Monthly Spins: July 2017

A lot of ink has been spilled over what is and what is not punk rock. We know what historical punk is: Iggy, Sex Pistols, Wire, Flipper, but do we know what it is now or have we succumbed to the realm of conservative self-parody and stylistic boredom? The Dadaists were the first proto punks. The punk rock I want is a utopian ideal, while the punk I got is more dystopian. How does punk rock make me feel? Generally just annoyed—it’s an aural irritant. It’s rude, crass, dissonant, noisy and usually assumes a guise of nihilism. NY’s Show Me The Body is the closest Americans have come recently as well as this month’s selection North Carolina’s ISS.

What if punk rock were not really about fuckall ineptitude, and snarling disdain for any sort of sentiment? What if the real vibe of punk was a sense of heightened awareness that all meaning were illusory and reality only a mockery of our dogged and relentless intentionality? What if this new punk rock was only a guise of amateurishness designed to keep you in a state of permanent doubt and constant surprise? What if this punk rock worked like termites on a house, taking little bites but doing so over and over until the whole structure collapses from within? This is the punk rock I’m listening for. For July then, perhaps a little punk as well as a lot of other tasty stuff.

Big Thief: Capacity
File Under: folk-rock
Singer Adrianne Lenker has always been the heart and soul of Big Thief. It’s her songwriting and wry delivery that gives Capacity its heft and often transcendent and bracing qualities. But this is still a band and a damn good one and they have made a definitive leap with this record. Even though were only 6 months into 2017 I see this album making it onto many end of the year best of lists.

Lyrics from "Mary":

Burn up with the water
The floods are on the plains
The planets in a rose
Who knows what they contain
And my brain is like an orchestra
Playing on, insane
Will you love me like you loved me in the January rain?
Mom and Dad and violins/Somber country silence/The needle stopped the kicking
The clothes pins on the floor/And my heart is playing hide and seek
Wait and count to four/Will you love me like you loved me and I'll never ask for more?
Available from Bandcamp

ISS: Endless Pussyfooting
File Under: North Carolina punks
Honestly, all I know is that the duo of Edwin J Schneider and Ricardo Poison Ivey are from NC, have two albums out, and use sampled punk drum breaks in their mix. Because the name is the same as the space station (and that other unmentionable Public Enemy No.1) I haven’t even found a video.

Available from Bandcamp

Gosheven: Leaper
File Under: cosmic tunings, electro-acoustic improvisation
A solo creation of Hungarian experimental composer and improviser Balint Szabo, Gosheven explores exotic tunings some of which include just intonations by Wendy Carlos (#2, #10); Ben Johnston (#11); Lamonte Young’s The Well-Tuned Piano (#1, #4); Japanese koto tuning (#7); Banda Linda horns tuning (#9); Pythagorean tuning (#6); Meantone temperament (#12), Just intonation (#3, #5, #8).

Available from Bandcamp

Brad Laner: Microawakenings
File Under: avant-garde, electronica, experimental, Jazz, musique concrete
Laner has been making music for over thirty years in bands such as Savage Republic, Medicine, Electric Company, as well as many others. Broken into four 20 minute suites, Microawakenings is the culmination of years of musical creativity by Laner. Here he meticulously invents a kaleidoscopic tapestry of musical phrases. Repetition is not encouraged but melody remains, though refracted into micro bursts of stuttering percussion and overlaid guitar. This sort of project usually comes off as forced or overly plotted but not here, not in this rigorous display of a double album. Just make sure your hanging on the something before you listen because weightlessness will come calling.

Skip ahead to Section Three because it’s pretty righteous.

Available from Bandcamp

Fleet Foxes: Crack Up
File Under: post-rock, folk
We’ve waited six years for Fleet Foxes to follow up their glittering masterpiece Helplessness Blues and with drummer Father John Misty (a name so preposterous that its hard to type) leading the way with solo albums, and years of touring, there are a lot of expectations with this record. Perhaps if Helplessness had been less of an epic defining moment I would be more taken with the songs here, but where Helplessness sparkled and roared Crack Up gives us not just more of the same but something less. It meanders and seems more like a series of left off outtakes. There are some real gems here to be sure and while comparing and contrasting is a slippery slope, it will come down to individual taste and expectations whether or not this long awaited album resonates with you or not. I remain on the fence yet still listening.

Available from Tidal

Man Forever: Play What They Want
File Under: percussionist wunderkind
John Colpitts, aka, Man Forever, aka Kid Millions (drummer for Oneida) has a long and storied career as a sideman, although his other recordings as Man Forever might be entitled "what the drummer did when the rest of the band failed to show up to record", Play What They Want is a more nuanced attempt. It’s quite a line up of collaborators such as Yo La Tengo, Laurie Anderson, and Mary Lattimore, to name just a few. It’s a complex and diabolically innovative tour de force.

Available from Bleep

Guerilla Toss: GT Ultra
File Under: art rock, NY no core, wave
This is quite a leap from their last album although they retain the complex rhythms and Talking Heads-like vibe, on GT Ultra, Guerilla Toss have refined and broadened the sound. The title is a play on MK Ultra, the CIA program that experimented on live subjects using LSD and, yes those are vintage blotter acid on the cover drawn by original artist Mark McCloud.

Available from Bandcamp

Ulrika Spacek: Modern English Decoration
File Under: space rock, psyche
Pure and stripped down rock with shades of Deerhunter and with the driving guitar crunch of classic Television, London-based Ulrika Spacek have evolved from their debut and found a sweet spot.

Available from Bandcamp

Tomas Dvorak: Samorost2 (Original Game Soundtrack)
File Under: jazz, ambient, soundtrack
Czech maestro Dvorak usually releases work under the name Floex but here he sticks by his real name, and even though it’s an older release I’ve just unearthed it and felt it worthy of a post. So many subtle evolutions and progressions created by a real maestro. Check out his other work as Floex.

Available from Bandcamp (free download)

Shitkid: Fish
File Under: Swedish grrl punk
ShitKid is the project of 24-year-old Åsa Söderqvist who made quite a splash with her self-titled EP (highly recommended and might be better overall than this one) released last year. Here is everything that is good and compelling about great punk rock. It doesn't sound like punk rock is supposed to. It doesn't adhere to all those vapid conventions that are frankly boring as hell. But it's very punk rock nonetheless.

Available from Bandcamp

From The Archives

Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
What with the newly remastered and expanded OK Computer release and the Fleet Foxes I was reminded that I had not heard this album in a long time and when it first came out in April 2002 I listened to it obsessively. The production done by, most notably, Jim O Rourke rivals such masterpieces as Revolver. I’m not a real fan of Wilco. Their alt-rock/country sound has never really appealed to me, but on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Tweedy and company found themselves at an artistic crossroads, intuiting that they had something special they pushed back when the major label Warner/Reprise balked at the production costs and the experimental nature of the record. Eventually, Wilco would spend 50K of their own money to buy the masters outright, leave the label, and finish the record they knew they could make. They ended up on, of all places, Nonesuch and the record was considered one of the best put out in 2002 and arguably, it’s the most rigorous and moving single album Wilco has ever done. Foxtrot was written and produced in the direct aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and such songs as "Ashes of American Flags" addressed the shock, horror and fear gripping the country six months after.

I am an American aquarium drinker
I assassin down the avenue
I'm hiding out in the big city blinking
What was I thinking when I let go of you?
Let's forget about the tongue-tied lightning
Let's undress just like cross-eyed strangers
This is not a joke, so please stop smiling
What was I thinking when I said it didn't hurt?

Available from Tidal

Joe Surdna is a practicing artist and writer who has published in Playboy, GQ, Zoetrope and has worked on several alt-weeklies as an entertainment reporter focusing on art, new music, and film reviews.

garysi's picture

I like how the album cover is a play on Eno-Fripp's experimental "No Pussyfooting" LP cover from 1973. An album I once heard described as "avant heroin", though Being a Fripp and Eno follower, I liked it, even if Evening Star was a better experiment

garysi's picture

Even though Tidal has been trying to force feed us the new Jay Z record(which IMO is boring and the obvious product of a CEO trying to go back to his past, pssst, you can't), they still manage to have most of the artists you mention in the playlist. I have a lot of things to listen to over the next few days. Let you know how it goes, though Shitkid is a hit already.

KIMTRAILS's picture

It means In School Suspension