Friday, April 15, 2005


Lee Miller, the band, not the photographer.

I posted a song by the Finnish group Circle on Monday this week. In case you didn't download it, they've done a fantastic job of dragging a Krautrock/Space Rock template into the present, without sounding like revivalists. You can find reviews of a ton of their (often out of print) albums over at Aquarius Records.

Lee Miller (the band) is made up of two guys who played in Circle (Jyrki Laiho and Janne Peltomaki) and one person who may be familiar to fans of the NY noise scene. Jordan Mamone has been keeping the flame of early Swans etc. alive with his band Alger Hiss, still theoretically together though there haven't been many external signs of this lately. Jordan Mamone also has a special place reserved for him in heaven for being the first person to write a decent overview of my favorite band The Dustdevils, said review initially appearing in Badaboom Gramophone before being adopted by Trouser Press.

Lee Miller results from a trip that Jordan took to Finland in 2004, and it's an album that you'd probably learn about in Post-No Wave History 101 if it had come out twenty years ago. Since it's not yet released, I'll have to settle for calling The Futility of Language one of the best CDs of 2005 that you can't buy.

Why this sound hasn't been done more often, I have no idea. Rock solid drums make for a perfect framework for Mamone's noise guitar, informed by Swans, The Dustdevils, and any number of bands that I've probably never heard of, and spruced up with the occasional spiraling lead by Laiho. The effect is unlike, and I'd venture to say superior to anything I've heard by either of the component bands. Lee Miller has more bite than Circle, but more momentum than Alger Hiss. The songs often move along like 18th Dye (i.e. very German sounding drums) if that group had been less about minimalism on the guitar side of things. A more powerful Sonic Youth EP (the out of print debut, which I probably listen to more these days than anything else they've done) also springs to mind.

At this point my favorite track is Tarn, which I'd easily nominate for a spot in the hall of guitar-noise classics. It kicks off with a guitar playing relaxed circles around a steady drum kit in subtle 5/4 time. After being joined by bass, the group plays through permutations for a few minutes, a chugging rhythm guitar propelling things forward, before wind-chime guitar and a switch to 4/4 kick off a steady increase in the noise quotient, soon anchored by a two-note bass riff. The vocals come almost as an afterthought, very Dustdevils-like and also appropriate given that the subject matter is "the futility of language", and the song ends with a perfect series of atonal chords ringing out. I've been playing this over and over and over, and it strikes me as the sort of thing Branca might have come up with had he merged The Static with his more formal work. It sounds more composed than most improv noise, while retaining enough swing to avoid the kind of stiffness that hampers early-early Sonic Youth.

Second fave track is the album ender Unwelcome Words, which takes a Flipper-esque, beat-it-into-the-ground, guitar riff and tacks on noise like Flipper never imagined, with great shouted vocals alternating with a spoken bit...the most audible line being "scar on her face" which seems about right for a song that's about a vaguely unsettling drink shared among three strangers in a cold bar in the middle of nowhere.

One great track from the album is due to appear on a forthcoming book/CDR tribute to Bruce Witsiepe (from early no-wave group Circle X) called Anti-Utopia: The Swan. I'll post details on how to order that when I get them. Hopefully the Lee Miller album will be out sometime this year.

Otherwise, Jyrki Laiho is in a group called Hotguitars, and Jyrki and Janne play together in a group called Stalwart. And you can actually buy those bands' CDs!

Tarn by Lee Miller
Unwelcome Words by Lee Miller

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