RECENT LISTENING #18
V/A Nobody Knows This Is Somewhere, Sonic Youth, Linda Smith, Blood Quartet, KIT, Ana Da Silva & Phew, Brute Heart
VARIOUS ARTISTS Nobody Knows This is Somewhere LP (C/SITE) Not so much a local (New Haven psych-scene) compilation as it is a 4-way split, and not so much a split of four different bands but a kaleidoscopic audio portrait of a particular psych-scene hive of rotating-member activity, aka the New Haven “dirt pile crew” (see feature article in Maggot Brain #5). I’ll try to (Pete) frame it for you: there’s a New Haven band called Mountain Movers (track 4 of 4 on here) which is Dan Greene on guitar, Kryssi Battalene on guitar, Rick Omonte on bass and Ross Menze on drums, ostensibly fronted by founding member Greene. Take out Greene and replace him with two other guitarists, Stefan Christensen and David Shapiro, and you’ve got a three-guitar approach called Headroom (track 1 of 4 on here), ostensibly (as in totally) fronted by founding member Battalene. Outside of these two pillars, Christensen (also of many other New Haven bands/projects, most notably Estrogen Highs) records and releases solo music under his own name (track 2 of 4 on here), and Shapiro records solo music as Alexander (track 3 of 4 on here). Got all that? The Headroom track on here “Over Easy” is noticeably more ‘hippie/rural’ than the more hard-psych PSF-style of their Head in the Clouds LP. Still love it, especially on recent 5th/6th/7th listens. The Christensen track “Commute” is pretty anti-beat, experimental, inscrutable, crude-piano style, definite Xpressway worship, which this guy solo has always been in one way or another, at least from what I’ve heard which admittedly is only 2-3 things. The track is almost as boring as an actual commute, tbh, but that also makes it more of an art piece, or a long wordless poem, some sort of implied moving urban sculpture, than a music piece, which is cool. The Alexander track is pretty harsh too, in a very different way — I thought Alexander was an acoustic ‘guitar soli’ kinda deal, but this is very electric and solo-multitracked, with distorted electric guitar feedback and electric organ blast-out. After that harsh zone we need some comedown, and here come (down) the Mountain Movers, playing a sweetly toned instrumental closing jam that is actually pretty ‘hippie/rural’ itself. I feel like Mountain Movers and Headroom generally sound pretty distinct from each other — surprisingly so considering that one band is at least 3/5ths of the other — but on this record, both bands playing relatively laid-back instrumentals, they do almost sound like one band. Anyway, I’ve been playing this LP over and over the last few days.
SONIC YOUTH Rather Ripped (GEFFEN) Speaking of playing an album over and over, this one too. People knew it at the time (the year of its release was 2006, I think I even remember some internet praise from Tony Rettman!), but maybe didn’t appreciate it enough: Rather Ripped is a great Sonic Youth album, and could very well be their best late-career album. (Dare I say best post-Dirty?) At the time it was considered something of a stripped-down ‘pop’ and/or ‘punk’ move, which was not wrong; there were no endless noise sections (like they’d been doing on “The Diamond Sea”) or overstuffed 8-minute progressive epics with 5 different riff sections (hello “Karen Koltrane”). To the contrary, 7 of the 12 tracks are in an expedient and radio-friendly 3-minute-plus zone, only 2 of the 12 are over 6 minutes, the other three in the 4-5 span, and it all hits a perfect groove and works so well, with some of their best tight rock-guitar music-playing ever, endless wistful-breeze melodic-noise hooks over Steve Shelley at his brightest, upbeat motorik tempos throughout. You do have to hear Thurston Moore sing an unfortunately creepy (especially with hindsight) song called “Sleepin’ Around.” I find it interesting that in interviews for the previous album Sonic Nurse, he compared Sonic Youth’s then-current sound to early-mid Fleetwood Mac (I imagine Jim O’Rourke as an unlikely Danny Kirwan), but writing a song like “Sleepin’ Around” and singing it with your soon-to-be-divorced wife in the band is a total post-Kirwan Rumors-era move. It’s unfortunately a pretty catchy song, and like everything else on the album it’s instrumentally good/great. I mean, I love the whole album just for the opening song “Reena” alone, the way it begins by launching right into the fantastic Kim Gordon “you keep me comin’ home again” centerpiece hook, a hook that honestly made me cry a few days ago, after I had spent the whole day listening to the album over and over, hearing that hook play against the song’s heartbreaking closing lines several times: “When you were gone, I was out of my mind/I had a friend who laughed all the time/I had a friend who cried all the time/I had a friend who screamed all the time/I had a friend who lied all the time.” There’s several other great Kim songs too, the punky “What A Waste” (“What a waste/You’re so chaste/I can’t wait/To taste your face” goes the cheeky noise/shout chorus, framed by yet more beautiful melodic guitar extendo-bridges), one of the all-time great Kim songs in “Jams Run Free,” the 6-minute-plus “Turquoise Boy” (kind of a “Sympathy For The Strawberry” Junior?), and a couple more to boot. Thurston’s songs are all pretty great too. Lee’s song on here “Rats” is just kinda OK, but hats off to this guy’s guitar playing, am I right? Slinging all those riffs/noises/leads/soundscapes over all these years, sounding just as amazing here in 2006 as he was in 1986 on goddamn Evol.
LINDA SMITH Till Another Time: 1988-1996 (CAPTURED TRACKS) Get thee to a Flying Nunnery, is what Linda Smith seemed to decree, to herself, back in 1988-1996; there’s certainly something of that winsome and rainy and lo-fi/DIY singer-songwriter feel to these tracks. Maybe Linda Smith was directly influenced by New Zealand music and the Flying Nun label, maybe not. She certainly could’ve heard the music as a young New Yorker in the late 80s, listening to college and community radio stations, playing in a band called The Woods (not the NYC band of 15-20 years later Woods), buying a cassette 4-track and making her own solo recordings at home. She did release some records under her own name, a couple cassettes in the late 80s, a 7” on Slumberland in 1993, and a CD on Feel Good All Over in 1995, all revealing further that the early/mid 1990s is a sweet spot where there are still relatively unmined DIY recordings. It’s well after the great DIY explosion of the late 70s and 80s, but new and good independent and underground music is still trickling in from all over on that same residual energy, via fanzines, the aforementioned college and community radio, and of course touring bands in local bars and clubs. Records are still fairly cheap to make and buy, and there really isn’t an internet yet, and even if there is, it’s still a decade away from completely changing every single thing. Morning coffee in a small apartment in a big city, well-worn copies of Tape Op, Popwatch, and Chickfactor within reach on a table scavenged from an alley, cassette four-track portastudio in the bedroom. Time to capture tracks, as it were — get thee to a Flying Nunnery (that doubles as your home studio and/or record label)!
BLOOD QUARTET Deep Red (FEEDING TUBE, 2016) I didn’t know that an original member of legendary NYC no wave band Mars, the American expatriate Mark Cunningham, has recently been making music in Barcelona, Spain with local musicians in a group called the Blood Quartet. Did you? I’ll tell you who did know: Feeding Tube Records, of course, and they’ve released a couple records by Blood Quartet, like this one from 2016 called Deep Red. (My discovery and timely record review only came 6 years after the release date! I’m getting faster!) This stuff is good. Certainly in a more swank and urbane ‘jazz’ mode than Mars (that silent e in urbane is so important), but underneath it all flows from the same pulsating bloody and gory form-destroying approach (deep red indeed), much of it from the guitars, but significantly from Cunningham’s jazzed-out trumpet. He can play!
KIT Broken Voyage LP (UPSET! THE RHYTHM, 2007); KIT FEAT. MIKE WATT Dreams Are Burned 7” (UPSET! THE RHYTHM, 2008); KIT Invocation LP (UPSET! THE RHYTHM, 2010) Shout-out to my favorite Bay Area future-pop/noise-rock group from the entire 2000s noise-rock explosion, the almighty KIT. George Chen is on guitar, and I’ve known of him since the late 90s, when he was doing a zine called Zum that was also a record label, and how in the 2010s he had a standup comedy and podcast thing going right up until the pandemic, the in-person stuff presumably/hopefully resuming now, but all along it turned out he was shredding on guitar too, in this crazy band called KIT. The vocalist is a woman, I think, don’t want to assume gender, and can’t quite from the awesome band photo below, but they sure sound like a woman’s vocals, and I enjoy them a lot, as I always do female vocals in this helium/future/punk style. Bassist/drummer, I dunno who they are, but their playing is awesome too, the band always locked in and raging. Seriously, proto-hyperpop noise-punk band of the aughties (other than Lightning Bolt) right here. (OK figured it out, the vocalist is named Kristy Geschwandtner, George Chen is on guitar, and two members of XBXRX are on bass and drums, Steve Touchston and Vice Cooler respectively.)
ANA DA SILVA & PHEW Island (SHOUTING OUT LOUD!, 2018) Man, first Ana Da Silva of the legendary Raincoats makes an amazing solo synth-pop album called The Lighthouse, kind of from out of nowhere in 2004, and 14 years go by before another release with her name on it, and when it comes it’s a collaboration with another international underground legend, the Japanese singer/bandleader Phew, who was in a punk band called Aunt Sally in the late 1970s, and in 1981 made that self-titled LP with the Czukay/Leibezeit rhythm section from Can. Phew, indeed! Phew and Da Silva’s new album together is a long one (double-LP) called Island. It was released in 2018, and it’s really something, absolutely on the level with Cosey Fanni Tutti’s superb Tutti album, also from 2018, when it comes to female proto-post-punk artists that started in the 1970s and are still absolutely relevant, making great late-career dark-electronic LPs in the late 2010s. On Island, this constant aggressive electronic innovation spreads out across long song-forms, each one a mutation of sick beats and grinding/spitting/rattling textures, consistently in the 6-to-7-minute range, much of it fully instrumental and with an endless/nameless vibe. I’m listening to the first track on side two “Here to There” right now, and it’s very similar to what Wolf Eyes themselves were doing in the mid-late 2010s. I know a lot of the electronics are coming from Da Silva — quoting from the Raincoats feature in Maggot Brain #5, she says “at the moment, I have a modular synth and have been making music with it for a few years.” Not sure if Phew is also contributing electronics; when there are vocals, it usually sounds like Phew to me, though this can get a little more puzzling as the album continues, the vocals coming to a multi-tracked echoed-out head-spinning apex halfway through Side B during the 6-minute “Bom Tempo” track. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if the electronics are all Da Silva, or if Phew is also contributing to them, because either way it’s a really good record.
BRUTE HEART Lonely Hunter CD (SOFT ABUSE); Wildfire 7-inch (WATER WING) Recently overheard at Blastitude HQ (an internal monologue by yours truly): “Hmm, what Marion Brown do I have on CD… let’s see here, okay, let me put my glasses on, where are we? … thank goodness for alphabetical order. Okay, let’s see, Blue Humans, Blue Oyster Cult, Boredoms… huh, apparently I have no Marion Brown on CD. I know I used to have Why Not on CD, where the hell is it? Not here. But, there’s that CD by that band Brute Heart, on the Soft Abuse label. That’s a good record. I should finally post a review for it. Let’s see here [scans liner notes], yeah, that’s right, it was a trio of women, a viola/bass/drums trio, which was kinda different. And I think they all sang too, kinda like Grass Widow if you replace the guitar with a viola. Looks like they were from Minneapolis. Waitaminnit… recorded and mixed in Jan & Feb of 2011?!? Over ten years ago?!?” [Subject faints in astonishment at the rapid passage of time, then comes to senses moments later and continues record review in the first person, no longer using the admittedly suspect ‘transcription of internal monologue’ device.] It really does take me ten years to write reviews sometimes. I don’t even know if Brute Heart is still a band, but they did record this CD called Lonely Hunter in 2011, and it’s excellent and unique rock-based trio music, with a strange downbeat surf-rock undercurrent that — just a little bit, mind you, through small hints and fleeting whiffs — is like a torch being carried for the one and only Index. Blastitude HQ also ended up with a 7-inch that Brute Heart released in 2012 on a label called Water Wing, which was a subsidiary of Mississippi Records. Got that back out too and it’s cool, an A side with vocals called “Wildfire,” b/w an instrumental version called “Wildfire Version (Warm Water Re-do).” It’s cool to hear them jamming instrumentally, as the twin vocals, though they are cool, may become a little one-note over the length of an LP.