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Mist of Flying Elbow — Substitute Songs of Heights, Vol. II
(Super-Invisible SIR-4420, 2018, CD)

by Henry Schneider, 2018-04-01:

Substitute Songs of Heights, Vol. II Cover art

This has got to be one of the saddest and most outré releases since cavemen made music by banging two rocks together. How many of you enjoy listening to the Singing Dogs’ cover of “Jingle Bells?” If you do, then you will have some vague idea of the MIst of Flying Elbow's bizarre cover of Yes’ “Long Distance Runaround” by only the uncredited Curly’s meowing and purring, accompanied by the understated Kawasaki-san modulating it with noise and feedback. I make it a point of ignoring the press kit and hype before listening to a new release, and that was exactly the right thing to do with Substitute Songs of Heights, Vol. II. Though the album title is right on the money for what you do hear on this disc. Subsitute songs indeed! Who in their right mind would run the signal from a Mellotron through a didgeridoo? It is not even pleasant to contemplate, let alone hear. And then you have Ma Yilin playing a dishwasher of all things! I guess they fancy themselves as an alternative Faust. Oops, I should have read the credits a bit closer, Ma plays a wandisha, whatever that is. If you read the track titles and peruse the variety of instruments you would expect something entirely different from what you get. With the exception of “Long Distance Runaround” and the closing track “Slipt,” which must have been recorded before any of the other tracks since it features Mellotron, didgeridoo, and the dishwasher aka wandisha, the rest of the album sounds like the entire band gathered at the top of a building and threw all of their instruments, flowers, synths, animals, and one or two careless people over the top to crash on the parking lot below. The credits state that this innovative album was recorded at various locations around the world, but what it sounds like they did was take the recordings of this cacophonous sonic mess and send through different EFX in a variety of ambient spaces around the world: under the Santa Monica Pier, in the sewers of London, on top of Old Smokey, and at the end of the runway on St. Maarten. The tapes were sped up, slowed down, reversed, echoed, etc. to compose these Substitute Songs of Heights. What I found extremely disconcerting is the number of songs that contain the sounds of that poor poodle howling underneath the weight of the Mellotron and finally being put out of its misery by the crashing harpsichord. And if I am not mistaken, the impetus for this “music,” and I use the term loosely — sound events in time and space — is when the band gathered at the top of the building while trying to balance all of this stuff, someone’s flying elbow jabbed another’s crotch thereby triggering this sonic tragedy. So, if you are at all intrigued by extreme avant-garde experimentation bordering on the unlistenable that masquerades itself as 60s hippy trippy psych music, you might find this latest Mist of Flying Elbow album of interest. Otherwise run as fast as you can in the opposite direction! They make Nurse with Wound sound melodic!!!


by Peter Thelen, 2018-04-01:

There is nothing wrong with your CD player. I hadn't heard of this band in a long while, it seems that on Substitute Songs of Heights, Vol. II they are as over-the-top eclectic as the reputation that precedes them. This is strangely assembled avant-garde music at its best (or worst, depending on the listener's perspective) with some relationship to rock and classical, but mostly just plain weirdness from any angle you look at it, or "difficult listening." One might suppose that they are attempting to top the strangeness of all their previous efforts, accessibility be damned, and that does seem to be the point of it. While the instrumentation played by the six members is mostly conventional, it certainly isn't played in conventional ways, and sometimes it's difficult to know exactly how sounds are being produced. There's also a lot of sampling of found sounds going on (for example the cut-up samples of cat meowing and purring on the bizarre cover of Charles Ives' "Nocturne for Hidden Mountain" will bewilder the listener with puzzlement) and some other tribal recordings that are sliced, chopped, diced, and reassembled in parts of the the sidelong noise epic "Kenbikyō no uta," which after a handful of listens has lured me into its never-ending propensity to generate interest, each play seeming like a different journey through the same terrain. A cover of Yes' "Long Distance Runaround" is, well, don't get too comfortable with that thought until you actually hear it, it may surprise beyond recognition. If you have often wondered what sitar, banjo, kalimba, and bagpipes would sound like together, it does happen in some sections of the other sidelong cut "The Emoji That Became a God." There are some glorious near-floating-ambient passages on "Schnell" although they are disrupted by the double tracked drumming (seemingly asynchronous) that slowly grows from the background, along with kalimba and some jarring metallic sound, like someone bowing the bell of a trombone or saxophone. It's really hard to compare this to anything, although some of the 80s French experimentation, Merzbow, early Biota, and groups like Monotract occasionally come to mind, but they disappear almost as quickly. This curiosity is probably something you will want to hear, but far from everyday listening.


by Jon Davis, 2018-04-01:

This is one that arrived out of the blue. I’d never heard of Mist of Flying Elbow before this CD came in the mail, and even after listening a dozen times or so to these eight tracks, I’m not sure what I know. Like the Residents before them, these musicians shroud themselves in obscurity, and it’s virtually impossible to learn much about them online. So on to the music. Most of the time, it’s difficult to tell what instruments are making the sounds, and if the credits are to be believed, a wide range of unusual instruments were used; there is a lot of processing involved as well. Considering that six band members are joined by about six guest performers (one of whom is apparently a cat), the music is generally sparse and almost minimalistic. One of the album’s two long tracks, “The Emoji That Became a God,” has a long section in the middle consisting almost entirely of kalimba and recordings of owls, but then transitions into a heavy riff on Mellotron, trombone, and baritone guitar (the only appearance of guitar on the entire album as far as I can tell). This heavy section, which shifts meter enough that I can’t make sense of it, culminates in the only wah-wah erhu solo I’ve ever heard. The album’s other epic-length track is called “Kenbikyō no uta (Little Flowers in Mud)” and comes in over 21 minutes, going through a number of different sections. Aside from one part where they spend several minutes playing the same chord at seemingly random intervals while a dog barks, it’s an interesting journey. The vocal section, which only appears in the last 30 seconds, sounds like several singers were recorded separately without being allowed to hear each other. And special mention should be made of the track called “Long Distance Runaround.” It’s credited as a cover of the famous tune by Yes, but if you hadn’t looked at the credits, you could be excused if you never realized what it was. The lyrics have been translated out of English into (I think) several other languages (or maybe just gibberish), and there’s one part where I’m pretty sure they’re playing the riff from Gentle Giant’s “Why Not?” superimposed over the Yes song. It goes without saying that this is an album for adventurous listeners. For myself, my interest is piqued, and I intend to seek out their earlier recordings.


Filed under: New releases , 2018 releases

Related artist(s): Mist of Flying Elbow

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