Sunday, November 29, 2015

Things we like: Ambient edition

1) Wire Nest/Tidals split 7". This joint release of Dallas-based Pour le Corps Records (who also released one of my favorite spins o' the year, Sarah Ruth's haunting Words On the Wind, on cassette) and Fort Worth-based Dreamy Life Records (the label, studio, and store operated by local musos Jen and Robby Rux and Cameron Smith) comes beautifully packaged and pressed on green vinyl. While both Wire Nest and Tidals have released material digitally, their music -- as involved as it is in physical experience, including striking live visuals -- demands a corporeal medium. On Wire Nest's "Sea of Sand," once-and-future Sub Osloites Frank Cervantez and John Nuckels start with a throbbing, hypnotic dub bass, then use multiple guitar samples to overlay beguiling cascades of melody. On Tidals' "Sympathetic Vibrations," Joshua Wrinkle and Jeremy Lantz blend ethereal electronics with danceable beats in an agreeable melange. Together, the tracks provide an enjoyable listening experience while whetting one's appetite for more -- exactly what a good 7-incher is supposed to do. ADDENDUM: Cop via Pour le Corps.

2) Marco Oppedisano - Resolute EP. Oppedisano's a Brooklyn-based guitarist-composer-educator whom I first heard on the guitar compilations Axe and The $100 Guitar. Here he opts for conceptual unity over volume (a trend I like -- two of my probable records o' the year clock in at half an hour or less), using his guitar as just one element in his tonal palette. Each vignette is its own discrete sound-world (my current favorite is the incandescent "Reflection"); taken together, they form the soundtrack for a mind-movie you can transport anywhere. Cop via Spectropol Records.

3) Pop Clearinghouse - B Stock. This is the nom de disque of my bald-headed son and occasional musical collaborator Matt Hickey, who works slowly and so is offering some of his "cutting room floor specials" (including the creepiest Bee Gees cover ever) while we wait. "Iswatis" has the icy Europop sound he loves and frequently returns to (any female vocalists looking to collaborate, hit him up).

4) Laurie Anderson - Heart of a Dog. I missed her performance at the Kessler earlier this year, and the film that accompanies this album at the Texas Theater a little more recently -- life happens. Listening to this CD has been a challenge because the only operational one we currently have in the house is in our bedroom, and this is mastered so that I have to have the volume full-up and be in the room to hear it. (Anderson demands our full attention, but her tone is conversational -- she isn't going to shout to get it.) I haven't written about this before because I feel like I haven't heard it enough times to fully digest it, but from the couple of "deep" listenings I've been able to manage (my life is pretty noisy), she uses highly personal and idiosyncratic stories to make more universal points about love, mortality, and life in post-9/11 America, and finishes with a song by her late husband (from Ecstasy), whose presence hovers over the whole affair like her mother's.

5) Velvet Underground - The Complete Matrix Tapes. It always comes back to Uncle Lou, doesn't it? I'm a lucky curmudgeon: I bitched so much about Universal milking the VU that two friends offered to hook me up with digital rips of this, then Hickey (or some red-suited gent, he said) dropped the bona fide in my mailbox. Now I can stop wondering why they don't reissue 1969 Live. This pristine board tape is vastly superior to the versions used to produce the aforementioned used-to-be-my-favorite-VU-LP. While it doesn't make Felton/Klimek/Quine/Leegood/whoever-recorded-the-Hillside-Festival-and-Gymnasium-shows' recordings obsolete, it's an unalloyed pleasure to hear the Velvets playing with all instruments clearly audible, where you can understand all the lyrics. Even my wife noticed. The intimacy of the small room (which Sterling Morrison dismissed as unrepresentative) works in favor of these recordings, which allow us to hear the Lou-Sterl interplay more clearly than anywhere else, including the studio albums, and marvel at how good the VU and Nico songs sounded when played by the Yule-era unit.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Rocket From the Tombs' "Black Record"

To someone like  your humble chronicler o' events, who believes that Ohio is the secret music capital of America, it's a source of wonder to know that in 2015, members of Cleveland proto-punk pioneers Electric Eels, Mirrors, and Rocket From the Tombs have a new record out (as X___X) and are about to hit the road in the new year. (Rubber Gloves in Denton on January 20!) The arrival of a new Rocket From the Tombs LP in my mailbox yesterday was even more welcome -- a veritable candygram from the gods.

It seems inconceivable, considering their subsequent influence, that the "classic" Rocket From the Tombs lineup (the one with David Thomas, Peter Laughner, Craig Bell, Gene "Cheetah Chrome" O'Connor, and a rotating cast of drummers) only existed for about nine months back in '74-'75. That fractious outfit (documented on Smog Veil's 2002 The Day the Earth Met Rocket From the Tombs compilation) cast a long shadow, fragmenting into the contrarian punk art of Pere Ubu and the bad-boy rockaroll of the Dead Boys.

By now, it's been a dozen years since RFTT reconvened with Richard Lloyd, an old familiar from his Television days, standing behind the guitar in the onstage space once occupied by the late, lamented Laughner, and Pere Ubu's Steve Mehlman on drums. That lineup toured, cut a fine studio document of their retrospective set (Rocket Redux) and an album of new material (Barfly) that was completed as the band was fragmenting. First Lloyd departed, then Chrome, to be replaced by a pair of younger Clevelanders: Gary Siperko (Mofos, Whiskey Daredevils) and Buddy Akita (This Moment In Black History).

As a former record store geek, I find it fitting and proper that, even after embracing digital technology with an information-dense web presence, David Thomas -- whose aesthetic sensibility was formed in the early '70s -- should retain a reverence for The Romance of the Artifact, and indeed, the new RFTT record is sumptuously packaged, with the first pressing on silver vinyl. Even the download card, usually a disposable artifact, comes with artwork that's going to look spiffy on the shelf in my living room next to the hand-colored Leni Sinclair postcard of the MC5.

Black Record is the fruition of a deferred dream of Thomas' to collaborate with This Moment In Black History, CLE punks whose 2009 album Public Square sounds more important with every spin. Guitarist Buddy Akita is a member of both TMIBH and RFTT, and TMIBH drummer Lamont "Bim" Thomas will drum with X___X when they tour with his solo project, Obnox, in 2016.

The album also marks the return of Crocus Behemoth, the pseudonym Thomas was employing as a rockcrit when he originally formed RFTT as a magazine employee's amusement. His lyrics and vocals here serve notice that he still doesn't like it here much. His voice, which sounded like a warlock casting spells when he intoned "30 Seconds Over Tokyo"'s account of a wartime suicide mission way back in '75, has aged in interesting ways, becoming a crabbed and craggy thing of distressed beauty.

"Waiting for the Snow" blasts off with a blizzard of anomie laced with acceptance, suggesting that adult angst is more convincing than adolescent angst because it's grounded more in experience than in observation: "I'm sitting here / I'm waiting for the snow / That's no metaphor / That's something you'll never know." The title track explodes with an energy that's reminiscent, to these feedback-scorched ears, of the Dicks' "Rich Daddy," and carries a lyric that manages to simultaneously invoke rock history, Thomas' history, and the mortal terror of 21st century life: "Fools rush in / Worlds collide / Culture's a weapon / That's suicide."

This is followed by a brief "oldies set," starting with a tip o' the lid to RFTT's Pac Northwest kindred spirits, the Sonics (speaking of superannuated gents who released an album this year that rocks with energy and abandon worthy of players a third of their age), continuing with a version of what's arguably RFTT's best-known song, "Sonic Reducer," on which Siperko and Akita demonstrate forcefully that they're more than worthy replacements for Lloyd and Chrome. The eBow episode that introduces the tune and the second solo, which descends into fascinating realms of pure noise, add a modern edge to the punk classic.

"I Keep A File On You" rocks every bit as fiercely as the "oldies," which is appropriate to the feverish paranoia of its lyrics, while "Nugefinger" takes the piss out of Dubya's neighbor via a riff that alludes to, but stops short of appropriating the one from his "Stranglehold." I am probably alone in imagining that the backing voices are chanting "SEGER!" after the repeated "Listen, daddy-o." And in hearing the shade of Don Van Vliet in Thomas' musette blasts.

Turning the record over -- tactile experience is important here -- and we're afloat on "Spooky"'s waves of crashing minor chords, over which Thomas croaks an ode to a girl with "some funny kinds of ways." "Coopy (Schrodinger's Refrigerator)," the first single from the album, boasts a killer riff and more slash-and-burn guitar in support of Thomas' most dynamic vocal here. "Hawk Full of Soul" is an exercise in dynamics, with Lamont Thomas singing and shaking a tambourine behind Thomas, like a 21st century CLE punk version of Sam and Dave.

"Read It and Weep," written and sung by Bell, dates back to the original RFTT's last show but was curiously omitted from previous archival releases. And "Parking Lot At the Rainbow's End" closes the show on a suitably ambivalent note ("I'm going to be the one changing the tires for you"). Here and throughout, the chorus of voices puts me in mind of the one on the first MC5 album.

It's heartening to hear the sound of men who took up instruments to achieve catharsis 40 years ago and are still carrying the fire in their bellies today. Great bands don't need to break up. Ever. They just don't have to play together all the time.

ADDENDUM: B'deah, I'm an idiot. Lyrics are here.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Things we like

1) Musicologist-author-muso Allen Lowe always gives you More, and when you're time-and-attention challenged the way I am, it can take a minute to get through everything. His current release, In the Diaspora of the Diaspora, is a set of five CDs, all but one recorded this year, which you can purchase individually (a new thing in his discography), and I've been listening to them in my car, which is where I do my "deep" listening these days.

The absence in all but one case of Lowe's usual voluminous liner notes is indicative, perhaps, of a degree of explicatory exhaustion similar to that which befell FZ midway through his multi-volume You Can't Do That Onstage Anymore project. I Alone: The Everlasting Beauty of Monotony features the estimable pianist Matthew Shipp, half solo and half in group contexts, but is most notable to guitar freaks like your humble chronicler o' events for the presence of Michael Gregory Jackson on three tracks. There's more bop in his style than I remember from his '70s sides, and he does innaresting things with sustain and a whammy bar to boot. To these feedback-scorched ears, Shipp is heard to better advantage on Ballad for Albert, recorded a couple of months later, with a smaller ensemble.

Where A Cigarette is Smoked by Ten Men has Lowe playing vibrato-laden tenor as well as alto alongside clarinetist Zoe Christiansen, a player who combines modern ideas with a sound steeped in the history of her instrument. The spirit of Eric Dolphy is audibly present, both in the solos and in Lowe's writing. On We Will Gather When We Gather, featured guest Hamiet Bluiett fulminates with suppressed rage on baritone -- appropriate for a set that includes a dedication to the victims of the Charleston church shooting -- and coaxes fire from Lowe and tenorist Ras Moshe Burnett, but the big surprises are a trumpeter (Matt Lavelle) and guitarist (Ava Mendoza) who splatter and splinter their sounds in ways I respond to. Lowe's compositions here echo Mingus, with plenty of blues and blood in the mix.

The most forward-looking item in this series is also the oldest. Man With Guitar: Where's Robert Johnson? was recorded in 2013 and features Lowe alternating tracks on alto with ex-Miles sideman Gary Bartz in an ensemble that also includes both DJ Logic and Lowe mainstay Jake Millett on turntables and electronics, and Brian Simontacchi on trombone. Lowe always has a lot to say, and wants to share all of it. The net effect of this impulse is to reduce the likelihood that a lot of people will hear this music. A pity, as all of it is worth hearing. And We Will Gather When We Gather is essential.

2) Speaking of clarinet records, I've been quite enjoying one by the NYC-based saxophonist Sam Sadigursky, which he calls Follow the Stick. Not exactly an homage to Goodman-Hampton, Artie Shaw's Gramercy Five, Glenn Miller, and like that (although there is a cover of "String of Pearls" that updates that Miller Orchestra staple in the same way as Charlie Haden's Quartet West did for "Moonlight Serenade"), but more well-behaved than other latter-day practitioners of the "agony stick" like Dolphy/Braxton/Mitchell/John Carter/Don Byron. Best part is Sadigursky's graceful and elegant writing.

3) I go to very few shows these days, but January looks like it might be a big month for that, with Colorado prog giants Thinking Plague (see post below) coming to the Kessler on the 10th, X___X (CLE punk 'riginators including former Electric Eels/Mirrors/Rocket From the Tombs members, also reviewed elsewhere on this blog) and Obnox (modern day CLE punk beloved of Phil Overeem) at Rubber Gloves on the 20th, and my 'riginal guitar inspiration Nils Lofgren solo acoustic at the Kessler on the 30th. Yowzah! Meanwhile, next Friday (Oct. 20), Hush Puppy has the mighty FOGG (whom I've meant to see for a few months now) at formerly fonky Fred's along with the always exhilerating Fungi Girls, and headliners Quintron and Miss Pussycat. Maybe I'll even eat one of Damien Grober's stylin' hot dogs this time.

4) Also in rotation in the car: Fontanelle's Vitamin F, a startlingly accurate evocation of electric Miles Davis, played by Seattle dudes who record for doom metal label Southern Lord; Richie Duvall and Dog Truck, an indie '73 release by a bunch of slightly older-than-me cats from Long Island, playing jazz-rock from the moment before that of necessity meant fusion (imagine boarding the Chicago Transit Authority and getting off in Canterbury); and the Who's A Quick One, which I once thought was their worst album (I couldn't see It's Hard coming), but now find charming, documenting (particularly with the bonus-track addition of the Ready Steady Who EP and an Everly Brothers cover that could have been written for the 'orrible 'oo) a period when they might have become a surf cover band with Moon singing lead, and Entwistle's bass dominated their sound in a way it wouldn't once PT got his guitar tone together.