DAYS ON A SUMMER'S JAZZ

V/A: Juneteenth (Catalytic Sound), Blacks' Myths, Ben Hall's Racehorse Names, Bonnie Jones, Luke Stewart, Heart of the Ghost w/Dave Ballou

VARIOUS ARTISTS Juneteenth: A Catalytic Sound Compilation in Support of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (CATALYTIC SOUND) I got pretty deep into contemporary creative music (aka jazz?) during this pandemic summer, in no small part because of the work of the Catalytic Sound collective, especially their all-remote all-virtual 2020 Catalytic Sound Festival, which took place this July. Also, this year Juneteenth fell on a Friday, a Bandcamp Friday no less, one of those Fridays when the premiere digital music platform of the underground waives their usual 15% fee, and on June 19th, the Catalytic Sound label released the various artists compilation Juneteenth, with all the album’s proceeds to be donated to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. A fine cause, and the music looked good too, so I bought one for $10, which is well worth it, because the damn thing is like 7 hours long. (Actually a little over two hours, which is still hella long, but I guess 135 minutes of music fits on a double CD, so there ya go.) First track “Keep Going” is by Joe McPhee & Hamid Drake, Joe doing more vocals than trumpet, Hamid laying it down heavy as always, both a burner and a blaster. Then Chris Corsano blasts a 4-minute solo drums piece, followed by Sylvie Courvoisier Trio doing a real nice 7-minute ambient/melodic/misterioso tune, then Yannis Kyriakides & Andy Moor (never heard of ‘em) doing a wild guitar skronk against severe sputtering electronics duo piece that basically says “death to false illbient.” It’s been a great comp so far, and yet when the next track comes on, a solo track by bassist Luke Stewart, I feel like for the first time on the whole comp, and to be honest for one of the few times in several years, I’m truly hearing a new concept. Like maybe you don’t call this jazz. I’m not quite sure who Luke Stewart is… okay, looked him up, he’s also in Heart of the Ghost and Irreversible Entanglements. I know those bands a little, and they’re both fantastic too. This is all starting to make sense. Stewart plays stand-up bass, often in a classic ‘jazz bassist’ style, but he’s just as often pushing the instrument somewhere else, using effects pedals, noise, loops, reverb, overtones, harmonics, and ostinatos, or using electric bass for even more multivalent purposes. Within thirty minutes after hearing this comp track, I had ordered an LP by another one of his projects (Blacks’ Myths, but I’ll save that for the next review). Continuing on after Stewart, gosh there’s just so much, and would you believe I got lost and went backwards, and listened to that Sylvie Courvoisier Trio track again, and damn, how could I not think that was a new concept too? The way she plays both inside and outside the piano, and blends noise with classical with jazz-I-guess, all in a natural flow? Probably because, in the meantime, I watched her archived live set from the 2020 Catalytic Sound Festival, seeing her inside/outside playing style in action, and now I have a better understanding of what I’m hearing on the comp track… ah forget it, I can’t finish this review, it’s long enough already, and it’s already been waylaid by several new concepts, particularly those from Stewart and Courvoisier, and there’s lots more on this comp. Just know that I did listen to everything else at least once, some of it more than once, with other standout tracks by the Kuzu trio (Dave Rempis/Tashi Dorji/Tyler Damon), Elisabeth Harnik, Ikue Mori, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Jaap Blonk, Ben Hall/Mike Khoury duo, Nate Wooley, Tim Daisy, Ken Vandermark, lots more.

BLACKS’ MYTHS I LP (ATLANTIC RHYTHMS) Jazz duos are usually horn and drums, maybe piano and drums, but how many bass and drums duos have there been? Any records? Why can’t I think of any? (Avant-rock duos like the Ruins or Lightning Bolt don’t count.) I honestly can’t name another jazz bass/drums duo record right now, certainly not one with a concept as evolved as Blacks’ Myths I, which is Luke Stewart (Irreversible Entanglements, Heart of a Ghost) on bass and Warren G. “Trae” Crudup III on drums. Stewart lays down huge ostinato/loop/resonance/feedback foundations, and Crudup gets in the pockets with grace, energy, humor, subtlety, push, and pull.

BEN HALL’S RACEHORSE NAMES The New Favorite Thing Called Breathing (RELATIVE PITCH) So I thought I discovered Ben Hall’s music way back in 2006 when I saw him play live at Chicago’s Empty Bottle, and even bought a couple CDRs from him at the merch table. He was the drummer in the Graveyards trio, with John Olson of Wolf Eyes on reed instruments, and Hans Buetow on cello, on that particular night joined by C. Spencer Yeh (aka Burning Star Core) on violin to form a quartet by the beautifully ad hoc name of Burning Graveyards. They were reeeeaaallly good that night at the Bottle, in no small part because of Hall’s knack for developing pieces over long stretches of time, he and his drums creating the entire canvas so that Olson and Buetow (and that night Yeh) could take their time and find particulary esoteric color schemes and narrative pockets. Not long after that show, I realized I’d heard Hall play drums even before that, on those Khoury/Shearer/Hall trio CDRs on Public Eyesore, starting around 2001. (Also mentioned in a recent column due to a Theo Parrish connection…) After the Graveyards moves of 2006-2008, I kind of lost touch with Hall’s music, certainly noting his work in a duo with Don Dietrich from Borbetomagus, thinking “bet that’s crazy” but never actually hearing it, and more recently seeing him post drum videos on Instagram that I can’t find now, and show up for a great interview with Jeremiah Cymerman on the latter’s 5049 Podcast, and now here’s a 2018 album release by a project called Ben Hall’s Racehorse Names, which, well, speaking of new concepts… damn. I don’t know what kind of music this is. It definitely sounds like it comes out of jazz, but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard another jazz album like it. Strange large-ensemble instrumentation: one guy on electric piano and organ, another guy on electronics, the aforementioned Mike Khoury on violin and viola, along with a sax player, an auxiliary percussionist, and, as a special guest making it a sextet plus one, Joe Morris himself on electric guitar. What they do is needling, ongoing, obsessive, somehow both cool and distanced and yet hot and fiery as hell; spiky, poky, bristled, all sensations rippling and cyclotroning on low boil… Turns out there’s a lot of new concepts flying around the jazz world these days after all, and/or the creative music world, and/or the improvised music world. (Should I not be using “the j word”?) It’s not just Luke Stewart and Sylvie Courvoisier who have new concepts, it’s Ben Hall, et al, y tal vez tu tambien. (I get it, my scope on concepts must always be recalibrating and refocusing, hopefully always trending towards higher resolution.)

BONNIE JONES An Hour is a Sea (AMPLIFY 2020) Only know of her from, once again, this year’s 2020 Catalytic Sound Festival, her trio performance on Night 3 with (the aforementioned) Ben Hall and Luke Stewart, as well as a panel discussion earlier that day, but she had been living and working in Baltimore for over a decade before that, chopping it up with the freaks and academics and other movers and shakers in that town, making these amazing long-form small-sound but extremely heavy compositions. Is the only reason I haven’t heard of her before because she never recorded for Ehse? Or did she record for Ehse?! I don’t know, but I do know that this Bonnie Jones album An Hour is a Sea is very recent, post-quarantine, recorded on 3/30/20, and another very powerful 48-minute composition. Not “jazz,” btw. How did this review get into a jazz column, anyway? (Because Catalytic Sound willfully crosses experimental music subgenres as curators, and I strive for the same as both listener and writer.)

LUKE STEWART Works for Upright Bass and Amplifier (ASTRAL SPIRITS/MONOFONUS PRESS) Hardcore noise/texture compositions (improvisations?) that are what they say they are. “Works for Upright Bass and Amplifier Pt. I” and “Works for Upright Bass and Amplifier Pt. II,” released on cassette in 2018 by the happening Astral Spirits label. When Stewart goes into this mode, he seems fully willing to commit to pure gesture, pure sound, pure texture.

HEART OF THE GHOST WITH DAVE BALLOU Live at Rhizome LP (DAGORETTI) My goodness, just in case you thought Luke Stewart only played new-concept avant-noise soundscape bass, listen to him lay it down in a traditional ripping and burning ESP-Disk style with his band Heart of the Ghost. They have a few previous releases on Dagoretti as well, mostly as a trio (Stewart on bass, Ian McColm on drums, Jarrett Gilgore on saxophone), definitely all rippers, but the addition here of Dave Ballou on trumpet takes it to another level. It makes me realize how important the quartet concept is to jazz; the trio of bass, drums, and horn is elemental, as is the trio of bass, drums, and piano, but adding just one more harmonic/melodic instrument to that elemental trio, whether you have a horn and a piano, or two horns, or a horn and a cello, whatever, quickly opens up so much more harmonic/melodic territory, creating the elemental quartet. The interplay, the tones, the extra chordal harmony, the extra timbral harmony even… it’s why we love Ornette’s original Atlantic Records quartet so much, it’s why we love the self-titled New York Art Quartet album on ESP-Disk, it’s why we love everything by the 4-piece Art Ensemble of Chicago, it’s why we all love all of that. (POSTSCRIPT You could read my Luke Stewart reviews, or you could just read this: https://tuskis better.substack.com/p/so-you-wanna-get-into-luke-stewart.)

And one more POSTSCRIPT, since I’ve been questioning the word jazz in this article, and I just came across some good words on this from Joel Ross, another Chicago jazz musician, in this interview: “The more I’ve been playing, and talking, and learning from people, the more I understand how jazz music is more flexible than the name implies. As for the word ‘jazz’ itself, I use it to introduce people into the space that we’re in. And then once I get them in the door, I want to show them how big that space really is. But we can use the word to start the conversation. Jazz music falls under a term that I agree more with - Black American Music.” The interviewer responds: “That’s encouraging, because I was hoping to use the word ‘jazz’ throughout this interview. Like with anything in language, if everyone knows what you’re talking about, then the word holds value.”

DJ SPANISH FLY... DJ PAUL & LORD INFAMOUS... THE BIRTH OF MEMPHIS HIP HOP

People say I know a lot about music. And it’s true, I do. But so do you. And there are certain people who know so much more about music than either of us that it’s not even funny. It’s like a long staircase where you think you’re near the top, but there’s still several more steps going up, disappearing behind an ethereal mist… you start to count them, in an attempt to assess the situation… five, ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty… the mist briefly subsides, revealing at least seventy-five more steps, receding upward to a point past visual perception, each step representing just a little bit more musical knowledge beyond the last one, each next step quite accessible… but can you go thirty? Forty? Eighty? And the mist keeps moving and rearranging, now thickening, now hiding all but just the next two or three steps... but wait, it’s not that simple either. Because sometimes you run up the stairs two at a time and miss entire histories. Sometimes you’re on a step for just a minute or two, and think you get it, but you don’t. Not even close.

Somewhere in between all of these rather overwrought metaphors describes my previous understanding of the Memphis rap explosion of the 1990s. I knew a little bit about it, and if you asked me who the biggest rap group ever from Memphis is, I might’ve been able to tell you Three 6 Mafia, but I couldn’t really name a single song of theirs, not even the one they won a Best Original Song Oscar for back in the day. Oh yeah, that’s right, it was that “Hard Out Here For A Pimp” song from the film Hustle & Flow (2005, d. Craig Brewer). I know this, because I saw them win the award on live TV that night in March 2006, and the acceptance speech was amazing. I feel like I remember them performing the song live that night too, but it was almost 15 years ago. Saw the movie that year too (rented the DVD, pretty damn good, but really from a different time already, not sure if it’s aged well or not), and the movie was set in Memphis, so I know a little bit about Memphis hip hop, right?

Wrong, poser. In fact I’m such a poser that I only just now learned about Memphis rap not from digging in the wild, but laying on my couch watching Netflix. Yep, Hip Hop Evolution, a very good show, particularly a segment from Season 4, Episode 2, “The Southern Lab,” which runs down a succinct history of 1990s Memphis hip hop, starting in the late 1980s with the legendary DJ Spanish Fly. His music and career were a revelation to me.

As far as I can tell from this extremely good 2012 interview with Fly by thee Noz (say what you will about the crass idea that is corporate energy drink branding of underground culture, and I can say plenty myself, but on a content-by-content basis Red Bull Music Academy Daily was probably one of the best music mags ever, don’t front, R.I.P. to a G.O.A.T.), the man was born circa 1970, I believe in Memphis, though it seems he did move to Illinois for some portion of his childhood, probably Chicago area (he does mention a few Chicago connections in the interview). He started making his living from music in Memphis around 1987 or 1988, and in fact stopped going to high school (later earning his GED) because he was making a lot of money, not only as a DJ at places like the legendary No Name Club, but also from selling lots and lots of mixtapes of his DJ sets, often at the very high price point of $25 per tape (as Memphis legend DJ Squeeky enthusiastically attests, again in Hip Hop Evolution S4 E2), and that’s 30 years ago, but it makes sense: his fans had tape players in their car, and if you spent $25 for a full hour of the best brand new music in a style you love, you’d have your go-to car music figured out for two to three months at least, basically what a streaming service subscription costs now.

And oh man, the music. $25 worth for sure. Minimalist and sinister and slow-and-low, it was basically the invention of trap music, but in a very naively satisfying and direct old-school way, much like the minimalist trunk music of Too Short that started up a couple years earlier way over on the West Coast in Oakland, California.

Also like Too Short, the cassette medium was extremely important to DJ Spanish Fly’s business model. It was how he mastered the music, how he DJ’d the music, and how he sold and delivered the music. The entire production, performance, and supply chain operation practically reduced to a single step: make a cassette. With rudimentary label stickers on each side, and no J-card, Fly kept the overhead low, and almost single-handedly ran the Memphis rap cassette game, a reign that had a long-lasting ripple effect on music in Memphis and well beyond.

One of Fly’s many followers (“DJ Spanish Fly was my guy” — HHR S4E2) was a youngster named Paul Duane Beauregard (born 1977), who with his older brother Ricky T. Burigan (born 1973, died 2013) created a hip-hop duo called DJ Paul & Lord Infamous, aka the Serial Killaz. They produced instrumentals and rapped over them, heavily influenced by Fly’s lo-fi tranced-out mid-tempo minimalism, as well as a steady diet of horror flicks on VHS. In this interview with Hip Hop DX, DJ Paul says “By the end of the ninth grade came we was bringing out an EP, Serious Killaz, in like 1990 or whatever.” Wait, so maybe their duo was the Serious Killaz, not the Serial Killaz? The provenance of these early tracks is indeed mystifying — some of them, I can’t find on Spotify or even Discogs, and it’s unclear whether this music was released under the duo name DJ Paul & Lord Infamous, or under the name Serial Killaz, or Serious Killaz, or at all. Either way, there are a few tracks on YouTube that stand as some of the most bone-rattling and bone-chilling and grimy lo-fi horrorcore hip-hop this head has ever heard, such as “The Scarecrow,” aka “Serial Killaz” (?), and the particularly hard-knocking “Face to Face With Death”:

In 1991, Paul and Infamous joined forces with Juicy J (aka Jordan Michael Houston, born in 1975, right in between the two brothers), and these three individuals became the Three in Three 6 Mafia, the most successful rap group ever from Memphis. As DJ Paul says on HHE S4 E2, “When I got kicked out of school, my momma had told me, ‘You wanna use your auntie’s address and go to county school, or do you wanna try this rap shit?’ I said, ‘I wanna try this rap shit!’ Me and Juicy put together forty-five-hundred dollars and made Mystic Stylez. That forty-five-hundred dollars turned into forty-five-million dollars! And that was the best decision I ever made in my fuckin’ life!”

RECENT LISTENING #10

Welcome to L.A. OST, Steve Gunn & the Black Twig Pickers, Clandestine Quartet, Pebbles Vol. 1 Thailand Vol. 1, Bill Direen, KMRU, Om

Welcome to L.A. OST (UNITED ARTISTS) I’m 13 or 14 years old and see a couple ads on network TV for a film called Choose Me. It looks pretty darkly romantic, even erotic (Lesley Ann Warren, after all) and a little strange (Keith Carradine, after all). I see Siskel & Ebert do a review of it, Ebert in particular praising the film and its writer/director Alan Rudolph. Such concepts as ‘adult seriocomic televisual storytelling’ and ‘commercially unsuccessful critics’ darling as a modest career path’ become more fully formed in my mind. I’m like, “I’ve gotta check out this Alan Rudolph guy.” 35 years later I finally do check him out, when I notice his 1976 debut film Welcome to L.A. is leaving the Criterion Channel in a couple days (pretty much the only time I ever watch any film is when it’s leaving the Criterion Channel in a couple days). Put it on, and within seconds there’s that strong downbeat 1970s L.A. vibe, though I am nonplussed by the opening credits song, which is the expected California soft rock but with a distractingly bad lead singer. The credits note that the film is produced by Robert Altman, and indeed here’s Keith Carradine waltzing around as an ennui-filled songwriter, boozing it up, being a jerk, serial womanizing. While this and many other intriguing characterizations start to very slowly pick up tempo (Sally Kellerman, Geraldine Chaplin, Harvey Keitel, Lauren Hutton, Sissy Spacek, Denver Pyle, more), of course I’m already reading about the film on my phone, how Rudolph was the assistant director on Altman’s Nashville from the year before, and I’m like, “Wow, they took Carradine’s character from Nashville and just kept going with it.” 20 minutes later, all those characterizations are starting to hum and coalesce, and I find myself falling DEEP into the film’s languidly obtuse and depressive rhythms. I realize that the distractingly bad singer from the title credits is actually a centerpiece of the film, in fact its Greek chorus: singer/songwriter/actor Richard Baskin, who was the musical director for Nashville, portraying a mysterious rock star (yeah right, with that voice?) named Eric Wood (not the one from Man is the Bastard). Wood has no spoken dialogue, but appears singing and playing piano throughout the film in a recording studio, making an album of world-weary neo-noir songs written by Carradine’s world-weary songwriter character, Carroll Barber. These studio scenes are constantly intercut as the film languidly moves from one lonely one-night stand to another, Baskin with his session-cat band, singing the film’s thesis “City of the One Night Stands” over and over again, along with several other surprisingly haunting late-night soft-rock songs. His voice is still terrible, but it grows on you, and the next thing you know you’re singing along with every word, “when those silky infatuations come, enticin’ me… invitin’ me… excitin’ me, then god damn it, it’s the best temptation of all….” Before I had even finished the film, I had ordered the soundtrack LP on Discogs for less than $2, and I’m pretty sure it’s all going to haunt me for the rest of my life. The internet is so much fun. POSTSCRIPT: So much fun that three weeks later I’m still reading anything about the film I can find on my phone, and about Alan Rudolph in general, like this great quote by him in a Film Comment interview that explains a lot: “I used to prowl record stores after work every Friday night and I’d buy albums to tape them. I must have had a hundred tapes without knowing what was coming up next. It was a primitive version of shuffle. I’d walk around Manhattan and watch a movie unfold on the sidewalks listening to how it was scored in my head. But it’s funny, the number-one album was always Kind of Blue. Without that album, I’m not sure I would have been able to make films. Kind of Blue was my film school.” POST-POSTSCRIPT: I’m also finding these crazy harsh reviews of Welcome to L.A. from right when it came out, like Ruth Batchelor in L.A. Free Press, who says “it’s the most depressing movie I’ve seen and that includes Nazi-atrocity films,” and also says “the songs are as depressing as the people.” Richard Eder in the New York Times goes even harder on Baskin: “The songs are a particular torment. The music whines, the lyrics complain, and Mr. Carradine sings them with a kind of hushed writhing, like a worm dying at the bottom of a barrel.” He probably meant Mr. Baskin, although Mr. Carradine does sing Baskin’s songs a couple times in the film, and several times on the soundtrack LP. I mean, of course Eder means Baskin, because Carradine is actually a pretty good singer, with a tone and delivery much less like a dying worm. POST-POST-POSTSCRIPT: Okay, enough negativity about Welcome to L.A., let’s end on a contemporaneous high note with the words of Jack Kroll, who, despite being an unbelievably square john (as displayed in that 1969 talk-show interview he did with a justifiably impatient Susan Sontag and Agnes Varda, always getting pulled from YouTube and Vimeo due to copyright), wrote beautifully and accurately about the film in his Newsweek review from February 21, 1977: “[Welcome to L.A. depicts a] Los Angeles that's a shimmering Xanadu of psychic uncertainty. Mirrors reassemble people into soulless human collages. The swoosh of Hutton's ever-present Nikon sounds like a little guillotine beheading reality. The quavering cadences of Baskin's music evoke both the sweetness and self-indulgence of Carroll Barber. Cinematographer Dave Myers works like the new realist painters, capturing a metropolis of burnished surfaces that seems to dissolve the will in an amber nullity of light." Good stuff, Kroll. Good stuff indeed. POST-POST-POST-POSTSCRIPT: Meanwhile I’m also trying to find out just who the hell Richard Baskin is, and it turns out his last name is familiar because his dad was THE Baskin from Baskin-Robbins. Welcome to L.A., it’s a small world after all. And you know what, I’ll give the real last word, even if buried inside a post-post-post-postscript, to Richardbaskin.com, because it lays out the whole genesis of Welcome to L.A.: “Rudolph and Baskin met in 1975 while working on Robert Altman's classic, Nashville. Alan Rudolph was Altman's assistant director, and Baskin the composer and musical director on the film. The two became friends and when Baskin played his songs for Rudolph, Alan responded: ‘I could make a movie out of that.’ Working quickly, Rudolph adapted the themes and relationships of the songs into characters and wrote the screenplay during the filming of Nashville. When that shoot ended, the two presented the idea to Robert Altman, who agreed to produce the film as Alan Rudolph's directorial debut.”

STEVE GUNN & THE BLACK TWIG PICKERS Seasonal Hire (THRILL JOCKEY) I already loved Jack Rose & the Black Twig Pickers, and now I also love Steve Gunn & the Black Twig Pickers. This record was released in 2015, but I’m just now realizing it exists, or remembering it exists, not sure which. And I should note that I also love the Black Twig Pickers by themselves, without any special guest bandleaders, and I love the solo albums by key Black Twig Picker Nathan Bowles too, especially A Bottle, a Buckeye (2012, Soft Abuse). Seriously, it’s all good. Stomping bluegrass mountain music. Social music. But these guys aren’t old-timers, they probably weren’t born until the 1970s or even the 1980s, so they’re young enough to also fully understand the Velvet Underground and that post-war avant-garde sense of the timeless driving monochord. Such a nice approach to fuse with good ole heartfelt authentic mountain bluegrass social music.

CLANDESTINE QUARTET One for the Fossa, Two for the Wolverine (33-33) Talk about clandestine, did any other Sun City Girls heads know about this LP from back in October (2019)? It features SCG brothers reconnected Alan Bishop on bass and Richard Bishop on guitar, and they’re joined by Chris Corsano on drums and Michael Flower (of Vibracathedral Orchestra) on “his signature amplified ‘Japanese banjo’ (an Indian keyed zither).” This is big news! What a great lineup! And this is a very well-recorded, well-considered, and, in case you’re worried, very structured and sometimes quite beautiful set of music. (That’s right, this album contains no boom-box recordings of kazoo-and-voice-only Cloaven Theater pieces that go on for 30 minutes. Not that we don’t love those too, because WE DO.)

VARIOUS ARTISTS Pebbles Vol. 1, Thailand Vol. 1, Orginal Artifacts From the Psychedelic Era LP (PEBBLES LABEL?) Spotify somehow leads me to this amazing comp and I can’t even tell if it was ever released on vinyl. Well, I’m listening to it anyway, thanks to Spotify aka Capitalism, and whoever the person was that picked these songs and put them in this order. Ever noticed how after all the other Pebbles and Cambodian Rocks and Cambodian Cassette Archives comps and Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten OSTs have passed your way, and you think you’ve heard it all, sometimes one more comp of Asian garage rock and pop music from the 1960s and 1970s can still hit you so hard, and still sound like perhaps the truest apotheosis of the modern cultural/global/human movement we generalize as Rock and Roll? It’s that good, and you’ll know it long before you even get to track ten, where one Srueng Santi blasts Black Sabs’ “Supernaut” riff into his own inzane tune called “Mai Rack Yar Rack.”

BILL DIREEN A Memory of Others 2LP (SOPHOMORE LOUNGE) Posted this on the ‘gram right when it came out, but just wanted you all to know that it’s still getting very serious rotation. There’s a lot of material here, 26 songs in all, spanning a good 25 years, some tracks taken from Direen’s classic early records (some of his ‘greatest hits’ even, like “Love in the Retail Trade” from 1984), some live, some previously unreleased, or previously released but barely, all presented in no chronological order whatsoever, and it’s all so good as it jumps decades, altogether dashing the idea of any one ‘greatest’ Direen record or period. It would seem that the best Bill Direen is whatever Bill is doing right now, much of which has been recorded over the years, creating a kaleidoscopic effect from any present viewpoint, and I can get lost inside of every single track on here. Beautiful intelligent and restless rock’n’roll music played and sung by an actual poet. Record is sold out at Sophomore Lounge, but go to their Bandcamp right now and at the very least stream yourself track five “Circle of Blood,” also from 1984, one of the greatest and most intense post-punk songs ever recorded, in my humble and hyperbole-free opinion. (Spoiler alert, the way the already frightening and tense song climaxes with Direen shredding the lines “You don’t want it, give it back/Sit and watch the walls collapse/You don’t want to lose your mind," goddamn….)

KMRU Opaquer LP (DAGORETTI) New electronic music from Africa (Nairobi, Kenya to be more specific) and the label is run by Pete Larson, formerly of Bulb Records, who lived in Nairobi from 2014 to 2017? Sure, I’ll check it out… and I have to admit, I was a little underwhelmed after the first couple tracks, thinking it was good-not-great, in almost a 90s bliss-out style… but something happens as the album continues, picking up around track three “lulla” and then really settling in with the next one, the almost title track “opaque.” Something uniquely electro-rhythmic, strong and persistent without being house music, subtle and loose without being ambient music. Dagoretti is quickly shaping up to be a very interesting label… also check out the blistering Heart of the Ghost records, and Larson’s own band Dr. Pete Larson & His Cytotoxic Nyatiti Band, and lots more (even some Bulb classics) at petelarson.bandcamp.com.

OM Conference of the Birds LP (HOLY MOUNTAIN) I have a rule that if a record comes with printed lyrics, don’t even think about following along until at least the 10th time you’ve listened, if ever. Well, I’ve had this Om LP for almost 15 years, and didn’t even remember that it came with printed lyrics, so might as well follow along now… and it turns out this whole time Al Cisneros is singing a post-Wolfe sci-fi concept album about… apertures? You know, “Sentient ground of the light shrine shining/Aperture on door the lind-hymn stone,” and so on. I’ve read and heard a LOT of weird lyrics in my day, but Al Cisneros = weirdest lyricist ever? (Compliment, btw.)

THEO PARRISH RABBITHOLE

Said rabbithole having been started by IG followee @paulunits posting some clips from Theo Parrish’s “Footwork” track and video, and declaring the album American Intelligence an “absolute masterpiece,” one of his “favorites of the last decade.” I already knew Theo’s music pretty well, but I didn’t know this album, from 2014:

Listened to “Footwork” three times in a row, first the 11-minute album version, and then the lovely video twice on YouTube, who recommended in all their algorithmic “next up” wisdom Parrish’s 2001 track “Lost Angel,” the B Side of a 12” that has members of the Discogs community leaving pointed comments such as “Repress, please. Repress, please. Repress, please. Repress, please. Repress, please,” or this essentially one-word concrete poem:

“Repreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesssssssssssssssssssssssssssss s s s s s s thck sh thck sh thck sh thck sh.” (Weird, I just checked back on the Discogs page and that comment has been removed… swear to you, it was there two weeks ago exactly as it reads here.)

Before “Lost Angel” ended, I was already up at the CD shelf, pulling my first ever Theo Parrish experience, his Parallel Dimensions CD which I ordered brand new from Forced Exposure in the year 2000, strictly because of how much FE seemed to love it… and with a track like “Serengeti Echoes,” how could you not??

Then just a couple tracks later, sprawling out languidly right in the middle of everything else, this 12-minute experience called “Summertime is Here” comes along, really no house beat to be found, a female lead vocal, live saxophone blowing over the top, what is this? Is this even techno? Or is it just what it sounds like, which is sweet lo-fi progressive soul-jazz? Whatever it is, it really did a number on me back in 2000 (and now). (And, as an inveterate reader of liner notes, ‘twas heady to note that the saxophonist on the track Jason Shearer turned up a year later on a free jazz CDR by the Detroit-area Khoury/Shearer/Hall trio.)

But Parallel still ain’t done, more Dimensions to come, rounding itself out with late-album lo-fi extendo-trance majesty like “Violet Green,” which includes live bass and percussion, the percussion supplying something Parrish never misses, that sets him apart from your more standardly dry techno, which is improvisational polyrhythms, what Miles Davis called “a beat in between the beat” because “you gotta get that sound in between”:

Also noting the Parallel Dimension track “Brain Collaboration feat. Marsellus Pittman” has got me thinking of that one 12” which is a collaboration between Parrish, Pittman, and someone else just as good… oh yeah, Alex Omar Smith himself, back in 2006, and the track was “Renaissance” by the T.O.M. Project…

And that reminds me of that one classic episode of What’s in My Bag with Parrish, Pittman, and someone else… looks like Zernell (rhymes with “cool as hell”):

But man, going full circle back to American Intelligence, @paulunits is right, this album is insanely deep, running over two hours on double CD, with almost half of the 15 tracks up around the 10-minute mark, or going right over, like the seriously great CD opener “Drive” (check out these beats within beats within beats):

Bonus rabbithole material (more insulation for the warren, if you will): Theo telling a tour story about a 2014 trip to Dubai. Enjoy, and thanks for “going down the rabbithole” with yours truly, Larry “Fuzz-O” Dolman ;-)

RECENT LISTENING #9

Windy & Carl, Jim White & Marisa Anderson, Wombo, Scott Foust, Sic Alps, Neil Young, ESSi, Wingtip Sloat, Cocteau Twins, Stephanie Dosen

WINDY & CARL Allegiance and Conviction (KRANKY) This album rules. And it’s only 6 months old. Windy & Carl are BACK, y’all. I’m just kidding, they never left, but they do take their time; their last ‘official’ release (We Will Always Be) on their ‘primary’ label (Kranky) was in 2012. I don’t think they tour at all, just stay at home recording music and running the record store they own, Stormy Records in Dearborn, Michigan. Lina and I went on a road-trip there once, way back in 2002, to see Windy & Carl play live in the store, with special visiting opening act Charalambides. Incredible, beautiful show. Windy and Carl worked the counter, except when they were setting up and playing, and now it’s eighteen years later, and this new album, my goodness. It’s beautiful celestial drone, like their music always is, but with a particularly dark and driven edge to it as well, which seems really honest about the times we live in. The earth is in this music, and the earth isn’t doing too well, and neither are we. I don’t remember Windy’s singing being this deep in pitch, this grave in tone. So the album is already crushing me, and then the sublime 9-minute third track “Moth to the Flame” (sung by Carl) gives way to the fourth track “Alone,” another very heavy Windy vocal, which crushes me more, and when she stops singing halfway through the track for a long instrumental coda, it somehow gets more crushing still, a searing bliss-out drone torn asunder by some of the most chasmic guitar moans I can remember in a good while. The next track “Will I See the Dawn” is like a solo electric piano & reverb piece, instrumental, no vocals, so you’d think it’d be something of a relief, but nope: it’s just as crushing. Especially with that title. Crushing song, crushing album. (NOTE: Image above is a screen grab from YouTube.)

JIM WHITE & MARISA ANDERSON The Quickening (THRILL JOCKEY) I have to admit it’s great to hear Jim White playing drums outside of the confines of the Dirty Three. I’m sure it’s a controversial and possibly incorrect opinion, but that band bored/bores me to tears. (We can chat about it later, and you can play me your favorite Dirty Three tracks. We’ll drink a couple whiskeys, and I’ll agree that every song you’ve played is excellent, because they will be. I’ll tell you how I saw the Dirty Three live once, in the mid-90s, before I’d really heard any of their records, and it was an honestly amazing show. They were on fire, they were drinking, I was drinking, it was at a swank ballroom in San Francisco called Bimbo’s, Low played first… they were a great band that night, for sure. But they’re a great band that kinda does just one great thing over and over, and the more I heard their records, the more it just sounded like one slow dirge after another, each with its own lugubrious violin melody, no matter how creatively and valiantly Jim White subdivided the beat.) Just listen to track one on The Quickening, Anderson and White immediately going full-flight, like an eagle that had been locked on display in a dank windowless cocktail bar for 20 years, finally set free, now soaring on thermals high above vast landscapes. Somehow I feel this imagery might even be reflected in the cover art, though I did not look at until after writing this review. #RecordReviewsWrittenEntirelyDuringTheFirstSong #ThereforeMostlyAboutADifferentBand

WOMBO Blossomlooksdownuponus CS (SOPHOMORE LOUNGE) I’ll be honest, I wasn’t even going to put this in the cassette player because the cover design and band logo were so wonky, but finally after a couple weeks I relented and boy I’m glad I did. Because ultimately it’s not about the graphics, it’s about The Music, and This is some pretty uncanny post-punk female-fronted guitar trio Music. In some ways it reminds me of Thinking Fellers Union Local 282. It also reminds me of that band eSSI (also reviewed in this edition), but with vocals more like (thee) Elizabeth Fraser. Even though Wombo is from Louisville, KY, as is the label, our old friends Sophomore Lounge. And I’m a little surprised to learn more, and see that Wombo really is just a guitar/bass/drums trio, with bassist Sydney Chadwick also the lead singer while playing intricate lines, and guitarist Cameron Lowe and drummer Joel Taylor both quite creative on their instruments as well. I had pictured maybe at least a quartet after first listen, some kinda Crimsonoid Suburban Lawns kinda thing, that can still dip into Mediterranean lounge pop as needed. Crazy band!

SCOTT FOUST The Fighting Sensualist 1981-2002 (PINEAPPLE TAPES); FOUST! Space Sickness CDR (EH?) Once upon a time, almost twenty years ago in 2002, I spent about eight days of my life travelling and performing on a short but very busy and heavily obscurist noise rock tour. One of those nights in particular, I was riding shotgun in our rental van with the underground music luminary who was tour managing the whole adventure. He was a very good driver in the terrifying Neal Cassady mold, blasting down unfamiliar Louisville, KY streets (that town again) while blasting The Fighting Sensualist 1981-2002 on the van stereo, a cassette compilation of music involving Scott Foust (Idea Fire Company, Anti-Naturals). Foust was in a lot of great unknown bands back in the 1980s worldwide post-punk explosion, and they’re all on here, projects like Y Front, Red Light, The XX Committee, Stabat Mater, The Story of Failure, and Anschluss (that’s just Side A, most of the bands from a microscene of art-student visionaries Foust met at the University of Pittsburgh). I’ll never forget that Kentucky van ride, as Side A of that tape blasted, and I was amazed by every single cold and driving electro-rock track, one after another as we zoomed around a strange city half-lost on a pre-show beer run. Vibing on the punk energy crossed with machine rhythms, I joked that “he should start a new project and call it…. Foust!” A pun, because the music we were listening to had some of that same spirit and texture as the German band Faust, and in fact we had blasted the German Faust’s self-titled debut just a few hours earlier that same day, possibly in a completely different city, on that very same van stereo (where the first half had sounded like incredible contempo harsh noise). Well whaddayaknow, flash forward a few years later to 2006, when Scott Foust recorded some solo music that he would later release in 2011 under the name… Foust! (Exclamation point included, as it was when I conceived of the band name in that rented tour van.) But it doesn’t sound as much like Foust’s Faust side, this is more Foust’s solo side, sparse machine music, all instrumental, ambient/noise loops. Tracks like “Astounding Data” and its mid-disc followers “Artificial Recreation Forest” and “The Future Is Now” are all based on harsh and relentless repetition, much less of a rock band vibe than even Faust (who were already very anti-rock in a lot of ways).

SIC ALPS Pleasures & Treasures CD (ANIMAL DISGUISE) Ah, the mid-late ‘00s, a time when I kept up with each new Sic Alps record as it was released, for at least 3 full-lengths and lord knows how many EPs, before realizing the band had already achieved some sort of platonic ideal with their very first release: the Pleasures & Treasures CD (2006, on the Animal Disguise label). There’s just something raw/right about Pleasures & Treasures, the sound of a new band waking up and breathing deep, still filled with wonder, really noisy, loose, sloppy, and alive. Not everything they do is a tune, exactly, but I love the way they kinda leapfrog across big pools of noise to get from one tune to another. I feel something changed after this album, and they never quite got back to this particular thing. It was like they started by carving and wrestling a sound out of real-time chaos, then quickly realized they had created a group sound they could repeat, which sent them trying a little too hard to work backwards to it. Just theories, I’m obviously not in the band or anything.

NEIL YOUNG Homegrown (REPRISE) Prepared for release in 1975, shelved until now. I couldn’t get into it when it was on share-blogs in the ‘10s, and I can’t get into it now. A lot of unknown and frankly unmemorable songs, and even the best songs (“Love is a Rose” and “White Line”) I already like better in various versions on various live boots, like The Bernstein Tapes and A Perfect Echo. I just don’t like Homegrown, and I almost always like Neil Young very much, especially 1970s Neil Young. Truly, this is the first time I’ve ever disliked a Neil Young album that we’re supposed to like. No wonder Rick Danko immediately told Neil to release Tonight’s the Night instead (when he heard the two albums back to back at a 1975 party in a Chateau Marmont bungalow).

NEIL YOUNG Are You Passionate? 2LP (REPRISE) I sometimes feel like the only deep Neil head who loves this 2002 release, other than Matt “MV” Valentine, who I swear once commented on a Facebook thread that he really liked this record’s “talking guitar” solos. I love ‘em too, and I think it’s not just because Neil Young is awesome at guitar solos, but also because the band is so good at backing him up, laying down a groove that makes so much space and time for a soloist, and no wonder, because the band features two of the original MG’s: Booker T. on organ and Duck Dunn on bass. (A drummer named Steve Potts does just fine in the Al Jackson Jr. role, just fine indeed.) There are a few songs on the album that are just okay, like the admittedly good-not-great “You’re My Girl,” and Neil does kinda favor draggy (cough stoner cough) tempos, but the band almost always saves the day and lifts up these low-key shaggy-dog tunes into greatness. Like, how can you resist “Mr. Disappointment”? Total heartbreaker, with a beautiful guitar solo (this time the guitar doesn’t talk, it sings). “Differently” gets more of an MGs groove cookin’ up again, with delightful background vocals (the low-key R&B backing vox are NAILED throughout the whole album), and a sweet raveup at the end… but actually, I didn’t come here to tell you about Are You Passionate? because of any of these Booker T. songs. I came here today because of one song on the album, and I haven’t mentioned it yet, because it’s the biggest (but not only) anomaly: the almost 9-minute “Goin’ Home,” which leads off Side C on the 2LP vinyl version, the only track on here to feature Crazy Horse and not the MG’s as Neil’s backing band, and OH MY GOD it’s a great Neil Young & Crazy Horse song, even if it is from 2002, a full 33 years after their debut LP Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. No seriously, that’s all I came here to tell you: “Goin’ Home” is a certified good ‘un, and like nothing else on Are You Passionate? POSTSCRIPT: The other big anomaly is the reason I don’t think anybody says they like this album: it contains “Let’s Roll,” unanimously considered one of Neil’s worst moments, sounding pretty shoehorned in, for admittedly very topical reasons. Let’s just say it’s no “Ohio,” let alone United 93 (2006, d. Paul Greengrass). I don’t care, I often skip it, and you can too, though the main riff is actually very funky, and might be great with different lyrics.

ESSi Vital Creatures (ESSI.BANDCAMP.COM) It’s good to hear a brand-new weird guitar rock band again. I thought weird guitar bands had almost completely gone away, fully replaced by weird electronic projects, or something. I mean, you still get guitar players, but almost never a weird guitar band anymore, with a full-time bassist/drummer rhythm section. On top of that, it’s good to hear a weird guitar band that is weird but not ALWAYS LOUD. A band’s music can be many things — frantic, racing, intense, scary, angry — without having to be LOUD. There’s gotta be texture, pauses, long stretches of time where anything at all is happening besides a pummeling power trio riff. Maybe this is what always ends up getting called “Beefheartian”: an aggressively weird guitar band that isn’t necessarily always loud. ESSi also have a female singer, which is a plus.

WINGTIP SLOAT If Only the Hatchery CD (VHF) Oh my goodness, speaking of weird guitar bands. When I came across Wingtip Sloat in the 1990s, they just seemed one of many “angular” post-hardcore indie-rock guitar bands that were active at the time, albeit an excellent one, and even more obscurist than their peers, with their sceneless exurban Virginia pedigree, and an almost satirically obscurist indie-rock nonsense band name. Were they even mentioned in Jon Fine’s Your Band Sucks? If they were, maybe they were just part of a long list of further examples, with no additional commentary. Now, listening almost 25 (!) years later, it’s hard to believe this band actually existed, that they would ever put in the work, that this music could even be composed and rehearsed. Surprisingly chock-full of killer riffs, constantly flirting with noise and aggression but never letting it take over, stopping and starting unpredictably, with abundant lyrical/melodic hooks that have stayed stuck in my head for decades, like when “Sundowner’s 90 Mile Pilot” starts with the crooned “Remember… when you could stop time?”

++++++++++++++++++++++++++

And I leave you this time with a couple more Cocteau Twins tangents, after Wombo reminded me of them earlier in this column; first of all this version of “Carolyn’s Fingers,” live on the Jools Holland TV show, and I find it frankly glorious. Yes, as lots of the commenters will tell you, Ms. Fraser sounds like she’s having trouble hearing herself, and is possibly going off script in frustration, but I’m like… maybe her vocal on “Carolyn’s Fingers” was more of an improvisational approach than we realize? Regardless she still sounds amazing, with a true fighting spirit, and my god, the band: a drummer, a percussionist, and a wall of four guitars playing true shoegaze bliss.

And finally, here’s a version of that old Harrisong “Within You Without You” by one Stephanie Dosen, from right over here in Wisconsin, who had a solo “Folk, Ethereal” music career in the mid-2000s, when she was signed to a label “run by former Cocteau Twins's multi-instrumentalist Simon Raymonde,” and then joined the heavy British band Massive Attack as a singer in 2008, doing a fine job filling the very large shoes of Elizabeth Fraser as lead vocalist on “Teardop.” Just before that, coinciding with her solo debut album A Lily for the Spectre, she made this track for a Mojo magazine compilation of contemporary Sgt. Pepper covers (my tougher-guy friends will say it sounds like Sarah McLachlan but what’s wrong with that, I think it’s great):

Loading more posts…