Friday, August 01, 2014


LETHA RODMAN MELCHIOR Handbook For Mortals LP (SILTBREEZE) Days in a life... a kitchen with a cutting board on the counter . . . a living room with a well-worn couch . . . clothes folded on top of a dryer... TV or the stereo on in the background . . . a blanket sprawled on the couch slowly starts moving, a head becomes visible at the top... the dream continues... a very Kye Records ambience, in fact, and Letha's husband Dan Melchior has also made a record for Kye this last year, so it's certainly in the air, but out of that particularly Kyean sound of silence, Mrs. Melchior draws up a music of pure melancholy dream-tone, growing around distant keyboard parts that already sound like a memory when you're actually listening to them. Sometimes the music is even more ambient than that, wisps of electronic experimentation and other intangibles, and sometimes the music is unmistakably a song, with singing, but still from a faraway shore. I feel there are depths and layers that my two listens haven't even come close to finding yet (and I can wholly confirm this with listens three through five, my goodness, this is certainly one of the most beautiful albums of 2013), and I love that it's on Siltbreeze, because I have so many fond memories of hazed dream-tone experimentation much like this coming from their grooves back in the mid/late 1990s. This might in fact be the Siltbreeze Round 2 album (released 2005 to the present day) that sounds the most like a Siltbreeze Round 1 album (released 1990-2001). (For more on Letha see "My Favorite Artist: Letha Rodman Melchior" by Michael Galinksy.)

MA TURNER "ZOZ" LP (SOPHOMORE LOUNGE) I've been listening to Ma Turner's music for 10 years now, ever since coming across Warmer Milks, the restless, roaming, and usually quite weird noise/psychedelic/folk collective he was the founder and leader of in Lexington, Kentucky. He still lives there, and his creativity has really never slowed down . . . it seems like every few months he's written and recorded another solo-type album and put it on Bandcamp . . . tons of cassette-only releases . . . broken up and reformed the Milks at least a couple times . . .  plays in other fine bands like Salad Influence and Cross . . . just a couple months ago he even had what may the first art gallery opening I've ever heard of for a cassette box set, a 12-cassette box called the "ZOZ COLLECTION" no less, 83 compositions making for 6 hours of sound, a co-release between Turner's Brave Captain imprint and Louisville-based Sophomore Lounge Records. Of course I'd like to have one, but since I already have more than 12 releases by Warmer Milks alone, not to mention more by other Turner guises, and I'm still very far from completely processing those, I'm really glad Sophomore Lounge has also released this edition-of-200 LP which compiles music from the 12 cassettes into a handy 13-track sampler. Turner's solo music has always ranged from the sublime to the sometimes ridiculous, and true to form, this LP veers wildly to both extremes and any/all points in between, with songs only occasionally passing by like small lush islands in a rushing river of pure free-form experimental freedom. It opens with such an island, a hauntingly green psych-folk song called "Christ in a Garden," but then the river takes over and we plunge into the absurdist/formless "Rash Harvest," involving a sped-up-beyond-helium voice chattering away unintelligibly while dismal electronic noise bops along underneath it. Is it a power electronics parody on the wrong speed? Is it too long and meandering to be the second track on the album? Is it pretty annoying? Do I like it? Actually, yes to all four, and there's more where that came from: various completely murky electronic meanderings, indescribable short pieces that sound like tiny hovering orchestras recorded at the wrong speed, some post-Chadbourne avant bluegrass whimsy, extended rhythmic rock improvisations like "Family in the Shade," and even more. There's really only four clear songs: the aforementioned "Christ in a Garden," my fave track on the album "I Love To See You Brother," my second-favorite-with-a-bullet track "Rotary,"  and the lovely "Living" which has a video you can watch below. There are a couple more tracks that are near-song, or ur-song, two intense long minimalist voice/banjo solo chants, less like islands and more like rocky outcroppings in that river of noise:   "On Clock Sniper," which has singing but no words, and "For Every Night," which has lots of words and uses an incessant dark melody line to build them into a denouement driven by an overdubbed background choir of singing voices. But hey, whether improvised or composed or solo or overdubbed, the whole LP certainly flows as a series of excerpts from Turner's non-stop ability to dream directly onto tape, and I'll be keeping it on the shelf right next to the very best Warmer Milks records.

MEG BAIRD Seasons on Earth LP (DRAG CITY) From 2011, the second (I think) and still most recent (I think) solo LP by Meg Baird. I hadn't listened to this beautiful record for three years, not since right after it came out. Back then I listened to it non-stop for a few days, and kept it out for a few weeks after that, really liking it, trying and failing to compose a simple record review that not only praised Ms. Baird's songwriting and performance, but also compared Marc Orleans's dancing lyrical accompaniment on pedal steel guitar and dobro to the way Martin Stone plays guitar on Mighty Baby's Jug of Love album. Which I guess I just finally did. Either way, tonight on the hi-fi, Marc's playing and of course Meg's songwriting and singing are sounding even lovelier than I remembered, on tunes like "Stars Climb Up The Vine," on which they are joined on electric guitars by Chris Forsyth and Willie Lane, and track five "Friends," which is a goddamn cover from a dollar-bin Mark/Almond LP, followed by another great cover I've never heard of called "Beatles and the Stones," which is from a goddamn 1990 album you can probably also find in the dollar bin, some sort of synth-pop band I didn't really know about called House of Love. Talk about transcending your material, but I need to stop talking about the cover songs, because those are the only two on here, which reverses her previous (also beautiful) album Dear Companion, on which she only wrote two of the songs, and I gotta say that if it has taken her three years and counting to release another album because she's been working hard on the great songwriting, then I'll gladly keep waiting, and I'll keep Seasons on Earth close by the stereo the whole time . . .

DAUGHN GIBSON All Hell (WHITE DENIM); Me Moan (SUB POP) There's a whole lot of everything going on these days, and somewhere between trip-hop-damaged producers laying down all manner of fresh downtempo beats on cloudy club nights and would-be countrypolitan crooners on the subway at 2AM gathered around an iPhone karaoking along with a YouTube of a VHS tape of a 1984 episode of Star Search hosted by Ed McMahon where a ten-gallon-hatted contestant is performing a Johnny Cash song . . . somewhere right in the middle sits Daughn Gibson, creating a very distinct country/pop/dance/electronic hybrid. He writes good, punchy songs, with memorable hooks, and sings them in what sounds like a classic deep hard country croon . . . but something's a little off. There's something very modern, like from the last 20 years, in his inflection, that sends out sly winks, and from time to time, there are quivers in his voice that jump centuries, going from Tuvan throat singing to WWI avant-garde sound poetry. (He actually sounds a bit like Billy C himself, and if that doesn't mean anything to you, well, that's why God invented YouTube.) The music destabilizes things further still, by being quite stable, a cross between smooth 1980s FM radio pop and present-day post-Portishead trip-hop melancholia that I imagine could slide right onto any mainstream down-home American radio broadcast and not even be noticed (until he's sung a couple lines, at which point the game might quickly be up). Check "Tiffany Lou" on All Hell; I swear the way he chops a slowed-down backing vocal and turns it into a beautiful stuttering wordless hook is right up there with some of Burial's finest work . . . I also read someone (I think the AV Club) compare him to the Psychedelic Furs, and I haven't been able to shake that reference either . . . but even though I was never any kind of a Furs fan, somehow it doesn't matter. Of the two records, I think All Hell is nearly perfect. Me Moan is also excellent, and contains two of his very best songs in "The Sound Of Law" and especially "All My Days Off." I'd totally recommend either one as a starter.

BOTTLENECK BLUES GUITAR CLASSICS 1926-1937 LP (YAZOO) Bought this at a library sale for 25 cents well over 20 years ago. Vinyl is suprisingly pristine for an old library record and it sounds fantastic. Whenever I've got Robert Palmer's Deep Blues back off the shelf for some thumbings-through, which is right now, records like this are gonna start coming back off the shelves too. First song "Whoopee Blues" by King Solomon Hill is a real killer. (YouTube user "martinguitar22": "I lock the doors and turn on all the lights before I listen to this song.")

JUNIOR KIMBROUGH & THE SOUL BLUES BOYS All Night Long LP (FAT POSSUM) This isn't quite as scary, but it's still some real high lonesome dark night of the soul music. It grooves too, especially when the bass and drums kick in (first couple songs don't have any), so sometimes you forget how desolate the tone is. (And who should be the liner notes writer, and in fact album producer, than ole Bob "Deep Blues" Palmer, showing up for the second record in a row.)

SINEAD O'CONNOR I Do Not Want Want I Have Not Got CD (ELEKTRA/ASYLUM) You know how people in your building leave stacks of like 20 CDs in the common areas because they want to get rid of them, and they're all terrible? Just a couple weeks ago this happened, and there was one good one in there, this one, which is in fact one of the best albums of the 1990s. Sinead rules, fuck the haters, and this album is inarguably her finest hour. I don't think I ever actually owned it before, but it was everywhere when I was in college, and I did once tape it off someone's copy in my college dorm, and listened to that tape a lot. Even if I disliked her 'strong' and 'controversial' persona (I don't), I would have listened to it a lot anyway, simply because it has several gorgeous ethereal folk pop moments, taking Kate Bush and Prince textures and operatics and lending them to good modern Irish folk/soul/blues/rock, dealing with Dylan a lot like Van Morrison and Phil Lynott did before her, by being herself. One of my favorites is "Black Boys On Mopeds", which forgoes the aforementioned production textures for just acoustic guitar and beautiful overdubbed vocals. (I've also been thinking that this album might be what made Lorde possible, and her music is by far the deepest stuff on pop radio today, if what my daughter likes is any indication . . . ain't sayin' much but still . . .)

MAGIK MARKERS Searchin' Searchin' For That New Sound DIGITAL ALBUM (ARBITRARY SIGNS) In their early 2000s heyday the Magik Markers were one of my favorite working bands . . . saw 'em twice, once in the original trio with Leah Quimby, and again in a quartet that featured the Pete Nolan/Elisa Ambrogio core with Steve Gunn and Joshua Burkett on guitars. How about that? Also probably heard a good 10 of their albums, mostly CDRs, from that explosive early period. My favorite might still be their first 'post-noise' album, Boss; the rest of their post-noise career has consisted of two more albums, both of them for the higher-profile Drag City label, that for some reason I haven't paid as much attention to. But I still love this band, and was most recently reminded when Pete Nolan totally updated the Arbitrary Sings bandcamp page. Arbitrary Signs was more or less the in-house Magik Markers label for that early run of CDR experimentation, and has gone on to be the home of other Nolan outlets like Spectre Folk as well. A bunch of various label stuff from over the years is now up at the bandcamp page, including 6 releases by the Markers. This has been a chance to revisit early favorites like Road Pussy, and also to discover a new favorite album, Searchin' Searchin' For That New Sound, which documents some of their free-form duo material that was recorded post-Ecstatic Peace and pre-Drag City. This is where Elisa really deals out the PSF/Haino guitar styles that have always been there under the surface, and also reveals some of that Caspar Brotzmann connection that Ben Chasny pointed out on twitter about a year ago. Plus lots of other styles, experiments, and "duo exchanges," like the pensive cosmic shimmer ballad "Free Ride To The Universe", a rather haunting true-free-folk number called "Ithaca Is Gorges," and a certainly haunting 12-minute dirge called "Leah." A lot of this album is instrumental extendo, but Elisa does sing on a lot of it, including those last two haunters, possibly revealing time spent contemplating Christina Carter's gauntlet. It's $10 to buy this digital album release on bandcamp, although you can listen to it for free, which is a weird feature from a site where you're selling your work . . . to me the purpose of buying on bandcamp is not to have mp3s on your computer, but to be able to flow cash to people who make music that means something to you, and that you want to support accordingly.

MATTHEW YOUNG Recurring Dreams LP (DRAG CITY/YOGA) I'm going to do something I haven't done for a long time: recommend a synth record. It helps that it wasn't made in the last few years by some post-noise youngsters, but in 1981 by Matthew Young, a thoughtful New Jersey multi-instrumentalist who in 1986 made the superb Traveler's Advisory LP, also reissued by Drag City/Yoga, which combined hammer dulcimer and electronics to mesmerizing effect. This time Young gets just as deep and dreamy with the synth, not using it to make grand heavy-handed 'cosmic' statements, but gentle internal ripples of thought and closed-eye vision. The bottom line is, Young uses the synth as a way to play music, instead of using music as a way to play synth.

D: Man, I still can't believe Jim O'Rourke quit music so he could move to Japan and work on films.
D: He didn't quit music.
D: Well yeah, The Visitor was recorded in Japan. There is that.
D: Yeah, The Visitor, and the trio he's in with Keiji Haino and Oren Ambarchi has put out at least 2 or 3 albums, and he also plays with Akira Sakata, a saxophonist, and they have a record with Chris Corsano, and I guess you don't know about his bandcamp but it has like 17 amazing noise/ambient solo albums that were all recorded after the move. Oh yeah, and he just played a killer live show in Tokyo, with a band, and the whole set is on YouTube in two parts.
D: Oh, okay. I'll have to check that stuff out. It's just so crazy, though!
D: What's that?
D: Just, you know, one minute you're in Sonic Youth and then all of a sudden it's like, see ya! Gonna move to a completely different country to go make films!
D: [glaring; seething]

Bought some 45s today at Logan Hardware. Fine store, and even better, it has a fully functioning and totally free video arcade in the back room. To go in and play, you've gotta buy something first, and then they'll stamp your reciept with the entry code. I usually go there with my son, and he doesn't want to wait very long before he starts playing Super Mario Brothers, so, for quick arcade entry, right when we go in I've been grabbing a couple fairly beat but great 99 cent singles from the boxes that are up front, or maybe even a $1.99 single if its a killer tune like "Polk Salad Annie" by Tony Joe White, which it was tonight, along with one of my all-time favorite songs, "Choice of Colors" (b/w "Mighty Mighty Spade & Whitey") by The Impressions, and "Fool To Cry" b/w "Hot Stuff" by The Rolling Stones, which are the only two tunes I remember from Black 'n' Blue (nope, not even "Memory Motel") so I thought that was a pretty succinct purchase. Anyway, I've listened to those three singles about 6 times each tonight, and I'm finally getting why people collect 45s. Of course it's a blast to play a really good song over and over, so that's a big reason, but technically speaking, it's because pressing plants can cut them louder. It's why I was freaking out about hearing "Paperback Writer" on WNUR in this blog post of three years ago. As long as the record isn't totally thrashed, a good 45 will sound amazing.

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