Pandora – The Identity Thief

imgresSo, here’s how it all went down:  I was early for an appointment in San Francisco, so I stopped off for a cappuccino at this run-down little joint called Wicked Grounds. (I know, I know, I should have known better, and I did,  I swear, but my distended bladder made other decisions.) Supposedly, this place is some kind of kink palace by night. I personally have a hard time imagining how well cock rings and coffee interrelate, but who am I to judge?  (The coffee was terrible, by the way, I do not recommend it.)  The chipper young lady behind the counter asked me how I was doing.  I responded that I was quite well, thank you.  And, of course, polite midwestern bloke that I am, I inquired as to her well-being.  She said, and I quote, “Anytime I can come into work and listen to music like this, it’s a good day.”  So far so good.  I listened for a moment… it sounded familiar… so I asked who the artist was.  (Now here’s where it gets dicey.)  She said, “I don’t know, it’s Pandora.”

Let’s try that a few different ways:

I don’t fucking know, it’s Pandora.

I don’t know, it’s fucking Pandora.

Fuck, I don’t know, it’s Pandora.

Each time, the statement has a slightly different connotation, but one thing remains: Pandora.

Pandora’s whole thing is supposedly giving artists an avenue to a larger audience.  I cannot tell you the amount of times, however, that I have walked into a cafe, heard something I liked, asked the person at the counter who it was, and heard the inane response quoted above.  The artist being played in Wicked Grounds, by the way, was The Pogues  (I figured it out after the lyrics kicked in) who just happen to have been one of the most inspirational bands of the 80’s.  They played a frenetic hybrid of punk and traditional Irish music with a lead singer (Shane MacGowan) that was one part Cormac McCarthy, two parts rye whiskey, and a hefty shot of 50 grit sandpaper. The original name of the band was Pogue Mahone, which was Gaelic for “kiss my arse”.  Right?… My kind of band.  I, of course, informed the nice barista as to the identity of the artist and went back to my table to finish my sludge-o-cino. (She did not seem to much care.) The next artist was Van Morrison and the Chieftans. The next was Richard Thompson. The next was a cool band called Cordelia’s Dad. The next was The Waterboys. I sat there falling into a deeper and deeper depression because I knew, in my soul, that, were I to ask, “Who is this?”, the answer would be : Pandora.

Time was folks would pride themselves on knowing an artist when they heard them.  We’d wait until the radio DJ would finish a set so that we could hear who the artists were, so that we could go out and buy their records, so that we could hear it again, so that we could play it for our friends, etc.  So what is going on now?  Here’s what I think.  Pandora (and Spotify for that matter) is the devil.  And it is stealing artists’ identities.

Picture this, if you will, as contrast:


Bjork in her home in Whateverthefuck, Iceland, where it is cold.

Bjork going through the most painful break-up of her adult life.

Bjork chronicling it all in brittle, heart-wrenching, lyrical form.

Bjork working by candlelight, writing, with a quill, all of the beautiful string arrangements that would adorn these lyrics. (I made up the candlelight part for effect. Well, the quill too…)

Bjork reliving all of the moments of this painful experience through the catharsis that is her art.

Bjork carefully recording what would be the stunning Vulnicura and releasing these utterly personal moments into the world like so many pieces of her soul.

Now, Bjork is being played at a cafe and the barista says, “I don’t know, it’s Pandora.”

See what I mean? Wouldn’t it piss you off if you poured your heart and soul into a project for freakin’ YEARS, and you heard someone say , “I don’t know, it’s Pandora.” Wouldn’t you want to throw your coffee across the room and scream, “No!  It is not Pandora! It is me! Me I say! This person residing in this skin, standing here all human and shit.  It is not Pandora! They have simply stolen it from me and given it to you lame-asses for free!  I now have to work at Home Depot just to pay my rent whilst Pandora execs are out in their freakin’ yachts, martini in hand, gnawing on pieces of my arm with their fat, ugly teeth!”

…or something like that…

Bjork’s new album is a beautiful statement reflecting the transfiguration of pain into art.  She, wisely, kept it off of Pandora and Spotify. Here’s what she had to say, “Guess what? This streaming thing just does not feel right. I don’t know why, but it just seems insane,'” Björk said. “To work on something for two or three years and then just, ‘Oh, here it is for free.’ It’s not about the money; it’s about respect, you know? Respect for the craft and the amount of work you put into it.”

Thank you Bjork.

I’m one of those artists that Pandora and Spotify and their demonic ilk are claiming to help with their services.  That is simply this:  a bunch of crap. Those services are just a way to devalue art while simultaneously filling the devil’s pocketbook. I pulled my stuff off of every streaming service I possibly could. I wonder what would happen if we all did that.  How long could they survive without artist’s arms to gnaw on. I, personally, like to picture this:

Police have been summoned to a penthouse suite due to an ungodly stench.  Breaking down the door, they find a dried up cadaver. Gripped in its leathery skeletal hand is a remote. On the stereo, a disembodied voice repeats the following: “Sorry, that selection is not available.” The officers take in the scene: humeri, radii, and ulnae scraped clean and scattered pell mell on the Persian rug.  Records and cd’s with the bizarre markings that reek of voodoo and the dark arts. They examine the corpse and one cop asks: Who is this guy? And the other replies: “I don’t know.”  He points to the stereo and says, “But that is Pandora.”

Under the Radar – 2014

I am, at this very moment, listening to one of my picks for this here 2014 list.  It is Pere Ubu’s new cd. I’ve been listening to Pere Ubu since, oh, about 1979.  They are still great.  Now, I realize that I have posted jack-shit since about a year ago. I have really great excuses for that, which are none of your damn business.  However, what is, and should be your business is the incredibly fine music that has been unleashed into the airwaves this past year.  Despite the fact that the music industry is one of the most fucked up, culturally displaced, ignorant, pimp-ified, degrading, demoralizing, and generally criminal agencies in the western world, artists (and labels with a modicum of dignity) have continued to defy expectations and release music that surprises, thrills, and, for me at least, bolsters my belief that human beings should not, after all, push themselves to extinction. Here is what I do when I am depressed:  I go into my office where I house most of my cd’s, I look around at all of that recorded music, and I say to myself, “Wow”, I say, “that is a lot of great art… Humanity should not die off.”  That is what I do. you should try it. It works. I realize that you are saying to yourself, “God, lacunamusic-guy, just shut up about all of your pseudo-philosophical bullshit and tell me what to buy.”  To that I say this: Sometimes, dear reader, one needs to wade through another’s bullshit in order to get to their essence.  This is something you will not be able to do on Twitter. To your life on Twitter, I say this: Stop it.  You are destroying your attention span. Shut off your phone and listen to a whole cd, lp, download (if that is your bag)… listen to it in its entirety.  That is the artist’s message to you.  It cannot be assimilated in 100 characters or less.  It needs to be taken as a whole.  Give your time to another human being. I’m about to list a whole shitload of cool albums. Don’t, for God’s sake, just listen  to soundbites.  Hear them out.  Listen until it gets through to you. You may decide you don’t like their message, but you will have grown, in your soul, by giving them the time and the space.

Alright?  Alright.

Herein lies the LIST: (in no particular order, just the one that was most convenient)

imgresPere Ubu – Carnival of Souls

How is it that David Thomas has not changed a bit in the past almost 50 years? How is it that I am surprised by each and every release by this dude? I saw him a couple of years ago at a warehouse space in Oakland. All by himself; him and his bandoneon. He also had Ralph Carney to verbally abuse and collaborate with.  (Ralph shows up at almost every show I see in the Bay Area. He always has his horn. He somehow seems to make it up on the stage. It is a mystery.) Somehow, he (Thomas) gripped us all in his world of existential blues. Even if you don’t agree with his philosophy, you can’t deny that he is on to something. This album, like the first album I heard by Pere Ubu (The Modern Dance), makes me smile and shake my head in disbelief  at every turn. Thomas and his merry band of miscreants have created another masterpiece of Dada-istic, bizarre musicality. It is beautiful in its craggy sincerity.

10846223_10153414040616110_2976771578521010518_nMyles Boisen – Past- Present- Future (2) {Abstractions and Blood Red Blues}

I’ll admit… this one is personal.  I really like Myles.  I’d like you to first gaze at the blurry photo of him on the cover of this fine (fine) cd.  He may hate this, but to me, this perfectly represents Myles’ incredible humility.  Perpetually the guy adding tasteful licks, outstanding production, and ridiculously perfect solos to others’ work, Myles has a propensity to avoid the foreground.  Here, thank the gods, he has decided to fade into the foreground.  I could not put it more perfectly than Mr. Chris Grady: “Myles definitely shines here in a huge way, but he also goes wayyy wayyy deep on this one and pulls out the most beautifully stark, dark, blood-red, tear your soul out, solos here. Just put the needle down on “The Mean Texas Wind” and feel your jaw drop and the nerve endings shoot out of the pores of your skin… It hurts to move and then brings immense pleasure at the same time. This is the real deal folks….” Yes, Chris.  So very, very true.  Myles not only puts on display his compositional genius, but also his deep knowledge and assimilation of music history.  It’s all there. Stunning record. Brilliant all around.

imgresMinus 5 – Scott the Hoople in the Dungeon of Horror

Did the reference to Mott the Hoople escape you?  If so, please hit the little “x” on the window tab in your browser now.  You should not be here.  You have made a terrible mistake and ended up on this blog by some hideous accident.  If you are still reading, then you know Scott McCaughey’s pedigree and are probably getting all wet in the underdrawers at the thought of a (brace yourself) 5-LP set of unreleased material.  Scott’s reference to the late, great band of Sir Ian Hunter only  serves to reify the value of this fine collection of music. Each album is a world of its own, yet the whole thing holds together… well… like everything McCaughey has ever ventured to touch.  If you are already a fan of the Young Fresh Fellows or The Minus Five, this is a special treat. If you are not, do yourself a favor and go listen to it.  One of the best “pop” songwriters out there.  He’s funny, touching, smart, and has a knack for creating the earworm you don’t mind living with for a day.  Fine stuff.

imgresCarla Bozulich – Boy

This is the album that made me stop writing about music.  I’m just sort of kidding.  As soon as it took the first spin in my cd player I realized that this is one that somehow defies words.  Carla has penned some songs here that flow straight from the netherworlds of the soul, foreign and so familiar.  They are perfect specimens, stripped of all varnish.  I’d say this is pert near perfect as albums go. It is timeless, intelligent, musical beyond your wildest expectations; yet deep and impenetrable. About many albums that appear in virtually everyone’s top ten for the year, I avoid like the plague.  This one is an exception. For this one I pump my skinny fists and say, “Yes.” Absolutely deserving of any and all praise from anyone anywhere.  Five fuckin’ huge stars for this one.

imgresJoe Henry – Invisible Hour

Joe Henry should be making it into everyone’s list everywhere.  An American treasure is this man.  Invisible Hour is just one more entry into an already stellar discography.  With each and every new recording, Henry continues to blossom into one of the greatest songwriters this here US of A has yet to produce.  Henry has a way of bringing a deep sense of humanity into all of his albums. Listening to his music almost always touches the same poignant spots in my spirit as Steinbeck.  The music is spacious, and smoky; the lyrics perfect.  Henry is a writer’s writer.  To attempt to pen words that encapsulate human experience is perhaps one of the most difficult of endeavors. Henry makes it appear effortless.  For instance:

I take all this to be holy

If futile, uncertain and dire

Our union of fracture, our dread everlasting
This beautiful, desperate desire. (Grave Angels)

Dear Lord, how could this be more beautiful, and true.  You can listen to Joe Henry for mellifluous melodies, you can listen to Henry for poetry that rubs right up against the very fabric of what it means to be in this human skin, or you can listen to Henry for the absolutely stunning musicianship and perfect arrangements. But, for God’s sake, listen to Henry.


imgresPort Mone – Thou

I was first exposed to Port Mone through an utterly amazing Ukrainian band called DakhaBrakha (whom I had the absolute delight to see live – and free – in San Francisco a few months back).  These two bands produced a lovely cd together in 2012 entitled Хмелева Project. From that point on I was hooked but, to my dismay, there was naught to be found as far as recorded output.  Imagine my glee when they announced the release of Thou. I was not disappointed.  Like DakhaBrakha, Port Mone’s music is as deep and rich as the heritage from which it springs.  Yet this is far from “folk” or “world” music (terms I, personally, loathe anyway). This is something new, something uniquely human. Perhaps as the consciousness of this here globe begins to coalesce, and eviscerate what we perceive as separateness, the arts will begin to glow from the humus of the old paradigms.  Perhaps we will see/hear something closer to the connectedness {to the earth, to nature, to one another} of experience that is present in the music of Port Mone.  Fine album indeed.

imgresCircle (ex-Falcon) – Leviathan

This album marks the beginning of an obsession.  It all started with a review from WIRE magazine (the bliss and bane of my existence) on a release by a dude named Jussi Lehtisalo (The Complete Solo Works).  I bought it, listened to it, loved it; and as is my wont, I began to do a little research as to who this dude was, where he came from, and what else he did.  Little did I know the freakin’ treasure chest (or Pandora’s Box) I had unwittingly peeked into.  Those of you already into Circle are chuckling with wry little grins on your smug little faces, because you know what happened next.  I now have (proudly with embarrassment) probably 40 related albums which I have been absolutely relishing for the past year.  And they just keep comin’: Pharaoh Overlord, Kuusumun Profeetta, Rättö Ja Lehtisalo, and on and on.  This a prolific bunch of Fins!  The music: (on this disc) imagine this: You have been captured by Vikings. They take you to their cave and pull out a bunch of interesting stringed instruments, some drums, maybe a bass, and a keyboard. Before they stab you and steal all of your gold, they treat you to the most intriguing – sometimes droney, most-times gripping – and hypnotic music you have ever heard.  You don’t mind dying. Because you have just witnessed something purely exquisite.  But they let you go, because it was all a joke.  Finnish humor. You run home, happy to still be alive, and start buying albums by them. The next one is some combination of Can and Neu! on speed; the next Can, Neu!, and a bit of Faust on barbiturates; the next a bunch of goblins in a dank underground cavern improvising goblin folk… You get the idea.  Every album an adventure.  This one is where it began for me.  Which will it be for you? Hm?

imgresArve Henricksen – The Nature of Connections

On the Rune Grammofon website (awesome label by the way), they describe this album as “seductive”.  I’d say that is a pretty damn good descriptor.  Those already familiar with his work will not necessarily be surprised as he has not strayed too terribly far from previous releases, but really, who gives a fuck when the music is this beautiful?  He could keep doing the same thing forever and I will just keep buying it. What’s wrong with iterations of beauty anyway? Faulkner did it.  For those of you who have only heard his work through his other group Supersilent, you will be surprised.  This has those melodies that dig straight into your heart, and my tear ducts. They draw you into their world like a siren song without the claws.  The pieces are penned by Arve’s collaborators – talented bunch all – and are all exquisite, crystalline, fragile little musical palaces.  His decision toward this kind of generosity, I believe, says a lot about his spirit as an artist.  You can hear it in the music.  This is an absolutely gorgeous album.

imgresSwans – To Be Kind

Dear Lord, where will it end?  How many brilliant albums will Michael Gira release before he just goes up – poof – in a little ball of flames?  When I first heard Greed back in the late 80’s, I was hooked.  Many, many albums later I’m still astounded. Gira’s music is mesmerizing.  (Mesmerizing – named after Franz Mesmer – who theorized that there was a natural energetic transference that occurred between all animate and inanimate objects that he called animal magnetism; later referred to as mesmerism.) Fits Swans music to a tee: animal.  How Gira combines such incredible intelligence with such a visceral music escapes my grasp.  But Swans has never been just Gira but more like some wild beast tempered only by the volume control on your stereo.  It is very obviously a band effort. After listening to one of Gira’s Kickstarter projects wherein he puts some demos on display, it is clear that Swans have become a multi-headed creature. The incredible thing – one of them anyway – about this record is the restraint.  It is a word I tend to use to speak about Neubauten as well. It is a word I would have associated with neither band 30 years ago. Quite the opposite actually.  Swans give songs time. They rely on the fact that your heart will continue to beat throughout the 2 hour running time of this music. They rely on their talent to transfix, and then to implode, before they ex-plode. This album haunts,  jeers, delights, frightens, scorns, relishes; it loves the very sounds that bring it into four dimensions. A million stars.

imgresTuxedomoon – Pink Narcissus

Be warned – vinyl only.  Another one with a long, storied, brilliant career – Tuxedomoon. Originally from San Francisco, they gave up on the US in the late 80’s and never came back.  Though they never stopped loving SF, they couldn’t seem to muster up any kind of real audience in the states.  Those of you that know me, know what I have to say about that. So I’ll just keep my trap shut.  Pink Narcissus is just what you would expect from a Tuxedomoon album – lush, just this side of the bizarre, a touch of French cafe, a dash of theatah, accomplished musicianship, a trickle of humor, and more than enough imagery to occupy one’s auditory synapses for years to come.  Let it be said, this here is a soundtrack, a route well traversed by the band, but a soundtrack that stands firmly on its own merits.  I don’t think I could put it better than Eric Torres on Pitchfork: “Pink Narcissus the album is a lush, sometimes unnerving trip into the dark, exposing the erotic mysteries and desires so often obscured beneath it.” Yep.  Good stuff.  I’m so glad they are still making music.  Thank you, Europe, for appreciating great art.  Fuck you, United States, for forcing artists like Tuxedomoon and Carla Bozulich (yes, that’s right, she left too) to relocate just so they can make a meager living.  There, I said it anyway. Buy this  album while you still can. They only made 1000. You can download it too, if you’re that type.

imgresBeck – Morning Phase

Confession: This list is traditionally devoted to stuff that floats under the radar. Much of it does not have much press. So I know what you’re saying to yourself… “Lacunamusic guy has sold out, gone commercial, just trying to get more readership, probably getting sponsors for his page, whatta dick!”  Well, you’re right, I am a dick.  But that’s beside the point. I’m writing about this record because it is just so damn good.  I’ll admit, I really like Beck. I’ve got just about everything he’s released. I’ve been a fan from early on.  I’m not going to say much about this record. You can find it all over the interweb. But just go listen to this one song: Turn AwayIf this song doesn’t turn your very soul to butter, then you have no soul.  It is simply sublime.  The whole record is masterful. Done with skill, restraint (there’s that word again, I must be getting old), and heart.  That’s it. I’m done.

imgresScott Walker + SunnO))) – Soused

I’ll just say one thing right up front: if you don’t like Scott Walker and you don’t like SunnO))), then just skip this part of the list, because you are not going to like this album. However, if you are like me and love Scott Walker, and you love SunnO))), you are probably going to love  this album! It’s everything you would expect.  Don’t be fooled though, this is a Scott album. He is most definitely calling most of the shots. But really, who cares?  To have SunnO)))’s monster riffs embellishing Scott’s alternative reality is, to me, an absolute delight.  In accord with all of Scott’s post-Tilt records, it is brimming with philosophical, historical, and literary references, some of which he is kind enough to fill us in on in the liner notes.  Being a book geek, I just love that shit.  My hope here is that this is not the last collaboration between these two icons.  I’d like to see this idea taken to its fruition, or approach the kind of climax that it has the potential to approach.  This is a record that seeps under your skin. You’ll find yourself reaching for it when you feel that familiar existential tug on what you perceive to be your soul.  You will play it in hopes that you will be assured that you do, in fact, have a soul.  As it closes, you will be satisfied in the fact that you will never be satisfied. Ah, to be human.

imgresNoe Venable – Cascadia

I’m a little biased on this one, because I know Noe, not that well, but well enough to be certain that she is one of the finest types of human beings on this here planet.  She is gentle, kind, intelligent, and filled with wonder.  All of this pours like silver into this album.  It is poetic, graceful, brilliantly played by a group of sensitive and ridiculously talented musicians – most notably Todd Sickafoose – whom anyone with an ear for creativity should check out. The songs float on a bed of strings, dulcimers, piano, chorus, percussion, zithers, and of course, Noe’s exquisite voice.  The words are inhabited by spirits of the wild, souls of the departed, poetry that defines sublime. Such an interesting word that.  One whose definition has been watered down somewhat.  In Wordsworth’s time the word sublime meant – of such beauty or grandeur as to inspire fear or wonder.  This is the world that Noe inhabits. Not only does she inhabit this world, she brings it alive for all of us who live out here. She makes it real and makes us want to believe – in the connectedness of all things, in a categorical panentheism so rejected by this too Christian of cultures. This is a panentheism that our planet desperately needs at this final hour of the industrial age.  Noe’s music is, to me, a sign of our species’ awakening.  Do yourself a favor, go buy this from her website. Tell her how much you appreciate the time, effort, and depth of spirit that it took for her to unleash this album into our world. I think she’d appreciate it.

imgresHauschka – Abandoned City

Just look at that cover.  Now imagine the soundtrack.  Now imagine that said soundtrack would, in the end, make you feel like there was hope for humanity.  Paradoxical eh?  Welcome to Abandoned City.  Hauschka is the brainchild of German pianist, Volker Bertelmann,  (Nice guy, by the way. I got to meet him when he played here in SF this past year.) Though Bertelmann wears his Cage influence on his sleeve, his music ends up skirting comparison to the late great composer.  Running his piano through a series of effects and abusing it with all manner of junk – vibrators, nails, wood, foil, stuffed toys, and God knows what else, Bertelmann has taken the prepared piano a step or two forward (or back) from the precise preparation of Cage and his ilk.  The pieces on Abandoned City have all of the bizarre unexpected noises you’d expect (I know) from a prepared piano – the drums, the buzzing, the plinks and plunks – with the added thrill of Reich-ian ostinati and German drama.  I must say, it was truly incredible to witness this stuff live.  And what’s more, it looked like he was having a buttload of fun.  You can hear the fun in the cd as well.  High five to Bertelmann.  Stunning album.

imgresTim Bowness – Abandoned Dancehall Dreams

Where can one even begin with Tim Bowness?  One of the great Romantics of our time he is.  You’ll notice that I capitalized “Romantics”.  There was a reason for that.  Bowness hearkens back to that particular period (one of my favorite periods by the way) of philosophy – Romanticism.  This is the time of Blake and Wordsworth, of Schelling, Goethe, and Fichte, of Schubert and Chopin. It was the revival of Plato, and later the victim of its own self absorption.  Too bad, ’cause it was really on to something special. Fortunately for all of us, that particular stream of integral philosophy is making a comeback.  Hopefully we’ll all still be alive to see it.  Anywayyy, back to the subject at hand.  I must agree with many of the pundits out there that this may well be one of the very best things Bowness has done in any incarnation of his musical self (no-man, Samuel Smiles, or otherwise).  It is both grand and subtle, confessional and universal, literate and personal.  It lives up to all that gave permission for this kind of art to be in the world. In other words: Chopin would like it.  Liszt might like it even more.  I like to picture the both of them, casually sipping their absinthe, Bowness crooning in the background, eyes are closed, fire is crackling, edges of mouths slightly upturned, all is right in the world.  Thank you Tim, for so many years of beauty. I look forward to many more. And from the sound of it, I’m thinking that you’re nowhere near slowing down.

Honorable Mentions (only because I’m taking pity on your poor taxed attention span, not because these records are any less great).

Motorpsycho – Demon Box – Actually a repress. But, damn, what a repress!  And what a band. I love these guys.

Zoviet France – Patina Pooling – This one for the incredible music and the sheer fucking audacity of putting out a double album set enclosed in a rusted metal sleeve.  Here’s what The Vinyl Factory had to say: “This record is so industrial you need to watch out for rust! No seriously, you do. The 2x 180g vinyl is wrapped in weathered and laser-etched reclaimed steel sleeve and packaged with artefacts salvaged from a burnt-out American warehouse in the ‘80s. As a result, it weighs a ton and the rust does spread. As impractical as that may be, it’s beautifully fitting for the music of Patina Pooling  – a haunting ‘call and response of residue and hybrid’ between industrial pioneers, :zoviet*france: and sound scavengers, Fossil Aerosol Mining Project.”

Mirel Wagner – When the Cellar Children See the Light of Day – Pure haunt, this one.  Imagine Tracy Chapman, trapped in a closet, peering through the slats as Kathy Bates stalks around with a hammer and some belts…  Now couple that with dark Appalachian beauty. Now you’ve got it.

Jenny Hval/Susanna – Meshes of Voice – Simply breathtaking this one. Two great voices that have transcended whatever expectations we may have placed upon them.  Stunning release.


And there you have it.

Remember: Making records is a costly endeavor.  If you go and download music or stream it from one of those fuckin’ parasites like Spotify or Pandora or their ilk, then you are a bad person.  You are stealing from artists.  Would you take a seven-year-old’s bicycle from them?  Would you steal a pitcher of lemonade from their stand?  That’s what it’s like.  So : Stop it!  Don’t do that anymore!  Ok? Ok.

Something’s Happening Here (But I Don’t Know What It Is)

Bass Line Dada

Bass Line Dada

Something odd has been going on in lacunamusic land over the past few days.  Something that has not occurred in the past several years of its existence.  Something that we have heard happens sometimes… This: a bunch of people all over this little blue planet read the words scribbled herein.  It was a little like those dreams where you suddenly realize that you are at work in your onesies, with those rhino slippers that your spouse got you for your birthday as a gag gift.  Or that feeling when someone opens your bedroom door while you are lip-synching and air-guitaring Born to Run in your underwear… in front of a mirror… with sunglasses.  Getting the picture?  I kind of thought I was doing this thing all by myself.  All of a sudden I look up and there’s 500 people gazing in my window.  Holy Mother of Baby Jesus, I thought, I am an overnight sensation!  I’d better step up my game; why, a Nobel Prize could be just around the corner.  As one of my hero’s uncle was quoted as saying, “With great power there must also come great responsibility.” (Uncle Ben)

So I began to ruminate upon possible topics with which I could solidify my newfound fame.  I tried at one point to write about philosophy but only other philosophers really give a crap and they don’t read blogs.  Climate change is important I think, but what a downer.  Space travel is a catchy subject but it always leads back to climate change. Government torture seems like a fruitful avenue but the last thing I need is the NSA crawling up my ass.  And then there’s the all the fuckin’ profanity I use!  How would I explain that to Oprah? I found myself in a real live bonafide quandary.  I must publish for READERSHIP.  God only knows what could be right around the corner: book deals, articles for People Magazine, spreads for GQ, Hollywood!  Suddenly, just this morning as a matter of fact, I realized – Holy flying fuck!  This is precisely what happened to me when I made a thousand copies of my cd!  Instead of simply being about the thing in itself, it becomes about other people’s reactions to the thing (see: Why I Quit Music). I was going along just fine, writing whatever the hell I wanted, maybe chuckling at my own juvenile sense of humor periodically, but really just writing for me – because I like the act of constructing a nice paragraph, playing around with this fine English language, being kind of flip.  Why? because I was in my underwear rockin’ out to Springsteen.

In my last post I prattled on most vehemently about the state of the music scene.  Apparently a LOT of people feel the same way, but if you are a musician you’d better not talk shit about the music scene or KAPOW! you are out on your skinny little ass.  Since, as I stated earlier, I quit music, I really couldn’t care less what people think.  Of course there was the lone butt-wipe who said something like,”Maybe if he put as much thought into his music and his audience, he wouldn’t be stuck with 800 cd’s.” This guy obviously missed the point completely. But as I said, hundreds of people resonated with the sentiments.  Back in the 90’s I was involved in a couple of different “bands”.  Neither of them could have given a rat’s ass about audience, or marketing, or online music sales, or any of the other crap that has subsumed the world of the present-day artist.

And you know what?  Here was the novel thing about that: it was fun.

One of those bands was called Bass Line Dada.  BLD was a ridiculously endearing little outfit that was a virtual casserole of genres … and an absolute train-wreck live.  I do believe that might have been the reason people so enjoyed our shows.  When I joined the band I played everything from treated recorder to xylophone to hand drums to guitar and banjo (few of which I had the slightest inkling how to play).  We were fronted by the most charmingest of poet/performers (Daniel Ari, who is, as we speak, putting the finishing touches on a brilliant collection of poetry/art: see his blog @ Fights With Poems), and augmented on Flying V Bass by The Reverend Doctor “Blackie” Holzberg.  (I was nicknamed Doctor Dark due to my penchant for penning such radio friendly classics as The Ballad of Lydia ShermanThe Gashleycrumb Tinies {which holds the record for highest body count of any song ever recorded} and The Ballad of the Stalker.)  Daniel donned the moniker of The Fang.  On our second, and unfortunately final, album we recorded his theme song (lyrics by Nervous Norvus):

Now here is the thing:  The thing is this:  Everywhere we played, people came.  We played our cd release concert for our first album Shoulder of a Hungry Man at The Starry plough pub in Berkeley.  We did the unthinkable and opened up for ourselves incognito as The Tony Clifton Experience.  Watch:

The Tony Clifton Experience live @ The Starry Plough

I mentioned a “couple” of “bands”.  The other was likely the most bizarre and neurotically lovable act this here Area of the Bay has ever witnessed: The Hand Shakes.  And, yes, it is supposed to be two words.  Narration cannot adequately convey how hilariously disturbed were these performances.  Thus I insert here a “documentary” on the life and times of The Hand Shakes:

I can hear your desperate implorations:  Please man, get to the fucking point!  You are asking yourselves, out of sheer self preservation, why is he prattling on about his past glories? Is he nothing but a bitter old man, pining on for days of yore?  The answer to that dear reader is no, and yes.  I am not a bitter old man, but I am most definitely pining.  There are a few salient points here that I’d like to bring to the fore.  (Thank God, you are saying to your computer screen.)

Point Number 1: Almost every show we did was packed.

Point Number 2: We did practically no advertising.

Point Number 3: When people said they would come, they came.

Point Number 4: People bought cd’s (when we had them).

Point Number 5: Everyone paid attention, rather than gazing at their hand-held device, or taking pictures with their hand-held device, or telling all of their friends and fans and followers what they were doing on their hand-held device.

Point Number 6:  We had fun.

Now tell me honestly all you artists out there:  how many of you can say the same about your shows?  To all of the above mentioned points? I’m imagining not a whole hell of a lot of you.  Something bad is happening to the human species and I’ll tell you this: it’s not good.  Here’s a theory… Have you noticed the proliferation of zombie-themed entertainment of late?  Now, you don’t have to agree with this theory yet, but later I’ll ask you to agree.  Think to yourself, what are the qualities of a zombie?  Besides the obvious… flesh-munching.  They travel in hordes.  They stare blankly.  They only pay attention to what’s in front of them.  They are in their own little world.  Their world is all about one thing.  Ok.  What does that remind you of?  Of course!  People with their fuckin’ hand-held devices!

We live in a world of lonely fame.  Each and every stupid utterance has the potential to reach millions.  Each and every idiotic antic can be recorded and posted for all the world to see and respond to with something equally as idiotic.  We have become attention zombies. So where does this leave the artist, who actually has something good to say (or not)?  Each and every day I am assaulted with “opportunities” like these:  “Seeking Alternative bands for Label Consideration”, “Skope Radio and TV Looking for New Artists to Fill Slots!”, “Seeking Artist/songwriters looking for a producer or label”, “Reach Over 60 Million Fans with Placements in Hundreds of Apps and Games”, “Radio Exposure on TRS247 Radio to 80,000 Monthly Listeners”….

Get the idea?  Fame.  It’s right there at our fingertips.  When I picture all of the artists spending their hard earned money (yes, all of these “opportunities” cost money) with the click of a paypal button, I can’t but also picture a Las Vegas casino with all of the sad old drunks blindly throwing their cash into a slot machine only to receive, well, nothing.

So what’s my point you ask (again).  To be honest, I have no fucking idea.  But what I do know is this, things have changed since those days with Bass Line Dada and The Hand Shakes.  And it was not so terribly long ago.  I think that, personally, I was happier when I knew who was paying attention to me.  Because they were right there, in the same room, or at the other end of a telephone line.  They were more than a status update or a cheery photo. They were a real human being, with reactions, physicality, a scent, eyes that said more than their mouth…  That world is now becoming a thing of the past. And what have we to show for it but sterilization.

I am trying to find myself as an artist again.  I need to reconfigure my relationship to the music that is inside of me, music that really wants to be in the world.  I am trying to be content with the idea that, possibly, no one will ever hear that music.  I want to relish again in the fact that I have a handful of very close friends with whom I do stuff, like eat.  Making music, for me, began as a deep desire to move others; it had nothing to do with sales or fame or labels or reviews or press releases or any of that other bullshit that eventually takes over.  I want that back.  Here’s an idea:  let’s you and I do a little collaboration.  I’ll post a song and you do whatever the hell you want with it.  Download and re-record it, overdub it, add a freakin’ symphony…Why? because we are all part of the same damn thing.  These songs are not mine.  They belong to the world… ok… to the universe (he says with begrudging embarrassment.) Are you ready?  Here’s the song:

Soon Comes the Morning

This is me letting go of ownership, and allowing you to take it.  It is a gesture toward the kind of world in which I’d like to live.  One that is free of the kind of proprietorship that harnesses creativity to standards set by corporations.  One that allows artists to be artists and not slaves to a system that relishes in perpetual struggle. Here’s my dream: I imagine a world where those who create are supported, valued, and esteemed; I imagine a world where ideas can be freely shared and “taste” is not governed by money mongering ass-wipes; I imagine a world where my song can return to me in a dozen different configurations, each version imbued with a generosity of spirit and good will; I imagine a world where art is placed above commerce; I imagine a world where decisions are made according to the laws of aesthetics and science is aligned with spirit but not blinded (or blindsided) by religion; I imagine a world where human  interaction is based upon mutual respect rather than competition and greed; I imagine a world where philosophy sails through the human imagination rather than circling through the belly of the Ouroboros. What would happen if billions of us imagined this world?

On that note here’s another song I’d like to share with you.  I like it a lot.  I wrote it in the spirit of the paragraph above.  Listen to the message and share it.  It will cost you nothing except about five minutes of your time.  If you like it share it with someone you care about.  Here is the song:

Burden of the Spell

Hopefully soon I’ll be back to a readership of 8.  Then I will no longer have to write such blatantly commercial articles such as this. What a sell-out.


Why I Quit Music (and the redemption of small press)


Part I: The Plight

A few months back I made the decision to quit music.  Ok, that’s not really true.  I’m just being manipulative.  But it is partially true.  I, like 6,335,428  other people in the Bay Area, fancy myself a “singer/songwriter”.  I had a little project that I called The Mockingbirds. (I would link you to the website, but I deleted it.) I put out an album back in 2011 called Lacuna that I was very, very proud of.  So proud in fact that I ended up printing a thousand of them, which in retrospect bordered on hubris.  With my little project (which boasted a price-tag of upwards of $15 grand) proudly gripped in my bony mitts, I ventured out into the local venues with the notion that I would strike up enough sales to pay for the next record.  Who wouldn’t want to buy this after all? It has all of the trappings of what people love: it thematically revolved around my late father but was uplifting rather than maudlin, it was all acoustic, it had just enough arty influence to make it interesting but was also quite approachable, it was beautifully produced and engineered, it had an absolutely stellar cast of musicians, the cover art (executed by gifted artist and good friend Derek Wilson) was gorgeous, and the songs were really fuckin’ good!

Now, hear this:  Being a “singer/songwriter” or any other kind of musician or artist or poet in the Bay Area, or any place else for that matter, is really freakin’ hard work.  You end up being composer, creative director, publisher, marketer, promoter, manager, financier, performer, networker, and sales team – any one of which is a full time job in itself.  I don’t imagine that most artists enjoy doing all of that other work, but they do it anyway. Why? Because there is no other way.  And this is what pisses me off to no end about “popular music”.  I personally know dozens and dozens of first rate, absolutely dazzling musicians and songwriters that are struggling to make ends meet while airwave-wasters like Bieber and Spears et al sit on their professionally toned asses collecting fistfuls of cash for absolute dreck!  Though I have now quit performing music of my own, I fully and happily and with god on my side, endorse a fifth  entry into Kant’s list of antinomies:

  1. the limitation of the universe in respect of space and time,
  2. the theory that the whole consists of indivisible atoms (whereas, in fact, none such exist),
  3. the problem of free will in relation to universal causality
  4. the existence of a necessary being…and...
  5. the cotemporality of shit and diamonds (or: you can’t polish a turd with cash)

Here’s an interesting side-note.  Just as an experiment, I started a Facebook page for Lemmiwinks the Gerbil King, one of my favorite characters from South Park.  I just wanted to see if it got any attention.  I also created a Facebook page for my musical project The Mockingbirds because, as stated above, I was also the promoter and marketer for my music.  I do absolutely nothing to the Lemmiwinks page, except post some sporadic bullshit about gerbils and other rodents.  That page now has 359 likes.  It just got another one yesterday.  My Mockingbirds page to which I pretty consistently posted “meaningful” and heartfelt content has 246 (200 of which are friends whom I paid to click the button, the other 46 are spam). Now if I were the scientific type and had to formulate some kind of hypothesis regarding public taste, I might come to the horrific conclusion that the general public cares more about animated rodents than art.  Would I be right?  Who knows, but I bet if we conducted a poll, we might verify that hypothesis.  Reminds me of the scene in Supersize Me where Ronald McDonald was a more recognizable face than Jesus (and that’s saying something in this god-fearin’ Christian nation of ours).

As I stated earlier, I have incredible respect for the musicians that are attempting to pull off a career amidst all of the crap they have to do to get attention.  But for me it’s like this: I like driving my car but please don’t ask me what’s under the hood.  I felt like an absolute poseur with promo shots, stage banter, web presence, blasting Facebook with cheery, upbeat status updates about shows that were an absolute fuckin’ train-wreck -“Great show last night at ArtBeat!  Thanks to all [two] of you that showed up! Thanks for [not] supporting local music! :-)”… Probably the worst experience was a disaster of a gig at Pyramid Brewery in Downtown Walnut Crick.  It was like Derek Bailey (rest his ultra talented soul) performing for KFOG Kaboom – all puzzled looks over pints of draft beer and nachos.  All of this to say, I still have over 800 really lovely cd’s in my garage that I’m now donating to charity events.  (You think I’m kidding.  I’m not.) (If you want one, let me know. It comes with a dollar bill.) I say these things not to get an aw-poor-baby but to reveal just what the hell is going on for most of those “singer/songwriters” that are up there pouring their talented little hearts out for a crowd that is more interested in gossiping about their neighbor’s teenager than listening to what the artist has to say.  So I say to all those people (none of which are you, dear reader):  Pay attention, dammit! Buy a freakin’ cd!  You spend more on crappy Starbucks triple grande lattes than you do on music!  You say you love this artist or that artist and then you go home and stream it on Spotify!  You say to me, “aw c’mon dude, Spotify is coool… I totally use it to discover new artists”… No, you friggin’ don’t!  You get all of your music for free because you think you somehow deserve it!  Let me inform you of something, person other than you who cares deeply about the survival of the arts, you absolutely don’t deserve it.  That little silver disc that you refuse to purchase from the artist is not some damn gratuitous gesture, it is a labor of love!  It is a little slice of the only thing about humanity that gives me any hope – CREATIVITY.  By going home and launching Spotify (or Pandora or BitTorrent or any other stupid website or app that gives people’s music away for free) you are killing creativity.  You’ll pay $40 a week in crappy lattes but $10 for a cd that will help support an artist’s creativity well, that’s kinda pricey. Jesus.

Part II: The Redemption

Which brings me to the part about the possibility of deliverance.  (Cue angelic music). Amidst all of the utter and absolute crap that’s being released by the major labels, there are isolated islands of hope, oases of artistic integrity that are doing such incredible work that it makes me do a ludicrous little jig in celebration.  (It is like that joke where this guy has twin sons – one is a pessimist the other an optimist.  The guy can’t stand his sunny little boy but adores his little curmudgeon.  For their respective birthdays he gets the grouch a shiny new bike, and the little idealist a giant pile of horse shit.  While one boy is ignoring his new bicycle, he checks in on the other who is busily shoveling away at the pile of shit.  When the dick-head dad inquires as to the purposes of his activity, the boy brightly replies, “Well, with a pile of shit this big, there’s got to be a pony in here somewhere!”) But back to the islands of hope: Some of these small press labels are simply devoting themselves to releasing really great music that pushes boundaries and explores the fringes of what music is capable of accomplishing (Isounderscore, for instance). Others, bless their souls, are releasing tiny runs of limited edition packages that are so exquisite in execution, design, and aesthetic content that it makes the mind wobble.

One of these art houses is Time Released Sound, lovingly run in Alameda, CA by a nice fellow named Colin Herrick.  Why just this morning I opened, listened to, and explored the 2013 release by The Angling Loser.  What can I say but what a treat for the eyes, ears, and fingers.  Inside the green, opaque velum envelope to which is affixed a fishing cigarette card, lies a little treasure trove of delights: a hand sewn fly tying flip book, an antique fishing postcard, a page from an angler’s instruction manual inside of which are enfolded two beautifully recorded cd’s, and a hand-numbered insert with track information.  The music is a tranquil combination of treated ambient-ish guitar, electronics, field recordings, and cryptic recorded voice.  Each release is a literal feast for the eyes and ears, usually in a run of maybe a couple  hundred.  Here’s a picture from their blog showing off some of this ultra-fine work:


Am I right or am I right.  (Notice how I ended that with a period.) Freakin’ stunning. I want them all.  Now maybe it’s because I grew up listening to records (the kind that are 12″ in diameter and go inside a nice big cardboard cover with cool art to gaze at) that I like actually holding something in my hands when I’m listening, something that informs the sonic world in either text or imagery.  Something that fills the lacuna of meaning in the rich tapestry of the sensorium.  Or maybe it’s because I spent so much time with my lips on a bong as a young ruffian.  I don’t really know.  What I do know is that I absolutely love beautiful things, things that somebody’s hands have touched, things that are personal expressions packaged in love. I buy regular old cd’s in those goddam jewel cases, sure, but there is something so clinical and, well, unpatriotic about those.  This stuff that Colin produces, on the other hand, brings back that fine marriage of the arts that so many great artists (Gustav Klimt, Tristan Tzara, Jean Cocteau, Laurie Anderson, etc.) have spent their energy pursuing.

Here’s another one:  Wounded Wolf Private-Press is a publishing house in the UK/Turkey run by two ridiculously talented polymaths, Atay İlgün and Gözde Omay.  Quoting their website, their focus is “poetry, fiction, photography, folk and textural music along with additional prints and ephemera.” I recently ordered a couple of items from them which arrived promptly with a couple of additional gifts from these generous, kind-hearted folks.  The Hogweed and the Aderyn, is a beautifully textured slice of acoustic heaven.  Somewhat dark and pastoral, it conjures those European country-sides that all of us romantic Americans love to pine for.  The disc is housed in an elegant (biodegradable!) cardboard sleeve with a tiny carved wooden folk instrument affixed to the front.  All of this done, the music and the packaging, and executed by Atay and Gözde.

hogweed & aderyn

To my mind, this is the future of music.  Though I will probably never perform in front of humans again, I do plan to write and record. I hope that my next collection of songs can be released on a worthy press like one of these. Maybe just 100, but beautiful, handmade, personal, and intimate; a reflection of the time and effort it takes to plumb the soul and the intellect for words, search for the right notes and chords and rhythm to make the words come to life, explore the infinite variety of sonic textures that will support but not overwhelm the delicacy of the song, record until each gesture is in integrity with what the piece needs to come to fruition, muddle through the dozens of possible track orders until it flows like a river, and finally marry the final product to a visual aesthetic which both informs and augments all of those life experiences that have been boiled down to 50 or so minutes on a silver disc.

I love that there are people out there who have committed themselves to making a small but vital difference.  I love that there are musicians out there who are willing to go through endless amounts of bullshit just to grace our ears with their song.  I love that human beings love to create.  It gives me hope for the future.  For the rest of us our task is simple: appreciation.  Make art a priority because without it we lose a little bit of our humanity.  Scratch that… a lot…  So next time you are at a club watching/listening to an artist and some clown is talking about their stupid day at work, smack them upside their head and remind them that this music we humans make is our salvation, so shut the hell up!

Under the Radar: 2013 Picks

I know, I know, just what you need – another list of great albums that you feel compelled to ignore.  Well, here’s what I have to say about that: suit yourself.  But, by not giving these albums a listen you are doing yourself (and the world… perhaps the universe) a terrible injustice.  In case you are wondering, the vast majority of these were not listed by Rolling Stone nor Mojo nor npr .  Dave Matthews is not on the list, nor is John Mayer.  So if that is what you are interested in you will be sorely disappointed, incredibly puzzled, or positively irate that my taste is so different from yours.  Thus, without further ado, here is some of the most sublime music from 2013:

In alphabetical order by the last letter of the title:

Jim Haynes – The Wires Cracked

One of my favorite cultural philosophers, Jean Gebser, theorizes that a prerequisite for the unfolding of human consciousness into what he terms The Integral Structure is the process of making all “previous” structures – archaic, magical, mythical, mental/rational – transparent to one another.  One of the most interesting symptoms of the current structure (mental/rational) is our relationship with technology.  Look no further than the analogy that the human brain is somehow akin to a computer… the metaphors abound.  Technology has integrated itself with music to such a degree that it is no longer really feasible to delineate the two.  Glitch was an interesting moment in modern musical history in that it forced the listener to gaze through the lens of faulty technology in order to perceive the music that was lying underneath.  In my mind, Jim Haynes has taken this idea to its most fruitful and beautiful extreme.  Jim taps into the invisible yet ultimately pervasive realm of electric current, magnetism, radio waves, and decay.  As Jim says, he “rusts things”.  The Wires Cracked is a soundtrack to a world we would rather ignore, a world we would rather peer through than at.  Stunning.  

Wrekmeister Harmonies – You’ve always meant so much to me

imgresI cannot get enough of this album.  At every listen, more is revealed.  What at first listen appeared as an amorphous mass of sound has transmogrified into a delicate balance of bows, plucks, scrapes, drones, and bubbling electronics.  Little melodies begin to emerge that mysteriously vanish back onto the wash of tone clusters.  Here is a confession… I pray to the little tiny healing hands of baby Jesus that I’ll be forgiven for my transgression… but I enjoyed the downloaded version better.  Crap!  I said those words.  Here’s why.  This album is a slow burn, not unlike God Speed You Black Emperor at their most patient.  Just as Side 1 begins to build I had to get up and flip the record.  Now, don’t get me wrong,  I do love me that vinyl but this recording deserves to be heard as a piece, uninterrupted.  Because:  as Side 2 hits the midway it busts into the most finest of black metal riffs. Oddly, it does not feel out of place on this otherwise drone oriented work.  On the contrary, it feels like a most well earned orgasm. This is a ridiculously well conceived record. Highly recommended.  (Though I do feel that it would be better served on cd.)

Teho Teardo and Blixa Bargeld – Still Smiling

imgresI vividly remember the first time I heard Einsturzende Neubauten.  It was 1985.  I was in a little record shop in Picadilly in London.  I was searching them out because of a track on a Fad Gadget 12″ called Collapsing New People. Neubauten was accompanying Frank Tovey with all kinds of industrial noise that I instantly fell in love with.  Nobody, but nobody had even heard of Neubauten in St. Louis (where I grew up) so I had high hopes for London.  So while Then Girlfriend (see my post Hooray For Hollywood for a thorough explication on the matter of Then Girlfriend) was perusing the streets for shoes and tacky outerwear, I was filling my greedy little mitts with Fad Gadget singles and searching for the elusive Neubauten.  When lo and behold, I found it.  I approached the small counter gripping this forbidding looking record bordered with photos of bad sets of teeth… turns out that you could actually listen to stuff before you bought it there!  The last thing I heard the clerk say before I slipped on the headphones, in his somewhat cockney accent, was, “Be careful, they are very loud.”  The first sound to emerge on the headphones was a drill hitting a metal plate.  He was right.  It was loud.  I fell in love.  I’ve been following Neubauten rabidly ever since.  They have never done me wrong.  Now, in case you are trying desperately to figure out why in the hell I am prattling on about Einsturzende Neubauten when this post is supposed to be about Teho Teardo and Blixa Bargeld, let me continue.  Blixa is the front man for Neubauten.  (He also played guitar in Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds for a long stint.)  A close friend of mine described him as “a messiah, possibly the best front man ever.” Still Smiling is an absolute masterpiece.  Subtle, poetic, and stunningly musical.  It is a long way from Halber Mensch but still retains that unwavering devotion to plumbing the depths of genre-defying music.  Listen to this one late at night over a nice glass of port.  Won’t do ya wrong.

Esmerine – Dalmak

imgres-1Esmerine is a band out of Montreal – a city with an absolutely staggering music scene.  (Consider: Godspeed, Sam Shalabi, Silver Mount Zion, and every collective offshoot thereof.) Their previous record La Lechuza (2011), was an absolutely heart-wrenching tribute to Llasa de Sela (1972-2010) – an artist who left this world far too soon.  The last track on Lechuza contains a haunting vocal… one of her last performances before she was taken by breast cancer.  If this did not seal Esmerine’s pedigree, then Dalmak surely will.  For this record, they’ve decamped to Istanbul to collaborate with a frighteningly talented group of Turkish musicians.  What they’ve ended up with is an album that skirts along the borders of classicism, experimental, pop, and tradition but never lingers long enough to live there.  Despite the melodic interplays of east and west and the addictive textural feel of the record, it is the sheer energy of location (Istanbul) that gives the record its magic.  Don’t pass this one up.

Kingdom of Not – Journey to the Far Side of the Room

imgresI’m about to use a word that has become anathema to cultural academics.  So if you are a cultural academic, close your eyes as you skim past the next sentence or two.  I’ll wait… (           )…  Ok, here goes.  Dan Carbone, the man/personality/mind behind the project that is The Kingdom of Not is a genius.  Alright, I said it. All of you cultural academics out there can open your eyes now.  As I spun this cd for the first few times several months back, I could not shake a certain feeling.  The feeling was the one I felt the first time I heard Pere Ubu’s -The Modern Dance back in 1978.  It’s the same sensation I would imagine one would experience if they jumped out of a plane.  Now, I would never be foolish enough to jump out of a plane, so I don’t really know what that feels like. Nor will I ever find out because I will never, of my own accord, jump out of a plane.  I don’t even like being on my roof.  It’s also the feeling that I imagine Alice felt as she strolled through Wonderland.  I had been exposed to Dan Carbone before I met Dan Carbone.  The front man/poet, Daniel Ari (another genius), from the band I was in for a while (Bass Line Dada) used to burst into a Carbone monologue during rehearsals. Said monologue included the utterly brilliant line – “The pig is thinkin’!” If memory serves it was some kind of surreal barnyard fantasy.  But it was brilliant.  Now I know Dan.  And I’m glad I do.  Because he is not only a genius but a real swell dude. And he has put out, in my opinion, one of the finest records of 2013.  Buy it dammit! And if you still aren’t convinced, read my lengthy treatise hyah: Thanks For That Cigarette. And there it is.

Son of the Velvet Rat – Firedancer

imgresA very special guy turned me on to SoVR: Mr. Richard McGraw.  Remember him?  He’s the guy I interviewed a while back.  Remember?  You rushed out and bought all of his cd’s because you were so impressed with that article.  Well Mr. McGraw has some fine taste in music.  Firedancer is SoVR’s 11th release.  Songwriter, Georg Altziebler, falls into the ranks of Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, and Will Oldham, with a touch of Tom Waits and a dash of Jacques Brel. Altziebler hails from Austria and you can tell.  His songs have that timeless feel that I’d associate with the Black Forest.  A sense of silence that falls behind the song.  A voice from the back of a lonely bar that you simply can’t ignore, a voice that begets a hush.  The arrangements are complex and textural with horns, hurdy gurdy, strings, things that pluck and things that scrape. The instruments are used tastefully so as not to interfere, but perhaps augment (fill the empty spaces of meaning) the well chosen words:  you can’t be with the dead and the living/& make a bed in the middle of nowhere/try & bridge that gap in your dreams/in the long long night.  Pure poetry.  This is a hauntingly beautiful album that no one in their right mind should ignore.

Dan Cantrell – Orphaned Anthems

imgresI must say that this record is impossibly good.  Dan is one of the most musical people I know.  He lives it and breathes it.  He is also one of the most humble and like-able guys around.  The tunes on this cd are Compositions with a capital C.  They are meticulously arranged, impeccably performed, and beautifully recorded.  Ranging from Balkan inflected symphonettes, to Carl Stalling inspired cartoon themes, to abstract film scores, Orphaned Anthems is nothing short of an adventure.   I could not put it better than my friend Roger Andris, whom I quote, “Compiling an album is a tricky thing.  Each song serves as a tectonic plate resting beneath the final soundscape, with the capacity to wreak havoc.  Attention must be paid to the smallest detail and movement.  There is a lot of music on this recording but you never get the feeling that Dan was simply throwing things at the wall to see what would stick or shying away from the editing process.  Nor was he heeding the winds of prevailing popularity.  This work smacks of a collection of people who fell in love with music at an early age, studied it seriously and elected to give back to it versus get rich from it . . . and we are the richer for it.”

Tim Hecker – Virgins

imgres-1Karlheinz Stockhausen influenced more modern musicians and artists than anyone would care to mention.  His goal, in the beginning, was to bring an end to Romanticism, which had fully flowered in the early 19th century and become fully decadent by the early 2oth. Romanticism in philosophy was said to have met its maker as Ernst Cassirer famously lost the philosophical Davos debate to Martin Heidegger in 1929.  Emmanuel Levinas was reported to have claimed that “a young student could have had the impression that he was witness to the creation and the end of the world.”  In a way it was, as this debate marked the beginning of Post-Modernism and the end of a long tradition of Romanticism which colored the entire output of Western art and music.  In this age of such intense dis-integration it really should come as no surprise that the Romantic tradition has wormed its way back into the humanities and the arts.  Humans crave meaning – something at which Post-Modernism turned up its brandy-stained schnoz. Tim Hecker’s latest release has not eschewed beauty and meaning for the sake of modernism.  Through the cracks of damaged electronics lies a music in love with consonant harmony.  This appears to be a very personal album, very intimate, made from the heart but kept at a slight distance so as to avoid the maudlin trappings which Stockhausen so successfully stamped out.  The cover art is captivating, alluding simultaneously to the haunting photos from Abu-Ghraib and Christian iconography, which of course is echoed in the song titles.  This will be a recording that begs repeated listenings as it reveals more of itself at each spin.  Gorgeous.

Date Palms – The Dusted Sessions

imgresMarielle Jakobsons and Gregg Kowalsky have tapped into something so indelibly West and colored it with something so unmistakably East.  I have no other apt comparison except to say that this record may be something akin to Ry Cooder being interpreted by Pandit Pran Nath… or vice versa.  It is an incredibly patient record, allowing meditative melodies to unfold slowly over dusty drones. Distorted guitars provide an undergirding to these plaintive tunes, but also give them a slightly sinister feeling of something wanting to burst free.  Though Marielle’s violin is a stand out instrument on the record.. her playing is positively sublime… Michael Cormier’s pedal steel is a show stealer.  His contributions to the Yuba River trilogy are magnificent.  I think what stands out most on this fine record is the subtle sense of composition.  What could have turned out to be aimless but beautiful melodic drones reveal themselves to be highly structured, intelligently conceived constructions.  Side 2 opens with Night Riding the Skyline, a fractured Mettle era Pink Floyd study in tension.  It is challenging to avoid slipping into imaginings of the film to which this could be a soundtrack.  But it is ultimately satisfying to simply stay with the music as it is – its texture, its loneliness, and its beauty.  Perfect.

Kaboom Karavan – Hokus Fokus

imgresThere is something just a little bit scary about Bram Bosteel’s Kaboom Karavan project. When I first picked up his previous release, Barra Barra, with its tweaky little bird/human on the cover, I was mesmerized for weeks.  On the one hand it was one of the strangest things I had ever heard (brings to mind hearing The Residents’ Eskimo for the first time in the late 70’s… with that what-the-fuck? kind of reaction) and yet utterly beguiling.  David Lynch comes to mind.  I kept hearing some kind of otherworldly folk music , not otherworldly, that’s the wrong word, this music comes from some underground cavernous community of Morlocks improvising on long dead Eastern European folk melodies.  It’s the future and the past living simultaneously in the same music.  Hokus Fokus travels the same ground, thank heavens.  How he makes most of these sounds is utterly beyond me.  Most of the instrumentation sounds acoustic in origin, with creaky little voices created by toothless little trolls.  Each piece is a perfect slice of weirdness. Just long enough to sink into its exotic fabric and just brief enough to want more.  All in all, I’d say this is a near perfect record.  I’m overjoyed that Bram Bosteel is on this planet.  This is a singular recording by a very unique artist.  A+++

The Parlour Trick – A Blessed Unrest

imgresGood Lord a’ mighty but this is a damn fine record.  Dan Cantrell and Meredith Yayanos have unleashed a doozy of an album to an oblivious world.  I was happy to see it on Carnacki’s list for KALX. It’s also shown up on a couple of blogs here and there, mostly due to a Twitter post by author William Gibson for their Kickstarter campaign, to which I proudly contributed.  Dan Cantrell is the only artist that has made two, count ’em two, appearances on this here list.  Something to be proud of, I’d say.  Seeing as how I have such a populous readership on this fine interweb (I think I’m up to six now!), I’m hoping to bring more attention to this BRILLIANT project. These two artists have more talent and intelligence and artistry than anyone really deserves to have, and they have crafted an album so delectably bewitching and charming and with such depth, that I think everyone needs to shout it from the rooftops. Ranging from austere homages to Erik Satie to rusted Hungarian folk tunes to sincere classicism and round the bend to exotic ambient soundtracks, this is a record to grow old with.  Five million stars.

Howe Gelb – The Coincidentalist

imgresAh, Howe.  I confess to you dear reader that Howe Gelb is one of my most absolute favoritest artists in this wide world of sound makers.  In my humble opinion, he has done no wrong.  From his work with Giant Sand to, well, basically everything the guy touches, I have been utterly smitten.  Howe is one of those artists that just oozes creativity and playfulness. His new album is certainly no exception and might I say that it is another little masterpiece in a long line of little masterpieces.  Howe is considered the godfather of that Southwest Tucson sound. Calexico was spawned from Giant Sand.  Lord knows how many have been influenced by Howe’s left-field genius.  He has this way of combining elements of Americana, jazz, blues, barrelhouse bar rock, and just good old fashioned song into a blend that is at once intimate and confounding.  As one reviewer said, if it weren’t confusing, it wouldn’t be a Howe Gelb record.  For this one Howe is joined by M. Ward, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Steve Shelley, Thorger Lund, and KT Tunstall.  It is a record that will leave you with a smile on your little face.

David Sylvian – Do You Know Me Now? 

imgresEarlier this year Sylvian was asked to participate in an installation by visual artist Phil Collins (not the drummer) called “My heart’s in my hand, and my hand is pierced, and my hand’s in the bag, and the bag is shut, and my heart is caught” (after Genet).  Each artist was given access to anonymously recorded telephone conversations from a booth in a homeless shelter in Cologne. The pieces were then played back in listening booths specially designed for the exhibit.  I can only imagine how powerful the installation would have been.  Sylvian’s lyrics are, as usual, poetic and emotionally provocative without descending into cliched sentimentalism.  “The planets high above you/Spun in houses of their own/You were dropped and hit the ground running/But they failed to lead you home”.  The two songs on this finely packaged 10″ vinyl release are both absolutely gorgeous, bridging the gap, as Sylvian so brilliantly does, between experimentalism and traditional ballad.  Highly recommended.

Ulver/ with Tromso Chamber Orchestra – Messe I.X – VI.X

imgresFor those of you that are unfamiliar with Ulver, I say with no hesitation – get thee to a record store!  This has to be one of the most interesting bands to come out of the Norwegian black metal scene.  Ulver has been nothing if not unpredictable and has never disappointed.  Their latest release is absolutely stunning.  With more allegiance to Arvo Part or Ligeti than Allagoch or Wolves in the Throne Room, Messe is a study in slow burning symphonic texture.  Don’t expect some kind of hybrid beast that attempts to juxtapose symphonic music and metal; this is pure classicism, but with that undeniably Ulver touch of pathos and visceral charge.  Gorgeous album.

Nick Cave – Push the Sky Away

imgresTo my mind, Nick Cave is the musical equivalent to William Faulkner or Denis Johnson.  Since he turned the page on his musical career with Henry’s Dream, Cave has been relentlessly pursuing his particular brand of literary lyricism.  Yet we can always count on him to defy expectation.  This album, not unlike PJ Harvey’s from last year, is a beguiling tapestry of texture. With a mostly spacious approach, Cave, Ellis, Casey, and Wydler weave beautiful accompaniments to Cave’s lyrics that are quite different from anything we’ve heard before. In fact I might go so far as to say that this may be the most cohesive release in Cave’s long career.  There is not time or space here to go into the lyrical content or the fact that Cave’s inspiration came from Wikipedia. I’ll leave that to more capable hands. Leave it at this: this is a spectacular album well deserving of the critical acclaim.

Big Blood – Radio Valkyrie + 1905 + 1917 +

Radio ValkyrieLast but certainly not least comes this fine, fine double vinyl release by a favorite of this here blogger, Big Blood.  Colleen Kinsella and Caleb Mulkerin do this particular thing that absolutely no one else does, thus comparison is fruitless.  Think what happens at the crossroads of dark appalachia, dream, experimentalism, ritual, and myth.  Here is where you may begin to taste a flavor of their voluminous output. Radio Valkyrie, and I do not say this lightly, may just be their most realized album to date.  And this is coming from someone who has listened to absolutely everything they’ve released.  Perhaps there is a reason that they finally decided to put out a real bonafide Record.  They must have surely been aware of the power and perfection of this last recording.  Well, they were right.  Absolutely brilliant.

Dave Matthews and the Golden Calf


Dave, when he read my blog.

Those of you who read these scholarly posts may have picked up a certain distaste for the gentleman to the left over there.  More than likely you have had one of two reactions: a) you have pumped your fist in the air above your head and cheered me on, or b) you have felt a little sorry for the poor sod, sensed that I am just another merciless critic, hiding behind my computer and loquaciously getting even with all of the pricks in junior high that were more popular than I was (which was mostly everybody if I had to be precise). Honestly, I am still bitter about junior high but that is not why I pick on Dave Matthews.  Here is the weird thing: I really have nothing against Dave Matthews (except his dancing, which is not so much reprehensible but utterly clownish and therefore absolutely hilarious). To me he is like unsalted butter – flavorless, textureless. People say, “Dude, what’s there not to like about Dave Matthews? His band kicks ass!” To which I say, “Exactly!” What is there not to like? And therein lies the problem.  Dave Matthews, to me, is a symbol for all that is wrong with the current music industry.  Notice that I did not say music scene. Dave Matthews is like the golden calf that Aaron threw together when Moses took his ill-fated trip up to the tippy top of Sinai. They had nothing cool to worship, so they frikken’ made something! Like the golden calf, most popular music is all bling and no substance.  Now all of that is just fine until the masses get duped into believing that the statue is God.  The calf does not challenge one to be a better, more open minded, deeper person.  It allows you to remain exactly who you are comfortable being.


Dave as Calf.

I remember playing “O Superman”, Laurie Anderson’s first 12″ single, for a couple of friends an eon or so ago.  They listened for a minute and said something akin to this: “You call this music? She’s not even singing.  There’s no melody.  This is weird!” If memory serves, I was forced to remove the record from the turntable.  Which was fine with me as they had a shitty needle anyway. But I remember thinking to myself, what the hell is wrong with people?  Here’s an artist pushing the boundaries of musical expression, experimenting with new structures and sounds, defying classification, and I’m forced to remove the record to make way for the latest dreck from Eddie Rabbitt and witness the self-satisfied look of placated contentment plastered across the visage of someone suckling from the mother’s milk of top ten radio. My feeling was not so much angry or resentful, elitist or smug, but hurt. I was not trying to offend anyone’s sensibilities.  Far from it.  I had brought this new music to my friends with absolute Love!  That little record had rocked my world and I wanted more than anything to share the experience.  So understand this:  When I write these blog posts and rail against the machine, it is out of love – love for the artists that continually take risks, love for the infinite human capacity towards creativity, and love for you, dear reader, for opening your ears to music that challenges the norm, that bucks the system… music that deserves and needs support!  Laurie Anderson says in O Superman:

When love is gone, there’s always justice.
And when justice is gone, there’s always force.
And when force is gone, there’s always Mom. Hi Mom!

Isn’t that a great line?  The humor, the depth, it’s all there.  Eddie Rabbitt says:
Well I love a rainy night 
I love to hear the thunder
Watch the lightning
When it lights up the sky
You know it makes me feel good
Isn’t that crap? C’mon, please, just admit it.  That song was #8 on the Billboard Charts in 1981, the same year O Superman was released. It was played on the radio every five minutes.  It was inescapable.  Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard Laurie Anderson on the radio.  Methinks that all kinds of folks out there are under the impression that songs are on the radio because people like them.  Thus, public taste governs radio airplay.  I am firmly convinced that it is precisely the opposite.  The radio plays it, therefore the people like it.
Imagine a world where all radio was like college radio.  Would record sales shift? You’re damn tootin’ they would!  If Dave Matthews and John Mayer were regulated to some static-y radio station so far down the dial that your carpal tunnel acted up just getting there, then I sincerely doubt that they would be household names.  Here is my plea:
Listen to something new.  If you don’t know how to find something new, go back and check out any one of my earlier posts. Find something you’ve never heard of.  Relax and really listen.  The artist created it because they thought it was beautiful. Find that beauty.  Relish it.  Try this every day.  Challenge yourself and your conceptions of beauty.  Why should you do this? Because it is good for the soul.  You may decide to say, “Fuck you, lacunamusic man. Fuck you and all of your blathering on about art.  I like Dave Matthews and there’s nothing you can say or do to change my opinion. So there!”  To that I say, fine.  Shun my love. You’ll be sorry when I’m dead.  (That’s something that my grandmother used to say to me when I was  kid. It’s very effective.)
Something else my grandmother used to say.  After quietly watching some musical performance on TV she’d mutter to herself, “Ah, they’re only clappin’ ’cause it’s over.”  My grandma was a smart lady.
For your first listening assignment: