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RECENT LISTENING #32 (Supergroup Special?)
Mako Sica/Hamid Drake/Thymme Jones/Tatsu Aoki, Idol So Ki, V/A Making Losers Happy, Frozen Corn, Fishmans
MAKO SICA WITH HAMID DRAKE/THYMME JONES/TATSU AOKI Formless CD (FEEDING TUBE) Brent Fuscaldo and Prsemyslaw Drazek have been the core of the Chicago group known as Mako Sica for approaching two full decades at this point. They emerged in the mid-late 2000s, initially a trio with a full-time drummer/percussionist Michael Kendrick (who along with Drazek came from the rather underrated and perhaps unfairly forgotten, if clearly U.S. Maple-damaged, early-00s Poland-via-Chicago no wave group Rope with a coupla albs on Family Vineyard), but he left a while back and since then the Drazek/Fuscaldo duo can stand alone or be augmented by various notable guests on various records, people like Hamid Drake, Thymme Jones, and Tatsu Aoki, all three of whom appear on this album Formless, a Mako Sica quintet that is a veritable underground supergroup. Also note, as of some point after this December 2022 release the duo has changed their core name from Mako Sica to Drazek Fuscaldo out of respect for the Lakota Nation (“mako sica” is what the Lakota called the Badlands region of South Dakota and is indeed translated into English as “bad land”), so perhaps we should think of this release as an album by Drazek Fuscaldo Drake Jones Aoki. Which is a hell of a group. As in any performance by the duo formation on up, Drazek subtly floats between instruments: electric guitar, amplified mandolin, and ethereal effected trumpet playing, the latter of which hits every time like someone pressed the magic ‘ECM’ button, and Manfred Eicher himself was dialing in the reverb via satellite from his headquarters in a remote German castle. Meanwhile, Fuscaldo sings free-form quasi-tribal vocals and is a multi-instrumentalist himself, though at a recent live show I caught he mainly played an anchoring bass guitar, briefly switching to auxiliary percussion a couple times. Really all five of the musicians on here are multi-instrumentalists, and with the way the tracks float along and slowly evolve, it’s not easy to know or care who’s playing what. With Tatsu Aoki in this group, maybe Fuscaldo is playing less bass, and mostly contributing vocals, or maybe not. Hamid Drake of course is a huge presence in any group, even when he’s radiating silence, but you can hear his commanding frame drum often here, and monster trap kit, not to mention his own underrated vocals; Thymme Jones is also a very good vocalist and drummer, who also plays trumpet, and there’s at least one section where both he and Drazek are going at it brass-wise, but he seems to spend most of the album on rippling and surging acoustic piano. And regardless of who’s in the lineup at the moment and on what instrument, Drazek Fuscaldo and their reliable universal/ethereal soundworld have become something of a Chicago institution (that the whole world can listen to).
IDOL KO SI Five Volumes (IDOL KO SI) I mean sure, I’ve followed the musical career of Rob Millis for awhile, going back to the actual 1990s and his (still extant) band Climax Golden Twins. There was also a great solo CD called 120 back in 2008, the extensive curatorial/archival work he’s done for the Sublime Frequencies record label, the Twins’ collaboration AFCGT with another Seattle-based underground band The A Frames, which seems to have morphed into this new post-pandemic workstation recording project called Idol Ko Si, which also shares members with both AF and CGT, and is making me imagine an actual 2020s movement of home-studio underground-industrial death-disco musical cells with Bandcamp pages and no physical releases. Or maybe I’m just thinking of two contempoaries, Idol Ko Si and Grey Windowpane, all of whom have done the guitar/drums/onstage approach in various ways with various lineups in various previous decades, and now have gone this isolated industrial workstation route, with some of the same promise of the 1980s noise/industrial cassette scene all over again, except the recordings are more fully direct digital than analog room-sound, and the distro is on Bandcamp rather than cassette-by-mail. And I can only think of these two ‘bands’ in the ‘scene’ so far. Either way, you should buy these five Idol Ko Si albums on Bandcamp, then buy all seven of the Grey Windowpane albums that are on Bandcamp, put them all on shuffle, and lose your goddamn mind.
VARIOUS ARTISTS Making Losers Happy CD (DRAG CITY) Hi, my name is Larry, and I’m not afraid to admit that I just googled the phrase, “Did someone other than Stephen Cogle sing lead on Do the Void by the Terminals?” Google didn’t really answer my question, but it did bring up this sick Terminals page on AudioCulture, so after looking at that for a bit I just went to the Discogs page for the “Deadly Tango” b/w “Do the Void” 7” (Xpressway, 1990) and right there it was: “Deadly Tango, Vocals – Stephen Cogle,” “Do The Void, Vocals – Mick Elborado.” As much as I love the Terminals, and the idea of a dance-craze garage-rock song called “Do the Void” sung by someone going by the name of Mick Elborado, the reality is actually one of the more middling songs on this here Making Losers Happy compilation CD (Drag City, 1993), because the competition is tough on a CD filled with great songs from the post-Nun New Zealand sub-underground. All of which were recorded and originally released on vinyl from 1988 to 1991 by the Xpressway label, such as the entire three-song Sun Stabbed 7” EP by the Dead C (1988), which gave the world the cheeky nervy Bruce Russell-sung (a)political punk classic “Bad Politics” followed by two also-classic Michael Morley dream-downers in “Crazy I Know,” which is actually a very pretty song, and “Angel,” a dark slow plodding dirge in the grand Dead C tradition of “Helen Said This.” I love a good heavy “Helen” but do wish Morley had a few more of those pretty songs in his repertoire. I consider “Heaven” on Trapdoor Fucking Exit one of them, by the way, despite its quite twisted guitar playing. Actually might even be my favorite Dead C song, if I had to pick one. Nah, never mind, it’s “Your Hand.” Definitely “Your Hand” #1, “Heaven” #2, and #3 is “Hope” from Harsh 70s Reality. Oh wait, I was talking about the Making Losers Happy comp and how many great songs are reissued on it, a total of five full Xpressway label 7-inches, not only by the aforementioned Dead C, but also the Alistair Galbraith/Graeme Jefferies duo, the Peter Jefferies/Robbie Muir duo, the aforementioned Terminals, and David Mitchell’s Dead Dog in Port Chalmers 3-song EP with the phenomenal B-side “Grey Funnel Line” where guest vocalist Denise Roughan of Look Blue Go Purple’s voice beams like a sunray breaking through Mitchell’s screaming electric folk church guitar chord-clouds (a couple years later they started the 3Ds together). There are also two songs from a seven-song 1990 12” EP by Plagal Grind, a veritable Xpressway ‘house band’ and/or ‘supergroup’ of Alistair Galbraith guitar/vocals, David Mitchell guitar, Robbie Muir bass, and Peter Jefferies drums.
FROZEN CORN s/t LP (IDEA) A Western Mass folk rock trio ‘supergroup’ (okay, okay, that’s the fourth time the word supergroup has appeared on this page, but don’t worry all you humble underground talents, I’m trying to use scare quotes every time) that mostly plays covers of songs on the Smithsonian Anthology, consisting of Joshua Burkett, Anthony Pasquarosa, and Chris Carlton. They choose some really good Anthology faves, like the ones that go “I wish I was a mole in the ground,” “I saw the light come shining, I saw that light come down,” “Oh the cuckoo is a pretty bird,” and “I’d rather be in some dark hollow,” to name most of them on here, and the bluegrassy folk-strum pickin’ and shufflin’ throughout is particularly ace zoned late-night throwdown/glowdown/comedown. The vocals, on the other hand, are pretty bonkers, with a super close-mic’d ‘deep voice’ schtick that gives an unexpected ‘Kirkwood brothers singing out of tune on acid in the 1980s’ vibe. A different voice sings lead on “Bones” (a cover of “Dry Bones” by Bascom Lamar Lunsford, the one that goes “I saw the light come shining”), and I find that this other voice blends more naturally and gently with the glow-zoned acoustic strum . . . but the artist alone decides! Originally released in 2010 as a four-song EP on CDR, as was then the way, with a tracklisting of “Mole,” “Bones,” “Cuckoo,” and “Country”; this 2017 LP reissue has those tracks and three more bonus ones (not to mention the sleeve is on nice odd 1970s Neil Young LP-style textured paper), which are “Little Birdy,” “Hash House,” and “Summer’s Night,” the latter a Clive Palmer tune from an obscure 1980 solo LP, and “Little Birdy” running pretty long due to an extended (deepvoiceless) instrumental section, and hey don’t get me wrong, there’s enough of this glowing 4am pickin’-’n’-broodin’ steadiness popping up throughout that I’ve had no problem playing the whole LP three times in a row just now.
FISHMANS Long Season (POLYDOR) Until now, I had only heard this band called Fishmans two separate times in my entire life, and both from the same source: live on my car radio tuned to WNUR 89.3 FM Evanston. These days, I’m not exactly sure what’s going on with that truly (once?-)great longtime college radio station, but I seem to hear a lot of prerecorded DJ sets on there, and it’s been that way a for a few years now, most of them by a guy who (goes by the unfortunate name of DJ Broccoli but) fortunately plays excellent music pretty much nonstop. I do think (hope?) WNUR is still doing live broadcasting, but I rarely seem to catch it, and it’s just kind of weird when you hear a DJ playing a set and shyly back-announcing it with a shy joke while you’re driving home from work, and then several months (or years) later, also driving home from work, you hear the exact same songs in the exact same order, and a familiar-sounding DJ shyly back announces the titles and then tells the exact same shy joke again, the exact same way. And that’s how I discovered this band Fishmans, twice, when one day in like 2020 I was, you guessed it, driving home from work and WNUR was in the middle of playing Fishmans’s endless 36-minute track “Long Season,” which turns out to be the “Dopesmoker” of 1990s Lollapaloozoid alt-rock twee-pop, but I didn’t know any of that yet and the track was too long to wait for a back-announce. I did Shazam it of course, while driving, and when the readout was something like “Long Season .3 - Fishmans,” I was just like “huh?” and kinda gave up on the spot. Didn’t think of it again for several months, maybe even a couple years, until one day just last week when I’m driving home from work for the 3,333rd time and once again they’re playing “Long Season,” probably from the very same air check tape left behind by DJ Broccoli himself, and I’d completely forgotten this had all already happened to me, so I Shazamed it again, and got that same confusing readout, something like “Long Season .4 - Fishmans,” but this time I happened to be parking, so I shut off the engine and kept the track blasting for a proper google session to find out Fishmans were a “unique psychedelic” Japanese rock band that formed in Tokyo in the late 1980s and promptly disbanded in 1999 when their charismatic lead singer and songwriter Shinji Shato died unexpectedly at the age of 33. Got home, pulled “Long Season” up on Shitify, and listened to all 36 minutes while cleaning a devastated kitchen and doing the dishes and then immediately started it over and listened to it again while organizing the fridge, preparing and eating one of my patented random selections of raw foods and leftovers for dinner, then cleaning the now only slightly redevastated kitchen one more time, then dashing down here to Blastitude HQ (aka Command Center) to dash off this newsletter while the final minutes of this epic track play out a second time. It’s a fascinating piece of dreamy progressive rock music, though again very much in that 1990s Lollapalooza/MTV alt-rock buzz-bin mold (let’s just say Fishmans would’ve been Grand Royal’s greatest non-Beasties signing, bar none). The dub/reggae influence on this band was palpable, especially notable in the bass player Yuzuru Kashiwabara, but there were almost never overt reggae mechanics in the music, instead an extended-suite dream-pop feel that (at least somewhat due to recency bias) reminds me of a 1976 progressive pop/folk/rock album discovered a mere week earlier, Siegried, il Drago e Altre Storie by Italian group Errata Corrige, not to mention moments off of McCartney’s Ram, and as much I love the Beatles and VU, I seem to always like VU-influenced bands better than Beatles-influenced bands. Just thoughts, I guess, and now that I’ve listened to “Long Season” about 8 times in the last 4 days, I’m actually starting to get a little tired of its overtly cutesy little sub-McCartney melody lines, played on cutesy keyboards/organs… but then that goddamn rhythm section just keeps driving along while also laying back and morphing and somehow driving even harder as Shinji’s vocals dream and dream away and the track indeed becomes its own long season of slow change and growth.