Tag Archives: Ailsa Forlenza

[Review: Bul-Bul Tarang Gang, ‘Kali’]

Bul-Bul Tarang Gang packs a punch. Their Kali cassette released under the Sloow Tapes label symphonically channels the creator and destroyer, Indian Goddess Kali, the “black night.” Kali blurs together the sounds of harmonium, bass, dholak, emphatic percussion, and the bul-bul tarang. The bul-bul tarang is played by Buffalo’s Ravi Padmanabha, who is known for his collaborations with saxophonist Steve Baczkowski and also his brotherly trio, the Family FUNKtion and the Sitar Jams. The gang here—which features FUNKtion brothers Naryan and Aneal Padmanabha on percussion (along with Bill Conroy), Micheal McNeill on harmonium, and Ed Kalvoon on bass—takes the listeners on an exotic set of raga-infused meditations from the otherworld which yield an incredibly unique, stimulating experience.

There is a constant meditative thread that runs throughout each piece. The melodies are stirred, allowed to rise, and then simmered back down, all collaborating nicely off one another. Ravi’s sound on the bul-bul-tarang is likely to impress and is something that many may have not encountered before.

Albums that have a concept and stimulus are fascinating, and I believe that Kali captures a wide-range of the goddess’ forms and emotions. “Kali Part I” warms up with a lingering introduction to all the instruments one will hear throughout the album. A few minutes in, they begin to crash and meld into one another, as the image of Kali stepping onto the battle ground, rattling up the army, is conjured in the listener. The percussion glides swiftly. Around five minutes in, the harmonium and percussion create a steady, entrancing, andante beat. In the foreground, the bul-bul tarang is sharp and spirited, while the percussion provides spacious support, lifting the harmony from the darkness. The sounds of the bul-bul-tarang–which translates to “a wave of nightengales”–lives up to its name and leads the listener through sonic chaos, crooning for Kali and singing her praises. Toward nine minutes in, the pace runs and intensifies becoming more stilted and frenzied. After a few minutes, the bass splinters out, the bul-bul tarang quiets as “Kali Part I” ends. The blood has been spilled.

“Kali Part II” picks up with the tarang playing a steady raga. The pace is controlled, no stray elements linger. Perhaps Kali has stepped on Shiva, her consort, and her tongue has flicked out in shame. The tarang rumbles on and the drums become stronger, eerie, and seductive. As the song progresses, it becomes more meditative; the harmony appears nostalgic, as it returns to the dark from whence it came. The tarang softens as the bass bounces, calming the music, dampening into the mist.

Out of the darkness must come light, of course. Sarasvati, the river goddess whose knowledge Brahma used to create the universe, is a great contrast to Kali. As we know, energy is neither created nor destroyed. Chaos brings creation. The track invokes Sarasvati’s flow. McNeill’s harmonium strums along as Klavoon’s bass plops steadily, like a water’s ebb. Each component is patient, trickling. This is a refreshing, relaxing ride between journeys. We aren’t peaceful for very long, though. “Nagin A” and “Nagin B” channel Naga’s, the snake spirits, half serpent and half man, who are harbingers of drought and famine, and also contain the fluid of immortality. In the opening, the tarang slithers through the pensive, enchanting beat. Toward the climax of the album, the drums created by the trio of percussionists gives off an intense heat.  A great wisdom is subtlety being imparted—the flux of life is ever-changing. At the climax, the tarang jumps octaves, ending with the fluctuating, wavering harmonium, decresendoing into silence.

It is said that to be a child of Kali is to be denied of earthly delights and pleasures. Kali refrains from giving that which is expected. This very refusal to do so enables her devotees to reflect on dimensions of themselves and of a reality that goes beyond the material world. The Bul-Bul Tarang Gang establishes a medium to convey the transience of this message, a seamless, wavering, powerful album that reflects on many aspects of the self, while providing an entertaining and spirited symphony.

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Review by Ailsa Florenza


[Review: Tuurd, ‘I Wish My Wife Was This Dirty’]

Rochester sons Nuuj and Joe Tunis are pretty busy guys. They can be spotted on the roster of numerous projects, many of which are backed by Tunis’s Carbon Records. While some of those former projects include Pengo, Crush the Junta, and the deteriorated Hilkka, I’m glad they’ve come together as Tuurd, a name both infantile, idosyncratic, and awesome. For such a simple and straightforward sound on their debut LP I Wish My Wife Was This Dirty, Tuurd keeps me focused. Following suit in the vein of stoner metal/sludge metal/prog rock, Tuurd has found a sound that fits in between all these genres.

The first track “Water” starts off with a climbing riff and a constant drum thud, taking us on a journey down a dark and weary moat. As the song progresses, the bass maintains a slow and sturdy progression. About halfway through, a voice that sounds like an orc from Middle Earth growls “I’ll show you some power, to get you some water.” In fact, Sauron would enjoy rocking out to Tuurd in his chamber on Mt. Doom. Combined with the simple melody and captivating concept, this is a strong first track.

Not all the songs are as hypnotic as “Water.” If you are looking for something more upbeat, “Reeses Feeses” fits the bill. As the second track, this song accomplishes hooking the listener by opening with straddling chords (if The Black Keys got dirty, they’d create something similar), and rare pauses, leaving time to think. It’s not for long until Tuurd propels back into the ruckus for a roll in the mud. Throughout the album the lyrics and vocals are scarce, but when they come in its satisfying. Tuurd has a unique falsetto that I haven’t heard before within metal, almost satirical, but just enough.

There’s a meditative quality to stoner metal that I’ve come to appreciate over the years. The grit, sweat, and pacing remind me of great warriors barging their way through knotty forests. It’s not in your face crazy or senseless strumming. Especially a band like Tuurd, which has an interactive quality and each song seems to emphasize rhythm and drive as with “Eating Ice Cream with Satan,” which is focused on the back and forth play between guitar and drums. It pushes and pulls until the lyrics  brag about eating ice cream with Satan in hell. Not going to lie, I’m pretty jealous. Similar to “Eating Ice Cream with Satan” is the album’s eponymous track, “I Wish My Wife Was This Dirty”. It opens with curly cueing dizzying guitar, paired with an intense drumbeat that begs for a breather.The drums continue to chant, until the sound stretches and grows.

A lot of this album is focused on exploring a certain riff, repeating it, then building upon that solid noise and contrasting it with excellent drums and humorous vocals. Tuurd’s biggest quality is keeping it together, seen in the gritty distortion of “Sliding Down” and the massive collisions in “Doot do doot.” Overall, I’m impressed with Tuurd’s hilarious concept and physical skill. Honestly, I wish my wife was this dirty, too.

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Review by Ailsa Forlenza


[Review: Blood Dirt Compilation Vol. II]

Imagine you’re dirt broke in the caboose of a cargo train in the 1800’s heading down South. Its pitch black and there’s nothing to grab onto, let alone see. All you hear is the alien echoes of a distant city you once called your home. That’s a little bit what it’s like to listen to Blood Dirt Compilation Volume II. This compilation was curated by Casey Ruland and produced by Owl Records/Blood Dirt Cassettes in Oneonta, NY, which is a small city located in the northern foothills of the Catskill Mountains. Although Blood Dirt has contributors from all over the globe, the music conjures a more rural setting, much like the Oneonta that existed before the  Delaware and Hudson railroads reached it back in the 1800s, which then lead to the small town becoming modernized and one of the largest locomotive roundhouses in the world.

Throughout the entire album, I found the listening experience to be completely metaphysical. Each song plays off one another and spurs a poignant and exotic narrative from beginning to end. Blood Dirt captures the spirit of a brave yet despondent traveler hiking through mines and caverns, receiving visits from extraterrestrials, cohorting with rivals and making friends. A short snippet from their Bandcamp page expresses what the compilation wanted to accomplish: “Done with the intent to finish, and start again.” That’s what I did several times while listening to this album. I let it soak in, then I started it over, and felt something different each time. Because of the wide variety of artists on the compilation (some of the artists have crossed over from Blood Dirt Compilation Volume I) there is a lot to absorb and reflect upon, like a good piece of dark chocolate (80% or higher).

The journey begins with “Pumice” by GMC. Train sirens reverberate over each other, and each one grows louder and more atonal until a folk guitar plucks its way into the foreground. The sirens then squeak, as if signaling that we are now on our way. When the guitar came in, I felt like I was thrown into a Southern dream in the 1800’s, being entertained by a new imaginary friend. “Pumice” serves as the leading thread for the album. There are a few other tracks that connect with “Pumice,” like “kekikakikakekikake” by Bees/// and “Imaginary Cowboys Stretched Down Imaginary Lines (Painburn dub)” by Oneonta duo Buildings and Mountains, who was featured on Blood Dirt Compilation Volume One. Bees///, a group out of Binghamton, gives us a discordant harpsichord melody that drifts in and out of the background and foreground, resembling a broken windup toy. Further along the way, a rattling cymbal crash propels the song, interspersed by occasional “Ha-haas!” Buildings and Mountains provides the longest song of the album with “Imaginary Cowboys.” This song comes about halfway through the album, and I feel like we are being connected back to “Pumice.” It opens with the sound of running water over a quiet banjo twang. Hovering between these noises is a rotating warning bell and heavy static that sounds like a machine sifting for gold or coal. I imagine a traveler now entering a cave, going deeper into darkness, which I believe the rest of the album explores through several other styles that appear later on.

Most of the compilation uses recorded sounds from natural and industrial settings. On a lovely nineties resembling website written by Nick Koenig (aka Hot Sugar), he discusses that associative music harnesses psychological and visceral properties of sounds native to what he calls “non-music environments.” Then, these sounds are twisted and shaped and disguised within the new melodies being created, while also giving slight reference to those sounds. I believe that the Blood Dirt Compilation contains all of these properties, especially in the more ambient and experimental tracks. From these tracks I feel deep aggression and despondence, yet subtle hope weaving its way throughout the album. The rest of the compilation is split into two kinds of ways to express this despondence: metal and the formerly discussed associative music.

“Spring Will Give You a Body Fit For the Streets” by Elizabeth Veldon, “Logic” by Xiphoid Dementia, and “Uneasy Swamp Part II” by Pregnant Spore deal with extreme examples of how experimental sounds extract harsh feelings and intense grit. “Spring Will Give You a Body Fit For the Streets” contains mostly squeaky static noises, like a war between static blobs. As I’m listening to it, I feel like I’m in a wild television set in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory. As the song continues, the noises are like a debate, rising and falling and colliding over each other. Xiphoid Dementia’s “Logic” begins with a menacing howl, like something dropped and echoed. Throughout the song it appears to be exploring various depths of the imagination, mimicking an interstellar reality. On Xiphoid Dementia’s SoundCloud, Egan Budd describes his solo project as an “exploration of my inner personal love, hate, fears, longings, doubts, hopes, dreams…many of which can be expressed through the abstract form of noise.” Pregnant Spores’ “Uneasy Swamp (Pt. II)” channels the same aviary noises as “Logic,” opening with a loud airplane signal that’s ready to take off. About thirty seconds in there are loud radio frequencies whirring, kind of sounding like R2D2 whining and screaming through the muddy terrain of Dagobah.

The tracks I found to be more melodic, but still highly associative, were “Blue Sky” by Trans Atlantic Rage, “Cumbia Masonica” by O+YN+GMC, and “Advance and Be Mechanized” by Express The Motif. “Blue Sky” opens with faraway electronic percussion, echoing and replacing itself as it maintains a steady beat. It’s soft, until the synth picks up after about a minute, highlighting the urgency behind the percussion. The music is steady and fast but it’s lonely and lost. On the foreground, a high pitched xylophone chord rises and falls repeatedly, while in the background the percussion keeps it grounded.  I find a lot of this album to reflect the true nature of things. Not every song is beautiful and melodic, it’s gritty and harsh, just like reality can be sometimes.

I’m glad a cumbia-inspired song appeared on this compilation via Argentinean artist O+YN+GMC. Cumbia originated from Colombia during the colonial times, and was a dance created by slaves taken from Africa and brought to Spain. It evokes a transcendence above the labor and the hardship. “Cumbia Masonica” opens with a small voice of a child that’s broken up and talking against a strong wind. A windchime picks up after a few moments, fusing with the voice of the child as a guitar signals the classic 2/4 beat. Around three minutes in, a voice cries out a monosyllable sound, repeating this until about six minutes in, where the tone of the song changes. The sounds are drawn out and blurred. Toward the end, the wind chime picks up again and takes the foreground, tinkling into quiet.

“Advance and Be Mechanized” has the sturdiest beat within the album and the most tightly woven song using natural and industrial sounds. This is a more aggressive song that propels the listener and I think provides the hook for the compilation. Since this is the second track, it does a good job starting things off with a hip hop beat surging and pulsing over a mysterious bell chime, alternating with minor trumpet trills. This beat alternates with an absurdist clash that evokes a spooky mansion hosting a hip-hop party.

The few metal songs on this compilation take the moodiness we’ve seen to the next level. “Black Order of the Goat,” “To The Roots,” and “Torture Scene” show true grit and hiss with pure rage above the quieter, more reflective tracks.

There’s nothing I love more than a throwback to folklore. A Nachzherer is a type of zombie that devours its family upon waking, and the more they eat of themselves, the more of their family they physically drain.“Black Order of the Goat” by Nachzehrer opens with a disorienting three minutes of interstellar static, plummeting into a drill drum beat and earnest, dark guitar. It continues with mild rises and falls, then blood curdling vocals pierce through the ominous background. The singer even sounds like the corpse eater himself. This type of metal sound commands you to be “here and now.”

Similar to “Black Order of the Goat” is “Torture Scene” by Vagina*. There’s no room for wandering or daydreaming here, although I’m sure you’d want to. This track has a less organized, more chaotic beginning with sudden pauses and breathers. I imagine Satanic worshippers pouring lighter fluid on a pile of dead bodies and dancing around them with a tambourine. “To The Roots” by Open Wounds is the finale of the album. It’s a hayday of caterwauls and chaos. Although it only lasts about thirty seconds, I find it a climactic way to end the frustration and despondency that looms throughout the entire album.

Although I’ve mostly categorized the tracks to make it easier to review, there are a few songs I considered stragglers. Not that they didn’t belong, but they were hard to group, and I think they stand on their own. Matthias Boss provided a raucous violin solo with “Pourquoi Pas,” which translates “Why not?” There’s tons of climbing riffs and rants. Most of the song felt like an agitated note progression intertwined with subtle slapping of the strings and occasional staccato. It was a complicated and frenetic twist from the other tracks.

“Sick of Goodbyes” by Newspaper Joe and “Break” by Icicles were the slower, melodic folk songs. “Sick of Goodbyes” expressed a lament for creating emotional bonds, crooning “No one knows you like I do, seconds click in which I’m changed to dust, withered clumps of hair and rotten rust, sun-dried locomotives to the ocean, I’m so sick of goodbyes, goodbyes.” “Break” by Icicles also mourned a lost love, murmuring “You break my heart” over gentle, hazy, warm guitar strums.

Overall, Blood Dirt Compilation Volume II managed to pull all its broken strings together into a wonderful and exotic narrative album. Each song worked with the natural sounds we hear every day that may not sound like music to most people, but can be wrought and welded to evoke deep and serious emotions. From the beginning to the end, I felt as if I had traveled through many dimensions and countries, back and forth between historical periods. Blood Dirt Compilation Volume II can be downloaded for free on their Bandcamp, as well as the first volume.

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Review by Ailsa Florenza


[Review: ProEf, ‘All Eye Know’]

As an upstate denizen, I’m a fan of cold. The winter chill encourages a healthy time for reflection when your faced with no one but yourself, sorting through the ins and outs. ProEf’s EP All Eye Know, released in early 2012 on Otnorot Recordings, channels this loneliness and self-consciousness with its mysteriously pensive sounds that delve into ambient/downtempo vibes, hip-hop rhythms, and hypnagogic samples.

On his website, ProEf states the catalyst for All Eye Know was “new states of consciousness.” As a listener this is apparent on the first track “Fading DeLights,” which begins with a hollow clattering sound reminiscent of an ancient Chinese meditation bowl. With ghostly street noises fading in and out of the melody, a bleak and beautiful soundscape is slowly created. It’s an atmospheric track that reminds me of a late night walk home with my hood up, hiding yet completely aware.

The album’s title seems to recall Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “transcendent eye,” which suggests that solitude can be used to connect with a divine presence and enhance unity between the spirit and the natural world.

In “Bone Chilly” there is a pressing conflict between the external world and how it affects the internal world, while on the album’s title track there’s a tension between action and complacency that the track’s rhythmic direction seems to mimic. ProEf speaks over the repetitive synth staccatos, “I don’t know what you want from me/ All I know is exactly what I see,” which is followed by a cry for help. The same disillusioned feel is heard in “At a Glance,” where it opens with a transit authority voice droning “Please mind the gap.” The music halts in the beginning, channels the busy subway station, then picks up with a rapid and anxious beat.

Contrasted with the slower, more meditative songs is “Slow Motion Through My Window,” which is one of the most moving tracks in this collection. A deep, majestic cello rumbles through a steady sample that sounds like a body struggling to move forward. It builds, slowly, while the two contrasting sounds harmonize. The tone is dark and confused with glimmers of strength, which I find to be the most successful part of this transcendent creation.

Compared to ProEf’s upbeat and electric compositions like “Ok One Last Sushi Roll” and “So Let’s Take A Trip,” which you can find on Soundcloud, there’s a more serious, complacent attention as to how the field recordings, samples, hip-hop rhythms, and synths interact. It’s a wonderful mix between steady and upbeat, similar to artists like Gramatik, Emancipator, and Blue Sky Black Death. Overall, All Eye Know begs to be listened to when you’re in a quiet and reflective mood, ready to let go of your fears.

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Review by Ailsa Forlenza