Monday, October 08, 2018

The Ballad of the Occasionals

After the collapse, at the end of 1998, of the blues band I'd put together to get out of the supporting-the-bar-for-three-hours-to-play-three-songs rut of the jams, I had this instrumental R&B band for a minute. I wanted something that could gig small rooms where my being on DUI probation would not be problematic, and I knew the woman who booked bands for Borders. Instrumental because I'd had some static with the previous band's frontman that I wanted to avoid repeating. (When I first proposed the idea to Professor Robert Cadwallader -- whom I met sitting in with Tiny & the Kingpins in Dallas, before he went on to spend many years as James Hinkle's ivory-tinkler -- he exclaimed, "We can't go out there without a singer. They'll kill us!"). R&B because it wasn't rehearsal-intensive, and there was already a bunch of guys who jammed at my duplex in Benbrook every Sunday.

Ron "The Velvet Hammer" Geida taught two of my kids guitar and had played in a rock band called the Civilians. He was from Springfield, Mass., had a nice touch and lots of melodic ideas. He went on to tour Europe with country rockers Jasper Stone, and serve as the resident Jeff Beck simulacrum for years of Wreck Room and Lola's jams. I don't remember how we found Dan Bickmore, who was a corporate attorney from Oregon but had drummed in a Tower of Power-type band there. Later on, Dan and I played alt-country and rock in bands that never got out of the shed before he disappeared back into the ether. Bass was the hardest position to fill. We started out with a guy named Bill (I forget his last name) who was obsessed with Kustom amps. I'd met him sitting in with Dave Anderson's band in Dallas. After timely pause, Bill was replaced by Duke Nishimura, a superior technician with whom I butted heads over his desire to cover the Yellowjackets. Duke in turn was replaced by Ron's buddy Layne McConnell, who'd been in the Civilians.

Besides Borders, we also played one gig at a coffee house in Cleburne, and an audition at 8.0's where Ron was inaudible due to his reluctance to hump a Twin downtown and the foldback weirded us all out to the point of falling apart in the middle of "Pick Up the Pieces." Ron subsequently hustled us another audition at the Flying Saucer, for which Layne was unwilling to rehearse due to the Cowboys being on TV, so I broke up the band after 13 months. Several months later, we regrouped at an open jam hosted by the frontman from the aforementioned blues band and played "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" -- which we'd learned very laboriously over the summer when Ron and I saw the Allmans play it with an extended intro that we copied -- cold. Almost made me wish we'd stuck together. And learned more material.

I ran into Ron a little while ago, and he told me he had some tapes of the band he'd been thinking about digitizing. Daron Beck very kindly consented to do the transfers, and Ron and I were left with the task of listening to four shows, seven sets (one of the sets wasn't recorded) of ourselves, almost 20 years ago -- an exercise that feels a lot like brainwashing. The first show, with Duke on bass, was clearly the best, recording quality-wise, with a good balance between instruments and a definition the others lacked. You could even hear the tonal differences between Ron's 335 and my Telecaster. (Ron solos first until the last three songs, when we had the good guitar bat cleanup.) I realized, listening, that I played a couple of these songs ("Cissy Strut," "Chameleon") with Lee Allen years later at the Wreck Room, and one ("Rock Me Baby," although not this arrangement) with Lady Pearl Johnson at the Swing Club. Days gone by. Anyway, now there's a little digital home (on Soundcloud) for a band hardly anybody heard, who only lasted for a minute. So there.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Things we like: Self Sabotage Records

Ordering my copy of The Young Mothers' Morose via Discogs, I blundered into the online store of the distributor for awesome Austin indie Super Secret Records and their experimental arm Self Sabotage Records, some of whose wares we carry at Panther City Vinyl, and was rewarded with a stack of other releases I'm just now going through.

On the recent LP Wires, guitarist Jonathan F. Horne and cellist Randall Holt use all the tonal, timbral, and textural possibilities of their respective instruments to create a cinematic music based on density, depth, and repetition. The cello is the predominant solo voice, but both instruments take turns looping arpeggios and ostinatos or daubing colors from an electronic palette. On Knest's Honorary Bachelors of Arts CD -- Self Sabotage's inaugural release from 2015 -- drummer Thor Harris adds his crash, thump, funk, and scintillating tuned percussion to this mixture. The sounds on offer run the gamut from crushing rock to invigorating modern chamber music. Among the latter, my jam is the beguiling "Motes Skate in Shafts of Sun-Raking the Table," which sounds pretty much like what its John Fahey-esque title describes. The propensity for verbose titles carries over to Holt's solo CD, Inside the Kingdom of Splendor and Madness, on which his instrument's lyricism and penchant for long tones come to the fore. Horne also plays on Call It In, a CD of noir-ish rustic rock tunes (really!) by songwriter Sean Morales that we like real much around la casa.

En Las Montanas de Excesos is a half hour plus space rock improv marathon combining the estimable talents of drummer Chris Corsano, bass colossus Ingebrigt Haker Flaten, pedal steel virtuoso Bob Hoffnar, and experimental guitar stalwart Henry Kaiser for a session that's out to lunch -- same place Sun Ra and Hawkwind eat at. Side one of the LP starts out in oddly metered syncopation before heading into galactic meltdown. Side two reintroduces pulse over a gliding Hoffnar ride through an electrical storm and into a celestial drone that hits like Pete Cosey sitting in with Neu! The bassist also has a solo outing, Hong Kong Cab, under the rubric Ingebrigt Haker Flaten's Time Machine that showcases his facility on acoustic and electric instruments as well as apocalyptic noise freakouts. Finally, Victor Lovlorne's eponymous debut CD is all lugubrious melody, sounding for all the world like a minimalist Leonard Cohen as he applies the most skeletal electronic background imaginable to his soul's-dark-night ruminations. I still need to check out the self-titled debut LP from exhalants, who come highly recommended by a Fort Worth muso I respect a lot. But now I'm hip that Self Sabotage is an imprint to watch.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Obnox's "Bang Messiah"

Genre mashups are the thing today, with dub production techniques popping up on pop-country records, and young bands conflating surf, garage, and punk like they were always one thing. Thus, it's unsurprising that Obnox mastermind Lamont "Bim" Thomas has used his prolific solo project away from This Moment In Black History to fuse garage rock and hip-hop. As Living Colour once said, "You ask me why I play this music / Well it's my culture, so naturally I use it." Or as Oliver Lake would have it, "Put all my food on the same plate." It just makes sense for musos to use everything they know, every time out of the gate.

I saw Obnox win over the young Denton crowd -- I realize I'm superannuated for club shows, but this felt like the Children's Crusade -- at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studio my last time there before it closed in 2016, in between Bukakke Moms' improv free-for-all and X___X's stately punk jazz (for whom Bim kicked the traps that night). In between sets, he hung out making friends with the young fans behind the club. No star trip here, just DIY-ism at its purest.

Working with producer Steve Albini on Obnox's tenth full-length release, Bang Messiah (after MFKN RMX the Bang Messiah, who provided beats and programming here), Thomas crafted a sonic setting that swaths his live act's lo-fi immediacy in clouds of hallucinatory ambiance. From the jarring disorientation of the backwards groove that kicks open the door on "Steve Albini Thinks We Suck," Bang Messiah juxtaposes P-Funk falsetto vocals with riffs that alternately snarl and thump, veering into sinister video game music ("Baby Godmother") and creepy Barney the Dinosaur referents ("Cream," awash in keyboards), simultaneously evoking Eddie Hazel and Tony Iommi in a single solo ("I Hate Everything") before the "Cosmic Slop" groove of "40th St. Black" reminds us of how far we haven't come since the '70s.

Turn the record over, and "Enter the Hater" bowls you over with retro punk pounding before "Find My Way" carries you off to the arena with its synthesizer hook. "Rally On the Block" pulls you back down to the ground with its super heavy funk, leading into the pulsing throb of "Wake and Quake" and its evocation of '70s Blaxploitation soundtracks. Then descend into the maelstrom of "Off Ya Ass" and its Godzilla-groan cacophony before "Fluss" takes you out with a backwards groove like the one that brought you here. It's a different trip than, say, D'Angelo's Black Messiah, but one worth taking.