Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Foxy Digitalis, Sound Projector on BROWN DWARF

Both the mighty Foxy Digitalis (9 out of 10) and the U.K.'s annual archeological inventory of the arcane underground, The Sound Projector, weighed in recently on Zanzibar Snails' BROWN DWARF, and it would be hard-pressed to imagine a more rave review from either publication ....

Issue 17 2008-09
Zanzibar Snails
Brown Dwarf
The second thing I’ve heard from this obscure Texan improvising ensemble, but it is mightily impressive and to my mind far better than the sluggish Introdewcing … Michael Chamy plays oscillators and tone generators, Nevada Hill wields a nasty electric guitar, Seth Sherman contributes acoustic guitars, plus they have their own secret weapon – Josh McWhirter with his viola and tape loops. Brown Dwarf comprises five separate ‘suites,’ which in fact join seamlessly together to form a huge, ugly lump of brilliant dense and slow-forming noise as it rolls forward towards a doom-laden ending. Each separate sonic element shines forth in the carefully-controlled morass of racket, whether it be the distorted tape-loops of speaking voices beaming in from Planet Jupiter, the crisp steel-stringed strums of a muscular acoustic guitar, the agonized and stuttering howls of Hill’s electric guitar, or the ferocious black chunks of negative energy summoned from Chamy’s devilish electronic set-up . For some reason, McWhirter’s viola work stands out to me, because even if his playing technique is not particularly distinguished, he has unique tone, varying from depressed resignation one moment to waspish outbursts of bitterness the next. This mercurial tendency contributes much to the queasy, upsetting mood of Brown Dwarf, making it a record fit for listening when you’re suffering from a long bout of influenza and yet you find you’re still not experiencing enough delirious fits of sheet soaking dreams, and want to induce more such episodes. Added to this, the grim performance is carefully planned to build up the intensity to absolute fever pitch, in a very slow and deliberate way; by the time of the blinding fourth segment, strong men are blanching, women have been brought to their knees, and the emergency services are on their way. Luckily you have 8 minutes left to recover, as the final section calms things down to an acceptable post-catastrophic state and you can helplessly watch fires being extinguished, walking wounded staggering over scorched earth, and uniformed officials doing nothing of any use to control the situation. Throughout this aftershock state, the musicians continue to brood, scowl, and pour oil on troubled waters, hinting in the last few minutes of further atrocities to come. Great! Limited release in a hand-made silkscreened cover, copy of which I suggest you seek out with all speed.
ED PINSENT 20/07/2008

Hailing from Denton, Texas, Zanzibar Snails have kept a relatively low profile thus far, yet if this release is any indication, that shouldn’t be the case for long. This is an enigmatic cdr released on the Mayyrh Records label, whose roster represents “incidental, ambient, improvised, and free noise from Texas”. All of the descriptors above apply to this disc, and while alone those tags might signify nothing unusual, the music somehow rises above its classifying tags and takes on a wonderful life of its own. This is the rare album for me that crosses boundaries and at least suggests new ways to look beyond the often narrow confines of psychedelic improvised drone music. A four piece, Zanzibar Snail’s offer up five tracks here, although it’s probably best seen as one larger piece with five movements. The music is continuous, and appears to have been recorded live. The central elements are guitars (both electric and acoustic), viola, shortwave radio, and various loops. It’s Josh McWhirter’s viola and tapes that truly standout here however, providing a patient, searching, and at time plaintive textural scraping to the mix. Nevada Hill’s electric guitar shows relative restraint throughout, serving to anchor things rhythmically with a repeatedly stabbed chord. As things progress there is a natural buildup in intensity through the fourth track, when the sound explodes and peaks. The fifth track brings us back to the calm of the first, lending the whole affair a contemplative air. Shortwave chatter and loops calmly preface one final burst of energy, and the trip is complete. It’s a richly compelling piece of music, suffused with nods to rock, doom, and electro acoustic improvisation, yet ultimately resulting in its own conglomeration of influences. The closest sonic referent might perhaps be a more linear version of A Handful of Dust or any of the other New Zealand acts on the long gone Le Jazz Non compilation. Let’s hope more releases follow soon! 9/10 -- Eric Hardiman (26 November, 2008)

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