Tyvek - Fast Metabolism (2007)

It's not hard to look in wonder of the genius of a title like Fast Metabolism, it fits the album's heart and soul like a pair of vinegar-boiled jeans. The album is actually a combination of their EP Summer Burns the first four tracks and various odd and ends available on iTunes. Nevertheless, put together, these songs are consistent infections of unbound energy delivered with both swiftness as well as precision and they're easily digested. These are diverse offerings however. Some songs are put together with wry, jagged hooks that shoot off in bratty irritability. Others are just as tense but Tyvek don't shy away from the occasional sandpaper groove of melodic punk. Lyrics are quirky and absurd proposing provocative, existential questions like, "Can you drive a Honda like I can drive a Honda?" that certainly have the power to open a listener's eyes to a new spatial consciousness that spirals straight from dead air.

Considering that these guys have little time to tour as a result of having regular jobs (one being an ADA for the city of Detroit), they make the best of their studio time. There's a fluidity to all of these songs as of they're being played as a well-tuned live set. They simply function as proper artistic mechanisms sending signals of good times and childish pep to hold down our twenty-something conservatism and let loose for five fucking minutes or until question mark.

Tyvek - Duck Blinds / Pamphlet 7" (2009)

The mindbending sound of the majority of late 70s/early 80s 'DIY' bands is really enigmatic when you try to grasp it as a whole, but there are still a few present-day wandering souls who easily slide into the free-design 'bag' and manage to come out with something original. You didn't think the impact of bands like the Clone Defects and the Piranhas was just going to go away now did you? The real deviant sounds always travel best underground, as it's always been. Michigan home-wrap mongrels Tyvek aren't looking to smash your face in, and they really aren't even in the mood to party, but they still have something that you're missing from your outrageous lifestyle: delirious consistency. There's a familiar Rather Records collective sound, but it's clearly off on it's own trip altogether and the two songs successfully leave you wanting more. Oddly effective overlapping vocals, well-placed minor chording, and a knack for blank spaces of sound between their festering hooks is obviously to their benefit, and their handmade-looking debut 7" on X! Records probably won't convey what ingenuity lies within. As a matter of fact, it might even turn some people away, which is why we think it deserves your your attention, and of course, your filthy money. Out of the same breeding ground as X!'s brethren the Frustrations, Terrible Twos, and Heros and Villains, the guys in Tyvek are certainly rocking all the right boats in hopes of knocking everyone back to their sordid reality. This is just more evidence that the new order in Detroit is thriving on their own weird vibes and good times

U.S. Girls - Introducing (2008)

If the alluring moniker used by Megan Remy conjures images of volleyball teams or cheerleading squads, forget it. Not that there's any doubt that Remy--sorry, U.S. Girls--couldn't rise and conquer either challenge.

Like fellow DIY ingenues Sally Strobelight and Inca Ore, U.S. Girls' approach is deceptively ethereal and delightfully haunting; lithe, lysergic gamma rays of keyboard murk beamed over percussive bonk sort of resemble Diamanda Galas reinterpreting Suicide's Red Star. And dig that cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Prove It All Night," done in such an effortless, barbital lush you'd swear the air was filled with mescaline. Guess what? It's not.

Smog - Look Now 7" (1999)

Two awesome non-album tracks that were released around the time of "Knock, Knock". Both of these tracks definitely stand up to the top-tier Smog material. A very rare and forgotten release in the Smog discography that for whatever reason didn't end up on the "Accumulation: None" compilation.

Axemen - Big Cheap Motel (1984)

Originally released in New Zealand on a cassette in ’84, written (in one night!) as an agitprop performance in response to an Australian milk company’s corporate sponsorship of a Christchurch “Summer Rock” festival (“All Ages! Free Music! Picnics Welcome!). Ten songs railing about sexism & corporate social engineering (aka advertising), & one obliterated Stones cover! Ultra-underground art-damage punk rock with a vague affinity to like the Fall, maybe throw in a little Crass, post-“Fun House” sax skronk, maybe something more blatantly weird like the Lemon Kittens, trace elements of Flying Nun pop – but “Big Cheap Motel” basically makes “Palace of “Swords Reversed” sound like “Rumours.” Maximum ramshackle. Recorded live at the festival in question, or on some bedroom/basement boombox. Strangely inspiring document of resistance & weirdness. Sticker & insert with updated liners/lyrics.

Note: I have received a request for the link to be taken down until the album is sold out and I am respecting that request. Buy it here!

The Olivia Tremor Control - Explanation II: Instrumental Themes & Dream Sequences (1996)

Explanations abound for the existence of the Olivia Tremor Control's Explanation II: Instrumental Themes and Dream Sequences. Originally packaged as a bonus disc with the band's debut album, Dusk at Cubist Castle, Explanation II was subsequently released as its own album by Flydaddy. The music is almost a complete 180 degrees from what is featured on Dusk at Cubist Castle. Where that album is comprised of hyperactive Brian Wilson/George Martin-inspired sound collages, Explanation II is a disc of warm and calm ambient music. Apparently recorded on the back porch of the band's house in Athens, GA, it is entirely unclear what instruments appear on the disc. Parts sound like they may have been created by gently controlled guitar feedback, organs, chimes, and tastefully played clarinet. There is plenty of real ambience on the disc, too: Crickets chirp, dogs bark, and a thunderstorm rolls in from the distance. It is beautiful, soothing music. It has been said that one is supposed to play the disc simultaneously with Dusk at Cubist Castle to create quadraphonic sound, though that is unlikely since the albums are of different lengths.

The Olivia Tremor Control - Dusk At The Cubist Castle (1996)

Not the Beatles, but an incredible facsimile: on their sprawling 27-song debut opus, Music From the Unrealized Film Script, Dusk at Cubist Castle, the Olivia Tremor Control manage to summon not only the sound of the White Album-era Fab Four, but also the unfettered creativity. The soundtrack to an unmade film about a pair of women named Olivia and Jacqueline and a massive earthquake dubbed the California Demise, the album incorporates a slew of influences and textures (including Beach Boys-flavored pop, psychedelia, Krautrock, noise, and folk-rock) and synthesizes them into a distinct homebrew of shimmering harmonies, guitar drones, backward tape loops, and inventive effects. As an added bonus, the first few thousand copies came with a bonus CD of ambient "dream sequences" — titled Explanation II — which, when played simultaneously with the first disc, realizes true quadraphonic sound. Amazing.

Olivia Tremor Control - Presents: Singles & Beyond (2000)

Singles and Beyond, as the title suggests, collects most of the material the Olivia Tremor Control released before their first full-length, Dusk at Cubist Castle. Although the "band sound" is still coalescing, apparently all the ingredients were in place even from the start. Sure, there's plenty of solid guitar pop/psych in store, but many of the more experimental aspects of the band (that are often released under other names like Black Swan Network or Frosted Ambassador) are also in place. Also in place is a vague "concept" of sorts, which not only links these tunes to their later, full-length recordings but provides a sense of cohesion often lacking in singles compilations. These guys are true masters of home recording; most of these tracks were recorded at their various abodes on four-track machines. Whether it's the tastefully bizarre production touches at the end of "Fireplace" or the Burroughs-ian cutup technique of "Christmas With William S.," the Olivia Tremor Control not only know what they want, but they know how to achieve it as well; no small feat for home recorders. Since Elephant 6 bands tend to release material on a variety of labels with a variety of formats, Singles and Beyond is a welcome addition for folks who missed out the first time around.

Tower Recordings - Furniture Music for Evening Shuttles (1998)

This overlooked '90s New York ensemble spent the first half of the '90s producing some of the most intriguing homespun urban folk recordings of the decade, and released a string of albums that covered corrosive no wave noise, abstract tape experimentation, and inspired delicate melodic folk. The springboard for the sound they shape as their own is a mixture of ESP folk, British folk revival free jazz, and willful experimentation, and the elements make Furniture Music for Evening Shuttles a distinctive and compelling album. Obvious points of reference could be the '60s groups Pearls Before Swine and the Fugs, who had a knack of keeping exquisite songs at the core of their outward experimentation and chaotic group jamming. What makes this album so distinctive in the plethora of lo-fi underground releases is that Tower Recordings congealed eclectic ideas into a continuous whole and certainly had great ears for editing jams and experiments into cohesive pieces. Linking the diverse influences and historical references -- the work of Can, Sun Ra, and Sonic Youth spring to mind -- the overall sound is far from pastiche. A highly recommended album that will appeal to fans of grassroots N.Y.C. sound. The group was somewhat of an institution, which can be accredited to their frequent underground live shows that kept the spirit of the "happening" alive in the '90s. Group members P.G. Six and Matthew Valentine have also made excellent solo albums.

Smog - Floating 7" (1991)

An extremely early Smog release, not completely unlike the material found on "Sewn To The Sky" but somehow possibly even more lo-fi. Notable for the inclusion of a very early version of "Red Apples" which would later to re-recorded for the album "Red Apple Falls" with Jim O'Rourke.

Smog - Accumulation: None (2002)

Besides Pavement, (Smog) is one of the indie rock acts most overdue for a B-sides collection -- it seems that Bill Callahan always saves at least one or two of his best songs for his singles and EPs, some of which are surprisingly hard to find even for die-hard fans. In theory, at least, the B-sides comp Accumulation: None should appease collectors and completists who missed out on some of (Smog)'s rarer tracks, particularly the ones that were only released on import 7"s. In reality, though, the collection is slightly disappointing, mostly because it includes only a dozen tracks. Granted, some of these tracks are among the hardest to find and most sought-after in Callahan's body of work, such as "Astronaut," which comes from the My Shell 7"; "Floating" and "Hole in the Heart" from the Floating EP; and "Real Live Dress," which is from the Australian tour-only Manta Rays of Time EP. However, collecting just 12 of these rarities just whets the appetite for more: "A Hit," which is one of (Smog)'s best and catchiest singles from the Wild Love era, is a welcome inclusion, but its B-side, the Callahan/Cynthia Dall duet "Wine-Stained Lips," is sorely missed. Likewise, several other tracks from Manta Rays of Time, like the cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back," would also be perfect on this collection. Likewise, the Peel sessions versions of "I Break Horses" and "Chosen One" are great but just leave the listener wanting more. And though it's understandable that tracks from Burning Kingdom, 'Neath the Puke Tree, and Kicking a Couple Around wouldn't be represented here since each of those EPs is still relatively easy to find, singles such as the excellent Look Now are nowhere to be found on Accumulation: None. Nitpicking aside, however, this collection does feature some of Callahan's best B-sides, including "Little Girl Shoes" from the Ex-Con EP, as well as "Spanish Moss" and "Came Blue" from the Hausmusik 7". The inclusion of a new track, the accomplished "White Ribbon," bodes well for (Smog)'s 2003 album and, as with the entire collection, leaves the listener wanting to hear more. Though a sense of longing is always expressed in Callahan's music, a collection of his work shouldn't leave his fans longing for more as much as Accumulation: None does. Considering Drag City's efforts to reissue (Smog)'s earliest recordings, such as the Cow tracks that were added to the Strayed EP, here's to hoping that they make more of his later but still obscure work easier for fans to enjoy.

Smog - Burning Kingdom EP (1994)

Four vignettes of concentrated sadness, Burning Kingdom has to be one of the darkest-sounding EPs released in the late 20th century. Particularly effective is the haunting "Reneé Died," which pits Cynthia Dall's frail voice against brittle acoustic guitars.

84 Nash - Kings of Yeah (1997)

They are 84 Nash, from Columbus, Ohio. Kevin Elliott, Andy Hampel, and J.P. Herrmann have been together since high school in various small towns around Southwest Miami County. Unknowingly their homemade four-track cassettes developed a following in nearby Dayton, winning the ear of other Dayton bands, such as Swearing at Motorists, Brainiac, and Guided By Voices - whose leader, Robert Pollard, made 84 Nash's first proper LP; The Kings of Yeah (1998). It was the first non-GBV release on Rockathon Records. These static-rock soundings were a snapshot of things to come, full of agitated, youthful energy jumping head-first out of the gates. They were let loose upon the world of pop music.

Royal Trux - Twin Infinitives (1994)

Noisier and harsher than the group's debut, Twin Infinitives is a polarizing record -- you either understand Royal Trux's primal, atonal deconstructions of rock & roll, or you think it's self-indulgent, unlistenable crap. Either way, Twin Infinitives is noteworthy for stretching the amateurish trash-rock of Royal Trux to the extreme, creating a defiantly noisy and abrasive assault of gutted riffs, screams, tinny synthesizers and melodic fragments. It may not be particularly listenable, but it is some sort of achievement.

Condo Fucks - Fuckbook (2009)

"Fuckbook" is the first album released by Yo La Tengo's down-and-dirty garage rock side project "The Condo Fucks". This covers album features extremely lo-fi covers of The Small Faces, The Kinks, Richard Hell & The Beach Boys among many others. Definitely a lot to love on this album... highly reccomended.

Angus MacLise - Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda (1968 - 1972)

The best available recorded documentation of MacLise's work has imperfect fidelity and sketchy details about the five tracks, recorded between 1968 and 1972. It does, however, reveal multiple facets of the percussionist's adventurous music, and firmly establishes him as a significant force in experimental sound in projects not at all related to the Velvet Underground. The most powerful and ambitious of the five cuts is the 39-minute title song, an improvised soundtrack to Ira Cohen's avant-garde film of the same name. MacLise's polyrhythmic hand drum anchors a spooky, hypnotic piece in which organ, tanpura (both played by his wife Hetty MacLise), flute, guitar, dulcimer, and disturbing vocal chants ebb and subside like a Halloween dream soundscape. Although it's not detailed in the liner notes, ghostly reverb seems to be employed on both the flute and vocals, adding to a otherworldly ambience in which psychedelia, shamanistic rhythm, avant-garde drone, and Indian music weave shifting prisms around each other. The other four selections are a real mixed bag, in the best sense of that expression. "Shortwave-India" is a one-minute blast of radio static and white noise; "Heavenly Blue Pt. 4 & 5," credited to the Universal Mutant Repertory Company, is another combination of drum and drone that puts a greater accent on Indian and Asian music influences; and "Blastitude" is a more rhythmic construction that might remind some listeners of Moroccan trance music, with periodic unascribed orgiastic yelps and sighs. The concluding "Humming in the Night Skull," featuring MacLise on song bells, Hetty MacLise on harmonium, and others on flute and guitar, is a soothing combination of tones (punctuated by a couple of baby cries), demonstrating that Angus was not entirely devoted to angst.

Faust - Faust (1971)

The impact of Faust cannot be overstated; their debut album was truly a revolutionary step forward in the progress of "rock music". It was pressed on clear vinyl, packaged in a clear sleeve, with a clear plastic lyric insert. The black X-ray of a fist on the cover graphically illustrates the hard core music contained in the grooves, an amalgamation of electronics, rock, tape edits, acoustic guitars, musique concrete, and industrial angst. The level of imagination is staggering, the concept is totally unique and it's fun to listen to as well.

Faust - The Faust Tapes (1973)

This was the release that "broke" Faust to a British audience, mostly because of a marketing gimmick whereby the then-infant Virgin label sold it in shops for half a pound. Still, it's no mean feat to sell 50,000 copies of rock this avant-garde, no matter what the cost. A continuous 43-minute piece with about 26 discrete passages (which makes it hell to zero in on a specific bit on CD), it roams from crash'n'mash drums and fierce art rock jamming to rather pretty, if inscrutable, bits of folk-rock and spoken word, with odd shards of melody sticking out like glass in a tire. There are rough reference points to Zappa in the torrid editing and British Canterbury bands in the goofier, more rock-driven parts, but this is even less immediately accessible, taking a few plays to get a grip on, though most pop-oriented listeners won't get that far.

Faust - So Far (1972)

Faust's second album moves closer to actual song structure than their debut, but it still remains experimental. Songs progress and evolve instead of abruptly stopping or cutting into other tracks. The opening song "It's a Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl" begins as a repetitive 4/4 beat played on toms and piano with the title sung over the top. But for seven minutes the song adds instruments, including a lush analog synth line, and ends in a memorable sax riff. Faust's lyrical side appears on the acoustic "Picnic on a Frozen River" and "On the Way to Adamäe," whereas its abrasive side pops up on "Me Lack Space." "So Far," a jam shared by guitar, horns, and tweedy keyboard, rolls along with a funky hypnotic beat and wailing processed synths. And on "No Harm," the crazed delivery of such lines as "Daddy, take the banana, tomorrow Sunday" makes one want to believe something profound is going down. In terms of scope and the wealth of ideas, this is probably the most balanced of their first four albums.

Faust - 71 Minutes of Faust (1998)

Basically an expanded version of Munich and Elsewhere (which was itself a compilation of unreleased material), with the addition of the unreleased LP Faust Party Three (parts of which had previously appeared only as limited-edition EPs and singles), as well as two previously unreleased tracks. Parts wed brutal drum patterns to insistently repetitive guitar riffing; there are prog rock keyboard passages that slightly recall Soft Machine; and "Don't Take Roots" sounds like an unintentional satire of the cheap California psychedelia that you might hear on a late-'60s youth culture exploitation flick. Sometimes it even sounds like a parody of early King Crimson-type pomp rock. It would be nice to have some liner notes explaining exactly what comes from where, but basically what you need to know is that it was all recorded in Germany from 1971 to 1975 and is on par with the quality of the albums they actually released during that time.

Smog - Forgotten Foundation (1992)

Lots of lo-fi experimentalism are thrown around here, from some ultradistorted vocals to unexpected blurts of cheesy-sounding instruments, but there's far more unrealized potential than properly realized artistic goals. Sometimes there's an eerie psychedelic vibe that resembles Pink Floyd (in their just post-Syd Barrett days) as in the very beginning of the opening track, "Burning Kingdom." At other times it sounds no more clever, and equally as annoying, as Daniel Johnston in its auteurish immaturity. Sometimes the genuine sorrow and hurt that would color the best of Smog's later work surfaces in close-to-formulated songs, like "Bad Investment." More often, however, the melodic and lyrical ideas are buried under gratuitous fuzziness, or are too fragmentary and undeveloped to hold interest.

Cul De Sac - I Don't Want To Go To Bed (1994)

After Cul de Sac's 1992 debut, Ecim, was met with a warm critical response, there were some complications that put off the group's next studio recording until 1996. In the interim, this lo-fi compilation of mostly improvised experimental rock was issued to an equally awestruck music underground. I Don't Want to Go to Bed is a collage of weighty Cul de Sac rehearsal tape highlights compiled by drummer Chris Guttmacher between 1990 and 1993. While the 11 tracks might strike the uninitiated as more than a little aimless, Krautrock and deconstructionist fans (post-rock and otherwise) will marvel at this unorthodox craftwork. While the subtle surf and experimental jazz-rock textures that help propel records like China Gate are nowhere to be found on I Don't Want to Go to Bed, the herky-jerky currents ("Lower Hate, Massachusetts"), Middle Eastern melodies ("This Is the Metal That Do Not Burn"), and spacious meditations ("Doldrums") make a textural mark all their own. It might lack sonic detail, but this sophomore release makes up for it with spontaneity and vision.

Guided By Voices - Live At The Wheelchair Races (2003)

Live at the Wheelchair Races' is a CD of unreleased live material from throughout the GBV career, selected by Rich Turiel and Robert Pollard from hundreds of tapes of unreleased live material. From live staples to rarities, this 32 song compilation covers it all.

Bruce Russell - 21st Century Field Hollers & Prison Songs (2005)

In an intriguing act of self-exhumation, Bruce Russell has plundered the carcass of his own (with Ralf Wehowsky) earlier release on a bruit secret, ‘Midnight Crossroads Tape Recorder Blues’ (a recording with which I’m not familiar), extracting elements that held for him a particularly bluesy resonance, re-recording them at odd speeds and then constructing loops to create (almost) entirely new works. That blues (and dub) feeling really does permeate the tracks, sometimes overtly, other times requiring a certain amount of aural perseverance.

But the fact that Russell does generally utilize loops makes for a certain ease of entry as even the harshest or most abstract nodules attain some familiarity with each repetition. The opening “Black Car Blues” creates a murky, gelid atmosphere with shards that may have been lifted from “Concret ph” knifing through the gloom. You could likely derive a good deal of amusement attempting to ID sources throughout the disc. I swear the second track, “Kate’s Blues #3”, contains a segment from Frith’s “No Birds”…but I could be wrong. On the other hand, if that’s not the loopy synth from “Space Is the Place” popping up on “Dirty Water Dub” (great title) I’ll eat my pixels. Many of the nine, shortish tracks (the disc as a whole is barely over a half-hour) are guitar-driven, allowing Russell to at least hint at blues wails and often more than that, though lines of any clarity are swiftly chopped into stew-meat. By doing so, Russell achieves a chewy, rough medium between song and tape collage where the loops provide the form but the elements from which they’re created simultaneously subvert any such suggestion. My personal favorite is the final cut, relatively lengthy at five minutes where the music seems to branch out into wider territory, abandoning any specific genre--fittingly, it’s dedicated to Philip Samartzis. There’s a sense of stepping outside an area whose hermeticism wasn’t earlier perceptible; a very strong piece.

The Residents - Duck Stab / Buster & Glen (1978)

Sandwiched in between Third Reich and Roll, Eskimo, and The Commercial Album, Duck Stab/Buster & Glen hasn't always received the fanfare of other late-'70s Residents material. It's one of the few that isn't a concept album and probably the least experimental of the bunch. Still, it's quintessential Residents' rock -- which is to say, it's like nothing else on the planet. Few of the songs last longer than a couple of minutes, and only a few instruments can be heard at any given time. Rather than relying on guitars, the Residents stick to the relatively primitive synthesizers and electronic gadgets of their time. Chorus chants on "Bach Is Dead" meet with a melody that sounds like a cross between a sixth grader playing recorder and someone scratching on a balloon. Snakefinger's nasally vocals fit in all too well with their high-pitched electronica, which then somehow merges with funereal marching percussion. It seems annoying and stupid at first, but over time you feel compelled to listen again and again. Such is the glory of the Residents!

The Residents - Meet The Residents (1974)

The Residents are true avant-garde crazies. Their earliest albums (of which this is the first) have precedents in Captain Beefheart's experimental albums, Frank Zappa's conceptual numbers from Freak Out!, the work of Steve Reich, and the compositions of chance music tonemeister John Cage -- yet the Residents' work of this time really sounds like nothing else that exists. All of the music on this release consists of deconstructions of countless rock and non-rock styles, which are then grafted together to create chaotic, formless, seemingly haphazard numbers; the first six "songs" (including a fragment from the Nancy Sinatra hit "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'") are strung together to form a larger entity similar in concept to the following lengthier selections. The result is a series of unique, odd, challenging numbers that are nevertheless not entirely successful. The album cover is a fierce burlesque of the Beatles' first U.S. Capitol label release, sporting puerilely doctored photographs of the Fab Four on the front and pictures of collarless-suited sea denizens on the back (identified as Paul McCrawfish, Ringo Starfish, and the like). This is an utterly bizarre platter that may appeal to very adventurous listeners.