Friday, May 19, 2006

Been real busy lately, and haven't had much time/desire to talk/write about music as I've been enjoying it so damn much that all that criticism would just get in the way! So I'm just gonna sort of ramble about a lot of different shit here, maybe write a few paragraphs or just a sentence or two.

First, check THIS out! Way to go Brainwashed! All the elite goth hippies of the world finally have an island of their own. I wanna go and stuff.

Second, props to Deep Water for assembling a fine interview with the increasingly excellent United Bible Studies, the flagship ensemble for the Deserted Village collective (the last cool collective on earth?). They just released their first official CD, The Shore That Fears the Sea (Deserted Village), currently en route to the Womb-din.

DW also recently published a fine piece on modern psych pop, including Norway's Dipsomaniacs main man Oyvind Holm, Kelley Stoltz and the truly weird Jennifer Gentle. I expressed my own thoughts on Holm's solo debut, "The Vanishing Act," here.

So speaking of syke poppery; I've not really listened to much in '06, yet here I am semi-obsessing over The Flaming Lips once more. They at least rub up against the genre pretty regularly. "At War With the Mystics" (Warner Brothers) does not suck. I'm sure some folks out there think it does. And then there are others, with good taste mind, who simply consider The Flaming Lips sellout poop to begin with. "Transmissions From the Satellite Heart" IS a big fat major label album. "She Don't Use Jelly" WAS something of a novelty pop hit. They did appear on 90210. People with minds should realize that all of these events are actually pop cultural blessings instead of apocalyptic omens.

Though earlier albums exhibit a fairly caustic edge, for the last 15 years or so it's been a celebration of life, love and all that sunshine-y shit. They can still get fucked up if they want to (see the quadraphonic and impossible to sync up properly for longer than one track "Zaireeka" boxset). Anyone who's seen "The Fearless Freaks" DVD knows Steve Drozd nearly shot himself to the moon before finally kicking heroin for good (for the last three years or so anyway). For all the bliss there's a lot of darkness and confusion here. The Lips are simply vindication for some of us living in the Midwest. We feel better knowing that they're there doing what they're doing, no matter how many itunes commercials or endorsements they might give out along the way. Things will be OK as long as Wayne is still playing a guitar and warbling about his big concept silliness.

So, the music: "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" (as in "If you could blow up the world with he flip of a switch, would you do it? YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH!!!...") is one of the more obnoxiously joyous things Wayne and his merry band of pranksters have constructed in a while. Familiar, sure, but it also makes for some quasi-intelligent commentary on the current state of things. "Free Radicals," on the other hand, is indebted to the artist formerly known as Prince, T-Rex and Queen with equal gratitude, as Wayne's high falsetto voice is backed with Beatles-loving harmonies and the gnarliest funk/acid guitar hook the boys have dropped in years. It's simply a freaky masterwork to my ears. Justin Cober Lake referred to it as "a disaster" over at Pop Matters, which may be codespeak for "this is actually weird and cool," but I doubt it.

There's also the 70s blaxploitation of "The Sound of Failure" (light soul psych about desposable pop divas), the stunning wall of sound balladry of "My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion"--with a noise break that'll make the brain bleed if you play it loud enough--and the streaking Led Zep/new wave hybrid of "Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung." Sure, some of this sounds a bit too tight in spots, uber-produced and sort of scaled back at the same time, but I like it. So many of their contemporaries have fizzled or collapsed under the weight of their own pretensions. The Flaming Lips continue to matter, and in turn so does life.

Downer time, but it's the kind of down that eventually starts to lead up when you dig deep enough. I've always admired Cat Power without necessarily calling myself a trueblue obsessive. It's the voice. Chan Marshall has the voice when it comes to sensual, sad, defeated longing. "The Greatest" (Matador), or what I like to call "Chan in Memphis," was recorded at Ardent Studios, the home of Big Star and many more rock/soul greats. It features a bevy of pro session players helping her along on her not so merry way with loose shuffling arrangements, the occasional harmonic accents, horns, pedal steel, strings all flushing out a fairly playful and spontaneous sounding production. No matter how much you dress it up, it's still a Cat Power album, marked by an urgency and uncertainty that feels as dependable as it is, ya know, honest.

With "Ghosts of Our Vegas Lives" (3 Beads of Sweat), Maryrose Crook and the Renderers follow a similar track. The Renderers can be a tough sell. You either get them or you don't. You're either willing to trip and fall face first in the dirt (and of course slowly get back up and brush that dust off) or you try as hard as you can to live in a dream and not notice the horror that pervades all existence.

Thing about country music is it's sacred. It's raw. Your Hanks, your Lorettas--they didn't grow on trees, yet the mentality that spurned their best performances was packaged and sold so long ago that the real salt-of-the-earth/down-but-not-out drive that marks the best country music is all but extinct today. Country is supposed to be about contemplations of the mundane and the infinite with equal conviction, as the contemplator clutches whatever he/she can--a bottle, a body, a crucifix--just to get through the cold dark night. The Renderers are not country per se, but they get that part of it better than 90% of the fools streaming out of Nashville today--the pain and isolation that comes with being stuck in the same job, surrounded by the same horde of company men and vampires, and the other prisons we make ourselves. Maryrose Crook uses all this just as a starting point and throws in her own language of cryptic metaphor and noirish despair to conjure a charred near mythical psychedelic wasteland sparsely populated by tortured souls and twisted creatures. Brian Crook (her husband) is the perfect foil for such surrealism-meets-rustic imagery, whether lathering melting feedback ontop of ghostly ballads or kicking up a slash and burn racket, captured with garage rock immediacy.

The murky, charred feedback and slithering acid country rhythms backing her compliment the malaise, and offer a world where Hank Williams and Townes Van Zandt are revered as preciously as Sonic Youth, the Dead C and Can, to name but a few. A different kind of transcendence indeed. A worthy follow-up to one of the most revered and unheard noise/psych masterworks of the last decade, "Dream of the Sea" (Siltbreeze).

Barnburning space boogie is what the doctor orders with The Clear Spots' second CD-R, the lovingly christened "Mansion in the Sky" (Deep Water). It's a slash and burn affair comprised of grinding two guitar/drums front, no bass, an abundance of distortion, and no, it's not grindcore. Sonic Youth, Juneau and Mirza are a few touchstones, but that more refers to an overall improvised groove-based approach than the actual music. The Clear Sports mold their spontaneous trips from a deep well spring where Krautrock, 80s guitar noise, West coast acid jams, surf rock, raga and much more is fodder for refabrication as cosmic musical evocations. There is something very real about what's going on here. It also shows steady growth from the damaged eruptions that marked last year's "Mountain
Rock" with a more sunburnt, ghostly blues aura. This one needs a nice vinyl reissue somewhere on down the line--my fave CD-R of '06 (so far).

Just as I was coming to terms with the clarity of The Clear Spots, another Deep Water CD-R hit the box to redistort my perceptions. I was talking a bit about psych pop up top there, and how nothing had really been grabbing me along those lines lately, but then came Adam Bujag's "Wave of Tears" to fully reinvigorate the genre and my faith in it simultaneously. Adam (also of The Clear Spots) seems to be workin at home here with piano, guitar, vibes, effects and other percussion as well as tape manipulation and primitive electronics to conjure dreamy meditive sound mobiles. Some computer mixing may have been employed, but I'm thinkin like Wolf Eyes, Adam takes a more primitive, hands-on approach. Van Dyke Parks, Kraftwerk, Orange Cake Mix and Xpressway come to mind. Highly recommended, in fact.

"Gipsy Freedom" (5RC) is the latest longplayer from the always interesting, occasionally fascinating Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice. Last year's "Buck Dharma" (Time-Lag) left me dusted in terms of lazy space blues free folky transcendence, but GF is something else, with hints of solitary jazz, vocal workouts and electro/industrial psych blues all flowing into one another and impeccably recorded. Ultimately more proof that WWVV can matter when they want to. Case in point: the sidelong trance feast of "Dead End Day With Ceaser."

Also finally picked up the vinyl reissue of Current 93's "Earth Covers Earth" mini LP on Free Porcupone Society, which David Tibet refers to as "a second utterance for Comus" in the nifty, handwritten liners. He signs off as David Michael, though. Confused yet? Until just recently, I barely even knew this existed. It was released soon after "Swastikas For Noddy" in a much smaller edition, and this (with a new master and hand drawn cover art by Tibet himself?) also comes in a fairly small edition of 800. An integral link in the development of the more spiritual psycho-folk side of C93, should be noted that the CD on Durtro includes some topnotch bonus tracks.

"Orange Garage" is the latest Last Visible Dog live album by Miminokoto (check my Foxy Digitalis review for the their studio recorded "3" here). Smoked out live boogiee, raw and blistering with that feral PSF energy that some of us have come to rely on, this one is an improvement over the first LVD CD, me thinks, better recording quality, more dynamic performances cut down the middle nicely between spacious, semi-improvised slow burners and feral stompers. The epic 16 min closer, "Kumononaka," is a fine culmination of all of the above. The price is right, the quality what you'd expect from a band with ties to White Heaven, High Rise, LSD-March--oy, you get the idea.

And here's a couple older Foxglove treats I've only just gotten around to really hearing: First up, the debut SeedyR by New York stomp noise combo, Heavy Winged, "A Serpent's Lust." Think freight trains and phospherescent grenades. Uberdistorted caveman stomp blasted out across two sprawling sidelong jams, and just when I think they might be a bit of a one trick pony, they throw some murky organ drone into the plodding death dirge mix and probe the most abyssal cold wind realms in the process. Definitely one brige to the infinite, but perhaps more comfortably numbing is The Floating World, which features the sculpted flute and electronics if one Amanda Votta. "River of Flowers" is haunted affair of siren tones, post-industrial rumbles and wafting minimal melodies. Many drone/ambient gods of the last 30 years come to mind, but rather than type out a laundry list, I'll just say this is another ethereal homerun from the ever dilligent sound designers of Digitalis/Foxglove and highly recommended.

Another one of these roundups should be ready soon, including recent works on Rebis, Soft Abuse, Holy Mountain, Time-Lag, PseudoArcana, etc. Peace, my dear friends.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Sunburned Hand of the Man was fantastic the other night. Was pleasantly surprised to find Keith Wood of Hush Arbors/Golden Oaks/Wooden Wand playing with them, and MAN what a performer. Also nice to finally meet the Sunburnedies after being a big fan from the start. This 5 piece version was simply incredible, touching upon Crazy Horse raveups, Dead C murk swells, creeping/gurgling free jazz and bombastic funk explosions, though there was perhaps lesser in the way of grove and more dissonant headlong drone this time out. Just astounding. Sunburned truly exemplifies the sound, and can only be considered one of the key bands in this unfolding scene (which I will not try to name because I don't know what it's called). Don't miss 'em if they come your way!

I purchased their last copy of the "Wedlock" 2LP which came out last year on Eclipse and is comprised entirely of recordings made via video cameras during a wedding held in the Summer of 2003 up in Alaska. It features a lot of collage type pieces, spontaneous jams, jugband blues, mongrel yeeows, moans and cackles, spoken word, the best man's toast and much joyous laughter. The excellent mix and package makes this a truly unique achievement in that it's both a celebration of the band, love, family and friendship (and therefore live!) as well as a stand alone work of art on par with the Faust Tapes, perhaps lent a little more sentimental weight than the typical epic noise rock record. Beautiful. Also got the brand new studio joint, "Complexion" and I'm loving it about as much. They've only gotten better over the years.

Opener's Unconscious Collective threatened to be interesting for a few minutes before delving into a fairly standard jazz/noise thing, with too much jazz and not enough noise. Mazinga Phaser (Mark III?) played bombastic post punk/krautrock that sounded sorta like mid period Swans crossed with Butthole Surfers. All in all, a fairly "what the fuck?" set, but I dug it despite the constant/cloying bass hum.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Man, amazing episode of the Sopranos this week, with Chrissy (above) getting into some unforseen trouble in more ways than one and the always combustible Pauly facing meltdown after meltdown. Also of note, the selection of songs this time out takes on a fairly cult flavor with a gem of gems by a certain New York coffeehouse folk originator serving as the soundtrack to the episode's most priceless scene, which I wont describe here, but it's a fuckin' knockout with tragic/comic/transcendental overtones.

Stoked to be going to this tonight:

Bear with me; this may get ugly. Last night I found myself at what most other music journo-hipster-asses would describe as a retro cash-in: a concert featuring a reconstituted version of Jefferson Starship (a real cash-in), Country Joe McDonald and Tom Constanten--he played with the Grateful Dead for 5 mins in 1968 (actually from 67 to 68, their most vital early studio period) and studied under the influential avant composer, Luciano Berio.

Constanten's set was mostly solo piano--some instrumental compositions, some vocal numbers including a fine "Werewolves of London" and a freaked out Beatles/someone else medley centered around "Day in the Life." He even got avant-weird later before bringing out Paul Kantner and a buncha other people who looked sort of like Jefferson Airplane to play the Dead's "Deal." Fun.

Country Joe was solo on acoustic guitar with some flange here and there. He sounded really good in a set that combined driving folk blues with more casual sing-songy stoner fare. Then about halfway through he shouted those immortal words and pulled "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin-to-Die Rag" out of his bag and the gig took on entirely different cast. Sure I thought about Woodstock and nostalgia, but I didn't stop there. Joe didn't either, halfway through the song changing his immortal line to "next stop is Iran," as we all sung along, clapped and danced. All 33 of us, though there were closer to maybe 150 sprawled out in the chairs and tables of the Granada Theater. I thought about the 300,000 singing along with Joe at Woodstock and the 33 dancing and singing here, my mind overrun with the irony and the realization that punk rock is just another commodity today, and that Joe McDonald was, in that moment, more punk fuckin' rock than a dozen warped tour headliners, and still willing to tell it like it is, point fingers and make a weirdo in Texas feel something resembling sanity for the first time in at least three weeks.

As a native Texan, I often think that real happiness must lie outside these borders. As humans we like to think something similar about this world. I know better than to start looking for some invisible pot of gold, but it wont stop me. That's why I went to Terrastock. It's why I felt the need to see people and feel part of something bigger for at least a day or three. Despite the enormity of this world, I rarely feel part of it (even though I obviously am).

At Terrastock you can feel it and believe it. And you can come home and enjoy the lingering glow, at least until you come to discover (in horror) that Jack Rose opened for Mogwai three nights ago, only you had blown off going to this particular show because a) Mogwai, as cool as they are, are a bit predictable, b) you were broke, c) Jack's name was not even listed in the teaser, but low and behold d) Jack put you on the guestlist, e) only he sent his message to your out-of-date email addy, so you basically sat at home and twiddled your thumbs in the meantime. You also missed The Fall, George Clinton and Blue Oyster Cult in this time period. And you can think "it's the thought that counts" and take solace in your imagination, and you can also be genuinely pissed that you didn't get to hang out and drink a few beers with Jack Rose, because he's one cool motherfucker. Or Buck Dharma for that matter. What were you thinking? And you can sprawl out on your big red couch and get your cracker and whippits and headshop-purchased salvia, and you can blow your mind out to the stars and beyond, and smoke a bit of this stuff and think "did I just get high or not?" but not really care because at least you were doing something constructive in the meantime.

And I think about Current 93 and black ships floating on the ether. NOT a good idea if feeling the abyssmal infinite breathing down your neck, and I feel it every day. I look around, and I see chaos, even where I know there is order. I feel something greater and worse hovering within and without, but it's lost amid so much confusion and information. The information overload is what's drowning me, because so little of it actually matters. I can't buy myself out of this hell. Eat, drink, smoke, snort, collect--maybe, but all that just leads to new hells.

I envy those who are ignorant. I envy children. I envy lovers and anyone living his/her dreams and following the path to his/her bliss, because too much of what I see and feel is horror, discontent, confusion. I know so many addicts, so many fools, too many dying souls. It's like what Mick Jagger was singing about in "Satisfaction" multiplied tenfold. Who actually gets satisfaction today? Old bald men on the top floors of corporate headquarters, the faithful, the creative, the learned, the sacrificial, the sociopathic, the addicted... I guess I land somewhere between such extremes on any given day, but I'm not satisfied. I smile and I laugh, and I feel love when I can, and I'm thankful for every breath. And sometimes it's enough.

I'm thankful that I understand what is and has always been happening, and what will happen long after I am gone. Life is dying. Consciousness requires a kind of pain in the process of understanding. Love is the one addiction that no one will blame me for indulging in--medicates my soul.

I have been listening to "Black Ships Ate the Sky" rather obsessively in the last month or so. Current 93's latest opus is the album of 2006. Others will say something similar about Scott Walker's new one, but David Michael Tibet and his friends seem to be speaking directly to me on this record and exploring the confusion--the ecstatic highs, the barrel-scraping lows and all the in betweens of this fading luminous existence--with bone-piercing intensity. And Tibet points to us all. No one is innocent in this judgement. But I still dont think this means all is lost. It doesn't mean that the very technology that may be currently destroying us wont one day save us.

Much has happened in the last month. I feel like I've been to hell and back, passed through the underworld and returned to that of the living, and this album is some sort of map for negotiating this tangled path. It's gripping, it's maddening, it's beautiful. It's the kind of dream I can live over and over and dissect intimately because it is just so damn vivid. I'll write more about in a review in Foxy Digitalis soon, and my pretentiousness will know no bounds.

There's more to this, too, and many people are here searching with me. From friends and family to my tabby sister lovers, Charlie and Amber. From Country Joe to Jack Rose and David Michael. From the birth of man to the end the world. This protest thing holds resonance. This anger, this pain, this need to rise above. By all means, let the ascension begin.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

I adore The Go-Betweens. I even adored their last proper album, Ocean's Apart.

Goodbye, Grant McLennan. The pop world has lost one of its patron saints.