Thursday, January 24, 2013

VHS Head - Trademark Ribbons Of Gold (Skam, 2010)

A lot of my favorite music these days seems to be archive-diving, cross-referentied works of collageist fury. The Dada cut-ups mutant evolution, surfing on the datastreams, masters of post-modernism. A lot of people seem to hate the flood, blaming it for their weakened attention spans and sex drives. But then you have folks like VHS Head, who has put together a record of VHS splice and dice bangers and clangers.

A lot of it has the glow of the workout video to it, high hair blowing in a laguna breeze. Ade Blacow has pulled the backing tracks and sound effects from his personal stash, obsessively layering the 80s sleeze into a surprisingly fresh onslaught of sometimes brutal breakbeats and channel-surfing plunderphonics. It works as a gallery piece and as a soundtrack to Saturday night.

The modern archivist draws you into a world of their own, a collection of their personal memories and mementoes. Their childhood VCRs and adolescent late nights, there seem to be some so hideously WELL-RESEARCHED and PUT TOGETHER. They have the ultimate taste, or their own taste, at least. Its up to you to decided if you like it. So, here you have VHS Head, who seems to revere the 80s thriller/action flick, Chuck Norris Status, or you have James Ferraro, and his plastic armchair exotica, or Mordant Music's mouldering European gothicness. The archives are linking up, and there's a little something for everybody. These crate diggers act as a guide to the Underworld, a barely glimpsed shadow realm of Video Nasties and ghosts on tape. They are the antidote to the feeling of ennui of the been there down that, easily exhausted Twitterer.

And the best thing of it, is its not merely an Academic exercise. Its pleasurably taut dancefloor material, could get a bunch of hyfy kids hot and bothered, if they knew it existed. Which they should. Which is why i'm writing this. VHS Head, Demdike Stare, Devon Folklore Tapes, Andy Votel, Pre-Cert Home Entertainment; these folks are world builders, and its a sweet Giallo world that i never want to leave. Anybody that can reference Jane Fonda workout films and Dario Argento, simultaneously, is aces.

Some of us legitimately LOVE the archives, take comfort and inspiration in the dusty folds of abstract moldering paperbacks. I think the illusion of progress, of time moving in a linear fashion, is dissolving. There's no getting to the top of yr class and there's a billion classes, anyway. Capitalism taught us that newer is always better, to keep reaching out for that shiny thing. You'll never be content, and you'll never get to the bottom of the mystery of Human Genius and potential. Rather than constantly spewing out endless assembly line vomit, why don't we just chill and rest on our laurels? Watch some movies? Hang out with friends? This attention to detail, the care and craft, that went into Trademark Ribbons of Gold, is the perfect cure for this ADD-addled world. Don't succumb to marketing pressures, don't become a demographic. Be passionate, in all that you do.

For years, i wanted to be an expert on music so that people would like and respect me. What a joke. I ended up awkward, with too much to say, at parties. Highly specialized, you might say. I'm finally making my way through my own archives, and i'll share the results.

We still support music. We're still here.

Follow Along:

find it on AMAZON:  Trademark Ribbons of Gold

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Dead Can Dance - Into The Labyrinth

This is the record that started it all. It is single-handedly (pun slightly intended) responsible for my becoming an unrepentant music obsessive. This record, DCD's 7th and the first with American distribution, had an unlikely hit with the single 'The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove' (which also shares a title with a Secret Agent (Danger Man) episode) enthralled my young ears with its ethnic polyrhythms and sacrificial lyrics. I was a drummer at the time, so the beat caught my attention. I struggled to catch the name, and when i did, i hounded every place of musical commerce i could think of. Unfortunately, the record would not be released in the states for several months, and that's when the obsessive record questing began. I would take the train to Chicago, and buy expensive overpriced Belgian imports of their albums, before they were re-issued domestically. Those freezing, icy Chicago sojourns, reeking of incense and cappuccino, would make an indelible impression on me, as would the music contained on this album.

Dead Can Dance's music is like magick personified, given voice, and as such, it is the kind of thing i have always wanted to share, here at J's Heaven. The whole reason i started this blog in the first place was to put sounds out into the world, to maybe colour yr afternoon or evening or night drive. To take a little strand of these beautiful moving moments that i have experienced, and spread it 'round. There seemed to be no shortage of places to hear great music out there, so i sort of stopped for a while. But then i noticed that there's not very many people posting records anymore, and it seems a shame to let the whole thing die. The explosion of the music blogs a few years ago was a time of great imagination and innovation, even if we were all a bit hungry and jaded, not really taking the time to listen to what we had. I've been taking the time, enjoying my life, listening to my favorite records. I've met the love of my life, and we are building a life together. We have a black cat. We cook dinners, sweep floors, buy groceries. This is the kind of shit that music is meant for, as a compliment and an expression of simple, mind-blowing appreciation.

It is this level of contentment that can radically alter yr life. With this contentment, i am exploring and learning how to write about music for real, to take my time and say what i'm trying to say. That's very much a work in progress. Music has brought so much magick, so much joy and inspiration, i just want to spread my particular flavor around. I'm going to do a series of posts of my most influential albums, the records that have made me the bearded, hatted weirdo that is typing here at 12:43 a.m. on a monday night. I'm broke as hell, but certainly not defeated. Still not drunk, still trying to write cool songs. I've been up to a lot, while this blog has been sleeping. I'd love to fill you in. If you care to take a look, i've also started a new blog, called Forestpunk,where i do a lot of philosophical and metaphysical speculating, as well as posting bric-a-brac. I'll be doing these album reviews at The Guardian, as well, just so a few more people might find them, in an effort to further spread the good word about some of my favorite music.

Excited about writing and sharing music with the world. Glad to still be here with y'all.
Read about Into The Labyrinth at The Guardian
Find it on Amazon:  Into the Labyrinth

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Nils Frahm - Screws

is offering up his new opus as a free download, as well as available physically from Erased Tapes.

Berlin-based pianist and composer Nils Frahm didn't let a broken thumb slow him down. Instead of taking a forced sabbatical, that would've lasted months, he instead wrote 9 gorgeous miniatures for 9 fingers. 9 compositions for solo piano, unaccompanied and unadorned, the music is glacial and patient, resonant and laden with intention. He has absorbed the strengths of Satie's virulent strain, but ditched a lot of the frivolity the French are famous for. Anyone who got into either of Gonzales' solo piano records will be in heaven. Perfect music for window gazing, watching the oncoming fall.

Nils Frahm tends to be associated with what is called 'Neoclassical' music, sometimes known as 'Modern Classical' or maybe merely 'Ambient', but he has discarded a lot of the stylized elements, the clicks, cuts, groans and droans, to make something bare and timeless. The singularity of style is approaching, and we are reverting back to pure MUSIC: melody, harmony, rhythm. I foresee a renaissance in all things classic. You will begin to see trad jazz, chamber quartets, Baroque counterpoint. Everybody is mining the past, to become their truest selves, and its like we're living in a timeless void, devoid of genre restrictions and exclusivity. Everybody is trying to make their heart's music to the best of their abilities, and Nils Frahm has the chops and expertise to make an emotional statement, to conjure a mood. It is nice hear to something unaffected, unstylized. Honest and simple and very, very effective.

Screws, and anything on Erased Tapes really, is perfect reflective music for the abandoning summer, for the onset of Autumn. Frost creeps over the windows like a cataract, a lifetime of memories emerges from the sudden stillness and dark. The 9 songs of Screws can act as an amniotic cathedral of emotions, a holy temple of reverberation, recombinant sounds forming crystal shifting clouds of ringing piano beauty. It can bring tears to yr eyes, and peace to yr heart. It can quiet yr mind, it can make you a better person.

Nils Frahm writes beautiful music, which he is making available digitally for free, with hard copies available from Erased Tapes.

if yr in or around Portland, this evening, you can see Nils live, at Classic Pianos, with Marcus Fischer.

Nils Frahm with Marcus Fischer
Classic Pianos
3003 SE Milwaukie Ave.
Portland, Or 97202

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Stars - Set Yourself On Fire

"Anyway... I've started to make a tape... in my head... for Laura. Full of stuff she likes. Full of stuff that make her happy. For the first time I can sort of see how that is done." - Rob, High Fidelity

In a rather unexpected turn of events, i have momentarily found some love in my normally bleak, vicious life. "o no," you might think to yrself, "does this mean he's gonna stop posting nasty noise & misanthropic black metal?" Not by a fucking long shot. For one, there's still plenty of emptiness and pointlessness to existence, even while in the throes of romance and two, this chick's cool, and likes all manner of harshness. Encourages it, even.

i'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that for all my years, and all my love interests, hardly ever have i ever stopped to consider another person's aesthetic, to step behind their eyelids for a moment and try to figure out what makes them tick. I've remained relatively distant and disaffected over the years, preserving my hide and soul at all costs. But i ended up making music with this girl (we play in a band called meta pinnacle), and over the months of writing and learning songs with this person, i ended up taking on some of her taste, by default, trying to make shit sound as best as possible.

We've covered 2 songs off of this record, so far: 'Your Ex-Lover Is Dead' and 'Sleep Tonight,' both of which i love. For some, to hear Set Yrself On Fire 7 years after the fact, one may be tempted to disregard it as another jaunty post-punk orchestral pop record that anybody vaguely familiar with Death Cab For Cutie or anything rubbing up against Broken Social Scene sounds like. Its dismissive, and indicative of some of the challenges facing us as a listening public, these days. There were times when you may only get one new album a month, or maybe once a week, tops, which means you'd have at least 7 days to assimilate the intricacies of song-writing craft etched on the grooves. SYOF's strength, like many or most things in life, lie in the details, like the gentle, drifting guitar on the tail end of the title track, or the string and horn arrangements on 'Your Ex-Lover Is Dead'. In a lot of ways, Stars' sound like DCFC or The Strokes being backed by The Lefte Banke. And the thing of it is, if you don't immediately discredit this record like some hipster prick and actually give it a bloody chance, you may realize that there are aspects of music with far more street cred, like the vocal interplay between Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan, which bring to mind the heavenly harmonies of My Bloody Valentine, or the dreamy delayed guitar that sounds just like epic post-rock. The arsenal of unusual instrumentation bring to mind old, good Belle & Sebastien, and the overall effect is of a multi-hued, many-textured mature record.

I had totally burned out on mid-'00s Indie Rock, one too many Postal Service listens possibly, but this girl has forced me to open my eyes, re-consider my position, and make me wonder what else i might be missing.  There's a shitload of good songs on this record, the production rocks, and there's enough interesting aspects to overlook the bullshit Julian Casablancas aping.

There's going to be a lot more, where this came from...

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Hungry Ghosts - Self Titled

so i have been wrestling in the real world with my involvement with music, what the fuck am i hoping to accomplish anyway, and why am i doing this? You write a blog, and all the links get taken down. You throw a show, the musicians are all amazing, but nobody shows up. This is not belly-aching, this is problem solving. What exactly am i trying to do?

The reason i started J's Heaven, in the first place, was to shed the light on maybe some older or more obscure musicks that there's no way to promote, otherwise. Most 'official publications' only want reviews of albums released that year, at best, and dusty slabs of inspiration from the past get swept under the rug, unless they get re-issued or somebody dies.

For me, it all boiled down to THE ALBUM, using the format of an album review as some pagan invocation to transmit flashing passion from my brain pan to yrs. You see, i have a curious mind. You might almost call it Faustian (lord knows it'll damn my soul, one of these days) and i seem to have no choice but to continue to unearth new gems. Most of the time, its doing research for my own music, listening with open ears and an open mind. So its all been very convoluted, with multiple motivations occurring simultaneously. Mostly, it is to take a sliver of my mind, my life, remove the setting and place it in the ether, for other travellers to stop and bask and rest for a moment. I take these mornings of French jazz and harsh noise, and i give them to you. There is magick happening, all around you. Inspiration, illumination... this music has been the soundtrack to my evolution. It has made me a happier person, even if i have had to walk down a hallway of daggers to get there.

Hungry Ghosts has been my favorite recent discovery of the month (although its more like last month, i've been out of town for a bit) so i basically just picked this one to start, before delving into some ambitious shit i've got in mind. Hungry Ghosts are from Australia, and it was primarily the work of one J. P. Shilo, who's gone on to do some pretty high profile collaborations and film soundtrack work. This is their debut LP, recorded with Rowland S. Howard (of The Birthday Party/Crime and the City Solution fame). Its an LP of evocative spectral noir, music for dark night of the soul. This is Doom Jazz if it were played out at the Moulin Rouge, there seems to be a Parisian hint to these desert landscapes, what with the accordion and fiddle and whatnot. They sound a lot like Earth, in their dense desert-y guitars and mournful cello, but mixed with Kiliminjaro Darkjazz Ensemble playing Debussy covers. This is post-rock, before it got pigeonholed into a cliche, mixing elements of jazz classical and movie scores into a colorful tapestry that will unravel behind yr eyes like a wormhole, like a depth charge.

And that's the thing: this is classic music. Timeless. It came out in 1999, but its new to me, and i'm pretty sure there's bound to be some folks out there that haven't heard this one yet. The instruments are gloriously, glowingly recorded by Howard. The guitars tremble like starving pilgrims, and the keyboards shiver like moonlight on a frosted windshield. The violins are weeping for the lost, but the accordion saws away like Nero. I am quite convinced that this music will make you a better person. To watch a rock band churning out psychedelic chamber music is awesome to behold, the way all the different instruments weave around one another, silken and sinuous. This band truly were at the peak of their powers! If you dig the Western melodrama of The Dirty Three, this one's up yr alley, or even good ol' psych rock like Bardo Pond. There is not one mis-placed note, and it just gets better with repeat listenings. This may become an old friend, a new favorite. It has for me. Let it be the soundtrack to yr late summer, wherever you are.

JP Shilo's been re-issuing some of the Hungry Ghosts stuff on Bandcamp, and has been releasing some new stuff as well, so i'd advocate supporting this extremely talented musician.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Torn ACLs - Real Risks

File Under: The Torn ACLs

The facts:
  1. a pop band from Seattle, Wa.
  2. There are four men in this band.
  3. They are - WILLIAM CREMIN
                            - MILES RANISAVLJEVIC
                            - JASON TABERT
                            - TIM MCCLANAHAN
  4. Real Risks is a 5 track EP, released on 7.13.12 on CreeperSpeak Records
  5. The Torn ACLs played as part of the final day of Goat's Head Fest, here in Portland, where they were nice enough to give me a copy of this disk, for review. 
The speculation: 
  1. They remind me of Death Cab For Cutie. A lot. They write sharp, clever pop songs with clear ringing guitars, heartfelt slightly whiney vocals and sweet, sweet harmonies. There is a tradition of emotional, bookish white boys making edgy pop music. It goes from The Smiths through Elvis Costello to Belle and Sebastien. We tattoo our hearts on our biceps; we take up smoking and never look back.
The thing many don't realize is there is a punk rock attitude to this polished prettiness. Its the rebellion of people who have decided to become intelligent and tasteful to smite their enemies. They rise above, and often times it is the record collections and the all ages hardcore shows that make sanity possible. Serge Gainsborough as Holy Grail. Jacques Brel serves as psychopomp to a better world; chic vintage furnishings and pretty women. Insomnia and intoxication. 

When i'm reviewing a record, the first question i ask is 'What is this object's reason for existing?' Why have its creators decided to make this tiny painting/sound collage and ship it out into the stratosphere? With Real Risks i get the sense that The Torn ACLs are attempting to perfect a formula. Its like they listened to The Photo Booth and Castaways and Cutouts a ton, and been like, "We can do that!" In many ways, they succeed. The vocals are rich and resonant, the guitars shimmer and sparkle and cut. The whole transmission seems intact. This is impressive, considering that they recorded the EP themselves, and had it mixed at Park Audio, in Nampa, ID. It is not easy to get a big studio sound yrself, trust me. The five tracks are over in a flash, and leave you hitting repeat. The kind of thing that'll stay in yr car for a month. A soundtrack to a season; maybe that's why they've made it. I can definitely say that this document is appropriate for the Northwestern summer; the creamy cerulean of the cityscape on the cover, the breezy guitars. A prime score for porch dwelling and skygazing. 

So here's the thing, i'm going to cut you off at the pass. A certain type of hipster will rain down scorn and derision on this 4 peace. They are emulating their inspirations; they are refining a formula. You have heard shit that sounds like the Torn ACLs before. Is there anything wrong with that? I've heard shit that sounds like The Beatles, before and since. I still like The Beatles. I still like people that sound like The Beatles. You've got to peer beneath the varnish, kids. Can't just react and respond. Watching The Torn ACLs play live, their sound was dialed in and they seemed to know what they were going for (even if the guitars were a touch too loud, a mistake that 90% of bands make, especially in small rooms.) On top of that, they were gracious human beings, stoked to be working their craft. Generous and optimistic. They got smooshed last minute into the Goat's Head fold, and they were totally cool and easy to work with.

They're pretty new, and exactly the kind of thing we like to promote here at J's Heaven. I look forward to when they start breaking new ground and record their Trout Mask Replica, although maybe they never will. Maybe it is impossible to say something new, at this juncture. I don't really care. I like music as much as i ever have, and i don't judge folks for sounding like other folks. A million points of bright white light.

If you were not one of the 15 or so people that got to see The Torn ACLs at Ella Street last Sunday, you get another shot, tonight at Backspace. All ages.

Real Risks is available for 3 bucks, digitally, and five dollars for the CD, which is really rather lovely and sounds great. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Body Swap

saw these dudes last night @ the Kenton Club w/ Insect Factory (which i spoke ov over here). Insect Factory has gotten better and better, since last i saw him 4 years ago, but the first band was utter math-drek; i had apprehension going into Body Swap's set. However, the Kenton Club is a laid-back, working class bar kind of place, and i was a little buzzed and tired, so fuck it. Why not watch these dudes play their transparent drum set? Jeff Barsky likes 'em.

Body Swap come from San Fransisco, which has always been and remains a capitol of psychedelic rock. The Grateful Dead are from there; so is Six Organs of Admittance. Neurosis lives near by. They seem to channel two-chord eternal rock 'n roll better than just about anybody. And i always forget how much i like amniotic trance jams.

This brand of trancey, propulsive dervish music, honed by the giants like Grails' and Bardo Pond will always be by and for the heads. People who stay up late, burning incense and listening to records. Perhaps owning some form of semi-precious stone collection. They probably play in one or more bands, themselves. Funny, but 12-minute long instrumental grooves have never seemed to catch on in the mainstream. But if you give 'em the time of day, yr body might start to sway like a charmed cobra, the third eyelid may start to shutter yr everyday vision, and if yr lucky, you may start to see stars.

The thing with Body Swap is that the tone is so tasty; the drums lay into a doomy, middle-eastern lockgroove, and the bass and guitars are syrupy, thick rich and o so sweet. Like honey. This music is decadent, hypnotic; a tavern raga, a plugged-in hookah cafe. A flying carpet; a flying saucer. It kind of hits like a SOMA injection.

Bardo Pond were some of the earliest contemporary underground Psych music i had heard, and others culled from the pages of Ptolemaic Terrascope (which remains essential reading for cognoscenti, along with the Galactic Zoo Dossier by Plastic Crimewave). I had been, and remain, a fanatical shoegaze freak, looking for the ultimate melt, the far-off gaze. I had finally moved to Chicago, and felt that i had escaped the Suburban Hell in which i was reared. These kraut grooves remind me of that first autumn, post-divorce, as i was mutating into the post-punk industrial noise shaman that i would later pretend at. It has a feeling of newness, of adventure.

This music won't work, if you won't let it. You have to give it the time of day. Not everybody takes the time of day for 15 minutes of trance dervish worship. But it'll improve yr life. And yr imagination. Body Swap don't seem to have a shitload of material out there, yet; some SoundCloud material and a new split with a band called Deep Earth, who also seem kind of sweet. You can hear smatterings of each on their bandcamp,  and buy a tape for 5 bucks. If you live in the NorthWest, you can catch 'em tonight in Seattle @ the Rendezvous, and again in Portland on Fri. at some house show.

I'm telling you, getting to check out music like this for cheap or free is a precious thing. Catch 'em now, while they're still unknown.