Sunday, January 30, 2005

Still playing catch-up with all the big Oscar contenders of '04. Most recently that means "The Aviator" and "Riding Giants," both of which totally kicked ass as far as I'm concerned. The former is the best thing Scorcese's done since "Kundun." Leo Decaprio has a mad glint in his eye that suits the disturbed flyer well. It sucks to have to praise him, but dem's da breaks. People wanna think Scorcese has lost it and "gone Hollywood" (I'm one of 'em), but I'd say "The Aviator" proves otherwise while literally going Hollywood at the same time. "Riding Giants," directed/edited by the same guys that did the righteous "Dog Town and Z Boys" a couple years back, gives the history of big wave surfing the kind of mythical resonance it deserves. I'm not a surfer, but like every young lad who goes through that "I wanna be an astronaut" phase, I've always dreamt of riding a big giant or two. Almost sounds perverse. Speaking of which, I love the name "Laird Hamilton." What a beautiful man. Also, see "Million Dollar Baby" if you haven't. Boxing movies may not be your gig, but you've never seen one directed by Eastwood with this kind of film noir atmosphere. He's a genuine renaissance man making personal, artsy fartsy indie films in the deplorable studio system like it's still 1952. My hat's off to the guy.

The return of American Idol on the airwaves has got me thinkin' of hot new pop contenders in '05. I've not seen one show of this season so far, and I'm'a feelin' the hurt in my bones. Apparently the keyboardist of Dallas area psych rawkers The Falkon was on last week, and I know there are wonderful new clowns and angels of many stripes to be gawked at and groaned over, but Lord help me, I've missed it all! Needless to say, I feel a great gulf between myself and our abominable American culture's lonely.:-( In terms of my own American idolatry, Antony and the Johnsons are coming on early as strong contenders for true Idol status. For those who don't know, Antony is a very tall cross-dressed singer and musician, but his fashion appears to be more derived from the early 70s glam androgyny of David Bowie and Andy Warhol's Factory than New Orleans drag queens. His voice is a tremulous, operatic wonder that draws inspiration from the jazz croon of later Tim Buckley and classic soul balladeers, and conveys lyrics that are personal and emotionally direct, usually as multitracked harmonies. Then there's his band, an accomplished chamber pop ensemble that specializes in artful baroque arrangements, mellow jazz scapes and majestic pop symphonies, always performing with a knowing ear towards experimentation. Antony's voice and style may not be for everyone, but those who can make the hurdle will find something that rivals a Pedro Amaldovar film in its ability to flesh out the humanity of characters that most mainstream media would call anything but. Antony is no joke, and a lot more sonically interesting than *insert hyped crooner of the moment here*. The music on the brand new "I Am a Flower Now" (Secretly Canadian) deftly sidesteps any sensational spectacle and lands directly in the realm of classic post glam balladry that makes me melt. Think Scott Walker, later Big Star, early 70s Lou Reed, Roxy Music, etc...

And what about this Cass McCombs character? "Prefection," released last year on 4AD and this year on Monitor in the US, is a fab slice of ethereal post punk cum soul psych that manages to remind me of plenty of eras and artists but maintains a timelessness throughout with its plentiful serving of minimal post punk/ethereal pop falling somewhere between John Lennon to and Soft Cell. Sugary sweet and lovingly rendered from beginning to end, yet Cass can kick up a worthy guitar crunch when needed over the ever present early 80s synth wash. Pretty much what you'd expect from a guy whose band has featured members of Palace, the Curtains, Long Live Death, The Oxes, Deerhoof and others. Another newbie comes to me via a package from the very kind Alan Davidson aka The Kitchen Cynics, whose "Compulsive Songwriting Disorder" has just been issued on CD-R by Audiobot. His chum Phillip Johnston plays a very accomplished mix of jazz psych in the Gong and Caravan mold along with true blue psych folk gems and spacious acid detours on the self-released "Sundaram" CD-R, featuring lyrics on one track penned by Davidson. This is a an absolutely captivating surprise that I hope more people will hear. Rarely does a self-released demo come with these kinds of complex harmonies and such a wide musical berth (incorporating guitars, flute, bass, mellotron, etc) that's fully dressed for mass consumption. Contact Phillip here for more info. In the same package Alan threw in the Kitchen Cynics' brand new self-released "Master of the Fuzzy Fadeout," which features 18 more mellow psych folk pop gems anchored on his languid vocals and trippy-dippy noise effects, introduced by John Peel of all people. Includes a Green Pajamas and Fairport cover, a re-recorded version of Bridget St. John's "Ask Me No Questions" and a guest contribution from Jesse Poe of the moody chamber folkies Tanakh.

Also of interest are two recent releases on the forest/noise/psych/folk chroniclers, Secret Eye. First up that means The Big Huge, who weaves a stark folk pop spell on "Crown Your Head With Flowers, Crown your Heart With Joy," a bittersweet confessional of home spun acoustic pop that's worthy of comparison to Neutral Milk Hotel, Will Oldham (albeit with more wyrd folky/banjo inclinations) and sounds a lot better than Bright Eyes. Quite beautiful, really. Finnish free noise groovers Avarus return with their second album released in North America, first one "III" was for HP Cycle, this time for Secret Eye. "Jättiläisrotta" is about as fine an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink clatter fest as I've heard from these wild fuckers yet. How to describe it? Feral, unhinged psychotic tribal jams that alternate between clattering collage and driving kraut pulse. Nice to see these lads/ladies readily available on our soil. A mini tour can't be far off...

Now...for the psych: First of which is the Danish power trio Hurdy Gurdy. A year or two after the recording of their self-titled disk they would mutate into the incredibly gorgeous acid folk butterfly Amber, but this is what I've been lookin' for, Akarma's reissue (from 2002, still widely available) of the self-titled Hurdy Gurdy, issued in 71. The vibe is thunderous heavy blues psych in the Cream/Experience mold that's flawlessly executed as complex power trio jams and intricate jazz interplay that features some truly mind-boggling acid leads from singer/guitarist Claus Bøhling. There's also an extended Indian styled raga (with beautiful sitar) that exposes the more ethereal realms Amber would explore a year or so later. Bless Akarma for resurrecting this beauty complete with their trademark album style packaging. Yeeessss, more good shit that hits on a similar head/gut level can be found on Miminokoto's excellent "III" (Siwa), still available in a limited vinyl edition from Siwa. These vintage studio recordings are a nice inverse to the more damaged live disk released last year on Last Visible Dog. Fans of LSD-March, High Rise, White Heaven, Broomdusters (members of all of these bands comprise the power trio lineup) and other scorched power jammers need this one asap. A more in depth review of this should be posted in the next Foxy Digitalis update. More to come, kiddies...

Friday, January 28, 2005

Hey dudes, I'm still kickin'. Expect a couple updates, mostly of a musical nature, this weekend. In the meantime, via AMG, here is a thought-provoking review of the two new Bright Eyes albums "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" and "Digital Ash in a Digital Urn" that exposes Conor Oburst for the fraud that he is. Return shortly...

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Some nutter has the entire run of the Sub Pop's Single of the Month club for auction on EBAY and it's only at $4,500.00 right now:

Monday, January 10, 2005

A few more releases to make note of before movin on to the next orders of bidiness. After having the three recent releases on Digitalis for a month or so I've finally been able to get my ears around 'em, and I can say without reservation, each one offers something for the introspective traveler. In the case of The Lost Domain's "Sailor, Home From the Sea," coreleased on my old pal Mats' Broken Face imprint, that means ominous atmosphere and austere experimentation. This one took me some days to come to terms with, 'specially after the busier free jazz/psych scapes that made up their last CD-R for the Rhizome label, owned/operated by the ever knowledgeable Jon Dale. It's quieter and chillier, but rarely relaxed. The instrumentation is scaled back to the point that sometimes there's just organ or sax, faint percussion and the ghost of a guitar along with a wind instrument or some chimes pushing things forward. From the two part bookends of a cover of John Lee Hooker's "Waterfront" (complete with vocal cackles) to the four instrumentals that comprise the meat of the platter, each track offers a wind-swept journey through the deep dark blue void. These tracks have the mythical sway and pull of a Greek epic where the tumult kicks up a dank atmosphere of salty spirits, restless electronics and even some haunted melodies, all searching for that path back home.

With "Under Bent Limb Trees," Hush Arbors' follow-up to the excellent "Since We Have Fallen" CD-R, Keith Wood further expands on the haunted drone folk tapestry of his earlier works with minimal pieces of transcendental dream music juxtaposed with distant folk melodies. Wood's fragile, high voice glides over top an organic melange of guitar, bowed dulcimer, singing bowl, banjo, found sounds and more, all brilliantly constructed as vivid forest songs. In the case of the albums centerpiece "May All Your Pastures Now Spring With Herbs" that means acoustic guitars and voice are augmented with dissonant feedback washes, falling somewhere between the Ivytree and Flying Saucer Attack. While "Gypsy Wood" reposes his folk meanderings with the faintest hint of drone that seems to echo a distant siren call. What makes Hush Arbors essential listening though is the way Wood tempers these more intimate pieces with vivid strokes of minimal noise that convey a sense of bleary-eyed reverence and quiet contemplation. I should've ranked this one higher than the Foxglove CD-R (now long gone, save for piracy measures), but I doubt the dozen or so people who read this regularly will mind the discrepancy.

Also new on Digitalis: James Blackshaw's "Lost Prayers & Motionless Dances." This young Brit is a newbie to me, but his playing sounds as inspiring as the Adirondacks (or Appalachians or the Sierra Nevadas...). Put quite simply, there's a new finger picker in town, and he smokes in a post Robbie Basho way that will have you Jack Rose fans tripping over your tongues reaching for new ostentatious descriptions to wow the hip masses with. On top of some fluid 12 string workouts he piles on harmonium, radio, bells, cymbal and tom, but the mix is tastefully employed, building from a trance intro of harmonium fluctuations to florid 12-string raga that really does the job in terms of sweeping the mind clean before arriving at a mellower cul de sac of free/electro fuzz bits and muted quarks that eventually erupt at a folk gallop before its over. It's a trip in the purest sense of the word, one track clocking in at 35 mins, which makes it highly digestible in about the same amount of time it takes to have lunch or trip balls on some DMT. Looks like I'll have to hunt down his first release on Celebrate Psi Phenomenon before all's said and done.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

I realize that some of the older hippie cognoscenti out there may take issue with my placement of "Smile" in the year end list. I totally agree with all who recognize the cultural import of its deliverance from abandoned masterpiece hell, and it's been directly responsible for the shedding of many a Texas tear in the intervening hours since I purchased it it, but it's like old...OK? And in case you haven't noticed, this isn't the Summer of Love. Despite the deceptive presentation of the previously posted Best of List, those albums, including the runners up, can be taken in pretty much any order you wish. Lists, numbers, any standardized measurement of worth is pretty much bullshit in my world. The simple truth is 2004 was Da Bomb. I'm sure wherever you looked you found something worth hearing. Whether you ran your flag up the pop pole or slid it out the jazz boom, shit rocked, divas cooed, booties shook, hip hop owned (well rented). Avril Lavigne was back sans tie and gothified, Eminem fumed (again), Nora Jones rolled out a heavy sophomore LP. Bob Dylan hooked up with The Gap. Britney Spears did half the male population of Nevada. Janet Jackson decided she still mattered and bribed has been of the moment (former BIG DADDY of the moment) Justin Timberlake to make it possible for 13 million comatosed Americans to see her flaccid cow utter flop out in an instant. Who cares if the world's going to hell in an Oldsmobile, that shit was rockin'!

Perhaps most importantly, Christian Scott Stapp contributed the incredibly profound "Relearn Love" to the remarkable various blessed artists comp, "The Passion of the Christ: Original Songs Inspired by the Passion of the Christ: Type The Passion of the Christ One More Time, heathen," not to be confused with the more authentically apocalyptic "The Passion of the Christ: Songs Inspired by the Passion of the Christ," which featured Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan among others, so us slightly older jaded fucks could scoff at the Christina Aguilera/POD obsessed kewpie dolls and jock lawyers-in-training who shelled out their hard earned bucks for "that other" compilation. We know better than to throw a 14 spot down on some rusty old Nick Cave "goth faggot" and Elvis??? Not even funny. We can get half the age, 4 times the culture (Lauren Hill contributes, thank you) and All of God's Glory as refracted through the vocal nodules of Scott Stapp; so why would we want "Songs" when we can have "Original Songs"? Creed may be no more, it's true, but like A Certain Savior, the foppish Stapp hath ascended from his hell of banal post grunge mimicry to assume his place as The Second Coming of Steve Perry. Oh yeah, I also managed to see some good live shows in 2004. A meager breakdown follows.

5 Sweet Gigs in 04:

1. Brian Wilson (and his big ass band), Nokia Theater in Grand Prarie, Texas mid Nov. A re-emerging of the self, Brian Wilson clapping and grinning. He skips and he does lame dance move (think drunk Russians). The crowd rushed the stage. Actually spent 45 dollars on an ugly t-shirt.
2. Espers, Ridglea Theater upstairs in Ft. Worth, Texas, early Nov. What if they had a concert and nobody came? Play anyway! I live in the black hole of acid folk culture. I don't really know how to explain it, but I think kids in this here seat of the hiccupping twostep nowhere land could really give a fuck about hippie dippy Engrish folk. I think to them Country Joe is about as real a guy as Uncle Sam. For this reason the Incredible String Band didn't play at all. Espers played for myself and 3 other people...and about 30 very sexy emo hotties and their escorts. I'd like to think a seed was planted in their eager encephala this night...but I have my doubts.
3. Six Organs of Admittance, some bar in Denton, Texas, late May. I sat like 8 feet from the man. He played a Gary Higgins song (which is on the new album, Gary is MY DISCOVERY of 04, the guy I didn't ever know of before and probably will never be able to live without ever again. Thank you, Ben!) and a few of his own, so I could just watch and listen real close like as he made his wooden baby sing. It was one of those special-super-fantastic-up-close-and-personal-Six-Organs-gigs. There aren't many ya know! Don't even think he used an amp. I bought us a beer. We talked about Current 93, and I drove home in the misting rain (yeah, that's it).
4. Matt Valentine and Erika Elder, 1906 gallery(?), Aug 2 or so. Spirit music for the blessed few who are listening.
5. Sun City Girls/Rubble/Weird Weeds(who I missed! :-(), Dec 12. Real Punk Rock. Oh yeah, I'm in awe of "Improvika" (Locust) by Sir Richard Bishop. It really should've been on my best of list, darnit(!) since it' just may be the strongest solo avant guitar album released in 04? Affirmative.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

25 Birds of Flight in 2004...

Close calls come in the form of Einsturzende Neubauten's "Perpetuum Mobile" (Mute), Brian Wilson's "Smile" (Nonesuch), Espers' "S/T" (Locust), Animal Collective's "Sung Tongs" (Fatcat), Up-Tight's "Five Psychedelic Pieces" (Static), Miminokoto's "3" (Siwa), Oneida's "Secret Wars" (Jagjaguwar) Gravenhurst's "Flashlight Seasons" (Warp) and plenty more. I liked that last Acid Mothers disk too, but like these more:

25. Ths Misunderstood "Lost Acetates" (Ugly Things)
24. Bardo Pond + Tom Carter “4/23/03” (Three Lobed)
23. Fennesz “Venice” (Touch)
22. Cul de Sac/Damo Suzuki “Abhayamudra” (Strange Attractors)
21. LSD-March “Kanashimino Bishoyunen” (HP Cycle)
20. Joanna Newsom “The Milk-Eyed Mender” (Drag City)
19. urDog “Garden of Bones” (Secret Eye)
18. Black Forest/Black Sea “Radiant Symmetry” (Last Visible Dog)
17. Hush Arbors “Since We Have Fallen” (Foxglove)
16. Birchville Cat Motel & Bruce Russell “S/T” (Celebrate Psi Phenomenon)
15. Grimble Grumble “Leaves Leader” (Pehr)
14. David Kilgour “Frozen Orange” (Merge)
13. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds “Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus” (Mute)
12. The Ivytree “Winged Leaves” (Catsup Plate)
11. Thuja/My Cat is an Alien “From the Earth to the Spheres” Vol. 2 (Very Friendly/Cargo)
10. Ghost "Hypnotic Underworld" (Drag City)
9. Comets on Fire "Blue Cathedral" (Sub Pop)
8. Marissa Nadler “Ballads of Living and Dying” (Eclipse)
7. Kemialliset Ystävät “Alkuhärkä” (Fonal)
6. Charalambides “Joy Shapes” (Kranky)
5. P.G. Six “The Well of Memory” (Amish)
4. Nagisa Ni Te “The Same as a Flower (Jagjaguwar)
3. Devendra Banhart "Rejoicing in the Hands" (Young God)
2. Tower Recordings “The Galaxies Incredibly Sensual Transmission Field of…” (Communion)
1. Nick Castro “Spy in the House of God” (Records of Gauhd)


5. Tie: Pavement “Crooked Rain Crooked Rain” (Matador)/ Guided By Voices “Bee Thousand” (Matador)/ Eno "Here Come the Warm Jets"/"Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)"/"Another Green World"(Warp), Virgin Prunes “If I Die I Die” (Mute)/ Vashti Bunyan "Just Another Diamond Day" (Dechristina Stair)/ Tom Carter "Monument" (Kranky)/ Hala Strana "Fielding" (Last Visible Dog)
4. Current 93 “Halo” (Durtro/Jnana)
3. Six Organs of Admittance “The Manifestation” (Strange Attractors)
2. Homestead and Wolfe “Our Times” (Anopheles Records)
1. Simon Finn “Pass the Distance” (Durtro)