Monday, October 30, 2023
I was quite excited when this cassette arrived in the mail earlier in the year, as a fan of Donna (formerly Parker) Allen’s work in Texas outfit Chronophage. As already evidenced in Chronophage’s frenetic post-whatever out-pop, Allen is quite the songwriter so a “song diary” intrigued to no end. The cassette shell calls this tape “aesthetic exercises” and that’s a shameless misnomer of modesty if there ever was one. These songs may be relatively simple home recordings but they are fully formed and undeniably beautiful, and could never be mistaken for mere exercises. I am an absolute sucker for top-notch songwriting in a home-recorded environment so I could write many, many words about this but I must stay disciplined. “We Could” recalls the Tascam intimations of Creeper Lagoon before they started making proper studio albums (think “Tonight was Fun”) and that hits me right in the lo-fi pleasure zone. Cyclical acoustic guitar and rhythmic wheeze in the background, total perfection. Allen exhibits both a strong grasp of melody and how to deliver it via oblique methods. Melon Kolly could be quickly summed up as “confessional folk music” except that Allen’s doesn’t sound like anyone else’s. Songs like “Mother” and “Afterbirth” are sweet and soothing yet keep listeners on their toes. “Imps” almost harkens back to 80s synth pop symphonies despite its modest and largely acoustic arrangement, it doesn’t take much to envision it as a killer tune by Simple Minds, Tears for Fears or Depeche Mode. The ratio of vocal tracks and instrumentals is about 50/50, and the instrumental pieces are some of the best the cassette has to offer, particularly the opening fingerpicked arpeggios of “Ankh” which seamlessly draw you into Allen’s world. The instrumentals often highlight a particular instrument (whistling on “Red”, melodica on “Rosemary Many Voices” and the gorgeous “An Award”) and many sit in a minor key but the jaunty “Sunday Painters” (perhaps a tribute to the Aussie band?) is much more wistful—porch music for a sunny afternoon. I hope this is the First Song Diary of many more from Allen. It’s much more ambitious than its humble demeanor would lead you to believe.
Eyes and Flys, lead by Pat Shanahan and a shifting group of collaborators, have been regularly self-releasing 7” singles for the past several years, usually selling them at the prices of a 1997 mailorder catalog (this LP is only ten bucks on their bandcamp). In that time Shanahan has relocated from the frigid temps of Buffalo to the sunny climes of Long Beach. All that solar power has generated the first Eyes and Flys full-length LP, the ten-song Swirl Maps. The record exhibits a mixture of the various Eyes and Flys modes, whether it be classic knockabout music (opening thumper “Dogs on the Beach” and album highlights “Return to the Earth” and “Empty Safe”) or when they downshift into a mellower gear. Though when Eyes and Flys mellow, they rarely soften as heard on “Records and Books”, “St Roch”, or “Close Your Eyes” which flirts with straight noise. Shanahan’s perma-sneer tends to be the central throughline in Eyes and Flys’ music, but it does take a break on the goth-y ballad “Take The Keys” and the fuzzed up, free floating instrumental “Termino”. The eponymous “Eyes and Flys” from the band’s first 7” is revisited here in a faster, amped-up version. It's one of E+F’s catchiest tunes, a raucous four-chord stomper, now finely tuned for instant party. A welcome return even if it takes everything I have to restrain myself from putting a boot through my TV and chucking a lamp out my living room window. Most interestingly, “Cactus Flowers” nudges Eyes and Flys into an almost Royal Trux-y direction, revamping various 70s guitar moves into its punk architecture, perhaps gesturing to a future cock rock teardown/reconfigure on record #2. I’m down. Oh, I almost forgot, there is some fierce tambourine playing on this record!
I was a fan of James Fella’s and Gabriella Isaac’s previous LP CCTK Music (which you can read more about HERE) and I’m a fan of this here follow up Performances as well. The first track is another performance of the piece “CCTK Music” where Fella and Isaac mix and manipulate six stereo reference lacquers running into a 12-channel mixer summed to a final stereo output (a handy visual diagram is included). Just as on the preceding LP, the duo wages war with noise, sculpting lacerating feedback and industrial-sized low frequency churn. For all those, like me, who enjoy having their inner ear scraped. In addition to this new performance, Isaac and Fella each contribute a solo performance—unrelated to "CCTK Music" as far as I can tell. Issac’s comes first and it’s comparatively minimal, if no less aggressive. Between the sharp digital pings, groaning bodies under the topsoil, and sheer sonic terror Isaac unleashes when she takes the gloves off (keep your hand near the volume knob if you wish to survive) this track takes the top of my head clean off. Expertly composed/improvised, the track makes for beloved discomfort, particularly near the end where quick blasts of static fracture and multiply in eternal irresolution. Bravo! Fella, alternately, contributes a tape machine-based piece, where the audible mechanical functions of tape machines become the primary tissue of the composition. Fragments of audio playback weasel their way in. Sometimes you catch the echo of a guitar, or a piano, or a voice, or a TV set. They are just fleeting glimpses while you spiral into hypnosis. Noises start to come faster, the relaxation becomes unsettling, uncertainty sets in, “did I already hear that sound before?” A sustained tone grows from somewhere amid the skittering static, getting stronger, and that’s the creepiest thing on the pallet. It’s a terrifying, grinding come down from Side A. What a ride. Given not only the overall quality, but the variety at play here, Performances actually surpasses its predecessor. And the cover is none more yellow, you can’t not love that.
A new artist to me, Post Moves combines two of my many interests, basketball and pedal steel. (If you’re not already fascinated by pedal steel, get with it.) Post Moves is the nom de plume of Sam Wenc, here credited in conjunction with The Sound Memory Ensemble to highlight contributions from Kyle Field (Little Wings) and John Dieterich (Deerhoof), as well as Wenc’s work on many instruments beyond pedal steel (such as percussion and bowed strings). The first half of the record consists of “composed” pieces and then segues into pieces that were improvised (or developed during recording), though the record moves along far more seamlessly than that sounds. The first (“composed”) side consists of opener “Grief Fields” and “Lorraine’s” and it’s quite beautiful, taken in its entirety. There is a gently undulating quality as instrumentation is gradually added after the initial pedal steel rumination, then peeled back again and so forth. To my ears, inspiration is clearly drawn from early Godspeed You! Black Emperor (there’s even a spoken word piece via Field that materializes from the ether) but Post Moves is clearly mapping its own territory with the lovely textures of the rustic arrangements and a free flowing lonesome desert spirit (despite this being recorded in the Northeast!). Where GY!BE was a paranoid heart attack at the time, Recall the Dream Breath is comparatively soothing, wryly languorous and contented. Although it is one of the “improvised” pieces, I must say “The Ladder’s Shadow” is the most evocative and gloriously accomplished piece on the album, including its sinister conclusion. Appearing smack dab in the middle of the record, it easily represents its peak. Chock full of atmosphere but not dull or formless in the least, Recall the Dream Breath is a wonderfully conceived and orchestrated record for many occasions.
Whether it’s “Philly’s Finest” or “The best post-skiffle group on the planet”, Strapping Fieldhands, one of the most exemplary musical outfits generated by 90s America, are known by many names. They were once viewed in the loose group of “lo-fi” bands from the early 90s alongside Pavement, Grifters and Guided By Voices (they’re even thanked on Bee Thousand) but they never got as much shine as they should have compared to their peers, at least in my view. It's absolutely incredible that the band is still going after 30+ years and we should all rejoice at our good fortune. Surprisingly, the Hands have never been bestowed the “live album” honor they’ve so richly deserved, until now that is—thanks to our guardian angels at Ever/Never. The recordings comprising the LP are from 1993-96, recorded by legends in their own right, Mike Rep and Tommy Jay (R.I.P.). So many classic cuts appear here (“He’s Right!” “Arrogant Flower” and on and on) with the majority of the setlist drawn from their first LP Discus and their essential 10” In The Pineys. With those being my two personal favorite Fieldhands releases, it will come as no surprise that I’m as happy and pleased as clam punch while listening to Lyve: In Concerte. (It should be noted that some songs appear with alternate titles, “Kiwis Go Home” is billed here as “I’m Going”, for example.) Double pleasure for me because a couple of songs that only appeared on compilations I don’t own appear here (“Just Too Much” from the Pimps Toe Accelerator comp and “Ollie’s Interfader” from Carry On Ooij (A Brinkman Waaghals Compilation)).
Picking out highlights here is a bit of a silly exercise because they’re all hits. I will say that the rollicking “He’s Right!” is perhaps my favorite Fieldhands tune and the version captured here does not disappoint with the band sounding surprisingly tight with livewire energy. Nevertheless, the Fieldhands' finest moment on Lyve may just be their epic rendition of “Lonnie Donegan’s Mum’s Tea Chest” which gets me hootin’ and hollerin’ every time. I’m also delighted that a version of “Future Pastoral” made it onto the record (tagged as “I Don’t Know Why”) replete with sick accordion accompaniment.
Oftentimes, live albums prove to be a for-fans-only proposition. Lyve: In Concerte, however, also serves as a great introduction to the band. It may lack some of the softer, more intricate moments present on their albums but fully captures the spirit of the band plowing through a collection of classic tunes. Recommended for longtime fans, new fans, and fans-yet-to-be. All hail the Hands!
On the heels of Caleb Dailey’s LP from last year, Moone Records, alongside fellow desert explorers SickSickSick, are back with another cosmic country platter. The Ghost of Gene Tripp is an altogether different beast, however. Whereas Dailey sounded drowsily in love with life, Tripp (alter ego of Jay Hufman) reeks of forlorn menace. In fact, this 12” boldly begins with several minutes of blistering static and bowed drones, part way between the bucolic feedback of Flying Saucer Attack and spicier firestarters like Hototogisu. My favorite moment of the record comes right in between the first two tracks. The aforementioned voiceless firestorm suddenly yields to Tripp’s booming baritone as “Trains” springs to life. Lonesome ambling set against downed power lines smoldering ten yards yonder. It is a splendidly jarring juncture as Gene’s ghost cracks open, leaking out a sticky black goo of rippling guitar and spooked out strings, while feedback yelps in the distance, intent on survival. The combo of those two tracks is a real barnburner and quite possibly my favorite 10 minute stretch of 2023 sounds. The high point may come early but Tripp doesn’t rest on his laurels. “Give Up” and “Go Home” hew closer to Gene’s presumed upbringing as a country & western balladeer without betraying the wilting atmosphere of danger. “Blurry Clouds” marks the most harmonious point of the record as voice and guitar picking slip into the warm arms of a string machine, a brief respite from the corrosive hiss. Recommended listening while underground (basement, subterranean cavern, whathaveyou), with all light sources extinguished.
Two of the most common origins for fantastic listening experiences are Ever/Never records and Australia. The two parties’ handshake agreement has most recently given the U.S. shores such wonders as Spiritual Mafia and Cured Pink. While Witness K shares personnel overlap with Cured Pink, they’re certainly no copy. Cured Pink operated very much in the vein of a 21st century This Heat, while Witness K—though carrying over the rhythmic underpinnings and subtle paranoia of that sound—forges a pathway through both the home-fi avant-garde (The Shadow Ring and its offspring) and the well-funded avant-garde (20th century Minimalism). (Check out that ascending/descending flute line on “Reasonable Minds May Differ”. Choice.) All that said, the group’s eponymous debut LP is surprisingly inviting. Whether spun upon waking, before bed or at high noon, it pleasantly worms its way into any space, at any time. The album’s lethargic insistence assures that it never overwhelms nor does it bore. It's a warm tub to soak in for as long as you like, free from the derivative “ambient” horseshit we’re subjected to on a daily basis. There’s not a perfect RIYL analog to select for Witness K, which is the absolute most a listener can ask for, but the closest I can muster is Movietone. Not the same sonically, but clearly a spiritual resemblance to my ears. If you’re listening to Movietone, you should be listening to Witness K. If you’re listening to Witness K, you should be listening to Movietone. If you’re not listening to either, get outta my house. A killer LP well worth your time.
Screaming Lord Sutch, Xerex is not but that doesn’t mean you can’t soundtrack your next Halloween party with Xerex Meets Dracula. It wouldn’t be one of those “fun” Halloween parties, more of the haunted variety. Manipulated samples of church bells, droning pipe organ and filtered synth churn litter the brooding proceedings. Meditative but certainly not soothing. Oh yeah, I’m burying the lead here. Xerex, according to the back cover, is a conspicuously “anonymous” duo of German brothers named Karl and Jan, a pair of conjoined twins who happen to have been grown in a petri dish as elderly mathematicians in 1972. Do with this “information” what you will! This CD is an expanded reissue of a hyper limited LP because the kids were clamoring for more.