Wednesday, October 31, 2012

"I'm a teenage Art School Student"

Nutrition Fun / Ed Rooney - Seriously Don't Make Me Kill You
Unread #56

The first fanzine I wrote was called "Been Teen" after a Dolly Mixture song, and was put together in my bedroom using ballpoint pens and Prittstick by my friend Scott and I. It was all hand written, and the photos were cut from Smash Hits and Record Mirror. We could not afford to photocopy it and so just passed around the pasted together original at Jon's parties. People laughed at my writing (in a good way, I think), which was in the smart-arse, "I'm a teenage Art School Student" voice.

Alistair Fitchett

DIY culture is one of the more beautiful ideas to spawn from the artistic world. It's an attempt at Direct Democracy, compensating for lack of resources, empowerment for honest and organic ideas and creations. It's about artists/people getting a fair shake and pursuing personally meaningful ends. The "indie rock" scene has certainly seen itself in the context of that folk-garage-punk-DIY tradition. But the title, "Do-It-Yourself," is insufficient. It reflects the personal empowerment aspect while masking something just as critical: mutual support and empowerment of a community.

Chris Ruen

At one point, Ed Rooney introduces us to "the neatest noise in the world," which ends up sounding like a baby giraffe sneezing into a megaphone stuffed with cinnamon and brown sugar oatmeal. And after bearing witness to "the neatest noise in the world," a warm tingling spread through me and the hair on my arms stood on end and I began to see pure, vivid colors along the edge of my vision—and then came the realization that DIY is so intoxicating!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

"Call me Snake"

Julia Holter - Live Recordings
NNA #15

Sometimes—not all the time, mind you; there is precious, little time for "all the time" and considerably more for "sometimes"—I think about nuclear annihilation. Perhaps it's because I was exposed to unhealthy amounts of The Day After on video cassette during my Eighties adolescence. Or possibly it's because there's been much recent discussion regarding how the existing geopolitical climate could lead to a rise in nuclear proliferation. Or maybe, just maybe, it's on account of the stacks of cassette tapes lining a nearby shelf and how this sound recording format may be the only one that survives a nuclear apocalypse. You've seen Escape from New York, right? When important, encoded information needed to be covertly delivered from one party to another, the format that could withstand all the warfare and destruction and Kurt Russell-ness was the cassette tape.

Of course, this has nothing to do with Julia Holter's Live Recordings. Except maybe the track "Pushkin, Inconsolate," which is composed of three elements: the Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter's vocals, her piano playing, and the droning of what sounds likes a lawnmower. The droning builds in volume and then slowly lessens, only to build in volume once more, like the lawnmower operator is cutting grass around Holter and her piano and following a specific pattern, so they keep coming around for another pass. It's like Holter is playing her piano in the middle of Central Park. (Lugging your piano around to exotic locales is actually quite neat.)

Other tracks I especially enjoyed:

• "Beast Wildest." Holter's ghostly vocals and sparse-yet-punchy piano are conflated with what sounds like audio from a foreign film. (The liner notes say the movie clips were provided by Yelena Zhelezov.) The contrast between Holter's elegiac, fragile vocals and the animated, harsh dialogue from the film was titillating.

• "Me Are More Than I Need." Holter's voice reminds me of a more sophisticated version of Galaxie 500's Naomi Yang or the Fall's Brix Smith.

• "Hello, Stranger." Much of Holter's ethereal vocals are indecipherable. On "Hello, Stranger" I thought I caught the line "Seems like a really good time." This, the tune’s protracted, sulky synthesizers, and Holter's drowsy, defeated vocals conjured up the image of a person swallowing a handful of colorful pills and then lying down on a bed and waiting for the fatal warmth that started in their feet to envelope their entire body.

He's like, practiced ... a lot

Chauchat - Unhappiness
Unread #16

I suppose one of the nicest compliments you can bestow upon an artist who takes a decidedly lo-fi approach is that utilizing such recording tactics only confines and smothers them, and ultimately doesn't do their work justice. Chauchat (real name: Tyler Whitney) sings and plays guitar with fastened confidence and refined vigor, which is just a really un-clever way of writing that he's practiced a lot and is quite good.

Most of the songs on Unhappiness feature Whitney spinning plaintive acoustic guitar lines over modest drum parts. His lyrics are largely reflective, but when the words are sung, he makes that reflectiveness sound either snotty or sorrowful. From "One Moment after Passion: "She comes home so late at night / We don't have the time to fight now." Or from "Letters in Black Ink": "Take my pain and put it on a plate in front of me." It conjures up the best moments from the Sarah Records catalogue: Artists reminding us that tragedies can arrive just as quickly as they depart and in between all the sad laments, you can have some happiness.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

In the bedroom

John Henry Memorial - Love Songs for the Genuinely Non-Excitable
Unread #39

Love Songs for the Genuinely Non-Excitable opens and closes with the sounds of a music box playing. It feels like an effort to establish a setting: the bedroom, possibly? Maybe? While listening to the cassette, I found myself searching for evidence to substantiate this belief. The supremely lo-fi recording quality of the album, while replete with all sorts of sonic fizz, was free of the background noise (i.e., television sets, vacuums, novelty rabbit-shaped mixers, etc.) associated with high-traffic areas in the average home, leading me to speculate that this was taped in the quiet privacy of the bedroom. I'm also certain I heard alarm clock-like beeps in the background of one track.

That is all evidence of the rather tangible variety. What follows is significantly less so ... "Crossover" sounds like it's crawling across a short distance to get to the listener, like the recording device was placed inside the bedroom closet and the guitarist played from a position within the bedroom. "Drift and Die," with its refrain of "It was all over before it began," is both wincingly frank ("I beat the Hell out of Linda" goes the opening line) and cruelly accusatory ("Reach for a man the way you reach for a drink")—the type of I'm-tearing-up-so-I'm-gonna-tear-her-down composition that can only be attempted on your own turf and behind closed doors.

Then there's "Good Good Life," an elegy so clouded and desolate, and full of questions that either don't have answers, will prompt rather unsavory answers, or have answers so complex a gaggle of cryptologists will be necessary to decode them. I wondered if it was cut in one of those tiny, soothing spaces every bedroom features: like between the bed and a wall or between the dresser and a writing desk.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Blasphemous vocal mockeries

Dopo Dormi - Bought the Ranch
I Had An Accident Records

So I was reading Michelle Goldberg's Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in a concerted effort to become approximately five to seven percent more insufferable in political discussions. I was doing this while playing Dopo Dormi's Bought the Ranch in the background. Near the book's Christ-y, savory conclusion, Goldberg wrote: "It makes no sense to fight religious authoritarianism abroad while letting it take over at home … Our side, America's side, must be the side of freedom and Enlightenment, of liberation from stale constricting dogmas."

While reading this, the Bought the Ranch reached its own mind-fucking, maddening conclusion. And as the cassette's final track juxtaposed empyrean church organ with guttural, straight-from-Hell chants and hollers, I thought, "This! This is how to fight religious authoritarianism at home!" Sneak into your local church, make your way to the choir loft, and pound away on the organ keys while making a blasphemous vocal mockery of "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name."

Though I'm skeptical the effect will be anything on par with what San Diego's Dopo Dormi produced. Over organ or strummed guitar or what sounds like violin, there are layered tracks of animalistic, echoey, unnerving vocals, most of which are altogether indecipherable. For all of its ability to calm and mollify, the human voice, when modulated to suggest emotions like extreme anger or fear, can also be wholly disturbing—or holy-shit disturbing. After listening to the tape, I felt a tad distressed; I ordered the family not to use their voices for the remainder of the day.