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

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

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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

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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.

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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:

Thanks for that cigarette….Thank you very much.

Who is this masked man?

In my last post, I preached mightily on the virtues of comparison restraint.  I am now going to completely contradict      myself.  Can I do that, you may ask yourself?  Of course I can!  I can do whatever I want.  I mean, really, look at Congress.  Here’s what I am about to do… prepare yourself, because it might piss you off.  I am about to compare an artist with balls to an artist without balls (at least on his last outing).  I am about to compare an artist who has just birthed an album of lyrical complexity, humor, and adventurousness to an artist who has just put out an album that is about as dull as a bag of hammers – with lyrics that seem to have been penned as a afterthought and music that verges on self-parody.  Get ready everybody, because I’m about to tell you who these artists are. One of them only a handful of you will recognize, the other all of you will feel like you know intimately… and then you’re going to get all self-righteous on me… “God, dude,” you will say, “you are so uncool.”

But first, let me rant about one thing:  the music industry is unjust. (See my interview with the brilliant Richard McGraw as case in point.)  All my life (well, at least since I was old enough to formulate this idea) I have bitterly resented the fact that exceptionally creative artists often are woefully underappreciated.  Yet there has been another, perhaps more diabolical, side to me that has relished the obscurity of my heroes. Perhaps this is based upon the, sometimes very real, fear that if said artist were to get “popular”, then they would lose their edge.  Would I begrudge my musician friends wealth and popularity so that I could have them all to myself?  Of course not, silly!  But I would feel awfully sad if those artists started putting out a load of crap to satisfy the throngs of people so ravenous for drivel; those who wish to be spoon-fed their music – music so formulaic that it should be distributed through tiny nipple-like ear-buds… oh wait… it is…  Dave Matthews comes to mind.  (Just kidding, I just like to pick on Dave Matthews. Mostly because of the way he dances, but that is beside the point.)  You are probably asking yourself at this point, what is the point?  Not of life, but of this article.  I guess there are a few points.  I’ll put them in bullet points:

  • Why is the musical taste of the masses so crappy?
  • Why do I think that the musical taste of the masses is so crappy?
  • Why can artists, who are so popular that it hurts my brain to even think on it, put out music that is so incredibly crappy, and then be lauded the world over for their “brilliant” new best selling record?
  • Who is putting these records into the charts, Congress?
  • Most importantly, is it possible for listeners to hear true genius if it comes in the clothing of a foreigner?

I don’t actually plan to answer these questions,  but they are very good questions, don’t you think?

{As an aside, I had a friend whom I respected deeply for his incredible mind.  He was also just a really nice guy. One night over dinner, I made a snarky comment regarding Beyonce’s music.  He replied that he loved Beyonce and thought that she was a genius.  After I wiped the food from my lap, I admitted that perhaps I had been perhaps overly critical.  Here’s the thing:  I can listen to and thoroughly enjoy music that many others would consider to be really crappy – “noise”, one might go so far as to say.  But put on a Beyonce song and I immediately start to recoil in disgust. My fingers begin to form little knots. My face gets all ugly and squinched. My feet transform into ugly, warted talons. I hunch over and my bones protrude. If the government is reading this, you now know how to coax information from me. No need to pluck fingernails from my dainty little hands; just put on a Beyonce record or worse yet Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, any of that ever so popular ilk… wow, I even had a hard time typing those names. I think I need to salve my typing fingers with a bit of Traumeel…  I’ll be sure to tag them for this post so that I get some readership.  See?  See how quickly we sell out?}

By now you are probably irritated with me, and for good reason because I have not yet told you the artists to whom I am referring.  Ok, fine, I’ll tell you.  One artist is Dan Carbone (Kingdom of Not) who has just released his new album “Journey to the Far Side of the Room” which is so utterly and completely and mind-blowing-ly good that I’m still reeling weeks after first laying ears upon it.  The other is the new Thom Yorke project, Atoms for Peace (AMOK), which is so utterly and completely and mind-blowing-ly crappy that, well, I just can’t believe how crappy it is.  Here’s the deal, just so’s you know, I really tried.  I really wanted to like AMOK. I did.  I even purchased the deluxe edition with the trust of a suckling babe in arms that Yorke would, yet again, put out another great record.  I’ve been a rabid Radiohead fan since The Bends.  I loved The Eraser.  Now, admittedly, I was put off a bit by the presence of Flea as bassist.  But even those decisions I trusted.  “Thom knows best”, I said, starry-eyed. I listened to it again and again… to no avail.  My boredom went from simply lackluster to stupefying.

Dan Carbone has just unleashed into an unsuspecting world a silver disc so brimming with creative genius that it’s amazing it doesn’t get all over you when you remove it from its modest fold out slip case.  Thom Yorke has placed in elaborate and ridiculously costly packaging the most boringest turd of an album in an otherwise illustrious career.  Allow me to simply recite a lyric or two to illustrate my point:

“Dropped” (Thom Yorke)

It slipped out of my hands

went deep down

wandering

stumbling

I don’t wanna start

don’t want to start

when I got your heart

I got your heart

it slipped down

out

of my hands

and flipped

out

went wandering

stumbling

and I fell apart

I fell apart

I’m sorry, but what the hell, Thom?  If you are going to pen lyrics with such incredible vacuity at least do what Led Zeppelin did and wrap them in some testosterone fueled rock and roll, some swagger, a little empty-headed pride.

Now Mr. Carbone:

“Why Do Kitty Hide Under My Bed?

Why do Kitty 
hide under my bed? 
The pretty, pretty baby 
All under my bed?

Does she sniff at the dust? 
Does she nibble on strings? 
Does she scratch at the floor? 
Does she stare at the springs?

There’s so much out 
In the big, wide world 
There’s goldfish tales 
And mother-of-pearls

There’s a mountain or a valley 
Or a forest or a lake 
So why do kitty crawl 
In cold, dark place. 
With her big yellow eyes 
And her furry, little face! 

Why do she hide 
there all day long 
When little yellow 
Birdies are hopping 
On the lawn?

Now a king or a queen 
Might go to sleep 
On a satin sheet 
Or a feather mattress 

But Kitty will snooze 
On top of old shoes 
And old fingernails 
And lost eyelashes

Why do Kitty 
hide under my bed? 
Pretty, pretty baby 
All under my bed?

She might look for just a 
Just a moment at your diamond ring 
But then she runs back to 
Her ugly little things

Leave her alone with her 
Ugly little things

She is very, very happy 
With her ugly little things.

AMOK is filled, beginning to end, with signature jittery drum programming (supposedly there’s a drummer on the album… someone find where he is playing and tell me, ok?), and Thom whining lyrics like the above to nifty little guitar riffs.  Journey to the Far Side of the Room, on the other hand, is like strolling through the most excellent of acid trips, an adventure waiting around every corner – a panoply of lyrical and musical delights.  I laugh, I’m puzzled, I’m delighted, I’m touched, I’m astounded… all these responses just within one song.  During Radio Beam in Your Dreams there is a freak-out guitar section spanning well over three and a half minutes with Dan intoning the words, “I see you…  In your dreams.”  Whatever you might think of things like this, you have to give it this:  It’s got balls!  Balls and vision.  Vision to see behind the dark corners of musical flavors and textures, and the balls to dwell in the chthonian shadows of myth with a wry grin and a ball-point pen.

I urge you, I implore you, watch Dave Matthews dance and try not to laugh (again).  Here’s something else to try: take a sip from the elixir of weirditude.  You may spit it out the first time, but then, maybe weeks later, you may find yourself craving it or just curious.  Give in; take another sip.  It may taste differently.  Come on, admit it, at first blush you didn’t like the taste of beer.  Now you’re all like, “I fuckin’ love beer, man.”  Am I right?  Broaden your horizons.  Go listen to one song by Kingdom of Not.  Better yet, buy the damn cd because I said so.  I guarantee you will not be bored.  Then you will perhaps care to join me in my little hater-of-all-things-commercial world.  You will join me in my “Why do the masses have such crappy taste” chant.  You will hold up little banners extolling the virtues of the adventurous.  The idea brings to mind the Kevin Ayers song (Stranger in Blue Suede Shoes) where the bartender with the nasty disposition is offered a “special” cigarette:

He said, my oh my, I have suffered to long

And this cigarette seems to be very strong

I don’t make the rules, I just get what I take

And I guess every rule was made to break

You can take what you like, it won’t hurt me

Cause I’m just working for the company

From the green cigarette, he took a long drag

And said, I think I’ll pack my travelling bag

I’m tired of cheating, and wasting my head

And filling the boss’s bags with bread

I want to get out in the sun and rain,

And feel the wind on my skin again

The world is large, and I’ve got time yet.

And, by the way, thanks for that cigarette.

Thank you very much.

You’re welcome. You are very, very welcome.

 

 

The Next Day(vid Bowie)

IMG_0579If I were David Bowie, I think I’d just stop right now; throw in the towel; call it quits; go live the rest of my days with my wife in Barbados, whilst resting upon my well deserved laurels.  But I’m not David Bowie.  If I were David Bowie, there would probably be more people reading these blog posts. {As far as I know, one reader is me, the other is my wife. I think that my dog may also be interested… she seems to be staring at me right now… though, as far as I know, she is illiterate.} So really, by talking about David Bowie’s new album, I am really just taking the opportunity to talk about myself.  What are “reviews” anyway except people sitting around by themselves, listening to music alone, wishing they were listening to music with someone else, so they could say things like, “Check out that awesome guitar tone, man.” Or, “This totally sounds like (insert favorite Bowie album here).” Instead they use some record they like as a springboard to coax some stranger(s) into their world.  Does this mean I’m going to stop writing about music?  No, definitely not.  Does this mean I’m going to stop reading reviews?  No, most likely not.  But let’s face facts here friends:  Whenever someone writes about an album like David Bowie’s new one (The Next Day), what are they really saying?  They are saying: Here’s what makes me feel nostalgic.  Here are the periods of Bowie’s career I most resonated with.  Here’s what I think is cool about David Bowie.  Heroes was the first album I had sex to.  Nothing makes me feel like I felt the first time I heard Ziggy. I stopped listening to Bowie after Scary Monsters. Etc. etc.  If you don’t believe me, go check it out for yourself.  Read one of the, now, thousands of reviews about The Next Day.  Really look.  Are they talking about Bowie, or are they talking about their own little self?

Here’s why I said that Bowie should throw in the towel:  I believe that Bowie has just created a near perfect record.  At 66 years old that is quite an accomplishment.  If I were Bowie, I’d quit while I was ahead.  But again, for the reasons stated above, and for a few others (two, to be precise) that I could use to testify my sanity, I don’t think that I am Bowie.  Here’s the question:  Can I insert more than 50 colons into one article?  I now have 390 some odd words and I already have three colons.  Here’s the real question: (four) Can we truly talk about the merits of Bowie’s new album without referring to either his past or our own?  Here’s another question: (five) Is the query above a reasonable thing to ask?  I’m sure you see the dilemma here.  The nature of music, especially pop music, disallows objectivity.  In writing about The Next Day, I might as well just say,  “I really like this album a lot.  As a matter of fact, I love it.  It makes me feel happy/sad/sexy/angst-y/alive/like a fish/ heterosexual/ hungry… As a matter of fact I’m going to now tell you to go out and: a) buy this album, because ripping music is bad for the artist; b) rip this album because buying cd’s is bad for the environment; c) have a listening party with your friends because it creates community and that is what will save the world…”

So here is what I actually have to say about your relationship to the new David Bowie album:   (                  )  I have no freaking idea what you will think of the new David Bowie album.  Why?  Because I am not you.  Heroes was not the soundtrack to my first sexual foray.  The first time I heard Ziggy I was higher than a kite.  I do know that Low changed my life.  I never heard music the same again.  I can say with a fair degree of certainty that I was utterly forlorn when I heard Let’s Dance.  Every time I saw the cover of that record for the first year after it hit the stands, I threw up in my mouth a little bit.  However, if you care in the least what I think of The Next Day, I’ll say this:  I think it is a damn fine album, one of the finest albums he’s produced in years.  Is that an objective opinion?  Hell no, it isn’t.  It isn’t because of the argument I so skillfully weaved in the paragraphs above.  It is impossible to be objective when it comes to music.  It is far too personal.

In this day and age, we all have a soundtrack to our lives…

Perhaps we all leave behind a sort of sonic footprint, said soundtrack, written in the stuff of the noosphere, that so purely expresses our inmost soul that, if it were to be congealed again into the material world … well, there we would be – in all of our humanness, our opinions, our history, our longing for a future with the same pleasures as our past… So what can I objectively say about music?  I can say this:  it is as necessary to our existence as breathing.  It is a variegated jewel that is so utterly human in its infinite creative possibilities, like a prism refracting a myriad of souls.  Here’s what I might say about the new David Bowie album.  Give it a listen.  See if you can refrain from comparison.  See if you can listen to it on its own merits… like nothing has ever preceded it … like nothing will come after.  Listen like this these words from Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (1897-1981):

 “What makes the present so different? Obviously, my presence. I am real for I am always now, in the present, and what is with me now shares in my reality. The past is in memory, the future — in imagination. There is nothing in the present event itself that makes it stand out as real…A thing focused in the now is with me, for I am ever present; it is my own reality that I impart to the present event.”

Thomas Carnacki – The Oar of Panmuphle (first begemot)

An Aural Mythology

What have myths become in our modern times but things written, things read, things believed in days gone by; things believed by people far less worldly or even intelligent than ourselves; ludicrous fantasies that attempted to explain a world before Science came up with the Answers.  Facts trump stories, do they not?

As “sophisticated” members of Western Civilization, many of us may feel that we are no longer a mythic people. No, that was left far behind, probably even before Jesus, we might exclaim.

But myth is not what we think it is.  Myth is not something we read, or memorize and retell.  Myth is not an object.  Myth is a capacity.  Myth is the capacity, the tendency, to spontaneously create meaning and unity from the realm of internal and external “happenings” that constitute our daily existence.  Myth is a verb.

Myth is alive and well in any act of creative art-making and is certainly alive in Thomas Carnacki’s latest creation: The Oar of Panmuphle. The brainchild of Bay Area DJ and artiste Gregory Scharpen, Thomas Carnacki inhabits a netherworld between musique concrète, sound collage, improvisation, and the haunted sonic explorations of irr.app.(ext.) and Nurse With Wound.

The Oar of Panmuphle takes its name from a novel by the author and playwright, Alfred Jarry (an author who is yet to receive his due respect)- The Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll Pataphysician. The album dances gleefully in the same parallel universe of surreal aesthetic relationships.

Each piece is dedicated to one of Carnacki’s friends.  I believe that something magical happens when an artist sets out to create a piece of art “using friendship as a compositional starting point”.(1) Something of the soul of that person ends up encapsulated, translated into sound and essence.  Each of the pieces on Oar come across as little dreamlike myths – myths telling stories not about a person’s life necessarily, but about their spirit.  Carnacki is not trying to tell stories to “explain”, he is telling stories to inspire wonder and curiosity – a haunted retelling of the life of the soul.

On the front of the cd insert is a quote from Peter Greenaway (one of my favorite filmmakers by the way) suggesting that the work in hand was/is a labored affair.  From the perspective of a listener, this album is fresh, inspiring, and a heartfelt tribute to the mingling of souls we call friendship.

(1) from the liner notes

Listen to some Carnacki here:

Carnacki on Soundcloud

Buy it here:

Aquarius Records

Alex Kelly Cd Release Extravaganza

I don’t usually post “reviews” about shows I’ve seen.  They are somehow too ephemeral –  once they are past, they can only exist in my memory of them. ( In my case, memories quickly become dusty and should be treated with a great deal of skepticism.)  I simply had to bend my own rules after witnessing what I witnessed last night at Beatbox in San Francisco.

Here’s why:  It was one of the most generous performances I have seen in a long time.  However, I’m biased.  I’ve gotten to know Alex a bit over the past few months after he graced my new record (go here for more information on that if you are piqued) with his inspired cello-work.  Alex is one of those musicians whose heart pours through his instrument.  His playing exudes kindness and sensitivity.  What I think I was least prepared for last night was the scope of Alex’s musical landscape.  How often can you hear cellos playing gritty blues one minute and ethereal “soundtracks to a moment in your life” the next; toe curling flamenco as an appetizer to the most sumptuous string quartets ala Joan Jeanrenaud  (who was but one of the many special guests – you know – Kronos Quartet?)

There was the batty, but kind hearted, juggler who subjected some hapless guy from the audience to a frighteningly clumsy episode using some sort of flashlight taser contraption – three of them actually – before juggling them, perched upon an incredibly tall unicycle.  We were treated to a magician(?) who was able to guess the most absolutely random shit I’ve ever seen in my life.  I’m still scratching my noggin over this guy.  How he anticipated one phone number from the San Francisco White Pages is completely beyond me.  Towards the end of the evening Alex was joined by Dan Cantrell – one of the most astounding accordionists you have ever heard in your life (at one point my friend turned to me and said “The least he could do is look at the keyboard every now and then to make it look hard.”) – in a delicate duet called “Whispers”.  As if the sheer beauty of this piece wasn’t enough they were joined by a dancer(?), acrobat(?), what was he?, who balanced and gently undulated 8 glass balls in his hands.  It was utterly mesmerizing.

But the glue, the very fabric of the evening was Alex and his cello.  I’m posting the link to his cdbaby site so that you can click on it and then buy his record.  The way I see it – his generosity should be rewarded with ours.

Buy his cd now:  Alex Kelly “Solos”