Thursday, February 25, 2010

Four Tapes

Greg Davis Full Spectrum (Digitalis Ltd.) C-40 - '09 is the year I really started to dig deeper into this Vermontster's discography of celestial minimal noise and electronic dreams. His influences are vast yet sort of simple too: The Dead, La Monte Young, Jim O'Rourke and Mirror styled ambient hazes, and raga of any kind. He strikes an especially dulcet glow across the two glacial drifts of tonal haze that comprise Full Spectrum. This is as transcendent/beautiful as anything I've heard by Davis, which means it's better than the recent Mutually Arising (Kranky), though that same sense of meditative tranquility is found here. As suggested, every hue of the color spectrum gets its space-time due via these magnificent portals.

Dire Wolves Dire Wolves (Secret Eye) 2xC-30 - It's been a treat seeing the new wave of lumbering Cozmik pSych groops come wafting up from the basement like so many black smoke monsters. Pittsburgh's Dire Wolves definitely fit the bill with their sprawling psych jams owing to Träd, Gräs och Stenar, German Oak, Amon Düül II and the like (including Earth before the smoke cleared). The quartet -- featuring members/former members of Arco Flute Foundation, Black Forest/Black Sea, Forest Dweller, Sagas, etc -- that is Dire Wolves somehow manages to explore the corroding line between earth/sky, heaven/hell, order/chaos and show how limitless and vast that seemingly small space can be. What I truly dig about these 4 sides is how easily the group shifts gears from a hypnotic on-'n'-on caveman stomp to something more formless with the most insane/feral acid leads cutting through all the dense smoke -- a sound that was made to be heard on tape. Apparently sold out some time ago, but more releases are forthcoming on other labels. Keep your ears out! Righteous sample time!

Thurston Moore Blindfold (Destructive Industries) C-30 - Blindfold is one of the more interesting tapes I grabbed at the harsh noise fest I attended last Summer. It's quite the monster of creeping ominous 6 string electric guitar dread, somewhere between sadistic Silence of the Lambs informed ambient shades and a much deeper spiraling sound sculpture that for me personally ranks as some of the coolest, most arresting guitar work I've heard from Moore yet. I'm not sure if Blindfold is more intended as a kind of tonal death march, or creeping exploration of the mind of sadism, but it does breathe with an ominous groan that gets under the skin and digs its hooks in deep. Before it's through, the torture drone gives way to a more ecstatic breakthrough, possibly emblematic of the spirit leaving the body of our victim. Either way, a viable transcendence occurs.

Sun Araw In Orbit (Stunned) C-30 - This one will be hard to find and costs a little more than maybe it should, but hot damn if the two 15 min live tracks captured herein do not completely honor Sun Araw's school of less is more groove-ology. No, In Orbit isn't as complete a spiritual transformation as the massive Heavy Deeds, but it still honors that tradition and keeps the lunar module in its proper orbit across 30 minutes of pulsing, clanking see-sawing effervescent splooge. And that's really all any cosmonaut can ask for, ain't it?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

All hail Decrepit Tapes!  It's a download blog thingy that seems to specialize mostly in out of print sonic esoterica, which me thinks makes it acceptable to share here.  Most of these things operate under the precondition that if ya like it, buy it; if ya don't, delete it.  When it comes to something as amazing as the Un Plays the Non Hits For You tape, which has probably been impossible to find for well over a decade, I fully endorse the upload/download.  More current ensembles like Hototogisu, Fursaxa and the Double Leopards can all be traced back to this zonked out crude noise meets collapsed folk blissout.  Charalambides and Tower Recording fans will love it.  Lots of other highly recommendable titles to be heard too.  I'm happily decimated, myself.

In out there collaboration news, take a look at this story from LA Weekly's Off The Record blog, about the forthcoming collabowork of grim art between Womblife faves, Xasthur and Marissa Nadler.  Not really such a stretch if you think about it.  Can't wait to hear the results!

Scooting out the door to see these guys at The Granada tonight.  Woo-hoo!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

As some of you may know, this past weekend there was a celebration of the life and times of Jack Rose -- in two parts -- A Record Release Show for Luck in the Valley (Thrill Jockey) in Philadelphia (Jack's home town for the last 10 years) at The Latvian Society on Saturday, and the next night A Valentine For Jack Rose at Brooklyn's Issue Project.  By all accounts these were two nights of magic and celebration involving many of our favorite weird folkies and blues dogs here in The Womb.  Below is a heartfelt summation of events written by Bob Bannister, a fine gentleman and guitarist, whose work with Tono-Bongay, PG Six and under his own name should not go unnoticed:

"To begin with, the night sustained that really strong sense of community and mutual respect that is such a big part of "this thing of ours" – joyous (and sad, in this case) and invigorating.

Opening were the Megajam Booze Band – 9 or 10 people, of whom I immediately recognized Harmonica Dan and Jesse Trbovich, plus I think Willie Lane was up there, no doubt others you know. They set a suitably Dionysian tone with a 20-minute over-the-top jamming version of "Proud Mary" – all in all it was a high-energy hard-drinking night (whereas the Issue Project Room show the next day was more acoustic and sombre).

Following was Meg Baird with Chris Forsyth and Willie Lane – they did a couple of tunes from Meg's solo repertoire and closed with a version of Hoyt Axton's "The Pusher" that was pretty astonishing – lots of Verlaine/Lloyd-isms from the electric guitars and Meg really let rip on the vocals; her solo work, as you know, tends toward the more delicate, so it was an exhilarating move.

I'm going to lose track of the order and will be really embarrassed if I leave anyone out. Black Twig Pickers you know well. They did 5 or so characteristically engaging numbers – a take on "Kensington Blues" with Hans Chew adapting Jack's part on piano, and a piece called (I think) "Dan's Friend's Blues" that was gently elegiac, two slightly different melodies alternating unhurriedly. A big part of their appeal is the sense of a return to the pace of rural life, before the hyper-charged, urban migration, bluegrass style began to predominate.

If you've heard Byron Coley read before you know what to expect, and even if you've only read his writing, his live performance won't surprise you – sharp, irreverent humor with an oblique but fierce defense of the countercultures (the real ones!) that he has tirelessly championed for 30+ years. His poem for Jack was a gruff, funny, loving send-off – we should all be so honored.

Glenn Jones mostly played 12-string, including the excellent title track from his new record "Barbecue Bob in Fishtown," the title itself a nod to Jack. Sunday he did the banjo piece from the same record, "Keep It A Hundred Years" – I forget if he also did it Saturday.

Pelt's performance was astonishing by any measure – more so when contrasted with the Black Twig Pickers music. They started with the Tibetan singing bowls, making a shimmering luminous cloud of sound, and finished with an oceanic roar of gongs and cymbals. For the mystically minded among you, I'd call it the sound you'll hear while you're in the bardo of rebirth and I conservatively estimate 10,000 souls found themselves reborn by the end of it.

In between several of these performances were video segments – interviews and performances that I think were from the forthcoming "The Things That We Used to Do" DVD (pretty sure, based on the trailer) and Tara Young's interviews with Jack for her film on Michael Chapman. For a guy who would already be described as "larger than life," to have him projected 8 feet high on the wall above your head was intense to say the least – the interviews capture his personality well, a beautiful memorial, and the performances are riveting.

Michael Chapman's performance was as steady as you'd expect, with the kind of confidence that comes from 40 years of playing. His guitar sound is a big bear-hug of a sonic embrace, his voice gravelly and sure and his unsentimental affection for Jack matched the emotional tenor of the evening.

It hadn't been a quiet night but Paul Flaherty, Chris Corsano, Thurston Moore, Samara Lubelski and Bill Nace weren't running the risk of bringing down the energy level, presenting a sustained high-energy improv tumult, with Flaherty staying in the topmost register of his horn.

D. Charles Speer closed with a long boisterous set – you'd think after 3 or 4 successive generations of people compellingly spanning multiple genres, there'd be no surprises left, but there is still something noteworthy about a set of musicians with so many experimental music connections returning to such straight-up country rock – gives a glimpse of how the Flying Burrito Brothers must have seemed, turning up at the crest of psychedelia.

This is already way too long, but I need to give a few shout-outs to the Sunday night lineup at the Issue Project Room in Brooklyn. Tom Carter's massive drone-guitar tidal wave was a great contrast to almost everything else either night, as was Marcia Bassett's more dissonant threnodic performance for voice and guitar. Steve Gunn did a short but beautiful set – anyone who hasn't heard his Boerum Palace record should try to do so. Pelt added Tony Conrad as a guest and did a huge Outside the Dream Syndicate drone, starting with three violins and two harmoniums – again, impressive on its own, but even more intriguing in the context of all the other music they do."

Thanks so much to Bob for sharing!

Monday, February 15, 2010

I enjoyed the snow days, even though we're not used to 'em down here. I bet I'm not the only DFW dingbat that forgot to buy a snow shovel this year. Doh! 49 states got snowfall concurrently! Freaky. And don't go telling me how this disproves global warming cuz ya got yr science all wrong and don't understand climate change AT ALL. Round here we got a record setting blanket of white that topped out at 12 inches. That's a LOT for Dallas. Chilly Willy's keepin cool, and I'm sitting here warming my slippered feet by the fire, tucked in tight and watching it all melt away. Times like these I recommend digging into the spectral/psych/astral folk heap if you can.

This is My Music: Vol 6, Part 1 (Spirit of Love)

James Blackshaw The Glass Bead Game (Young God) CD - What Blackshaw does with 6 and 12 strings truly exceeds the expectations of so called raga-blues, a style that as exemplified by folks like John Fahey and Jack Rose, really already has no limits in terms of the way melody and repetition can be extended, sculpted and collapsed in on themselves to reveal new sacred modes of communication. If ya ask this old fart, no other 6/12 string open-tuned picker so adequately melds the tangible, natural side of life with the Other World. Blackshaw has a visionary understanding of composition as meditation and the deeper spiritual concerns that guide us all. After all, the album's title derives from Herman Hesse's final epic novel of utopian ascendancy and the resultant stagnation that comes when progress is no longer on the menu. Where do we go when we're already there? A question maybe best left unanswered, but meditated on all the same. These 5 songs are drawn from a well so deep, and augmented by subtle embellishments of cello, flute and harmonium, to reveal the infinite emotional possibilities of a genre we thought we knew through and through.

It's to Blackshaw's credit that he's never afraid to reveal the influence early minimal composers like Terry Riley and Steve Reich, as well as older Romantic traditions and jazz greats like Albert Ayler have had on his rapturous string music; but his compositions of quick flowing rivers of fingerpicked strings and resonating vibrations are worlds entirely of his own making. Moments of this record rank with anything that was ever created to invoke beauty, to reveal the sacred, to illuminate the darkness.

The Goner Hind Hand/Haven (Deep Water) 2CD-R (Deep Water) - Another swell new discovery in '09, courtesy of Kevin Moist's forever-expanding Deep Water universe, comes these spectral musings of one Swede and a guitar. The Goner emerges from the Scandinavian wood as a fully functional one man psych-folk unit. This 2-fer combines two albums from '08 into one affordable package, and its vibe is one of Earth and wind meeting the most tender kind of confessional folk songs. "A Song" in particular is a knockout of redemptive longing that sounds kind of like a cross between early Mountain Goats and Six Organs of Admittance lost in the frosty wild. Otherwise there's the spaced out raga flows of "Travelogue" and the delicate layered picking of "Harbor Song," though accented by some effects weirdness and percussion, still sounding entirely handmade and in the now. The all instrumental Hind Hand focuses more on tone and atmosphere in styles ranging from early Amon Düül inspired percussive deluge to more meandering flows of raga and drone.

Hush Arbors Yankee Reality (Ecstatic Peace) CD - It's been cool watching Keith Wood, who basically is Hush Arbors, evolve over the years from a one man bedroom folk psych noise project, as documented on the brilliant Since We Have Fallen (originally released as a li'l edition CD-R in Digitalis's Foxglove series and since dropped on vinyl by Harvest) to real deal psych folk rock craftsman. I knew then Wood was up to something special. Couple years later I saw him sit in on lead guitar with Sunburned Hand of the Man (still the best gig I've seen by that free noise/psych boogie unit) and remember a moment when Wood stepped to the mic and sang. It was the only remotely conventional number of the set and it totally killed. The rest was outer-space tribal industrial caveman sludge of the highest order, but it was this one actual song, with Wood's unmistakably high timber up front, that totally enthralled and left me hungry for more.

Soon after Wood would travel overseas, find love, find David Tibet (him again) and perform guitar on pivotal records by Current 93 and Pantaleimon, as well as tour with the dearly missed Jack Rose and play guitar with Six Organs of Admittance during their '06 tour. He's since honed his craft, wrote songs, signed to a bigger label, and now comes Yankee Reality.

When I say it's been a pleasure watching this guy evolve, this album is the ultimate representation of why that is. Wood spent a lot of time moving around, hooking up with different kindred spirits throughout the South and Midwest US before finding a larger audience. What really emerged on those early Hush Arbors records was an appreciation for the solitude of nature and the mystical beauty of trees, massive sprawling, seemingly alive trees. Many of my favorite roots-psych albums are about the need to escape urban desolation and get out into the untamed wild, but Yankee Reality is about exactly what it says: the harsh reality of leaving the woods behind for the sake of "modern living." Perhaps that's partly the reason so many of the songs on this record kick-ass with faster tempos and fuzzier backdrops, but the structures and melodies can be traced directly to the West Coast psych explosions happening in LA and San Fran in the late 60s, Neil Young, The Band, right on down the line to more modern alt country and indie rock developments, from MV/EE to the Sky Green Leopards. Wood sprinkles it all with his own fairy dust though and just happens to emerge as one of his generations finest songwriters in the process.

Bert Jansch L. A. Turnaround / Santa BarbaraHoneymoon (Drag City) both CD - For folkniks and true believers alike, Drag City's reissue of three of Bert Jansch's Charisma records from the '70s is cause for much rejoice indeed. It could be said that no one guitarist is more responsible for the development of the modern folk rock guitar sound as envisioned circa 1974. As much as John Renbourne or Richard Thompson, Jansch is an architect of the myriad styles and developments that have come to fall loosely under the acid and astral folk banners. He first came to my attention via his recordings with Pentangle, which combined trad Brit folk melodies along with jazz and blues modes into a intricate folk rock jams, but for me it's the Jansch stuff further down the line, as so perfectly captured on L.A. Turnaround (recorded in '73) and Santa Barbara Honeymoon (caught the following year) that reveal an amazing poet and songwriter in peak form, doling out timeless meditative folk melodies that ride the fine line between country, blues, British folk and jazz to reveal lucid tone dreams that offer one Brit's perspective on the burgeoning Americana roots scene. Neil Young and Graham Parsons could be counterpoints to what Jansch is up to here, but his languid pace and fine voice (augmented but mostly two acoustic guitars and lap steel) offer a welcome British perspective on the proceedings.

Of the two albums, L.A. Turnaround (featuring session work by Mike Nesmith of all people!) is my favorite. It's production crisp, its meld of styles and traditions peerless, but Santa Barbara Honeyman is every bit its match, and includes a brilliant cover of Jackson Frank's immortal folk anthem, "Blues Run The Game." Excellent liner notes, pristine remastering jobs and lots of bonus goodies make for some essential British psych folk here, folks. Good on Drag City for putting these beauties back in circulation.

Marissa Nadler Little Hells (Kemado) LP - 4th record from this old world inspired folk chanteuse continues her journey through bittersweet nostalgia and mellow psych folk dream pop. There is something about Nadler which lies beyond any kind of critical appraisal. Like James Blackshaw, her songs and the characters in them almost exist beyond concepts like ecstasy or grief. Nadler's songs are soundtracks for the lost dreams of sad drifters who have been through the ringer a few too many times, and slowly come to accept the grim terms of their seemingly predestined fates. It's liks listening to a frozen snapshot of hope withering before your ears. Grim stuff, but in Nadler's hands, along with her chosen accomplices, that entropy is something quite poignant and beautiful to behold. It's all a bit dainty and melodramatic for some, I suppose, but I remain transfixed. And remember, no prophecy is set in stone.

Six Organs of Admittance Luminous Night (Drag City) LP - Here we have it, good friends: the ultimate nexus of Ben Chasny as soul-bearing tune-smith and dark-noise spirit-conjurer. The songs here rank as some of SOOA's most thoughtful psych folk compositions, drawing heavily from Brit psych folk greats of yore (Bert Jansch, Jackson C. Frank -- who was actually American but still somehow remains inherently British -- and John Renbourn to name a few). Especially mind-blowing is the hypnotic tone-mantra, "Bar-Nasha," a recurring ode to none other than The Son of Man, which evokes images of fanatical young believers dancing 'round ancient fires, hands skyward, hearts/minds open to infinity. Also of note, the stoned and sad "The Ballad of Charley Harper," which backs gorgeous layered vocals with squealing acid undercurrents in a way reminscent of Flying Saucer Attack's finest album, Further. As with past Six Organs records, there's breathing room for weird instrumentals and free-form drone dreams. Both "The River of Heaven" and "Enemies Before the Light" are my favorites of these. The former borrows an old Stooges melody, which I have no doubt was already borrowed from elsewhere, and recasts it as ancient tribal rite. Closer, "Enemies Before the Light," is one of Chasny's most indelible pieces of music yet with its esoteric spiritual vox moaning over a dense feedback wash, and the most fucked up/glorious acid blues solo of 2009, which ends up sounding more Celtic than Delta before it's finished. This is at once the most frightening and soothing Six Organs of Admittance record I've heard so far. Like a hand held by a close friend on your deathbed. Fear not, proud pilgrim.

Trembling Bells Carbeth (Honest John's Records) CD - Trembling Bells is the brainchild of the great avant-percussionist Alex Neilson, whose drum-work can be heard on recordings by Current 93, Jandek, Neilson/Youngs and more. Trembling Bells exists as an attempt to create a bridge between the British Isles trad folk styles and more recent free-noise and psych folk developments. The thing is Trembling Bells is really just a balls-out, glorious, celebratory folk rock ensemble, a genuine band that is as true to the old sound as it is completely and passionately played with blistering conviction for modern ears, and modern times. Carbeth is no throwback, but it is part of a chain. A chain of song, a chain of remembrance and growing. Albums like this are simply not supposed to be released in pristine form circa 2009, but here it is happening right now, and here you can listen if you wish. To these ears, Carbeth rates as one of the greatest Brit psych folk records of all time, plus one hell of a debut.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Old weirdy/genius/recluse J.D. Salinger wrote some stuff that foresaw the ascendancy of vapidity in our culture and the resultant evaporation of the human soul.  Then he gave us all the proverbial finger for a good 40 years and never fully expounded on said digit until the day he died.  Even then his final word was probably little more than a quiet sigh.  Guess nobody knows for sure.

As much as Hemingway or Vonnegut, Salinger captured a mindset -- a sense of dissatisfaction -- the lone voice asking above the rabble, is anyone else really listening?  It's there in the pages of Catcher in the Rye, ideas that live on in Rolling Stones and Joy Division songs and pervade our alienated/confused psyches to this day.  He was right, of course.  At one time I saw some Holden in myself.  Still do even, but over the years things changed and my understanding of the inconsistency of humans (or at least myself) became more clear.  The more I thought I knew, the less I realized I did know.  The more I wanted to be Holden, the more I realized I was closer to the object of his contempt.  Depressing, ain't it?  But, then, this is what it is to be alive and aware, or maybe the character John Locke on Lost.

These days I spend a good bit more time unlearning, returning if you will...  To where?  The name of this blog offers a hint, and that's NOT a roundabout way of saying I need to get laid -- though, I probably need to get laid. 

Now I think that we all basically start life as imitators, or "phonies," and through some searching, real work and/or old fashioned luck, we might grow into something closer to real. The problem is, thanks to the redundant illusions of mass media today and its subjects being rehashed/repackaged/remarketed ad nauseum, it's easier and easier to try on different avatars which we present as ourselves and harder and harder to find our own true voice amid all the chatter.

In this brave new world, bullshit comes as a torrential downpour and everyone has an opinion.  It matters not that we have VIRTUALLY NOTHING to say; what matters is that our thoughts don't fall on deaf ears. It's the tragedy of the human condition recast as abbreviated tedium, writ large and "shared" exponentially.  Thanks to Twitter, you can now watch someone's mental breakdown in real-time in syncopated bursts while browsing through the latest Photobomb over at Visboo.  Points of view are tried on like new hats, or pea-coats, or Lady Gaga's latest face-mask artistic statememt shocker (though on one level a nifty culture-jamming snafu, I still suspect designed to make us think her flavor-of-the-month dancefloor music actually matters) and all of it ejected into hyperspace for the final half-acknowledged, numbskulled reception.

One simply need a good avatar, which is why things like The Grammys and other mass media fellatio fests strike me as so fascinating.  I guess I blame MTV.  I blame Hollywood.  I blame myself.  Yet I thank all those things (and myself), too, for so adequately illustrating the divine comedy that is life today.  It's ironic to think that the things that make us the least interesting as people often define other species at their best.  I'm thinking of ants, honeybees, trees and flowers.  Hence Communism and Socialism are so enticing to young and hopeful minds.  Perhaps this desire for collectivist information reception, no matter how meaningless, is why trash like the VMAs, MTV, The Grammy's and The Things Famous People Do are all so darn important to us, or at least more important than they should be. 

Now to be completely honest I'm too busy pulling off my balancing act between being a good little worker bee and contemplating The Infinite to really be bothered with mass culture today, but never the less I remain a part of the mass: The Grand Material Whatever It Is That Unfolds Randomly through seemingly endless space, spitting out gaseous giants, quasars and photons in all directions every step of the way, and me, the fool trying to assemble the puzzle that was never designed.  There is something magical at work here.  And spontaneous.  We only see a sliver, yet we see so much.  No wonder we're so delusional, so lost, trying to put it all together.  When I think about it, I feel less guilty for being Holden Caulfield and a big fat phony all rolled into one.  All that really matters is where you wanna go, and how you intend to get there.  Can you tell I'm in serious Lost mode currently?  Metacontemplation, baby.   

I'd like to send out mad props to all involved for bringing the second installment of the No Idea Festival to the Dallas area late last month, this time at the Phoenix Project Collective.  I meant to give this thing a proper review days ago.  Events like these are a real blessing 'round these parts, and I'm thankful to Chris Cogburn, Aaron and Stefan Gonzalez and the other amazing musicians that played this night, Dave Dove, Jesse Kuddler, Lucas Gorham, Phil Brewer and Remi Alvarez, for making it one to remember.  My favorite set was probably the opening duo of Cogburn/Kuddler with Kuddler's muted Onkyo Music inspired electronic hums conversing with Cogburn's unconventional pats, scratches and bows on drums.  I hope there's more to come from these two.  The Dove/Gorham duo, operating under the designation Screwed Anthology, delivered the goods in spades with way gone trombone/lapsteel blues/jazz workouts that rubbed elbows with prechosen selections from the vast mixtape library of the legendary DJ Screw.  The final trio of the Gonzalez's and Mexico City's Alvarez (sax), along with Phil Brewer (trumpet) on a couple pieces, offered a good hour of exploratory free jazz aural-kinesis that dipped into the most jagged spiked rock valleys and ascended to blue-green windswept highs.  Ego-destroyed.

Rewatched Avatar (at home) - definitely better than Titanic, but I don't know about this Best Film Oscar stuff.  I'm thankful for prime-time pulp sci-fi entertainments like Lost and Fringe, as they keep my busy brain energized and stimulated in interesting new ways.  The former will be remembered as one of the most influential and thought provoking shows of all time, where the latter is closer to a theoretical-physics-meets-Paranormal-Investigation answer to The X Files.  Both are highly recommended if you want to try to shed your typical 4-dimensional mindset.  Also rewatching the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy (out of order) -  unable to escape hobbit roots.  They may be too long, but they beat the hell out of those awful Pirates movies.