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.