Thursday, March 29, 2012

As a follow-up to the recent retweet linking to the films of Harry Smith on Ubuweb.... 

I've been reading this book Aquarius Revisited by Peter O. Whitmer (Citadel Underground paperback, 1991, purchased at Myopic Bookstore), impressionistic and mildly gonzo journalism profiling Burroughs, Ginsberg, Kesey, Leary, Mailer, Robbins, and Thompson, "seven who created the Sixties counterculture." I usually grab any Citadel Underground title I come across, and this one's a good read. Plenty of anecdotes and off-the-cuff quotables from the very-quotable subjects. You can currently get a copy online for one cent, it's totally worth it. (The Citadel Underground of Gulcher on the other hand is a little more collectibly priced. It starts at $4.55!)  To tide you over, here's an interaction Whitmer has with the one-and-only Mr. Smith while the latter is crashing at Allen Ginsberg's apartment sometime during the 1990s (pp. 145-6):

Harry, now in his late sixties, never mentioned that he was the first person to record Charlie Parker or that he recorded and edited the classic Anthology of American Folk Music. He was excited about his current project, which involved a new way of "listening to the world." One microphone is stuck out onto the street side of the apartment and another is stuck out onto the more peaceful courtyard side in a sort of urban stereo. 

"Then what I do," Harry said, knocking his cigarette ashes into the ashtray like a Gene Krupa rim-shot, "is take all the sounds and speed them up so I can edit them. I have found surges in sound, punctuated by a single bird call or a single dog bark, that are pure beauty. These surges -- these waves of energy -- are really fascinating. So far I have recorded during two full moons and a summer solstice -- about one hundred twenty hours in all."

I asked Harry what was the best way to listen to it, meaning should you use earphones, or maybe it should be heard in a huge indoor auditorium, or . . . 

"I'd say with heroin," he replied. "That's probably the best. After all, it is one hundred twenty hours." 

A typically stunning still from Heaven & Earth Magic.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Full disclosure: Derek Monypeny has written for Blastitude, has had a beer with Blastitude, and will likely have a beer with Blastitude again. He's also carving out new heavy psychedelic space with the solo electric guitar and electric oud, and I like to listen to it, so I'm going to go ahead and tell you about it even though he and I know each other in real life. An Arizona native, Derek lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years, where he played guitar in a few different band contexts, most notably Oaxacan, a group that also served as Sir Richard Bishop's Freak of Araby Ensemble for a 2009 US tour. Not too long ago Derek moved way up the coast to Portland, where he has been doing solo performances on the aforementioned stringed instruments. This tape release documents some of these from the summer of 2011, in which Derek, using tastefully deployed effects and small and patient gestures, digs deep into those thin places where all kinds of inner space visions can flourish. You could talk about the complex social organization and communication among undiscovered species of highly intelligent insects deep under the sands of Mars . . . or any pulsing pattern of pure electricity hurtling somewhere through deep space . . .  or shortwave radio broadcasts of the latest tunes by mutant Touareg troubadours roaming the dark side of the moon . . . etcetera. I also can't help but think of a few lines that have always stayed with me from an essay on solo improvisation, written by Jeff Fuccillo way back in September of 1995, in the third issue of his Woolly Bugger zine: "...every sound made by the solo acoustic improviser plays into empty silent space and thus 'adds to the empty space of silence' that is the only (non)accompaniment given to the solo acoustic improviser's playing." This awareness of and interplay with silence is, paradoxically, the only way for music to truly be heavy (bands can use it too, not just soloists), and it's all over this tape. 100 copies on professionally duplicated chrome tape, buy it from Underwater Experience or Zum (though I think he/they/someone should put this on vinyl as it makes a nice followup to his 2011 debut solo oud LP Don't Bring Me Down, Bruce). P.S. For some upcoming DM show dates, including a couple with Bill Orcutt, click this Facebook link.

My favorite album by Circle, out of the four or five I've actually heard, has always been Tower, which I don't think the band even intends as a real album. On the very back of this new LP reissue it even says, right at the top, "slightly disappointing jams from 2006"! That's really odd, because this is literally the only Circle album I've heard that I haven't found slightly disappointing. Still, I can maybe understand where they're coming from, as Tower isn't even technically by Circle, it's by Circle Featuring Verde, and seems to have been recorded quickly, in a couple days or maybe even a few hours, the band using a single live setup, no apparent overdubs, possibly all improvised/jammed, so maybe they consider it rather throwaway or at least one-off. Me, on the other hand? I'm hearing multiple electric pianos (a favorite instrument of mine) playing mellifluous zoned out deep groove cloud paddle, pushed by genius swinging percussion, a hybrid of jazz, rock, electronic folk, and psychedelic trance, all combining to make one of the most beautiful meditation + motion albums I've heard in any genre from the last 12 years at least. It was originally CD only, released by CD-only label Last Visible Dog, way back in 2007, when CDs still mattered a little bit, but it always seemed like a great candidate for vinyl, partly because at 44 minutes it can actually reasonably fit on a single LP, but mainly because there's something about a bunch of gentle electric piano brain massage that just whispers "analog," of course. (Oddly enough, I see the CD is going for more than the LP on Discogs... that may change with this reissue, though CDs might stay valid if online file sharing keeps getting decimated, and rumored ISP threats are made good on....)

Just refreshingly experienced that increasingly rare cultural chain reaction where you read something about a band, become interested in their music, and then go out and buy their new record. Namely, I read an interview with Dave Shuford last week, then went out and bought the self-titled debut LP by his band Rhyton. He's been in several bands from at least the late 1990s to the present, most notably the No-Neck Blues Band and D. Charles Speer & the Helix, and when the interview revealed him to be in a new instrumental space-jamming electric-guitar power trio, maybe even something like Guru Guru, I had to check it out. The blurb by Reckless compared them to Earthless, which in particular inspired me to listen, because I like the idea of Earthless (they too are a heavy instrumental space-jamming electric-guitar power trio), but I've never quite liked their execution of the idea, whereas Shuford is a musician I've enjoyed and trusted for years. Sure enough, I feel like the interplay of Rhyton is more musical and more spacious, with a crucially lighter touch. Shuford is just a little more sly and coy than the more wall-of-sound guitarist in Earthless, and I prefer that for this kind of music, because it creates space inside the heaviness, room to move around, sit down, be patient, ask questions. Let the drums and bass roll the heavy foundation while the guitar glides gently above like one of those stork-riders in a Moebius painting. As long as we're comparing, I also find the drummer Spencer Herbst to be more musical than Earthless drummer Mario Rubalcaba, even though I doubt anyone would say he is as "good" as Rubalcaba. I know Rubalcada is a modern drum titan, and I completely see why, but I think his style falls into that fairly common trap where its awesomeness is more of a physical feat than a musical one. It's easy to marvel at what he's doing and the heaviness of his tone, but it doesn't particularly swing or shade the band... although that could be the fault of the guitarist and bassist's one-chord space dirge. Either way, I don't want to use any more of this review to talk about Earthless, because Rhyton made an excellent debut LP, with the 12-minute cut "Pontian Graves" a real standout. I also think you can tell they're fairly new at playing together, and that they've got a better album in 'em still. (Maybe with better cover art too! No, it's okay, it's a nice cover, it's been growing on me... I should probably stop leaving it out overnight! Thanks, I'll be here all year! And so will whatever that is growing on the cover of the Rhyton LP! HEYOOOO!)

Man, the incoming 7-inch pile got out of control this past year. I apologize to everyone who sent one in that hasn't been, and probably never will be, reviewed. In fact, I have a terrible confession to make: just a couple weeks ago I looked at said out-of-control pile, tried to get excited about listening to one, and decided to just grab 10 or 15 of 'em and try to sell 'em to the local new and used record emporium instead. Well, they rejected every single single, as it were, even though all were in mint and unplayed condition, so now they're back by the stereo, cluttering up the house. I mean, no one has ever heard of any of these people, and I just don't think I have the energy to help their cause. I could put 'em out on the sidewalk on an old sheet with a "free" sign on top . . . or I could man up, and do what someone somewhere once trusted in me to do: listen, and maybe even write. Sigh. (Wipes single small tear from eye.) So far, I've made it through two or three, and one of them actually hit a real soft spot and it's gonna be a keeper. I wasn't expecting much from the bland cover art and helvetica typeface announcing something called Femminielli/Chauffer on one side and Araignee/Silvia on the other. Maybe glitch/improv/lowercase/experimental? Maybe shoegaze nostalgia? Is that supposed to be a guitar neck on the cover? Finally putting needle to record, I was taken aback by some sort of deeply wrought 80s-retro European progressive synth-pomp balladry. Eventually I realized that the rather-difficult-to-remember-let-alone-spell Femminielli and Araignee are the names of the artists, and this is a split single where each one plays a song. They sound pretty similar though... maybe they're a production team, like Ford and Lopatin! The Drive OST must have rewired my brain because these lush and melancholy tunes are sounding shockingly good to me right now. Certainly better than the generic megaphone-punk and obtuse glitch-improv sides that look to be cluttering up the rest of the pile.... I keep trippin' over 'em.... ouch....


Hey, another bit of music press just got me to pursue that dwindling but hopefully undying transaction where you spend money on a physical copy of a record release. This time, it was a moment in issue #11 of Negative Guest List (i.e. the greatest rock magazine since Forced Exposure), part of a rave review of the debut 7-inch by Detroit psychedelic singer/songwriter Aran Ruth, in which Brendon NGL wrote: "...three tunes which ache with hurt and stoned wonder, and a witch-like power to make even a Handsome Dick fan Aran Ruth, and suffer beneath the iron breast of focused, female beauty." Shit, I bought one on Discogs the very next day, and even if two of the three songs have me thinking "good songs, but are they as good as 'If It's Alive, It Will' by Angel Olson?," the other one, called "Flying On Some Silver Wings," the de facto EP title track, might be the closest any other psych-folker has gotten to Comus's "The Herald," which is still nowhere near, but glorious anyway. I hope Ms. Ruth releases a full-length because I would buy it, and I hope this song and this song are on it.

Friday, March 16, 2012

BED WETTIN' BAD BOYS Best Band In Sydney/Worst Band In Sydney 7" (R.I.P. SOCIETY)
VARIOUS ARTISTS Red Waves: 1980-87 Eastern European Avant-Punk & Synthpop Rarities (2007 WFMU marathon premium, compiled by DJ Jason Elbogen)

Wow, this is like the "punk" edition of Blogstitude! Look at all of this "shitgaze" I listened to today! I must say, it had been quite some time since I'd last caught up with early 'gazers Psychedelic Horseshit. I raved about their 2007 (debut?) 7" Who Let The Dogs Out? here, but later that same year their debut full-length Magic Flowers Droned hit me wrong and I've barely listened to 'em since. Of course, I loved bandleader Matt Horseshit's legendary 2009 live-at-SXSW interview with the Washington Post, not only because it was really funny, but for truly important insights (here uncensored!) like "The Velvet Underground, that shit is clean. That is clean as shit! "White Light/White Heat" is a fuckin' album of beautiful, clean static. Clean fuckin' static. That's how it sounded in the room." This statement coincides very well with another one, by Bruce Russell of the Dead C, that I came across today in issue # 2 of Mountain Fold Music Journal (the first three of which are generously offered here as pdf files): "We aren’t lo-fi in the sense that we rely on crap recording to saturate our sound. Our sound is fully saturated in real life." Horseshit and Russell (now there's a law firm I need to put on retainer) are talking about the same thing, the primal distorto-rock weirdsound of the instrument and/or ensemble in a room before it hits the tape. Horseshit calls it "clean static," Russell calls it "fully saturated," and I call it "blastitude" (not really, though I sometimes do call it "primal distorto-rock weirdsound"). In the case of Psychedelic Horseshit and the Dead C and quite a few but not enough others, what ends up being called "lo-fi" is inherent to the music itself and to the people and instruments playing it, regardless of recording studio quality, thus becoming no less than another kind of soul music. Which brings us to these two recent works by Psychedelic Horseshit that I listened to "preview copies" of today after reading a compelling review of Acid Tape in the Negative Guest List fanzine. After one listen I can confirm that Mr. Horseshit is walking it like he talks it; the recording itself is indeed very clean, not lo-fi, and the music he/they are making is indeed way beyond shitgaze, inventing its own unnamed subgenre. I listened to Acid Tape first, and it actually does come on like extended trip music, continuous crossfaded tracks with titles like "Unseen Void" into "Modern Daze" into "Hard As It Gets (Chill Sax Mix)", the last of which actually features some killer live heavy roots reggae kit drumming, which VERY few modern artists comparing their music to "dub" can claim... A few more tracks with titles like "Tired Bluez" and "Gliderz" sprawl out in non-linear fashion and then the album wraps up with a 7-minute ballad that seems to reach for The Clean's "Anything Could Happen" and gets much closer than you'd think it might. It's a trip, and it might not even be a bad one! After Acid Tape, I had to check out Laced, their 2011 debut full-length with the relatively high-profile label Fat Cat, and wow, this record really is 35 minutes of top-notch free-flowing electro-acoustic mind-fug, and, despite weird interludes and constant unlikely/deconstructed combinations of guitars/keys/drumboxes/pedals that are more of a laptop/glitch approach than a rock band approach, it remains an album of thoughtfully composed songs. Or, everything I just wrote could be summed up by the seven-word description on their SXSW page: "drug-fueled sample jam band/ future dub band," (Um, the comma was theirs, not mine.) In fact, they play SXSW this Saturday, March 17th, 7:45 PM at the Sony Club @ Red 7! That's tomorrow night!

Great 7" by Bed Wettin' Bad Boys. Both the band name and cover photo are humorously funny, but the four tunes that follow are perfect strangled/yearnin' basement grunge anthems, loud and gnarly, desperately melodic, pitched somewhere between sundazed and decrepit. And hey, I wonder how this genius-sounding 2010 experiment in the barter system went? From there into the righteous banjo/guimbri/percussion protest rock of Morocco's heaviest band, Nass El Ghiwane. Thanks to D. Monypeny for turning me onto these guys in this article for Blastitude. Wow, Pink Reason sure are pushing things with his/their second full-length Shit In The Garden. First song sounds like the kind of cavernous melancholy basement crunge you've come to expect from him/them, but it's overlaid with some sort of frantic too-loud shitty breakcore beat. Next level! The song underneath sounds awesome, and the fact that it's completely ruined by lo-fi digital breakcore somehow turns out to be awesome too. After that, no more breakcore, just more of that fine Pink Reason depression-gaze, not as flawlessly monolithic as it was on his first full-length Cleaning the Mirror, but surprisingly close, considering that it's been a few years, he's a stylistically unpredictable artist, the potential of a sophomore jinx, etc. The closing duet for stark banjo and microphonic feedback is especially well done.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

VARIOUS ARTISTS Ska Bonanza: The Studio One "Ska" Years (HEARTBEAT)

Today my son attended a free Radical Robots class at our local library branch (tax dollars at work!), and while he did that upstairs I was downstairs doing one of my favorite things, pulling random books out of the music section and flipping through 'em... even with the paltry selection at this branch, I could do this for hours. Sometimes I take 'em home, and there's been some great reads.... Grandmaster Flash's autobio... Nowhere to Run by Gerrie Hirshey... Barry Miles's Zappa bio... that Rock Scully memoir about his career "managing" the Grateful Dead... first edition of The Rough Guide to Reggae... Can't Stop Won't Stop by Jeff Chang... most recently, Patti Smith's beautiful Just Kids memoir... but I'm just as likely to pull something like Ronnie Spector's autobio, spend 10 minutes skimming for scary Phil stories, and then put it right back. Today I did that with a John Lennon bio (can't remember title or author), and although I probably could've found one or two scary Phil stories in it too, I ended up reading the chapter about the making of the Double Fantasy album. How in June of 1980, John took little Sean on a vacation to Bermuda, where he was inspired to write what more or less became his entire half of the record, and how one evening while he was there, he was sitting in a cafe (or maybe it was "Bermuda's most famous disco") and overheard "Rock Lobster" by the B-52s, had an epiphany, sent Yoko a telegram that said "They're ready for you," and, when he got back from his working vacation, started looking for a new record deal, not for John Lennon, but for John Lennon and Yoko Ono. If any executive so much as hesitated at this proposition, the power couple would turn around and leave, which they even did to the legendary Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records, even though John really wanted to be on his label. David Geffen did not hesitate, so they signed with him and made Double Fantasy, conceived as a conversation between a married couple, with "I'm Losing You" confirmed by Yoko's "Moving On," and "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)" embellished by "Beautiful Boys," and so on. My parents bought this album when I was 10 years old and I really liked it a lot. John's songs were nice and Yoko's really blew my mind. It taught me so much to hear a woman come on so strong and smart, freaky and funny, intensely and non-conventionally, and then to hear John's "Woman" on side two, what a glorious appreciation. And here I am writing this on March 8th, which is International Women's Day, which, thanks to Yoko, my grandmas, my mom, my sister, my wife, my daughter, my cousins, my aunts, my close friends, and a couple billion other women, I celebrate every day, duh. It's like Ivor Cutler and Linda Hirst said, and Jim O'Rourke repeated . . .

The first time I listened to Australian "underground supergroup" and "2011 critic's favorite" Total Control, they were synth-poppier than I expected. Now I'm listening for the second time, and it seems like there's barely any goddamn synth on this album at all, which proves that they are what all the good bands are: dreamweavers and recalibrators. Maybe it does get synthier on side two, but I no longer need to keep score. I knew this second listen was gonna be a doozy, as I was already liking the album better and better just from thinking about it.

Slug was a band from Los Angeles in the classic 1990s semi-avant-garde noise-rock mold. The lineup included Damion Romero, who has gone on to play superb and distinctive noise music under his own name, and David Scott Stone, who has gone on to play in several notable bands (Wikipedia lists 14), from the Get Hustle to the Melvins to LCD Soundsystem. Slug's production on The Out Sound, their debut full-length from 1994, is a bit dated in that very 1990s noise rock kind of way, but the playing is formidable and there are lots of interesting ideas.

Love that Bulbs album... now there's a dreamweaver/recalibrator for ya... check out the Blastitude feature from a couple years ago . . .

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Both Andy Stott 12-inches from late 2011, We Stay Together and Passed Me By, have gotten a second pressing by Modern Love, hopefully the second of many. I grabbed both of 'em this time, and I haven't played anything else for the last 72 hours. Already $20 apiece is seeming like a real bargain. I'll spend $40 easy on a meal for the family at some run-down restaurant, and we only get to eat that once. These records are much more nourishing, and I can play them again, and again, and again. Bass is food. I'm devouring We Stay Together right now. So far, whichever one is playing is the one I like better, back and forth, forth and back. I don't know when I'm going to want to listen to anything else, because I am luxuriating in these deep, heavy grooves. Now I'm listening to Passed Me By and man, the second track on here, appropriately titled "New Ground"... I've listened to it 6 or 7 times since yesterday and it's still CRUSHING me. Absurdly, comically heavy and brilliantly EQ'd for vinyl. Yes, the music is dark ("dark enough to call 'evil'"), but I think if you get all the way into these rhythms, you find a surprisingly warm and embracing core radiating outwards. Certainly these records are funky as hell, and however slow and dragged-out the rhythms are, almost every track is fun to dance to. I mean, I love Demdike Stare, but they really do not make me feel like dancing... Stott surprisingly does. Also, just for kicks, I've been trying to work out if these two releases, taken together as four 12" singles, are to the beginning of the 2010s what Metal Box (three 12" singles) was to the beginning of the 1980s, as far as "dark" disco music would or should sound like in a post-(post-post-)punk world. By now, Stott's time, we are rid of the albatross completely, that is, the need for a frontman, a singer, a cover model, a cult of personality. In that respect, techno made a big advancement past rock. Anyway, these records are available from Forced Exposure. (Currently at "low stock level"!)

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