Monthly Spins: September 2017

It all happened so fast. Summer came and went and now some of the leaves are yellowing and beginning to fall. When I'm in town passing one of the high schools I can here the whistles of the football coaches putting the boys through their drills. It won't be long before it'll be time to wrap this year up and cogitate on what moved me the most in this column. But for the next three months there will be the usual avalanche of ear-worthy releases. Here are a few I discovered in August.

Tyshawn Sorey: Koan
File Under: new music, jazz, composition, improvisation
What if the main question being asked of a percussionist was how do you obliterate time without dissolving into utter noise and unpleasant chaos? I've always told people new to the work of Morton Feldman to be careful they are not driving a car while listening to his compositions, nor should they expect to be able to find their way around their own house while Feldman is playing in the background. Why the hell did I just get up and come into the kitchen? Now your lost and getting real, real gone. The more you try and find a pattern—to keep your footing—the more frustrated you will feel. Give yourself over to the music and you'll soon find yourself outside of time and place. I offer the same warnings to anyone listening to the sublime Tyshawn Sorey. Many recordings are built in layers, played straight, sped up or slowed down, run backwards through a loop. The feeling here is one of distinct improvisation, but improvisation mirrored to intentionality, perhaps invented moment by moment along the way. With someone as gifted as Sorey at the helm all things seem possible. If its jazz then it's the most pleasing and innovative I've heard in years.

See also, his brand new album Verismillitude, and The Inner Spectrum of Variables (available from Bandcamp). His whole catalog is extraordinary.

Koan is available from Tidal

Jib Kidder: Teaspoon To The Ocean
File Under: bedroom experimental pop, collage
The work of NY's Sean Schuster-Craig is hard to classify in that he started out doing hip-hop infused sound collage and has been of late churning out albums at a startling rate. 2015's Teaspoon To The Ocean is his most grounded and overall satisfying in that his inveterate goofiness is rendered into a sublime collage of avant-pop that is all slightly askance and yet innovative.

Available from Tidal

Super Best Friends Club: Love Blows
File Under: post-rock, psyche, avant-pop
A big, grand record filled with innovative layers and swinging players Love Blows, the 2nd album from SBFC, comes from that sort-of-prog Brit world that Alt-J inhabits, albeit with much more versatility and verve. Love Blows is an outlier in the world of popular music yet it harkens back to a long tradition of UK rock where the idea of complexity shares space with a melodic pop sensibility. (Thanks to Bob for this one)

Available from Bandcamp

Two Or The Dragon: Prelude for the Triumphant Man EP
File Under: middle eastern industrial
Now based in Beirut, the duo of Abed Kobeissy and Ali Hout, aka Two Or the Dragon, have just released their first EP of amplified buzuq, using the oud in ways this writer has never heard before, a sort of industrial/psyche take on middle eastern classicism. All the destruction, revolutions and noise of the Arab world are mirrored in this release and give us a unique version not unlike if Einsturzende Neubauten came from Lebanon via Iraq.

Available from Bandcamp

Sevdaliza: Ison
File under: trip-hop
Iranian-born Sevda Alizadeh aka Sevdaliza was mostly brought up and resides in Rotterdam, and although she's breaking no new ground, she's well within the Portishead, FKA Twigs sound world where trip-hop slinks and caresses its way through the pop idiom. There is bite and wit, some politics here, even though the overall effect soothes.

Available from Tidal

Eleonore Oppenheim: Home
File Under: post-modern, classical, electro-acoustic
Oppenheim uses the upright bass and electronics in ways both innovative and surprising, featuring the compositions of Angelica Negron, Florent Ghys, WIl Smith, Jenny Olivia Johnson, Lorna Dune. Oppenheim is a consummate player who has worked with the Phillip Glass Ensemble, Battles, My Brightest Diamond, The National, Meredith Monk, Steve Reich and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead. The only real blemish is the addition of a rather tepid remix by Lorna Dune of the track "Home" which is tacked onto the end.

Available from Tidal

Tyler Childers: Purgatory
File Under: americana, (gulp) country
There's no genre of American music more fraught with problematic clichés and political minefields than the genre defined as Country. There's mainstream country, with its Nashville-Chevy-Commercial viability and then there's the guy sitting on his back porch writing songs with a grounded wit and verve like the first full length by Kentucky native Tyler Childers. I always like to say "I like old country," whenever the subject comes up. The Carter Family, Monroe Brothers, Hank Williams and the like. I'm not susceptible to modern country's charms, its grating sentimentality and mindless patriotism. Childers is first and foremost a songwriter and a damned good one and he won me over almost immediately—against all my built up prejudices.

Available from Tidal

Mappe Of: A Northern Star, A Perfect Sun
File Under: experimental, avant-folk
I haven't found the real name of the man behind Mappe Of, but it's essentially one guy with a heavenly voice and a bunch of talented players backing him up. Think Helplessness Blues-era Fleet Foxes combined with ethereal avant-folk-soul of early Justin Vernon's For Emma, Forever. With a reverb-soaked voice that switches seamlessly into falsetto, Mappe Of takes us on several emotional journeys through familial heartbreak and yearning repose. My only critique is that Mappe Of seems too taken with the combined effects he's created and there is far too much similarity between the techniques used in all the songs. But still, the standout songs more than make up for this oversight.

Available from Bandcamp

Siobhan Wilson: There Are No Saints
File Under: English-indie-folk
Glasgow-based and Scottish born Siobhan Wilson is bilingual in French and studied classical music (the cello) and did not start singing until she was 18 when she spent a gap year in France. This album was a DIY project, done over a few days in the bedroom of a producer friend. It is purposely raw and the takes are recorded live rather than layered.

Available from Bandcamp

Stage Hare: Twilights Gloom
File Under: electronic, ambient, seefeel
Salt Lake City-based musician and sound artist Zara Biggs-Garrick has been recording for over a decade now and claims that this record will be her last, at least under this guise. On Twilights Gloom she manages to create a vibrant and empathic testament to her will to be happy, and perhaps in simply surviving. In her own words: "I wanted the record to be sort of feminine and tough, ethereal and grounding. It's maybe the last piece of art I have left that connects back to a specifically really hard time in my life. By 'really hard' I mean I didn't really think I was going to make it and recorded the first versions of these tracks as a way to share a certain energy with my child as he grew up in case I wasn't around. I didn't want them to be sad, but I didn't want them to be overly optimistic either. After sitting on these tracks for two years, and obviously still alive, thank the Goddess, I decided I needed to finally finish them and move on with my life."

The War On Drugs: A Deeper Understanding
File Under: boomer nostalgia
I was going to ignore this record but after Pitchfork deified it with their preposterous 8.7 rating I felt that someone had to take a stand against this sort of rock-as-grandiose-posturing and insipid hagiography. And this is not to indict nor insult those Springsteen, Tom Petty loving nerds out there who will no doubt start yet another religion around this band. To some this will be pure classic rock boner medicine. Warning:, if you listen to this record over and over for more than 4 hours, get medical help right away.

The WOD is not really a band since Adam Granduciel writes all the songs, plays half the instruments and no doubt spends prodigious time and money in the studio tinkering over each of these tracks. Granduciel is nothing if not relentless in reploughing the same ground over and over until it is difficult to distinguish one song from another. On the Pitchfork scale I'd give it a solid 4.7 rating.

Sam Amidon: The Following Mountain
File under: experimental folk, post-rock, Nick Drake, jazz, improvisation
"April" is the final and penultimate cut here coming it at just under 12 minutes and helmed by none other than drummer Milford Graves, mult-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily and saxophonist Sam Gendel. This is Amidon's first take on original tunes rather than the reworkings of Scottish and Appalachian traditionals. The real joy in these songs is the fact that Amidon surrounds himself with uber-talented players and his compositions retain a zeal and rawness that comes with consciously easing off the over-worked and overt intentionality. If you are a fan of his more trad work you might be put off by this one, but hang in there and let these songs settle in a bit and try to meet them halfway.

Available from Tidal

From The Archives

Barre Phillips: Journal Violone II (ECM 1980)
File Under: classic, late 1970's ECM-sound, ethereal jazz
I first heard Barre Phillips, Journal Violone II played on the U of Arizona college radio station when I rented a single room at the Deco-inspired and falling apart Geronimo Hotel in Tuscon. It was 1980 and Lennon had just been killed. I went out and bought a copy and it was my first experience listening to ECM's Manfred Eicher's warm, rich, studio wizardy. Although some critics have dismissed this record in favor of his earlier recordings, most seem intent on blasting the "ECM Eicher, Osterizer" because he was perceived to have too broad a stranglehold on the sound of jazz at the time.

The composition is structured into six distinct parts, with Barre Phillips on upright bass, John Surman playing saxophone, and Aina Kemanis's voice working with the sonic realm as if she too were merely playing another instrument. That simple, stripped down beauty still resonates thirty-seven years later. Not like any other compositions of its time and surpassing anything else recorded by this artist, Violone II maintains a spatial clarity not usually found in late 20th century experimental jazz. Rather than dissonant squawking, and noise melange, Phillips takes a meditative journey. Timelessness, in this case, means without the trendy accoutrement of stylistics or tonal rhythmic structures that isolate it to a time and place. It is certainly late 20th century jazz, but there is a quality of earthy nomenclature rare in the jazz world. Kemanis, makes us believe that the ancient Greeks themselves might have written and played such music.

One blistering hot afternoon on the island of Serifos, Greece I was writing in a little house just off the main square and I had the windows and shutters open during the afternoon siesta when I heard German being spoken just outside my downstairs door. I peered out the window and discovered five or six strapping young German boys sitting against the north side of the house seeking out the shade. They were big, brawny and red from the sun and sweating. Since nothing was open at that time of day there was little else to do but rest and get out of the sun. I was playing this album and decided to turn it up a bit and see what effect it might have as it wafted and bounced around the deserted square. The album played throughout and I heard no talking and when I peered out again and looked down they all had their eyes closed and seemed to be intently listening. After it ended I heard them gathering up their packs and there came a knock at the door downstairs. I looked out the window and said hello in English. "Who vas dat music?" Hang on a minute, I said. I wrote down the name of the album on an index card and floated it down to them as they stood in a semi-circle below my front door. The one who caught it thanked me and said "Thank you. It vas like a dream."

Available from Qobuz


Wind River
Art is a rare thing indeed and art that is made in the Hollywood maelstrom is even harder to find. Honestly, I'm tired of being simply entertained; I want to be moved, transported and even transformed. I want to walk out of the cinema uncertain how to describe what I am feeling, but nonetheless feeling something, if not a multitude of emotions. Wind River marks the first time I've had this sensation since my first time seeing Moonlight last year, one of those rare films that solidly deserved an Oscar and not only had no white people on screen but no British accents to boot. Written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, this is the third in what is now a trilogy of films starting with the tense thriller Sicario (penned by Sheridan) and Hell or High Water (also written by Sheridan) which won him an Oscar nod for best original screenplay. When we look back a decade from now Hell of High Water might very well be seen as the first American film to capture the rising tide of anger and rage in the poor, white left-behinds.

Wind River gets its name from a Wyoming Native American reservation of the same name. Jeremy Renner is a fish and game wildlife officer who gets dragged into the investigation of the murder of a young native woman, mainly because he is the only one with the tracking skills to get the job done. Elizabeth Olsen is a somewhat bewildered FBI agent sent to the res to begin the investigation. The always stellar Gil Birmingham (Hell of High Water) plays the girl's grieving father. As with all the other Sheridan films there are scenes of ultra violence, which to some might be shocking, but which generally play like seamless episodes that add to the general sense of dread and emotional turmoil. Sheridan is a master of the understated scene where simple moments between characters resonate with the intensity of their shared traumas and sense of love and respect. On the surface (as with all of Sheridan's films) it is a thriller and in this case a murder mystery, but plot is really not as important as the extraordinary interplay of characters and the ever rising tension that he maintains from the opening scene to the very end. It's playing in theaters now, but keep an eye out for when it hits pay-per-view and streaming.

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.