Thursday, October 04, 2007

Violent Squid: Two Albums

Violent Squid have made this the most taxing review I have ever attempted by far, and I've spent the entire Summer season (maybe even the end of Spring) torturing myself over finishing it. It seemed like a simple enough task at the outset, but the fact that they've released four albums since I started this review created a challenge that I just wasn't used to. If a band releases five cd's in about four months, which one do you review? By the time the third or fourth is out, does the first one become stale? The fact that Violent Squid is almost more of a loose collective (lead by Ty Stamp) than a band contributes to its ability to maximize output, but it also creates a certain amount of confusion in the scrawled artwork and credits for anyone attempting to decipher who has done what on each record. To make this easier on everyone, I chose a couple of my favorites to review (although I basically liked them all). Let's start off chronologically with their eponymous album:

Part I

Violent Squid (Self Titled): 3 1/2 Stars

For all I've been told about the VS project including just about every Denton resident on its roster at one time or another, for the most part the group's self titled CD is a surprisingly cohesive statement. This is due in part to the fact that at least four musicians make multiple appearances (on both discs), including Oswaldo Sinevil, David Young, Mike Forbes and of course, Ty Stamp (in addition to other collaborators both named and unnamed). When compared to a Violent Squid performance, which I've witnessed turn into a "fourth wall" demolition where the whole room seems to be crawling over one another out of time to the band, Violent Squid is a fairly calm and melodic collection of music.

The album begins with one of its strongest tracks, "Santa Claus, The Man On The Moon, Kraft Cheese, and Jesus." The track blends violin, viola, guitars and other instruments with an added layer of foggy fidelity that creates an unexpected depth to the music that can be found throughout the album. The electronic sounds and beats that fade in and out of the recording are expertly blended without disrupting the subdued mood set by the stringed instruments, and are followed by a handful of textured and hazy instrumentals that rely on layered overdub recording techniques and the sonic pushing and pulling of the mixing process. "Filtering the Night" is a track that is mostly Sinevil stabbing in staccato at a piano soundboard, accompanied by Ty on an unnamed instrument, and Forbes on sax.

Around the halfway mark there is a noticeable dip, with some dangerously jam band bass tones and drum beats followed by a tacked on rap track by a rapper named Montana, which actually isn't that bad. Wet with reverb on the vocals and live drums, the approach reminded me of Bill Lasswell prodigy and experimental rapper Sensational, a guy who gained notoriety for flowing to Stockhausen. I also mention Laswell since these back-to-back tracks are the only time the album seems to void its own charm and patchwork methodology by veering and stretching a little too hard for the eclecticism, which is something Laswell's been guilty of for decades. Of course this is more than made up for by the album's wonderfully catchy anomaly "Sassy Mink", an irresistible piece of psyche pop with an equally irresistible video to match. The track is pretty much all Ty on a computer program with added bass and guitar accompaniment, and the "Robots in the summertime" refrain is impossible to forget.

From there the album returns to its droning and melodic instrumental beginnings (with one track even breaking the eleven minute mark), and eventually disperses into snippets of throat clearing, single string plucks, sound effects and a fractured conversation featuring Sinevil responding to a friend's claim of being a writer with the proclamation, "There aren't any professionals, man." Whether it's true or not, there is something vaguely comforting in that statement, just as in Violent Squid's self titled album.


Violent Squid and Mike Forbes/Andrew Young/Stefan Gonzalez Trio Split LP: 5 Stars

This split ep features the work of at least six musicians, and though they all make excellent contributions, Mike Forbes tends to really dominate the cd. And this is a good thing. Even though he is obviously a great listener, and therefore a great player, he could easily overpower most acts he has ever collaborated with, lead, or sat in on, and his true talent ultimately might be that he chooses to be mericful.

The buildup on this cd is great and you could imagine how impressive this would be on vinyl with the shorter Violent Squid tracks on one side and the one long Forbes/Young/Gonzalez piece on side two, an arrangement similar to so many classic records. The playing on this album will make you long for an 180 gram version on Impulse or ESP to be sure, but the two dollar CDR is an improbable bargain (word around town is that Ed Priesner of The Fra House is working on a cassette only release of the trio's music). The first few tracks feature Forbes accompanied by prepared guitar, "singing bowl", upright bass, and even a washing machine. That should go over well with people who refer to experimental music as "toaster banging music," and unfortunately for said critics, this man playing his saxophone into a washing machine is better than most of the unsolicited MP3's collecting digital dust in the We Shot JR inbox after a generous attempted listen. Anyway, the rest of the VS portion consists of improvised instrumentals that lack the structure and melody found on the self-titled release but are full of equally enjoyable sounds and ideas just the same.

The Forbes/Young/Gonzalez piece "Event I" is everything I hoped for when I first heard that these three were starting as a trio, as I am a fan of their separate endeavors-- Young as a founder of 715 Panhandle's foray into Denton DIY as well as a participant in some impressive online recordings, Forbes as a collaborator with seemingly everybody, and Stefan Gonzalez, experimental prog rock (Unconscious Collective), brutal grindcore/ thrash (Akkolyte, Rat Salad) and jazz (Yells At Eels) drummer.

Since the recording is a snapshot of three musicians feeling out each other's technique and ability, the track starts off as a fairly calm affair, and the playing gives the impression of three cobras cautiously circling each other before deciding when to strike. At exactly the 7:22 mark, Mike Forbes charges in with notes so white hot and nuclear blast powerful that they practically blot out most other highlights in an entire year of DFW music. They are so fucking enraged and chaotic that they simply dwarf any kind of guitar noise from a pillar of amplifiers and all of the expensive distortion effects money can buy. I found it hard to believe this music was coming off a CDR. The following seconds in which the trio sort of just plinks, plunks, and taps together in an improvised meltdown is the work of three silent giants of local music. Why the fuck isn't this trio on the cover of Texas Monthly? Oh, well.

The Stefan Gonzalez solo where Forbes respectfully takes a step back before stuttering little shrieks off of the ends of every other roll is the kind of playing that makes you uncomfortable. The tension almost chokes the listener, and speaking of a different kind of choking, I actually almost welled up and lost a tear when I saw Forbes and Young play in the fucking basement of J & J's. Not exactly a place I expect to hear playing so beautiful that it's an almost emotional experience. Young's playing is not to be overlooked either-- he is as uniquely experimental as he is classically talented, and the ease with which he switches from bow to fingers is completely fluid and effortless.

It is a shame and a great loss to local music that Forbes and Young have since moved to Chicago in the time between the recording and this review. Chicago has a historically sympathetic music scene to Free Jazz players of this sort, and the one advantage of Forbes and Young's departure is saved for the musicians (rock and jazz alike) that are spared the chore of having to follow them.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

you should get do make say think to play there!

1:27 PM  
Blogger cliffnotes said...

cliff notes?

4:35 PM  
Anonymous ed said...

I adore Mike Forbes.

5:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cheers to Violent's about time Ty Stamp received some recognition for his meticulous production experiments. (addendum: actually David Young moved to Alaska, not Chicago).

6:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

that's Andrew Young that went to Chicago and David Young that went to Alaska

6:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

beautiful. I hear Ty's putting out four more albums by the end of the year. Can anyone say "prolific?"

6:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

fuck yeah...why isn't wikipedia talking about this! Ty is a bad ass hippie fucker.

Good review....

6:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's awesome cover art on the first album. Kinda evil and organic looking.

6:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sweet! Ty is my monkey man.

6:27 PM  
Anonymous tystamp said...

two people not mentioned that contribute a lot too Violent Squid are Mike West and Dave Anderson.
Thanks for the nice review!


6:59 PM  
Anonymous mc said...

awsssum work.

Props to Ty!

Mike Forbes belongs in the Denton hall of fame. I hope he & Andrew take over the world. I agree about the J&J's show and feel that way about a few other shows as well. There are some mind-bending Forbes moments in the Zanzibar archive that should see the light of day soon.

He's pretty prominent on the new Zanzibar Snails 3-inch too, fyizzzzzz ... if you like your sax inside a washing machine that is actually exploding, that is. Monkeys banging on pots too.

7:29 PM  
Anonymous M-. said...

Both playing and hanging out with Mike Forbes will always be a high point for Jen and I. We miss him a bunch.

7:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you guys never link :

1:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the irony is, defensive put in like a year on this review as he said, and no one's seen it. Smothered by the SHQ post. Just as well. Secret Squid.

6:39 AM  
Anonymous kirkpatrick said...

I like these albums. Good stuff.

8:20 AM  
Anonymous ed said...

And yes- we're preparing a cassette only release of the Forbes, Young, Gonzalez trio. A December '06 session Recorded by Dennis Gonzalez. We'll be selling them for $2.

Email me at if you're interested in getting a copy when they're ready (dubbing these bitches one at a time in my bedroom- takes a little while).

12:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David Young almost broke my arm once.

2:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

new all time low for this blog

1. Andrew young did jack shit for 715 panhandle and denton diy, except try to get every girl that stepped foot in that house drunk (and fuck them). Dude dropped out of school for music and has done less for music than anybody I know. He is a talented musician granted, but has done nothing for Denton DIY.
2. "impressive online recordings" you gotta be fucking kidding me DL. Are we listening to the same shit? I know you might have a boner for "avant-garde" music, but cant you tell when people are just faking it? Jokes on you if not.
3. Stop sucking Akkolytes dick. Yes they rule, but there is a plethora of great grind/crust bands that are praise worthy. See Resigned to Fate.

1:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

these albums are available for free




11:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Music critics who bash all genres of music, except for the ones that THEY like = failed artists/musicians/humans who pretend (and oh SO desire!) to be a somebody in the music scene.
You blog all over yourselves because you think you're something. You may sway the opinion of a few in this area, but in the grand scheme of things, you're words mean nothing, and that's the way it will always be.
Further, if you really enjoyed music so much, you'd allude to the shortcomings of certain bands or musicians instead of simply saying they suck. Oh, but that would take intelligence or creativity.

1:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


10:52 AM  

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