RECENT LISTENING #22
Muave, Daniel Bachman, Havadine Stone, Weeed, Tropical Trash, The Dead C, Frank Lowe, Circuit des Yeux
MUAVE Imaginary CS (ALREADY DEAD) Laid-back yet intense beat-driven electronic music from Mozambique. I’m not surprised this is happening in Mozambique, because electronic music technology is more universal than ever on a street level, certainly on the street level where I write, like the mind-blowing Chicago-born footwork scene, and the huge scene(s) that footwork came out of, such as the entire history of Chicago house & acid house music and everything else it has also led to, right up to serious contemporary producers like Jlin down in Gary, and of course thee Hieroglyphic Being, and northside stuff too like Beau Wanzer and Mutant Beat Dance, roots and tendrils that spread all over the world like global mutant electronic/beat/dance kudzu, an invisible electro-mycorrhizal audio network with no apparent center. That said, Mozambique is very far from Chicago, and, while a global kindred spirit no doubt, the music of Muave rips in its own ways that Chicago music does not, even if all parties are making what can at least broadly be called ‘insistent’ electronic music. Muave is a trio made up of Chris Born, João Roxo, and Nandele Maguni (who has also recorded solo for the same label Already Dead). I was somewhat amazed to learn that they recorded Imaginary live, and presumably in front of a live audience, “at the Gala Gala Festival in Maputo, Mozambique,” because the music is as rich, and the performance as flawless, as any perfected studio recording. More info from the label: “The album is available as a limited cassette (100), as well as a very limited VHS (25), featuring video of the entire performance, complete with incredible psychedelic visual accompaniment. Also available as a cassette/VHS bundle.”
DANIEL BACHMAN Axacan (THREE LOBED) Heard it was real good from a few different places, and now I’m finally listening for the first time a few months later, and have already forgotten what album I’m listening to, twice, all before the end of side one. This is usually a good thing, and here it’s because of disorienting field recordings (a theme that’s going to come up a few more times during today’s column, dear reader) throughout the first two tracks, until the third track when Bachman settles into an extended 8-minute acoustic guitar improvisation or loose composition called “Year of the Rat.” It’s a more standard contemporary indie-label post-Fahey acoustic guitar soli piece, but it’s a strong one and shout-out to the field recording of what sounds like a growling tiger, buried deep enough in there somewhere that I only just now noticed it for the first time on my fourth listen. Side two is taken up by a 17-minute centerpiece track called “Blue Ocean 0,” which as the title might suggest uses field recordings of a thunderstorm over ocean surf to slowly lead into a dense/deep/dark side-long organ drone. No acoustic guitar at all. The field recordings were already making me think of the ocean at night, not the daytime, but this organ drone really drives the point home. Of course the Fahey comparison remains, and with all its field recordings, Axacan will be compared to the musique concrète side of Fahey, Fahey-with-tapes, his “Requiem for Molly” if you will, but “Blue Ocean 0,” and other stuff sprinkled throughout sides three and four (interspersed among more classicist extended guitar soli moves like “Coronach” and the last half of album closer “Transmutation”) approaches musique de bruit, aka noise, in fact closer to the black-hole death-dirge music Fahey did in the 1990s, except better. (We all know those weren’t Fahey’s best years. Still essential music, as part of such a crucial oeuvre, but quite abrasive and, more problematically, often boring. On the records anyway. Never did see him live.)
HAVADINE STONE Hyena CS (AMERICAN DREAMS) After being knocked out by Havadine Stone’s work as part of the Chicago duo Blue Lick (see review here), I checked out her previous solo release Hyena, as released in 2021 on cassette by the same label American Dreams. Starts with a three-minute track called “Intro Hyena,” a song of forlorn melodic wordless humming, double-tracked over a fairly creepy bed of field-recorded sound that drops out completely for a humming-only second half. That field recording bed has already got me thinking of the new Staubitz & Waterhouse release Common Metals (reviewed last ish), but the next track on Hyena, “Synthetic Cricket Sounds and Hospital,” flips the field recording thing further, presenting as an epic 7-minute field recording of crickets, until you listen closer, and pay attention to the title, and realize that it’s some kind of quietly awe-inspiring spectrasound synthesizer piece, only inspired by cricket sounds, and might also be overlaid with a subtle field recording from a hospital, though I haven’t quite registered it yet. We continue to get varied approaches as the album progresses, such as spoken word and sound poetry tracks (that won’t surprise Blue Lick fans) and then haunting solo piano playing complete with birdsong accompaniment (that will), presented field recording style as “Play with a Bird in Aarhus (Hail on the Roof or Popcorn).”
WEEED Do You Fall? (HALFSHELL) Yes, the band is named Weeed, and yes, they were even described as playing “doom metal” on the internet, and yes, I still decided to check them out on Bandcamp. Turned out to be a good move, because this is decidely not the music of yet another stoner doom metal band. They are kind of a goofy band, as their name might suggest, but, very importantly, they’re not too goofy. And sure, a doom metal comparison could be made between a 13-minute Weeed track like “Rhythm on the Ground 1-4” and some of Om and Al Cisneros’s long extended melodic movements such as “At Giza,” but Weeed get much more wide-ranging than Cisneros’s two/three-note standard, both melodically and rhythmically, and also seem to completely eschew distortion and fuzz-tone. In fact, the band they might remind me of the most is their contemporary Tonstartssbandht, and wouldn’t that be a perfect 2022 tour if they ever (have) decide(d) to do that? I mean Weeed are based in Oregon, and Tonsstartsbandht in Florida, which are almost two exact opposite corners of the United States, but they could meet in Kansas…
TROPICAL TRASH Decisions’ Empty Nest 7” EP (SOPHOMORE LOUNGE) Pretty wild when you’re going through piles of records and you find a copy of a 7” by Tropical Trash that was released in 2017, and you’d forgotten that you’d been sent one in the mail as a review copy, so you finally open it up over 4 years later and read the insert and realize it’s a one-off (?) TT lineup you never knew existed. I mean sure, there’s band founder Jim Marlowe on guitar/vocals as usual, and there’s Ryan Davis of State Champion and the Sophomore Lounge label on bass/guitar/keys/vocals, just as he was on the 2015 Load Records release UFO Rot… but those two are joined on drums by the one and only Lamont “Bim” Thomas of Bassholes and Obnox! And on vocals we’ve got R. Clint Colburn, who I last heard singing with Mikey Turner in the post-grunge Xtian (?!) psych-rock band Cross! (Now I want to play Cross’s Die Forever album again, like right now . . . just did, such a weird one.) Having these ringers in the band pays off immediately with the first track “Early Wish,” Thomas just driving a Bonzoid/(Damon)Edgy freight train that the guitars and bass hop onto with gnarly power-chugging, over which Colburn lays down a nervoid/screamoid helium-gassed vocal. Great song, and it’s still going when side B opens with a ‘slight return’ move, followed by two more rippers to close out the EP, both also glammed-out by Colburn’s glamboyant yelp, Thomas still driving this already heavy band harder than ever. I do like all three of Tropical Trash’s 7-inches, but this is the best one.
THE DEAD C World Peace Hope Et Al CD (SHOCK) Kinda underwhelming comp, actually. For example, the opening track “Stars,” apparently an “outtake from Harsh 70s Reality,” is such a 6-minute improv toss-off that it scrambles my brain. I can’t pay attention to it even when I’m trying to, and somehow it makes me ignore the rest of the album, though I am always briefly jarred from my stupor by the tracks that feature crude Nico and Patti Smith samples (“Abschied” and “Communication With Heaven” respectively), and that song “Angel,” which is one of their prettiest songs and therefore impossible to ignore, such a classic Michael Morley number, some sort of true proto-mumblecore indie power ballad. Still, the overall stupor was keeping me from realizing that this World Peace Hope Et Al (1988-1993) CD is actually a (then) brand new (1994) 22-minute Dead C EP, made up three songs called “World,” “Peace,” and “Hope,” but preceded by the Et Al, which is a whopping 12 other odds & sods bonus tracks that take up the first 50 minutes. Usually the odds & sods are sequenced after the EP, not before. Stupor or no, Dead C freaks will appreciate the whole thing, but if you indeed take the “World”/“Peace”/“Hope” closing salvo as an EP, it would stand as one of their mightiest releases, the band in their essentialist power-trio song-form mode, “World” going for over 7 minutes, more classic Morley, his beyond-weary vocal over three or maybe four of his trademark mega-forlorn depresso-chords that dirge along and get driven home by (drummer Robbie) Yeats while getting blown out and solarized by (second guitarist Bruce) Russell. It’s one of two tracks on this CD that weren’t previously released or previously out-taken, though another version of “World” does appear in one other legendary place in the Dead C catalog: somewhere deep in a side two medley on the previous year’s ‘live album’ (or should I say live album) Clyma Est Mort. “Peace” is a short 2-minute experimental spoken word palate-cleanser piece, and then “Hope” is the best track of all, the only other track on the CD not previously released, another lovely Morley-sung open-strummed chordal song, and one that you might also know, in a notably different version, as the final song on Harsh 70s Reality. That version is more lo-fi, what sounds like an audience tape of the band playing live in at a noisy venue with a small but boisterous audience, but the performance of the song is tighter and more together. On this version the band is much looser and more casual, and completely skips over the very few extra chord changes that the version on Reality runs through (my god, is that a chorus and a bridge in a Dead C song?); even so, this version runs almost two full minutes longer, I think because of that casual nature. Even though Russell’s guitar pyrotechnics are even crazier, “Hope” is much less of a dirge than “World.” It’s got that sweeter “Angel” vibe, especially in this version. The way they played and sung the song on Harsh 70s Reality, its title “Hope” seemed like an unsmiling sarcastic joke; on World Peace Hope, a much more sincere meaning emerges.
FRANK LOWE The Flam LP (BLACK SAINT) #FocusOnFrankLowe month (year) continues with a few listens to his scorching 1975 LP The Flam on Black Saint. I don’t know what it is about this guy, but every single record I’ve heard from him over the years has been exceptional. None of his records are just OK, unremarkably good, or merely decent. His completely scorching debut as a leader, Black Beings from 1973, specifically the 25-minute opening track “In Trane’s Name,” was in some ways the ultimate fire music, but with Lowe’s other albums like Doctor Too-Much (1976), he showed that he could dial things back significantly, into what I think of as a clear offshoot of fire music, and one that possibly can never have a subgenre name due to its highly subjective and subtle nature. I’ll try anyway… playing off of “fire music,” maybe this is more “slow burn music”? How about “glowing embers music”? Or maybe its subgenre name is exactly what Thurston Moore wrote back in 1997, in his “Top Ten from the Free Jazz Underground” article for Grand Royal magazine issue #2, when he says of saxophonist Arthur Doyle that “he resided in New York City in the 70’s and showed up in loftspaces spitting out incredible post-Aylerisms. Mystic music which took on the air of chasing ghosts and spirits through halls of mirrors (!).” The exclamation point is his, from the original piece, because he knew he’d written a beautiful line; the boldface is mine, indicating the proposed new name of this free jazz subgenre, and if we agree that this nascent chasing-ghosts-and-spirits-through-halls-of-mirrors subgenre is a “post-Aylerism,” which suggests that it was Albert Ayler’s Spiritual Unity that truly introduced actual ghosts and spirits into the music in 1965, it was his In Greenwich Village LP in 1967 that really got them moving through the halls of mirrors. Consciously or not (could well be parallel development), this halls-of-mirrors style was further developed by Muhal Richard Abrams and the AACM (check Abrams’s superb 1968 solo debut Levels and Degrees of Light ASAP on the off chance you haven’t). Random other ghosts-and-mirrors records jump into my head, like almost anything from the Wildflowers series, the s/t Byron Allen Trio LP on ESP-Disk… ooh, definitely the Charles Tyler Ensemble records on ESP-Disk… Lowell Davidson Trio for a hornless/reedless piano trio version… what about Marion Brown? Afternoon of a Georgia Faun is a good candidate, though other stuff by him is almost too mellow and pretty to be fully ghosts-and-mirrors… I’m thinking specifically of his ESP-Disk album Why Not, which has more R&B/gospel in it, at least on the long opening track “La Sorrella,” though now that I relisten, that might all be coming from Stanley Cowell’s piano. Either way, there can be plenty of spiritual crossover between singing gospel in a church and chasing ghosts and spirits through halls of mirrors, and The Flam is right there in the thick of it, not only in the thick of American black gospel, but in the soul, R&B, and funk of Frank Lowe’s native Memphis, Tennessee, fire music’s hard bop roadhouse R&B roots, screaming and honking saxophone not as an avant-garde or “new” thing but as bop/funk/soul thing. P.S.: As I work through Universal Tonality: The Life and Music of William Parker by Cisco Bradley (there’s a lot in there!), I encounter this quote on page 69 from Amiri Baraka’s essay “The Changing Same,” which became a chapter in Baraka’s essential book Black Music: “At its best and most expressive, the New Black Music is expression, and expression of reflection as well.” So how about if fire music = expression, then ghosts-and-mirrors music = expression of reflection. After all: mirrors = reflection, and the reflection is inward, not outward.
CIRCUIT DES YEUX -io (MATADOR) First Circuit des Yeux full-length of all new songs in three whole years, since the 2016 masterpiece Reaching for Indigo, in which Haley Fohr basically invented a new genre, or at least a new singer-songwriter subgenre (and yes, I know she had already invented this genre three albums earlier, continuing to perfect and expand it with Indigo, because I find Portrait from 2011 to be her true genre-invention breakthrough, and that doesn’t count the CDY3 EP from 2013, which should count because it came post-breakthrough and was the debut of “Livonia”), and with -io that’s even more the case. Not so much rock, or indie-rock, or folk-rock, but some sort of orchestral film-music song cycle, maybe even in a pop sense. I mean, if Lana gets to do it, why not Haley? The other place -io puts me into is “this record album is a film,” which has been happening a lot lately, where albums played beginning to end can seem like a 40-to-45-minute audio-only film, because the sound on its own coheres into some kind of beginning-to-end narrative. Sometimes this is explicitly helped along by the lyrics of the songs, but it can be done by instrumental music too; pure sound does more storytelling in films than we realize. The best are the moods that sit somewhere in the middle, like “Out of the Blue/A Letter from Home” by Blue Gene Tyranny that I talked about in a recent issue, literally as a 25-minute audio-only experimental short film, or say, Brian Eno’s Music for Films not as a mere audio album of instrumentals, but an actual short-film compilation, like you would get on DVD, but you are the cinematographer, and the camera points within. Well, let’s put -io on the list, Fohr’s lyrics making it feel like even more of a concept album, that narrative thing again, somehow even in some sort of contemporary Frank & Eleanor Perry cinematic style, maybe a domestic drama about someone waking up in the morning in paradise, but slowly realizing by the end of the day that their world is constantly roiling and reacting with butterfly-effect microaggressions that start at a tiny scale and get larger and larger, from hail storms to killer bees to school shootings to super storms to continent-scale wildfires and invasions of sovereign nations, to where you wonder if the whole world really is burning, and the flames just haven’t made it to your block yet. I mean, duh, I just went back and listened to the “Vanishing” again, the effective opening song of the -io cycle (after a short wordless fanfare called “Tonglen|In Vain”), and oh yeah, it’s definitely about the end of society as we know it: “I cannot believe/The vanishing is happening/Fading/ Falling/Melting/ Sinking/Disappear/Zero axiom/Is our hero/The goodbye point/The goodbye light/Goodbye to our arsenite/Goodbye hands touching where it hurts/Goodbye laugh tracks of ancient works/Goodbye dog/Goodbye thought/Goodbye to this memory spot.” After that, I’m basically hanging on every word (not to mention melodic/harmonic/symphonic flourish and movement) for the remaining 38 minutes...