they are labeled as warehouse finds, then placed into a bargain-bin-type section at the front of the store.

Of the four warehouse finds that day I pulled out this record from 2001, a collaboration between New Zealand artists Clinton Williams (Omit) and Paul Toohey (K-Group, Surface of the Earth) ironically enough, titled Storage. I've been an Omit fan for quite some time now, discovering and slowly unravelling all of Williams' intense backlog after an initial introduction was made thanks to the 2005 reissue of Tracer by Helen Scarsdale. His music, and his choice to remain in constant obscurity, has been a catalyst in the growth of his enigmatic persona. Williams worked for over a decade releasing his deeply hypnotic, psychologically jarring lo-fi drone music on labels like Corpus Hermeticum and his own Deepskin Conceptual Mind Music – the releases often in small quantities, meticulously packaged, and graced with Willaims' bizarrely beautiful line illustrations. It's been said that before finishing high school, Williams' holed himself up and worked in complete isolation for many years, opening the door for collaborations on only a few rare occasions. Storage was one of those rare occasions.

Storage is a deeply meditative record with a minimalist ethos. Toohey's amplifier buzz thickens the signature Omit sound, turning the record into a consistent churn of darkened isolationist ambience. The scrapped tape fidelity cloaks the movements with another layer of fuzz as the music oozes from the speakers. Williams opted not to include any sparse beats from his damaged homemade drum machines but instead, him and Toohey left us with raw synth tones fed through any of the endless amalgamations of fx pedals at either of these artist's disposal. The resulting sound isn't too far off from Eleh's Floating Frequencies, or SUNN O)))'s quieter moments. A nearly impeccable album that might just have been the best 8 bucks I ever spent.

Bruce McClure
Vouchsafe Me More Soundpicture (Fain Make Glories) LP
(Olde English Spelling Bee, 2009)

I have much respect for Olde English Spelling Bee, one of the few labels releasing gorgeous limited vinyl editions in the way of both under the radar DIY (ie Skaters side projects) and the esoteric minimalism / "sound art" that exists even further beneath the radar. 2009's Dallas Acid release was a big favourite of mine and I'm anxious to get my hands on Kodama's Turning Leaf Migrations, a collaboration between Michael Northam and Hitoshi Kojo, also released last year.

Every once in a while I'll come across a record that's a total unexpected slap in the face what the fuck? out-of-left-field-but-completely-incredible record. Vouchsafe Me More Soundpicture (Fain Make Glories) by Bruce McClure is one of those records for me. Perhaps better known in experimental film circles, McClure has recently been embraced by the sound/noise community after this impressive release, professionally recorded at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. According to the release insert, during his film presentations, which typically incorporate dozens of film loops and several modified 16mm projectors, McClure feeds the optical sound signals from each projector through a bank of pedals which are then mixed live. It's pretty incredible to think that the four excerpts on this LP are all sourced from film projectors.

I can't describe this music better than what Keith Fullerton Whitman and the label's press release have described it as, in basically being a polyrythmic power electronics take on the early Reichian tape-phase music. The A side especially harkens to the origins of phasing. The two excerpts unfold seamlessly in complex interwoven pulses, often ill-timed and out of synch, but in the most sonically pleasurable ways. The final moments take on a wall of sound that perfectly sets up the denser sawtooth drones and quicker rhythms of side B. This album is such a pleasure to listen to, and aside from the references – which are a stretch, really – is some of the most unique and original experimental composition I've heard in a long time. I really hope I get a chance to hear this live one day. Well done.

A Love Extreme 2xLP
(Zabriske Point, 1993)

Yup, that's Jeph Jerman on the drums. I had seen a couple of Blowhole records around town before, even thought about buying one once. That was before I knew Jeph Jerman was in the band. taking into account where he is today in terms of sound work, Jerman's provenance has struck me as totally fascinating. I'm only aware of a small fraction of Jerman's work, including snippets of his solo releases under his own name – including a track on the Framework 250 release – and his previous Hands To moniker. And since the internet doesn't lie, he's also been a member of like 20 other bands. He's a prolific and interesting musical figure who I hope to learn more about in the next couple of months, along with the other members of the band Blowhole.

There's quite a bit of music on this release, a double LP that immediately starts things off with a battering ram of old school New-Blockaders-esque noise. Inked on the inner gatefold is an explanation from Jerman that there are three kinds of Blowhole tunes on this record: group improvs, short solo pieces, and constructs. It can be a bit tricky deciphering for the type of tune you may be listening too at any given moment, and I doubt that any member of the band would feel obliged to tell you. Because it's the sort of fuck-it, just play attitude that is precisely what makes this album work. The strongest parts of the record are the tape music pieces that jump cut between amplifier feedback and short instrumental interludes. A cool record that was well worth 6 bucks at Audiopile. And now, I leave you with quotes from two of the band members.

"...[t]hen Jeph looked up from the drumset and said, "That was okay, but usually we don't play in time," and began reeling out sheets of percussive sound. The three of us responded with our own outbursts, and Blowhole, for me, was born." –Patrick Barber

"Thanks are due to the following people: ... Ben Gilbert, who shares the belief that this thing ought to exist in a world already filled with worthless objects." –Jeph Jerman

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