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STUFFS & THINGS & THINGS & STUFF (STTS-014)
DJ Screw, Dane Waters, Jay Hinman, Dave Lang, Peter Michael Hamel, Between, Mind Maintenance, Byron Coley, Les Blank, Leon Russell, David Briggs, Slint Music (wtf?), Slint, Oren Ambarchi
GREAT JOURNALISM ON D.J. SCREW DEPT.: Specifically two articles, “The Screwtape Records” by Chris O’Connell in Popula and especially “D.J. Screw: A Fast Life in Slow Motion” by Lance Scott Walker in whatever Red Bull Music Academy’s online magazine was called. (Whoah, the latter article has been expanded into a book.) Right as my daughter grew into her teenage years, the music coming from behind her always-closed bedroom door became almost exclusively hip hop, more specifically trap music. On her Sp****y “Wrapped” report for 2019, the year she turned 14, her most-listened-to genre was “vapor trap.” I mean, I’m pretty hip and with it, and of course I already knew about trap music and vaporwave, don’t get me wrong, but admittedly didn’t realize that putting the two together like that was a thing. And, I’d almost completely stopped paying close attention to hip hop, just hearing it ambiently, hip hop in fact becoming more like ambient music with each and every slowed tempo, autotune effect, and mumbled triplet. In my anti-anti-square opinion, the lyrics were getting less interesting and even more misogynistic while the musical content and production were evolving in beautiful ways. But that’s a complicated topic, with the style having reduced it’s verbal focus into a complex (and actually pretty damn innovative now that I think about it) hybrid of chanting, singing, rapping, and speak-singing that relies as much on repeating specific phrases and vocal riffs, as it does on dropping 16 bars of lyrics that rhyme and boast and tell stories and punchline in all the right places. Either way, I hardly ever recognized the artist being played behind her door — sure, I could spot a Kanye or Drake or Nicki Minaj track here and there, but the first (and really still the only) time I have ever walked by her door and heard music that was also in my own collection, it was D.J. Screw. She had gotten to Screw via Gen Z tragic icon Travis Scott and his beautiful trip-hop trap song “R.I.P. Screw,” and the next time we were both in Houston, visiting my parents and sister who have all transplanted there from the Midwest, she and I took that pilgrimage together, driving almost an hour one way from the far northwest side of the city to visit the Screwed Up Records & Tapes shop in the far south side. And now, if I was still willing and able in my advancing age to go true double live gonzo (journalist), I’d go from this first-person gonzo journalism family story right into first-person gonzo journalism record reviews of the two Screw ‘tapes’ (meaning 2CD reissues the shop cranks out, each disc containing one 45-minute side of an original C90) that I bought when we were there at 7705 Fuqua Street, Goin’ Fed and 3 ‘N The Mornin’ Part Two, because I’ve literally listened to each of them over 50 times since then and think 3 ‘N The Mornin’ Part Two is Screw’s greatest tape (that I’ve heard so far) . . . but that’s going to have be the subject of another newsletter. POSTSCRIPT: I put the aforementioned “R.I.P. Screw” and a couple other new vapor-trap-adjacent tracks my daughter has hipped me to (Ice Spice, SZA, the downright shamanic “Just Wanna Rock” by Lil Uzi Vert) on a recent playlist in my “GOOD TRACKS” series.
BRAND NEW SOLO ALBUM BY DANE WATERS DEPT.: It’s cool to see a brand new solo album (release date February 3rd, 2023) by Dane Waters of Louisville KY. She was (and for all I know is) in the Louisville band Sapat, and certainly was in Sapat back in 2014 when they released an LP called A Posthuman Guide to the Advent Calendar Origins of the Peep Show on which she shreds throughout as a vocalist/keyboardist (btw hilarious that the going market rate on this great LP is currently closing at $2.95, as adorably set by RRRon no less). I even had a chance to see the band live with Waters when they were in Chicago at some point before Posthuman Guide was released, and they were great. Listening to her sweeping bravura vocals on this new album Torch Songs, I’m also taken by the arrangements, an electronic torch ballad approach driven by live kit drumming, and see the drummer is another Louisville blast from the relatively recent past, Dahm Cipolla Majuri, also a crucial contributor to Sapat (but on a different album, Mortise & Tenon), and of course to his own Phantom Family Halo Band.
LEXICON DEVILS DEPT.: Lexicon is “the vocabulary of a person, language, or branch of knowledge,” so allow me to devilishly play in the lexicon of this thing we call music by writing something about people writing about people writing about music. You see, starting in late 2022 and mostly still going strong, Dave Lang in Australia and Jay Hinman in California have been photo-posting covers and some pages from their respectively amazing 80s and 90s music fanzine collections, adding some remembrance, context, and analysis with each one, and the results have been very readable indeed. Jay has been doing it on a web-log called Fanzine Hemorrhage — you know Jay “Superdope and Dynamite Hemorrhage” Hinman, right? — and Lang was doing it on his Instagram page but has moved that activity over to a revived version of his long-off-and-on Lexicon Devil blog. I hadn’t read as much of Lang’s writing as Hinman’s before this, and it’s loose, funny, friendly, and full of sub-underground musical passion and knowledge, so what more do you want? Although the one quote I want to make from his blog isn’t of his own writing (go peruse that yourself, and don’t miss all the recent-ish zine posts that are on his Instagram page, from before he switched over to the blog), but a li’l nugget from the above scanned page out of a Sonic Youth interview in the Australian music magazine B Side: “Bruce: How do the things like screwdrivers and drumsticks start? Thurston: Just cause we’re fucking crazy dickweeds.”
DOUBLE LP INNER SPACE JOURNEY OF THE WEEK DEPT.: And now, a deep listen to Peter Michael Hamel’s Hamel 2LP from 1972. I was about 15 minutes down side one’s prepared-piano cybertunnel depths, far into “Baliava II,” when I was reminded by the internet that Hamel was the founding keyboardist of Between, a German band whose holy 1973 track “Devotion” I’ve been jamming regularly since I first heard it way back in 2010 on WFMU, probably via that Soul Jazz Deutsch Elektronische Musik comp. “Devotion” is so good, almost like something off of David Axelrod’s masterful 1968 Songs of Innocence, but with the addition of haunting borderless lead/chant vocals, and played by a relatively stripped-down rock combo (six members) that is somehow actually capable of creating an atmosphere similar to Axelrod’s huge and formidable studio orchestra’s. Between’s first album Einstieg came out in 1971 (haven’t heard it), then this Hamel solo deep-space tunnel-monster in 1972, and then in 1973 Between’s And the Waters Opened, the album with “Devotion,” so much music, so much time.
REFOCUSING THE FIELD OF INNER VISION DEPT.: There I was, a few months ago, reading stuff on the internet, having already been digging the Mind Maintenance LP by the duo of Chad Taylor & Joshua Abrams, in fact having published my own review of the album that referenced all the basic essentials like spiritual jazz and minimalism and African music, and along comes Coley and in a single phrase within a single tweet opens up a whole new Beefheartian lens on the LP: “surprised me with unexpected vibes akin to ‘when it blows its stacks’.” A simple phrase containing a comparison that refocuses the field of inner vision, a phenomena also described by Richard Henderson during the Life of the Record podcast episode “The Making of SONG CYCLE,” recognizing how Van Dyke Parks’s “verbal specificity . . . could, with a very few words, open up a whole other realm of consideration.”
Never got into Leon Russell’s music, and still don’t particularly, but did just heartily enjoy the film A Poem is a Naked Person (1973, d. Les Blank), though almost entirely due to Les Blank’s signature cinematic artistry, especially when it comes to making perfect(ly imperfect) “hyper-regional” plainfolk documentary. That said, I still haven’t shaken the music in a scene where Russell tears into a raucous live version of Hank Williams’s “Jambalaya,” and also really enjoyed the cameo by longtime Neil Young producer David Briggs where he shows Russell how to play “Lady Madonna” on the piano. Russell asks him, “You have a regular job out here?” (I think they’re in Nashville), and Briggs hilariously responds “No, I just work when guys can’t play the piano on their own songs.” Russell literally gasps at this, I think because Briggs is making fun of him, and he doesn’t let up either: “They only call me when a guy can’t do his own fuckin’ piano work. Hey George! Hey Ringo! Here I am in Tennessee!”
INVASION OF THE SLINTY SNATCHERS DEPT.: This band (?) website is super weird, like it was created by a robot: https://www.slintmusic.com. Has anyone else stumbled on this? I mean, it was definitely created by a robot, right? I’m seriously very creeped out by it, like afraid to click on anything, or I might see a .jpg of Britt Walford or Brian McMahan doing the Donald Sutherland move in the Body Snatchers remake (1978, d. Philip Kaufman). By the way, can you believe Walford recently explained the entire concept behind Slint’s sound, and possibly the entire concept behind post-rock, in a single sentence — a single phrase, really — during this 2021 Rolling Stone article written by Hank Shteamer? Britt says, emphasis mine: “Dave [Pajo] started writing a couple songs in [Maurice] with clean guitar, and then somehow Ethan Buckler and I had an idea to do a clean band that just sort of sounded like nature. That was our concept. Almost sounding like pine trees, or something, is the best way I could describe it. Just being very sort of resilient-sounding, like fresh plants.” That concept would become the album Tweez, and then as Spiderland began to gestate and Walford began living on Northwestern University’s lakeshore campus in Evanston, Illinois, another vast, specific and powerful natural influence was added to the mix: “I would say [Lake Michigan] had a lot to do with [it]. I would just play guitar a lot — always playing Brian’s guitar and amp — record tons of riff ideas and go out to this lake. It’s on Lake Michigan, the school, so I would go out there and just sit on a rock a lot. I did a lot of writing and thinking about music out there.”
GOOD GOD WHAT A BANGER DEPT.: “Remedios the Beauty” by Oren Ambarchi (pronounced am-bar-key), good god what a (soft) banger.