Thursday, November 05, 2015

ROOTS ROCK ROUNDUP (Shawn David McMillen / State Champion / Meg Baird)

Just kidding about "roots rock." I do love the roots of rock (you know like blues, country, folk, boogies, woogies, shuffles, skiffles, Sun Records, softshoes), but the phrase "roots rock" uttered anytime (really from the 1980s on -- dare I blame The Blasters?) can very easily bring to mind a mere nostalgia act or, nowadays, a band of young urban curled-moustache artisans playing at your local gentrified neighborhood's farmer market. Banjos, definitely, along with other instruments that are as much theater props as music-makers. At least two (if not all) band-members wearing some combination of fedora and/or suspenders. "Country-flavored," as Harmony Korine put it on the WTF Podcast. I prefer my roots rock in 2015 to be either unabashed roadhouse dance/brawl music (I can give you no examples), or, if it must be played in the 'post-indie' arena, somewhat spacy and tripped-out, and, more importantly, to not have any immediate and/or overt genre allegiance in its display of said roots (sorry Sturgill Simpson, but a 1970s Waylon Jennings imitation is still a nostalgia act, no matter how many times you mention DMT). Finally, it must have soul, and here are two albums released in 2015 that have plenty of that good ole southern-inflected garage soul:

First up is Shawn David McMillen and his new LP On The Clock With J.J. and Mitch on the 12XU label. We've been listening to McMillen for awhile now, starting in the actual 1990s when he was part of a spaced-out post-krautrock 90s male/female Texas duo called Ash Castles On The Ghost Coast. They released one CD in 1996 on Wholly Other, the house label for Charalambides (another spaced-out post-krautrock 90s male/female Texas duo, as it happens). A few years after that CD, McMillen released, under his own name, a scrambled roots/improv/noise LP called Catfish, and a couple years after that, he released a still very cracked but increasingly song-oriented release called Dead Friends (a fairly grim sense of humor has also shown itself on these records, especially the latter). The title of this brand new 2015 album refers to his band; McMillen plays guitar and sings, while JJ Ruiz plays drums and Mitch Frazier plays bass. JJ and Mitch both sing background vocals as well, so it certainly works from that spaced-out roots-rock Crazy Horse trio template, but this is no carbon copy. JJ and Mitch are light, open, and swinging, and McMillen brings his own loosey goosey voice to it, really coming into his own as a songwriter. I think I saw someone (on Instagram?) compare this album to the Meat Puppets, and they might've even dropped a II into the comment. A big claim, but I really think it's an accurate description of the style. McMillen drawls things like "Kick off your shoes / Gotta take your time" and warbles things like "Walkin' around in the sun all day / Nowhere to go, I think I lost my way / Walkin' around in the sun all day" while playing lots of great guitar, from chunky classic rock rhythm to clean African high life melodies to ripp(l)ing distorted psychedelic leads. Side two stretches things out a bit, in a way even more to my liking, with only 3 cuts (side one has 5), the first a wonderful Soft South African instrumental called "No Passport." Let's hope Shawn, JJ & Mitch keep punchin' that clock.

Today's other new take on the cheese-free heartland roots rock dream is a new 2015 album by Louisville, Kentucky's own State Champion. It's called My Other Car Is A Fantasy Error, and it's on the Sophomore Lounge label. There's a bit of a story here, as I reviewed their first album back in 2010 rather harshly. The band founder, singer, and songwriter (and Sophomore Lounge proprietor) Ryan Davis not only took this review in stride, he's generously continued to send us lots of stuff he's released on his label since then, including great records by Tropical Trash, Sapat, Ma Turner, and more, including this brand new State Champion record, which he thought I might like anyway, despite the negative-review past, and by god he's right. It's not the same lineup that recorded that debut album, and it does seem that Davis has found a band that can double down on his Silver Jews/Pavement/Smog/Drag City ramshackle singer-songwriter influences and play the hell out of 'em and make 'em their own. What's more, he's either writing a lot more hooks, lyrical asides, and punchlines per song than he was on the first album, or he's just figured out how to make 'em cut through and connect; every song has at least a couple that really land, and just the first few lines of the album opener, a nice ranging dynamic tune called "Sunbathing I," contain several: "They're breaking all the trees in my backyard down/They're thinning the air/These bricks are red for a reason/These books ain't read for a reason/It's that time of the season again/I swear I swear aw hell that mailbox hasn't held my mail for years/So you can turn your own snakes to stone/And you can leave mine alone/I've just been minding mine inside my home/A dungeon where the dead do roam/I don't need no one to jerk me off my throne." Can I get a hell yeah?

I was just gonna write about those two albums, but since I've also been listening to Meg Baird's latest Don't Weigh Down The Light every night I feel like I should throw it in here too. I mean, it is pretty spacey, and yeah, it's pretty rootsy (though the roots are more British Isles than Southern USA), but I feel like she's in a league of her own soaring above everyone else anyway. Since she started working with the Drag City label in 2007, she's quietly released a massive album every four years or so, and this latest one (her third) is her best yet. The songwriting digs even deeper than before into a suspended invisible existential realm; as for arrangements, she had a few great musicians on her 2nd record Seasons on Earth, but on Don't Weigh Down The Light she has just one, Charlie Saufley, who is perfect on electric guitar, organ, and percussion, taking Meg's music to levels even more 'next'. It may not be accurate to say that Charlie Saufley is the Charlie Larkey to Meg Baird's Carole King, but I do know that I've already listened to Don't Weigh Down The Light about fifteen more times (and counting) than I've ever listened to Now That Everything's Been Said (but man that "Wasn't Born To Follow" sure is heavy).   

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


NOTE: I have this habit of writing year-end roundups and then never posting them because I get overwhelmed by the flood of everyone else's year-end roundups and end up losing interest in them, including my own. But I just looked over this one, which was entirely written before January 1st, 2015, and damn, I put a lot of work into it, so why don't you just take a look at it now, when the pressure is off? Sure, some of it is a little outdated (talk of "upcoming" records that were by now released several months ago, for example), but most of it will never be outdated (because great music is timeless and all that).

SAPAT A Posthuman Guide to the Advent Calendar Origins of the Peep Show LP (SOPHOMORE LOUNGE)
LEWIS L'Amour LP; Romantic Times LP (LIGHT IN THE ATTIC)

As usual, an overwhelming amount of significant music was released this year (see this post by our friend at FRR for just one glimpse at the plurality), but there were three 2014 albums in particular that got the most turntable time at Blastitude HQ, and all three have something in common: they're on the softer side of things. Is it because at age 44 I'm almost to where I can legitimately start to say "I'm getting old"? Is it because a head-in-sand retreat from various increasingly brutal social realities is becoming more difficult to turn down? Could it be that the whole entire electric/psych/rock/garage/punk/noise big bang sonic boom of the 1960s, after reverberating strong right up into the 2000s, is finally slowly decaying back into theoretical silence? Is it because I live in a tiny 3-room apartment with three other people, two of whom are 11 years old or younger, none of whom like to listen to my hard and heavy weird records, especially not loudly? Either way, I wasn't the only one going soft; Jeff Conklin of the superb weekly WFMU radio show The Avant Ghetto has been talking about the "soft underground" on air (and the #softunderground on twitter), playing all kinds of music that doesn't have to be hard to be heavy, or loud to ring in your ear. Even silence can be heavy, and think of all the gradations and cross-gradations along the way... Xenakis, Paradieswärts Düül, and Grouper for three really quick and disparate examples. As well as these examples right here:

My #1 record of 2014, which might be the softest damn thing I've ever heard, is Heartleap by Vashti Bunyan (DiCristina), absolutely gorgeous, ethereal, fragile, twilit, gemlike, all of the above. After listening to it five times or so I still didn't really know the hell what instruments I was even hearing. It didn't quite sound like guitar, or keyboards, or anything really, except soft bells, or magic. Add her sweet voice on top of it, singing "Every day is every day/Can't tell one from the other/Wait to fall at the end of it all/As stones skip across the water," and you've got a beautiful heavy record. I also love the fact that it's her third album in a 44-year career, with her legendary debut Just Another Diamond Day coming in 1970, her followup Lookaftering coming 35 years later in 2005, and now Heartleap, which she insists is her last album, coming 8 years later in 2014. There's something to be said for the opposite of prolificacy; thanks Vashti, you've given us plenty!

My #2 record of 2014 is Way Out Weather by Steve Gunn (Paradise of Bachelors), another beautiful modern-day folk-rock singer-songwriter record, soft enough to earn the de rigueur comparisons to The Grateful Dead (of course), John Fahey (at least the generic misconception thereof), "world music" (i.e. Africa) and most likely even some stray "Dad-rock" and "NPR-core" action. All of which may be true, and none of which matters when the singing, writing, and playing is this goddamn good. His 2013 record Time Off worked its way into this Americana-meets-Africana style with a nice guitar/bass/drums trio format, but everything absolutely blossoms on Way Out Weather. The songs are richer, the singing more assured, and the Time Off trio of Gunn, Justin Tripp (bass), and John Truscinski (drums) has grown to include expansive cosmic string-band musical commentary from Jason Meagher (No-Neck Blues Band, Black Dirt Studio, et al), Nathan Bowles (Pelt, Black Twig Pickers, et al), Mary Lattimore (Thurston Moore, Kurt Vile, et al), James Elkington (Freakwater, Jeff Tweedy, et al), and Jimmy SeiTang (Rhyton, et al). Now if you'll excuse me I'm going to listen to the glorious song-end rideout of "Wildwood" for the 200th time.... "you know it ruuuuunnnnnnssssss....." 

My #3 record of 2014 was like an odd relative to the Steve Gunn record. similar in its deep African-inflected guitar/bass/drum groove and avant blue-eyed soul singing, but like a shyer, more furtive skate-rat cousin, sitting in a corner slumped inside a hoodie. And, where Gunn's music feels like being outside on a warm day next to water, this one is more like being inside on a cold night next to the fire. I'm talking about Teenage Boys by Ignatz & De Stervende Honden (Ultra Eczema), and if I may decode the band name a bit, Ignatz is the nom de plume for one Bram Devens of Belgium, and he plays guitar and sings, presumably writing the songs as well. He's put out quite a few solo and collabo records as Ignatz, affiliated with the Kraak label and in the context of the 2000s CDR underground. De Stervende Honden is the backing band, good ole drum kit and bass guitar, and they are as superb as their name, which is Dutch for The Dying Dogs. A description of the live debut of this band and the effect they have can be found on the Kraak website: "On the way back from the 2009 UK tour together with Silvester Anfang, Ignatz debuted with a backing band at Carlo Levi in Liege. The people present are still talking about it. It was one of those spontaneous magical moments. Suddenly Ignatz was free to rock out, not having to think about his samples or backing tracks." 

Also in keeping with the softgeist, I did love both of the rediscovered/reissued Lewis records, L'Amour and Romantic Times. There was quite a buzz when these were coming out, but I haven't seen ole Lew on too many year-end lists. Maybe everyone actually dislikes the music because of its obvious roots in 'lite' and 'bland' and 'yacht' and 'dentist office vibes' and all that, but I think everyone's just trying to play it cool on the internet. They're suspicious of the Light in the Attic label and think the artist might be a hoax (I don't think he is whatsoever, but it seems to be something people actually believe). Personally, I'm a little annoyed by all of LitA's extraneous gatefolds and liner notes and obi strips on the reissues, because I'm an exact repro kinda guy, but hey, either way, people no longer seem capable of simply sitting down and listening to the music on these two records, which I think is superb deep murmured melancholy softness, with the follow-up Romantic Times taking the first album aesthetic into more daring synth-haze heartbreak territory.


After that, there were three not-so-soft records released this year that I really dug. Two of them were released by the Louisville, Kentucky-based Sophomore Lounge label, one not until December: A Posthuman Guide to the Advent Calendar Origins of the Peep Show by Sapat. The previous Sapat album Mortise and Tenon came out 8 years ago (let's hear it once more for whatever the opposite of prolificacy is), and in that time Sapat has undergone significant lineup changes. This has not limited them, but allowed them to go in many new directions. They always had plenty of post-krautrock and free-roots moves at their disposal, but now they're also getting into what sounds like Eastern European prog, a spiky Rock in Opposition approach, and however you describe the vocalist's accent on the album opener "Arson Lieder I" when he sings "But the feeling.... is mutual." Or, however you describe the places new vocalist Dane Waters takes them with her opera-trained multi-octave psychedelic pressure. Also on Sophomore Lounge was the "ZOZ" LP by Ma Turner, which was a heavy edit/distillation of a 6-hour 12-cassette box set that he released in 2013. It has 4 or 5 great songs that are vintage Mr. Turner free-folk, with the rest being varied heady instrumental psych-noise-jam 2000s worship. I've been a fan of this guy since early 2005, and I've always liked hearing him try lots of things, but it's great when he bottles the running water, so to speak, and edits things down to the length of a long-playing record. And, the third not-so-soft record I listened to a bunch this year was Scissors Paper Rock, the debut full-length by Exiles From Clowntown, on the Soft Abuse label. These Australian 'older dudes' started out by self-releasing 7-inches in an enigmatic '1990s free rock' style, and showed a lot of promise (I even interviewed 'em), if not a whole lot of rehearsal or song-allegiance, but on Tape Scissors Rock, given two full-length sides to roam around on, they really knocked it out of the park with a fine coalescence of their disparate improv/jam/song ideas. A really entrancing record that grows as it goes.

That's about it for the 2014 stuff I listened to actual physical copies of. Of course, we all listen to lots of music via the internet now, and I am no exception. Though I'm glad I didn't have to, I probably could've gotten by this year just listening to music on Bandcamp, Soundcloud, and Tumblr alone. For example, when Weaving by Jo Johnson (Further Records) came out last summer, I listened to it on Soundcloud over and over for a few days straight. Still haven't seen the vinyl, but it exists and is already valued like a collector's item. She was the guitarist for Huggy Bear, now doing something completely different and that's cosmic synth instrumentals. This fashionable 70s-reverent retro-genre is not usually a favorite of mine, but somehow the patiently scrolling compositions on Weaving hit the spot just right. I'm not the first to compare her to Laurie Spiegel, one of the greatest cosmic (in academic guise) synth composers of all time, and Johnson's album really does aspire to that level......... Another internet-only phenomenon for me this year was a huge surge in killer punk. I too was enamored with the upstart NWI punk scene (NWI being an abbreviation for Northwest Indiana, which I think of, with admiration, as the boiler room of Chicago, with said scene seemingly centered around the burg of Hammond), particularly the more Devo/Urinals end of it as exemplified by The Coneheads and the elusive CCTV. The louder/harder BadBrainsVoid-isms of NWI bands Big Zit and Ooze were also impressive, and you can find all of them and more on a cassette-only compilation called Cool Bands 2 (no label). Actually you may not be able to find it, unless you're actually in Northwest Indiana and talking to the right punk, but in the meantime you can download it by going to the right blog, and then put it on your iTunes and listen to it a bunch of times like I have. Again, the only place I listened to punk demos and 7-inches this year at all was on the internet, and it's been particularly great to hear so much damn good female-fronted & -played punk and post-punk this year, from bands like Good Throb, Nandas, Sheer Mag, Nots, In School, Pang, Frau, Cold Beat, Vexx, Crimson Wave, Toupee, and a whole lot more (Erase Errata even came out with a killer new album, although that may have technically been in 2015)... the aforementioned Mr. Fuckin' Record Reviews led me to this huge 8tracks mix that covers lots of this action and lots more.............

And now for a special honorable mention section that is also a major shout-out to the aforementioned Avant Ghetto radio program on WFMU. I'd like to think I would have heard a lot of these records anyway, but it sure was convenient having them spun and archived on a radio show week after week; thanks so much to WFMU and their mind-boggling archival efforts (listener supported! donate now! every week is pledge week!). I've already mentioned one album I first heard on the Avant Ghetto (Teenage Boys by Ignatz & De Stervende Honden, #3 above); another was a fantastic cassette release by an elusive British solo project with the slightly unwieldy name of Tuluum Shimmering. This year's 3LP reissue of John Oswald's legendary Grayfolded megamix of over 100 Grateful Dead performances of "Dark Star" may have gotten more attention, and the allegiance of all the noise underground Deadheads, but for me one "Dark Star" has always done just fine by itself, and I always found Grayfolded too busy (too many Phils, too many Jerrys, one of each is plenty) and you could find me listening to Mr. Shimmering's marathon loop-driven reimagining of "Dark Star" instead. It was physically released on a C100 cassette by the Tranquility Tapes label, but that sold out in about a week, so once again it was Bandcamp to the rescue. A third 2014 album I first heard on The Avant Ghetto is a new one by Richard Youngs. It seems that most years there are a few new ones by Richard Youngs, and every single one of them is usually goddamn great, but there was something extra-magical about Red Alphabet In The Snow, which he did an edition of 250 for a Polish label called Preserved Sound. I just finally ordered a copy for myself, but it's not here yet; in the meantime I sure have listened to it a lot on Bandcamp, gorgeous hovering long-form flamenco/dreamtone maximalist miniatures built up by all sorts of delicate instruments, most of them stringed ("acoustic guitar, banjo, cifteli, classical guitars, electric bass guitar, electric lead guitars, electric violin, epinette des vosges, shakers, sitar, swanee whistle, tambourine, triangle, 12 string guitar, ukulele, voice"). And finally, the new Astral Social Club Fountain Transmitter Medications LP + CD (on the VHF label) has at least one side that is absolutely killing. That's the track called "Diamonds in the Dreich," which I heard on, you guessed it, the Avant Ghetto, sounding like Walter Wegmuller jamming with Throbbing Gristle in some dystopian near future. I plan to hear the rest of the album soon by purchasing it.

(For this section, I'm basically just recapping the current bands/artists I mentioned on my twitter feed this year. I feel like 90 percent of what I mention on there is from the 1960s-1980s, but then I do believe that any music made with electricity is new music, and that everything after the bomb is sci-fi.)

SPIRES THAT IN THE SUNSET RISE from downstate Illinois, who I used to listen to quite a bit when they first came on the Chicago scene circa 2002-2004, pretty much a poster band for free folk, but also damn good at it with a sound that was tough as nails. I've barely heard them since, besides seeing them play a really good show as a duo in 2007, until recently bumping into this YouTube of their set at the 2014 Tusk Festival (Newcastle upon Tyne, England). Still a duo, they pull an impressive amount of music out of their heavily processed bravura vocals and Canterbury-style reeds and woodwinds.....

STARE CASE played a 2013 gig in Toronto and I tweeted about how you can watch it on YouTube; Stare Case is 2/3rds of Wolf Eyes, John Olson and Nate Young, playing in a notably different deep-listening silence-aware style, with Nate's methodical psychedelic bass playing reminding me of the aforementioned Paradieswärts Düül. They are currently active, though often in hibernation...

The aforementioned SAPAT...

The aforementioned CONEHEADS...

The aforementioned RICHARD YOUNGS showed up again when I tweeted that "My nominee for the greatest song of 2010 is RICHARD YOUNGS "Love In The Great Outdoors." The tweet was meant to not only link to a great song, but also to goof a bit on the idea of year-end lists, and how sometimes you don't know what the best song of the year was until 4 years later because time is elastic....

Long-time Blastifave SIX ORGANS OF ADMITTANCE have a record coming out in early 2015 on Drag City called Hexadelic, and I retweeted some frankly scorching preview tracks you can listen to on Soundcloud....

The aforementioned TULUUM SHIMMERING...

Another excellent global ritual/documentary/music/immersion film by HISHAM MAYET, released on DVD by Sublime Frequencies, called Vodoun Gods on the Slave Coast (filmed in Benin and featuring the jaw-dropping Night Watchman ceremony)...

I don't think JIM MAGAS actually released anything this year (although releases are in the works), but he did contribute to the score for Asia Argento's new film Misunderstood, which premiered at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, and I retweeted a great interview with him about that and other things...

Long-time fave KEVIN DRUMM apparently put out plenty of new stuff this year, including a full-length called Wrong Intersection, which sounded typically excellent streamed over at Fact Mag....

A topical rager by Canadian punk band VALLEY BOYS called "Drone Attack"...

81-year-old jazz saxophonist SONNY SIMMONS put out a daunting jazz/industrial/Fourth World/concrete 8-CD box set on a French label and the tracks from it on Bandcamp are superb....

SIR RICHARD BISHOP is always doing great stuff and you can jump in anywhere....

I only remember going to one single live show the entire year, but it was a doozy: a day spent at the Chicago Jazz Fest at which I caught afternoon sets by the TOMEKA REID QUARTET (featuring MARY HALVORSON) and Jason Adasiewicz's blazing SUN ROOMS, followed up exquisitely with evening sets by great young vocalist CECILE McLORIN SALVANT (her pianist Aaron Diehl and drummer Lawrence Leathers were killing it) and none other than the SUN RA ARKESTRA, who are very much active under the leadership of 90-year-old Marshall Allen and played a set of such swirling stately cosmic beauty that was nearly moved to tears of joy (I mean the show was also free and it was even my birthday, how much more karmically and cosmically correct can it get?!).

Oh yeah, earlier that week I saw MATTHEW SHIPP play a jaw-dropper of a solo set in a high-end piano store, also free, also part of the Jazz Festival. He played music I'm not comfortable calling jazz. This was something beyond that -- contemporary classical, maybe, or several unquantifiable things at once. He also did an impromptu Q&A after the set (included in previously linked YouTube) in which he mentioned none other than Houston, TX noise-rock lifers Rusted Shut...

A stunning grinding ritualistic and dare-I-say ethno-fucking-ambient 2014 cassette release by Japan-based TOLCHOK called After Fog Open, which I first heard on (you guessed it) the aforementioned Avant Ghetto program, and then a few times on the Sky Lantern Records & Tapes Bandcamp...

BHOB RAINEY laying down the (supremely quiet saxophone) sickness (in 2013)...

The thankfully still-prolific ASHTRAY NAVIGATIONS...

The great 2013 LP Handbook for Mortals by LETHA RODMAN MELCHIOR, which I kept spinning in 2014, and is still spinning in elegy as she lost a hard-fought battle with cancer this year in July. She is survived by her loving husband DAN MELCHIOR, who makes some of the best underground music of today in his own right; I'm kicking myself for not ordering their collaborative (or split release?) cassette Rodman Melchior/Melchior Rodman from when it was still available there, especially if it contains even half of the ephemeral beauty that Letha's solo LP does, and Dan's own 'non-songwriter' 'experimental' work is great too. But the real question is, has Dan put out an LP featuring the guitar-overdrive motorik power trio (plus keyboardist) material he's been playing live in 2014? I'm talking about the gigs at the Philly Record Exchange and the WFMU Record Fair, for starters... actually, I know there's a cassette release of the former gig called Live at the Philly Record Exchange for sale at that BigCartel, I should go buy it right now... UPDATE: Soon after writing the previous I did also buy Rodman Melchior/Melchior Rodman off of Discogs, and it is indeed some damned fine experimental sounds-and-music dreamtone collage... I don't know if this blog post will make anyone else buy anything from 2014, but it sure is getting me to buy a few things... ANOTHER UPDATE: The "guitar-overdrive motorik power trio (plus keyboardist)" stuff I reference above can be heard on the new album by Dan Melchior's Broke Revue, Lords of the Manor. For more on that, see my Best of 2015 list! (Coming soon in early 2017!)

HAMISH KILGOUR, drummer and oft-vocalist for The Clean, released All Of It And Nothing on the Ba Da Bing label, what I believe to be his first solo LP, a nice set of moody low-key psych-tinged songs...

There was the big Bandcamp overhaul done by ARBITRARY SIGNS, which is the label run by Pete Nolan of the Magik Markers... this got me listening to a bunch of their new & old stuff again for a week or two... great band... I believe they toured some this year, and vocalist/guitarist Elisa Ambrogio toured even more (and is touring right now!) behind her solo debut LP The Immoralist, on Drag City...

How about that rad greater New York City area duo called 75 DOLLAR BILL, made up of Rick Brown (who played in Run On in the 1990s for Matador Records) on "percussion and homemade horns" and a guitarist named Che Chen? "They met via MySpace and started playing together as 75 Dollar Bill approximately eight years later," cranking out extended tranced-out Africa-fueled Mississippi-fueled dirty-amplifier extendo grunge-groove, and it's definitely something I want to hear a band play in 2014, and 2015 will work too (check out their January 2015 release Wooden Bag on Other Music Recording Co.)....

ED SCHRADER'S MUSIC BEAT followed up their excellent debut Jazz Mind (released by Load Records in 2012) with another bracing LP called Party Jail (on the Infinity Cat label). It was also cool to hear a song from Jazz Mind used in that disturbing Adult Swim fake Claridryl commercial...

Chicago footwork pioneer DJ RASHAD passed away this year at the age of 34 so I spent some time listening to his music when that sad news was announced...

DEVIN GARY & ROSS played blasted psych covers in art museums in 2012, and in 2014 they released an acclaimed double LP called Honeycomb Of Chakras (label: Feeding Tube) which I have yet to grip....

CIRCUIT DES YEUX, who released breakthrough album Overdue in 2013, spent 2014 doing a lot of international touring, playing for bigger crowds, opening for well-known bands, premiering videos, and she even made this very nice mix. She's going to do good things in 2015 too, starting with a collaboration with Mind Over Mirrors (aka Jaime Fennelly, former member of PeeEssEye)...

I tweeted about long-running #noaudienceunderground stalwart OMIT when I came across a stunning video of a show he played in 2012...

I tweeted about Chicago's ONO because they released a new album in 2014 (Diegesis, Moniker Records), only their fourth full-length since 1983, but their second in two years (frankly I'm finding their 2012 LP Albino, also on Moniker, somewhat difficult to process, but I will always love that '83 debut Machines That Kill People and they continue to play amazing live shows several times a year in Chicago)...

Way back in the beginning of the year I tweeted about SACRED PRODUCT because I spent a whole day listening to like four of his terrific extended nervous-punk trance-out youtubes over and over; apparently this is a solo project by a guy from that band Satanic Rockers, who put out the winner of last year's Album I Have Not Yet Listened To Because Of The Penis On Its Cover Award.

And waaaaay back in the beginning of year I was of course tweeting & retweeting stuff about WOLF EYES and their recent rebirth (because 2014 is #TheYearTripMetalBroke).

Peter Gutteridge Pure (540 Records), the Mike Cooper stuff on Paradise of Bachelors, Owen Maercks Teenage Sex Therapist (Feeding Tube), Craig Leon Nommos (Superior Viaduct), Flesh Eaters A Minute To Pray, A Second to Die (Superior Viaduct). The Velvet Underground The Velvet Underground - 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe (Universal/Polydor); Bob Dylan & The Band The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes Complete (Columbia); Various Artists 1970s Algerian Folk and Pop (Sublime Frequencies). Happily, I know there's many more.

James Wheeler, Rock Scully, Clive Palmer, Charlie Haden, Tommy Ramone, Chris Grier, Bobby Womack, Bob Abrahamian, Patrick Lundborg, DJ Rashad, Frankie Knuckles, Scott Asheton, Robert Ashley, Ricky Luanda, Amiri Baraka. Sadly, I know there's many more.

In other news, I read two great music bios this year; George Clinton's memoir Brothers Be, Yo Like George, Ain't That Funkin' Kinda Hard On You?, which is lucid, funny, and informative, highly recommended for any and all P-Funk freaks, to say the least; and Steve Lowenthal's Dance of Death: The Life of John Fahey, American Guitarist. Upon first picking it up, I was surprised how slim it felt, but after finishing it, I was surprised by how much information and insight had been succinctly packed into it. The book makes a hell of a case for the man not as a mere folk guitarist, but as a goddamn 20th century classical composer. It also pulled no punches as to what a difficult and unlikable person he was, tied him into the 90s noise underground much better than a more traditional folk-scene biographer might have done, and contained this beautiful sentiment from the emotional eulogy Leo Kottke gave at Fahey's funeral: "In a country full of crap, John created living, generative culture. With his guitar and his spellbound witness, he synthesized all the strains in American music and found a new happiness for all of us. With John, we have a voice only he could have given us; without him, no one will sound the same." I realize that all of the music I was able to listen to this year, as mentioned above, just might have been "generated" by Fahey's example; it's mind-boggling to think about all the doors of perception that were opened not only by his composing, but by the iconoclastic roster and DIY approach of his label Takoma Records.


I made a year-end list last year too, and gave it a snarky title due to the overwhelming preponderance of year-end lists all around me, none of which made me want to listen to any music at all. I was so tired of 'em that I didn't even have the heart to publish mine, but what they hey, I'll publish it now. These records are all still pretty new:

WOLF EYES No Answer: Lower Floors CD (DE STIJL)
MONTIBUS COMMUNITAS Hacia Aquellos Bosques de Inmensidad LP (TROUBLE IN MIND)
MAD NANNA live at the Burlington, Chicago
SKY NEEDLE video tour diary

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

For those of you who were following my live tweeting of Sunday night's performance by the Muhal Richard Abrams Experimental Band at this year's Chicago Jazz Fest, I need to apologize for an error. Early in the performance, I tweeted this:

Well, Henry Threadgill was onstage, and is a flautist of some international renown, but the solo was by LaRoy Wallace McMillan, someone I'd never heard of before. I feel bad about this misidentification, partly because it continues to contribute to McMillan's obscurity -- in 2011 the jazz blog Inconstant Sol said that he is "so forgotten that it is impossible to find a picture of him on the web," which still appears to be true, and although he did play on a few AACM-related records from 1975 to 1982, he does not appear to garner a single mention in even A Power Stronger Than Itself, George Lewis's massive history of the AACM. But, I mainly feel bad because that solo was an absolute high point of the entire piece, taking that Varese/Webern/contempo-classical influence the AACM has always exhibited to boldly enigmatic, peaceful, and beautiful extremes. It's one thing to play like that when you're say, alone in a city park, but when you're on a huge stage with 9 other musicians and a few thousand people listening to you, things are different. But that's something the AACM have always been good at; if the situation calls for something loud, play even quieter to see what happens; if the crowd is noisy and indifferent, play even quieter to make the contrast more stark and powerful. Said flute solo starts just after the 6-minute mark of the video above.

In my defense, when I tweeted the error, I was all the way in the back of the surreal Gehry-designed Pritzker Pavilion, and couldn't even see the stage, just the video on the big screen above the stage. Here's my view, via terrible iPhone photograph (the big bright light underneath those trademark Gehry metallic sails is the big screen; under that and out of view is the actual stage itself):

So, I was a little disoriented and unsure who was who. And, the people around me really were talking all the way through that incredible flute solo. They might not have actually been talking about wine and cheese, but they sure were consuming it while talking about other things. I'm sure you've noticed that these jazz festivals often seem like an excuse for some sort of upscale cultural picnic that's more like going glamping than going to listen to music. I can't get too mad though, because if they're there, they're still at least experiencing the Muhal Richard Abrams Experimental Band, whether or not they're actively listening to it, as my followup tweet pointed out:
I should also point out that before the set ended, I made it all the way down to the front rows, where there were still a few open seats here and there, and the audience was very attentive and appreciative; by no means was the entire crowd a bunch of aloof baguette-eating yuppies. And seriously, how about that music. I find it very impressive that, on the occasion of the band's 50th anniversary, being honored with closing out Chicago's biggest jazz showcase, Abrams and band (average age: 70.8!) came out without even an introductory (let alone self-congratulatory) word and immediately laid into a brand new hour-long piece of uncompromising avant-garde shadow-world music. Abrams was clearly running things, doing as much, if not more, conducting as he did piano playing, although when he did play piano it was exquisite dreamworld upper-register filigree which was effectively doubled by Amina Claudine Meyers on second piano. (This can be heard and witnessed just after the 50 second mark in the above video.) Another thing that the AACM has always excelled at is, no matter how large the group, they almost never fall into the 'everyone play at once' and 'everyone try to outplay each other at once' traps, and, at the jazz fest, in addition to McMillan's flute solo, there were unaccompanied solos by Henry Threadgill (alto sax), Roscoe Mitchell (alto sax), another by McMillan on baritone sax, double drum solos by Thurman Barker and Reggie Nicholson, and all sorts of duos and trios that fluidly came and went, everything conducted by Abram's professorial presence and remarkably long fingers.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

I could do without those Dangerous Minds posts that are like "this ice sculpture of Frank Zappa and vintage 1970s macrame owl are also working bongs!," but they sure were right about how good this 30-minute 1980 performance by Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band on French television is.

Watch the whole thing, but don't miss a few of my personal favorite moments:

1. Best 'lead singer appreciating guitar solo' move of all time at 2:20.

2. Delivery of key line "I may be hungry but I sure ain't weird" with Tuvan overtones at 15:40.

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