Review: Gang Wizard - "Now Departing Critter Country"

Gang Wizard - Now Departing Critter Country
(Unread Records and Tapes 2016)

Gang Wizard's latest cassette release, (or anything dropped on Pittsburgh's Unread Records and Tapes imprint for that matter), is more an archive than an album - it's a Xeroxed inventory of avant-rock meditations, clipped tape loops and the occasional splinter of proto-grunge griminess. Long Beach's 20-year-old improv collective Gang Wizard boasts a discography of 40+ releases, each of which feels like a scanned PDF file of a W-2 form or a journal article hiding in some university database - tracks are organized in a stoic, seemingly random fashion. 10 second interludes flank 10 minute jams and volumes fluctuate enough to keep my index finger close enough to my laptop's volume control to prevent a jump scare or small-scale heart attack. Gang Wizard's tapes are cryptic and adventurous little collections of data that are meant for evaluating and sorting through - as much of the fun lies in the process of listening as in the listening itself.

Their latest output, Now Departing Critter Country, occupies the same sort of timbral territory as Sonic Youth's Confusion Is Sex or one of Racoo-oo-oon's sorely-overlooked tapes on Night People Records, dropping instant mashed potato flakes of chiming lead guitar atop needle-like feedback squeals and ominous bass plods. "Aquire" oozes with tension-inducing campiness, its frantically-mashed keyboard melodies dotting a canvas splashed with marching band percussion and grating chords. The minute-long "Drought Gorge" is the record's strongest cut, pairing bluesy riffs with a Pavement-esque backing track, producing the extemporaneous charm of an H-Street video soundtrack. "Stark Match" creates a dark nightscape tinged with bell-like tones, setting up for closing tune "Mining Droid", a nearly half hour slab of free jazz crunchiness.

Now Departing Critter Country is an excellent fusion of the sinister atonality of Hanson Records and Dinosaur Jr's lick-laden fuzz-punk assault - though it borrows heavily from late 80s outlier outfits, it doesn't seem to quite resemble music from any time period, or this earth even. Gang Wizard resides on its own screenprinted plane.