The Austin Chronicle

Phases and Stages

Ether Ore

Reviewed by Michael Chamy, August 16, 2002, Music

With Sonic Youth plowing their way across the nation on the steam of their earliest, most fearsome material, what better time for a retrospective on Rhys Chatham, one of the group's biggest early influences? Chatham, a student of Tony Conrad, La Monte Young, and Morton Subotnick, created a series of dense, overdriven guitar symphonies that predated even those of Glenn Branca, who participated in Chatham's ensembles along with later members of Sonic Youth, Swans, and Band of Susans. A Rhys Chatham Compendium (Table of the Elements), distilled from a larger 3-CD set, features fearsome monoliths of tonality from 1971-89 that bridge the avant-garde and pure power rock in an accessible, visceral way that Branca's work never has... In another exercise of maximized minimalism, the Acid Mothers Temple have released In C (Squealer), a predictably hyper-charged interpretation of Terry Riley's masterwork. The hypnotic marimba cadence of the original still lives, but Japan's hottest high-minded noise junkies inject the piece with new life vis-à-vis oscillating key-blips, thick monodrones, and a motorik drum pulse. And then there's AMT's own pounding "In D" and "In E"... While Riley stays holed up in his Cali compound, the venerable Pauline Oliveros stays ever-active, joining DJ Spooky in his new star-studded Optometry, the latest installment in Thirsty Ear's adventurous Blue Series. Top-shelf adventurous jazz players Matthew Shipp, Joe McPhee, and William Parker and MM&W drummer Billy Martin help Spooky eke out a magical prism of geolectic abstraction, as full of pulsating life as it is intellectual artifice... Further from the deep end is Low Pressure (Merge) by the Spaceheads, the most consistently successful electro-jazz fusionists in recent memory. Low Pressure veers from mellow, smoky club territory and throbbing pulse attacks to warped-out Fantasy Island-style space jazz tropicalia with equal aplomb... John Fahey and Damo Suzuki (of Can) collaborators Cul de Sac emerge from a long recorded absence with the live album Immortality Lessons (Strange Attractors Audio House), a priceless snapshot of this exploratory Boston mood group. Mella yella bongo pieces breathe deeply behind fragile fretwork, morphing into lock-groove head-bobbers laden to the gills with dazzling psychic effects... Portland, Ore.'s Yume Bitsu re-emerges with Golden Vessyl of Sound (K), an expansive kaleidoscope of freeform psychedelia that spans from chiming, melodic songcraft and flowered-down sonic deconstructions to spacious, pulsating electronic tone poetry. It's a grower of an album, more inviting than its unfriendly façade (no song titles) would indicate... Speaking of uninviting, how does a recording of digitally processed and sculpted insect sounds strike you? Keep the Raid close at hand when listening to the Tribes of Neurot's Adaptation and Survival (Neurot Recordings). The dark ambient manifestation of maximum rock riffmeisters Neurosis have been putting out fascinating doses of brain candy for years, but it simply not possible to top the concept of this 2-CD set, meant to be played simultaneously, "enabling listeners to mix and layer their own unique insect experience." Call it the anti-Zaireeka.

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