Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Swallowing a few loose bristles from your toothbrush

Nutrition Fun - Cold Storage
Unread #20

Immediately after lift-off, you notice that Andy Berkley (Nutrition Fun) sounds a bit throaty, almost like he's in the final stages of a nasty cold—or almost like he spent the previous night at a bar and breathed in too much secondhand smoke. This condition, which seems to afflict him throughout parts of Cold Storage, harassed me into thinking about the recording process, particularly when it comes to home-made tapes. And how recording music on your own doesn't require a home remedy for your vocal affliction—warm lemon water with honey or licorice root tea or a throat-blessing from that priest met on the subway—because you don't necessarily have to be healed by a particular day set aside for studio time. Or on a strictly artistic level, you record even with a dinged-up voice because the creative itch was particularly intense that day and to ignore it would have been like ignoring the need to breathe. Or you record even with a voice that sounds you accidentally swallowed a few loose bristles from your toothbrush because you woke up feeling strangled by the murderous urgency of everyday life and wanted to mate the fragile cycle of your heartbeat with the fragility of analog tape, and spin your art into something eternal before it's too God damn late.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Energy hogs

Sad House - Eggy Tape
Eggy #33

By night, I consume cassettes. By day, I write about structural health monitoring and anaerobic digesters and liquid natural gas facilities. One term that gets bandied about by the short-sleeve button-down-shirt-and-black-socks-with-white-tennis-shoes set is "energy hog." It refers to anything—a wastewater treatment plant, your high-definition television—that hungrily consumes copious amounts of energy.

I bore you with all this because when I hear Sad Horse I think "energy hog." Sad Horse is a two-piece garage punk band from Portland, Maine. They play with a boundless, manic ardor that I wish I possessed. Each track is like watching a large piece of flash paper burn—there's a whoosh, a splash of bright orange light, a purpley after-image on the retinas. When they play live, I bet lights dim and ceiling fans slow to a crawl.

Songs like "Something That Sucks" and "Check's in the Mail" have me imagining that bandmates Elizabeth and Jeff are really marionettes being controlled by the same puppet master, so fast and tight do they play, yet so synergetic and cohesive do they sound.

Friday, June 8, 2012


Sky Stadium - Plateau
Bridgetown #47

Listening to "Uplifted," I was blessed with the sensation that I was in outer space, rotating slowly, my arms and legs outstretched like da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, my skin cold even in the absence of a breeze, no single star or segment in this glittery and seamless landscape distinguishable from the next. So there is zero indication visually that I am spinning; only the tickle inside my stomach tells me so.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

That snow globe of a brain

Charlie McAlister - Turn of the Century Photograph Of
Unread #12

Charlie McAlister has been creating "true American folk music" (not my words) since the mid-1980s. There probably isn't a single artist who has committed the majority of their catalogue to the cassette format and had their name whispered in mainstream circles. But if there was a list of potential candidates who might possibly, potentially, perhaps make that sort of breakthrough, McAlister's name would be at the top. Partially because of his longevity, partially because of his songwriting, partially because of his eccentricities. (From an email Kevin Greenspon, founder of Bridgetown Records, sent me: "By far one of the most boggling and incredible live sets ever. Real crazy guy ... He got a haircut during his set from his wife/girlfriend and it was being glued to his face or something. He's definitely a kind of savant or something.")

Turn of the Century Photograph Of is one of several cassettes McAlister cut for Unread Records. These releases represent just a tiny portion of his career. The tape features ditties like "Bog Man," which could be McAlister exploring themes on how time is cyclical or how we have a penchant for exhibiting relics of the past no matter how perverse they may be, but likely was written because the dude just wanted to sing about a bog man.

Songs like "Pale Light" (sample couplet: "There is a place I want to go / But I don't know where it is") give you the impression that each of these tracks are really 45, maybe 60 minutes long, that the banjo missing two strings and the broken guitar and the pots-and-pan percussion play on and on, and that the three minutes we are hearing were culled from McAlister's fleeting instances of sanity—those moments when his snow globe of a brain stopped being shaken and the snow settled and the miniature inside could be seen clearly.