Monthly Spins: March 2018

If you ask me “What sort of music do you like?” I’m faced with one of those ineffable conundrums that would come with a long pause before I answered, a sharp intake of breath, perhaps an aversion from your direct gaze--what we have here in this simple question is not an affirmation of taste per se but a moral equivalency toward “taste.” “What sort of music don’t you like?” might be the better question. Why do I feel physically ill whenever I hear a live bootleg of a Grateful Dead concert, or come away traumatized when subjected to most modern country? Why do I generally feel a sense of emptiness when I hear most classical jazz made in the last 35 years? Or, why do I go through long periods of wanting Chopin etudes and nothing else? Why does 95% of music described as “ambient” make me feel irritated and so thankful when I finally hit pause? And why does 95% of Vaporwave or Shoegaze so rarely move me? Ditto with what is called Folk or most variations of Metal? What is it about the 5% that transcends this mystery of banality and somehow manages to move me to recognize it as something unique and worthy of repeated listens? The easy answer is that I like all forms of music, but it has to move me in some way, actually alter my brainwaves--to elicit a response wherein I give back a part of myself, or open up a part of myself I never knew existed, that absolute sense of joy at recognizing that something wholly new has been born into the world, or that someone has taken a traditional form and somehow made it all their own. As Elvis said on The Sun Sessions: “Let’s get real, real gone.”

Also, I just want to second Mike’s kudos to Bandcamp as a social network that actually seems to work as intended and is not evil. Not to mention the enormous amount of time and energy they put into posting about new music, sans labels and corporate filters. Go Bandcamp!

Dirt Music: Bu Bir Ruya
File Under: Aussie/Turkish psyche
Dirtmusic have now explored West African sounds with Tuareg members of Tamikrest and here we find them collaborating with various members of the Bosphorus scene with Gaye Su Akyol and psych visionary Murat Ertel on baglama as well as many others to tow who contribute to a psychedelic bluesy sound. Dirtmusic have put out five incredible albums with original member Chris Eckman (Walkabouts) and Hugo Race (ex Bad Seeds), who seem more like world explorers than an actual band; their collaborations taking on the cultural tonalities of whichever country they happen to be residing in at the time. Bu Bir Ruya was recorded in Istanbul. You can always hear the echo of Nick Cave in the lyrics and vocalizations.

Hanna Benn: Divide
File Under: ethereal, vocal, electronic
Although this is her first EP Atlanta-based Hanna Benn has been busy in the last ten years collaborating as a composer, vocalist, working with dance companies, in opera and theater. She founded the experimental pop band Pollens while living in Seattle and has worked with a long list of classical groups and orchestras. It’s too bad this is so short because it would be nice to hear what she could accomplish with a long player given that these songs are so accomplished and hint of greatness to come as a solo performer.

This Kind of Punishment: S/T (1984)
File Under: early New Zealand post-rock
Brothers Peter and Graeme Jefferies wanted to open up their sound and experiment more than they had been able to do in their original Nocturnal Projections incarnation and with This Kind of Punishment, released in 1984, they managed to create an album, a series actually, that still sound like they could only come from only one place on earth, yet with all the post-punk bonafides of a Dead-C. This is a recent reissue on many formats and, although they remained obscure, even by New Zealand standards, and seemed not to benefit from the Flying Nun related upsurge in popularity here in the states, their work stands up 30 years later.

Loma: S/T
File Under: Shearwater meets Cross Record
Frontman and writer Jonathan Meiburg of Shearwater liked Cross Record so much that he asked them to open for the band on tour. And for the first time he got interested in the idea of writing songs for some one else’s voice so they teamed up and created this wonderful new record, the self-titled Loma, with former husband and wife Emily Cross and Dan Duszynski, (Cross Record) who gave us the transcendent Wabi-Sabi two years ago and made it onto the Audiostream best of the year list for 2016.

The Bunny Tylers: Chance Meetings
File Under: Tones on Tailish
If I told you that these players were Lebanese and on a local label you would imagine a middle eastern vibe but the core of this group consists of guitarists Charbel Haber and Fadi Tabbal and Marwan Tohme who have given up on their earlier drone/ambient explorations and started using their voices and the result is an early 80’s tinged album at home with the likes of Bauhaus, Tones On Tail or early Peter Murphy. There is a noirish, gothic sensibility that veers into an existential vortex, yet maintains a hopefulness that all is not lost and redemption--should it come--might be just on the horizon.

Okay Temiz & Johnny Dyani: Witchdoctor's Son
File Under: remastered prehistoric triphop
This 1976 recording between Turkish artist Temiz and South African Johnny Dyani is truly a meeting of minds and cultures. Only released in a limited edition of 1000 from a Turkish label this long sought after classic is now available in an 180gm vinyl edition and download from Bandcamp. A highlight is the cut of Don Cherry's Elhamdulihah Marimba with Dyani on voice and piano. One of those forgotten gems close to all crate digger’s hearts.

File Under: world, trance
I traveled the states in my 20’s but not the rest of the world until a summer in Greece in the early 90’s and a few other places such as London, Amsterdam and Prague. Whoever Eightxnights might be, because not much is known about the person or persons who created this record, here prefers indigenous modes of sonic thought as their palette. Eightxnights are consummate crate diggers and have yet to corner any sort of stylistic territory and evolve with each release. There are four albums now and this is the one I’ve gone back to several times.

Strie: Perpetual Journey
File Under: ambient electronics
Unknown to me but one of my favorite albums last year by Olga Wojciechowska is not the only output by this publicity shy Polish artist. She has several releases as Strie and they explore similar ambient, industrial terrain. Perhaps its field recordings from Tarkovsky’s Interzone, or a soundtrack to an ayahuasca trip—these are not easily recognizable sounds but they share a benign interconnectedness that manifests as aural organics. Wonderful journey, indeed and one supposedly inspired by the one taken by Russian dog named Laika into space. This one is not on Bandcamp but all the rest are.

Ali Kuru: Egzotik
File Under: awfully damned good debut
Another Istanbul producer. There seems to be an abundance of music this month with a whiff of Ottoman Empire about them. Exotic it certainly is, as the title says, and is inspired by everything from Krautrock, Anatolian-dub and throw in a bunch of other world references, with clean, driven beats and a real heart and soul driving the songs that pay homage to everything from Zorba the Greek to Tangerine Dream. It’s smokin’ smoldering, satisfying stuff.

Car Seat Headrest: Twin Fantasy
File Under: I wanna be your dog!
What you will not find in this new release from Car Seat Headrest is freedom from mumbling and vapid lyrics, people barely able to play their instruments, who try, try, try so-hard to be Rock Gods but end up sounding like just about any other bunch of slightly educated white guys with guitars. The music press flunkys can barely contain their joy when anyone actually tries to make indie rock these days (Oh-My-God-Someone-is-Rocking!) that they fall all over themselves proclaiming and hailing the genius of this band of NY posers. If the New Yorker magazine deigns to profile them then they must be cool and brilliant, right? I think that all this fawning press has gone to their heads. I just scratch my own head and groan. Sorry, I know that someone has to save rock and roll from oblivion, but this is not it folks. So when the lead singer croons on Cute Thing “Give me Frank Ocean’s voice and James’s Brown stage presence, I will be your rock god when your rollin the dice,” you either nod your head and put on an ironic smirk and say, “Wow, these guys are brilliant or—and I’m starting to feel like Pat Metheny taking down Kenny G here: “spewing his lame-ass, jive, pseudo bluesy, out-of-tune, noodling, wimped out, fucked up playing.” Deep breath. Step away from the computer. Make some herbal-fucking-tea already!

Taylor Kohl: Bummer Life
File Under: Cali fuzz out
Ok, so this is everything the Car Seat Headrest record is not. Here’s what the Bandcamp listing says: “Taylor Kohl - Guitars, Singing, Drums. Drums recorded in a garage at Someone’s House in April 2017. Other things recorded in Taylor’s room at his mom’s house.” I can’t find much bio other than he comes from California, as if that’s not obvious, and that he did it all himself and so what, it sounds great and authentic and he’s probably listened to a lot of Alex G and that’s a good thing. Keep it simple folks and rock posers beware! There is a shambolic quality to this album, the sort of music you put on loud on that first spring day when you can open all the windows in your house or apartment.

Shortparis: Nacxa
File Under: Russian Federation Götterdämmerung
What a refreshing new take on rock from the East, Shortparis sing mostly in Russian but that does not take away from the power of the emotions evident in the singer’s relentless baritone. Holy shit—the drummers (yes, two of them) is what sanctifies this deconstruction of 80’s motifs and holds it up to a refracted light. St. Petersburg now has a real rock band, one that sounds very Russian and very new.

Enchanted Lands: Feed Goals
File Under: Czech soundscaper
Prague-based Barbora Polerova creates a ceaselessly organic series of songs that blend into each other using video game fragments, field recordings and voice (mainly in whispers) to create her first full length. There is a sense of foreboding as well as an overall feeling that we are along for a benign journey, some enhanced version of reality, poignant with intentionality and a sense of constant surprise. A soundtrack for a poetic film yet to be made.

Notable Singles/Videos

The Ukulele Orchestra: Smells Like Teen Spirit
File Under: some songs are so great that even a ukulele orchestra cannot ruin them

Edouard Lock: Amelia(excerpt)
File Under: Choreographer Edouard Lock (my favorite) 2003 composition Amelia. Note: this video has not been sped up or manipulated

Octavion ft. Sam Wise: 100 Degrees
File Under: Beautiful video, beautiful beats

Mdou Moctar: Niger Wedding Reception (live) File Under: Niger guitarist shreds it up

The Most Famous Six Second Drum Loop: The Amen Breaks
File Under: Nate Harrison’s video is a meditation on the nature of musical creativity and the art and history of sampling.

Notable Books

Andrea Wulf: The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World
Humboldt did indeed invent our idea of nature, taking his inheritance, getting the blessings of King of Spain to explore “his territories,” using only his own money to finance his explorations into South America, he left a meticulous record of the varieties of the animal and plant life he found there but also saw something no one else seemed to understand—that the earth is a fragile and interconnected environment that needs not just scientists to study it but a person with a heart and soul.

Available from Amazon

Alexander von Humboldt: Personal Narrative of a Journey to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent
A good companion piece to Wulf’s book is this selection from the original manuscript penned by Humboldt recording his thoughts and observations about his journeys 1799-1804 through the post-smallpox apocalypse world of South American steppes, jungles, plains. Humboldt sees the “horrors” of slavery, the false and artificial worlds of Spain’s missionary programs, as well as his delights in discovering entire ecosystems.

Available from Amazon

From The Archives

American Analog Set: Know By Heart & Through The 90’s: Singles and Unreleased (2001) File Under: go to records in the post-911 confusion
Besides Richard Linklater American Analog Set are one of my favorite things to come out of Austin,TX. Know By Heart was released on 9/4/01, but back in May of that year they also released Through The 90’s: Singles and Unreleased, a compilation from their earliest recordings before they found a critical audience. Minimalist, slo-core, krautish and tight AmAnS was on heavy rotation at my house, especially in those fear-drenched and bizarre, wrapped-in-the-flag days just after 9/11 when both of these albums became a soothing balm. The original lineup was guitarist/vocalist Andrew Kenny, keyboardist Lisa Roschmann and drummer Mark Smith. Roschmann left the band and was replaced by keyboardist Tom Hoff and guitarist/vibraphonist Sean Ripple, all of whom play on these two remarkable releases.

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.