Wednesday, April 29, 2009
There is something vaguely disconcerting of feeling like you are stumbling upon a ritual that you were not invited to. But once you find yourself there, the participants don’t so much as ignore you, but just go on about their strange and haunting business. Maybe there is a nod of recognition that someone else has entered the grove, but you are welcomed simply by not being asked to leave.
You seem to be able to discern, that something is being exorcised, but it’s all happening with a quiet and subdued kind of dignity. There is no flailing about, no objects are being tossed around, nothing is sacrificed. But there is intention, and despite the ramshackle method, there is dignity.
Alongside the exorcism, there is invocation of something that lives among the group. Nothing so lofty as a god, but maybe the minor spirits that inhabit the crevices of stones.
And then there is celebration, among friends and brethren and the ritual becomes festival.
(By the way, Songs of Shame is the new album by Woods, and it’s all that is good about what can often go wrong when psychedelia meets folk out in the forest.)
--Woods: to clean
--And you can buy it here
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Sometimes, loneliness is a feeling that can be strangely comforting. There is often a sense of possibility, when out of the corner of the isolation there is that tiny flicker of some vast landscape, as when seeing peripherally out of the window of a train. Your little seat and pull down tray are all you have, but rushing by is the whole other world of experience. Sometimes you fold a little more into yourself, because with that potential for experience comes the dread of choice, the fear of your own agency, and maybe even the trouble it has gotten you into before. But even the conscious decision to not act contains that glorious vision of what could still be had, if only the train would stop.
And so it is with Kill and Eat's new release Green Bushes, a little steam train of strange and just-on-the-cusp-of-glorious set pieces. At first listen, I was immediately reminded of The Microphones, but instead of veering into noisy invocations of rock, Kill and Eat bumps up against jazz. Caleb Vogel's vocals avoid being cloying while maintaining a kind of preciousness that makes the whole thing feel a little unstable. I imagine live, there is something even more special going on, as what is improvisational probably looks a lot like that scenery that keep changing and beckoning from the hazy glass of the little window.
--Kill and Eat: Green Buishes
--and buy it here or download for free
Friday, April 24, 2009
Christopher Tignor, a member of the experimental collective Slow Six, has opted for something more personal on his solo release Core Memory Unwound. His particular Pärt-like compositional themes are still here, but there is an internal transformation that he is making accessible. Like any good alchemical process it also contains the ability to create an emblem.
Tignor's piano and violin (peppered with some electronics) compositions are beautifully evocative and challenging. While they allow for a certain level of passive listening, they still demand attention and contemplation. Imagine your heart is a piece of vellum, and Tignor is the emblemist; an alembic here, a crucible there, a bird, a sword, and somehow, through a process of transmutation, there is the beginning of something, something being formed out of the fire; an egg, or a crown of fire. And all the while you are transfixed, memories are hatched, tiny jewels that have been crystallized by the pressures of time, somehow push themselves to the surface.
The miracle here is that what is personal to Tignor can be made so personal to the listener; the microcosm is really a macrocosm, which itself is only another particular moment in time and space. Core Memory Unwound is an astonishing experience, and one I hope Tignor is proud of.
--Christopher Tignor: Cathedral (pt. 2)
--And buy it here
Friday, April 17, 2009
Boing Boing recently featured the seamstress Althea Crome that knits miniature clothing (her work was used in the perfectly marvelous film Coraline), and it started me thinking again about how miniatures offer such a vast emotional palette. A recent and fairly popular photography technique called tilt-shift has been cropping up all over the intertubes. Tilt-shift photographs take real world environments and create the illusion of scale-models. Some fine examples are here and here and even a video version here:
[actually looks better with the sound off]
There is some pretty great ambient music that can draw your attention towards the smaller, more detailed areas of consciousness, but it wasn't until I heard Folkanization by Francesco Giannico that I began to imagine that there could be a musical version of tilt-shift. Giannico layers miniature sounds into vast landscapes, but your attention never wanders from those micro-details that imbue it all with so much life. His colors are more muted than those that are found in tilt-shift, but his vision of life in small scale has even more quiet emotional resonance than those photos made to look like a town from a Z-gauge train setup.
So what it about miniaturization that moves us so? Part of it, I think, has to do with the way we project a kind of magician's skill on the artist. As Crome describes in the feature about her, there is as much a fascination with the final product as there is with the tools that are used: tiny needles, paintbrushes made from a single horsehair, tweezers that can pinch together microscopic threads. Miniaturists seem akin to alchemists, whether working with paint or carvings,they are creating something that is not only made precious by their size, but magical by the their very possibility. There is also a mythic quality, as we unconsciously recall the little worlds that make up our childhoods, that as children we create, but that we are also told about, like Peter Rabbit, Alice in Wonderland, and the Lilliputians.
Giannico weaves on a tiny loom, but the resulting soundscapes stretch on into infinity. The mix of electronics and acoustics are not haphazard, but feel as deliberate as a tiny brush against a tiny canvas.
--Francesco Giannico: Kami Akan Biasa
--And you can buy it here
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
I went with my family to Portland, Maine for the first time this past weekend. When we arrived, we walked along Congress Street and a little beyond, and were pleasantly surprised to see so many art galleries, little bookstores, and some terrific record shops, the best of which was a tiny dimly lit shop called Strange Maine. It was one of those serendipitous moments, where you suddenly stumble upon a concrete manifestation of all the things you had been thinking about lately. So here in this little store were a great stack of used comics, a random but admirable collection of science fiction and fantasy paperbacks, weird underground magazines, lots of great vinyl, and lo and behold, a great collection of underground CDs in handmade packaging. The proprietor was a tall sleepy sort of fellow who graciously suggested some music, and I happily left the store with 1999 issue of the much-missed Ptolemaic Terrascope (including great interviews with Can and Stars of the Lid), a little plastic skull for my son, and the CD Inri by Todd Wesley Emert, otherwise known as Inspector 22,who hails from North Carolina.
Along the coast of Maine at a place called Two Lights there is a shoreline made up of huge sheets of metamorphic rock. There is an almost dream-like intensity to these formations, and they seem to stretch on forever around each bend of the coast. My son and I climbed down to the very edge where the waves crashed around us. Along the way, we stopped to inspect small tide pools teeming with brightly colored snails and other little crustaceans. My son was giddy on this huge expanse of stone to climb and explore.
Later, we went to eat and while waiting in line started chatting with another couple. Somehow the conversation moved to writing and then to religion, and the woman, Megan Don, told me about her work writing on the lives of medieval women mystics. Within the space of a few minutes we had communed on the idea of suffering, of coming out to the other side where there is not necessarily perfect light, but rather a diffuse kind of radiance that seems to reflect off other worlds, other realities.
Inspector 22 uses lots of religious imagery, and one gets the sense he might have a peculiar kind of knowledge about the mystery of these other worlds, but the music is delightfully raw and earthy in a way that keeps it humble. There's a little piano that actually gives the edges a little more dementia, and a barely tuned ukelele that could scare the children. It's folk music marred by pop. It's alone, but not lonely; far away, but not secreted away; sad, but not desolate; cracked, but not crazy; feverish, but not delirious; a little baked, but not druggy; visionary, but not outsider.
Through something a little like electronic theurgy, I was able to find a a web presence for what appears to the label that released Inri, dontrustheruin. Other than that, there is very little else I can tell about you about this strange but alluring CD except that there is something mighty weird going on up in Maine and I am grateful for having stmbled upon it, or led there by some other force, as the case may be.
--Inspector 22: Evening Seaside
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Soon after writing about Grails, I was sent a CD by The Brown Book, a particularly heavy combination of melody and drone that avoids metal trappings. Given their speed and the moments of drum-stick raising nods, it's hard to imagine how they keep it all under control. There is a unique use of reference material, from Robert Fripp to Battles. But what I admire about The Brown Book is the ability to use rock chords to generate walls of noise without everything blurring at the edges like so many My Bloody Valentine clones.
I realize I have said this a number of times, but to hear experimental music that is delightfully heavy without wallowing in the ubiquitous morass of volcanic sludge is a joyful experience. The Brown Book is characterized by chance moments of elegance and remarkable musicianship. You can hear the comradery, which for the listener is like getting to be a fly on the wall of some secret fraternity where the brothers ritually make fantastic noise in order to evoke their own unique kind of transcendence. When you crack open the alchemist's stone and the light of the gods rushes out, it's a mighty good idea to have some guitars on hand to channel all that energy.
As I was listening to Thirty Nothing, my doorbell rang and snapped me back to my normal consciousness. At the door was a quiet young man tenderly holding a bible. He was achingly shy, and tentatively held out a little pamphlet announcing an Easter event. I explained that we were actually celebrating Passover, and he respectfully pulled back the pamphlet. It made me realize again there are all these different narratives we each possess about some aspect of the world. This week is about that peculiar narrative of a group of slaves (slaves who also possess a very specific knowledge of building and artifice that even their masters didn't have) who find their way to freedom. These builders eventually make it to their promised land where they again will construct another great wonder of the world, a temple like the ones they were forced to build was also intended to be a house for their god. (And even after the temple is built, King Solomon exclaims, "How can anything contain you?")
Music also is a construction of certain elements, using a craft, that attempts to contain some idea or feeling. And with something like The Brown Book, you can hear the way the intent is straining at the seams, like these guys know that at some point it's all artifice, but artifice (and story, and myth, and ritual) is all we have. So they go at it anyway, and it sounds like it might overtake them, but again, like any strong community, they withstand it together, even as they build it up, and afterward there is something to point to, to say, "We did the best we could to give that ineffable thing a form," but we could only do it together.
--The Brown Book: Deer Heads
--And you can buy it here
Monday, April 6, 2009
This weekend my seven-year-old son walked in on me and my wife just as we were about to, well, you know, and I mean just as we were about to. She gave out a little yelp in surprise and my boy looked around, his eyes half-shut, and he said "Why are you naked?" and I said, "Well I was putting my pajamas on." "But you already had them on earlier," he said. So I said, "Well I changed them because I was hot." Then he said, "Why is mom naked?" I said, "Well she was also changing," and he said, "But she had her pajamas on before." I said, "She also wanted to change." I started walking him back to his room when he asked "So why was your door closed?" so I said, "We had loud music on."
And we actually did have music on. We were listening to a strange and seductive album by Charlotte & Magon, Love Happening, whose title is reminiscent of 60s style European bedroom pop. But below the surface of this nostalgia that they are so adept at is something slightly cracked and off-kilter. There is a sense that things are going to fall apart at any moment, but this is what makes it compelling. The entire evening was scored by their music, even the interruption of our son, who only highlighted the kind of chance and unpredictability that weaves its way of the music. We were blanketed by it, all of us, our little family on our raft bobbing along the currents of love. When I tucked my son back in, I knew my wife was waiting, but I wanted to linger with him for a moment, because he is the lovely unpredictabilty that underscores our life.
--Charlotte & Magon: Rivage