Xiu Xiu’s Girl with Basket of Fruit, a Review

Few albums will hurt you this bad.

After the release of Daughter’s masterpiece, You Won’t Get What You Want, which stole the album of the year slot for “The 20 Best Albums of 2018” on this site, it would be reasonable to suspect that the world of experimental and dark music might take a while to muster something to contend with the last leviathan. Truly devastatingly dark albums, after all, don’t come around too often–at least if we consider only the few that are undeniably great. Albums like Sunn o)))’s Black One, Scott Walker’s Bish Bosch, and, yes, Daughter’s You Won’t Get What You Want, are rare treats for treasuring, and often must satisfy us for long dry stretches. I was expected quite a wait. I was wrong.

Enter Xiu Xiu, Jamie Stewart’s experimental band birthed way back in 2002.

Some people said that listening to You Won’t Get What You Want was a fright. I can concede that there were some hair-raising moments, such as Alexis Marshall’s convincing “let me in!” on the track “Guest House,” but something reaches up to stop me before I can call the album truly “frightening.” Bish Bosch is frightening. “Shaking Hell” from Sonic Youth’s Confusion is Sex is frightening. Allan Pettersson’s sixth symphony is frightening. You Won’t Get What You Want is dense, emotional, and harrowingly gorgeous, but it isn’t frightening.

Xiu Xiu’s 2019 release, Girl with Basket of Fruit, is fucking frightening.

Every track on this album (minus only the last one, “Normal Love,”) leaves splatter patterns sure to perplex even the keenest of forensic investigators. Xiu Xiu pushes the increasingly popular glitched-and-grimed aesthetic well past ten without sounding like Death Grips, and that alone would something to celebrate were this album not a moving experience in its own right. Girl with Basket of Fruit reaches in with both arms up to the elbows and walks away dripping, leaving you behind to writhe with your wounds in the dirt.

While, in retrospect, one can impose a sort of narrative leading up to this moment in Xiu Xiu’s career based on their previous albums–particularly in considering 2014’s Angel Guts–there really is nothing in 2017’s Forget that could’ve prepared you for this. In short, if you’re familiar with the glitchy pop Xiu Xiu of the past, beware. You’re in for something closer to a Swans album than a pop album with Girl with Basket of Fruit, and dark music fanatics certainly couldn’t be happier with the new direction.

While all the tracks are pummeling, disorienting, surreal, and deeply unsettling, “Mary Turner Mary Turner” manages to stand out as an experience sure to become a benchmark in dark music, much like “SDSS1416=13B (Zercon, a Flagpole Sitter)” from Scott Walker’s Bish Bosch. It retells the story of Mary Turner, a black woman lynched in Lowndes County, Georgia for protesting the lynching of her own husband. Stewart’s wild, drunken, and distorted spoken-word reenactment of this harrowing bit of history blasts fearsomely over wild percussion and groaning industrial bass drones sure to shock even seasoned weird music fans.

“Mary Turner Mary Turner” is striking example of dramatized atrocity. It’s a lynching-gone-horror-film, and it won’t sit comfortably with most listeners. Luckily, it isn’t supposed to. While on one hand, given the excessively melodramatic presentation, this track may come across as somewhat calloused and tasteless, it is the closest you can come to witnessing something so horrible yourself. History is a Wikipedia article, a bookmark that serves to coldly remind us of what’s already transpired. “Mary Turner Mary Turner” lends flesh and blood to the event, reanimating it in a way that places listeners squarely before the sheer evil in their own heritage. Yes, that may sound a bit Hawthornian, but it’s rare and worth celebration indeed when music can enact such a towering psychic image.

Of course, not everything on Girl with Basket of Fruit is as strong as “Mary Turner Mary Turner,” (which would be thoroughly impossible) but the album is certainly a must-have for anyone who enjoys truly dark and forward-thinking music. Unless 2019 miraculously turns into a more musically fruitful year than 2018, this album is bound to stand at the forefront of the throng. Get this thing.

5/5 stars.

-Justin A. Burnett

Adventures in Modern Recording by the Buggles: An Underrated Gem

by Ben Arzate

The Buggles are the quintessential “one hit wonder” band, to the point that they’re less recognized by their name and more by “the guys that did ‘Video Killed the Radio Star.’” Their biggest claim to fame is that their music video was the first one to air on MTV.

However, they couldn’t parlay this into further success for the other singles from their debut album, The Age of Plastic, despite being a masterpiece work of new wave. The likely reason for this is that the album occupied an odd middle ground. It was too weird for mainstream success but not weird enough to gain a cult following like their contemporaries, Devo.

Further contributing to their lack of success, not long after their first album the two members, singer Trevor Horn and keyboardist Geoffrey Downes, took a break from recording their second album to join the progressive rock band Yes.

Both were long time fans of the band, but it was a strange transition. Fans of Yes thought so, too. The reception was very mixed to the point that Yes broke up after the album Drama and the subsequent tour with Horn and Downes.

Further difficulties for the second Buggles album arose when Downes left before recording began to form the band Asia, though he still did some work on the album. Because of this, Adventures in Modern Recording is closer to a Trevor Horn solo album than a proper Buggles record. Despite all of this, it remains an album excellent enough that it’s a crime that it’s been so forgotten.

As the title suggests, the first album The Age of Plastic had a loose concept about the anxieties of modern life and technology. Adventures in Modern Recording focuses on experimenting with then-new recording techniques and technologies, and includes pastiches of older genres with these recent technologies. While most of the tracks sound solidly 80’s, the top notch songwriting keeps them from sounding dated or like producer noodling.

The album opens with the title track. The lyrics are a satire of the music industry and the increasing image-centric direction it was heading. “So carefully directed / For modern mass appeal / Look just like a poster / Got yourself a deal.” It sounds like a pastiche of a teen idol song filtered through thick layers of new wave production and sets the tone for the rest of the album.

Beatnik” is another pastiche with humorous lyrics, sounding like a synthed-up rockabilly song and telling the story of a trendy wannabe rebel. “A shark tooth fin and a Chevrolet / A wild boy takes it all the way / No more charlie it’s my throat / Send the bell-boy for my coat.” This was the last single from the album and from the band itself, giving us lines like “All will be revealed before the next move” and “No more espresso” meanings that Horn likely didn’t originally intend.

Vermillion Sands” is a slower track with surreal lyrics like “My heart is an alligator / Better watch your step / This heat is an incubator / Make a diamond sweat – want to bet.” The title and chorus are a reference to the JG Ballard book by the same name, Vermillion Sands being a fictional resort.

Ballard was an inspiration for several Buggles song, including “Video Killed the Radio Star,” but this song is the most direct reference to his work. The track digresses into synthesized jazz sounds, helping to invoke the feelings of a futuristic luxury resort. I wouldn’t be surprised if several vaporwave artists have plundered this song.

I Am a Camera” was the first single off the song, and it’s easy to see why. It’s the best song on the album and one of my favorites of all time. It’s a simple love song that was originally recorded as a Yes track under the title “Into the Lens.”

While the Yes track was ten minutes long with several digressions and solos, typical of progressive rock, “I Am a Camera” is much tighter at only about five minutes on the album and the music fits the lyrics better.

Downes played keyboards here and the production by Horn is beautiful. While it’s easy to see why it failed to become a hit, it doesn’t really have any hooks, I believe it’s the best song The Buggles released.

On TV” is like a leftover song from Living in the Plastic Age, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s a catchy song mocking TV culture. It’s composed to sound like a commercial jingle with simple lines like “Ecstasy for you and me / Here at home on your TV.” It’s a fun song, though probably the least creative production wise, even if that was obviously intentional.

Inner City” is the second-best song on the album. It’s a song about middle-class angst, going to work to chase a fortune that will likely never come. “But tear the fabric off your nest / You’ll find the eggs have gone / And no one mentions / How you run.” I’m surprised this one wasn’t issued as a single as it probably has some of the best hooks on the album.

Lenny” is an upbeat synth pop song which seems to be about Galileo. “When you say that the sun does not move / Did it show you the answer.” Strangely, this was probably the most successful song on the album, becoming a top ten hit in the Netherlands. It’s a very catchy piece of nerd pop.

Rainbow Warrior” is where Horn’s influence from Yes really shows. It’s a progressive rock song with mystical lyrics. “Son of logic / Boy born of light / Is the picture drawn/ Is the harvest one.” It’s a fantastic way to wrap up the album, minus a short reprise of “Adventures in Modern Recording.”

With the commercial failure of the album and Downes leaving the band, it’s no wonder that Horn decided to end the Buggles project to focus on doing production work. It’s also no wonder why he was so successful at it. Adventures in Modern Recording really shows Horn’s ability to write and produce in a wide variety of genres. The songs are excellently crafted, they’re fun and catchy even when the subject matter is esoteric, and the production sounds great even today.

As of writing this, the album is out of print and not available on streaming services, at least in the United States. It really is a shame that this is the case. Adventures in Modern Recording really is an underrated gem from a criminally underrated band.

Bandcampology, Episode One: Khonnar & Impressions of the Morning Star

Welcome to Bandcampology! I’m your Bandcampologist, Justin.

This segment is intended to celebrate the delightfully weird, undeniably wonderful, and tragically underappreciated music platform, Bandcamp. In a world where music streaming services tend towards interchangeability due to the fact that any cool, new feature immediately gets implemented across board by all the major companies, Bandcamp is a welcome burst of colorful individuality–it’s free to use, with limited streaming designed to encourage the listener to an album purchase (don’t worry, many “album purchases” let you name your own price, and others are much cheaper on Bandcamp than on traditional distribution sites).

It’s also an open platform, where musicians and small record companies can bypass the typical domination of the music industry by the supermassive labels which, until now, have iron-fistedly ruled the music world. That means that a lot of music on Bandcamp is magnificently bold, experimental, and strange. Even better, these features also subvert another standard of typical streaming services–Bandcamp facilitates the PAYMENT of the ARTIST directly, and in much higher rates (thanks to their emphasis on album purchases) than the paltry percentages streaming monsters get away with.

In short, when I say “celebrate,” I really mean CELEBRATE, since there’s much to celebrate at Bandcamp. In the spirit of celebration, then, this segment will document my journey through the Bandcamp world with album reviews encompassing multiple genres, the scoop on badass discounts, and more!

If you haven’t already, go to Bandcamp and create a profile. It’s entirely free, and you’ll need one in order to follow our excursions here on Bandcampology.

The Rating System

  • Merchworthy (*****)–The highest of honors. This means that, not only do I think you should unhesitatingly buy the digital album, but you should grab a shirt, CD, or vinyl copy as well. In short, this album is one of my favorites on Bandcamp.
  • Buy it! (****)–this means, obviously, that the album deserves an unhesitating purchase, but doesn’t quite justify the lavish honor of a merch purchase, at least by my standards. This is the second-highest honor an album can receive.
  • Stream it and buy it cheap (***)–This means give it a listen, if you want, and if the price is right, I would probably bag a digital purchase. These albums range from “okay” to “worth a spin.” It’s not necessarily bad or unenjoyable, it just isn’t essential.
  • Stream it (**)–This means I’d give it a listen, but I wouldn’t go as far as to spend money on it. I’m a pretty voracious album purchaser, so if I wouldn’t purchase it, it’s not good. However, some albums are worth listening to, if only to experience how amusingly bad they are.
  • Ignore it (*)–It’s total shit. Leave it alone.

ALBUM REVIES:

Khonnar by Deena Abdelwahed
Released: Nov 16, 2018
Genre: experimental electronic

Let’s begin with a bang. Tunisian producer Deena Abdelwahed took me by storm with her dark, moody, and chilling electronic offering, Khonnar. The Bandcamp album description says Khonnar “evokes the dark, shameful and disturbing side of things,” and I emphatically agree that this album leaves you feeling a little nasty–just check out the twisted chord progression that launches the track “Ababab.” You won’t be getting that insidious little lick out of your head for a while. You’re welcome.

I’ve never heard an Eastern album so laden with folk influences sound this contemporary before. Muslimgauze might be my primary reference point here, and although Bryn Jones (a Brit) might infuse his electronic music with heavy folk influences (not African, but Israeli-Palestinian), it never sounded this serious, or anywhere near this disturbing. Abdelwahed is destined to move some heads in the electronic music sphere, even given how the genre seems to be peaking in innovation and originality. Strangely, Khonnar remains consistently danceable while retaining a sonic depth that lends the album a deeply introspective character. If you’re dancing to this, you’re dancing somewhere in an unlit, Doom-esque dungeon of your own subconscious fears.

Khonnar is definitely one of the greatest dark albums I’ve stumbled across in 2018. That’s certainly saying something, since there’s been no shortage of incredible music this year. At 9 Euros for a digital copy (12 for a CD), this thing certainly isn’t cheap for Bandcamp, and it’s worth every penny. If you like dark electronic music with a seriously experimental bent, get this immediately.

Rating: Merchworthy (*****)

Impressions of the Morning Star by Entropy Created Consciousness
Released: Februrary 1, 2018
Genre: black metal, sludge metal, atmospheric black metal, experimental black metal

I came to this one-man-wonder late this year, but I’m glad I finally made it. Impressions of the Morning Star is a solid effort in the ever-changing forefront of experimental black metal. Released by Spain’s DIY label, Throne Records, this album definitely caught my ear as a unique voice in a genre that all too frequently tends towards anonymous uniformity. Although there are certainly more groundbreaking heavy-hitters in the field (Imperial Triumphant, Slugdge, and A Forest of Stars come immediately to mind), Entropy Created Consciousness admirably keeps closer to its atmospheric black metal roots than most of 2018’s black metal genre-benders. The Agalloch influence is strikingly prominent (although ECC’s pacing isn’t uniformly slow here), and I’d argue that Impressions of the Morning Star is a more interesting and diverse listen than most of Agalloch’s albums are (admittedly, however, I’m not a huge Agalloch fan).

The diversity here is laudable, and the passages are generally beautiful and moving. My main complaint is that Impressions of the Morning Star doesn’t transition between passages as seamlessly as it should. This still feels like an early effort of a potentially great musician (which I’m certain is the case) who hasn’t quite figured everything out yet. In this this way, it reminds me of Enslaved’s album Frost, although nothing here is quite as sloppy as Frost at its worst. It’s still an enjoyable album, and definitely worth a purchase for experimental metal fans, especially since you can name your own price. I’m keeping my eye on this one; after all, we all know how amazing Enslaved became.

Rating: Stream it and buy it cheap (***)

RECOMMENDED PREORDER:

Ars Magna Umbrae by Lunar Ascension
Releases: Janurary 25, 2019
Label: I, Voidhanger
Genre: black metal, experimental black metal
Preorder price: 7 EUR or more

That’s it for now! Please let me know in the comments below what albums, news, or sales I should cover next time on Bandcampology. Look for part three of our “Darkest Albums Ever Recorded” list, as well as our “Top Twenty Albums of 2018” soon.

-Justin A. Burnett

Santa Dog’s a Jesus Fetus: A Look Back at the Residents, Part II

By Ben Arzate

Read Part I Here

Dedicated to Hardy Fox 1945 – 2018

Despite the premature demise of their American Composers Series project and the death of their good friend and long-time collaborator Snakefinger, the Residents continued to work on new projects. In 1988, the Residents released what is, in my opinion, their best album, God in Three Persons.

While the spread of CDs as a format was a contributing factor in closing the American Composers Series, as it was planned with the format of vinyl records in mind, they embraced it with God in Three Persons to make it their longest album up to that point.

The album tells the story of Mr. X, a greedy huckster who meets a pair of conjoined twins with magical healing powers. He becomes their manager and takes them on the road, eventually falling in love with the female twin. He later learns that the twins are not fixed as male or female, but able to change their genders. Confused by his intense feelings for them, he eventually comes up with a plan to separate them.

The album is sung in a talking blues style by the main singing Resident with guest singer Laurie Amat acting as the Greek chorus and singing the opening credits. It used the organ riff from “Double Shot of My Baby’s Love” by the Swingin’ Medallions as a musical motif and marked a departure in their sound due to virtuoso guitarist Snakefinger passing before he could record his parts for it.

From the ashes of the Mole Saga and the American Composers Series, the Residents next developed and began performing a three-act musical show called Cube-E in. Each of the acts, titled “Black Barry,” “Buckaroo Blues,” and “The King & Eye” traced the development of rock and roll through song covers. Act one covered soul and gospel songs, act two covered country songs, and act three covered Elvis Presley. The covers from the third act were recorded as an album of the same name in 1989.

Ever adapting to new technologies, the Residents spent the first half of the 90’s developing three CD-Rom projects. The first one, Freak Show, was a multimedia project that involved a concept album released in 1990 where each song talked about a circus freak and a CD-ROM released in 1994 with interactive pictures and animations of each character.

Gingerbread Man, their first actual foray into computer multimedia art, released in 1994, had a similar concept. The story of the album followed the Gingerbread Man of the fairy tale as he met various curious characters on his run. The album was released as an enhanced CD that included pictures and animations of each of the album’s characters like Freak Show.

In 1995, they released a full-fledged game called Bad Day on the Midway. Like the prior CD-ROM projects, it involved a character-driven story, this time about the various people at the midway of a fair. The player could switch between the characters to learn more about their story and solve various puzzles. It received praise from the gaming press and a TV show adaptation to be directed by David Lynch was optioned but never made. The soundtrack was released as a stand-alone album as well under the title Have A Bad Day.

Technology changes continued to be both a friend and enemy to the Residents as CD-ROMs soon became obsolete with the rise of the internet and computers upgrading to the point of no longer being able to play older ones. Another CD-ROM was in the works called I Murdered Mommy!, but it was eventually scrapped with the music for it being released in 2004.

For a time, the Residents turned back to music and performance. In 1998, they released Wormwood, an album of songs based on strange stories from the Bible such as the beheading of John the Baptist and the murder of Abel by Cain. The project was controversial due the Resident’s humor and irreverent lyrics of subjects considered by many to be holy.

The disclaimer that they had no intention of trashing the Bible but to get a better understanding of it at the beginning of the shows for the album’s tour didn’t prevent a backlash which culminated in one of the members being pelted in the head by a rock during a show in Greece.

In 2002, the Residents released Demons Dance Alone. A response to 9/11, this proved to be one of their darkest and most depressing albums. In my opinion, it’s also one of their best, second only to God in Three Persons. None of the songs make direct reference to 9/11, but all of them are about grief, loss, and regret.

Its linear notes contain a note saying, “The Residents have left the building.” It goes on to say that since no one claims themselves to be a Resident, as they are an anonymous band, then all people have the potential to be a Resident. They would explore this idea more thoroughly later.

The 2005 follow-up to Demons Dance Alone was Animal Lover. Another downbeat album, the songs on this one are also a set of stories about various sad characters. The linear notes contain an accompanying written story for each song re-telling the songs from the perspective of a different animal. Sometimes a companion, other times simply a bystander.

Exploring yet another new medium, the Residents released a five-episode podcast series, later released as an album, called The River of Crime. In the tradition of radio plays, the podcast told a series of hard-boiled stories about a young boy fascinated with crime as it seems to follow him everywhere. The album version came with the instrumental only backings of the podcasts as a bonus.

They would continue in this storytelling vein for the albums Tweedles!, The Voice of Midnight, and Bunny Boy, released between 2006 to 2008. Tweedles! tells the story of a sex addict whose flings often hurt his partners and lead to regret.

The Voice of Midnight is an adaptation of a short story by ETA Hoffmann about a man with a deep fear of the mythical character Sandman. Bunny Boy is both an album and an ARG. The ARG had the titular Bunny Boy in a Youtube series where he asked his viewers to email him so they could help locate his brother who had disappeared on the island of Patmos in Greece.

In 2010, the Residents still continued with their storytelling with The Talking Light tour, but with a major change. The band was now presenting themselves as a trio rather than a quartet with individual names where before they had none. The singer called himself Randy Rose, the keyboard player Charles “Chuck” Bobuck, and the guitarist Bob. Randy claimed the fourth member, Carlos, had quit to take care of his mother in Mexico. The Talking Light, rather than being a tour to support a new album, had the Residents performing new renditions of older songs in between ghost stories told by Randy and other guests.

The new individual identities also saw Randy and Chuck trying their hands at solo projects. In 2012, Randy presented Sam’s Enchanted Evening. This one-man show was about an old man from Louisiana recalling his life and singing the various songs he remembers fondly. Chuck released his first solo album called Codgers on the Moon, a collection of spacey, gamelan inspired instrumentals.

The Residents also released what would be their last studio album for five years, Coochie Brake. This was a more ambient album inspired by a Louisiana swamp of the same name. Carlos returned briefly to do Spanish vocals for the album.

The major release of their 40th anniversary in 2012, however, was The Residents’ Ultimate Box Set. This was a set with every album, EP,and single the Residents released up until that date as well as several other items, including one of their original eyeball masks, all housed in a large refrigerator.

They also offered a “mystery item” in addition for $5 million. Ten were available, but because of its very steep price of $100,00, only one of them sold with another one being donated to the Museum of Modern Art. The mystery item was never bought and what it was remains unknown.

Chuck would retire from touring in 2016 and, shortly thereafter, from the Residents altogether. He continued to release solo albums, however, and did work on their 2017 album The Ghost of Hope. This first new album after the five-year gap was a collection of songs which each told the story of various train disasters. While this album was being promoted, Randy himself also retired from performing as the singer and a new quartet of Residents began to tour.

At the end of 2017, Hardy Fox, a manager of the Cryptic Corporation, came out and admitted to being Chuck Bobuck and the primary composer of the Residents since the beginning of the band. Tragically, Hardy Fox passed away Oct. 30th of this year from brain cancer.

It’s been an open secret among many fans of the band that the Cryptic Corporation managers and the Residents are one and the same. This is especially true of “Randy Rose” and Homer Flynn who have the same voice and look very similar but for the mask and wig Randy wears. Though Homer has yet to confirm he is Randy, it’s likely he’ll do so in the very near future.

Despite that, does losing the “original members” mean we lose the Residents? One of the projects they released this year is I Am A Resident! which consisted of seven remixes by the Residents and twenty-four covers submitted by fans. They took the idea that everyone had the potential to be a Resident to heart. Four wannabe hippies from Louisiana have created something far too big to contain just them.

It seems less appropriate at this point to ask what the future holds for the Residents and more who are the Residents, really?

Well, one of them just might be you someday.

Pandaemorthium Album Review

Band: Esoctrilihum
Album: Pandaemorthium (Forbidden Formulas to Awaken the Blind Sovereigns of Nothingness)
Country of Origin: France
Release Date: February 23, 2018
Genre: Majestic black/death metal
Label: I, Voidhanger Records

This album is so damned good I can leave aside the Lovecraftian lyrical leanings and have plenty of praise left over. Esoctrilihum, a one-man piece hailing from France, is certainly worthy of serious attention from fans of utter darkness. I was skeptical at first: dark and furious riffs pound over a relatively low-mix growl; everything sounds like it was recorded while somehow buried in Japan’s Aokigahara forest. In essence, nothing out of the usual. Right?

Oh, so wrong. “Folk” passages (although they really aren’t folk) soon begin to shimmer against the dark, muddy pool, adding a breathtakingly melodious interlude to the deep and hazy sonic atmosphere of Pandaemorthium. These dreamy, sonic strolls through torch-lit catacombs remain simple in composition. You won’t find Opeth’s acoustic frills or a host of alternative instruments crashing like frat dudes into the wrong party. These understated melodies, however, add the perfect adjustment to the damp and rancid chaos, often evoking a breathtaking moment of subdued beauty that you’ll unhesitatingly return to. Like sex with a new partner, it’s even better the second time around.

Even when Pandaemorthium winds into a repeating riff, you don’t notice. You want these songs to repeat, in fact; you need the few extra measures to truly absorb the power Escotrilihum wields on this sophomore bombshell. Asthaghul (Escotrilihum’s sole member) deserves a standing ovation for his creativity, taste, and utter bleakness of vision. I’ll certainly be keeping tabs on his future work.

Rating: 4.5/5

-Justin A. Burnett