Ateleia and Benjamin Curtis: Baghdad Batterie
Collections of Colonies of Bees: Six Guitars
Neptune: Gong Lake
VA: Impala Eardrums: A Radium Sampler
Fifteen years after its inception, Table of the Elements (and its “rock” imprint Radium) is not just surviving but flourishing if its current crop of releases is a reliable indicator. Having previously enlightened the masses with recordings by Tony Conrad, John Cale, Derek Bailey, Faust, and others, a wealth of new vinyl (in gorgeous clear and white pressings sure to get vinyl fetishists salivating) and CD material finds the New York imprint arguing for its particular brand of outsider experimentalism with gusto. The natural starting point is Impala Eardrums: A Radium Sampler, a collection of previously unreleased tracks by eight current acts (ranging from elder statesman Rhys Chatham to the sonically adventurous Ateleia) that makes for an excellent overview of Radium offerings.
Impala Eardrums beings with a breezy Rhys Chatham vamp (“Untitled”) from 1987 that finds Jonathan Kane's muscular drumming powering four chiming electric guitars and bass. Twenty years on, Kane's February outfit contributes its own “Pops,” a live blues-funk workout that's nicely representative of the label's rockier side. Megafaun's “Beloved Binge” plunges even further into backwoods country territory before Paul Duncan's “Silver Eagle” transports the listener into a more ethereal sphere of trance-like songcraft. On side B, Collections of Colonies of Bees' “Athlete” kicks up dust with its sparkling, multi-layered gallop, a stark contrast to the machine-shop punk scrape and growl of Neptune's “Lightning and the Flight of Birds” that follows. Things turn atmospheric with the advent of “Grasses,” a slow-builder of krautfunk flow from Ateleia (James Elliott) who conjoins David Daniell's guitar to his own guitar, bass, and computer. Elliott also appears alongside band-mates Ben Curtis, Joe Stickney, and the Dehaza sisters in School of Seven Bells' “Limb By Limb,” an eruptive sampling of the group's distinctive marriage of melodic vocal interplay and rambunctious instrumental attack.
On Gong Lake, Neptune members Jason Sanford, Mark Pearson, and Daniel Boucher (with Ken Linehan and Kevin Micka) show themselves to be as much machinists, blacksmiths, and electricians as musicians. They construct many of their instruments using bike parts, oil drums, circular saw blades, and assorted other scrap-yard junk, and then deploy that arsenal (paired with traditional sounds of drums and guitars) to produce clangorous music that can't help but recall Einstürzende Neubauten. But despite that association, Neptune's jagged industrial-punk has more in common with The Fall and This Heat; furthermore, though the “home-assembled” aspect of its music offers a convenient hook, Neptune doesn't exploit the detail as a novelty: the uninformed listener would hardly guess that Gong Lake 's material was created using anything but conventional gear (admittedly, the occasional screech, as heard on “Copper Green,” suggests otherwise). Some of the material is in a rusted post-punk style where desperate vocals bleed over grinding bass lines, pounding drums, low-grade synths, and dissonant guitar screech. Neptune balances that attack with an occasional quieter moment (e.g., “Yellow River”) that can just as quickly turn sickly and creepy (e.g. “Black Tide”) and with instrumentals such as “ Red Sea ,” which weds a galloping fuzz-toned attack with woozy synth squeal. Though Neptune has existed for approximately fourteen years and issued about twenty releases, Gong Lake, the Boston trio's half-hour debut for Radium, is the first to be made widely available. The release nicely documents how Neptune alchemizes the raw power of its punk and industrial precursors into a mutant concoction where rock song elements co-exist with innovative sonic detailing.