Into the Not-So-Wayback Machine- Listening to Centaur’s “In Streams” (2002) in 2014

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As much as the Internet lends itself to giving its users a false sense of its all-encompassing immensity, so does the momentary nature of youth lend a false sense of universality to our impressions.  In my early- to mid-twenties I was very, very into the laid-back urgency of HUM’s spaced-out psychedelic metal, all brilliant production, intricate layering of delicate sounds, and heavy, heavy guitar riffs.  When that band broke up and frontman Matt Talbot  released what would end up being the only record by his new band, Centaur, I was ravenous for something even harder, more all-encompassing and urgent than what even the nearly perfect HUM catalog had to offer.  I wanted another HUM record that I would react to just as intensely as I had to all the ones that came before.  The problem, of course, is that when you first hear the music you wind up loving, you love it precisely because you have built up no expectations, you have no defenses against the truly new thing that you are about to hear.  Expectations are defense mechanisms that, interestingly, actually seem to “protect” you from exactly the pleasant experiences that you are hoping to repeat. (I defense of expectations, I still get a little teary-eyed when I think of how beautiful it sounded to hear HUM project a shimmering wall of space out over Lake Michigan from the Death Star-sized sound system on the stage at Chicago’s Millenium Park; who wouldn’t want to repeat that experience?)

On this past weekend’s birthday record store raid I came across a copy of Centaur’s In Streams, so I bought it.

Pro tip: Even in the age of the Internet, even in the age of mechanical reproduction, the availability of art is finite.  If you see an old, rare, out-of-print record you know is “important” to you, just buy it.  You may never find it again.

On this listen, on my birthday and 12 years after its release, I was particularly attentive to the differences in my impressions, and to the details of the record’s production.  Many recognizably “HUM” flourishes were there, from Talbot’s use of a pretty, undistorted guitar, to beds of long feedback, and, yes, occasional walls of hairy, distorted lead guitar.  What leapt out at me, however, impressing me on this listen but leaving my younger self cold, was the extremely deliberate use of restraint throughout.  All the ingredients of a Hum record were there, but, at every single point when Talbot could drop the wall of sound on you, he pulls back.  Nothing is gratuitous, nothing is overused.  The songs are marked by their expansiveness, their space, their ragga-like quietude, rather than by force and urgency.  The songs take their time, and the joy-buzzer distorted wall of sound is always shut down as soon as it can be.  Seeming to be an extension of where HUM was going on the orphan single “Aphids”, this is an overlooked masterpiece, a picture of the genius Talbot at the very top of his craft and fully aware of the power of the techniques he pioneered.  He was a master that had ascended faster , unfortunately, than his late-adolescent boys-club of fans, still limited by their own aggressive expectations, could.  I’m grateful for record stores, long Saturdays, and the serendipity that the two of those combined engender for reuniting a more able listener with a record he had failed so miserably in the past.

Deerhunter: Monomania

Deehunter’s Monomania will be released May 7, 2013 but, as part of a trend that is making me feel like all my tastes are completely outdated, NPR has it available to stream and listen to online in its “First Listen” section now.

Deerhunter’s last record, Halcyon Digest, is now three years old.  It was a remarkable record, but it’s sound was marked by the fact that, at the time of its release, the two creative poles in the band were clarifying the sound of their respective solo projects.  Lockett Pundt’s Lotus Plaza and Bradford Cox’ Atlas Sound were each to drop definitive records in the wake of Halcyon Digest.  Hearing Lotus Plaza’s Spooky Action at a Distance and Atlas Sound’s Parallax made it seem as though Halcyon Digest were more a collaboration of two side projects than the internally consistent output of one band.  Cox was (monomaniacally?) fixated on the use of looping pedals, and songs like “Fountain Stairs” found their long-form perfection over the course of Pundt’s Spooky Action.

It’s good when a band can mix things up and change expectations, and few groups can pull this off.  Deerhunter did on Halcyon Digest, but gone was the sock-hop gone freakout bad vibe that infused Cryptograms and Microcastle/Weird Era Continued.  Monomania, then,  is a return to form.  Perhaps the record’s title is to some degree a tongue-in-cheek nod to this need to home back in to the familiarity of the band’s screaming swirl of noise, and to those influences that seem to be displayed so ostentatiously on these new songs.  Never had Deerhunter’s debt to the Pixies and Breeders seemed so apparent to this reviewer than on “Dream Captain”, and is it possible that “Leather Jacket II” carries the lipstick traces of Garbage?  The title track has that by-now-trademarked pounding, repetitive feature, be it bridge, chorus, or solo, that marks so many of the most signature Deerhunter tunes (“Nothing Ever Happened”, “Memory Boy” are two good examples) reduced to the barest minimum of performance time.  Indeed, if anyone has seen the band perform “Nothing Ever Happened” more than once over the past several years, they have surely been left with the impression that the band is both playing the song through as quickly as possible out of annoyance over having produced a “hit” that can so readily pigeonhole them for fans and to somehow imbue it with more power, to concentrate the power of that song into a single grammatical flourish.  “Monomania”, the title song, leans more in this latter direction, seemingly only slipping between the open spaces of the verses in order to rage back into the fuzzed-out canyons of sound in the chorus.  There’s also what sounds like the recording of a motorbike engine all over the last half of the song.  That’s pretty cool.

Here you go, all you lost your edge indie rock types.  Deerhunter’s new record on NPR.

Runner.

Why does a new Sea and Cake record sound so good right now?  Runner comes out this week, relatively hot on the heels of last year’s The Moonlight Butterfly, and I find myself faced with this question: Is this band (or any band prompting the same reflection) actually better on this outing (their tenth) than on their previous nine full-lengths and umpteen EPs and singles and collaborations?  A band is a band partially because of a certain expectancy that their sound will remain in some way consistent.  The Sea and Cake, partially because they are alone in the field with their particular brand of off-rock Herbie Hancocking, has perhaps more than other, less uniquely defined bands been successful in creating this impression of consistency record to record.  You’re not going to confuse a Sea and Cake record for anything but a Sea and Cake record (with the exception of a solo record by any one of its members, that is).  And Runner has all the components of a Sea and Cake record: Same Prekop’s lighter than air aspirated be-bop cadenced vocals, the kilter-offing touch of jazz timing wherever it will fit in with the motorik cadences the band also employs, the bubbling of synthesizers, and Archer Prewitt’s unmistakably patient, willfully, intensely restrained playing style.  As one digression out of many, this record marks the moment when I realized that, unbeknownst to me, Prewitt has for some time ranked among my favorite musicians.  His opening guitar solo on “New Patterns” reminds me of the fine work he did on Sea and Cake frontman Sam Prekop’s 2005 Who’s Your New Professor, especially the solo on “Dot Eye” starting at about 2:20.

So, what have I said?  This is a Sea and Cake record, and all Sea and Cake records share traits in common that make them recognizable and better than the music made by other bands.  So why say anything about this record in particular?  Runner is more Sea and Cake than many of the records that came before it.  It has the leaning-forward, nearly out of control rock energy of 1995’s Nassau and the careful, controlled, clean integration of electronics that marked 1997’s The Fawn, both heavily tempo-oriented records.

Or, perhaps the reason that this record sounds so good has nothing to do with the record or the band that made it.  Perhaps it’s just me, just now.  Maybe it’s just that what my world needs now is a new Sea and Cake record, full stop, and there’s no objectivity that will allow me to preach on my subjective enjoyment of this masterwork.  Have a listen.

Shitty Cell Phone Photos of The War on Drugs at the Tractor Tavern, Seattle

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We made our way last night to the Tractor Tavern in Ballard to take in the War on Drugs show. The sound was great, the band was great, etc.

Those guys really love what they’re doing, and the swirling, tinkling ambience they coax out of the combination of guitars, a Rhodes, samplers, a backline, and a bass just never sounds wrong.

The openers were Carter Tanton and Purling Hiss.  Carter Tanton played tunes that were definitely cut from the same remnants of Technicolor dreamdenim as the headliners, with hints of Baba O’Reilly floating out of the guitar tinkle now and again.  My wife described them as sounding a bit like the Cure covering the War on Drugs.  Oh, Jesus!  I’m feebly gumming rock critic similes!  You decide!  Purling Hiss was unabashed cock-rocking burnout guitar solo metal and good times.

 

Obits: If You’re Not Listening, You Should Be.

Obits is the latest in a long series of great projects from Rick Froberg of Drive Like Jehu and Hot Snakes.  These are slow murder ballad surf blues with untraceable analog parts.  It’s like Radio Birdman slowed through those angular Holtzman forcefields in David Lynch’s Dune.  It’s like dread coming on inexorable, blood dry by the time it hits the tracks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gurney: "Scan this: Obits is the shit, Paul."

Destroyer at the Crocodile Seattle, WA 3/18/2011

Coerceyou captures the all the glory the failing 2 megapixel sensor on a shitty cell-phone camera can- Now within actual discernable range!

A Page from Chris Onstad's Recent Chapbook #1, available at the Achewood Website. Click through and read his momentous news and access to lots of other new stuff in his Fanflow.

It is true.  On a day within the last range of days I attended the performance of Dan Bejar and his enormous band here in Seattle, in a club, and I was not sitting in an assigned seat.  This was one of the very few shows that I’ve seen since getting here that was actually in a club without seats, a show that had an actual crowd standing will-he-nil-he in a room in front of speakers (albeit one that concentrated shoulder to shoulder at lead-like densities waaaay out back on the way to the bathroom, completely confusing those of us up front who were swinging our arms around wildly in an expression of the modern angst of 21st century alienation in the hopes of making even superficial contact with another human being without the aid of ill-fitting prostheses like the email or the iPhone).

Dan Bejar is traveling with a large, talented, and dedicated retinue on this outing in support of his latest record, Kaputt.  The saxophonist/floutist alone worked hard enough to earn the ticket price back for the whole band.

One has to wonder, however, under what sort of fear the band works with Dan Bejar to execute live and on a small club stage the very complicated smooth jazz-meets-new-wave vibe of the new LP, as there were few smiles from the rest of the gang.

Perhaps that was just it- they were really trying hard to hit all the marks and put on a fucking amazing show.  Mission accomplished, and kudos if that’s all it was.  The idea that kept a smile on my face, though, was that Bejar might actually be the eccentric his lyrics portray, that the band may really be working strenuously aviod the oblivion inside the annoyance of Dan Bejar, the artiste.  Whatever it was, thanks for coming to town and playing flawlessly through Kaputt, and through a lot of Your Blues, to boot.  The show was excellent.

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Openers The War on Drugs brought some much-needed East Coast rock and reverb to the stage, doing that Philly new-psych thing they and all the acts that have split off from them the past few years do so well.  Good times all around.

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Bottomless Pit

This week I had a Deerhunter moment.  Tweaking from overstimulation on all fronts, unable to find pleasure in anything, turning away from myself and my tasks in ever tinier right angle spirals of repeated procrastination, it was suggested to me that I give Chicago’s Bottomless Pit an innocent listen.  Jaded and beyond hope and seeing no harm in it, I plugged them into my headsockets and set the tunes to “blast.”

O, would that I could have felt anything.

And at the first golden guitar notes and motorik drumbeats of “winter wind”, the first track off  their 2010 record Blood Under the Bridge, I felt the wintry ache of spring awaken in my bones, and in those in the human ossuary loved by God most of all—the hammer, the stirrup, and the anvil—first.

That is the Deerhunter moment, by the by- the sudden epiphany that something mind-blowingly good can appear from nowhere and change everything.

As a friend recently put it to me, music is a disease. We wake to life innocent, and we take things to mean what they mean.  Like the addict deserving of compassion, all men are too ready to love, or perhaps not well enough prepared for the repercussions of discovering the grand, immediate secret that cannot be shared.  When we give openly of ourselves, of our time and full attention, how much more often we find ourselves asking whether the losses we have sustained by not instead investing in the funds more hedged is the result of our misunderstanding at a hopeless, inceptive stage the valuable things in life, or whether our constancy has been undermined by others who reframe the straightforward task of living as enterprise.  Like Bottomless Pit sing on “Is it a Ditch”, whatever it is, “…We won’t find what it is before we stop.”

O, the loss of innocence, the passing, as it were, of our first vain and fallible sorrow.

The cover of Bottomless Pit's Blood Under the Bridge

Of course, music is not a disease, and, further, it is a testament to our small human spirits, drunk and ignorant and swelled up disproportionately most of the time on the wrong things, that it takes five angels with five trumpets (and probably Ke$ha) in the terrible amphitheater of humanity to provoke the crowd into such anomie and torpor as befits opening up for Abaddon.  In that tired club, where the bouncers have scales like iron breastplates, teeth like lions’ teeth, and tails in which is the power to harm people for five months, I affirm that the saved are the ticketholders who only came because they heard they might get to see Bottomless Pit sing songs that redeem.  Let’s face it, no one could learn these songs except those who have been redeemed— particularly not those of whom they sing on “Winterwind” who are “waiting on a winterwind like they’re gonna get something”, but only those who are “waiting on a Winterwind for free.”

 

 

As the Old Possum warned us, in order to possess what you do not possess, you must go by the way of dispossession.  And as I have said before, you have to live with yourself if you are to live at all.  Bottomless Pit remind us of that simply by making some of the best music that’s ever been heard in defiance of the apparent impossibility of anything in today’s world for the artistically inclined who would invest everything.

Music is not a disease, artist, but steel yourself if you are going to venture to that bad club and cling to the medicine of that organ-grinder’s monkey on your back- I read somewhere there are still two woes to come.

There’s plenty more Bottomless Pit live to be seen at the Union Rockyards Youtube channel, and plenty of recorded stuff to stream and buy at their website.  The digital end of things (CD-only and download purchases) is being handled by NJ’s Comedy Minus One label.