There’s nothing technically inaccurate about saying the Bren’t Lewiis Ensemble releases albums, though behind the scenes they are thought of as “escorted from the building.” A few just escape. Their second disc of 2023 arrives much like the contents of a piñata stuffed with Streptococcus pyogenes and exotic succulents.
As the opening track shuffles into view wearing nothing but a bathrobe and slippers on the wrong feet makes clear, Fifth Dementia is glued together with preparations for the end. In the BLE’s vision of The Big Not-Any-More, the past wobbles toward oblivion and wipes its feet on the welcome mat, while the adhesives-slathered future rises up in an infinite tidal wave of impending collapse, leaving the present as a ventriloquist act called Lil Tired And Captain Defeated.
On “Nearly Drowned by The Anti-Merm,” Lala Lu’s cut-up reading of the lyrics to Yoko Ono’s “What Did I Do?” — recorded as a memento mori for the late Tom Smith of To Live And Shave In L.A. — slithers between tossed scrape salads, snow-blowers, noxious Star Trek hippies, and an animatronics-damaged “A Mighty Fortress.”
Tom Chimpson and Jimmy The Baptist stage their retirement-home magic show on the surreally tense “Sterno The Magnificent Spotted Bone Gambler,” seemingly for the benefit of an audience of sedative-abusing rabbits. It’s a beautifully perplexing mix of resinated guitar, epicurean wheedle that disfigures itself just above the horizon line, and disembodied clunks and clacks that ping the pong of all but the absolutely hairless.
The 24-minute “Sous Vide Meat Glue Experiment” is the soundtrack to the Ensemble’s video of the same name that premiered in August 2021 as part of the UK TUSK Festival’s online concert series. To create this gargantuan cut-up, The City Councilman began by mashing together home-made footage of various recording sessions and boosts from the public and corporate domains, and then, without revealing the final sequence, shared the unassembled effects-heavy fragments with Lucian Tielens, Gnarlos, and their fellow mutants, who nevertheless assembled with pinpoint accuracy a nightmare-triggered quilt of voices (their own as well as those appropriated from thrift store cassettes, children’s records, and YouTube videos), electronics and noises plucked from years of recording sessions, sound effects records, vintage radio shows, and home-made documentation of strangers losing it on public transportation. View it here: https://youtu.be/HWIl4PWNevA
Listen for the tinkle of cat toys on “Answer Correctly And I’ll Send You Wicker Furniture On Your Birthday” — that’s Lacie Pound saying no-no-no with tiny bells woven into his glorious winter beard, silhouetted against a Musiclandria sunrise featuring The Affable Chap on electronic sputters and The Viper on squawk fiddle. The album closes with “Looks / Isn’t Shoe Needle,” inspired in equal measure by ancient cave paintings of primitive-lobed skull jockeys and the inevitable all-consuming deep-fakes that await us all 24/7.
This 57-minute cocktail (two parts premature geriatrics, one part second childhood, a splash of MK Ultra) radiates an age-inappropriate vibe on par with Dr. Zachary Smith taking over a quinceñera while dressed in an off-brand foam carrot suit.
Cover by Cojack.
Stream it for free or download here
After-hours sessions at Musiclandria in Sacramento in late 2021 — at the time freshly upgraded to a mammoth instrument lending library with a stream-ready live venue, a recording studio, and a community center — form the sponge-y foundation of Borderline Dogfood. Joining the irregulars were The Viper (a violinist who was a defiler of catgut par excellence back in the early 1980s iteration of Bren’t Lewiis, now resembling, as an added bonus, an Edward Gorey character come to life) and The Affable Chap (a recruit from the UK home office who hurled himself into the variety of gear and gizmos available at Musiclandria, especially items in the genus keyboards). With access to everything on the premises, from the synthesizers to the guitars, from the billiards table to the guts of a piano leaning against a wall, the Ensemble floods your delta with electronic doink, insectoid crackling, and brackish murmurs. They avoid becoming what John Whitson of Holy Mountain would describe as “a chance-oriented jam band” by framing everything between (and interrupting everything with) loops and fragments from field recordings and internet fails videos where behavior is modified by life crisis hormones and one deadly sin or another. If you wanted to call it “Olmec improv filtered through contemporary snartwave,” it’s unlikely anyone’d try to shove you down a flight of stairs.
Mixed throughout are passages going as far back as 2017 from Lucian Tielens and The City Councilman’s weekly sessions at Fluxus Enigma in Fair Oaks, where anything can happen — grunt’n’moan montages, Theremin vs Stylophone battles, journeys into the dark, evil soul of toys, contact mic endurance challenges, backing vocals by beautiful ol’ hounddogs with heads shaped like lightbulbs, objects rustling in a laundry basket...
Shalimar Fox makes a rare appearance with a monologue about exerting the power of eminent domain on Pucci’s din-din. Meanwhile, a helium-dosed Lala Lu delivers her remarkable take on a bit o’ swill from the Disney canon, Tielens loses himself in the black forest that is the lyrics to “The Porpoise Song,” Gnarlos uses Pete Beck’s lyrics to the Dilwhip / Educated Mess / 28th Day track “Do You Know How It Feels” to conquer the baby monitor while standing in the parking lot, and then the slobber-drenched chewtoy is back in Lala Lu’s yap (metaphorically) for a Venus de Sunnyvale style reading of Misfits lyrics.
The 17-minute “Emperor Guillotine Nukes A Lush Valley Using His Fingernail,” anchored by sessions at Hazel’s ’Lectric Washouse in Oakland, is especially grand, with Jimmy The Baptist’s worship of degraded guitar wheedle taking center stage, while psychological textician Tom Chimpson recites self-penned pre-hypnotic suggestions on “Executive Lullabyes Courtesy of Binky The Wonder Squid LLC.” Another standout is the complete soundtrack to the City-Councilman-edited 13-minute film “Lackey Demand Indicator,” which premiered at Wonder Valley Experimental Festival #14 in 29 Palms, California, in April 2022.
See packaging info, hear sound clips, and order CD and/or download from Baltimore-based Spleen Coffin label.
A slow-motion buckshot spray of Lost in Space bleeps and bloops spreads the group’s heat-sought rash across the canvas, as usual, throbbing and twinkling in a void seemingly sponsored by the Wubb Telescoop. But be on the lookout for collisions with gravity fields that pull the elements apart, leaving their piercing shrillness to jab at nothing within the corridors of your personal solitude. If that seems a little too Star Trek for your tastes, don’t worry: no one’s gonna mention the time you took ecstasy at the convention and thought one of the parking attendants was Nyota Uhura. Still, moog-adjacent yoib whizzes past like fresh junk, courtesy of The Library At Musiclandria in Sacramento, where much of Chewing Scenery was recorded in November and December 2021. The Affable Chap, on loan from the UK home office, makes his debut appearance in Bren’t Lewiis here, and returning champion The Viper was on board to scrape the cat gut — a real life saver since the fingernail-friendly chalkboard had been borrowed by another patron earlier that day. From sessions at Hazel’s ’Lectric Washouse, a re-christened Jimmy The Baptist wrings pure glory from the ether like a brand new solar panel so potent you’d be advised to mind the UV, while Tom Chimpson reads OCD laundry demands from the script for an abandoned prequel to Seven centered around the origin story of Kevin Spacey’s character. The customary disembodied voices, field recordings, household catastrophes, animals losing it, fails video soundtracks, edits both more jarring and smoother than Daddy-o’s morning anxiety dump abound, so don’t think this is nothing more than a fresh take on space rock no one was desperate enough to ask for. Lacie Pound pops up throughout, eavesdropping on neighbors, performing a bit of Blood Stereo karaoke, and investigating electronics-enhanced grooming procedures of the co-inhabitants of his place of dwell. Lala Lu maintains her in-house wild card monopoly, singing back up to avant Cleaver Babs Billingsley, citing Shakespeare, and musing about high school sports admins. An electric baby monitor flashes the creep-on-the-subway voice of Gnarlos reading a selection from Spike Milligan’s Puckoon (page 129, to be exact). Consider that Lucian Tielens’s cover art mosaic of post blizzard powder reads like an explosion at a fire extinguisher factory, and the hint is there for you to take.
Stream for free or download from Bandcamp.
The debut release on the Ireland-based label Krim Kram is the first Mark-Knopfler-approved “real” CD by Bren't Lewiis. Eleven disorienting tracks: heavily edited sound collage; Orchid-Spangiafora-style word play; malfunctioning, sputtering machines; instruments and objects that are blown, shaken, scraped, and generally sabotaged in various ways. You won’t know whether it’s intestines, brains, or macaroni salad. If the CIA had access to this kind of arsenal during MKUltra, who knows what kind of damage they could have inflicted.
“Listening to Bren’t Lewiis Ensemble is like running through a field full of prairie dog tunnels; yr gonna get tripped up. Hand Signals is that + darkness. If you call out ‘Ya hear me?’ & the response is ‘I hear ya!’ then you’ve found the hill to die on.” —Tom Lax, Siltbreeze
“This bananas collagescape from the inimitable Bren’t Lewiis Ensemble … opens with ‘Westminster Dog Show On Acid,’ and in some ways, that says it all. Twisted drones sputter around like half-melted machines with fried electronics and sliced / diced voice samples clattering around an empty room. Cryptic signals send out scratchy cries for help, intimating that these sonic malfunctions are rotting the fabric holding everything together. Radio waves disintegrate into blenderized carcasses, chased across the burning ground by barking dogs with toy glockenspiels in their mouths. It’s all a bit mental and entirely fucking great.” —Foxy Digitalis
“Scuzzy but ostensibly ‘song’-oriented.” —Aiden Hanratty, Bandcloud
“What most would deem a kitchen sink-inclusive approach to avant garde sound making is laughingly derided as unambitiously minimal by the lumbering beast named Bren’t Lewis Ensemble. In the most densely packed of Krim Kram’s inaugural offerings, a host of pseudonym addled collaborators — limited only to the rule of thumb of ‘audibility’ when producing their contributions — pour American Standard Bathtub sized loads of audial dribs and dreck into one of the most heady, hallucinogenic and at times weirdly beautiful fluid bodies I’ve encountered since Jan 01 2022. Can you imagine a sound? Well, it’s probably in here somewhere. In fact, so crammed full of ideas is this CD that failure in attempting a round up of components is a certainty. But shall we try nonetheless? Grizzly, fizzy, warped electronics, plundered gems of misappropriated spoken word, inept, jazzless free improvised tooting and blowing, guitar strings tuned looser than a mouthful of fondue and bleating popular-rock 45s I’d guess were obtained strictly on the basis of their southward placement in the ‘Condition (M)-(P)’ scale. This dazzling piece of hyperbole might charitably be said to describe roughly four minutes of what goes on in Hand Signals, with the rest best enjoyed lacking prior context. For all its inherent busyness, the mistake here would be to think that such a creaking edifice has been slapped together in an artless clutter with no regard to ebb, flow and placement. Often such is the case with these things. But what sets Hand Signals apart is the deft hand with which those composite hunks of chum have been whittled and seasoned into narrative-rich tartare. The build and contours of these 11 tracks evidence a sculptural mastery evoking shades of GRM or IRCAM sophistry in equal measure to LA+BUFMS inclined free-Quixotica. Fuck you if you think that’s a stretch - go ahead and listen to it and try to tell me it’s anything but a vastly unpretentious, gorgeously vibrant listen which gives and gives. Whatever you do, just don’t tell the funding bodies of Western Europe that their pricy efforts are being so casually undermined by the affordable alchemy stemming from San Franciscan box rooms.” —Adhuman
“I used to hear stuff like this in my head constantly when I was younger, before I stopped doing hard drugs and started taking psych meds. I can’t say I enjoy this, but the sense of familiarity is almost nostalgic. I can’t decide whether this would have helped me or made things worse had I discovered it as a teenager. This is strongly preferable though, as far as ill- or drugged-mind atmospheres, to most of the sad, bleak, dreary same-old you usually hear (in your head).” —@granitecityrain
“I am mystified” —Vital Weekly
Finding unorthodox anchors that strangle the fatuous out of abject grimness is a squid-free squid game Bren’t Lewiis mastered long ago, and Consumption certainly reaffirms that. The album’s fifty-minutes of quacking at the moon was inspired largely by mandatory wellness sequestering at a Walgreens post-inoculation, and the attendant anxiety that the pharmacist might be required to rush out of the bullet-proof cubicle because Gnarlos can’t handle the side effects of another microchip in the bicep. On any other day, a disoriented stumble up and down aisles stocked with gleaming fruits of capitalism, so desperately packaged with hot colors and zazzy lettering and borderline-lascivious hype, might earn a person a request to vacate ASAP from a polite rent-a-cop. When nano-bots in the bloodstream is part of the equation, forget it, back to the factory with you, we’re gonna have your head changed to something more aesthetic. Those surveillance cameras are not here to protect the mouthwash.
Anonymous chatter from field recordings is maddeningly constant, passages of repetitive electronic yoib hopscotch across cowering backdrops, there are more cut-ups and loops than a knife fight at a prison knitting circle, and the dynamics feel like flu symptoms. The first time The City Councilman heard the finished album, he said “I tried to listen while I was grant-writing and found it so intense that I could not do both things at the same time.” Among the album’s final straws are Lucian Tielens reading pick-up lines found in an abandoned notebook at the public library (a truncated early mix of which was included on Cough Park’s Bandcamp-only mix EZ Street Cheeze), and Steve Marquis’s psychedelic heart attack on “Tumbling Down An Embankment With A Stomach Full Of Bowling Pins.” Absent-minded mumbling, concerns about post-op complications, the appropriated voices of self-help mutants colliding in surreal patchworks of entendre all lead to the inevitable: that Hastings Of Malawi no longer have to reimagine I Think You Should Leave as an old time radio drama.
“Music for weirdos.” —Zef-Zef
Eighteen minutes of electro-squawk inspired by bot larvae gestating in a nutrient-rich aspic of rancid custard and leech waste. The fourth three-inch CDR in the Dumb Tangerine Dream series. Includes a swatch of Yale University sweatshirt courtesy of This Is Yvonne Lovejoy. Cover photo by Lacie Pound. Edition of 25
Mailorder from Tedium House
Eventually the spring-breakers who survive their pandemic-era bacchanals are going to discover nostalgia, and Toupée Made Of Weather hereby provides many options for the inevitable retrospective anthology Befuddled Goobers of Shartwave with which all Jersey Shore wannabes worth their anti-viral cream will soundtrack their fevered reminiscences. In addition to sentences from thrift store cassettes, near constant field recordings of indecipherable voices in the background, collages of suburban VHS psychosis, and fragments of guitar and electronic flubba dubba from Fluxus Enigma and Hazel’s ’Lectric Washhouse sessions, lots of processed loops grabbed from various coordinates within the audiosphere are present — an instructive percussive vamp from Art Blakey here, disco hits by KC & The Sunshine Band and Kool & The Gang there, a little fortune-telling from Jan & Dean’s inexhaustible supply of face-palmistry, bluesman Jimmie Revard’s alien doink, weird shit by Steely Dan, yogurt-slathered sitar from a Carnaby-era Marianne Faithfull, and glitches sourced from a Paul Bowles album uploaded to Spotify (proof that the death of quality control is the noisician’s library card). “Dead Mackerel and a Bucket of Flaming Housepaint” is a demo submitted for consideration as the band playing in the foyer at the ceremony when guitarist Brian Ruryk earns his Lifetime Achievement Award. The Ensemble’s cover of a French black metal song relies on a phonetic mistranslation of the lyrics of the original by a wiseguy YouTube user and is also loaded with enough backstory to fill an escape pod (“you get 3-D pictures of space porn!”); in the hands of Bren’t Lewiis, it now reads like a dystopian travelogue penned by an incel from the future visiting the past to impregnate baby Hitler. Other highlights include the transformation of lyrics lifted from Daffy Duck and The Groovie Ghoulies into pathos-rich nightmares, Lala Lu’s baby-doll-off-her-meds multi-track soliloquy, and the deliciously anticlimactic finale when Stanley Zappa and Glub Pasha spend some time between two ferns.
The first Bren’t Lewiis album of the New Year arrives on Inauguration Day, on purpose, even though there are no illusions that it will have any more of an impact on the nature of the nation’s venomous collective consciousness than the event it commemorates. Still, as part send-off, part retrospective obstacle to wound management, this screeching, undulating psychocosm is dominated by four shrill, seemingly interminable portraits of noxious invisibility. Dissonant synth pulsations; loops of unpleasant contact mic scrape; atmospheres that resonate less than the aftermath of a collapsed parking garage; incessant electric guitar fractures; keeko-bleeko theremin scribbles; lost transmissions of PBS documentaries that resurfaced in a desert trailer park; unnatural congress with the inanimate populace of that rich musical wonderland, the suburban garage — screamin’ babeh jazus, what building blocks!
Accompanied by production values that are both supportive and antagonistic, Lucian Tielens reads an account of a husband and wife forced to slaughter a sea turtle as published in their autobiographical 117 Days Adrift. The group’s minister of psychological effrontery and textician scrambler-in-chief Tom Chimpson navigates a cactus labyrinth of construction site field recordings, mad radio, turntable aliens, and Jon the Baptist’s murble-possessed guitar. His matter-of-fact message — about insurance, maritime infestations, messianic origin stories, and fragments that seem to say “no idea, you tell me” — arrives more garbled than perjured testimony in a kangaroo court where Masons are getting persecuted. One of two very brief tracks, Lala Lu’s confessional / plea / accusation / state of the union opens the album. And then, functioning as an oasis at the midpoint, a short mashup where Kristin Anderson’s boat slip sonata field recording rests on top of the gleeful self-pleasuring of Nixon, the rhino-hound sculptor owned and operated by Glub Pasha and Stanley Zappa.
Stop Yelling At Me In Neon Braille could be a rare MRI that ends up providing no useful diagnostic assistance; fortunately, an hour-plus of your time that drops an extra smidge of stress, discomfort, and claustrophobic panic into the skull is your idea of a prized resource. That’s what it says in your file, anyway.
Cover art by Steve Marquis.
Stream or download via Bandcamp, Mailorder via Tedium House, and Chocolate Monk
Kinda-sorta but not really a concept album, noise opera or what-have-you, the final 2020 release by Bren’t Lewiis Ensemble is named after a one-eyed turkey from one of the many unreasonably vivid and detailed dreams that tiger-lily their way out of the subconscious of Gnarlos and make a grab for life on the material plane. While the album is free of all reference to Les Nessman, it instead jumps across time and space, logic and proportion, and intersects with scenes of obliquely rendered insurrection led by the titular character who, in addition to being that most ill-tempered of the class of land fowl known as “delicious,” also happens to be a superhero. What his accomplishments in that role are undetermined, as are whether they have any effect, and if they do, whether it’s good or bad. No, it doesn’t make sense, just leave such hopes in a paper bag somewhere and move on.
The group keeps things moving at a zippy pace, layering objects-only jam sessions, field recordings, guitar treatments, tape manipulation, and primitive electronic garnk that drops through the ceiling like a fat man stepping off the beams on the attic floor. You might actually omg aloud once immersed in this loop-saturated, collage-heavy snart-nado of dystopian pop culture and sci-fi, where Wanda Jackson, Lenny Bruce, Mr. French, and an ugly bag of mostly old hotdog water masquerading as a talk radio host enhance the spectrum. Not surprisingly, audio boosted from homemade internet videos, persistent voicemail scams, silverscreen classics, cornball commercials of yesteryear, old sound effects libraries, and thrift store cassettes abounds, while on the other hand, no one foresaw cover versions of Destroy All Monsters’ classic nihilist anthem, Edward Alderson’s delirious visions of revolt, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s gavotte-slash-inexplicably-affecting-lullabye-dirge (voiced with maximum creep factor by newest Ensemble inductee Commodore Slaiman and Jon The Baptist). Overall, it’s a screwball empire toppling as heard through a cellphone infected by nano-parasites that are eating the transmission.
Cover photo by Toni Smith.
Stream for free or download here.
For the third installment of the group’s Dumb Tangerine Dream series of three-inch CDRs, Lucian Tielens extracts from underneath a waterbed in a ’70s skin flick bendy slide guitar wheem (bejeweled with a tasteful quantity of froth, and devoid of exaggerations about length), while loops of cheap electronic burble peer in through the slats in the closet door, rise to the surface and collapse in a haze of lo-fi turntable-and-toys clack-off.
Cover art by id m theft able.
Includes upholstery swatch courtesy of Kristin Anderson.
Edition of 25