Monday, April 01, 2013


DAN MELCHIOR The Backwards Path CD (NORTHERN SPY) This is one of those records that I fear will take me way too long to review, and by then Dan will have probably released 5 or 10 more full-lengths, so I've gotta write some sort of rushed reaction like this one, just so I can get something posted before his next record comes out (oops, too late). It's just that I don't think I can do The Backwards Path justice. It's really good, you see, and it also carries with it what Dan and his wife Letha are going through right now, as she undergoes cancer treatment with minimal health insurance. (For more on their situation, and to help them out with it, go to If that sounds like it might make for a challenging or difficult listen, it really doesn't, simply because he's a good songwriter, and good songs are rarely difficult to listen to. What's more, he hasn't lost his sense of humor, and he still writes songs that reach out to the listener instead of turning him or her away. When he sings, you can not only understand the words, you get a feel for his personal rhythms, anticipating the various turns of phrase and where the punchlines might come. This is what makes a songwriter good and engaging, as opposed to merely competent and listenable; when you trust that the songwriter has the skill to satisfy your anticipations, and also, if he or she chooses, to disarm them, because when on form, he or she will do one or the other at least a couple times a minute for as long as they're singing. I'll leave you to hear most of the disarming details from The Backwards Path for yourself, but Dan is a prolific writer of thoughtful hooks, and the biggest ones so far include "There's nothing really happening/except the things that are" from "Night Comes In," the "Don't worry/I will follow you" chorus of "All The Clocks," the rather cheeky "Now here we are/Nothing much has changed/No utopia/Just some bullet trains/And the internet/And some other stuff" from "The Old Future," his various riffs on the title of "I Have Known The Emptiness," and of course, plenty more. The overall sequencing of the album is a hook itself, as it alternates an experimental/instrumental piece with a vocal song throughout the entire running order, and the album also has a very cohesive arrangement strategy; each experimental/instrumental track is Melchior solo, and then for the vocal tracks he plays & sings the song and is joined by at least two (but never more than three) guests, all of whom recorded independently at a later date. C. Spencer Yeh shows up on all 7 vocal tracks to float out genius hook-drone VU violin minimalism, Anthony Allman contributes keyboards to 4 tracks, Sam Hilmer plays saxophone on 1 song, and icy, haunting vocals are overdubbed on 3 songs each by Haley L. Fohr of Circuit de Yeux and Ela Orleans, who also plays keyboards and guitar. I guess that's it for now; been playing and thinking about this one a lot.

EMERALDS Just To Feel Anything (EDITIONS MEGO) You've probably heard that this band broke up a couple months ago, as the event set off the predictable flurry of "RIP" facebook posts, internet comments, and sad tweets. When almost anything is trending on the internet like that, I usually give it a couple minutes and then try to tune it out completely; in the two minutes I gave the Emeralds breakup I noticed at least two or three different internet users saying something to the effect of "Too bad they didn't break up BEFORE they released Just To Feel Anything," which had come out just a month or two earlier. These opinions made me think that I really do live in underground-music opposite-land, because I'd heard a couple tracks from the record on WFMU, most notably a track called "Search For Me In The Wasteland," and was thinking it was their best stuff in years. About six years, in fact; the last record of theirs that blew me away was Allegory of Allergies, and that came out in 2007. At some point, they seemed to go from toughing out an ensemble sound with limited means, which was fairly thrilling, to actually improving their gear and their skills on it, which unfortunately made them good enough to imitate Baumann-era Tangerine Dream, and no, I don't think the 3rd or 4th Baumann-era Tangerine Dream records are that great either. Sometimes great gear plus a great record collection leads to merely good music, and sometimes it leads to something that really isn't even music, more just genre exercise and equipment demonstration, here resulting in what Negative Guest List fanzine called "Dawson's Creek Kraut Rock." When I heard "Search For Me In The Wasteland," though, not knowing who the artist was for the first few minutes, it really turned my head, a superb desolate lament, with a nice dystopian title that combined with the music, and the title of the album itself, to create some serious poignance. In fact, I can't help but interpret it as the band yearning to get out of the fake-cosmic genre-demo game, trying to find a way to play real breathing and feeling music again, just to feel anything, and succeeding, at least for one great track. "Through & Through" continues boldly in that vein, with Mark McGuire playing some truly emotive lead guitar, but ultimately they go too far, into straight-up Rush-soundtrack territory, or should I say Clapton-scoring-Dawson's Creek territory, and this straight-faced cheesiness permeates the more upbeat and driving sci-fi Michael Mann crime-drama tunes like "Adrenochrome" and "Everything Is Inverted" as well. Thing is, I don't see it as a late-period misstep... this is basically what they've sounded like to me ever since they started putting out records on Editions Mego.
DUCKTAILS The Flower Lane (DOMINO) Look, I'm as leery of present-day major-metropolis fake-80s electro-pop as any other grumpy old Dead C fan, but even I'll admit that a couple times a year somebody comes along and just NAILS it. For example, the pop songs on the Drive soundtrack, or even better, the Ford & Lopatin Channel Pressure album, or possibly best of all, the leadoff single from this new Ducktails album, a shimmering number called "Letter of Intent." It's a slow jam, to use the correct parlance, a straight-up beautiful pop/R&B ballad, and when I first heard the song one Thursday morning on WFMU's The Long Rally program, DJ Scott McDowell back-announced it in somewhat post-Bangsian fashion by letting this blurt: "Ducktails are the Boz Scaggs of 2013! And The Flower Lane is their Silk Degrees!!"  Funny how last time I heard Ducktails it was his first 7-inch and it was fairly imitative but decent post-Blues Control bedroom solo instrumental psych-pop by one Matt Mondanile, who was also in band called Real Estate, playing in the then-popular 'beach pop' style, which took off a little quicker, and took up a lot more of his time. Now a few years later he's back to Ducktails, and now it's a full band too, that sounds, I don't know, maybe kinda like Real Estate. That is, a lot of The Flower Lane is guitar-band indie-pop, with a touch of cleaned-up slinky Ariel Pink discotheque drama, and as such, not too bad, occasionally pretty good. But "Letter of Intent," well, that song is GREAT. And whaddayaknow, the session musicians on the track are none other than the aforementioned Joel Ford and Daniel Lopatin, in which they indeed cement their status as the 2010s version of the Porcaro Brothers.

Just noticed how well-stocked the BLUES CONTROL Soundcloud page is, spanning their entire career up until the latest LP Valley Tangents (Drag City, 2012) with a clutch of studio/demo/live tracks, multiple versions of (most of) the hits, and nice long excerpts from all their official releases, like the self-titled debut tape (Palsy, 2006), Puff (Woodsist, 2007), the self-titled full-length (Holy Mountain, 2007), the lovely "Snow Day" b/w "Paul's Winter Solstice" 7-inch (Sub Pop, 2008), and Local Flavor (Siltbreeze, 2009). The only real Valley Tangents era tracks, as far as I can tell, are an October 2012 live version of "Opium Den/Fade To Blue," from Brian Turner's show on WFMU, and their great appearance on WBEZ's The Morning Shift program, just a few weeks ago in Chicago. This seems to be in keeping with Drag City's bold and admirable policy of keeping their music off of the internet (I don't think they have anything available on Spotify either), which means you need to buy a nice hard copy of Valley Tangents today. But back to this Soundcloud... right now I'm unearthing forgotten jam "Teetotalers" from 2006. Not even sure I've heard this song before, and I'd literally thought I'd heard everything by Blues Control. It's good stuff, but at the same time I can't help noticing how much more musically fluent the duo has gotten with each other. Wait, Soundcloud is weird, I wanted to just stream the whole Blues Control page, but after one track it jumped me to a live track by Blues Control on someone else's page. It's a version of "Good Morning" that isn't from the tour they just finished, as it was added 7 months ago, though they are still playing the song, or at least they did when they were in Chicago a couple weeks ago. OMG, after that Soundcloud jumped me to some dubstep/hiphop monstrosity posted on some other page that isn't even remotely connected to Blues Control. Oh well, see if you have better luck....

WIL HARRIS ReverbNation and MySpace tunes. It looks like we've got another Wicked Witch of the Southeast on our hands, and of course by Southeast I mean the emerald kingdom of Southeast Washington DC Home-Recording Solo Bedroom Funk Madman Geniuses. There was Wicked Witch himself (check out his insane album Chaos: 1978-86) and now there's Wil Harris, who offers up something like a cleaner and soberer sounding version of the same Hendrix/P-Funk/Prince/DC damage. He's certainly a better mimic than Wicked Witch is/was, and can do a very credible Ed Hazel, not to mention having the Mayfield/Hendrix rhythm guitar style down. Most impressively, he can vocally and even stylistically do a Prince impersonation that could actually fool some people. It might have even fooled me if I hadn't just clicked "play" on the ReverbNation page of Wil Harris. The best track of all might be a monster slice of industrial psycho funk called "Lucifer's Fall." Now I'm listening to him play "Maggot Brain" on his MySpace page, and it seems a little unnecessary for him to do covers, but still pretty good, and a lot more necessary than the J. Mascis/Mike Watt version was . . .  whoah, MySpace is lame just like Soundcloud, after one Wil Harris track the player started playing a bunch of late-period Lenny Kravitz tracks.

LONNIE HOLLEY Just Before Music CD (DUST-TO -DIGITAL) Less an album than it is an outpouring, one man from Birmingham, Alabama at a keyboard singing his guts out, in a style that goes back through a capella blues, maybe further back to North African muezzin singing, who knows, pouring out raw autobiographical emotion, with bold phrases that are already haunting me after two listens: "Looking for all to be rendered / Looking for all to come about from my soul / Looking for all somewhere within . . . And one day / One day / At my lowest / At my loooooowwwweeeest, I know..." The solo keyboard accompaniment is quite notable as well, cushioning the rawness of the vocals, placing them within a retrofuturistic dream-space that gets me thinking of not only other classic one-man-at-the-keyboard R&B performances (Wonder, Hathaway, etc), but even more so something like the 1980 Martin Rev solo album (about to be, or already is, reissued by the superior Superior Viaduct label).

GROUPER Dragging a Dead Deer up a Hill LP (KRANKY) The title and the cover image give me the creeps, but that's something I like about Grouper; as ethereal and beautiful as her music can get, she's still not afraid to put down a bad vibe, and bad vibes can make for some endlessly rich and even enjoyable art. Either way, I'm very glad to see Kranky reissue this because I missed it the first time around and it's not only the best Grouper album so far, it's also one of my favorite albums of the last 10 years. What can I say, it finds the sweetest spot of that Venn diagram between hardcore avant-garde 1960s loft drone, 1970s femme-sung folk-pop, and 1460s Renaissance madrigal chorale singing. The controversial (some might say "incorrect") opinion I'm going to go ahead and put forth is that it all combines to create the best shoegaze album since Loveless. Of course literally everyone else who reads this will immediately say "you're wrong," and sure, you'd all be right, but in my rarefied world it is indeed the perfect follow-up. Not so much a follow-up, more like the perfect sonic refraction, radiated back in 2010 after the initial 1991 blast, a 20 year cycle, quiet and open where Loveless is loud and dense. It's very nice to have it, because, like JW said somewhere within this 3-hour Cargo Culte podcast (actually right around 45:40... no I haven't listened to the whole thing... yet), "You can only blow something out so much, and then you have to go back and be able to hear it."

ENO Here Come The Warm Jets LP (ISLAND) Think of some of your absolute favorite albums of all time. As accurately as you can possibly estimate, how many times do you think you've listened to them? How about some of your favorite albums from this year, or the last decade. How many times have you listened to those? One of my favorite albums from 2012 was Blues Control's Valley Tangents. I remember the iTunes play count for the lead-off song "Love's a Rondo" being at 13 at one point, and I've probably listened to it about 10 more times since then. This is pretty damn high -- a lot of records that I bought intentionally years ago, and still own today, have not been played more than twice. Still, I'm thinking that even the really beloved records I own rarely get more than 30 plays. I think 50 and higher is where the real all-time favorites reside. I wonder if I've ever played a record more than 100 times. Have you? To be honest, I doubt I have, but who knows. Either way, I'm pretty damn sure Here Come the Warm Jets is in the 50+ club, and I'd have to say it sounds as good as ever, right now, tonight. Sure he had amazingly fresh electro-orchestrations and production and great experimental solos like the one on "The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch," but what really makes this album great is that he wrote a bunch of great melodies for it, like the ones on "Needle in a Camel's Eye" and "On A Faraway Beach" or the album-closing title track's mostly instrumental ride-out. And what the hell is that solo on "Blank Frank"?? Now that's stun guitar! Or stun synth, I'm not even sure, but I think it's guitar.

ANNA PLANETA Untitled 2CDR (BETLEY WELCOMES CAREFUL DRIVERS) Pulled this one out from deep within the depths of my  1990s experimental CD collection... the only full-length (and boy is it ever full-length) by an improvisational experimental group from England featuring Phil Todd (of Ashtray Navigations, Inca Eyeball, and many more), Andy Jarvis (of several other Phil Todd-related groups such as A Warm Palindrome, Dogliveroil, Jarvis/Joincey/Todd, and the recently reviewed Saboteuse), and Dan Bird (no idea but he's certainly a member of Anna Planeta). "All the Anna Planeta tracks were recorded live on location at an abandoned school building in Yorkshire, using only acoustic and battery-operated instruments." There's only six looooong tracks that sprawl all over both of these discs and fill them up completely (disc one only has two!), foreboding, haunting, uncompromising deep scans across small windows that open into the deepest abyssal inner space... monolithic atonalities, in the British tradition of AMM as filtered through the Mid-Northern soundworld of Phil Todd and company. In other words.... recommended!

GRAND GENERAL s/t CD (RUNE GRAMMOFON) Back in 2009 there was this album I liked quite a bit by a Norwegian heavy rock free jazz power trio called Bushman's Revenge. It was called You Lost Me At Hello, and on it, they pretty much took the sheets of sound of Coltrane and Ayler and swirled 'em right into a Hendrix/Cream/Mountain rhythm section, with rather ferocious results. I don't recall too much chatter about the band, but it was a great ripping record. Turns out they've released a total of 4 albums on Rune Grammofon, and now here's a group called Grand General, also on Rune Grammofon, which features the guitarist from Bushman's Revenge, one Even Helte Hermansen. His playing rips on here too, but keeping up with him all the way is a second lead string voice, Ola Kvenerberg on violins and viola, a sound that combines with the keyboards/bass/drums of the rest of the band to force me to say that if You Lost Me At Hello was The Inner Mounting Flame, then Grand General is their Visions of the Emerald Beyond all the way. Contemporary heavy guitar prog with violin, okay?

TIVOL Interstellar Overbike CD (LAST VISIBLE DOG) From 2007, this is this week's deep catalog pull from the Last Visible Dog label. Heavy driving extendo psychedelic Japan-style from Finland. (Maybe a Circle side project? Can't remember.) 

INVISIBLE HANDS Insect Dilemma/Disallowed 7" (ABDUCTIONAlan Bishop, formerly of Sun City Girls, has already given us a damn good self-titled full-length by his new rock band from Cairo (Egypt not Illinois), but I might like this 7-inch even better. Sure, I might be saying that just because two of the three numbers are revamped Sun City Girls classics (a rather bold reimagining of "Insect Dilemma" b/w a gorgeous female-sung version of "Cruel and Thin" called "Lili Twil"), but shit, SCG are one of my favorite bands of all time, and its really cool to hear the songs given a new life by the very capable Invisible Hands. Apparently this is a Record Store Day release, so I hope you can get a copy.

SUN CITY GIRLS Halcyon Days of Symmetry VHS (parts 1 through 5 somebody put on YouTube) Opens with the sickest of sick VHS collages by Bonnieban, a buncha psychotronic kung fu and horror imagery flying past . . . see if you can name every film . . . I bet you can't name 10 percent of 'em, and don't worry, I think I could only name Phantom of the Paradise. Worth watching for the collage alone but there's tons more Sun City Girls fun on here.... to name just two examples: an ecstatic early runthrough of "Esoterica of Abysynnia" at some sort of hardcore matinee and the most scorching Charles Gocher version of "Let's Pretend" ever. Overall it's my 2nd-favorite of their VHS releases (behind only their very first VHS, the Cloaven Theater release).

SUN CITY GIRLS Singles Vol. 3: Eye Mohini CD (ABDUCTION) Previously reviewed.

SEATTLE PHONOGRAPHERS UNION s/t CD (MIMEOMEME / SPU / and/OAR) Brought to you by a very hard-to-type array of record labels, this is a pretty huge presentation of long austere otherworldly pieces made from people amplifying records and phonographs and creating pure hand-made off-the-cuff musique concrete. Six long, slow, and quietly oppressive/impressive tracks, too much to take in one sitting if you've got a lot of other stuff you wanna listen to, but I wouldn't mind spending the afternoon cleaning the house to this sometime. Rob Millis of Climax Golden Twins is on track 1 (18:48) and track 5 (10:54); as for the other eleven (!) names, none are familiar, but it would seem they are all part of the Seattle underground and they make some assured sound art here. The disc was released in 2009 (which is what I mean by "Old Arrivals"... its been in the on-deck pile for almost 4 years), made up of pieces recorded between 2004 and 2008, and I can actually see this record as a more tentative but just as deep-digging parallel/precedent to what Demdike Stare is/was doing.

REVOLUTIONARY ENSEMBLE The Psyche LP (RE:RECORDS) For some reason this year I've gotten the urge to buy a bunch of LPs by the Revolutionary Ensemble, the 1970s free jazz trio of Leroy Jenkins on violin, Sirone on bass, and Jerome Cooper on drums. They're pretty much all twenty dollar records, but so are most new releases. I've been a huge fan of Vietnam (1972, ESP Disk) ever since Chris Moon played it on Lincoln, NE community radio back in like 1997, and I've been a huge fan of the self-titled 1976 LP on Inner City ever since I checked out a copy from Chicago's Sulzer Regional Library back in like 2002, but I didn't even know about The Psyche until just a couple weeks ago when Scott McDowell played a good chunk of it on one of his Long Rally radio programs. (Oh hey, another link to The Long Rally... you can tell I've been listening to it quite a bit.) This record came out in 1975, and damn, it's a good 'un. There's just something refreshing about free jazz played without horns, although "refreshing" might not be quite the right word for the chillingly spiky and haunting music on s/t and The Psyche, or for the blasting shrapnel terror of Vietnam. Either way, free jazz violin is something I'm going to start digging deeper into... Jenkins has been a favorite for years (gotta get this LP back out!), but next on the list is the music of Billy Bang, which I've barely heard.

NOW READING.... I decided it was high time that I read a book that wasn't either 1) about rock music or 2) a sci-fi paperback, maybe even a good old-fashioned realistic fiction novel like American Pastoral by Philip Roth. About five years ago, I bought it at Powell's Used Books for five bucks because it was briefly discussed about seven years ago in an issue of The Believer magazine w/r/t its extensive descriptions of the glove manufacturing business. (How about that, I mention The Believer magazine and not even one second later I'm using the "w/r/t" abbreviation for literally the first time in my entire writing life, even though it always really annoyed me when David Foster Wallace used it, and annoyed me even more when anyone else copied his use of it. I think there's a connection there.) Anyway, it had been sitting on my shelf for five years now but I'm finally reading it, and I may have came for its documentation of the inner workings of the glove industry, but what I'm really getting is a searing heart-rending soul-scouring rant about how hard it can be to be a parent to a child, even when you're wealthy, good-looking, and successful. Tough stuff. (Bonus points for the book having a character named Bill Orcutt... Roth couldn't resist throwing in a Harry Pussy reference.) Oh, and speaking of being a parent, right now my daughter's book-before-bedtime is a real Thomas Wolfean monster called The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (first published in 1938). Anyone remember this book in their classroom library? It was in mine too, but did anyone actually read it? I doubt many kids got more than 10 pages into these dense and flowery prose-poetic descriptions of rural northern Florida and its hardscrabble early 20th century lifestyle. Here's a sample of almost overwhelming beauty that I just read out loud tonight: "Grandma Hutto called to them and they went into the cottage. Jody smelled its familiar odor. He had never been able to disentangle its elements. The sweet lavender she used on her clothing was plain. There were dried grasses in a jar before the fire-place. There was the unmistakable smell of honey, which she kept in a cupboard. There was pastry; tarts and cookies and fruit cakes. There was the smell of the soap she used on Fluff's fur. There was the pervasive scent of flowers from the garden outside the windows. And above it all, it came to him at last, lay the smell of the river. The river itself was fluid through the cottage and around it, leaving a whirlpool of odorous dampness and decaying fern. He looked through the open door. A path led through marigolds to the water. The river shone is the late sunlight, Guinea-gold, like the bright flowers. Its flow drew Jody's mind with it to the ocean, where Oliver rode the storms in ships, and knew the world." Somewhere in there a story is eking its way along (for 428 pages... after months of reading, we're on page 122), the story that made my daughter ask me to buy her the 2 dollar used paperback down the street at Armadillo's Pillow by being so nicely pictured in the painting on the cover, a story about a young boy raising his very own orphaned baby deer. (Awwwww.) Anyway, between this and American Pastoral, I need to breeze through a few rock books on the side for some relief, so last time I was at the library I checked out this goofy Beatles vs. Stones coffee-table book by Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot! Now that's breezy! For some better music-related reading, I also hit up that Wax Poetics fire sale and bought a bunch of $2.99 back issues! Get 'em while they last! While there I also bought an Earl Zero 12" single on the Wax Poetics Records label for $1.99! I looks like an LP, but it only has 2 songs, though they are extended, so about 15 minutes of music, a tough roots song called "Righteous Works" that slips into a nice dub mix at the halfway mark, b/w a sweetly melancholy ballad called "Heart's Desire." Fine single, especially for 2 bucks!

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