Wednesday, March 21, 2012

"Do you make any music or art?"

Kevin Greenspon - Waypoint
Bridgetown #58

Releases from Bridgetown Records come in the mail with hand-written letters from the label's founder, Los Angeles native Kevin Greenspon. "Do you make any music or art?" he asks me. (I sheepishly tell him no.) He sends along one of his cassette releases, Waypoint. It consists of ambient music that suggests twinkling stars and pulsing nebula and Carl Sagan narrations. Each song checks in at just over four minutes, which is particularly refreshing because I don't always fancy long-form ambient pieces that lean on the idea that extensive song length is necessary to transport you to a wonderful place. I mean, it only takes the shuttle eight minutes to reach orbital velocity in outer space, right?

It's 10 o'clock at night

Ehrlichman - Sorry to Hear You're a Goner
Unread #26

Ehrlichman is Scott Jacobson. The cover to his cassette Sorry To Hear You're a Goner features a crudely drawn picture of a man's feet and legs sticking up from the bottom of what may be a square window. He has committed suicide or maybe was the victim of defenestration. A third option is that this is a first-story window and the individual is merely doing a handstand.

Who doesn't love handstands? And who especially doesn't love summer handstands by a cute girl in rolled-up jeans on a front lawn so green it's fluorescent, a sprinkler idling nearby, beads of water collecting on the blades of grass, the girl's dangling hair wet and dark at the tips? Everybody does! I've never been to Fayetteville, N.C., but I like to think it's the kind of place where the image I just detailed occurs quite frequently.

Jacobson is from Fayetteville. He writes about the city in the song "Fayetteville." Over acoustic guitar and percussion that sounds like it's being played on a pail, he sings, "The city doesn't shine at night / It kind of flickers."

On some tracks Jacboson employs a drum machine, but on others he sings over nothing more than guitar. Oftentimes, he repeats the same bits on electric guitar, but with plenty of bounce and bite, so that the guitar provides the song's percussion.

What I've discovered: When it comes to these ratty, crackling cassette releases, I appreciate this all-by-one's-lonesome approach more than others. It's more introspective since you have no one to blush in front of and it allows you to slip in cheeky couplets that will amuse only you ("Your darting eyes and nervous laugh / Tremble like a polygraph") and it's certainly more daring since you have no one to counsel you on how and where to edit yourself. Like "Hey baby I'm a Warm Body," where Jacobson informs us it's 10 o'clock at night and there's an electrical storm outside before launching into an emotionally-charged, unaccompanied ballad.

Prizes! Yay!

Nutrition Fun - Barring Any Future Indescretions
Unread #41

I once bought a compact disc because the sticker on the plastic wrap held a tiny blurb from a Crawdaddy! or NME or Charley Jones' Laugh Book Magazine album review and it said, "Like Boyzone put a bomb up the asshole of Viking Metal, collected the viscera, and fed it to the cute baby cub of Pedro the Lion and Tigermom." I guess I'm an easy sell.

The terse description of Nutrition Fun's release Barring Any Future Indescretions (sic; also, sick) mentioned the word "drinking." That was all it took; I was sold. I'm attracted to the idea that oftentimes drinking is good -- not spectacular, but good -- for keeping the assembly line that churns out ideas and words and phrases and prize-winning pieces (prizes! yay!) going at a steady and productive pace. But I also recognize that drinking can just kill ambition dead. It can delude one into thinking that less significant, more fleeting pursuits (going on YouTube and watching clips from Cast Away in the dark and crying in the dark) will be just as rewarding as creative activities.

I'm not certain if consuming alcohol is good for Nutrition Fun (this is a one-man effort; the Unread web site describes Andy Berkley as a "wide eyed loner kid"; inside the cassette is an address in Omaha where you can write him). Maybe it facilitated the whole process of releasing classified information about himself. Or maybe it gave him the courage to record tracks in one take and refuse to cut them again or add any sort of overdubs. His vocals are unintelligible, but I caught bits here and here, buried beneath the acoustic guitar and doleful organ: "I should have never even spoke" and "But I have my doubts about me."

And maybe a bit of imbibing was what led him to produce the angry bursts of noise on many of the tracks. Swirling, harsh noise that makes you think of the caved-in television you had in your childhood bedroom—the one with only an antenna—and how most of the channels were overrun with static. There's another noise track that reminded me of sauteing something in a pan and when it was finished, I pondered for some time one how noise-folk cassettes such as this not only joyfully test the resolve of the listener and subtly exhibit the many levels of concentration necessary to be an artist, but also push the boundaries of the genre in which it exists.

That was a bit of a mouthful. I'm going to lie down.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

“I spent hours putting that cassette together."

The world we occupy is teaming with cloud storage services and streaming music services and online mp3 stores and peer-to-peer file-sharing networks. Someone who's a lot smarter than me and maybe possesses an anthropology degree might say we're in the early stages of becoming an artifact-less culture. The National Museum of American History contains music-related objects from over 100 years ago: wax cylinders, glass discs, sheet music. What will the relics from this era be? Digital music players that look like Legos? An mp3 gift card with the silvery shit already scratched off? A thumb drive in the shape of Ke$ha's pointy head?

Digital downloads now trump physical music sales. Several years ago it was reported that "mp3" had replaced "sex" as the most searched-for term on search engines like Yahoo! and AltaVista. (Which is quite impressive, you have to admit.)

So what does this all mean? It means music fans can sound extra douchey and lament that they are suffering from a crisis of format, that convenience has become a burden. Being overwhelmed digitally means you can stress a desire to return to how music was once consumed -- yearn for a listening experience that takes one off the grid, so to speak. I'm reminded of a curator who said the first two questions he inevitably gets at an exhibit are "What is this thing?" followed by "Can I touch it?" Well, I want to touch stuff because I love touching stuff (I want to listen to it too, of course) -- more specifically, the stuff that's released on a format that is relatively cheap to produce, limited to tiny batches of a couple hundred, and generally disregarded.

As Chris Jahnle, founder of cassette label Kill/Hurt, recently said: "Mp3s sound terrible anyways, so why not have something that sounds terrible that you can hold?"