This is the Unit Circle Debut from Atlanta-based Pineal Ventana. It was released in April of 1999. We’d been talking with Mitch and Clara for years. It took a while to figure out how we wanted to work together, but this is the fruit of that effort: a super kick-ass record. This album was recorded by Martin Bisi whose production and engineering credits include Sonic Youth, Material, and Michael Gira. Martin Bisi also produced their next album "Axes to Ice" which ended up being their final recording.
I had to look again and again at the CD cover and then visit the web site to verify that this is indeed a new release by a current band. I was thrown off by the sound of it, the look of it, the types of reverd, the type of playing. I thought I was listening to something from 1987.
Picture the era that included these bands (and their peers, who I can't remeber right now) at their most audacious: Mudwimmin, Tragic Mulatto, Hellcows, Butthole Surfers. The time when post-punk rock went tribal. (Or maybe the second time that happened.) Occasionally atonal, emotion-laden, super-intense female vocals, "scary," churning, searing guitar; a saxophone; keyboards; pounding drums. I had no idea there were any bands today making this type of music. Maybe it's an Atlanta thing. Confused sexual aggro angst. Centurions in bloody body paint marching across the empty lot that's full of broken televisions and dirty needles. Medievil medical dictionary illustrations come to life. I'm not saying I'm in love with this sound; I'm just trying to describe it. Need catharsis? Try this.- Anne Eickelberg
This is definitely a step up in every direction for Atlanta's weirdest band -- in terms of artwork, production, cohesiveness, everything. This is the first album on which the glandular ones actually sound like a band instead of a shrapnel-infested cyclone in progress. Not that there was anything wrong with that -- their sonic fury has always been most pleasing -- but it's nice for once to hear their ominious dirges o' doom articulated with a bit more precision and clarity. Some of the credit for the sudden step up in production values undoubtedly goes to Martin Bisi -- given his inolvement, i don't think the Swans-like feel of the drums on tracks like "The Hooded Mirror" are any accident -- but i suspect a lot of it is just simply due to the band finally having the chance to work in a proper studio after eons of fire-breathing live shows.
The album opens with "Hollow," a creepy dirge of bowed electric guitar squeals and moody stuff (more guitar drones? keyboards? who the hell knows?) lapping like the ocean in the background as Clara Clamp goes on about being washed away by the sea... which, from a sonic perspective, is a perfect intro to "The Hooded Mirror," basically a Swans-like snare beat repeated endlessly with psychotic intensity as the rest of the band builds on top of it. By the time the keyboards come in and Clara decides to weigh in with her quavering harpy vox, she sounds like the angel of death flying over a city collapsing block by block. "Crack in the Light (Crack in His Eye" fades in with their specialty -- loping tribal drums and Clara (heavily reverbed here) carrying on like a woman deep in the throes of psychosis or possession, followed by twisting reels of guitar distortion and at last thick waves of sound; "Taenia Solium" follows in a similar but even less restrained fashion, harking back to their earlier hurricane-delirium style.
But then comes the surprise -- the slow, brooding pulse of "Dora's Deliverance," like the blues gone tribal. Clara starts out in talk-talk mode, carrying on a conversation that's almost impossible to discern since she's mixed down below the music, but as it increases in intensity before drawing back like a snake and suddenly revving up to cyclone speed, she goes into full-tilt shriek mode, sounding most scary and flat-out demented. Oooo, the headless sno-cone girl approves! "Rats for Belmer" introduces weird found sounds into the atmosphere (along with another heavily repetitive beat) and mainly gets bonus points for the title, but "Flesh That Moves" is a most swell exercise in atmosphere that blends an obscure sample (i think) and washes of sound into a thick soup that gradually coalesces into an actual song of no small fury and impact. "They Hide Life" is mainly an exercise in scary drones (more of that bowed guitar at work) that leads into "Ruin," apparently the Pineal answer to goth, one that works much better than you'd expect for a band weaned on the runaway -train-on-fire aesthetic.The final track, "Practice," clearly demonstrates their newfound confidence in mixing the quiet and subtle with the loud and scary -- a twinkly keyboard motif is gradually joined by oscillator tones, squeaks and squawks, and other ominous noise, all serving as backing for a sample of a medical professional pontificating on the subject of medicine... but instead of going out in blinding waves of sonic terrorism, they allow it to fade back down and out. A suave move.
Needless to say, this comes highly recommended, particularly as an introduction to the band. Special mention should also be made of the power-packed graphics -- Unit Circle has a reputation for turning out nice-looking CD packages, but this is something else. Never ones to shy away from the concept of presenting the beauty in ugliness, the front of this CD must be seen to be believed....
Atlanta's Pineal Ventana have always transcended categorization. Their sound amalgamates punk, improvisation, tribal rhythms and noise rock. But past releases, such as '97's Breath as You Might, had an experimental feel that few listeners could easily consume. There seemed to be six musicians performing individually, and not as a group. So, rehearsal and maturation have played an integral role in Pineal Ventana's blistering new release, Malpractice.
The industrial/noise outfit's sound has jelled with the help of NYC producer Martin Bisi. Bisi's impressive resume includes shared production work on recordings by Sonic Youth, John Zorn and Bill Laswell. What's laudable here is Bisi's ability to capture PV's caustic energy, and to create a corporeal representation of the group's powerful live dynamic.
Malpractice also unveils the evolving musicianship of percussionist Mitch Foy (ex-King Kill/ 33), vocalist Clara Clamp and bassist John Whitaker (ex-Damage Report). Foy brings the big industrial rhythms -- care of percussive instruments that include an eclectic array of car parts, even a gas tank -- which serve as backbone for most of Malpractice's songs. Clamp's versatile vocals range from haunting spoken word to ephemeral shrieks, while Whitaker holds the group together with his thick, reverb bass lines, perfectly syncopating along to the tribal rhythms. This triumvirate, along with Jason LaFarge (violin/guitar), Shane Pringle (sax) and Kim Chee (guitar/percussion), forms PV's first steady line-up since its beginnings in '93.
Malpractice is a rich, phantasmagoric album, which proves to be more and more cathartic upon each listen. As enigmatic as they may be, Pineal Ventana seem to improve with each new project.- Jeremy Arieh