An article by Jordan Volz
A decade into its career, Scenic is still producing some fine albums. The Acid Gospel Experience is the band's first album since 1996's acclaimed Acquatica, but oddly enough, the band hasn't changed too much in the six years between releases. The music is still the moody psychedelic/ambient trip that it's always been, perhaps the closest you'd get to "world" music around these parts. Still, it's a relaxing album with a penchant for dusty soundtracks, shimmering drone, and feeling just a little bit lighter than air. New age electronica misses a lot more than it hits, but Scenic connects on The Acid Gospel Experience and sends this one clearing the rafters.
Key Tracks: Year of the Bat; The Acid Gospel; The Spheres.
A search of notable bands from Vermont doesn't return many results, so The Cancer Conspiracy is doing all it can to put the state on the map. Formed from the ashes of local hardcore acts, The Cancer Conspiracy develops an angular instrumental rock that careens like a seasoned math rock band but also has some deeply emotive passages that share kinship with its post-rock brethren. This volatile mix is thoroughly entertaining as the trio can either warm our hearts or go straight for the gut at the drop of a dime; the album's unpredictable nature is one of its biggest draws. The band's sound predates much of the eventual flux of like minded musicians we'd find cropping up on the East Coast in the following years, and it springs with a newness that makes it almost invaluable.
Key Tracks: Loft Complication; Conversation with a Wall; Live Through the Age of Radio.
Cornel Wilczek is the brains behind Qua, one of Australia's most innovative electronic musicians and rising star in the world at large. In a genre where artists are pigeonholed and forgotten in the blink of an eye, Wilczek somehow escapes categorization and rises above the normal limitations imposed upon the electronic arts. He creates music that is, at its best, stunning and inspiring, working a guitar and laptop to the fullest of their capacities. His music is filled with heart, reliant not on quick gimmicks and sound experiments but endearing qualities that reveal his true passion for the art. A jack of all trades, Qua's work is magical and mystifying, free of debt from his contemporaries and fully capable of being the next big thing.
Key Tracks: Vienna; 800x600; The Air is Thin in Here.
Before Helsinki's golden child had ironed out its kinks, Magyar Posse was a conglomerate of influences. Sounding not unlike a giant mosh pit of bands from every walk of life, We Will Carry You Over the Mountain is avant-garde, if ever there were such a thing. Branching out into areas of progressive rock, noise rock, and experimental ecstacy, the album is at times a rough pill to swallow due to the unresolved disparity between tracks, but overlooking that complication will undoubtedly reveal an underlying skill the band has at making some twistedly refreshing music. We Will Carry You Over the Mountain may lack the vision of Kings of Time and the grandiosity of Random Avenger, but it's a perplexing album that leaves no stone unturned as Magyar Posse searches for its place in the world.
Key Tracks: Singlesparks are Spectral Fires; Untitled; The Endless Cycle of Violence.
Whether intentional or not, Laterna, aka Henry Fayne, is a natural composer for long drives down the endless stretches of highway that await in middle America. Sands is a mix of ambient and acoustic tracks that carries a strong narrative along its span. Some tracks sound like Brian Eno on vacation in Texas, and others see Fayne pick up the acoustic guitar and gently pluck out melodies to coincide with a roaring campfire. It's an album where Laterna is free to be honest with the listener and the expressive nature of the album unfolds a great tale of the open road. Fayne's mix of genres and production techniques also seems to have been years ahead of its time, as this area of ambient/folk infusion is precisely what many pine after these days.
Key Tracks: West Side Highway; Greek Island; Early August.
Takagi Masakatsu began as a visual artist who later migrated into music. His crossover moment was perhaps the Silicom project with Aoki Takamasa, in which Masakatsu contributed the visuals, but shortly thereafter Masakatsu was fashioning his own music. His technique seems to mimic that of film vignettes; Eating is comprised of short electronic compositions that fade in and out of consciousness without giving concern to their origins or designations. They exist merely as a collage of sorts, a collision of sounds and ideas and different forms of media all exposed and wrapped into the same sensory experience. As a result, Masakatsu's audio art often sounds as if it's reaching out to claim another dimension, searching for that connecting bit of visual stimuli that brings Eating into full focus.
Key Tracks: Mihyn; Hanri; Kim Perno.
Before instrumental metal came with a 'post' attached to it, The Fucking Champs were slaying hipsters left and right with their unabashed love of traditional metal. V comes as classic as they get -- brutal riffage, rampaging power chords, and staunch drumming -- and apparently fearful of tracks over three minutes in length, there's no danger that The Fucking Champs will be spiraling out of the stratosphere anytime soon. By today's standards, V is a pretty grounded album, but it still comes packed full of that grandiose, epic metal that ran rampant in the 80's. And, most importantly, V rocks. It just fucking rocks.
Key Tracks: Never Enough Neck; Nebula Ball Rests in a Fantasy Claw; Air on G-string.
C'est Mortel is a different slice of life. The Athenian (Georgia) band might owe much to the likes of King Crimson and Slint, but there aren't too many bands around creating thirty and forty minute tracks that slide between progressive rock and post-rock without even the faintest bit of strain. Although the lengths of the tracks might indicate that a giant wankfest is brewing, the album is anything but. The two tracks are both broken into multiple parts, and it is readily apparent that the band balances jams and compositions with much thought given to cohesion. Segues help to move the tracks along, preventing overlong stretches of repetition and needless builds; instead C'est Mortel smoothly transitions between movements without overstaying its welcome. Even if the album typically appeals to those stoned out of their minds, the sober listener can still appreciate the craft that has produced C'est Mortel.
Key Tracks: Your Misfortune is Our Mirth III; Magnum Opus III; Magnum Opus IV.
This scant twenty minute EP shows some of the brightest Japanese math rock around. Toe plays highly technical math rock that doesn't ignore melody and smoothly coasts from track to track without losing focus or the listener's attention. The album bursts through five short tracks without repeating itself, going through the regular genre motions but with a panache that can only be found in a newly founded band. Toe's spirit is strong in tracks such as "Leave Word" and "Path," hopefully showing a side of the band that won't lose steam on a full length venture and instead only gain momentum over time. In the burgeoning Japanese math rock scene, Toe is among the best.
Key Tracks: Leave Word; Path; Yoru Wa Akeru.
Like many Midwestern bands that came before and after, The Cricket Rumor Mill are masters of melodic, cozy instrumentals that soundtrack the idyllic spring day or lazy summer afternoon. Renderings firmly plants itself in the indie rock sphere of instrumental rock, drawing some inspiration from the jazz world on occasion and also working with sounds that are largely unorthodox in the field. "Sonic Frito" is an indie-tronic experiment, whereas several tracks utilize brass instrumentation that naturally supports the trio's sound by furthering the lethargic feel of the tracks. Even though The Cricket Rumor Mill hasn't garnered much recognition for its music, it has held up quite strongly over time and Renderings still stands as an underappreciated album all these years later.
Key Tracks: Give Me a Day (Or Two); Sonic Frito; The Sad Cashier.