Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Portland's blues/free-jazz deconstructionist duo's sixth album, Vroom-Psycho, consists of two solid-gold minimalist burners amidst three delightful forays into improvised studio madness. Everything on this album seethes with a sense of a philosophical conservatism that forces creativity out of the most unlikely places necessitated by a limited tool-set. Minimal instruments (guitar, drums, brass, tape manipulation). Minimal membership (a duo with a possible third member inside of Heather Vergotis). Minimal tempo changes (a whopping one in the massive opener "Mount Tabor"). Vroom-Psycho is spartan and skeletal, but with a limited palate Hammer of Hathor create something that is hypnotically minimal and physically intimidating, and altogether insanely great.
If Vroom-Psycho only consisted of opener "Mt. Tabor" and the equally stunning "Invincible Armour" it would still stand as one of the best recordings of 2010. "Mount Tabor" features a repetitive (almost static) single note guitar lines with a gradual tempo shift that nearly explodes by the end of the track. "Invincible Armour" is a swampy, dirty strut through deconstructed blues/doom three-chord mashing and art-squallor noise freakouts. Neu!'s '72 debut and 75's latter-half are good jumping off points in terms of composition, but the lo-fi grittiness and overall existential dread that recall the dirge-heavy tracks on Black Angels' Passover debut are perhaps more apt. Both provide great reference points for the overtly classic/kraut inspired tracks, but "Alice & John" is the equivalent of musical argument between the experimental tendencies of Alice Coltrane and the classical and improvisational mastery of her husband John. That is, if John and Alice were on a dangerous level of loratab and spoke only using the Charlie Brown trombone-squawk. "Air Pain" is another delightful diversion full of clanking, clattering, crashing prepared string instruments stumbling around the studio like a drunken John Cage.
The tape machine itself rounds out Hammer of Hathor to a comfortable trio. Feedback and distortion are played like any other instrument on the album. Spindly, cold fingers loop and distort guitar feeds back on "For Guylene" to create pulsing, tired, North Star-shifting bursts of sound that eventually wind themselves down to a slow death.
Members of Hammer of Hathor have been kicking around the Portland experimental scene for a few years now playing with and in AU, Thee Oregon Artificial Limb Co., and FlyFlyFlyFlyFly. Previous releases have been released via gorgeous limited run cassettes through Stunned and Portland Bad Date Line. Vroom-Psycho is released digitally and physically through cassette via Field Hymns. With that said the most appropriate and pay-off rich medium to hear this album is by purchasing the tape itself. The artwork is stunning, the physical medium forces non-casual listening, but more than anything what Hammer of Hathor do with the tape itself is astounding.
Ryan H.

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