Friday, December 27, 2013

North Star Idol Omen Gravel Thunder, Lightning, Strike

"I'm playing around town," said Lester Young, softly. "Whoever needs a reed man. Bill Basie called me, so I'm with Bennie's band this week, maybe I'll be with some other band next week. Long as nobody tells me how to blow, like Fletcher did."

He spoke with a slow, dreamlike fluidity, as if his intent was less literal meaning than tone and nuance.

-Harper Barnes, from Blue Monday

The world of phenomena and the phenomena of the world have their existence, but it's quite apart from us, from our language, from our naming, from our categories. No piece of reality can be discrete, completely apart, and no edge or boundary can cut off or contain. I think maybe music can depict this mess more precisely than can language. All these different strains come out of the past, frozen on records, sucked into the cloud, digitized, replayed. In record stores categorized, I go to the rock section, the international section, the jazz section, the classical section, the metal section, the hip-hop section, I select.

Frances has now turned the camera on me.

All we do is try to freeze time. All we do must fail. Thunder, Lightning, Strike. The Go! Team recombined signposts of disparate musical strains to make a kind of easy listening, birth of rap electro thing that was inconceivable until they did it. Now it's all these indie kids want to do. The genres, they used to mean something, but the kids have less and less respect for the boundaries the more and more they go on the Internet. I had the legacy of a hundred years of recording available to me, before the Internet, and I lost respect for those boundaries too. It's taken till now for the thaw.

We've still got them. Glue. Gravel. This guy I met sixteen years ago, Angus, was in this band. Scottish. Like Heroin kinda, more on the punk side. Why not Glue? The production's not so magical as the Heroin records. Maybe not the songs? Would those Heroin songs sound so much like the heart inside my body if it weren't for the production? Would that one earnest guy's vocals be so perfect if they were higher or lower in the mix? Maybe Glue's got too many words. Fuck, that's my problem too. And too they actually only have a passing resemblance; the comparison is misleading. The production pulls me out though. And the words. I like the vocals. But wait I wanted to make a more eternal point. Quibbling. Bickering about the details. Caring too much about the individual things.

There is no eternal. There is no everything. There is only an infinity of little things. Every little thing is a big thing, just not so big as the really big things that are collections of littler things. And anyway any thing I talk about is only a thing because I call it that; the infinity is only a single thing and all I do is create divisions with names. I can only respect the totality by digging all the way into each thing, because the universe only exists as a really really really big collection of arbitrarily divided entities. I put them in alphabetical order. The alphabet is sufficiently bloodless for my purpose, allowing Philip Glass and the Go! Team and Glue and Glass Ghost to all be neighbors, but it's really so Euro-centric, don't you think? What would they say in India of my distinctions? It gets to be too much if I don't surrender at some point to the futility of names and just let them fall where they may. Where I may let them.

Nations are like that. Races too. India's a big damn place, man, it's arrogance to the extreme to characterize such a thing as anything approaching singular. Black people. White people. What the fuck are you even talking about when you say that, right? British people say "Asians" and mean South Asians, Americans say it and mean East Asians. These divisions of humans are not of the world; they are bullshit that humans create.

What happened was, Frances didn't want to go out somewhere, and she has some techniques for stalling. Idol Omen. This was a new one, that she hadn't tried before, and which she hasn't done since: she grabbed a bunch of records and wanted to take pictures of them. Now here I am listening to them all cause that's the rule I made for myself. Rules are arbitrary but the only way we can have order is to respect them. Hence, nazis. Hence, unregulated capitalism. It's all for the good of mankind. I played the Glass Ghost record a lot of times this past year. They're sort of a less arty (or maybe just less self-conscious?) Skeleton$. Wait so rules or no rules? Anarchy? Sorry, guys, that's mob rule. The commies gave us North Korea. State control. I relax the rules if I need to because I have reason. I am in control. I exercise rules to achieve mental peace. Stop thinking. Ultimately I will die, but will I be relaxed? The Glass Ghost record is deceptive: its sound is smooth and quiet but its brow is troubled. Music is messy. It can only ever be one thing at one time, so that's why I need all these records. And time, time, time, time, time, time, time to listen to them. In music, time has a signature. My signature is messy, illegible. I got Idol Omen because I ordered a Callers record from its label, Western Vinyl. The label included the Glass Ghost record in my box, unsolicited. I thought I would like Callers (and now that I've let them sink in, I do, I love that band, it is a magic, mystic band) but they didn't catch me on first listen, and Idol Omen had such an ugly cover I thought I wouldn't dig it, but it didn't care what I thought I would think and yeah, I like it.

Words are rules. They fill the space and they can never contain infinity. North Star. I kind of can't bear to play this one again. Phil Glass goes for the heart of the matter by working that same thing into a froth or a drool, he batters your mind with this violent hell that you can't escape. It works really well and in an enjoyable way on Koyaanisqatsi, but this North Star record maybe has too much of a cheesy synth sound? You guys dig classical? Me too. Classical promises freedom by making room for so many sounds, but classical allowed Phil Glass to have a cheesy synth on this record. Classical's freedom is produced through an insistence on very explicit rules and sets up a framework where the only way forward is to infinitely break those rules over and over again. It has less and more respect for those genre boundaries than the kids do. Love it / get so frustrated. North Star. Tells you where to go.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Frances Keeps Picking!

The records pile up. Every month more records. Now I've started this record label even. Listen: each one is special. Each and every one was made for you. I'm lucky I've got someone to help me choose, a small person. It's been joked about me, when I worked for a company that made music recommendations technology, that they put a little me inside of all the computers and that's how the algorithm worked. Now that's what there is, except instead of a little me it's a little Frances. You can tell she's part me, especially when she makes up songs, but the model's been improved. She keeps picking the records for me, this engine. I mentioned the label. It makes it so I have less time now to update a blog, at least on the epic scale of thought that I once did. It's all I can do to play the records now (and take pictures of them). Frances doesn't like posing for the pictures anymore either, so that's changing too (check out Hermie, my new model!). But she still picks them like a pro. She's getting better.

In two months since I wrote in this space, she picked five for me. I spent the day playing them.

Rational Animals - Bock Rock Parade. Hard to avoid comparisons with this band, but I'll try. I always cringe at the disconnect between sneering HC delivery and schmaltzy, terrible-adolescent love-poetry lyrical content of "My Treat" ("When we're with our friends / Or with your family / Eating kosher meat / ... / You know it's my treat"). Cringe in an AWESOME way! Cause these dudes mean it so hard, so much, that they do not even give a fuck about telling you about their teen love. Which is not cool at all. Which is so cool. And set it to some proggy late-80s crossover HC/thrash grooves. Like, um, Black Flag. Shit I compared em. Well they sound like Black Flag in a good way, like they're smart dudes who make real original music with new ideas the way Black Flag were back in 88, you know when everyone was complaining that Black Flag was too metal or whatever. And they put all these pictures of goats in the artwork (HUMAN = GOAT MOTHERFUCKER!!!!) and the best is they are just long-hair teen dudes from the Rochester of nowhere posing in the snow with a Gennee tallboy and a denim jacket and they are both in on the joke and living the delicious dream all at the same time. THINK ABOUT IT FUCKER.

Runnamucks - Of a Different Breed. Hey it's thrashy fast punk from the 90s that sounds like thrashy fast punk from any of the last four decades! Josh's vocals are raspy and fucking sweet dude! The full-color art mimics horror comics from the old days, giving it a Back from the Grave vibe, but the music isn't garage-punk at all! My band played with these guys in Orlando (Orlando!) in the living room of a house in a subdivision and the mom was there and everyone else was a teen! That was on the tour when we had a syncronized trampoline dance routine, and our trampolines barely fit in the living room! Thrash! Why did Frances pick two teen-thrash gems in a row! THINK ABOUT IT FUCKER.

Youngbloods - Earth Music. There's this one stunningly beautiful, beautifully strange, lovely song on here called "All My Dreams Blue". Youngbloods have the typical hippy-era twin obsessions with country and blues, and present here plenty of boring compositions in the rock-combined flavor of both idioms. Another hippy pitfall fallen into is the guy named "Banana" who plays jazzy electric and acoustic piano. The piano's the key though. The blend is easy and sharp, vibe mellow. Jesse's voice high and sweet. "Sugar Babe" is easy to love, man. Easy. You know what? Jefferson Airplane are self-serving, trying to mess with you, capitalist hippies that turned the Sixties into the Eighties, dig? Bacon-loving, free-love-abuse hippies. Youngbloods, they are totally not messing with anyone. Just dudes playing friendly music. Earth music, man. I'm not buying the gritty blues numbers. Keep it sweet, Jesse.

P-Funk All-Stars - Live at the Beverly Theater in Hollywood. I have no memory of ever listening to this ever before. Two full LPs of this monster. Pedro Bell clay figures on the front, Pedro Bell game on the back. They compare themselves to the "NBA all-stars". I want to know where the line is that when you're on one side, you're ripping a hole in the fabric of the universe and then when you're on the other side you're metal-funking professional cheeze that sounds like Flea in bondage gear. The guitar solo on "Cosmic Slop" breaks through the sky but there's only pro-cheeze outside the portal. Pro pro pro. Just a few years after the youngbloods of hip-hop made them legit again. Huge. Monster. Grimace of funk-rock. But then "Give Up the Funk" rips out of nowhere with this insane fast intro and you have to realize that they are just working their ASSES off and they can't help it if they're a straight-up pro funk-rock behemoth. Nothing wrong with that.

I will say this: Sides Three and Four are a churning, burning vortex of insanity, with a brief interlude of dumbness where George recites a bunch of lyrics from old Funkadelic songs over the intro to "Maggot Brain".

Charles Williams - Trees and Grass and Things. Out of the blue, my Friday winds to a close with this blindside of hot yet laid back funky bluesy jazz. Damn. I don't know where or when I acquired this, and I'm pretty sure I never played it before. Dude's face is way closer to the camera than it needs to be but his sax solos land right in the middle of my brain every time. On the inside it says "There are some albums - all too few - that are quite timeless. This session, Charles Williams' second for Mainstream, is one of them. No matter what changes come in form and fashion, this set is going to provide good feeling so long as there are ears to hear. The swing is deep; the lines are buoyant and fluid; and the musicians so clearly appreciate each other that a marvelous organic unity pervades the album." No really! There's this one really long held note in "Cracklin' Bread" that just brings the whole universe right there into the room with you. There's a song called "Booger Bear". "Booger Bear"!!!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

See the World Given to a One Love Entity

Frances had an awesome Wayne's World moment recently. She was thinking about aliens for some reason, I guess because aliens show up in kid-oriented content sometimes. She said, "You know those aliens that come and land? For them, we are the aliens." I was like, "Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuude"

I eased into this. I saw another band, and I talked to the one guy who was in the band, and that guy was in this band Guardian Alien so he told me about it. All he said was that he was in the band, and that they had played in Chicago a bunch of times. Then I looked them up and they were on a reasonably large label and they had made this video. And I was like, well I'll be damned. That's when Frances got involved. Cause I was watching the video, and she wanted to see it too, and I was like, ok sure, and we watched the thing. And she had all kinds of questions about it, and she would reenact parts of it, especially the part at the end where the alien guy makes the universe go all nutty by grabbing the frame. She was super into that. Months later she would still ask to watch the video again. So she has a relationship with this band.

(I was just writing last time about the similarity of childhood and intoxication. Here's a great example. Watch the video - I mean you should do that anyway cause duuuuuuuuuuuuuude - but watch it and if you're like "It's not for kids!!!" it's probably cause you know it's all druggy drug world. The kid, she doesn't know that. It's a story, and it's fun cause it's weird.)

(The trick is figuring out how to find joy in the brain expansion of weirdness without, you know, getting fucked up.)

This one was in heavy rotation last November and December. Also I saw them play and they were great to watch. As the guy I know who's in the band and who's also in the other band put it, "It's a pretty appealing band". They bring it. Drums are key. The drummer dude Greg's the focus. I shook hands with him. What a grip. He's one of those guys whose stature isn't as big as their affect. Wiry. And taut arms. His foil is front-woman Alex. Tall, blond, partial to wrong-ish spandexy things, low voice, straight freak. Throw in trip-master Turner and hang low and shake it out Eli, and you're on your mushroomy way to drugville of the loud ear and eyegasm variety. Like the Dead but they're cool and the drums are fast the whole time and the jamming isn't based in blues or country. Hence "they're cool." You know, like a LOUD La Monte Young with death metal drums that keep turning into hippy drums but stay fast.

Greg Fox is trippy trip it out man too tho. He like, dreamed up the whole thing. Literally. The video's about the trip. They made it all arty and weird so the white people would dig it but it's a pretty simple narrative. Ship comes down, rasta alien dude gets out, approaches Greg, hands him this weird-ass mirror thing (Frances calls it a "universe cube", I prefer to think of it as an "iPad") and it says "See the World Given to a One Love Entity" on it. The press materials claim he actually had this experience and it inspired him to quit his arty metal band Liturgy that metalheads disdain as too arty and not like, boring enough to actually be metal and start Guardian Alien which is like, what I said above, hard jams.

Now if I'm gonna be cynical, and yeah I am, dude was tripping hard and the brain manifested the rasta guy (which, cultural appropriation white privilege kinda weird to me). Further cynicism indicates that the "one love entity" concept and the lyrics you can hear, which are like "YOU - UNIVERSE - all things one..." ring hollow, unexamined, where I find nothing that resembles what I would recognize as "love" inside the words or the sounds. In that "love" is a stand-in for "smoke pot, relax, jam out". My thing is, if you can afford to relax, you're like, lucky. And someone else paid for something you got at some point.

This is the cynic in me though. The cynic kept this record out of the rotation after the initial enthusiasm. But the cynic thinks too much sometimes, eh? Frances picked it out recently cause like, she LIKES how it SOUNDS, man. So do I. A lot. I grumpily whanged it on my turnie and after a minute I was like, aw damn, wow, shit, this thing is pretty great. It slams into being triumphantly and just gradually winds out for three quarters of an hour. The drums are great. Great. "It's a pretty appealing band."

And, to my point, who the fuck am I to decide what someone else's motivation is? No one, that's who. This record has the power to bring people together. Specifically, Frances and I, who have somewhat divergent musical tastes, can agree on this one. After she picked it this week she was afraid to play it cause she was worried I was gonna ask her to paint something or whatever, but on reassurance that no product would be exacted, the freedom to enjoy reappeared. Free from agenda is free from anxiety. Relax, jam it out, find your way.