RECENT LISTENING #15
Felt, Gỗ Lim, Rhythm Plague, University Challenged, Ryley Walker, Africans with Mainframes, Warmer Milks
FELT Crumbling the Antiseptic Beauty (CHERRY RED) Look, I’m sorry I’d never heard Felt before 2020, but that’s just the way it is, and better late than never. Almost every new detail I learn about this band fascinates me to no end. It all starts when Sp*tify is chugging away in the background doing its post-album related-artist shuffle thing, and on comes this great moody strummy instrumental with this fleet flamenco-ish clean lead guitar, and I see it’s from 1981 by the British band Felt and the song is splendidly titled “Evergreen Daze.” I look ‘em up and learn that the fleet guitarist is this guy with the great name Maurice Deebank, who is on the autism spectrum and was ripping these suave melodic lines as like a 16-year-old. But, perhaps the greatest two details are right there in the first and third sentences on the wiki page (emphasis mine): “Felt were an English indie pop band, formed in 1979 in Water Orton, Warwickshire, and led by the mononymous Lawrence,” amazing, and even better, “The band's name was inspired by Tom Verlaine's emphasis of the word "felt" in the Television song ‘Venus’.” But the music itself, my god, the way “I Worship The Sun” breaks down into a quiet interlude between Deebank (and/or Lawrence, who plays guitar too) and the bass player, and after a bit the drummer starts Burundi-building away on his trademark toms, and then takes Deebank and Lawrence’s arpeggiations into full flight, and finally Lawrence joins back with his lead vocal for one last verse… I mean, that’s a good band. Other than that, the songs still kind of weave around in a dream for me, and I can’t put titles to certain vocals or moods, at least not yet, but I appreciate the overall dour tone, even when the songs are upbeat, which they usually are. (POSTSCRIPT: One more fascinating Felt detail, this time from Discogs, emphasis mine again: “The original printing of the sleeve shows Lawrence's full face. This was quickly replaced with a new sleeve featuring a vertical black bar obscuring the left portion of the face. A reissue in 1984 had a fractionally wider black bar, and featured new Shanghai Packaging Company labels. The card sleeve reissue from 2003 dispensed with the black bar, but re-cropped the image to achieve a similar effect.” Okay, got it!)
GÔ LIM Gái Làng (GÔ LIM) Jah bless college radio, as I heard this wild not-American femme prog-punk on 89.3 FM WNUR Evanston while driving down Lake Shore Drive, and had to ask Siri who it was, and they told me it was a band I’d never heard of before called Gỗ Lim, with a song title (“Các bạn đứng nghiêm”) I really had no hope of processing, let alone searching for, while driving. But now I’m safely at home at my desk, no automobile operation required, and can read about them in peace, specifically this excellent article here called “The Facetious Gender Politics of Gỗ Lim, Hanoi’s Feminist Post-Punk Quintet,” written by Thi Nguyen. Apparently Gỗ Lim only recorded this one album, and weren’t able to finish it due to the lead singer sadly becoming terminally ill, so it was only released posthumously in 2015. (Actually, not sure if it was physically released at all… it’s not on Discogs, but it is on Sp*tify, and Soundcloud.) They were formed in 2011, previously called Golem, then galvanized into a new name by the awesomeness of their new lead singer Nga Nhi. As the article says above, “the full lineup consisted of Nga Nhi on vocals, Trang Chuoi and La Sim on guitar, Nghia Bom on percussion, and Ha My on bass. They described themselves as ‘punk pussies and beard,’ with the ‘beard’ referring to the band's lone male Nghia, Nga’s brother.” But yes, sadly, Nga Nhi became ill with lupus and passed away; she was able to record her awesome lead vocals for most of the album tracks, and the three or four that are instrumental sound great too, maybe even intentional, because they’re a good band with some pretty sick riffs. Anyway, I’ll quote what appears to be a message from the band itself, as it appears on this WFMU playlist that includes several of their songs: “First and last album by Gỗ Lim – Gái Làng is on Soundcloud now. Gái Làng was half way through and somehow unfinished when our sister Nga Nhí passed away. This album Gái Làng is dedicated to Nga Nhi’s 3rd death anniversary, and to you all who have been loving us all these years. Enjoy!" I am enjoying it very much, thank you Gỗ Lim. Four women, one man, the lyrics in Vietnamese and beyond, and man, it’s true rocking 90s Alternative Nation noise/punk/metal, complete with (blessedly simple) slap bass, a huge moshing-to-Riot-Grrl-band-playing-on-Lollapalooza-side-stage vibe in a super fun way, maybe even with some Pop Tatari/Chocolate Synthesizer leanings here and there. Gỗ Lim’s punk is a strange balance between crude and progressive, but shot through with so much charisma, every time they kick into a heavy riff and/or Nga Nhi delivers her perfect vocals.
RHYTHM PLAGUE No Wrist for the Naked (WAYNEPEET.BANDCAMP.COM) One of many weird recent discoveries from the Watt from Pedro Show has been this 1980s band from L.A. that appears to be led by a keyboardist/drum programmer named Wayne Peet. He’s got a progressive 1980s L.A. avant-jazz kinda thing going, having released a solo acoustic piano album in 1981 on the L.A. avant-jazz label Nine Winds, but Rhythm Plague is a different vibe, extremely electronic keyboards over a weird beat-box mutant-dance quasi-industrial hybrid bed, presumably programmed by Peet, driven by the funky bass of Steuart Liebig aka Steubig and the wild punk/industrial electric guitar of one Nels Cline. Their album Proof of Retaliation was recorded in 1984-1985, while this one No Wrist for the Naked was recorded a couple years later in 1987, but apparently neither were ever released, until now on Wayne Peet’s Bandcamp. The later one (pictured) sounds a little more accomplished to me, a little more to the point. Either way, they were a weird mix of Chrome and classic instrumental industrial hip-hop, all through a white-funk L.A. filter. When it’s good, it’s kinda awesome. Reminds me of something I was reading just yesterday, in fact, about another band from California in the 1980s, the Appliances: “Books on the history of ‘punk’ typically omit the fact that there was tremendous crossover between new wave and hip hop in the early 1980s.”
UNIVERSITY CHALLENGED Oh Temple! (HIVE MIND) Another one discovered on the Watt from Pedro Show, 12/26/2020 episode with special on-air guest Ryley Walker to be exact. Watt played a University Challenged track called “Serenus,” the frankly glorious opening track on their upcoming February 2021 double LP called Oh Temple! It’s an 8-minute instrumental with stately/scary keyboard arpeggios circling around and around a theme, with washes and overdubs and bass solos morphing in and out of the mix. My initial listen to about half of the rest of the album wasn’t quite as memorable… yet. University Challenged are from Holland.
RYLEY WALKER Covers (HUSKY PANTS RECORDS) Speaking of Ryley Walker, this is a dope covers EP from July 2020. Reminds me of the glory days of like, not so much The Spaghetti Incident? as, I don’t know maybe fIREHOSE Live Totem Pole EP (1992, Columbia) or Primus Miscellaneous Debris (1992, Interscope)?! Except all acoustic guitar! Either way, I immediately had to listen when I saw that the first cut was a cover of a song I love, Grouper’s “Heavy Water/I’d Rather Be Sleeping.” I couldn’t quite picture Ryley singing it, and I still don’t have to, because his interpretation is instrumental, for solo acoustic guitar, and shall we say a little ‘loose’ — I can hear some of the original Liz Harris changes, and some parts of her melodies, but rarely in full, and not in the expected order. Next is a song called “Robin Egg Blue,” which sounds good but I don’t recognize. Google and then YouTube confirm that it is a song by Cass McCombs, from his 2011 album Humor Risk, and man, that’s really the first song I’ve heard by Cass McCombs, and it’s really good, though kinda synth pop, while Ryley does it fully solo acoustic guitar and vocal, which changes the vibe considerably, and makes the McCombs melody stand out as even more lovely. There’s also an uncanny moment on the bridge where Ryley fully pulls the Paul Westerberg influence out of either McCombs, himself, or both of them at once, and it was possibly completely unintentional. (Maybe Ryley Walker doesn’t even like Paul Westerberg… I know people who don’t, cilantro-style, and in fact I’m one of them, but it sounds great here.) Next is a track called “Real MC’s,” which I’m not sure who did the original, and might be a joke because it’s a pensive and solemn (and lovely) solo acoustic guitar piece that shows no immediately detectable hip-hop influence whatsoever. Finally there’s a tune called “Everybody is Crazy” that sounds pretty singer-songwritery like Cass McCombs, although possibly older, like even 60s or 70s acid troubadour style. Had to put the exact phrase (with quotes!) in Discogs to get a probable result: Amen Dunes, from his 2014 album Love, which isn’t 60s or 70s at all, it’s the work of a contemporary singer-songwriter by the real name of Damon McMahon. As with the McCombs song, even when choosing material from the last 10 years, Walker shows a knack for timeless heavy interpretation. He’s also joined by an uncredited pedal steel guitarist on this, the last of the four tracks — otherwise it’s a completely solo acoustic guitar EP.
AFRICANS WITH MAINFRAMES ‘K.M.T.’ 2LP (SOUL JAZZ) This is a duo of Jamal Moss, aka Chicago’s own Hieroglyphic Being, and Noleian Reusse, whose real name might be that, or Dexter St. Jacques, from parts unknown to me, at least. As you might expect if you’re at all familiar with any of the work of the Hieroglyphic Being, this is primo hyper-future hard acid-squelch mysterio-rhythm music. Ridiculous bass pulse and squelch, but also abstract melody over the top of it. At first you don’t notice it, and then suddenly it feels like a true Sun Ra techno hybrid. To my hears, even the T. Monk lineage comes through. Great Black Music, ancient to the future.
WARMER MILKS Permanent Drool/Lucifer’s Twins CDR (LADRON TAPES/LA001); WARMER MILKS True Village CDR (LADRON TAPES/LA002); WARMER MILKS Live in Paris CDR (PARANORMAL OVER TIME/POT2) Got this writing kinda gig coming up, which you’ll hear more about later, regarding this here aughties noise rock (or was it freak folk?) band Warmer Milks. (Noise-folk freak-rock?!) Preparing for this gig has sent me to the shelves for some research, pulling any and every release I have by this band, which was a lot back in the day. In fact, on my shelves right here I’m counting eighteen different Warmer Milks albums on compact disc (fifteen of them official hand-made CDR releases and three that are actual CDs), at least four cassette releases, and one-and-a-half vinyl LPs (Radish on Light and the split with Collection of Late Howell Bend… which come to think of it, might just be the only vinyl this band put out other than two 7-inches). Really, Warmer Milks were a CDR band, at a time when the internet was still fully finding its way and CDRs were still booming, with bandleader Mikey Turner establishing not one but two very prolific private CDR labels, Ladron Tapes and then Paranormal Over Time. Most of these fifteen CDR-only releases are on one of those two labels, many of them have not yet made it to Discogs, and the music jams out all over the place throughout. A couple of the Ladrons are in fact solo albums released by bandmembers other than Mikey; one is billed as by “TS,” which is more-or-less-founding WM guitarist Travis Shelton, though here he only plays Fender Rhodes piano, and very minimalistically at that. It’s called Nephalim (catalog number LA004). Another is an eponymous release by the Warmer Milks electronics guy Christopher Cprek’s solo project Pax Titania (catalog number LA003). The first two Ladron Tapes releases are especially good, both actually by Warmer Milks. In fact, LA001 Permanent Drool/Lucifer’s Twins is probably a Top 5 Milks release for me. As the title suggests, it consists of two really long pieces, both extremely avant-garde, which I already reviewed in a pretty awed fashion back when it was first released back in 2006, but man, the thing still holds up and in fact probably sounds better than ever. It is a very weird record, though. Kinda sounds like a Mikey solo release, if Mikey was like groaning and moving furniture for 30 minutes (“Permanent Drool”) and then playing with like 5 shortwave radios at once for 25 minutes (“Lucifer’s Twins”). I get Royal Trux Hand of Glory vibes too (two long avant-garde tracks, minimal B&W graphics), but that may not have been intentional at all. Another early WM release I’ve been relistening to is Live in Paris (catalog number POT2), which almost sounds like Mikey Turner playing a solo acoustic/clean set, but there’s at least one other guy playing occasional wrecked distant lead guitar in the background. These are pretty strong progressive songs, though still very cryptic, with cool strange strummed and arpeggiated guitar settings by Mikey, performed on a European tour in front of what sounds like a small crowd. Anyway, that’s just 3 of these 18 discs, which are all filled with (sometimes extremely) cryptic free-rock jamming in a full-on post-grunge Faust Tapes head-scramble zone, and damned if they can’t catch a serious mind-melt groove sometimes.