Recordings

Merzbow
Hole
(Heel Stone)

The next time you curse that horrible racket your roommate considers music, thank your lucky stars you don't have the bedroom next to mine. One night I "inadvertently" roused a slumbering flatmate with the sound of Merzbow at wall-rattling volume; the next day he told me that what scared him most about awakening to the sonic snowstorm was an utter conviction that it came via an earthquake or some other apocalyptic catastrophe. A pretty fair assessment of Merzbow, I'd say.

Essentially the ongoing project of Tokyo denizen Masami Akita, Merzbow takes its name and inspiration from "Merzbau," German dadaist Kurt Schwitters' term for his collage constructions. With occasional assistance by other noisicians, Masami uses metal junk, consumer-culture detritus, tape, mixers, feedback, and a myriad of effects (he shuns synths and samplers) to assemble dense, multilayered mosaics of pure scuzz. Having churned out a steady stream of uncompromising audio barrages since 1981 -- often packaged in startling montage imagery -- Masami is widely considered a leading progenitor of Japan's noise scene. He's certainly one of the most prolific artists, with releases by Merzbow and Masami's many side projects and collaborations literally numbering in the hundreds.

Which brings us to Hole, a German import and something like the fifth 1995 Merzbow release, counting singles and such. With the liner notes printed on four card-stock derrire portraits, the disc's three tracks -- "Noisematrix," "Krafft-Ebing Dick," and "Krautrock #1" (recorded live in Deutschland) -- pig-pile into one near-relentless hour of squalling sheets of static. If you're not in the mood, you'll hear it at its most basic: as brutally harsh noise. But there's an impressive amount of dynamics lurking here, with a broad range of incessantly mutating squeaks, shrieks, rumbles, and roars.

Though a terrifying monster in its own right, I swear there are moments of pure audio bliss buried in this Hole. Funny thing is, I just tried to play the disc again, and my CD player refused. Great, now even my appliances hate my music.

Merzbow plays Thurs, Sept. 14, at the Bottom of the Hill in S.F., call 621-4455; also, Fri, Sept. 15, at the Stork Club in Oakland, call (510) 444-6174.

-- Mike Rowell

G. Love & Special Sauce
Coast to Coast Motel
(OKeh/Epic)

Last year, G. Love & Special Sauce's never-ending tour in support of its self-titled debut brought the band to the Great American Music Hall no less than three times in roughly twice as many months. It seems Bay Area hipsters couldn't get enough of the trio's ultracool hip hop/blues hybrid that doesn't quite conform to either genre. The ladies come to be swooned by G.'s inimitable charm (girlfriends clued me in: It's the way he blows that harmonica and poutily slurs his lyrics); the guys dig G.'s tasty chops on the six-string, the tightly syncopated loose grooves, and, of course, all the women in the audience.

With his incongruous '50s-cum-'70s get-up -- slick DA and sideburns, pressed and pleated dime-store duds, shiny patent leathers -- G. Love recalls a modern Buddy Holly: kinda geeky, but sensitive and sexy at the same time. (Believe it or not, Holly was reputedly a stud pup, too.)

Coast to Coast Motel, the group's second effort, doesn't match the overt catchiness of songs like "Cold Beverages" or "Baby's Got Sauce" from the freshman release, but it's steeped in the feel-good blues vibe of the G. Love live experience. On this obvious road record, G.'s either moanin' about "Leavin' the City" or promisin' to be "Comin' Home" real soon. But it's always "Tomorrow Nite" that he's making his return. And the tomorrows seem to stretch on forever. Throughout the disc, he reassures his "you're so sweet/ you make me weak" true love "Nancy" not to worry 'cause he'll be home (sometime). "Bye Bye Baby" is perhaps the ultimate road-trip farewell. You know the line. The plaintive intro of the lonesome guitar and voice rolls into a Dixieland romp, complete with the tuba, trombone, and alto sax, sounding uncannily like the Heat Miser/Cold Miser tune from the old TV holiday special The Year Without a Santa Claus. Yeah, it's a strange choice of groove for a blues adieu, but then, that's what makes G. Love such a special sauce.

-- Sam Prestianni

Mercury Rev
See You on the Other Side
(Work/Sony)

Four years ago, a circle of studio experimentalists calling themselves Mercury Rev released the wiggy debut album Yerself Is Steam, on which songs that kids might make up in the bathtub collided with the short-circuitry of electrical appliances tossed in the water. Critics took note of the group's heady manipulation of flutes and fuzz boxes; one New York Times contributor dubbed the group trailblazers of a new genre -- "slacker rock."

Unfortunately, the group's label, Rough Trade, collapsed, and the LP was suddenly impossible to find. Industry monolith Sony hurried to the rescue, rereleasing Steam, but the band's window of opportunity was already slamming shut. Mercury Rev's forgotten sophomore release (1993's Boces) is now as easy to come by in used-record bins as hubcaps at a junkyard. The outfit's latest may be destined for a similar fate. See You on the Other Side is mostly a muddle, characterized primarily by the absence of vocalist David Baker and the presence of a drippy newfound contentment ("Sudden Ray of Hope," "Peaceful Night") that undermines a once-spooky appeal.

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