RECENT LISTENING #17
Blacks' Myths, Irreversible Entanglements, Neil Young, Alexander Spence, Jessica Rylan, 2673, Cherry Point, Bill Nace
BLACKS’ MYTHS II (ATLANTIC RHYTHMS) Just finished listening to bassist Luke Stewart’s very recent (April 26th, 2020) guest spot on The Watt From Pedro Show. He briefly mentions that the Minutemen were one of his influences (along with Primus!), which Watt doesn’t comment on or possibly even notice, humble (“mi-NOOT”) fellow that he is. Later in the show, Watt plays a couple tracks from Blacks’ Myths II, this cassette & Bandcamp release by Stewart’s mostly (entirely?) bass-and-drums duo Blacks’ Myths. The tracks are “Mammy’s Revenge” and “Northern Confederate,” and I’m shocked at how, well, hardcore this music is. The Blacks’ Myths I LP was definitely genre-busting and boundary-extending, but in a more traditional way that could almost be categorized as jazz (side one, at least, could maybe be considered an extension of what is called “spiritual jazz”). Much of Blacks’ Myths II, on the other hand, is straight-up blasting noise-rock, and that phrase too seems incorrect as soon as it’s uttered, but the whole experience still makes me think of when I first heard actual ‘hardcore band’ the Minutemen, late to the party back in the early ‘90s when I was just barely 20 years old, and finally living in a college town, the kind of place where I could find a then-cheap used copy of their 1981 release The Punch Line, take it home and listen to it, and have all kinds of boundaries and internal constrictions melt away instantaneously. Strong medicine, a band that was simultaneously both aggressive and thoughtful, with some songs that were unthinkably short, yet still each unfathomably deep. Same thing, even if on a different level still, is happening here with Blacks’ Myths II. Boundary dissolution and form destruction, all of which allow alter-destinies and “other planes of there” to exist. Through-line from Sun Ra to D. Boon to Warren G. “Trae” Crudup III.
IRREVERSIBLE ENTANGLEMENTS “Homeless/Global” (INTERNATIONAL ANTHEM) Another band in which Luke Stewart is the bassist, this one a larger group featuring Camae Ayewa on “voice, texts,” Keir Neuringer on “saxophone, percussion,” Aquiles Navarro on “trumpet, percussion,” Stewart on “double bass, percussion,” and finally Tcheser Holmes on “drums, congas.” You’ve seriously got to hear this “epic, 23-minute standalone ‘single’” for yourself. What can I say? They just said it all. I’ll just add a few equally important words from Stewart, as quoted on another Bandcamp page, this one a feature on the band: “Stop with the bullshit. Stop with the police brutality, stop with the micro- and macro- aggressions of everyday prejudice. Stop pretending like you’re not racist in a country that created the system of racism and white supremacy. Stop not addressing that, and start to change.”
NEIL YOUNG Neil Young Archives Volume II: 1972-1976 10CD (REPRISE) Obviously this box set is a massive release for many reasons, but today I’m really just gonna talk about Tonight’s the Night. Even though TtN is an album the royal we’ve already listened to a few hundred times, hearing it again (in a different sequence, more on that later) in the context of Disc 3 of this Archives box has made it all sound new again, all those secondhand emotions rushing back in. The way Disc 2, a complete live set from February 5, 1973 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, teases TtN with a couple of its songs (“Lookout Joe” and “New Mama”) back-to-back towards the end, and then how Disc 3 immediately puts us right there into that familiar dark and drunken world of the S.I.R. Hollywood rehearsal facility, on the night of August 25, 1973, where Neil Young and his producer David Briggs have built a pop-up mobile studio and are testing it out for the first time by rolling tape on a new song by Young called “Speakin’ Out Jam.” Even though it’s not the take of “Speakin’ Out” we know from the album, and the band isn’t quite as assured, we are already very much right there. Neil has replaced the more middle-of-the-road Stray Gators band, and their Nashville-conversant rhythm section of Kenny Buttrey and Tim Drummond, with a dark and heavy ditch-conversant new band called the Santa Monica Flyers that includes the Crazy Horse rhythm section, Ralph Molina and Billy “the Bass Player” Talbot. Jack Nitzsche on piano has been replaced by young firecracker Nils Lofgren on piano and guitar (22 years old at the time of the recording!), which is trading up in my opinion, or at least opening up and loosening up the groove, contrasting Nitzsche’s more tight, driving, and rigid style. (Is it that Lofgren plays behind the beat and Nitzsche plays ahead of the beat? Is this a correct reading of that elusive concept?) And, there was one Stray Gator that Neil didn’t replace, because he was the most important one: the superhumanly soulful musician Ben Keith, on the best pedal steel and backing vocals you’ve ever heard, and sometimes other instruments as well, always in superb fashion. (I can’t find the exact quote, but Neil once said something to the effect of “I’ve loved every sound he’s ever made.” Us too, Neil, us too.) Together, these five musicians play Tonight’s the Night — but it isn’t the same as the LP. Even though 9 of the 12 originally released tracks are here, they’re in a much different sequence. Not having the actual box set, and therefore no accompanying credits or liner notes, it took some close investigation of the release’s wiki page as well as that of the first Neil Young Archives box to understand that there’s only one simple sequencing principle for this series: chronological by recording date. Therefore, the three tracks removed from the original LP are “Borrowed Tune” (which was recorded a few months later, far away from S.I.R. Studios at Broken Arrow Ranch, thus appearing a little later here on Disc 5), “Come On Baby Let’s Go Downtown” (which was already on the Archives Volume I box set, because it was recorded a few years earlier, as part of a 1970 Fillmore East concert when Danny Whitten was still alive, and used as a literal flashback scene in the original TtN LP sequence), and for some reason “Lookout Joe,” which is on the LP in a version that sounds like it was also recorded at S.I.R., but only appears on here as part of the previous disc’s aforementioned live set in Tuscaloosa. Like the LP, the Archives CD has 12 tracks, so you get three previously unreleased replacements, all outtakes from the S.I.R. sessions that are, as Neil himself might say, “innaresting.” First there’s that aforementioned ambling, soundchecking, and still pretty great “Speakin’ Out Jam,” which again was recorded on August 25th, 1973, the first night they rolled tape at S.I.R. Hollywood. The next night, August 26th, 1973, was when they really commenced the infamous “drunken Irish wake”/“right out on the edge”/“tequila and hamburgers”/ “wide open” sessions, knocking out five final takes that made it onto the LP, as well as the other two replacements here, a track called “Everybody’s Alone” which is frankly kinda mediocre (I still don’t remember how it goes after listening to it three times now), and special guest Joni Mitchell herself, running through a wild version of her song “Raised on Robbery.” It’s out of tune and sloppy and you think it might be terrible, but try this fun experiment: listen to it a couple times, then go straight to Joni’s official studio version on Court & Spark, and see if you can even make it past the one-minute mark (I couldn’t), or if you think you’ll ever be able to listen to it again (I don’t think I can). Either way, crazy to think that Joni was just stopping by and hanging out at the infamous S.I.R. sessions. She always could and would hang with the rock’n’rollers. Some of the other album tracks were recorded in more S.I.R. sessions that took place a couple weeks later in September, so those are included here too, all those emotions flooding back in and on fire, and then Disc 4 is all of these songs again in a club setting, the whole Tonight’s the Night live experience, taken from a three-night stand down the street at the Roxy a week later starting on September 20th, complete with all of Neil’s between-song “welcome to Miami Beach!” schtick and dark-humored banter. So, discs two, three, and four of this box set are not a mere reissue of a classic Neil Young album called Tonight’s the Night, but a true immersion into the entire world of that album, the world of the fall of 1973 in Los Angeles as lived by one Neil Percival Young, Esquire. P.S. Jesus (and tequila), so much more to say about this Tonight’s the Night suite, but now I’m on to disc 5 of the Archives Vol. 2, the disc that’s devoted to On the f***ing Beach, and I’m straight up bursting into tears during “Ambulance Blues,” another song I’ve heard 100 times, but this time I was primed by all those freshly coursing TtN emotions. I’m telling you, this box set is devastating. I’m only halfway through! The part at :44 where Neil sings “Oh Isabella, proud Isabella” and Rusty Kershaw interpolates those oh-so-killer fiddle parts is the moment that finally did me in. I gather myself back up, wipe my (tired) eyes, but less than three minutes later, on the third time through that devastating B part, when Neil is doing those huge harmonica pulls, and Kershaw waits on the first one, then jumps right back in with that killer motif from the previous turnarounds, and here come the tears again... P.P.S. The live at Chicago Stadium CSNY version of “On the Beach” on disc 6 didn’t make me cry, but it’s devastating enough to be mentioned here as well. That all-time Young/Stills/Crosby three-guitar attack, and the hand drums by Joe Lala are perfect. P.P.P.S. Finally starting to move on from this massive weeks-long listening session to Archives Vol. II, and noticing the absence of “Will to Love”… seems like it would fit on the tail-end here really nicely, but it’s not there… so I look it up, and it was recorded in a single night in what looks to be the fall of 1976, where Archives Vol. II cuts off at March 1976. On August 11th, 1976, Neil recorded what was finally released in 2017 as the Hitchhiker album, and then Thanksgiving that November was the Last Waltz! Just think, all that stuff should be represented on the first couple discs of Archives Vol. III! I already can’t wait. P.P.P.P.S. I hear the mountains are doing fine.
ALEXANDER SPENCE Oar (COLUMBIA) So I was jamming the band Index on Sp***fy, reading that article about ‘em in Maggot Brain #1 at the same time, and after their Black Album ended, the profit-hoarding algorithm kept on shuffling through songs by related artists, and “All Come To Meet Her” from this oldie but greatie came on, first time I’d listened to anything from Oar in many years, and my god it sounded so beautiful as I was drifting in and out of sleep. I raised up from the futon and fumbled towards my phone, just to play the whole damn album from the beginning, and it felt like coming home, just like the first time I heard it back in the mid-1990s, not too long after reading Coley’s legendary review in FE #18 (I’ve almost fully memorized certain of its phrases, particularly “a truly solo disk that was a low-tech mesmerizer of split-synapse organization and depressed psychedelic blues,” and especially “there’s a quality of loss and disorientation on this record that has the palpable taste of LSD”). After reading that review, I was lucky enough to find a copy of the 1969 Columbia Records original in the collection of an old-head friend, the price he payed still tagged on the cover (something like $4.99, and currently it's going for $214 on Discogs). He let me borrow his copy and live with it for a while, and make a crucial cassette copy that I played a lot for many years after. That copy sounded just fine indeed, but I guarantee you it somehow does not sound quite as glorious as this Sp***fy stream is sounding right now on headphones as I type. (I like vinyl. I like digital. I like music.) There are gentle eons of space between Spence’s ringing wide-open drums, loping bass, and lovely cracked electric folk guitar, and his soft, melancholy, playful vocals sit so nicely in between it all. I do remember my very first time playing this album back then, and mere seconds into opener “Little Hands” thinking, “Wow, this is already as good as Coley said it was going to be.” And then to have the second song “Cripple Creek” start with such a supremely visionary opening line as “A cripple on his deathbed in a daydream he did ride,” and then to resolve the couplet mere moments later with “All past the streams of fire on a petal path did glide”?! As they say in New Jersey, “fuggedaboutit.”
JESSICA RYLAN/2673 split CDR (KITTY PLAY); 2673/THE CHERRY POINT split CDR (KITTY PLAY) Just busting out some old Kitty Play label stuff from that halcyon year of 2005, what we used to call “the future.” These Kitty Play CDRs, well, they rock. They just do. 2673 (now that’s really the future) is the somewhere-in-New Jersey based project of Kevin Winter, and I’ve ended up with quite a collection of his stuff, because it’s all good and I never prune any of it. Something about his always-dependable and always-distinct usage of constant near silence, and the harsh minute variations thereof, that always sounds good when it’s rocking on the player. Good to have a few more power tracks from him — three to be exact, spread across these two releases (no matter what the format, he always goes ‘one (or at most two) long track(s)’ style). On the disc she shares with him, Jessica Rylan turns in seven relative miniatures in her distinct scrambled/calm style, highly varied in both tone and tempo while always retaining an intensely minimalist core. With it’s late-capitalist and heavily synthetic/electronic nature, I’m serious when I call 2005 a halcyon year for future music, now 16 years ago, believe it or not. Rylan seems to be retired from performing and releasing music, possibly even from making music, but she’s still out there doing things, not too long ago spotted killing it in women’s power lifting competitions, which is a fact and not a whimsical noise fanzine rumor. Cherry Point is from L.A. and I always dug his harsh walls, probably my most significant experience with any one HNW artist, again because I just happened to notice a few Cherry Point releases among the literal avalanche of weird-music weird-label CDR review copies that came my way for a few years in the 2000s. As with 2673, not to mention Jessica Rylan, Cherry Point records were always worth keeping. This track is just amazing, got it on headphones right now, and it feels like it just hits peak after peak after peak after peak after peak, but then I realize it’s just that same peak that’s been screaming into my skull for twenty minutes, and it’s always too much to process at once, so each moment of attempted processing always presents as a jump cut, because otherwise your brain would explode. I decide to just stop and close my eyes and go with it, but all that makes me do is hallucinate the music as the soundtrack to the 2001 Stargate sequence, but instead of astronaut David Bowman going through a wormhole to somewhere beyond Jupiter, the protagonist (myself!) is, get this, a giant galactic whale feeding on the universe at the speed of light, swallowing planets and suns and in fact entire galaxies, much as an earth whale swallows plankton and krill.
BILL NACE Both LP (DRAG CITY) I admit I never really ‘got’ Nace’s guitar style as heard in his 00s work with Vampire Belt and Vampire Can’t (both units including the aforementioned Jessica Rylan), but then definitely started to ‘get’ him in the 10s with Body/Head (who I even got to see live, a great set at MCA Chicago on September 24 2013), and as for this new solo album Both, a straight-up solo multitrack electric guitar album from 2020? Well, I ‘get’ it right away. In fact, on tracks like the gloriously overdubbed “Part 4,” I stop listening to it as experimental guitar music, or solo guitar music, and just listen to it as music, which gets me back to minimalism, but it’s also maximalism, because even if they’re just ultimately playing a single tonic major chord, several really loud ringing overdubbed electric guitars playing at once has to be considered a maximalist expression, right? Then, “Part 5” immediately challenges this notion right back, with an aggressively annoying single-input high-pitched pulse, which eventually, finally, not quickly enough, fades out and is replaced by what might be chord organ. Even tracks like this could possibly all be done live on the guitar, as long as some really crazy loop pedals and effect pedals were in the mix. He’s the only musician on the album, and his entire credits are “electric guitar, objects, loops, shruti box.” I saw him live, and his playing was beyond me most of the time, like much of this album. Who knows? Album has a nice Chicago connection too: not only is it on Drag City, it was produced by Cooper Crain with “advisory” from Haley Fohr. No wonder it sounds so good. Also dig the front and back cover artwork by Daniel Higgs (not a Chicagoan).