this review originally appeared in Thaumaturgy, a blog dedicated to new experimental and psychedelic music
Jim O'Rourke/My Cat Is An Alien, "from the earth to the Spheres" Vol. 4
It feels almost like an act of sadism to review this release, the 4th volume of My Cat Is An Alien's ongoing split series with many past and present luminaries of the international noise underground. Originally released in limited run editions of 100 LPs with unique handpainted sleeves by alien cat Roberto Opalio, the circling flock of collectors and uberfans snatched up all available vinyl copies on pre-order months ago. Recognizing a wider audience for these releases, MCIAA is wisely re-releasing this series on cd format through Very Friendly/Cargo Records UK- all, that is, save this release, which will remain the exclusive domain of Opax, their own vanity label. So much the worse for us, for of all of the volumes released thus far, this one may be the crown jewel of an already impressive slate of avant musical pairings.
O'Rourke's contribution, "Some kind of", is a solo guitar piece recorded in his pre-Drag City/Sonic Youth life, when this wunderkind from the suburbs of Chicago was trading tapes, phone calls and the occasional intercontinental visit with Derek Bailey, David Jackman, and other noise heroes of the European scene. These influences certainly permeate the recording- the tortured, tungsten-teased drones of Organum, the edginess of AMM, and the skittering, insectile guitar work of Bailey himself to name a few- but the piece itself cannot be reduced to a simple name-checking exercise. There is a timelessness about it that makes its gong-like tones, sharp string attacks and searing sine waves sound as relevant today when it was recorded 17 years ago, marking "Some kind of" as a seminal (if previously unheard) document of the exploration of the guitar as pure sound device. Throughout its 17 minutes, the almost suite-like nature of the sound passages that O'Rourke coaxes from his 6-string never fail to entrance.
MCIAA's contribution to this split walks in some mighty big footsteps, but is never overshadowed by its elder brother. While certain other previous releases by MCIAA sometimes venture close to being lost in the meandering void that these outer space explorers have made their chosen home, "Winter will burn out yr wings" is consistently focused in its quest for a coherent sound and mood over its 21 minute duration. Wordless vocals lap over each other in intermittent waves at the beginning of the piece, closely followed by washes of insistent cymbal and bells that rapidly climax and fade. Out of the silence, a slowly plucked guitar emerges, while theremin-like keyboard lisps a faint melody in the background. Eventually a second guitar chimes in, adding a harsh counterpoint to the repetitive patterns that churn underneath. The rest of the piece is lost to the subtle telepathic interplay of these voices, evocative of Loren Mazzacane Connors at his most abstract. MCIAA's music is never more beautiful than when when it allows itself to luxuriate in these sparse, minimal melodic motifs. With n'ary a misstep throughout the entire thing, "Winter will burn out yr wings" is simply the best piece of music they've yet produced. This is what we knew they were always capable of.