Wednesday, June 18, 2008

New Batch of Sacred Bones

Sacred Bones Records' newest batch of releases has raised the bar for high-quality, affordable, and most importantly, available music. After three releases that quietly trickled out more than a year ago (including the buzzed-about Blank Dogs 12-inch, Diana (The Herald), the label took an extended hiatus to work on a quartet of dark, mystifying discs.

The label model is admirable: take an under-the-radar artist, declare needed format—usually vinyl-only singles or full-lengths—and create limited-edition versions along with standard editions that are to be repressed upon demand. Both the limited and standard editions are handmade and carefully silkscreened, with a common design theme throughout every release. The limited versions all have unique embellishments to them, like wax seals, stamped sleeves, cardboard bands and colored vinyl. Each release—limited or not—is an item to behold.

But we wouldn't be talking about any of this if the music wasn't so great, and the new Factums LP, The Sistrum, is the best place to start. Fans of their synapse-frying debut on Siltbreeze last year will not be disappointed with this doozy. But don't expect to be handed all the barbed hooks they passed out last time. The Sistrum has more of a cohesive feel, as many of the songs are allowed room to breath, venturing into the four- and five-minute range. Opener "Mushrooms" is the Peter Gunn theme played in a German bunker, while "Origami" pounds out sub-motorik pulses beneath layers of guitar feedback and tuneless organ. The second half cools down into a series of sinister grooves, a few of which you could even dance to. The midget from Twin Peaks would approve.

Sacred Bones' second full-length offering does not disappoint either. After a single compilation appearance (on The World's Lousy With Ideas, Vol. 2), the Pink Noise dole out their highly anticipated debut album, Dream Code. While the Canadian duo plays by the same rules as other synth-guitar-pop weirdos like Blank Dogs (and dozens of other Myspace mysteries), their sound is the most naked of all. Live drum loops (or live-sounding drum machine), succinct synth lines, guitar and vocals are all they use to get these bits of shrapnel stuck in you. Check "Dead Glitter Sun" for some heavy Suicide worship; other parts remind me of '80s West Coast synth-god Minimal Man. Individual tracks tend to sound a bit throwaway, but as a whole Dream Code gets by on its raw sound and simplistic mission.

No less essential are the singles from Nice Face and Dead Luke. Nice Face brings a little deep bass to the equation, pushing both tunes into the party zone. These two are the most purely enjoyable songs of the whole batch, a fun time for all. Wisconsin native Dead Luke steps up to the plate with, of all things, a Troggs cover ("I Want You"), here re-imagined as a pent-up love letter to all dead machines. Ballsy for your vinyl debut, yes, but he takes the task seriously and nails it. Not so successful is his original on the flip, but who wants to outshine the Troggs?

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