RECENT LISTENING #24
Onyon, Maxine Funke, Fire-Toolz, Frank Lowe, Rob Mazurek's Exploding Star Orchestra, Warmer Milks
ONYON Onyon CS (U-BAC/FLENNEN) I love it when I actually listen to and enjoy a brand new punk rock or post-punk band. It means I don’t completely have my head buried in the sand that is 1960s-1980s experimental/jazz/soul/world/dad-rock. But mostly buried, yes, otherwise I’d actually be listening to the countless amazing playlists from places like the Dynamite Hemmorhage or Maximumrocknroll Radio (especially when Erika Elizabeth is the DJ) instead of just scrolling past them in awe. In fact Onyon, the subject of this review, is on the Dynamite Hemmorhage Radio #183, 184, and 185 playlists that have been posted in the past few weeks, though I learned about Onyon (and of course about nine other great new records too) from Bill Trouble-in-Mind’s recent (big) takeover of Tracy Wilson’s Turntable Report tinyletter column. Onyon is a band from Leipzig, Germany, and this is just a perfect and eminently relistenable 20 minutes of moody clean driving guitar/keyboard tautness, with two perfect lead vocalists, one male and one female. Bill says “I WANT to listen to other musiks, but this damn thing won’t let go!,” and same thing here, I just listened to it 5 times in 2 days.
MAXINE FUNKE Seance 12” EP (A COLOURFUL STORM) Well this is a stunner. I did already know that Maxine Funke is good at music, for like 10 (!) years now, as she’s been on my radar since the Lace CDR came out in 2008… but this is better than Lace. 10 years better, if that makes sense. I think it might, if you’re familiar with both albums (and not to say Lace isn’t excellent). As on Lace, it’s a woman from New Zealand playing guitar and singing folk music, sure, but her style and personality have become even more distinct, her voice more impossibly clear and present than ever, the songs such a rarefied combination of enigmatic and friendly, and, at least on the slow-as-molasses shy-choogle epic 8-minute track three “Quiet Storm,” even having something that most contemporary independent post-free folk music doesn’t seem to prioritize, which is a really good groove.
FIRE-TOOLZ Eternal Home 2CD (HAUSU MOUNTAIN) This is (one of) the (many) true sound(s) of queer trans liberation poetics in 21st Century Music. Just reading the song titles is poetic enough; for example, check out how the titles of tracks 4 through 15 of the 25 total lay out on the page, in all their hypertypographical glory (all I’ve added are the quote marks and commas): “Yearning = Alchemical Fire,” “Shenpa Indicator Light!!!,” “¶rogressive --> ¶ath -->,” “Umbilical Cord Blood,” ““Lellow< "Birbs<,” “Softly*chewing*quiet*stars,” “Яubber Band ￦rist,” “[ Maternal ♥ Havening ],” “(E)y(e)s W/o A %brain%,” “To Make Home, Be Home,” “Thick_flowy_glowy_sparkly_stingy_pain.mpeg,” “Where On Earth Is My Sacchidānanda?” Then layer these wor(l)d-shifting textual poetics into wild synths aglitter over post-footwork hyperrhythms and black metal vocals that build up to a big city noir sax solo, at which point the poetics have frankly gone thermonuclear, and we haven’t even gotten two minutes into the album. Or, as Discogs says: “Prog Rock, Avantgarde, Death Metal, Ethereal, Experimental, Hardcore, Industrial, Noise, Shoegaze, Emo, Black Metal, IDM, Glitch, Vaporwave, Breakcore, Darkwave, Techno, New Age, Electroacoustic, Fusion, Smooth Jazz.” A very 21st Century record, and very Chicago as it’s on a Chicago label and by a Chicago artist (though no longer living in the city, and relocated here from an upbringing in the Baltimore exurbs, which I learned from this wide-ranging interview).
FRANK LOWE Decision in Paradise (SOUL NOTE) #FocusOnFreedomFrankLowe month (year) (life) continues here at Blastitude HQ with a listen to his 1985 album Decision in Paradise. Over a decade before this album, Lowe had already moved quickly from the emancipatory fire music model (as employed on his his ultraheavy debut Black Beings) and into the more complex and nuanced chasing-ghosts-and-spirits-through-halls-of-mirrors music model, what Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka called “expression of reflection,” as opposed to the more outward expression of fire music. This internal spirit music is not without its demons, agitations, and anger, but the fire has cooled into a ‘glowing embers music’ of great depth. Running parallel to this is Lowe’s increasingly clean recording aesthetic and overall sound, certainly in line with certain technological trends of the time, approaching what could be described as a “Cadence/CIMP” aesthetic, very dry and well-mic’d, very little reverb and otherwise noise-free. This is not a bad thing when it’s a singular modern master like Frank Lowe being recorded, and the great larger-ensemble lineup he’s working with: Don Cherry on trumpet, no less, but also Grachan Moncur III on trombone, Geri Allen on piano, and the father and son rhythm section of Charles Moffett on drums and Charnett Moffett on bass. (By the way, have you seen the recently posted intense and beautiful 11-minute film of Frank Lowe rehearsing and recording in 1973 for his unreleased album Chaos, with another large group including Jeanne Lee on vocals and Juma Sultan on bass and congas?)
ROB MAZUREK & EXPLODING STAR ORCHESTRA Dimensional Stardust LP (INTERNATIONAL ANTHEM) If you’re a fan of new creative jazz music, you might’ve caught this 2020 LP, Dimensional Stardust by Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra. After all, it was released on one of the greatest jazz labels of the last 50 years (I said it), International Anthem, and it features a literal bevy of some of the greatest jazz musicians of the 21st Century, in particular those with roots in 21st Century Chicago; Mazurek of course, the bandleader and composer with his name on the cover, also playing trumpet and synthesizer throughout (the latter of which lands Dimensional Stardust firmly in the ‘grooving with synths’ section at your favorite local contemporary spiritual jazz record store, see also Rob Frye’s Exoplanet for another immediate example); his longtime compatriot Chad Taylor on drums and percussion (see also: Chicago Underground Duo and so much et al); a second drummer/percussionist in Mikel Patrick Avery, whom you might/should also know from the Joshua Abrams Natural Information Society; the one and only Nicole Mitchell on flute, ripping and swinging all kinds of improvised subcompositional melodic lines throughout every track; Damon Locks of Black Monument Ensemble (and once upon a time Trenchmouth and then The Eternals) on “voice, electronics, text,” with science-friction interludes that break in intermittently like the Bob Calvert pieces on Space Ritual; plenty more, like Macie Stewart on violin, Tomeka Reid on cello, Joel Ross on vibraphone, Jeff Parker on guitar, Jaimie Branch on trumpet, Angelica Sanchez on acoustic & electric pianos, Ingebrigt Haker Flaten on bass, John Herndon on drum machines… wow… all presented in a superb gatefold package that pulls double duty as a travelling popup art gallery displaying Mazurek’s painting “Some Other Time,” props to the label again, International Anthem, for being the best in the game (still can’t stand obi strips though lol).
WARMER MILKS The Plast is the Fluture is the Plast CDR (MOUNTAAIN) Earlier this year I was puttering around the shelves, trying to get a count of all the Warmer Milks releases I’d accumulated over the 21st Century so far. Ended up with a total of 24.5, with fifteen distinct CDRs, three full-press CDs, four cassette releases (though I feel like I have a couple more that musta got lost), and two-and-a-half vinyl releases (that’s two full-lengths, Radish on Light and the 2021 Soft Walks reissue, and a split with Collection of the Late Howell Bend). Yet somehow I still didn’t own, or even yet know about, one of the most essential Warmer Milks releases of all, a sort of live odds & sods swan-song release called The Plast is the Fluture is the Plast (there was only one more Warmer Milks release after it, a two-song 7-inch from early 2011, documenting a short-lived attempt to reboot the band with Clint Colburn on vocals, a concept that switched out the Schuler/Tremaine rhythm section with some new guys and became a new band called Cross). Plast was released back in 2009 on Robert Beatty’s private-press CDR imprint Mountaain (killer sci-fi/dream-logic cover art by Beatty too, in an early line-art style). Like I said, I didn’t even know about this release until stumbling across it on Discogs, then noticing in quick succession that it was “Recorded live in the USA, 2003-2006” and that track two was called “Violent Religion,” at which point I almost did a back-flip because the first (of two) times I saw Warmer Milks was definitely during that 2003-2006 time-frame at the Empty Bottle, when they were the opener on what was probably the first national tour by Ethan Miller’s Howlin’ Rain, and they did a song where Mikey definitely sang the phrase “violent religion” over and over again USHC-style, gripping the mic just right, staring down the sparse crowd that was watching intently. That song has always haunted me, and I never heard it again, even when listening to the myriad Milks releases mentioned above, multiple times. Turns out I wrote about that Empty Bottle show, an account nested within a Warmer Milks record review published back in 2006, where according to me, a presumably reliable resource, the show took place on the night of June 10th, 2006 and I heard the phrase as “violent creation.” I even closed the review by asking “Is there a recording of this song?,” so you see why I’m almost doing back-flips here 15 years later at the existence of this CDR. Bought it right away for a mere $6 and now I’m listening to it and it really is the missing piece of my particular Warmer Milks puzzle. It wasn’t just “Violent Religion”; the whole damn show seemed different than any of the records, which were already different from each other anyway, and I’m finally hearing what that show sounded like again thanks to the material on this CDR. Although, hilariously, the version of “Violent Religion” on here sounds completely different than how I remembered it at the Empty Bottle. Mikey’s vocals are the same, but the backing band is less USHC and more… Cale/Jefferies/Nyman piano minimalist? And really weird? Still intense though, and there’s so much more on Plast as well: folk, rock, noise, free jazz, improvisation, again all recorded at various live gigs and then collaged via some pretty slick “compiling and editing” by “Robert Beatty and Michael Turner 2007-2009.” For example, track 10 “SS NIT R” goes from what sounds like a Mikey solo demo (but I guess was a live gig) into a different full-band live version of the same song, joined with and/or replaced by at least one or two more different live full-band versions, all within the same track. I recall talking to Mikey back then, in fact probably that same night at the Bottle, about Thrist of the Worm by Universal Indians and of course Anthem of the Sun, so it all makes sense. (See also: another Warmer Milks CDR from around then, True Village (2005, Ladron Tapes), which dubs two live gigs on top of each other, three days apart on the same tour, at two legendary Eastern Seaboard record stores, True Vine in Baltimore and Twisted Village in Boston.)