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Ashtray Navigations & Anla Courtis - Protozoic Rock Express
CD (Leeds, UK / Buenos Aires)

-Part I
-Part II
-Part III

Phil Todd: acoustic guitar, oscillators, moog sampled harmonium,& casio sampler
Anla Courtis: electric guitar, organ, hawk-bells, e-bow & found metals

(Chattanooga Pulse) While most musicians measure time with beats, for the duo of Phil Todd—known as the main force behind the prolific Ashtray Navigations—and Anla Courtis (known as a member of Reynols), their complicated, collaborative drones have their own subtle rhythms that slowly form crests and dips; it’s more like the breathing patterns of whales instead of the hummingbird’s heartbeat of, say, pop music. The new album Protozoic Rock Express was compiled from recordings made between 2004 and 2010 in Leeds (U.K.) and Buenos Aires, Argentina, which are the respective homes of Ashtray Navigations and Courtis. The gentle unraveling and slow reveals provide a soundtrack for strange meditations and also aural Rorschach inkblot test mind-movies; armchair psychologists doing self-analysis can likely amuse themselves by trying to understand why these sounds inspire the personal, fabricated visions that they do. For example, the 22-minute “Part III” uses tones that resemble the rising and falling pitches of disaster sirens, like those that provide warnings for tsunamis and tornadoes. Interestingly, when these tones are overlaid, they create tension, but there’s enough space to zoom in on individual tones, which have their own odd tranquility to them. Atop the drones are some lightly popping sounds—exploding transformers, miles away?—distorted guitars, ominous rumbling and synthetic non-human yells that evolve into screams. Just a few peaks emerge within the long piece, like when the tone pitches climb to their highest notes (an old musical trick for representing an emotional peak) or when there are quicker variations in tones. On “Part I”, there’s a blurry sound-fog, made with drones or vibrating pieces of metal, with a few sharp details that sparkle—tinny tinkles, squeaks or shakes of hand-held percussion—like potentially salvageable shards, temporarily illuminated in a giant landfill trash heap being manipulated by bulldozers. “Part II” could be a bizarro universe raga, with what sounds like harmonium drones along with string and oscillator drones, with a slow envelope effect being just one driver for its atypical cycles. Things happen on both a micro and macro level, and regarding the album’s immersive experience and potential psychological mirror, your results may and should vary wildly. - Ernie Paik

(Babysue) Truly far out stuff that'll make you feel like you're taking a trip to another universe and beyond. Divided into three sections, Protozoic Rock Express will certainly take you to places you've not been before. Ashtray Navigations is Phil Todd, a man who's been involved in the undercurrents of music since the 1990s. Todd plays acoustic guitar, oscillators, moog, sampled harmonium, and casio sampler. Working with him on this album is Anla Courtis, who plays electric guitar, organ, hawk-bells, e-bow, and found metals. The list of instruments utilized in these recordings does not really give a good indication of the overall sound. These compositions have a great big huge sound. They're hypnotic. They're drone-like. And in many ways, they're kinda overwhelming. We hear tons of experimental and progressive bands, but we've never heard one that's quite like this. Traditional melodies and song structures are irrelevant here, as the overall sound is what's important. Recorded in Leeds (UK) and Buenos Aires (Argentina) between 2004 and 2010, this is a total excursion into non-commercial sound manipulation. Most listeners will either be turned off or confused by this music. Todd and Courtis are playing for a very select group of people, those who welcome and embrace sounds that are unfamiliar and strange. Some folks that tread into this sort of territory come up with sound that is odd, but not listenable. Express is amazingly listener-friendly and just goes to show that it's the manner in which you do things that matters most. For a totally tripped out experience, you won't do much better than this. Provocative. Wild. And amazing. Recommended. Top pick. - LMNOP

(Vital Weekly) I’m going to assume that, if you’re reading this, you already know who these giants are. But just in case you’ve lived in a cave without Wi-Fi for twenty years: Ashtray Navigations is the long-running “band” name of the singular Phil Todd, a living goddamned treasure whose music from the early 90s all the way until today, a hundreds-strong catalogue that shows no sign of slowing down or running on empty, is worth as much of your time as you can spare. Argentinian guitarist Alan Courtis was a member of psych/rock/noise/drone/conceptual-art/??? band Reynols, but for more than a decade he’s become a super-prolific serial collaborator. In fact, Courtis has worked with such an impressively disparate group of musicians (a few examples to prove my point: Andy Bolus, V/Vm, Masami Kawaguchi, Richard Francis, Ralf Wehowsky, Usurper, Tom Dimuzio, Alan Jones, Pain Jerk, PBK… see what I mean?) that it’s nigh impossible to predict what his next recording might sound like. And so we have “Protozoic Rock Express”, a Marvel Team-Up of molten drone that is just as fabulously gooey as you want it to be. The credits state that it was recorded in both Leeds and Buenos Aires over a period of six years, implying a long-distance and long-term collaboration, but you could’ve fooled me if instead, you’d told me it was recorded live in a cathedral somewhere, or as a single take in the courtyard of a disused European castle, I’d believe it; or in a dark cavern below the surface of the Earth (or perhaps on a Siberian Earth Curve). Todd and Courtis’ mind-meld is rather perfect. However, the “rock” part of the title seems to have vanished under immense gravitational pressure the players will into being, apparently taking the “express” part with it. This album is time-stoppingly slow; it doesn’t “rock” so much as it establishes cranial space and commences delivering serious delta waves. The first untitled track sets the tone with a thick layer of molasses. Some drums and cymbals can be heard in the background, giving a faint hint of forwarding motion… but then the music takes on raga-like inner-space-psychedelic moods that explode in thick clouds of narcotic reverie. When the second track ended, I glanced up to see how much time had passed and was shocked to find that the whole thing was just 11 minutes long. What? Not an hour and a half?! Ah, but the last track is a 22-minute behemoth is immense beyond what came before it, volleys of feedback sent above the clouds as every vacuum cleaner on the planet is switched on at the same moment by the people below. In short, this is a monumental album, better than the sum of its (quite excellent independently) parts. Never mind the inaccuracy of 2/3 of the title; this is not rock and it’s the opposite of express… but “protozoic”? Sure. These 40+ minutes could be a re-enactment of the music made before humans existed. - Howard Stelzer

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