Where has 2016 gone? So, I’m still working on getting my butt in gear for some reviews at Decoder, and more content here, but in the meantime here’s a bunch of stuff that’s been spinning…
Some time ago, I missed Moor Mother’s set at Elastic Art for reasons unknown. I wish I hadn’t, in retrospect, and in hindsight I’ve been absolutely obsessed with the level of activism and production genius in their work. I shiver every time I hear, “you can see my dead body at the protest.” Moor Mother is a perfect example, by the way, of an interesting trend that finds hip hop / rap / soul ages ahead of rock music in terms of appropriating and advancing the principles of noise.
I’ve had the guitar break from “She’s On Top” in my head for about two weeks straight now. This is ridiculous Beatles thievery:
Phaedra, Blackwinged Night (Rune Grammofon, 2015)
Years ago, when I began writing at Foxy Digitalis, Phaedra was the first artist whose music I stumbled upon while opening my first giant USPS goodies box from Brad & Eden. The Sea was an elaborate chamber-folk endeavor that touched on the theme of death in a manner perfectly fitting for the name Phaedra. That debut was the first of a trilogy that’s proven worth the wait.
Now, that trilogy is back on track, as Phaedra returned to Rune Grammofon with Blackwinged Night, pushing the lush production into electronic, synthetic directions. This album is simply beautiful at every turn, in the sense where “beauty” means “harmonically pleasing.” Beneath those electronic pulses, one can still see the folk sketches, but Ingvild Langgard truly embraced her experimental tendencies this time around. Her powerful voice complements the intense lawyers, which gives the listener ample opportunity to place The Sea and Blackwinged Night together, as variations or sequential viewings of a singular vision.
The Land Between the Rivers, Address & Binary Hoax (Self, 2016)
Travis Bird is one of my closest friends, as we’ve played music together since middle school and found comfort in swimming through the worlds of politics and culture together. I owe my ear as much to Travis as anyone, and probably more — he turned me on to CAVE and California Raisins when we reconnected in Chicago ages ago. So, in a sense, I can hardly review his music, because not only have we released music together, but I have been privileged to see him perform these songs for the last few years, and see how his songwriting and production ideals moved forward. With The Land Between the Rivers, Travis is taking his jazz-folk songwriting structures into darker production territory than his self-titled Bourgeois Treats, which is a crystal clear, hard-driving paisley-pop angle on his songwriting ideals.
So, by comparison, Address is the “acoustic”-based variation of these songs, and Binary Hoax is the distorted-electric variation. Listeners of Frank Zappa, The Band, White Fence, etc., will equally find entry points into these songwriting and production structures. Address devolves into a swirling world of acid-folk, drone, and Crazy Horse attitude after the palette-cleansing “No subfloors.” “Cat Catch Day” and “Loss & Lady of the Mantle” split the New Orleans humidity into two different directions, one sagging like the feral cats portrayed, the other beaten shutters in the midst of a storm. From these breeding grounds, “A Mess (All You’ve Learned)” closes the album with triumphant paisley beats and vocal rounds, calling back to “Wind Blow Your Memory Away.” Travis has an astonishing ability to deliver complex song structures in deceptively simple productions, and “A Mess” could be the best instantiation of this talent.
From here, Binary Hoax is quite a raw full-band effort that leads me to wonder if and when The Land Between the Rivers will hit the road. Travis rebuilds “Conditions” into an all-out distorted rager, which pairs perfectly with the title cut. The listener can hear variations of these songs between both albums, which offers a glimpse into Travis’s mediation as a writer. These songs have been so many processes, and seen so many production visions or different workings, it is great to see the finished product reflect these different views. Art never needs to be ‘finished.’ Travis highlights the writing and production process by presenting these songs in different skeletons, recordings, and instrumental pairings.
One word on forgotten songwriters: I kept thinking about this during that Lewis craze a while back, where a certain record consuming hive mind goes nuts over some forgotten voice of the past while ignoring the depth of songwriters currently releasing music. Certainly there are listeners of Lewis that also consume contemporary outsider or self-released music, so one might turn to the larger politics of consumption to capture this issue. Of course, one might not blame these people that look first to nostalgia: I saw an estimate somewhere that more than 90,000 releases appear in a year, during the internet era of music. So, there is too much music to keep up with, but that does not alleviate the issue that certain forms of songwriting are not appreciated until their time as artists has passed. Travis is one such talented songwriter, but he is not close to the only one; there are countless others, whose work could certainly rightfully receive the full-on Light in the Attic treatment and major distribution while they are releasing their work. The politics of consumption is a tricky endeavor; one could not necessarily fault these producers for going after the nostalgia that sells so easily, rather than putting in the hard work to sell 150 copies of some contemporary genius. And so many bands must share this view — amazing, living artists are always fighting against the nostalgia of consumption. It’s unclear whether or how this could change, it’s simply an interesting trend to dig into; who among us are the forgotten voices that will find smashing reissue success in 2040?
DIM, Dim (Self? 2015)
Holy crap how did I miss this? DIM perform wonderful heavy shoegaze worship, which is perfect for anyone who thinks Isn’t Anything is the pinnacle for My Bloody Valentine (or, if you’re like me, and love A Place to Bury Strangers, Implodes, and other updates on the genre more than the originals…). This group apparently have a new album on the way…
Nerftoss, Prospect Endless (O & E, 2016)
There is this amazing soft spot between krautrock, various forms of electronic music, komische, and new age, and Nerftoss masterfully play in these gray areas throughout their 2016 tape, Prospect Endless. By presenting their vision in shorter songs, instead of sidelong excursions, Nerftoss are able to cover vast stretches of the imagination, and indulge in various sides of repetitive technorumination. Put on this tape and flip it over and over!
Cacaw, Get a Brain (Permanent, 2009)
How long can one sleep on an album? Certainly, my friends had copies of this record when it was released years ago, and I’ve seen Cacaw perform these songs live, and I’ve also heard or own their other work. But I never owned this record until a recent Funk Trunk Rogers Park Record Swap. It’s so much fun to listen to this in light of where the Chicago scene has gone after its issue — listening to this even with Rotted Tooth’s catalog in mind, or Oozing Wound, this still is so fucking primal it whips everything else in a wonderful fashion. There’s a recklessness that is absent the grown up Chicago scene, which isn’t to take away from where Chicago’s artists have gone — after all, if you don’t grow up, if you don’t change directions, where have you gone as an artist? But this…fucking hell Cacaw were just perfectly brutal in 17 minutes.
Bush, Sixteen Stone (Interscope, 1994)
A while back, I listened to this CD in the car and was struck by the laziness of the “Bush hopped on the Nirvana train” reviews or arguments. Sixteen Stone is unironically an amazing guitar album: when I’m revisiting older, mainstream records, I ask myself how I’d feel if someone like Pissed Jeans released it. In completely contrast to Nirvana’s jangly-and-clean/big-distorted-kick-in dynamic, Bush’s guitar sound is dynamic through the use of different textures (like the slide lead on “Everything Zen”), or complete drop-outs by one player. The “in the wake of Nirvana…” line is especially lazy because the guitar sounds have this deep sort of Mesa/Boogie sound, a really supremely mid-heavy distortion that sounds like saturated amp overdrive, rather than fuzz pedals (I have no idea if that’s true, though, at least on the recorded version of this album). Nevermind that Bush are trying to write songs that are much more traditionally classic rock than Nirvana, or using a completely different rhythm/lead structure; it would be easier to compare Bush to Queen, Big Brother and the Holding Company, or even Captain Beyond. Revisiting old CDs, I’d say I am in love with this album Sex Pistols Nevermind the Bollocks the most.