Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Barmy vocals with English accents

Baronic Wall - The Mind of Roses
Gift Tapes #42

Baronic Wall's The Mind of Roses is so fucking vintage I checked the calendar on my phone. Am I really still here? In the present? Or is it 1979? Baronic Wall's take on hard-edged, hypnotic synthpop would feel right snug at home on Hyped2Death's Messthetics series, which spotlights the U.K.'s D.I.Y. era of the late '70s/early '80s. An era when authenticity trumped skill, when the creative process was emphasized as much as the creative output itself, when idle spectators became willing participants.

Baronic Wall has barmy vocals with English accents (they remind me of Dan Treacy; anything that reminds me of Dan Treacy makes me warm inside). The songs have woozy, warped synthesizers and cheap-sounding percussion, and themes of tribulation and alienation. From "Those Good Men": "The place where things went wrong for them / The place where they got a sign that the world didn't want them."

The vocalist often takes a poetic/spoken-word approach; he oscillates between sounding irritated and frightened. During the song "The Former Age" it occurred to me that the synths were like an impenetrable wall and his voice was coming from the other side of this wall, and that no matter how agitated or unnerved or just downright weird he came off, he always sounded like he was comfortable in the particular space he was occupying. That he wanted to be there and nowhere else. I was simultaneously intrigued and flustered by this; I haven't felt like that in some time.

Paper plates that sag

MidLo - MidLo
Curly Cassettes #22

MidLo's self-titled opens with "Moonlight," a number consisting of pulsating bass and twinkly piano and the ethereal voice of a woman, and so that's where I thought this cassette was going: dramatic soundscapes that underscore one singer's daring vocal journey.

But I was incorrect—wonderfully incorrect. The rest of MidLo features slices of spirited American folk, tracks such as "Broomjump" and "The Next Grange Hall Dance is Saturday, Oct. 23," their fervor and fiddles so infectious listeners will be coerced into swinging their skirts and kicking up their clogs.

My favorite number is "Love," a ballad that's as spunky as it is syrupy. The piano, banjo, and fiddle all get along so nice, and the singer has this dirtied-up, slightly accented voice. Listening, I began to imagine a summer gathering, like in a backyard closed off with a chicken-wire fence to keep kids and dogs contained, and adults moving in between picnic tables with bits of corn stuck in their bottom teeth and in their hands, paper plates that sag in the middle from the weight of heavy dinners, and sitting in a plastic lawn chair a suitor singing "Love" while the object of their affection stands with their back to the suitor, flipping burgers at the grill, smiling as they contest with grease-fueled flames.

Bottoms up

Raymond Byron and the White Freighter - Raymond Byron and the White Freighter
Curly Cassettes #17

Raymond Byron (nee Raymond Raposa) has been releasing batches of psychedelic, countrified folk rock on indie labels like Asthmatic Kitty for nearly a decade now. This self-titled cassette features a pair of live numbers recorded at Mississippi Studios, a live venue in Portland, Ore.

The more captivating of the two is "Time Off For Bad Behavior," which opens with Byron stating, "This is a dance song." And I suppose it is. The electric guitar crackles, and the rhythm section swings and spins. And Byron's good ol' boy, excessively blue collar shtick is contagious. "I've been working like a regular dog," he spits. "To keep my woman and the lights and the water and the phone turned on." Then later, "I need to re-do my friendship with Jim Beam." Bottoms up ... Or something.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Red, red wine

Hands and Knees - Red Hot Minnow

Hands and Knees' Red Hot Minnow leaves me with the same feeling I get after watching my children spend 10 hours climbing on furniture, cartwheeling down stairs, doing somersaults on the ceiling, swan-diving off top bunks, and perfecting the skill of sprinting full throttle while screaming at top volume: I am simultaneously jealous of and fatigued by their inexhaustible energy.

Hands and Knees play fast and loose, like on "Cemetery" and "Cool," but even when they're not playing fast and loose, they still manage to exude a vitality that enters the room with you and lifts you up by the armpits and twirls you around. "Pinwheel" features this exuberant, sloppy melody; if it played for an eternity it wouldn't be long enough. "Gracie" has bleating trumpet and foot-stomping, hand-clapping rhythms. "Dreamt" is representative of Hand and Knees' rather uncomplicated approach to their craft: well-constructed songs done with a lo-fi recording approach.

I began to imagine the album's recording process and how much of a fecking blast it must have been to undertake. Like, a bottle of red wine was passed around and band members drank straight from the bottle, crimson spots dotting their chins. Except for that one individual (probably the bassist; bassists are pointy-headed piss faucets) who wanted to pour the red wine into a cup; he was ultimately rewarded for his civility by having the wine slosh all over his shirt, a mishap that was a source of much laughter to those around him. Then the bottle went empty and during a song when a particular band member wasn't needed (again, probably the bassist), that person was ordered to walk the nine blocks to the liquor store to fetch more red wine. Which they did, quite contently.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

"I can't concentrate"

Microflvrscnce - I
Patient Sounds #31

Listening to Microflvrscnce's I in the dark—an act that compels me to listen with more than the usual attentiveness, as well as bury my hands in crevices I wouldn't dare explore under the harsh eye of artificial light—I was reminded of an essay by Lauren Slater titled "Black Swans." Slater details her conflict with a severe case of obsessive-compulsive disorder and how her doctor's treatment plan includes desensitizing her to obsessive thoughts (in Slater's case, "I can't concentrate") through what is essentially tape loops. Slater's doctor instructs her to record herself saying "I can't concentrate I can't concentrate I can't concentrate" and then listen to those words on a Walkman for two hours a day. Eventually, she will become so accustomed to the interminable thoughts inking up the purity of consciousness that their potency will be diminished. Or her doctor theorizes. Slater eventually increases the tape loop dosage (increased volumes, four hours of listening), but the overall effect is not a cure for her disease, but instead, this (a physical reaction I experience after listening to I):
My sheets were damp from sweat ... Shadows whirled around. Planets sent down their lights, laying them across the blue floor. Blue. Silver. Space. I can't concentrate.
Microflvrscnce is Poland's Rob Skrzynski and America's Ross Devlin. Indulge in this; your body will react similarly.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Wonderfully tossed together

Pride of Lowell - Pride of Lowell
Dirty Pillows

Pride of Lowell is not in the song business—they're in the mindfuck business. Got that? The minimalist duo of Patrick Breiner (tenor saxophone, clarinet) and Max Goldman (drums) churn out maximum chaos. Each instrument complements and combats the other; horns woo drums, drums fuck horns, horns and drums squabble, drums and horns make up. I want to say the pair channel the spirit of James Chance or maybe Ornette Coleman, except it's not really channeling. It's more like strangling.

Pride of Lowell's punk-jazz improvisations sound wonderfully tossed together. Like a standard, linear song was written and then the individual notes were cut from the sheet music and assembled in random sequences and pasted to a piece of paper, so that the sheet music took on the appearance of a ransom note constructed from snipped-out magazine letters.

At one point, Breiner's tenor sax made a deep, flatulence-like sound that was akin to the air being slowly let out of the universe and I thought, "If this is it, if this is the end, I will expire content."