Aaaaaaaaxb – Beyond The Pillars Of Hercules
Unearthed and previously unissued 2013 album by the strangely monikered Cordelia Records outfit Aaaaaaaaxb, who according to the sleeve note were a 10 piece group made up of now deceased band members nearly all called Alan. Or perhaps Aaaaaaaaxb are yet another outlet for the work of another Alan, Mr Jenkins of Deep Freeze Mice/The Creams renown? LTW’s Ian Canty examines the various Als and friends’ strange activities…
To start with, what’s in a name? Aaaaaaaaxb certainly would be at the start of the Yellow Pages if you were looking to hire a weirdo experimental surf music/art/jazz rock band for a function, but other than the fact that the repetition of the letter “a” may refer to the number of people called Alan in the band, it reveals practically nothing about their intent or origins.
Alans Withington, Feldman, Holzman, Perdito and Craine are named as being among the 10 members of Aaaaaaaaxb in the sleeve note and it also states there that they all now seem to be deceased. But other than that anything in the way of hard facts about them are difficult to glean. The only other thing to mention is that the release of this LP was apparently the subject of a protracted legal process, though it might pay to have a pinch of salt on hand at this juncture.
As this album is released by Cordelia Records, the unknown nature of this oddly named outfit does rather point in the direction of the imprint’s supremo, Alan Jenkins. Another possible clue lay on the only previously available Aaaaaaaaxb release, The Best Of, which was released on Cordelia in 2017. The third track contained therein is entitled Onion Light Over Pig Country, also the name of Jenkins’ recent album (reviewed here). So there appears to be a case to claim that this is an Alan Jenkins project, though nothing in the way of definitive proof.
The speculation over the band’s personnel may have to continue, so let us move on to the music itself. What Beyond The Pillars Of Hercules consists of is thirty separate tracks, which are for the most part instrumental. Some are fragments, being mere wafts of noise and music, but others are far more full-blown. All however retain the project’s strange qualities. The sonic palette runs from art rock to Shadows-style guitar twanging and jazzy art rock with a splash of musique concrète here and there to add to the overall rum nature of of the collection.
Language Band begins Beyond The Pillars Of Hercules in a sinister fashion, with organ, clicking sounds, low breathing and ominous wordless chants. There’s the first flash of Jenkins’ trademark ESM on The Dog Is Under The Sun, which gets a topping of off-key, jazz rock sax. Synth washes turn up at the onset of quirky surf-tinged number Beachcombers On the Shore Of The Unnatural, which is a pleasing headlong rush of a tune.
Home On The Knud Rasmussen Range builds a cool atmosphere with the assistance of some keyboard drones and the title track which comes next is a prime weird-out. Water sounds and lo-fi radio wave and beep samples provide the introduction here, before a languid, near space rock tune emerges. This is probably as near to the mainstream Aaaaaaaaxb get, still not too close though. Starting with beatbox rhythms, the brief Chemistry gives us our first clear hearing of a human voice and this one segues neatly into Diving Equipment, an ultra-fast chimes and percussion driven ESM piece, which also has some airplane nosedive sound effects.
Avant garde jazz madness dominates Getting Tested For Ape Hair, mad fast squelching electronics and loud clangs slowly being usurped by gentle and lyrical guitar. There’s a lot to take in with Aaaaaaaaxb, they pack even their shorter offerings with a host of ideas. Grood Trunk Earth(?) follows with even a bit of soul organ hoover and some r&b guitar soloing. We’re back on firmer, ESM territory initially on The World Of The Christmas Frigate Bird, which features some great splashing cymbals, before a flute, strings and bird tweets take it somewhere else entirely.
The percussion on this record is always spot on, that’s one of the pleasing things about Alan Jenkins’ work – he always gets the basics right before applying his one of a kind vision – take the prime folk rock of Ecco la sua Minestra for example. We have to wait until track 29 for the first proper vocal on the album and even then it is backwards! On Ghetoisation (their spelling) Of History it certainly wasn’t provided by an Alan either, as to my ears it was definitely a female voice. Finally Other LANs seems to hark back to Language Band, completing the circle so to speak.
Newcomers to Alan Jenkins’ work are probably best directed to his recent solo offerings and recordings with The Deep Freeze Mice and The Creams as means of an introduction, rather than Beyond The Pillars Of Hercules. However seasoned AJ followers will welcome another burst of enigmatic creativity from the maestro himself. Long may he have us running round in mental circles!
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here