Saturday, July 25, 2009

Long May You Run

sparse elegant simmering shimmering mournful blues hymns to heartbreak and healing. This is the soundtrack to dreams and sleepless mourning. This is the sound of hearts breaking, and painfully mending. Hushed, intimate, and immediate; the guitars breathe and the vocals moan. In a similar opened vein to Smog or Red House Painters, this is music for late-night introspection, or to carry a sliver of twilight with you throughout your day. This record sounds like grieving, like subdued passion boiling over in a quiet intensity. Deadly beautiful and captivating, Tillman is the needle in the long-playing grooves of my brain. I have listened to this record a dozen times in the last 2 days.

Long May Your Run, J. Tillman (2006)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tree Sound

Tree Sound is a solo, lo-fi bedroom folk pop project from a girl named Natalie, living in California. She got in touch with me before i left for my trip, so i packed up her album to keep me company on the road. What we have here is a short, sweet collection of songs that are strongly reminiscent of The Moldy Peaches and the synthpop, indie-pop moments off of Beirut's The Gulag Orchestra. The mood here is mainly of childlike wonder and innocence, with plenty of ukulele and glockenspiel, 8 bit synth and bird-chirping (!). The vocals and lyrics are rather accomplished, focusing on a lot of nature imagery; sea and sky, birds and bananas, and fishes! There is the occasional moment of heart-ache, on What Happened to the Fishes?, but even that is cloaked in innocence. To be honest, it kind of blows my mind a little bit, i'm so used to living in a world of nocturnal melodrama. I can be too heavy and serious sometimes, and music like this reminds me of that.
The only thing i would like to see is more of an emotional range, dealing with other strains of the human experience. No one is full of wide-eyed wonder all the time. Also, i'd like to see her bring in a wider range of influences, as the main influences show through very clearly. Maybe bring in some other instruments in the future, some electricity perhaps. I'd just like to see more variety on her future releases. The album comes across as a rather accomplished EP, being rather short and sweet, or a bedroom demo showing a lot of potential. Curious to see what comes next. Many thanks to Natalie for getting in touch, and connecting.
Tree Sounds

Monday, July 20, 2009

On Location

Writing from the road, from my friend's apartment in South Chicago. On my semi-annual musical pilgrimage, this time for the Pitchfork festival. Saw 2 out of 3 days, with a lot of incredible music, that i will talk more about in upcoming posts.
Been a most interesting journey so far, and not what i'd expected, as usual. This time, not so much about 'wild times' or 'crazy fun', rather introspective, sort of mellow. Taking stock, making sure all vital organs are intact, located where they should be. Seeing old friends and family, and just generally spreading the love.
I had my headphones on for pretty much the entire 30 hour Greyhound ride, so there were a lot of different sounds in that time span, but overall the winner for the journey was Mt. Eerie, Phil Elvrum's post-Microphones project. Drifting along, in the middle of the night, driving through Kansas' inky blackness. Overhead light wouldn't work, spent the night swimming in sound. I played one of his records, stood my hair up on end, and immediately afterwards went, 'ooh, i wanna hear some more.' In total, i listened to 7 Mt. Eerie albums on my journey. I post one, almost arbitrarily, although i think this is the first Mt. Eerie album i heard, and it is very good. He has an extensive back catalog, and well worth delving into, especially if you like Bonnie Prince Billy or other dark melancholic folk music.
Photobucket No Flashlight

On Friday, i saw Tortoise, Yo La Tengo, Jesus Lizard, and Built to Spill; thoroughly appreciated all of them, although i wasn't too impressed by the Jesus Lizard. This was the 4th time i've seen Tortoise and Built to Spill both, and i have to say that both of 'em sounded better than i've ever heard 'em, in my opinion. Tight and focused.

Flashed back in a serious way listening to Tortoise, which was one of the first bands to interest me in indie rock, post rock (of the late 90s jazzy, chicago variety), electric era miles, dub, and krautrock. Basically, contained the DNA of a whole galaxy of underground sounds that would obsess and fascinate me, throughout my 20s. Angela and i discovered 'TNT' at a Border's listening station, and it gathered dust for a while. One night, we played it on a whim, while dosing. Let it play, and left the room, went on one of those late-night cosmic walks that i did so often in my adolescent years. When we came back in, Tortoise's metronomic liquid funk was climbing the walls like spiders. We forgot that we had left it playing, and it left a deep impression.

Their mathematical, minimal precision has stayed with me over the years, and i've listened to TNT so many times i couldn't possibly count. It still holds up, and seeing them on Friday has irradiated the love i have for them. I am still infatuated by their hodge-podge of influences, and i am even more impressed with the quality of their musicianship. They have a new album, which just came out i think, that sees them breaking out of a several year static groove and coming steamin' out of the gate, and i am terribly excited to see what this new phase may bring. Get to know their music, and definitely go see them, if they come through yr town.

Photobucket TNT

Monday, July 6, 2009

Cave - Psychic Psummer (Important, 2009)

At their best, Chicago's Cave boil down familiar but disparate branches of psychedelic rock into a sludgy yet nimble whole. Their first album approached different modes like a kid in a candy store, dipping into heavy riffs, hypnotic repetition, and howling noise, but it sprinted and lagged, never pacing itself as expertly as the band does now. Psychic Psummer is comparatively a less-immediate listen, but it is a deeper and ultimately more rewarding one. It's less of a wrecking ball and more of an assured roll, tumbling like an enormous slow-moving boulder through the band's diverse brand of burly and blissed-out space-rock.

As a mostly-instrumental album, there's a lot of tension and release in these songs, as well as healthy doses of repetition. But Cave continually toy with and subvert these familiar methods in ways that are as cathartic as they are clever. Opener "Gamm" bores through space with its reverberating vocals and windmill guitar strums, veering between explosiveness and a quieter, tenser lockstep martial beat, before ending on a lower-tempo sigh of relief. "Made in Malaysia" is a faster and more surprising follow-up, with a frantic Morse-code keyboard pattern that the band follows in vicious syncopation before bowing into some monstrous circular riffs. There's still a drifting chill-down moment, as with many Cave songs, but it's with a more nervous pulse, pushed by the occasional vocal provocation.

The loping beat, skittering percussion, and robot keyboards of "Encino Men" sounds as good-naturedly goofy as that the name evokes. The moments of release here and throughout the record are muscular without being obvious, and with vintage organ and guitar tones as dry as the band's mouths after some bong-delivered inspiration. Speaking of which, "High, I Am" ironically winds up a bit more straightforward than most of Psychic Psummer. Its groove is solid and taut and driven by domineering bass and toms, and squirts of keyboard and percussive weirdness make it sound like an underwater level of any 16-bit video game.

The band plays themselves out with placid Moog tone and loose drumming of "Machines and Muscles", ending in a simple, satisfying denouement. The album doesn’t out-freak their peers, but nor does it mean to; Psychic Psummer takes the creative restlessness of the band's debut a step further into something much more linear, and rides the line between the studious and the sublime like an act that’s been around much longer than a couple years. It takes an immense amount of structuring and sweat on their end for you to drift away on yours, and the result is so seamless they make it look easy. -from

This has been one of my favorite acquisitions lately, a truly heady slice of psych rock, suckled on the nectar of psych-heroes that have come before, grown strong, confident, adaptable. A real beast! I hear strains of Krautrock (Can, Neu!, etc.), mainly in the hypnotic repetetive motor-beat; hear a touch of Suicide, in their overdriven garage synths; can see a flash of Lightning Bolt in their spastic breakdowns and monotonous pummeling; can watch the graceful sway of Tortoise in their jazzy syncopation. Psychic Psummer is well versed in Minimalist theory, letting the parts grow and swell over time, yet it remains driving and focused.
The performances are inspired, their musical tastes are well-developed, the album is short and sweet and will leave you gasping for more. In short, this album fucking rock. This is a band on the rise, one to watch out for. Get this now! and let it be the soundtrack to yr evolution.

Psychic Psummer

*now the link's really fixed, i swear!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Tom Waits - Bone Machine

From the discography that just keeps on giving, burping up musical treasures like the ocean floor, Bone Machine is my favorite Waits' album, (today), and also where i would direct those that have problems with his raspy, gravelly voice, with ballads like Dirt in the Ground or Whistle down the Wind that have more soul than a clapboard baptist church in Mississippi.
Recorded in 1992, in a room with 'a cement floor and a water heater', awarded a grammy for best alternative album, and featuring guest appearances by Les Claypool, Brain, and Keith Richards; it combines raucous blues jams, apocalyptic gospel numbers, hillbilly music, and tender ballads. This album never skips a beat, solid as bedrock from start to finish, with the bone-dry african feel of 'Earth Died Screaming' to the jazz-funeral horns of 'Dirt in the Ground', it has some of my favorites of the Waits' canon, 'Goin' out West' (featured in the movie Fight Club), 'Who are You' which can wrench a tear from my stony heart, the spooky country of 'Murder in the Red Barn', and 'Black Wings' which could be a response to Nick Cave's second-coming 'Red Right Hand'.
I love the details and nuances of this record, the skeleton of the blues brought to life and dance with disembodied gamelan clanking, the kalimba-like sticks played on 'Earth Died Screaming', the chestnut horns on 'Dirt in the Ground', that would have done Charles Mingus proud. This album breathes, it emotes, it screams, it moans. It is a elegy and a celebration, a fine soundtrack for a rainy day or cooking a steak at midnight.
Also, another reader request: the guitar intro to 'Goin' Out West', which someone described to me like "being buried in dirt": can anyone think of other tracks that sound like this? I learned the guitar was played by a guy called Joe Gore, who also worked with PJ Harvey on the albums 'Is This Desire?' and 'To Bring You My Love,' and i have decided he is a total genius. I'd like to hear more of this raw and gritty guitar tone.
i hope you enjoy and y'all have a nice sunday.
Tom Waits - Bone Machine

Wednesday, July 1, 2009



"Even as some of techno's most prominent advocates have lamented the present state of affairs, this summer has seen the reissue of some of its canonical texts. The past month alone there have been a bevy of essential releases from the golden age of German electronic minimalism: a four-CD box set and separate book chronicling the hallucinatory pleasures of Wolfgang Voigt's Gas project; a new collection of some of the seminal, gravity-defying singles from Berlin's legendary Basic Channel; and this long-awaited box set reissue of the classic late-‘90s trilogy of albums by Pole, titled simply 1, 2, and 3.


Though his music is cut from similar cloth as the abstract dub of Basic Channel, Pole's Stefan Betke pushed its austere, reductionist aesthetic even further. Using the delicate crackling patterns of a malfunctioning Waldorf Pole filter as an impromptu rhythm box, Betke stripped away even the faintest traces of techno's foundational four-to-the-floor oompf oompf, leaving only echo, reverb, and beautiful, subterranean bass. Much has quite rightly been made over the years of Betke's masterful work at the low end of the sonic spectrum. But ultimately it's not the sheer, bowel-rumbling force of the bass that impresses, it's the subtlety and expressiveness - a Pole bass line insinuates, entices and seduces more often than it overwhelms by sheer heft.

Equally as impressive, however, is the delicate beauty of Betke's distressed effects filter with its beguiling array of crispy (to use Betke's own favorite descriptor) snaps, clicks and pops. Even now, 10 years after the release of 1, the first moments of "Modul" are as mysterious and unearthly as ever (at first, they sound like the run-out groove of a record). The frothy sizzle of the filter is most prevalent on the first record, with only vague intimations of dub lurking in the copious reverb and lovely, lugubrious murk of "Tanzen" or the pleasantly staggered gait of "Fremd."

Over the course of the three albums, Betke gradually submerged his signature crackles deeper in the mix, while bringing the dub elements more overtly to the surface, reaching a precarious equilibrium between crackle and bass on the ultra-dubby EP-length 2. In fact on 3, Betke replaced his signature filter with a disorienting mix of swirling field recordings and gauzey washes of static, all but eclipsed by Betke's exquisitely nuanced bass.

Betke's capacious dub experiments have gained new currency with the ascendancy of dubstep, which has occasionally looked eastward to Berlin, Basic Channel and Betke himself for inspiration. But 1 2 3 are more than mere precursors of 2562 or Burial. They're products of an altogether different age when the deconstruction of techno hinged on the fine art of omission, reduction, and a few fortuitous mistakes."
Susanna Bolle - from Dusted

Pole has got to be my favorite Microelectronic composer, subtle and nuanced, liquid funk for the late-night jetset. Suitable for headphone introspection, but still body-moving; its mind-meltingly smooth bass and snapcracklepop rhythms, this will make all you spastic marionettes out there drool. Here are the albums 1 and 2, and i'll put up 3 soon. Anyone that appreciated the Byetone 'Death of a Typographer' release, must hear this now.