RECENT LISTENING #6

Fripp & Eno, Rivener, Possible Humans, Jerry's Kids, Jaimie Branch, Velvet Underground, Ahmoudou Madassane

(Ed. note: Couple things about these reviews. First of all, I’ve always got a bunch of rough drafts laying around, and I never actually finish ‘em for months, if not years. This is nothing new, and I’ve apologized for this to both readers and musicians alike. But, since I last published a record review column, that bygone time of two whole months ago, the world has completely changed due to global pandemic, and now all my usual references to things like “going outside,” or “going to a record store,” or god forbid, “going to a show,” sound very strange and wrong. Sometimes this here italicized voice of myself-as-editor will appear from the then-future present and comment on, or try to correct, this dissonance… but sometimes the editor won’t, or just hasn’t gotten to it yet, so consider this both a heads up and an apology in advance. The other thing I was going to say is much more trivial: the following two reviews (Fripp/Eno and Rivener) were written around the same time, and even ended up back-to-back on the same rough draft doc, which is how I discovered that I was basically trying to make the same point with both… might as well keep ‘em together.)

FRIPP & ENO (No Pussyfooting) LP (ANTILLES) No one’s gonna argue with this underground progressive classic (although some, including me, prefer their second album Evening Star). On tonight’s second listen, my first listens for a few years, Fripp’s endless guitar and Eno’s endless treatments have got me deep in thought about the tiny invisible incremental spaces within the vastness of inner space. When you close your eyes, and nothing is seen and nothing is said. No images, no words. What do you see when nothing is seen? What do you hear when nothing is said? What do you see when your eyes are closed, but you’re peering more closely than ever? While track one “The Heavenly Music Corporation” blasts and pulses around me, I close my eyes and find myself looking upon a concrete alley, illuminated by a single streetlight. The bulb is clearly cheap and substandard, only creating a small cone of light that clashes with the swallowing night around it. Just beyond and below the light, some sort of unclear white living wooden horse is resting (on the alley? on the sidewalk? on the street? on the ground?) in the shadows, silently and slowly flapping its wings. Yes, wings. Some inchoate image, a cross between art object and animal. Something in the incremental spaces inside, just flapping its wings. Slowly and silently. Not dangerous. Not in danger. Not in a hurry. Not even airborne. Winged but flightless. And urban, apparently on some abandoned narrow side street, just one of so many other unseen incremental inner spaces, so many rooms, so many closets, so many corners, where something else entirely might flap its ears like Dumbo, or write a sonnet like Petrarch, or go through an entire 15-minute Stargate sequence like Dr. David Bowman.

RIVENER s/t LP (TWIN LAKES/THESE ARE NOT) The drummer from More Klementines, Michael Kiefer, strikes again in this one-off (?) duo with guitarist Paul Belbusti. I thought this was really good during the first couple-three spins, and now coming back after a few months away it sounds even better. These two musicians get into deep territory. Music has the ability to get into deep wordless emotional, mental, spiritual territory, we all know this, but there’s something about the way improvised music can do it in particular, the way it can get into both the nooks AND the crannies of your psyche, your heart, your soul, and find so much molecular, microscopic room in there. It’s like you get to be in your own Fantastic Voyage (1966, d. Richard Fleischer), every time you put on the right records. Is it the sound of your gut microbiome? Or just your imagination, running away with you? I repeat: is it just your imagination, running awaaaaaay? I mean classic soul and rock musics like the Temptations are body musics too, but they’re not the microbiome. They’re the macrobiome, using the whole body to dance and socialize. (He writes in a time of pandemic.) Certain improvised music (like this LP) is the opposite: an otherwise silent non-social deep-internal (pandemic-appropriate) cerebral/personal/psychic experience. When you go to a concert of this kind of music (provided there is no global pandemic keeping you at home), even a crowded one, you don’t get up and dance, you sit and close your eyes among everyone else also closing their eyes, and the two contrasting experiences are equally intense.

POSSIBLE HUMANS Everybody Split LP (TROUBLE IN MIND) The review sticker on the outside compared this band to early R.E.M., and now I can’t shake it. I do love early (Chronic Town through Document) and mid-period (Green through Monster) R.E.M., but I guess I don’t really want to hear new bands that sound like that. I’m also hearing Flying Nun Recs and Polvo, which I do want new bands to sound like, the latter of which is particularly enticing. (I love Polvo.) Either way, the real reason I’m here, and plan to stay, is for the 12-minute Side B centerpiece/stunner “Born Stoned,” a long cosmic rambler that, well, does sound like early R.E.M. (still can’t shake it), but in much more of an extendo-style than R.E.M. ever attempted (longest song in R.E.M. history is “Camera,” clocking in at a mere 5:52). Also, it’s as if both Tom Verlaine AND Neil Young are guesting on dueling lead guitars, every now and then synchronizing into these fantastic yearning heavy/light cosmic-dinosaur turnaround riffs that frame the whole piece and give it foundation, signposts on the cosmic way. “Born Stoned” is completely worth the price of admission all by itself and then some, but the whole record is nice.

JERRY’S KIDS Is This My World? CS (TAANG!) I know all you old and older heads already know, but just making sure EVERYBODY knows that this is one of the greatest of all first-wave US hardcore records, and that drummer Brian Betzger gets a Lifetime John Coltrane Award for creating a deeply expressive style on his/her/their chosen instrument. (Still can’t believe there was actually a record label called TAANG! [sic]. And we acted like it was normal!)

INTERLUDE: A short film about Jaimie Branch. Her new record Bird Dogs of Paradise absolutely kills, out now on one of the more important record labels of the 21st Century, International Anthem:

VELVET UNDERGROUND White Light/White Heat LP (VERVE) Probably over 10 years ago, I kinda stopped listening to the first three VU LPs, having played them so much that it seemed (correctly) like I had ‘em memorized. Since then, I’ve literally only listened to VU boots, or should I say any and all unofficially released and/or unofficially circulated live recordings and/or studio outtakes, like of course any Sweet Sister Ray 2LP, any Legendary Guitar Amp Tapes boot, 1966, the monumental Caught Between the Twisted Stars CD box, but also official releases like Live 1969, VU, and Another View, because they’re so awesome, and I’ll still listen to Loaded because I was late to that one (my favorite previously unreleased VU track of all, besides the Scepter Studios version of “European Son,” is the Loaded-adjacent “Malcom’s curse” version of “Ocean” that’s on the Peel Slowly & See box). Which is all to say that today, I finally broke my decade-plus restriction on relistening to any of the first three official LPs, when the lead-off title track of White Light/White Heat (1968, Verve Records) came on the iPod shuffle, and I just couldn’t believe how good it sounded, so good I flipped the iPod from ‘shuffle’ to ‘album’ so I could hear the whole glorious thing. I don’t ever want to hear a version of “White Light/White Heat” with Doug Yule playing on it again. (Just kidding, of course I do, especially that one hyper-fast Matrix Tapes version with the crazed extendo Lou/Sterl rhythm/lead guitar action.) Seriously though, the (Tom Wilson) production is so, yes indeed, WARM. It’s my all-time favorite example of how distortion should sound on a recording. Distortion should be completely inzane in the room, but completely clean on the tape. Once again I go back to the then-monumental tempest-in-a-teapot that was the 2009 Washington Post SXSW interview with Matt Horseshit of his band Psychedelic Horseshit, when he said exactly what I’m trying to say, with more expletives: “The Velvet Underground, that [expletive] is clean. That is clean as [expletive]! "White Light/White Heat" is a [expletive] album of beautiful, clean static. Clean [expletive] static. That's how it sounded in the room.” Thank you, Mr. Horseshit! Also, the coda the band lurches into at the end, with Cale getting into that weird bass riff that just takes it OUT?? I’m still as [expletive] shocked by it as when I first heard it, possibly more [expletive] shocked… truly some revelatory [expletive].

VELVET UNDERGROUND Peel Slowly And See 1965-1969 5CD (POLYDOR/CHRONICLES) By the way, this is $15 on Discogs right now (banana never peeled!), which seems like a pretty good purchase if you’re still into CDs, and I guess you should be if you call yourself an archivist. (Hey don’t look at me, I just have mp3s of Peel Slowly and See, and it’s all on Spotify anyway, so I’ll probably never buy it, and after the Great Permanent Global Blackout of 2027 neither CDs nor Spotify will work, and I’ll be perfectly content to wistfully hum VU tunes in my head while going hungry in whatever dangerous semi-fortified commune I’ve been lucky enough to be accepted into.) One reason NOT to buy it is that the entire first disc is taken up by the July 1965 demos that were recorded by Lou Reed, John Cale, and Sterling Morrison as a trio, which is perhaps the worst music ever recorded by a great band in world history. It’s like comparing “A Day in the Life” to “My Bonnie,” except worse. I call them the “hayseed” demos because Lou so aggressively sounds like Dylan imitating Woody Guthrie, especially on “Prominent Men,” one of the worst songs he ever wrote (quickly and wisely abandoned), but he even sounds like that on “Heroin.” For chrissakes, on the will-be sublime “All Tomorrow’s Parties” he’s got Cale fiddling and harmonizing away like he’s in the goddamn Carter Family. I mean, Moe Tucker’s already one of my favorite drummers of all time, but was she that important that her addition to the trio could make a band sound so pivotally different? Maybe Nico should get more credit too, because you can’t really make her sound like the Carter Family, even if you’re as strong of a personality as Lou Reed. Or what about Andy Warhol? His production credit is always getting second-guessed, but if he had anything at all to do with turning “All Tomorrow’s Parties” from bad Carter Family bullshit into the unreal classic dark haunter it became, well, then he deserves every last typeset letter of that credit. Anyway, you should still listen to the “Parties” demo on here, but only because of how hilariously Lou says “fucking shit!!!” when he messes up a take at the 1:20 mark.

AHMOUDOU MADASSANE Zerzura OST LP (SAHEL SOUNDS) I don’t rush out and buy EVERY record that gets compared to the Dead Man OST, but boy, when I do… anyway, one day I saw a couple different people give this one props on the internet; Reckless had it in stock that day, and it just felt right to drop 18 bucks or so, less than the price of an unremarkable chef’s dinner for one. And here at home, it sounds just right too, a very nice ambling almost-entirely-instrumental North African desert blues record.