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.
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.
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....
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.
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).
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."
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.
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" (ABDUCTION) Alan 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.