Indie Weirdo Round Up – Alps, Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra, Linda Perhacs, Shugo Tokumaru, Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby
III – Alps (Type)
Maybe Alps' III is post-rock, maybe it’s glitteringly tight improv, maybe it’s atmospheric kraut-psych. Whatevs. It’s instrumental music for heads. Opening cut "A Manha Praia" begins full-on in the ether, and the band never really leaves. Sturdy beats emerge during "Hallucinations," and there are even strummed acoustic guitars on "Cloud One," but nothing comes anywhere near Earth throughout the disc’s 40 minutes. Good. Each track has a distinct vibe, like a strange new phenomenon in an alien landscape, from the miniature electro-bursts of "Echoes" (which sound like rising cosmic bubbles) to the slow-burn of "Labyrinths," which sounds like it could be found on some dusty LP of German basement jammers. High times in these Alps. (Sorry.)
We Are MTO – Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra (MoWo!)
If anybody deserves to be making a career with full-length albums, it's Steven Bernstein and his Millennial Territory Orchestra, the tightest loose jass-heads in New York. Ironically, perhaps—they are a live act, working when they wanna be—but, as Bernstein points out in the liners, LPs were once a literal "record of the way a working band plays music in a recording studio," a frozen moment for a gigging act. On We Are MTO, from 2005 Brooklyn session, they hit with a sweet sway, not unlike Ray Charles (who gets tribute on "Makes No Difference," the disc’s only vocal track). But most of the sweetness is wordless: huge rolling outpourings ("All You Need Is Love") an old-tyme funk (or would that be funke?) led by Charlie Burnham’s violin (the Bernstein-penned title track), a pulsing punch through a 75-year old swing chart (Cecil Scott’s "In A Corner"). The nuances of individual players might not be widely valued these days—and all the MTOers are the heat—but the sheer exuberance of the group is instantly communicable. Perhaps even by viral video.
Parallelograms – Linda Perhacs (Sunbeam)
Mined from the Strategic Psych-Folk Reserve—a seemingly bottomless resource of out-of-time LPs originally recorded in the late '60s and early '70s—Linda Perhacs' Parallelograms comes dripping with crystally New Age residue. Released in 1970 and described by Perhacs as "visual music," modal acoustic guitars roll and build into strange shapes, often accompanied by early electronic excursions by producer Leonard Rosenman. On the title track, flutes and harmonies coil around one another, until strange new, drippy ambient-synth shapes take over. On two alternate versions of "Chimacum Rain," Perhacs spirals into increasingly ethereal arrangements, the original—like other chunks of the album—suffering from a Topanga Canyon malaise, the reverb from inside a giant belly-button. The whole album is a bit like that, but there are enough spots of genuine loveliness ("Moons and Cattails") and proto-freak-folk beats ("Paper Mountain Man") to keep you from, you know, freaking.
Exit – Shugo Tokumaru (Almost Gold)
Filled with electro-acoustic brain puzzles, Shugo Tokumaru's third album, Exit, is so exquisitely and trippily constructed that one basically forgets he’s just playing really fast patterns on acoustic guitar. Picking up where Cornelius left off with 2002’s Point, the music lurches with complexity, as if the "advances" of glitchy experimentalism really were advances, little tricks to be integrated back into more linear, traditional musicianship. One of the most idiosyncratic and insane albums of the year, Tokumaru splits up waltzes and with quick-cut cinematography ("Green Rain"), uses his acoustic guitar to construct mechanical-sounding circus contraptions ("Future Umbrella"), turns in clap-abetted swayers ("Sanganichi"), and never fails to be utterly inviting. Experimental, and endlessly creative, sure, but rarely difficult.
Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby – Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby
Two underground vets here have a go at a pleasant, unpretentious record that falls in some sort of ether beyond bedroom psych, indie rock, and sweet country-folk. It's just music, effortless and not too ambitious, but full of life. Eric, a too-smart-for-his-own-good l’enfant terrible even within the British punk scene, and Rigby, a former member of New York proto-alt-country-harmonizers the Shams, work together with an easy grace. The finest moment is Eric’s quietly epic opening cut "Here Comes My Ship," ambient organ floating atop a drum machine tock, a resolute build with a surprise Beatles ending. Good fun is everywhere: Eric’s ragged harmony to Rigby’s "Please Be Nice To Her," a lovely duet on the Johnny Cash-penned standard "I Still Miss Someone," and Eric’s "Another Drive in Saturday," which sounds like deflated glam.