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.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Insect Factory - Terrastock 7 CDr

i've been wanting to talk about the music of Jeff Barsky, and of my experience at the seventh Terrastock, since the fucker occurred. Procastination and over-speculating on the relevance, prevented me from speaking, until now. But the fact of the matter is that these 3 days in Kentucky were one of the highlights of my young adult life, and Insect Factory's music is a mighty simulacrum of all that is right and holy with the Terrastock; with Psych music; and with what we're trying to do, here at J's Heaven.

I had just gotten the most badass shout-out from Wooden Shjips for being the only person dancing during the whole weekend (Boris, Paik, and Motorpsycho will do that to you), and i got to talking to Barsky at his merch table. He found out i had taken a Greyhound bus from Denver to Louisville, and gave me a copy of this CD, in appreciation. This was back when i was just starting to dream of being a journalist, but still very reluctant to approach musician's. This gesture always meant a lot to me, and endeared me to his cause.

Insect Factory make good drone music; kind of a hard thing to qualify, other than the fact that it is warmly recorded and dreamy in cast. It puts you into a pleasant, kaleidoscopic revelry while listening. When i saw him live, he was performing with the classic noise guitar, pillowy delayed dream guitar set-up, and he was joined by a hammer dulcimer that added a nice world element to the elements. At that time, drone was still a pretty subterranean phenomenon, and i had not had a chance to see it live, much. His performance made a mark, in my mind, and lit a fire to make this kind of music, myself.

Recently, recalling the Terrastock, i thought to peak in on Insect Factory, see if he was still around and playing, and it turns out he was hard at work, touring and releasing a new record, Melodies From A Dead Radio, which he was nice enough to send me a copy of that to review (which i still need to get around to doing). This is the kind of thing that makes the underground tick: i've had skads of musicians send me packages with tapes, records, t shirts, swag galore. These people are dedicated to their art, often times paying out of their own pocket. When i got in touch with him, Jeff remembered who i was and was friendly and approachable, in text. This is the kind of thing that will win you fans. We build connections, one at a time, and here at J's Heaven, i'm at trying to spin vortices and interstices out into the unknown, into the ether.

This CD was made especially for the Terrastock. Its 4 tracks of mesmerizing guitar formations, filligreed with loops and layers of harmonium and bells. This is proper trance music; it lulls you into a theta state, it makes yr head sway like a cobra's. After four years, and about 10000 records later, i STILL say Insect Factory make good drone music. There seems to be a human core here, an emotional element. The visions it conjures seem much more colorful and surreal than a lot of the xeroxed, post-industrial blastitude of much of the genre. It is dreamy, without being narcotic. More LSD than heroin hit. It sounds like the sun, gradually sinking behind a line of Cumulus clouds - all rose and indigo. There's only four tracks, but its over an hour long. This CDr is like a magic carpet ride, and it takes me back to some of my favorite memories.

I am putting this up today because if you happen to live in the greater Portland metropolitan area, Insect Factory is playing a free show at the Kenton Club tonight. He comes from D.C. so he doesn't make it to this side of the sandbox all that often. He's also playing somewhere in the Bay Area, tomorrow night. Don't sleep on this one, here's a talented artist who is still unknown enough to know. A genuine, delightful human being, that is making genuinely delightful music. Take a trip, and tell yr friends.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Black Tape For A Blue Girl - The Rope

i've had a nearly insatiable appetite for dark, atmospheric folk music lately. This has led me back down a mouldering tunnel towards Goth's dark light. Black Tape For A Blue Girl was one of the first goth bands i found. I had to have my friend tell me the name six times, before i got it. Prior to that, i was getting into the early '90s grunge radio rock, the likes of Blind Melon, R.E.M., Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana; all of which were angsty and dark, in a flannely kind of way. I had first heard the term Gothic used in conjunction with Danielle Dax's Jesus Egg That Wept, and found a kindred spirit in its deep southern creepy crawl. I'd been obsessed with the nocturnal since childhood. I used to have dreams of being a vampire since age 11, even going so far as to file my canines to points and refusing to enter the light of day sans sunglasses. I felt a sparkle, a goose-pimpled freefall down a rabbit hole of drugs, sex, magick, madness. I was leaving behind the safety of conventional morality and cookie cutter paradigms, spending all day hiding from the sun, burning incense and losing myself in the paintings of Salvador Dali. I stumbled upon Baudelaire's 'continued derangement of the senses' quite on my own. Black Tape's ambient interludes, stirring strings, and blasted lyricism would guide me...

It has been interesting going through this record again, with adult ears. Some of it has not aged particularly well. Some of it is melodramatic in the extreme, such as the title track "The Rope" with lines like "i see my answer on the end of a rope/the room too cold for me/Cut out my eyes they forgot how to cry/the pain too strong to see." I mean, i've written plenty of prose like this in my life, but thank all that is unholy, most of those notebooks have been lost in fire and flood. Then there's the guitar on "Memory, Uncaring Friend" which sounds like a fishbone out-take, and sometimes the bass sounds canned and straight-to-DAT, gives it that horrid Halls & Oates sheen. And then there's the vocals of Oscar Herrera (for the longest time i thought the voice of Black Tape was Sam Rosenthal, the mastermind behind Projekt Records), who is gothy in the extreme, sort of like Rosetta Stone or Fields of the Nephilim, people copping Andrew Eldritch and Peter Murphy, all that was 'Gothic Rock' as it would be known by Mick Mercer.

However, with the recent appreciation of Shoegaze and 80s drum machines (like A Place To Bury Strangers, Crocodiles) and with Neo-classicism finding a foothold in the underground (Johann Johannson, Library Tapes, even Stars of the Lid) our ears may be attuned to find the gems of this recording; the psychedelic tribal beats, the glorious grit of the Korg Poly61 and the  Moog Realistic Concertmate MG-1, that makes parts of this record sound like some cabaret from A Clockwork Orange or Blade Runner. Futuristic Nostalgia. The way they use Digital Delays would be adopted by every atmospheric dream rock band that would come after. Those that appreciate the doomed, fatalistic romance of The Cure and Joy Division should be able to find something to cling to, in this darkness.

Projekt Records, and a lot of 80s goth had a very psychedelic take on dreariness. I get this sense of imported rugs and low light, like a Parisian cafe in a holographic universe. It seems plastic, stylized, but the emotions and appreciation are genuine. Goth always had a hedonism, a sensuality, to it - blood and wine and insomnia and damaged visions. Dragging yr way through the gutters, crawling across a carpet of stars to approach the absolute. Ripped velvet and blood-spattered lace; the tail-end of the 20th century had no appreciation for aristocracy. Some of us were dancing in the ashes as Rome burned. Escapist and visionary.

This recent string of posts has found me investigating the earliest work of musicians that have been infuential on me, trying to isolate and evaluate the various strands of aesthetic without nostalgia, but also apart from the endless wheel of innovation. Newer does not equal better; all history is now happening simultaneously, and it us up to us to make up our own minds who we are, what we like, what we are trying to say. I find Black Tape's doomed sensuality worthwhile, and the tones are soothing to my cochlea. I could do without some of the self-indulgent vocals, and i am curious to see how they modified over the years this band was active.

Expect more obscure, archival footage like this one, in the coming moments. I'm vacillating between the current and the past, trying to get my head together, and also to become familiar with my own creativity.

(link removed, but i suggest that you seek this out.)
Projekt store

For those that dig this, Projekt released a 2cd version a couple of years ago, with an additional disk of Projekt bands re-interpreting these songs. I believe it was re-mastered from the original 4-track tape, as well. Look into it.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Death In June - But, What Ends When These Symbols Shatter?

But, What Ends When These Symbols Shatter? is the first Death In June record i heard. I didn't get it at first. I'd heard of Douglas Pearce's connection to the Throbbing Gristle/Coil/Current 93 axis, but i was used to Coil's demented electronica, and i sure as shit wasn't expecting a pagan folk record! Luckily, i had enough grounding with bands like Dead Can Dance and Black Tape For a Blue Girl, so i was not entirely allergic to strummed acoustic guitars. I had a fondness for the lush, echoey ambiance of this record, and its creamy thick-stock album cover. I maintained a skull-shaped hole in my heart for DIJ, and never really listened to them very much...

Fast forward 15 years, and i am now finally getting around to examining old favorites, trajectories and blind corners barely navigated. I have found myself blind obsessed with anything resembling occultish folk music; whether that be the soundtrack to The Wicker Man or a Fairport Convention record, or even old Blues. I cannot properly describe what has ignited this fascination (it was mostly a chance encounter with I AM THE LAKE OF FIRE), and i just feel the need to surround myself with incantations and prayers.

This whole community of musicians, like Douglas P. and David Tibet; John Balance and Chris and Cosey - they all have the reek of incense and candle wax about 'em. But they're all making different strains and strands of the sound. Death In June's offshoot came to be known as 'Industrial Folk' or simply 'Neofolk'. His lyrics typically explore Germanic Heathenery and runes, World War II, anti-Christian sentiments, and other vague ennui about living in general. Whereas once i found most of these artist's works to be pretentious in the extreme, i have learned a certain fondness for proper British vocals incanting Romantic poetry, like Syd Barrett scoring an Alfred Lord Tennyson sonnet. As usual, (and this is typical of any attempt at writing about music), once my interest has been engaged, i begin to listen further and deeper. I am noticing new intricacies on BWEWTSS; the oceanic synth on album opener "Death is The Martyr Of Beauty" or the filigree of muted on the title track. Existential folk ballads have never sounded so good. Turns out that four of these songs, "He's Disabled," "The Mourner's Bench", "Because of Him", and "Little Black Angel" are covers or re-interpretations of Jim Jones' People's Temple Choir, he of the toxic purple Kool-Aid.

Part of why this record stands out to me is that i had to go to great lengths to procure it. I used to take the train up to a record store called Evil Clown on Halsted in Chicago, that would have masses of Belgian and Japanese imports from Dead Can Dance, DIJ, Coil, NWW, Z'ev. All those names you read in books.... You could hang out there and listen to CDs, thumb through magazines. At that time, these imports would run $30 a bang, and you would spend hours spiralling over decisions, losing yrself in cryptic b&w album art, deciphering lyrics, swimming in runes and mysticism. These were the first forays into illumination,  that would later haunt my every waking breath. Due to restricted access and funds, not to mention the romantic associations of Chicago's grey pavement and dark culture, these records made an imprint on the nervous system, a mythological resonance. It doesn't mean that they're good, however. Part of what we're charged with, now, is to look at the past without rosy goggles, to call 'BULLSHIT' when necessary, but also to not discredit something merely because its old, or has already said its piece. Records still have the ability to transmit this radioactive specter, but not when yr just clicking down the line, sucking down records like a tube of Pringles. Any song is its own world, capable of getting lost in. So much magick just waiting to be discovered, in appreciation. And i'm here to tell you, that certain music, when approached with appreciation and an open mind and ears, can really ignite some fireworks in yr psyche. I can honestly say, after 15 years of listening to experimental music, that i am a better person for it.

I find the romantic and surreal air surrounding this recording, with its rich nuanced production, to be inspiring and educational. Douglas P. shows how you can re-interpret the classic folk/pop medium into transcendental poetry. The horns and bird-calls and organs and ghostly vocals keep the listening engaging, lurching forward, falling inward. The 40 minutes of BWEWTSS? are over before you know it, passing like a Kubla Khan dream. I can hear strains of DIJ's pagan poetry in the apocalyptic monologues of A Silver Mt. Zion and in Julian Cope's later adoption of the druggy druid mantle. If Bob Dylan stood for the New, Weird America, then Douglas P. David Tibet John Balance Genesis P-Orridge stand for the Old, Weird Britannia.

I am excited to get back into Death In June, and to also rediscover the post-punk/Industrial Underground of late '70s/early '80s England. Fucking stoked that this stuff is around and available, it was like a fucking moldy grail for the longest time. One more brick of the Akashic Records arises.

Should you find yrself intrigued, and want to know more, is a treasure trove of articles, interviews, rare recordings, and interesting links, to shoot you further down the spiral.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

At The Head Of The Woods - Beyond Time And Space

[ L I S T E N A N D B R E A T H E ]

At The Head Of The Woods are beyond time and space. This record, released on the Summer Solstice of 2008, sounds like lying on yr back, beneath a mossy oak tree, staring at starlight. There may or may not be fire. You must drift off for a moment, you feel yrself drift to the sky on a carpet of red cedar smoke. As you rise, you gain perspective; you notice the grandeur of grand forests, but you also see/hear/feel the devastation. The whine of homeless owls. The flies of pestilence. Cascadia seems to foster a vague form of nature worship. The enormous trees, millions of species of flora and fauna. It is impossible not to empathize, not to be driven to one's knees in respect and humility. There comes a point when the bark of a chainsaw biting into wood feels as if it is entering yr own flesh. You have become a black metal warrior, at that point, and it don't matter what yr music sounds like. There is an unbroken thread from Panopticon to Mt. Eerie to James Woodheads' At The Head Of The Woods Project. You would be forgiven for assuming some kind of atmospheric post-rock/metal, something like Windmills By The Ocean or Year Of No Light, but ATHOTW is walking his own path. On 'Beyond Time & Space' you get a 70-minute excursion of free-floating Floyd guitar, synth drones, and field recordings. There are lyrics, pertaining to the sky the earth the soil, but its all so luscious and drawn out, its hard to pick out what he's talking about. The comparison i was most keen on was a resemblance to Black Tape For A Blue Girl, there's a hint of Sam Rosenthal's ethereal masculine vocals, which is a style that has been moldering and unused for at least a decade. Beyond Time And Space sounds like a darkwave band making a space-rock record, record live in a cluster of Willow trees. I saw James Woodhead at the local Psychopomp event, last week at The Lovecraft. For that occasion, he played a droney synth set that sounded like Bach on ketamine. Through him, i found out about a regional collective called Glassthroat Recordings, which seems to focus around Seattle and Portland. They feature my favorite brand of nature worship, magickal and mysterious and unfettered by genre. They've got metal acts, dreamy droney soundscapes, dark romantic folk. I just found out about this shit last Wed. and i am a man obsessed. I look forward to going through their entire catalog, and exploring the dark woods of my mind. If yr from here, check 'em out, go see 'em live, buy a t shirt. If yr not, listen and wonder just what the fuck we've got in the water, up here in the corner. Highly, highly recommended. Distinctive artist with a singular style and something to say. Emotional yet still visionary. New favorite. You can read a sweet interview that James did with the equally sweet Heathen Harvest magazine here. You can stream the whole record here: