Archive for October, 2014

Sea Rocket Jasmine

The Window, 2014

Review by Kent Manthie               searocketjasmine -the window cover

Let’s see…what to say, what can I write about this album? It is just so awesome. A really groovy project that is full of life and has a sound that is bigger than life. The Window is the new album from Dave Halverson and his side project (taking a break from Trance Lucid), Sea Rocket Jasmine. It’s completely different from just about anything new that I’ve heard in a while. The Window is a killer jazz album. Its avant-garde sheen reminds me of some of the best of John Zorn. Besides that, though, there is lots in there you can pick up that has a pipeline to some great jazz guitarists from the recent to the 1960s. Also, while it has a fluid, loose sound that just rides like a smooth, well-toned car, The Window is also full of stable, textural, picturesque vistas that have more than an improvised feel.

With wonderful instrumentation all-around: Sea Rocket Jasmine consists of Dave Halverson on guitar and Trance Lucid keyboardist, Richard Bugbee, who, besides contributing great work on keyboards, also provided rich slabs of rhythm, by playing bass and drums.  The resultant album, The Window, has a giant sound, a whole that is far beyond the sum of the 2 parts.  The hip, post-post-bop jazz that seems to attack you from all sides, via the audio output, are the work of these two brilliant musicians.  Besides turning out an album which sounds as though it was recorded by a full quartet, at least, the two produced the album, which clearly gives it a completely uninterrupted vantage from which to complete this delicious work.  Hats off to a fabulous job of all three duties.  The sounds fit in perfectly and nothing is out of place or overlooked.  If this had been done for some major label, no doubt, the suits would’ve sent in some minders to make sure the duo followed the whims of the tone-deaf corporate slobs, in order to keep from spending too much money and to make a record typical of corporate consumer culture:  salable candy-coated fluff.  That’s why it is always smart to stay far away from any square wearing an overpriced suit to a club where he’d definitely stick out like a sore thumb and keep to a fiercely independent mindset.  If you’re good and have something original and unique, you’ll find an audience; word-of-mouth is still one of the strongest ways to spread the word about things like music, books, art and so on.  You play a few gigs and then, if at least a few people from that show spread the word to a few other people and so on, pretty soon, you get a solid fan base and without having to waste money or hype on supercilious marketing ploys.  Just take a look at the long history of indie rock and such, throughout the last 50 years at least.

The Window is a true gem; lucky are the ones who get to hear it.  Not being the product of some Warner Bros.-affiliated label (or one of the 3 or 4 other corporations who run the “mainstream” music industry, you won’t see any big hype in the music press (i.e. Rolling Stone or the once good, but now far-gone SPIN Magazine – the same goes for the counterparts in the UK – NME, Melody Maker, etc.) but, any critic who has a good ear, would be, I’m sure, excited by the verve of this intense album.

Instead of just a few quite long songs, The Window is made up of 12 songs that average in at about 3-4 minutes in length, but which all can be interconnected and a great experience when listened to all in one sitting.

On such songs as “High Steps”, you get to hear a shiny, smooth Hammond B-3 organ, playing in tandem with piano, intertwined in certain spots, it’s a real thrill to hear. The album starts out with “Sun Nova” a real eye-opening tune that will catch your ear and keep you listening into “Grey”, then the title track, and the aforementioned “High Steps”, which, as I wrote, really shines, with the interweaving piano and organ.

Track number 5, “Echo-Logical”, is a quiet little piece, a funky sort of synth & piano interlude, which, true to its title, reverberates in a nice, dreamy sort of way, a mellow sort of vibe; a bit of chilling out.  Next up, track number six, “Shepherd”, Bugbee takes the piano for a whimsical rollick around the first part of it, with Halverson coming in after a bit to rip through some smoking guitar work.

Yes, this is definitely a real treat for jazz-lovers. But more than that, it’s just an all-around great album, from any aspect. The overall production values are superb: you can tell that Halverson & Co. are quite well-versed in studio techniques. Everything fits together in such a way as to meld the whole into a great combination of great melodies, solos and, in general, an instrumental work of art that, even, sans vocal, still has plenty to say and they say it all with great efficiency in such great form and with such a magnetic structure as to pull you in and keep you in its power.

My previous encounter with Dave Halverson was his previous album with Trance Lucid, Palace of Ether, which is also archived here, on Independent Review and can be read (again-?) by just typing in “Palace of Ether” into the I.R. search box.

From comparing Palace of Ether to The Window, I’ve been able to pin down certain aspects that are different on this new project, Sea Rocket Jasmine – if not, then why wouldn’t they just make another Trance Lucid album? What I can recall best about Trance Lucid and Palace of Ether was that it, too, was a loose, fluid and lively album. However, the one difference I can make out is that, while Palace of Ether had a kind of funkified, heady jam quality, with jazz-tones and tight rhythms, it also had a bit more of an avant-garde quality to it. On The Window, though, SRJ comes across as more jazz and less tie-dyed jam session and also a great melange of sounds that really pierce the subconscious. The interweaving between the piano and organ as well as Halverson’s understated yet brilliant guitar work is magnificent and there seems to be a bit more texture. But when it comes down to the basics, I just find myself really digging the wall-of-sound-like production values on The Window. Dave really worked hard in the studio to get everything just right so that every little sound that was needed, was heard, quite evident when you listen to each tune.

Halverson, himself, is quite virtuosic, yet he is one, not unlike Clapton, yet in a different vein of style and music, who is such a brilliant guitarist that he has no need to try and outshine his fellow guitarists. He’s content with just knowing that, say, onstage, playing a live gig, he could, at any time, bust out into some unreal, metaphysical meandering on the guitar that would blow your mind. The same can be said of a lot of Clapton’s studio work – even when he was in Cream he always seemed to save the best for live performances: I think that’s why, over the years, after thinking and being told how wonderful a guitarist Clapton is, I began to drift away from that school of thought; that dogma that read on a men’s room wall in the 60s that “Clapton is God”. I cringed at that description and began to wonder what all the fuss was about. But, when I recently saw him play (from 2009, I think) in a show with his old pal Steve Winwood and a few session musicians, where they opened the show with “Had to Cry Today”, the first cut on the one and only, eponymous Blind Faith album, I was hooked. But it was towards mid-show, when they did a cover of the old blues standard, “Double Trouble” that I was really blown away: somewhere, about mid-way through the song, Clapton goes into what turns into a long, drawn out and blisteringly awesome, smoking solo. It was at that point that it all came rushing back: he wasn’t some mediocre guitarist who many had been deifying, wrongly; no – he was merely being understated most of the time, but when he wanted to he could sear some kind of unworldly brilliant solos onto one’s consciousness. The same is noted on The Window: a great guitarist who, between the lines, shows great talent and a love for the music – more of a passion, I suppose, you could call it.

Anyway, to sum it all up: to make the right description of The Window, I would just spit out that it is a greatly mastered album: full of great production, wonderful playing all around and a fresh, full sound that puts them all together without dropping a note. -KM.


BJ Nilsen & Stilluppsteypa/Alan Courtis

Golden Circle Afternoon

Editions Mego, 2014

Review by Kent Manthie

Here we have this new album, Golden Circle Afternoon, recorded by the trio of BJ Nilsen, Stilluppsteypa and Alan Courtis. The theme of Golden Circle Afternoon is one of traveling. Think of the two 23 minute-or-so songs on the album as a kind of travelogue for a journey, both mentally and physically.

At the beginning, when you start off listening to the first cut, “Aurora Australis”, you feel relaxed and prepared to go on a mind-challenging journey. The first part is made up of so much slurred, processed voices and sounds that drone on and on, with a smattering of clicking and clattering. Soon, though you are shuttled through the straits of BJ-Nilsen-Stilluppsteypa-Anla-Courtis-Golden-Circle-Afternoon-100x100Owsley (so to speak) and in a while the trek takes a left turn and ends up being whirled through a rabbit hole of consciousness.

What comes next is an arrhythmic procession of audio cacophony that manages to still retain a semblance of the familiar. Other than that, don’t expect any formulae or derivative sounding ripoffs. There are no templates for this and, getting back to the “journey” metaphor: you soon run out of roadsigns and don’t try to find a map to navigate through this place.

Nilsen, Stilluppsteypa and Courtis are all musical veterans who’ve been on many drone expeditions. They serve as experienced guides and utilize all their knowledge as masters of the studio to create a unique soundscape. The two songs that make up this, roughly 45 minute album, go together seamlessly. If this were on vinyl, then “Aurora Australis” would make up Side A and “Fish is God” would be Side B. But, being that it is a digital piece, in a time where even CDs aren’t that necessary anymore, with the ubiquity of digital ways to store music, such as the one I’ve used for a long time now, Windows Media Player. Well, I do have a copy of Real Player, for some odd jobs that I do, when piecing together music I download from trustworthy sites. But, as far as long-term, excellent quality music storage, I don’t trust my digital music library to anything but Windows Media Player (WMP).

At times, while grooving through the drone/ambient/noise effects of Golden Circle Afternoon, one can really get enveloped in the warm glow of the atmospheric textures that make up this album. BTW, it is completely instrumental, but you probably already figured that out for yourself. Yes, this is a lovely tapestry of woven sound-images, which I know, sounds like a psychedelic, lysergic concept, yet that is exactly what is being driven in to you. By the time you get finished with the second half of the album, “Fish is God”, you should be able to see the music and hear the colors it connotes.

As for Alan Courtis, he has a working gig with Aaron Moore, who, recently put out KPBS, earlier this year. KPBS is also comprised of two long-form tunes: “King Pancre” and “Punk Butter”. That album is a little similar: it has a drawn out drone to it, but it has a noisy-art-form to it that evokes some avant-garde jazz; I’m thinking of Sun-Ra, here, probably the most far-out cat that graced a number of seriously tweaked out albums. More than that, though, Courtis and Moore do their own thing and take things a few steps further, with jack-hammer samples, machine-gun rat-a-tats and what sounds like heavy footsteps: and that’s only in the first 7 minutes of “King Pancre”

The interesting thing about this trio, that is, Nilsen, Stilluppsteypa and Courtis, is that they each bring their own unique styles and influences to Golden Circle Afternoon, allowing each to add their own thing to the project and bringing forth an afternoon that is indeed Golden. For more information or to see other Editions Mego artists and albums, check out -KM.

Austrian video/multi-media artist Monika Ulbrich and Lee Negin have collaborated on a short (5:41) video (soundtrack music by Lee Negin). To get to it here is the link.  But, you’ll also find a lot more there than this one. There are 28 other videos there too, created by Lee Negin, although some of them were done with some help from other artists around the world.  Below is the Monika Ulbrich/Lee Negin collaboration, Death Zone.  You can also click the “Playlist” button on the top left of the video box to see more of Lee’s works.

Lee also has a relatively recent release that is currently circulating. He describes it as a “Technopera”.  The name of it is: The Cheeze Chronicles, Vol V.

Keep an eye out for an upcoming review of that particular album.

Enjoy!  -km

ps – Your comments and/or feedback are always welcome. Thanks, k.



Polyvinyl Records, 2014

Reviewed by Kent Manthie                  Bazaar cover

Brand new music! The new Wampire album, Bazaar, hits the streets today, October 7th, 2014, on Chicago’s Polyvinyl Records, one of my favorite independent labels. They’re the home of Joan of Arc, Owen, of Montreal, American Football, Xiu Xiu, Aloha and many more.

Now the truth can be told. Bazaar hits the streets today. The album starts out with the Halloween-esque “The Amazing Heart Attack”, with its mischievous cackle at the beginning, then going, full-on to a frenetic poppy song; an up-tempo, fast-paced romp through the funhouse. Then, on the next tune, “Bad Attitude”, you head on over to the Side Show, where there are all sorts of oddities to ogle: the bearded lady, the sword swallower, the guy who lifts heavy weights via hooks attached to his nipples, fire-eaters, contortionists and the “human pincushion”.

Then, a bit of a switch. For “Fly on the Wall” you get to satisfy your voyeuristic fantasies, by being that proverbial fly on the wall, as the title implies. How many times have you heard someone say that cliché: “Oh, to be a fly on the wall for that conversation”? Or “Ooh – what a babe, I’d love to be a fly on the wall in her dressing room!” and so on.

The last review I wrote for Wampire was for their previous album, Curiosity (and even before that, I wrote up a short review for a CD single that came out, called “The Hearse”). When Curiosity came out, Wampire was just a duo, made up of two good friends, Rocky Tinder and Eric Phipps, who were just having a good time, playing gigs at house parties and small clubs around their hometown of Portland, OR. Since then, they’ve evolved into a five-piece playing all over the world with the likes of Foxygen, Smith Western and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, to name a few.

This new, updated version of Wampire has a different edge to it. Instead of two carefree young dudes, doing it their way and having fun, enjoying the quiet life, so to speak, they’re now a full-fledged band, with a bigger, wider sound. As much as I appreciated Curiosity, I did Bazaar even more. The full-band fills things out and their songs have a brighter, sensuality about them.

After the three aforementioned tunes, Bazaar takes things down a couple notches, the lights go down and it’s as if you’re in the “tunnel of love”, on an extended cruise. The next few songs are slowed down, but not all boring or soupy. You encounter the slick, mellow but catchy-as-hell “Wizard Staff”, the aptly named “Too Stoned” and the neo-psychedelic “Millennials”: acid rock for the new generation. My favorite cut on Bazaar, though, is “Sticking Out”, a groovy, hipster rockin’ melody.

Bazaar finishes things off with the penultimate “Life of Luxury”, a country-infused tune and then comes the finale, “People of Earth”, a song with an electronic feel to it. More than that, though, it has a space-y groove to it. The classic synthesizer sounds put one in the midst of a cosmic send-off, as if Wampire were actually, now that the album is over, going back aboard their spaceship and, with the sci-fi incidental music playing, getting ready to head to another galaxy, where there are others waiting to hear them play!

Seriously, though, Bazaar is truly amazing. It shows just how much a band can evolve and churn out a beautiful album such as this, by abandoning the duo thing and turning into a quintet, Tinder and Phipps have really shown that Wampire is in the midst of becoming and that Curiosity was more than just that. It was, rather, a first stab at an open-ended musical direction that’s been roaming free and is now soaring, with the release of their newest album, Bazaar. This is also (see previous review) an album that I highly recommend getting. If you would like some more information about Wampire and/or Polyvinyl and their wide and varied roster, check out both or go to – you can order either Wampire disc at the latter for sure, and possibly the former as well.

Enjoy!! -KM.

Beautiful Island of Mystery

Posted: October 7, 2014 in New Indie Music


La Isla Bonita

Polyvinyl Records, 2014

Review by Kent Manthie

A great new release, out now, that you should take a little while and give a listen to is La Isla Bonita, the new CD San Francisco’s Deerhoof. It is a powerful sounding album, full of great pomp, yet done with their typical understated, minimalistic but frenetic, eclectic, bombastic noise-rock. The album starts out with a semi-pop-like song, “Paradise Girls”, which is very groovy, from the get-go. Lead singer Satomi Matsuzaki, who adds a lovely, Japanese-style pop flavor which juxtaposes nicely with the edgier, experimenting-with-many-sounds style that the rest of the band delivers. “Big House Waltz” is a good example of the great, “everything-but-the-kitchen-sink”, big sound that Deerhoof delivers. There is, virtually, a wall of sound behind Satomi’s lovely, ethereal singing; frenetic, noodling guitars that are arDeerhoof La Isla Bonita coverpeggio-ing all over the place, and so many other added layers of sound, different guitars coming and going and harmonizing all over the place.

Deerhoof has a history going back 20 years. In 1994, Greg Saunier and Rob Fisk formed Deerhoof, originally as a duo focused on stream-of-consciousness improv, using only drums and bass, recording their early singles on four track cassette was how they showed up in the musical world, DIY-style, not waiting around, pressing labels with demos and then awaiting call-backs, and the usual rigamarole. The music they made during the early days of Deerhoof’s existence was a combination of raw, flannel-covered garage-rock, “punk” and noise-rock, mixed with some ballads. The sound, the style, all seemed a perfect fit for San Francisco, home of many legendary bands and a city known for its being eclectic and individualistic.

The next year, 1995, in May, having just arrived in the US, from Japan and being here only a week, Satomi Matsuzaki joined up with Deerhoof, even though she had no previous experience singing in bands; Rob & Greg must’ve heard something special in that voice of hers. By the next week after Satomi joining, the band was on tour, as the opening slot for Caroliner.

In 1997, after having recorded a number of cassette singles and touring a good deal, Deerhoof recorded their first full-length CD, The Man, The King, The Girl. The album expanded, somewhat, the raw, fiery, stripped-down sound of their early singles by adding catchy hooks and melodies, bringing an interesting and inexpensive addition of instrumentation: old Casiotones and a synthesizer they borrowed. Already, by the release of The Man, The King, The Girl, Deerhoof’s trademark low-budget, creative big sound was set. As for their songs, they built up a reputation as a band that wrote songs with great melodies and catchy tunes, enigmatic, sometimes bordering on “mystical”, lyrics; songs that would all fit together, somehow, and make-up certain concepts for their future albums.

Later on in 1997, Deerhoof started making arrangements to record what they thought would be their second full-length CD, which was going to be called Halfbird. But after getting started, they soon abandoned the project due to members wanting to go off into a new direction, a different style. It was around this time that Kelly Goode joined the band, she played keyboards and at the same time, Satomi taught herself to play the bass. Then, for the next two years, Deerhoof, taking some time off from any new recording, decided to focus on touring and that’s exactly what they did. Over that time span they toured with such bands as Unwound, Lightning Bolt, Sonic Youth and Sleater-Kinney.

Finally, in 1999, they seem to have gotten a new groove on and the result was a markedly different Deerhoof. On Holdypaws, the album they released in 1999, gone were many of the traits that they started out with: the improvisation, the “noise-rock” style and they even cut out the “unusual” instrumentation- sticking to a typical rock sound: guitars, bass, drums, keyboards. But, fans of Deerhoof would see these sudden style changes and different formats as a kind of trademark: expect to be challenged or surprised. The stylistic changes that emerged on Holdypaws must’ve really gotten to Rob Fisk, because in 1999 he quit the band for good. Later in 1999 former Gorge Trio guitarist John Dietrich was recruited to come on board.

For the next release, Deerhoof finally brought out what they’d been working on in 1997, before they abandoned the project, so in 2001, Halfbird finally saw the light of day. Their next release, Reveille, was the first album of theirs to prick up the ears of music critics; the album also had a quality about it that was due to the input of Dietrich, who had a great interest in electronic music. Another thing about Reveille is that Chris Cohen joined just before it was released, playing guitar.

After that period, things just seemed to keep going uphill for Deerhoof. They continued to tour quite a bit, playing with a variety of bands and over the next 12 years they continued putting out albums. If you count this new one, La Isla Bonita, they’ve released nine albums up to now. Their lineup has stayed quite stable over these 20 years: in their current form, the band consists of co-founder Greg Saunier, Satomi Matsuzaki, John Dietrich and Ed Rodriguez.

For La Isla Bonita, Deerhoof seems to have returned, somewhat, to their eclectic roots, although, the production value is quite high. The guitars are all over the place, there are layers of atmospheric sounds, noise, varied instruments with Satomi’s angelic voice on top of it all. Songs that stick out include the aforementioned “Paradise Girls”, the opener, which is just so catchy and has such a fabulously high production value that it grabs you and keeps you listening for more. After “Paradise Girls” comes “Mirror Monster”, on which Deerhoof, after the semi-pop opening cut, digs a little deeper and throws in more sounds, layers and inventiveness. “Doom” starts out with a distorted bass line and then it opens up to a frenetic whammy of a song that hops all over. It has a kind of “island feel” to it, with what sounds like it could be a ukelele set up with a pick-up, unless it’s just a guitar that’s been modified to sound like that. The effect the bass is plugged into really cool, it gives it a lighter touch as well. “Last Fad” is also really slick. The guitar on here, in some parts, even reminds me a little of Steve Howe’s guitar on such mid-70s Yes albums as Close to the Edge, Relayer and Tales From Topographic Oceans – it’s the chords that stand out.

I could go on and on about each song, with a description of the great guitar work, the wonderful singing, etc., like on “Tiny Bubbles” or “God 2” and so on, but, suffice it to say, La Isla Bonita is a really spectacular album; one that really shines and shows how 20 years of making a variety of albums, shifting their style, occasionally, has really turned Deerhoof into a fascinating band and the fact that their still independent and that they haven’t sold out to “the man” is a testament to their tight focus on the preciousness of their music and their fiercely independent outlook. Hope you enjoy this! -KM.

Chvad SB

Crickets Were the Compass

Silber Media, 2014

Review by Kent Manthie                                                                    Digipak 4P 1CD

Out now, on the Silber Media label, run by Brian Silber, Chvad SB’s newest disc is Crickets Were the Compass, the third album he’s put out under his own moniker, as opposed to the various projects with which he’s been involved since back in 1991. Various projects he’s done in the last 23 years include working with Things Outside the Skin, Tongue Muzzle, The Qualia as well as Controlled Bleeding, of which he was a “full-fledged member”.

Now, for the past several years, Chvad SB has been on his own, making his own albums, allowing him the freedom to do whatever he wants, take what chances he wants, set down the kind of creatively inspired stuff, with no one else around to veto his ideas and/or try to fit his ideas and contributions into a group effort.

This latest album, Crickets Were the Compass is sure to appeal to the ambient/drone/noise aficionado in you. The album is roughly 54 minutes, with six songs altogether. You’ve got a couple shorter ones, that clock in at around 4 ½ minutes, 6+ minutes and 7 minutes. But the longer ones, such as “The Dust Cloud Permeates”, comes in at 14:25, “People Keep Asking and I Say You’re Well”, at 9:30 as well as the title track, which ends the album, at 12:21.

It doesn’t much matter how long the individual songs are, since there really is a seamless, unfragmented pattern to Crickets… The album starts out with the bleak, dark “It Haunts Her”, a fitting title to a deep, ambient and, yes, haunting aura about it. “It Haunts Her” brings up memories of Brian Eno’s ambient masterpieces. Not as beautiful and ethereal as the Ambient set of albums Eno did: Music for Airports, Music for Films, etc. but there’s something similar to one of his early ambient albums, 1975’s Discreet Music, which really set the tone as a prototype to today’s long, instrumental drone works. One of my personal Brian Eno projects was one of the collaborations he did with King Crimson main man, Robert Fripp, No Pussyfooting, which is very moody, subdued and filled with “drone”, but, unlike the album at hand, Chvad SB’s Crickets Were the Compass, the difference that No Pussyfooting had was the eerie guitar work that Fripp laid over Eno’s synthesizer souffle. On Crickets…one does hear some guitar in the background here and there, but it is in more of a harmony, background way, it doesn’t have the closeness of those two amazing artists, Fripp & Eno. On the two tracks that make up No Pussyfooting, “The Heavenly Music Corporation” and “The Swastika Girls”, which take up a side each, on the LP version (on the re-issued CD version, to fill up the time that is available, they added some interesting things: there were the original two tracks as well as the same two tracks played backwards, which doesn’t sound all garbled and unlistenable, it retains that same eerie quality and that creepy, high-pitched guitar still resonates perfectly).

But, back to Chvad SB. Looking over his biggest influences, one begins to understand where it is from which he’s coming. The bands who really had a hold over him and inspired him to become the drone demi-god he’s become, include Lustmord, Swans, Coil, The Residents and even the avant-garde jazz of violinist Jean-Michel Jarre.

But even when you have a number of influences who’ve inspired you to get busy and do your thing, you can’t be going around being derivative, making music that will make people say “Oh, wow, that stuff, sounds just like Coil”, or “The Swans sounded like this back on their second album” and so on. You’ve got to internalize what you’ve learned from these artists, and then the music that you make needs to come from deep inside you; from a place that only you have been or that only you can make sense of.

This is exactly what Chvad SB has done. When listening to Crickets Were the Compass, I don’t find myself thinking of other bands or picking the album apart to see if I can find comparisons to make to other groups. Also, besides the dark ambience, the drone effects, the rhythm guitar that trickles through it like dripping water from a rocky spring. There’s an industrial affect to its qualities that pierce through the veil of the droning synthesizers. It’s not the smirking, nihilism of Throbbing Gristle, say, or the mechanized, noise of Whitehouse, but there are certain images one gets while listening to Chvad SB of automation and the beauty of the brutal force of machines.

The album is perfect for anyone who is already a fan of Silber Media’s roster or for those who like the hypnotic, uninterrupted mixture of silicon, iron and lead, a long, dreamy album to listen to, all the way through and then come out the other side with a cleared head.

For those who want more information on Chvad SB, the new album, Crickets Were the Compass, or to find out more about similar releases, etc., check out the Silber Media website: or check out Chvad SB’s Facebook page, -KM.