Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Morgan Rankin: Blondz In Heat, Gnarly Sheen, Swamp Horse

GNARLY SHEEN (Factotum Tapes, Fact019) Danger Dancers (2010) Cassette

Gnarly Sheen, is one of Morgan Rankin's many sound projects. He is the co-founder of Husk Records, an original member of Cadaver In Drag and has been very busy working with fellow Kentuckian and label-mate, Josh Lay, in a variety of groups and contexts. Gnarly Sheen, in consideration of it's rhymed namesake and his recent media exploits, invites absurdist comparisons. But, one listen and it's easy to see that Rankin is pursuing a specific type of sound that's not as absurd as the name may seem.

Case in point: "Danger Dancers", a limited edition release on the Factotum Tapes label. This is an interesting oddity, a real lo-fi bedroom style recording here, starts off with guitar and bass, then a synthy keyboard starts to creep in. Very interesting the way this is eq'ed, the treble end of the spectrum is reduced and the bass elements are boosted, so the audible high end is buried low in the mix. Best listened to in headphones, the sounds don't turn to mud, but they do change in color and sometimes overload the capacity of the tape as well. Whether it was recorded digitally or on an old school multi-track tape recorder, Rankin certainly makes this sound analog.

First and foremost, the album is an assemblage of moods and, as the B side reveals, it is horror film soundtrack music too. Created using a more or less conventional rock instrumentation, but without drum rhythms, these compositions sort of slither along at their own pulsing pace. The collaging is done very cleverly, small sounds creep in around the edges, voices, snippets, film clips, it's hard to tell the origin of all these, but they possess a subliminal impact that's hard to resist. Like being drawn into a carnival world where none of the rides work properly, they either go too slow or suddenly lunge into super speed, at any point making no sense, then suddenly making perfect sense!

Morgan Rankin, under the guise of Gnarly Sheen, is paring away at the inherited conventions of rock music structure and the results sound like "outsider art" of the best sort. Quirky, yet compelling... and so good!

BLONDZ IN HEAT (Husk Records, Husk#82) Here For Beer (2010) Cassette

Kentucky is, indeed, home to some creative weirdos, not the least of which are Josh Lay and Morgan Rankin, the perpetrators behind Blondz In Heat, a bizarre combination of garage, metal and thrash punk. Apparently the band, originally a trio, was formed in 2001 and before being disbanded two years later, recorded some demos and cassettes. Now resurrected as a duo with Rankin on guitar/vocals and Lay on drums/vocals, "Here For Beer" finds them roaring out of the gate like a gang of drunk, methed-out bikers. Blondz In Heat's only mission is to find something, anything that will offend you... and for those not offended, raise your fists! With lyrics like: "I want blood on my dick, I don't care if you think I'm sick" or "I've been watching you from across the room and I've got nothing else to do, so let's get drunk and fuck" this band won't be very endearing to your parents, or your wife, but that's precisely the point. Juvenile as it may seem, sometimes in a moment of drunken angst all kinds of lunacy might emerge from a person's mouth. There's a lot of angst in this world... and a lot of beer too and Blondz In Heat provides a seemingly accurate manifestation of the Gummo generation's punk rock.

SWAMP HORSE (Dumpsterscore Home Recordings, DSC#079) Oracle (2010) 3" cdr

Here's another duo project by Josh Lay and Morgan Rankin, and I was already familiar with them, since I had named Swamp Horse's "Perpetual Drip" on my top ten list from 2010. Most fortunate for me, "Oracle" turns out to be even better than that and solid proof that this duo can create wondrous worlds of sound! This mini cdr consists of a single track over 15 minutes long. This is noise/drone of the best kind, where no single instrument is recognizable, just approximations of sounds from your dreams, or nightmares. Mountain horns, cave voices, bat hordes swooping, sung incantations, water rushing and building around your ears, this is psychedelic, spacey and remarkable. Near the end rushing noises swallow up satanic choirs leaving a charred landscape that whirrs on into nothingness. As I have said elsewhere, Swamp Horse's music is brilliant and profound.

GNARLY SHEEN/ALIEN SOUNDTRACKS (Husk Records, Husk#68) Split (2009) Cassette

Morgan Rankin seems like he's taking an outsider approach with his Gnarly Sheen project and that's even more evident on these guitar based tracks on side one of this tape. This work is intimate, unique, very bedroom-ish in recording quality, with an aching, melancholy expressed through guitar ramblings and (barely) repeated themes . All coming through over a strange backdrop of what sounds like alien shortwave radio broadcasts! Despite the fact that some of the compositions wander about and sound unfinished, this set of primitivist minimalism still wrings with emotion and I really like it.

Alien Soundtracks' (named after an album by Chrome) music is quite a bit brighter in it's dynamic range. Very spacey electronic stuff with strange rhythms and washes of synthesizer sounds. A superb collage of different effects on display here, all making for a very satisfying listen. Also, despite the somewhat random pairing with the dark forecast of Gnarly Sheen on side one, this actually makes a good counterpart in terms of listening.

SWAMP HORSE (Factotum Tapes, Fact011) Obsidian (2010) C22

On "Obsidian", Swamp Horse creates a dramatic, minimalist soundscape that contains sharp edges and it's simply one of the best things I've heard by them. Throbbing carpets of bass drone on against sustained organ chords, subtle tonal shifts emerging through dark swaths of sound. The creators behind this beautiful tape, Josh Lay and Morgan Rankin, have succeeded in tempering their collaborative approach into one seamless whole. No egos exist here. Obsidian, a type of volcanic glass, is not created during the volcanic upheaval but, afterwards, during a short and calm cooling off process, it's beautiful black surface can be streaked with rainbow colors caused by molten gas bubbles. The sounds on this tape are metaphorically perfect as a representation of this and, as an example of ambient drone music, this is outstanding. Highly recommended!

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