Monday, January 08, 2018


Don't know much about the participants here, but I'm learning. Spider Bags have been around for awhile, and have released records on Birdman and Merge, as well as a previous 7" on this label, Sophomore Lounge, but I don't think I'd heard the band before this LP. Reese McHenry I hadn't heard of at all, but that's her on the cover, and she's the lead vocalist here, apparently well-known in Chapel Hill, North Carolina for her powerful bluesy/country rock'n'roll singing with a band called The Dirty Little Heaters, but under-recorded, as she's been dealing with health issues for the last few years. The Heaters released a 7" in 2008 and a CD in 2010, but Bad Girl is a sort of an overdue debut vinyl LP for McHenry. As backing band, the Spider Bags are a good-ole guitar/bass/drums trio, playing hard-edged soulful roots rock. Ms. McHenry makes it a quartet, and has a great voice, soulful, wailing, clear as a bell. There's a decent amount of actual Grace Slick power and character going on here, among other things, such as roots and country and honest-to-goodness cowpunk. They play some originals and some covers. "Leanin' on You Too Much" is a Joe South tune that they tear up pretty good, with great overdubbed background vocals and sax, and McHenry really makes the Lee Moses oldie "Bad Girl" her own for the opening cut, but the originals blend right in, like "Painter Blues," written by Spider Bags vocalist/guitarist Dan McGee, and "Mexico City" and the super-hooky "On the 45" by McHenry. The steel guitar by John "One Take" Brown is really nice too. A proverbial good'un!

DRONE NOT DRONES: The 4th annual live 28​​​-​​​hour drone, Minneapolis 2017

Just spent pretty much two whole days at work playing this 28-hour-long Drone Not Drones 2017 release on Bandcamp. We're doing end-of-year inventory, and I've gotta say, this music is perfect for when it's zero degrees outside and you're barely moving, counting stuff all day long in a dimly lit basement. Drone Not Drones is an annual Minneapolis-based benefit concert for Doctors Without Borders, in which more than sixty musical acts rotate on and off a stage and play an uninterrupted drone for 28 hours. This was the 4th annual iteration, and it took place back in February (I guess the 5th annual might be coming up soon?), and though most of the artists are from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, there's some ringers from out of town too. In fact, 2017 was closed out by a strong Chicago crew of Mind Over Mirrors, Matt Jencik & Whitney Johnson, and Circuit Des Yeux, then a solo set by NYC's own Lee Ranaldo, followed by all of them jamming together for the grand finale. It was a recent Facebook post by Circuit Des Yeux that brought me here (I guess the 2017 performance was just made available on Bandcamp this month), in which she wrote of her solo set, "At the time it was a huge physical challenge to sing for 40 minutes straight with no accompaniment or loop pedal. I've since been trying this exercise more regularly & it has opened many musical doors. I was grateful when Lee Ranaldo joined for the last few minutes to see me through." It's amazing to think this was one of her first times doing this, because it is already some really stunning and intense high art. Now that she has essentially another year's experience under her belt, I'm even more excited to hear [plug]her upcoming solo performance at the Art Institute of Chicago, this January 11th[/plug].

But there's much, much more here than just those last few sets. 28 hours is a lot of new music, and it's crazy to think that it all happened in one shot. Now that I've listened, paying varying degrees of attention, to almost half of it, it's certainly given me a lot other thoughts too. One is that the Twin Cities of Minnesota are a very creative and intelligent place, having brought us a strong leftist/individual hard-working and hard-weathered political stance, as well as great musical innovators like Prince and Husker Du, and that guy Bob Dylan, as well as a thriving forever-unknown local hardcore experimental music scene as documented here.

Another thought is just how wintry it is in the Twin Cities, probably even colder than Chicago, and I can't help but think how well this music goes with winter. The ambience is like a slow-burning fire, and/or the deep dive into inner space that can only happen on isolated days and nights spent indoors while the city freezes outside. Another thought is: what is drone anyway? There's entire hours of music here that really aren't drone at all, more like glacial soft improvising, almost like raw tapes for ECM, or just solo instrumental performance, with all kinds of personal non-drone musical languages, silences and themes and riffs and melodies that come and go. I'm thinking of the sequence where Alan Sparhawk of Low plays skittery and minimal solo electric guitar, filtered judiciously through a loop pedal, and is eventually joined by banjoist Paul Metzger, who then embarks on a long solo set that is downright baroque classical in its sweep, which gives way to Steve Hauschildt (of Emeralds, another out-of-town ringer) and his rich cosmic electronic synthesizer styles, in some sense closer to true drone, but ultimately too varied and cinematic to be.

Another thought: during long stretches when the sound is supplied by what seem to be Twin Cities-based ad hoc groups, I can't help but think that a lot of this music wasn't created to be "definitive," or "permanent," or even "great," it was created to keep the moment it was part of going, to raise the money for the deserving cause, to simply amplify the ambience of the great Northern Central American Plain, and to turn regular life into art for a little while, not necessarily for posterity. Some of it actually is great (the Circuit Des Yeux set for sure), lots of it, like maybe even 80%, is definitely good, but 100% of it works towards that common goal. And you can buy all 100% of it on Bandcamp for a mere $10! That's only one dollar for every ten percent! (Although $28 is suggested as a nice round number that would make Doctors For Borders happy.)

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

FUMIO MIYASHITA Live On The Boffomundo Show LP (DRAG CITY)

Gotta love Drag City, in addition to supporting and promoting several deep and long-running independent rock careers, they also go and put out odd duck LPs like this one, an archival record featuring two late-70s live performances on Los Angeles public access cable TV by Far East Family Band guitarist/keyboardist Fumio Miyashita. Far East Family Band first started putting out records in 1975, and while they were billed commonly as "the Japanese Pink Floyd," they were going deeper than that, channeling the German progressive rock of Tangerine Dream, Popol Vuh, Cluster, et al. (In fact, their first two LPs were produced by Klaus Schulze himself.) This stuff from 1979 and 1980 is still very true to Miyashita's progressive synth and guitar roots, a little lo-fi with it's live-on-public-access origins (according to the liner notes, Miyashita ran his entire rig through a "12-inch bookshelf speaker"), but the jamming is terrific and I dig the rough & ready stark B&W vibe of the sonics.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Documentary of BRIAN ENO recording HERE COME THE WARM JETS (1973)

I don't know if it's still up on YouTube or what (it keeps getting taken down), so I won't bother linking, but if you come across it, you should watch it. A few salient notes:

1. "I have attempted to replace the element of skill considered necessary in music with the element of judgment."

2. I like his genre coinage "insane rock" to describe the Velvet Underground. 

3. Man, Paul Thompson was a great drummer in Roxy Music, as this excerpted live performance of "Re-Make/Re-Model" from 1973 (Olympia Theater, Paris) amply demonstrates. (Fascinating side anecdote from a late-70's Eno interview with Lester Bangs which, like this film, I didn't know existed until today: "To get a drummer we auditioned 130 drummers, and it came down to two people in the end. One was a guy named Charlie Hayward who played in Quiet Sun, which was Phil Manzanera's first band. He was a very technical sort of drummer with a lot of interesting ideas; he had a drumkit that was made apart from ordinary drums, it had all sorts of junk inside it, like a van Tieghem type of thing only on stands so he could play it. So it was a choice between him who was very light and Paul Thompson who's very very heavy, and we went for Paul, because we decided that with the instruments we already had quite enough etheria, we needed some kind of heavy anchorage. And I think that was quite the right choice as well. I think if it hadn't been for Paul, who is always quite the overlooked person in Roxy, it would have been just another arty band." I had no idea that Hayward was that close to being the original Roxy drummer!) 

4. Eno's briefly appearing costume designer Carol (McNicoll) seems rad with her dyed red hair. Turns out she's very rad indeed. Her main medium is ceramics ("mainly non domestic slipcast ware"), with which she exhibits and lectures internationally to this day. At the time of Warm Jets she was Eno's girlfriend and designed his trademark black cockerel feathered boa collar, as well as supervising the fabulous cover for the LP (in which one of her teapot designs can be spotted amongst the clutter).  

5. Apparently "The Heavenly Music Corporation" from Fripp/Eno's (No Pussyfooting) was recorded the first time they ever played music together. No pussyfooting indeed! 

6. I can't believe that dude's stage name was Busta Cherry Jones. You might know him from his brief tenure as co-bassist with the Talking Heads' Remain in Light band. No wonder Tina wanted him out, trying to take her job with a name like that. Sick fuzz bass part for "Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch." (And whoever played that sick electric sitar part, probably Manzanera, was it even used in the final mix?) Mr. Jones passed away of heart failure in 1995, only 44 years old. 

7. "I'm decadent in some ways. The real meaning of decadence is things in decay, okay? So, to be decadent isn't difficult at all, it just means that you're in a condition of being split between two cultures, of being half of one culture, that's just dying, and half of another that's just being born." These thoughtful musings voiced over priceless footage of the man emerging from his back alley studio door and into the vibrancy of the Portobello Road market, where Magic Michael busks and reggae booms from another stall. He also meets up with a "fabulous" (and also dyed-red) character named Cindy, who has a "beautiful voice" and "sings as though she's dead" and is the "closest thing to Lou Reed I've heard in a girl singer." Who is she? And, is she the one who told him, as it were, in the song "Cindy Tells Me"?

8. Rather amazing to watch Chris Spedding overdubbing his guitar part for "Needle in the Camel's Eye," which he calls "pure Duane Eddy." I just wish we could watch him playing his monumentally simple guitar solo from the song, but the big chords are great enough, even with the odd "time-goof." 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

THE COMET IS COMING Death to the Planet EP (LEAF)

This summer I saw a great saxophonist I'd never heard of before named Shabaka Hutchings, wailing and grooving onstage with Louis Moholo-Moholo's Five Blokes at the 2017 Chicago Jazz Festival (overall review coming soon, only a few months late). He's based in London, where he also plays in an "apocalyptic jazz" trio called The Comet Is Coming, with a synth/sax/drums lineup that puts them squarely into new hybrid territory. Dig deeper at


Monday, November 27, 2017


Sublime Frequencies is such a rich record label that I'm still wrapping my head around LPs that they released almost 10 years ago, such as the Algerian Rai LP just re-reviewed back in July, and this Eat the Dream: Gnawa Music from Essaouira LP which, from 2012, is no spring chicken itself. This is essentially (in true SubFreq fashion) a barely credited Maleem Mahmoud Guinia LP (though producer/engineer Tucker Martine does prominently include two of his own very cool extended field recording interludes), and as such may be the single best one I know of. Just Guinia hollering and jamming out on that guimbri with his percussion/chant crew, very well-recorded by Martine in 1994, when he travelled to Morocco and ended up in the house of Maleem Boubker Guinia, the father of Maleem Mahmoud, and another son Maleem Abdallah Guinia, who plays the guimbri solo that opens the record. To clarify, Maleem is an honorific meaning "master," in this case a master of the 300-year tradition of gnawa music, and I would say Mahmoud Guinia (b. 1951) is to gnawa music what Marley (b. 1945) is to reggae and Brown (b. 1933) is to funk, that is the leading 20th Century innovator/interpreter.

And good gawd, hit me, look at what's been just sitting there on the internet for over 3 years, Maleem Mahmoud Guinia a year before his death, sharing a big couch in a Moroccan palace with three percussionist/vocalists, jamming as hard as possible for an hour:

Saturday, November 25, 2017

DIANA ROSS "Love Hangover" (MOTOWN)

So I'm finally reading England's Dreaming for the first time ever (what a great book), and on page 186 it mentions that pre-fame Siouxsie Sioux and her friends used to jam out to "Love Hangover" by Diana Ross, a great proto-house disco song, and while jamming out to it myself right now, I got to reading Ms. Ross's wikipedia entry, and saw that she was a graduate from Detroit's Cass Technical High School, and I wondered what other luminaries, musical and otherwise, might have attended, and the list is just as impressive as I'd expected: from the jazz world alone, Alice Coltrane herself, Donald Byrd, Ron Carter, Paul Chambers, Major Holley, Kenny Burrell, Geri Allen, and quite a few more you may have heard or heard of... but also actors Ellen Burstyn, Lily Tomlin, and David Alan Grier... singer/actress Della Reese... session keyboardist Greg Phillinganes (he played on Thriller and Songs in the Key of Life to name a couple)... Kenya Moore (the second African-American woman to win Miss USA, now a Real Housewife of Atlanta)... Jack White himself... sound sculptor Harry Bertoia himself (!!!)... founding father of mail art Ray Johnson himself (!!!!)... John DeLorean (inventor of the DeLorean) himself... Cora Brown (the first African-American woman elected to the United States state senate, in 1952)... and more!

Friday, November 17, 2017


I know there's approximately 8 million amazing podcasts out there that I really need to start listening to, but one of the few I actually have is Kreative Kontrol with host Vish Khanna. The pod persona that he casts is that of a friendly and thoughtful music-loving resident of Guelph, Ontario, Canada, with guests from all across what could be generally classified as the indie/underground rock spectrum, including, in this case, long-time underground-rock-friendly jazz pianist Matthew Shipp. Interviews with Shipp are always good, so I jumped right on it, and not only has it introduced me to his terrific new piano trio album Piano Song, it's got my head brewing on several lines of thought that his words and music have set it on, such as the reality of inner space vs. the outer world, the realms and possibilities and usefulness of the imagination, forms of language that do not use words, and more, all as interpreted through one of my personal favorite musical archetypes, the jazz piano trio. I got so worked up by the interview that I dutifully transcribed a few key exchanges between Khanna and Shipp, but there's a lot more to dig into, so by all means go listen to the real thing, where you can also hear excerpts of this great new album.

SHIPP: [talking about the song "Cosmopolitan"] I view the album as a city. To me, all my albums are metropolitan landscapes of the mind . . . a lot of my albums are involved with trying to see what a futuristic city would be, like the landscape of a city on another planet.
KHANNA: You know, it's interesting to hear you talk about cosmopolitan and the future, because so many musicians when they are trying to conjure such a landscape will revert to synthetic music of some kind, and it's fascinating to hear you talk about this by using rather traditional instruments, if you will . . . it's fascinating to me that the future for you, in your mind, is really connected to the past, I suppose. This future landscape is really anchored in these older instruments, I suppose, in your case.
SHIPP: Well, I think the traditional jazz trio can present a vision of the future just as easy as a synthesizer does. I mean, the future is not all technology. The future is also inner landscapes. I mean, being able to travel inside your mind, or if you want to holographically go inside your mind, you can go to the whole universe . . . with Sun Ra, despite the fact that he has used electronic instruments, and was one of the first to use a Moog synthesizer, and that's a part of his vision, that he actually also understands that acoustic instruments can give a tip to futuristic ideas and landscapes just as much as a synthesizer can. I mean, first of all, a scientist does equations with mathematics, so you know, you can calculate stuff on Pluto in an equation, and scientists were doing that before computers. Obviously computers help mathematics in doing equations that are so cumbersome, you know, but scientists were doing that way before they were doing things on computers.Yeah, I don't sit around thinking about that, but that has been part of the calculation, that I can generate something with a scale or a cluster of notes on the piano that has everything, as much, to do with walking down the street on Planet X than what technology would generate.

SHIPP: [on the song "Microwave"] I actually named that more, I was reading just some physics books I was looking at around that time... it has nothing to do with an actual microwave that you cook in.
KHANNA: You're a physics buff, are you?
SHIPP: I find modern physics to be really good for the imagination . . . It's not a matter of really having an understanding of it. In fact, it's more of a matter of not understanding it, and letting your imagination go somewhere.

KHANNA: I feel like because we live in such dire times in terms of climate change and various administrations around the world, I feel like there's a deeper and more prolonged fascination with this notion of living in space.
SHIPP: Right.
KHANNA: Leaving earth! [Both laugh] Are you someone who is contemplating such things?
SHIPP: Well, we're kinda stuck here! Until we really get out, so... let's just say I always contemplate travelling to higher planes. That doesn't necessarily mean physically moving. It means just trying to get in touch with yourself, and find that bedrock of a place that might energetically, as far as frequency-wise, not be Planet Earth, even though your body's on the Planet Earth at the time.
KHANNA: I don't mean to conjure any kind of cliche, but does music take you to a different place?
SHIPP: (Emphatically) Yes.

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