Friday, August 31, 2012

Ashes and still-burning embers and sooty detritus

Brother Mitya - Home Recordings
Folktale #27

Brother Mitya's Home Recordings has this wonderful little creation myth. From the cassette’s tiny liner notes: "These recordings were literally saved from the wreckage of a house fire that destroyed my home in Arcata, Ca. on February 4, 2008." It casually reminds me of the story behind Shack's rather swell Waterpistol, when a fire destroyed the album's master tapes and the only remaining copy was lost for months before turning up in a car the producer had rented.

The tape's cover art reminds me of Papercuts' Can't Go Back. The insert was allegedly rescued from the ashes and still-burning embers and sooty detritus of the house fire. There was actually a misshapen blackish, brownish black mark on the insert in my cassette, like a cigarette burn you see on a couch in a frat house. It was thumb-sized, like someone had attempted to fingerprint Satan. It's probably fake, but that's okay. I like pretending it isn't.

But what about the music? Oh. Well, the California-based Brother Mitya spends a fair amount of time sounding utterly broken and battered, like the end of every verse may find him collapsing into tears. Most of the cassette finds the singer/songwriter intertwining sentiments of raw emotion with fragments of acoustic guitar.

"Apples" is folk that's both indolent and theatrical, Brother Mitya playing three gentle notes and then pausing, then playing three more notes and pausing, etc. The notes are like bubbles from a tiny wand; they float there in the silence and then pop and then three more are made. "Dawg" has a bit more pep, despite its rather forlorn subject matter. Over circular guitar playing, Brother Mitya asks, "Do you think he'll ever come to see me?" and "Do you think he'll ever want to know me?" Then a crusher of a closer: "Why did you leave me?"

The release's final song, "February 4, 2008 (letsnotbeantiphysicallove)," ends with the sound of water trickling intermittently, which conjured up the image of Brother Mitya standing before his fire-consumed, fallen-in house the morning after the blaze, listening to the sound of the water from the firehouses drip-drip-driping.

Yellowed pages torn from novels

Night of Pleasure - Night of Pleasure
Faulkner Tapes #1

Cassettes from Faulkner Tapes come swathed in a page torn from a novel by the Oxford, Miss., Nobel Prize laureate. My copy of Night of Pleasure's self-titled release arrived with a page from As I Lay Dying; it was the part where Darl, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman made a cast for Cash's busted leg. Initially, I thought this was just the sort of gimmicky conceit that many cassette labels employ, but then after reading the page again, understood there was more to it. I focused on the following passage, and recognized that it rather neatly and tidily summarized Columbus, Ohio's Night of Pleasure:

"How do our lives ravel out into the no-wind, no-sound, the weary gestures wearily recapitulant: echoes of old compulsions with no-hand on no-strings; in sunset we fall into furious attitudes, dead gestures of dolls."

Compulsions! Chords that are wearily repeated! Nighttime attitude! Moments where the last note has faded and there are no hands on no strings, and this refractory, undulating, corybantic, guitar-mad punk rock echoes in your brain, so it's like the silence is screaming! We are all dolls, just like all the characters in As I Lay Dying, just like all the members of Night of Pleasure, dead effigies who play guitar and are made of sawdust and yellowed pages torn from novels.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

I ascared

Family Battle Snake - Arabian Knights
Goaty Tapes

I mean, there are times when listening to an album via tape is fun—at night; early morning; driving slow speeds; listening to dusty rap like Delo or Big K.R.I.T. (bombastic rap simply does not translate)—but minus those very specific instances it is counterintuitive to the listening process. It's no different than cooking a steak with a lighter or trying to watch porn on an analog television.

Shea Serrano writing in LA Weekly

I listened to Family Battle Snake's Arabian Knights last night, just a hair before midnight. Except, listening to this Berlin, Del., act wasn't fun because everyone was sleeping soundly and the air conditioner was making bizarre, rattley noises, and the second side to Arabian Knights is one long track titled "LLSN II" and it is tense, breathless, patched-together-sounding, bring-you-to-the-edge-of-nausea electronic music that reminded me of the unsettling soundtracks to flicks like Cannibal Holocaust and Eraserhead. Later, in bed, sleep kept its distance.

Big and impossible to ignore, like a member of the family

Hanel Koeck - Piano Music
Robert & Leopold #33

I just read Thad Carhart's The Piano Shop on the Left Bank. It's a nifty time-killer for instrument-learners of any variety as they sit in a cramped waiting room, eager for the neophyte with the timeslot before them to finish their lesson. Passages from Carhart's book rolled through my head as I listened to Hanel Koeck's (a pseudonym for Ryan Martin) Piano Music, which is essentially a long-winded obituary to an antique piano.

As his recorder runs, Koeck skillfully molests the instrument, cajoling all sorts of un-piano-like discord out of it; you wonder if the New Yorker is dabbing the tip of his thumb with his tongue and touching the strings or gently flicking the felt-covered hammers or making tiny, imaginary circles with his fingertips on the soundboard and pin block. "Seeing the secret innards of pianos spread out before me," writes Carhart, "made me want to know more about the mechanics, not for the utilitarian aspect but for the poetics of it." So in a sense, that's what we're hearing on Piano Music, Koeck touching and exploring and learning more about this particular instrument's mechanics. Like the piano is a new flame—or an old lover.

The piano was euthanized after Koeck's diddling, chopped up into tiny bits, the pieces mailed along with the cassettes (see the picture above). "Ah, but of course, that's the beauty of a piano,” Carhart's piano salesman, Luc, tells him. "It's not just another instrument like a flute or a violin that you put away in the closet. You live with it and it with you. It's big and impossible to ignore, like a member of the family!" The sounds Koeck produces don't fall into a neat, tiny, seamless line and resemble anything related to music. It's just chopped-up, drawn-out noise. Each year, we rent a summer home with various friends and demons, and almost always, these summer homes contain upright pianos featuring keys that appear to have been chewed on by famished dinosaurs and finished wood scratched so deeply you wonder if black bears are to blame. But always, these assaulted uprights produce a sound that leans toward acceptable (even when the kids are mashing away on the keys with their tiny, pink fists). Not Koeck's piano. I suppose its death was for the best.

"I lifted the fall board with the air of hushed expectation that always came over me," Carhart writes, "as if I were opening the door to another world." No doors are opening on Piano Music. They have all closed.

Mistakes were made!

(D)(B)(H) - The World is a Wedding, as Wet as Breath on Glass
Turned Word Records

(D)(B)(H)'s The World is a Wedding, as Wet as Breath on Glass is not about mistakes, but the "now what?" moments that follow. The cassette featured a tiny insert containing phrases that appeared to be written on a typewriter ("No point in not even no never"; "Wouldn't even wanna"; "Do it to me / do it to me / do me to it"; and on and on), complete with segments that had X's typed through them, as if the person typing was short of correction fluid or Wite-Out and resorted to drastic, spastic measures to blot out their mistakes. (Hold down shift key! Mash X key with index finger! Mash backspace key! Repeat!)

And oh yeah, the music. There is bass-heavy drum beats and trumpet that sounds like elephants bellowing as their tusks are slowly removed from their bodies. It reminded me of the Nihilist Spasm Band or the Residents during their moments of clarity. The music is confrontational, surreal, formless, almost primitive. It flirts with noise and free jazz, while wanting nothing to do with either. There are moments where the trumpets stumble upon a melody and it plays for a few notes, only this is followed by what sounds like a brass instrument wincing. This is the realization that a mistake has been made, that melody has no place in this madness. And so the music retreats from that melody and becomes even more confrontational, bringing its red-spotted anger nose right up against yours.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Decidedly dilettante

Growth Spert - Solar Maximum
Friends and Relatives Records

Growth Spert (the performance name of Minneapolis' Jon Middleton) is decidedly dilettante. The guitars sound out of tune, the violins may have two strings and those strings are possibly made from a cat's whiskers, and the percussion can only be described as "household," since it reminds you of butter knives tapping on an old-fashioned, cast-iron radiator or unsharpened pencils beating on an empty coffee can.

It's decidedly dilettante because there are tracks where the guitar chords aren't sloppy and unmelodic, but sharp and hummable, and there are other tracks where Middleton isn't straining his voice in the upper registers and sounding like he's a castrato huffing helium. And there is accordion, too—big, wonderful accordion lines that throb and pulse. In the cassette's liner notes, there are thanks for organic farmers and food stamps, but there is none for the person who knows how to play accordion.

So Growth Spert oscillates between pitiful basement experimentalism and music that exhibits more than a touch of prowess. Going back and forth between the two, as well as all the stops made in-between, is what makes this all so delightful.

"The most obnoxious thing in the history of obnoxious things"

I'd M Thfft Able - Hangin' Flaccid Like a Wet Lilac
Friends and Relatives Records

I'd M Thfft Able (nee Skott Spear of Windham, Maine) is obnoxious. If your friend was this obnoxious, you would flick his ears. If your kid was this obnoxious, you would make him sit on the stairs for a timeout. And then flick his ears. Throughout Hangin' Flaccid Like a Wet Lilac I was compelled to throw down my headphones and walk away, but what cancelled out such witless frustration was a desire to hear something that would top the something that I had just declared "the most obnoxious thing I have heard on this cassette thus far." Then, once I heard this something that I had deemed the new "most obnoxious thing I have heard on this cassette thus far" there was a stiff yearning to hear another "most obnoxious thing I have heard on this cassette thus far" something. The cumulative effect of all this would be the certification of Hangin' Flaccid Like a Wet Lilac as "the most obnoxious thing in the history of obnoxious things."

Opener "This Dusty Erection Lay'midst Peacock Feathers" sounds like someone is flipping through AM stations on a boom box with one blown speaker and nearby lightning is breaking up the signal with crackling static and oh yeah, the boom box is falling down a flight of stairs. Layered over this is what may be the chorus from a song, a deep country song judging by the vocalist's obnoxious twang. "Don't pick the feathers off a peacock," he pleads. "Torch of E-Mails" is driven by this monotone, single-voice chant that could have been done by kids who heard a Gregorian chant, rolled down a steep hill, ate a bunch of cupcakes, and then playfully approximated the chant on a tape recorder, complete with vulgarities.

The song titles—"Pplleeaassiinngg Eenneerrggiieess," "WBLM Always Invisbly Thru Y'chests, Portland"—remind me of Google Chat conversations where participants are in such an I-need-to-quickly-make-my-point frenzy their messages are littered with typos and weird misspellings and indecipherable nonsense.

Recommended—but only if you have no qualms about flicking ears.