Monthly Archives: January 2013

Sun Ra, “Lanquidity”

When Carl Sagan pondered the possibility of life elsewhere in the solar system, he conjured up creatures such as hot-air-balloon-sized flying jellyfish that would float through Jupiter’s blistering atmosphere propelled by their own sulfurous discharges.

Sun Ra operates on a similar wavelength, often attempting to re-create what musical instruments might sound like on other worlds. “Lanquidity,” released in 1978, is the most repeatedly listenable Ra album I’ve yet to come across (the title track for 1965’s “The Magic City,” for instance, sounds much like a construction site hooked up to a loudspeaker) and one that easily holds its own beside Pharaoh Sanders’ “Karma” and Sonny Sharrock’s “Ask the Ages.”

The meandering Hammond, buzzing bassoon, muted guitar chugs, precariously perched bass notes, itchy drums, strangled oboe, and occasional whale-speak and duck-honk effects give the set a malleable, dreamy complexion.

It’s a barely controlled chaos best displayed on the title track, slippery woodwinds (bassoon, oboe, clarinet) playing leapfrog with Ra’s brimming, bubbling palette of synth, Moog, bells, organ and piano.

It feels like some primordial form of funk — or fusion in disrepair. The song even closes with an oboe melody identical to one, albeit synthesized, heard throughout Pink Floyd’s “On the Run,” off “Dark Side of the Moon (1973).” I have to think it was an intentional tip of the hat by the Birmingham, Ala.,-born jazz composer to his more rock-oriented space-dwelling brethren on the other side of the pond.

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Squirrel Bait, “Sun God”

Purists will know that two of the members from Squirrel Bait went on to create the critical darling Slint and its towering slab of math rock porn, 1991’s “Spiderland.” But for pure kick-you-in-the-teeth rock fury with your Midwest sludge, Bait’s got your back.

The Louisville, Ky., five-piece started out in 1983 as a trio playing hardcore punk as high-schoolers going under the moniker of Squirrelbait Youth. “Sun God,” the band’s signature track, was off its 1985 self-titled EP, reportedly made for $400. But I heard it first on the music compilation that most expanded my musical horizons, Homestead Records’ “The Wailing Ultimate,” back in 1987 when the cassette was still king in cars. That’s when a years-long love affair ensued between Big Black and my ears (we still occasionally get a bit drunk and make out).

Sixteen-year-old Peter Searcy’s fierce howl — so later reminiscent of Kurt Cobain’s holler — is the perfect match for the explosive music. There are still shades of hardcore on “Sun God,” but by 1985, the band had carved enough space into its music to give it mood. “Sun God” is as much pensive, to the point of brooding at times, as it is loud and furious.

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Stupid music subgenres rant

Stupid music subgenres rant

I blame the Internet.

Lately, when researching bands on Wikipedia and Allmusic, I’ve been noticing scads of new musical subgenres. Some, such as “post hardcore,” are downright embarrassing.

Sure, we’ve all gotten used to the terms “post rock” and “post punk” by now, but seeing “post hardcore” in print like that makes all three terms look lubberly. How about post pop? Pre rock? “Post garage” could be when you make it out of the garage.

Allmusic describes post hardcore as music that is “guitar heavy,” is performed by bands with “do-it-yourself ethics,” employs “complex and dynamic ways of blowing off steam that generally [fall] outside the strict hardcore realm of ‘loud fast rules'” and is open to the occasional “whispered croon.” So not only is the title stupid, but so is the definition. The “croon” observation is perhaps the best attempt at something meaningful — or at least distinguishable.

I honestly don’t think “post hardcore” would have made it into the music-genre club if it hadn’t been for Al Gore. If the Internet didn’t exist, not even Rolling Stone would be stooping to “Idiocracy”-speak. But now the long-lobotomied magazine uses the term to describe At the Drive-In and Hot Water Music — bands, by the way, whose names are bland descriptions rather than actual titles (which gives me an idea for another rant).

If that’s not bad enough, Wikipedia describes “Nintendocore” as music that “fuses aggressive styles of modern rock with chiptune [8-bit music] and video game music.” Sounds more like a fetish than a music genre.

“Core,” by the way, is a gold mine in the genre-naming game. There’s also electroniccore, metalcore, sadcore, breakcore, glitchcore, terrorcore, noisecore … and then I stopped looking.

A few more I have to mention to see if I can make your eyes bug out are experimental metal, new rock revolution, New Weird America, electro-house, new rave and power noise (also referred to as power noize).

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Ribbon Around A Bomb

It’s a well-known fact that I dig me some low-brow art, especially if it’s a little tongue-in-check, and ESPECIALLY if it’s dark and/or inappropriate. Enter: Bargain Bin Blasphemy. How wonderful are these? I’d love to have a couple on my cubicle walls at the office…

bargain bin 5

bargain bin 3

bargain bin 4

bargain bin 1

bargain bin 2

More of ’em here. I think you might be able to purchase these satanic lovelies too? PS- You should obvs read the Cheap Art Manifesto if you haven’t before.

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“The Sex Pistols show was the most fun show I ever played. We did a 45 minute set in 28 minutes. Everything imaginable was thrown at us. I got hit with liver. Winterland was sold out, 7-8,000 people, but only a few hundred knew who the Sex Pistols were. The rest were curious onlookers and they were told to throw things and spit. They got this from the mass media who sensationalized the event. I loved it because it was immortal, the last show, which made it even more special.”

Jeff Olener, member of San Francisco band The Nuns, discussing the Pistols’ show at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco on Jan. 14, 1978, at which Johnny Rotten would fire off his “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” soliloquoy and quit the band (from “Punk ’77” by James Stark).

Sex Pistols final show

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Sharon Van Etten, “Serpents”

In an interview last year with the Sound Opinions podcast, Sharon Van Etten had a neurosis to get off her chest. She basically apologized to her fans for not having really rocked out on any of her releases. And she was including 2012’s “Tramp” in this confession.

But “Tramp” does rock. Take the rollicking “Serpents,” bemoaning the persistence of memory and untrustworthiness of human beings. It may not be as flashy as a band bringing that heavy metal thunder, but there’s a definite weightiness, an ominous threat looming in the music — like dark clouds leeching into a brightly painted sky. Call it hard folk.

I’m not really here to talk about the music, though. That’s just the packaging over the real prize: Van Etten, a Siren like no other. Oh sure, I’ve been smitten by other chanteuses over the years: Sinead O’Connor, Bjork, Chan Marshall and P.J. Harvey come to mind. But this New Jersey musician puts all those “puppy love” infatuations to shame.

Here’s the part where I thank Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio for encouraging Van Etten to pursue a music career.

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Clinic, “If You Could Read Your Mind”

Liverpool four-piece Clinic formed in 1997 and has seven studio albums to its name — all distinctly different. There’s psychobilly (2000’s “Internal Wrangler”), there’s soft rock (2010’s “Bubblegum”) and there’s acid rock (also “Bubblegum”), depending on what color the mood rings were that day. The only constant is singer Adrian Blackburn’s sneer and the reliability of swirling keyboards in the mix.

My go-to track when I need to get far from the maddening crowd of humanity is the Sleestak disco sensation, “If You Could Read Your Mind,” off the swampy “Visitations”. It’s part art rock and part stoner rock. Blackburn’s mouth may occasionally form actual words (other than muttering the title), but if you’re dwelling on this aspect, you’re doing it wrong.

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Death Grips, “Klink”

Not many rap albums sample Black Flag. But this is HARDCORE rap, junior.

The noise-rap trio from Sacramento, consisting of Stefan “MC Ride” Burnett on vocals, Zach Hill (also of math rock outfit Hella) on drums and production, and Andy “Flatlander” Morin on production, recorded its first single the same day it formed the band. Called “Full Moon (Death Classic),” the self-recorded and -released track was recorded during a full moon and the winter solstice (Dec. 21, 2010). Which sounds like the makings of a stereotypical satanic ritual, except that Death Grips refers to itself as “post-satan” — as well as “raw like wet penises” — in a 2011 interview with Hater webzine.

The use of Black Flag’s “Rise Above” on the song “Klink,” off 2011’s devastating “Exmilitary” (also self-released), cleverly links the violent relations between authority figures and a predominantly white hardcore punk scene to the larger-scale cruelty beset upon minorities by THE MAN. The logic doesn’t quite work out, as many punks were bent on anarchy and antagonized the cops as an endgame, in which instance, “Rise Above” could easily be synonymous with “take over.” However, “Klink” is a song aimed at freedom-loving folks just “minding my own business” who are urged to “rise above” the oppression from a police state.

In any case, “Exmilitary” was the best thing besides Shabazz Palaces’ “Black Up” that happened in the rap continuum in 2011. And Death Grips carries the same anti-authoritarian attitude as Black Flag. It even got booted out of its contract with the Epic label over its lack of respect for the bald-headed big wigs.

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Angelite/Huun-Huur-Tu, “Lonely Bird”

For some, there is no more orgasmic a combination on Earth than the Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir and Huun-Huur-Tu, a group of throat singers from the Russian republic of Tuva. Not many of these enthusiasts probably live outside of Asia and Asia-centric communities in the West, but I intend to change all that, starting right now.

At the very least, one can’t dispute the singular sound the pairing creates. The ethereal strains from the choir Angelite (a BSTFVC offshoot) mingling with HHT’s more earthly tones is electrifying. Both collectives employ complex harmonies and exhibit incredible control of their breath and breathing.

HHT employs the xoomei style of throat singing, in which each member can sing up to three notes at the same time, giving their voices a reedy timbre. The group has a wealth of experience collaborating and performing with American musicians in its 20-year history, including Frank Zappa, Kronos Quartet, Mickey Hart and Ry Cooder (its music was used in Cooder’s soundtrack for the film, “Geronimo”).

BSTFVC, whose first recording took place in the mid-1950s, is perhaps most noted for its work with Kate Bush (Trio Bulgarka, another BSTFVC offshoot, performed on “The Sensual World” and “The Red Shoes”). An interesting note is that Peter Murphy of Bauhaus played an integral role in BSTFVC’s entry onto the world stage. It was Murphy who lent a 1975 recording (“Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares,” an album that was 15 years in the making) to 4AD founder Ivo Watts-Russell, who reportedly became obsessed with the choir, and rereleased the work in 1986. BSTFVC eventually won a Grammy in 1990. It’s no surprise the Bulgarian choir made it into 4AD’s exclusive catalog, as the haunting, serpentine voices radiated an atmosphere as apprehensive as output by Dead Can Dance and This Mortal Coil, other bands on the label’s roster.

“Lonely Bird,” off 1996’s “Fly, Fly My Sadness,” the first of two collaborations between the collectives, is epic. At 11 minutes, the song shimmers in and out of focus like a mirage. Bjork put out an album in 2004, “Medulla,” that consisted entirely of human vocals (meaning she wasn’t allowed to sing on it). Just kidding.

But it was done on “Sadness” first. The album features no instrumentation, and it doesn’t feel at all gimmicky. It’s essential listening.

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“You can play a shoestring if you’re sincere.”

stjohncoltrane

— St. John Coltrane

John Coltrane

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