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RECENT LISTENING #34
Blues Ambush, Greymouth, Watching the Void: A Smattering of Panic Records & Tapes, Quilt of the Universe, Heavenly Bodies, Sarah Clausen, Hole
BLUES AMBUSH s/t LP (RADICAL DOCUMENTS) After two or three cassette releases so hot they were almost literally smoking, Philadelphia’s premier instrumental extreme-wah-damage power trio has released their first vinyl record in an edition of 200 on Chicago’s Radical Documents record label. If you didn’t know, this is the rock solid rhythm section of Eric Noonan on bass and Dave Siebert on drums laying it down for Ken Brenninger to extendo-wail and rumble/scream forever on very electric guitar. And extendo-wail he does with Blues Ambush for three long tracks, the opening slow-grind side-longer “JA’s Funeral” and then two more “Do It Now!” and “Grippers Choice” on Side B. My blurb on Instagram describing the second of their two s/t cassettes on Petty Bunco may sound like rock-crit mania but I stand by it 100%: “[Blues Ambush is a] power trio sitting very comfortably in some rarefied backstreet Fushitsusha “Live 2”/Afflicted Man ‘Get Stoned Ezy’ nexus.” Grippers [sic] choice indeed!
GREYMOUTH Parked Up LP (SOPHOMORE LOUNGE) This is a proper post-90s lo-fi noise-rock duo LP, is what this is. With an actual guitar/drums live-duo lineup! And the guitarist sings too! Lotsa short tracks, at least half of them being fairly proper songs with vocals, but always sequenced next to noise interludes and other obtuse experiments. It’s like Inca Eyeball meets Trapdoor Fucking Exit, and the 220 people worldwide who know exactly what I mean by that should go buy a copy now. Favorite track right now: side 2 track 3 “Pippies & cockles” with its ‘desultory ballad’ feel.
VARIOUS ARTISTS Watching the Void: A Smattering of Panic Records & Tapes (NO PART OF IT) This one is near and dear to my heart because I’ve been listening to 88.3 FM WZRD here in Chicago for the last 20 years, still an incredible college radio station on which you can hear anything from unknown great post-punk to the latest episode of Democracy Now to someone reading an entire H.P. Lovecraft short story. I just clicked on their live streaming link, and at this moment, 7:30am on a Sunday morning in late October 2023, they are playing excellent dark ethereal contemporary jazz/classical ensemble music that Shazam tells me is Jason Kao Hwang Critical Response, never heard of him before, and they just followed that with some goth-punk guitar-band goodness, apparently from 2013 and by someone else I’d also never heard of called the Alder Kings. And now, an hour later, they’re playing audio of someone telling ghost stories. Keep on keepin’ on, WZRD! I indeed once called WZRD “the Chicago radio station most likely to be playing three records at the same time,” not to mention at least one of them backwards and/or at very slow or very fast speed. Another Chicagolandian, Arvo Zylo, clearly loves WZRD too, because his label No Part of It has now released this archival compilation of some of that wild on-air mixing at its earliest, driven by a WZRD volunteer named Scott Marshall who also founded the Panic Records label, in part to document these activites at WZRD. I’ll let the No Part of It one-sheet further set this beautiful scene: “Many releases on the Panic label reflected the work of a collective largely anchored around their involvement with freeform radio station WZRD-Chicago. The WZRD control room was situated within the cavernous bowels of Northeastern Illinois University, and there were often longform sound collages from multiple staff members being bounced between studio A and studio B. During these radio events, which came to be known as ‘Voidwatches’, live instrumentation collided with other sources for four to six hours at a time, which sometimes included fireworks, power tools, or scrap metal boring holes into the floor and ceiling, not to mention different areas of the campus being patched into the on-air mix.” The thought of these creative collegiate goofballs circa 1984, moving through the secret places of the pleasantly mundane far northwest neighborhoods of my beloved home city, staying up all night in the WZRD studios with piles of records and shortwave radios and random cassettes and patch cables and visions of John Cage, Throbbing Gristle, and Illusion of Safety dancing in their heads (listen to Jim O’Rourke’s excellent recent appearance on the Noisextra podcast, he really sets the 1980s Chicagoland experimental/industrial/cassette scene in the early part of that), blasting this stuff over their limited airwaves, potentially hitting every single bungalow-lined residential block with a teenager inside it from the NEIU campus all the way to O’Hare… I’m telling you, it warms my heart, stokes my Chicago pride, rekindles memories of being a college and community radio geek myself back in Lincoln NE (and even in Chicago for a little bit), and finally, it satiates my love of 1980s cassette network post-punk/industrial Amerinoise, all at once.
VARIOUS ARTISTS Quilt of the Universe CS (SPINSTER) Straight-up beautiful comp that I learned about from Dwight Pavlovic’s regular cassette review column in Maggot Brain. I will have to admit that great compilations on cassette sound wonderful as an immersive play-through experience, but quickly become frustrating for a trainspotter like me who, when hearing any track, anywhere at all, must know who the artist is before the song ends, even if I don’t like the song. On a comp like this I like everything and don’t recognize anyone, so I constantly need to know but always find myself in the middle of another task, even if just writing furiously about something else entirely, at my desk, maybe even right next to the Quilt of the Universe J-card with its well-credited and very legible track listing. So close and yet so far. The only way I can think to keep up is by doing, you guessed it, a good old-fashioned track-by-track, right now, as Ami Dang kicks things off with one that is named after one of my favorite concepts (the Sanskrit/Vedic notion of the “Unstruck Sound”) and features gently tense anticlub beats and her always-great multitracked vocals. Second is “Stellaria Media” by Emmalee Hunnicutt, a very nice track and a great new name to me in a downright burgeoning ‘heavy new music cellist’ category (see also Tomeka Reid, Lori Goldston, Elisabeth Coudoux, Katinka Kleijn, Lucy Railton, probably more). Then comes a track that was highlighted in the aforementioned Maggot Brain review, and is certainly my favorite on the comp, “Return of the Mack” by JJ_FS and yes, it’s an actually recognizable (though still rarefied and alterdimensional) cover of the ultimate 1996 slammer by Mark Morrison (#2 Pop, #4 R&B), with more great multitracked (or at least highly chopped/treated/processed) vocals. The next track has no vocals but is solo guitar by Ilyas Ahmed, really excellent musical solo guitar that is free of any inescapable Takoma-isms. And that’s as far as I can get without once again losing ‘track’ of who’s who, but I can say that the side ends with a club/hip-hop banger, “Creatures” by Fitness Womxn, and then side two begins with another left-turn into honest (and excellent) country folk blues music by Precious Bryant, then sweet neo-riot girl-punk with “Catcall” by Slut Pill and then I lose ‘track’ again until the penpenpenultimate track which is “Handsome Molly” by Jake Xerxes Russell, another solo guitar track but this one very Takoma, and very good for it. That still leaves 7 tracks I’m not even going to write about and you can find yourself. I mean, don’t you love music? I also love how this comp reprints Emily Dickinson’s “378” on the J-card, which I will also now quote in full because I too am in awe of life here in this tiny corner of the cosmos: “I saw no Way—The Heavens were stitched—I felt the Columns close—The Earth reversed her Hemispheres—I touched the Universe—And back it slid—and I alone—A Speck upon a Ball—Went out upon Circumference—Beyond the Dip of Bell—”
HEAVENLY BODIES Universal Resurrection LP (PETTY BUNCO) Listened to this on Bandcamp a couple times, and while immediately appreciated what they were doing (a post-Bardo Pond take on the more desolate instrumental power trio regions of Ash Ra Tempel ca. Schwingungen), found it possibly just a little too lugubrious, and without a strong rhythmic purpose. Well, as luck would have it, just a few months after that, I happened to run into a friendly Petty Bunco regional sales rep who was visiting here in Chicago. He handed me a free product sample of Universal Resurrection on vinyl, mine to keep, and now, hearing the music at home coming out of my big speakers from those canyonoid vinyl grooves, the chasms are just that much more chasmic and the abysses that much more abyssal, even if the band’s slow-building slow-moving almost-completely-static strategy has not changed. Nope, they’re still sitting in one place and stacking the heaviness to the heavens (or sinking it to the depths). It’s just that now I’m used to it, I’m ready for it, and I don’t have to adjust to it, another example in the “play twice before listening” classification.
SARAH CLAUSEN Solo at Experimental Sound Studio (NO LABEL) Caught this Chicago alto saxophonist play a great set opening for Emily Robb at Tone Deaf Records a couple weeks ago (circa Halloween 2023). Sitting in a chair, Clausen played alto saxophone through effects pedals, looping melodies and then harmonizing them, playing additional melodies and patterns over the top of that, as well as mixing in field recordings and other electronic textures. It was great, and in November she’s going to be recording that material, so stay tuned. Until then, there’s this otherwise unreleased recording on Bandcamp of another solo performance by Clausen, from all the way back in 2018 at Chicago’s Experimental Sound Studio. This one has none of the effects and treatments I just described, just a touch of reverb as Clausen’s saxophone arcs through the air unaccompanied in introspective and imaginative patterns and melodies and explorations. Can’t help but think of Chicago’s AACM and Muhal Richard Abrams’s directive to its members to be sure to develop a solo repertoire, and not be dependent on groups. There are many decades of Chicago tradition going on here, even if Clausen’s music has close to zero bebop or blues in it.
HOLE Pretty on the Inside (CAROLINE); Live Through This (DGC) Specific lines and deliveries from Live Through This still pop into my head suddenly, to this day, and it’s been happening here and there ever since its 1994 release, even without me having actually listened to it once in probably 25 years now. But I’m listening to it right now, the original DGC compact disc back off the shelf and into the player, instigated by Courtney Love’s amazing appearance on the WTF podcast, after which I watched Montage of Heck (as I’ve already told you) (2015, d. Brett Morgen). So those Live Through This memories had already gotten stirred back up, so much that a couple weeks ago I was driving to work thinking about “Miss World” and started crying a little bit right there in the car, no joke. Then, Jay Hinman hipped me (us) to that page on sonicyouth.com where you can view/download every page of all the original Sonic Death zines, and seeing Thurston’s early mention of Hole (“As you probably know, KIM produced the HOLE records (along w/Don Fleming) that are out now. They unvariably scorch so try to git ‘em!”) got me to listen to their Pretty on the Inside debut for the first time ever tonight, right before this current run-through of Live Through This, and the debut is definitely more noise-rock, more AmRep-ready than Geffen-ready, but also a lot weaker in the tunesmithing department, maybe even fewer hooks than a Babes in Toyland LP (considering Courtney probably did swipe Kat Bjelland’s vibe wholesale, including the 10-15% maximum hook-landing rate). Live Through This is such a leap forward, and I do 100% believe Courtney wrote the whole thing as credited with Eric Erlandson, and that it was not ghost-written by Kurt (though certainly heavily influenced by him, duh). It does contain a little more filler than I remember, but there are several stone classics on here where Courtney sings her guts out, starting right at the beginning with the beautiful scorcher “Violet” (Courtney’s lead-in to the first loud part, “YOU SHOULD LEARN HOW TO SAY NO!!!,” and then the devastating pre-chorus “They get what they want/And they never want it again” into the devastating chorus “GO ON TAKE EVERYTHING/TAKE EVERYTHING I WANT YOU TO.” And then right into the aforementioned “Miss World,” “I am the girl you know/can't look you in the eye/I am the girl you know/so sick I cannot try,” and a chorus like “I’m Miss World/Somebody kill me,” I mean come on. It feels like one of the most important songs a female pop/rock singer has ever written. I’m not a female, and I know there’s many other important songs, but it feels that way to me.