Monday, December 1, 2008

Sadly, from here on out it will only be Ex-Yellow Swans

So I picked up a copy (unfortunately not one of the color copies) of the Ex-Cocaine/Yellow Swans split LP. I, like John, deeply lament the decided separation of the Yellow Swans duo, and this release is one more reason to feel that way.

But first, let's spend some time with Ex-Cocaine.

I will have to admit that I had never heard of this group before. This says less about their relevance and more about my ignorance. But upon giving their side a spin, I was pleasantly surprised to hear, not what I had prejudged to be some sort of noisy, angular nowave inspired group, but instead, slightly abstract gently rolling psych.

Made up of yet another duo, Mike Casler and Bryan Ramirez are described as,"Two heavy mellow bros on congas and fuzz [who] amble through underwater psych murmurs delivering freak tales and out of control throwdowns," on their Last.FM page, and whatever that may mean, I could not agree more.

Black Cat Lament, the first song of two by EC on this record, spills in with gentle percussion rolls and swaying guitar riffs. It simply takes this basic idea and swirls around with it for a while. Accepting whatever comes after the jumping off point and let it take the music wherever, I think what I like best about this track is how a-rhythmic it is. There is never quite one single tempo, and synchronization takes a back seat to exploration. Normally this would throw most listeners off, but the way they approach this song, and the gentle mood they create makes it all fit right into place.

Everything pulls together in the second song, Sexy Music. A solid yet simple track of just barely atypical psych. I should point out that unlike many of their contemporaries, Ex-Cocaine don't really apply that many effects or lo-fi aesthetics, to this recording at least. Just a little delay here and there, and beyond that it's pretty straight forward. Which I think in the fringes of music where we are now, is something that not many groups could do and still maintain a following. What makes this track for me is the vocals. They have a slightly haunted quality, and though according to the liner notes they are only sung by Brian Ramirez, they have an odd choral sound that I feel pulls the song to where it should be. Once again, simple guitar and percussion, doing what would normally be a very traditional style, but tweeking it, organically, to move it to a place not only of originality, but also hypnotic appeal. I look forward to adding more Ex-Cocaine to my collection.

The flipside is, of course, one long and haunting track by the much lauded, (and rightfully so), sadly now defunct, Yellow Swans. Creeping in with a fuzzy undertow interrupted here and there with melancholic tones, Comedy Hypnosis is one of the final examples of what made this group great. Minimal at first, the track doesn't so much build, as grow. The tones lead to slight guitar, and muted notes of feedback at regular intervals. Somewhere in the distance murky vocals, not even attempting to come through the mix, add another layer to the composition. It's the type of music that, when you see it explained in words, sounds very underwhelming, but when you hear the simplicity, subtlety, and complexity of the sound you simply get swept away. Finally the lower registers drop off as the rippling walls of static white noise raise up like smooth concrete enveloping everything around it. The pressures hiss, pop, and crackle. The vocals begin to take on the sound of metal twisting in the wind. And as soon as the distortion, which is never grating, peaks, all the complex layers begin slipping away one by one until we are left nearly at the very place we started. The great part about the end of this piece is that the sound dies, and yet, after a beat, the final echo pops up again, and then another beat, and quieter again, and then again, always a little longer, and quieter to an almost imperceptible degree. And it doesn't die away until there is no vinyl left.

This is, in my opinion, a solid record on both sides. From the quiet and simple to the broody and complex. You can check out the myspace profiles of both Ex-Cocaine and Yellow Swans to find out more about the bands, and hear some samples of their work. You can also go to the Not Not Fun webstore to purchase a copy, with, PS, great album artwork, which I believe is still available.

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