Thursday, February 28, 2013

Safe for couples and coupling

Nathan Ventura - Love Songs

Nathan Ventura was exceedingly impressed with our recent vivisections of his work (or: replace "exceedingly" with "dreadfully" and "impressed" with "embarrassed"), so much so he mailed us another cassette.

Sonically, Love Songs isn't an album one would play in front of their better half, not even on an evening where one would like to evoke the phrase "Not tonight—I have a headache," but can't because it has worn so thin it's gauzy. The music is antagonistic and threatening and sharp around the edges. The sounds in "Mexican Sunrise" are akin to one of the generic ring tones that are included on your smart phone—and the ring tone is played at the phone's maximum volume. "I'm a Little Spider" reminds me of the wet groans an empty stomach makes. And Ventura's voice, as always, sounds like it's coming from the behind a thick, locked door in an asylum.

But the lyrics! Those are indeed safe for couples and coupling. From "Cursive Line of Cocaine": "The only boy I ever loved left me for Hollywood / He used to write and blow my name in cursive lines of cocaine." From the previously mentioned "I'm a Little Spider": "I'm a little spider / I'm inside her." And from "I am the Dingleberry": "The universe is laughing at my sorrow / I am a dingleberry on the asshole of time." Because ... Well, nothing gets blood quicker to the loins than a metaphor involving fecal matter pasted onto body hair.

(Also, I'm really digging the cover art, which depicts two hugging individuals. One is so enthusiastic about the hug he has pulled the other completely off the ground. That kind of huge is great; you only get so many of those hugs during your lifetime.)

*The sound of eyes glazing over*

Socratic - Socratic
Antique Records

My two oldest play the saxophone (tenor and alto), so naturally I've saturated their lives with jazz. But what I anticipated to be an exercise in hipster dad/hipster kid bonding soon turned into a lesson in how quickly children can become comfortable with tuning out their parents.

Me: "Did you listen to that Coleman Hawkins album I put on your iPod?"

Them: *The sound of eyes glazing over*

So I spun them Socratic's "Charlie Parker (Music Will Save His Soul)," so they could better appreciate how jazz holds sway over the masses, but also because I didn't want them to think I'm daft, that I'm the only individual in the world who thinks jazz is fucking boss. (Well, they already think I'm daft; I mean daft when it comes to my taste in music.)

The New Jersey power pop trio's ode to Parker is infectious, referential, celebratory—it makes you as giddy as a Parker solo on that ole Grafton plastic saxophone of his.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Turning on a dime

Art Decade - Western Sunrise
Antique Records

There are instances where the universe turns on a dime: when a stopped heart starts beating once more; when an empty glass is filled to its brim; when averted eyes make contact; when silence gives way to song.

But what about those moments when the universe is more cynical? Like when a light bulb burns out or when a tire blows on the expressway or when molten lead inexplicably falls into your throat as you look up at a burning lighthouse?

I pondered all this while listening to Art Decade's Western Sunrise. Because the Boston group's brand of progressive rock is teeming with soaring vocals and emotionally charged choruses, and orchestration that feels like soft breezes on bare arms, and further orchestration that reminds you of the thrilling, anticipatory feeling you get when descending in an airplane, and guitar riffs that have you strumming the air, and recurring shifts in tempo and tone that leave you dazed and giddy and needing to put a steadying hand on a piece of furniture—and then the song "A Lie" concludes with "As usual / nothing's perfect / as usual / no one's there / as fearless as I try to be / I know that no one cares," and this turned-on-a-dime moment feels like being sneaked up on and jabbed in the ribs with a bony index finger.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Washing and waiting for inspiration

Nathan Ventura - Silly Secret

It's like someone gained access to where I hoard my most intimate and fervent thoughts regarding cassette releases and compiled said thoughts on a sheet of loose leaf paper and slipped the paper under the pillow of Nathan Ventura, who then had the paper laminated and furnished with adhesive before sticking it to one of the walls in his shower, where he read the words over and over as he washed and waited for inspiration to sneak up behind him and poke his ribs.

Silly Secret has everything I lust for in a tape: pure originality, refined weirdness, an infectious mood, one artist handling all the instrumentation, lo-fi sensibilities—and, most crucial of all, a cover of Stevie Nicks' and Lindsey Buckingham's "Landslide!" In Ventura's hands, the song is unrecognizable save for the lyrics. Ventura, who sings in a guttural and menacing manner (he casually reminds me of Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade), wrings out all the poignant self-reflection, and replaces it with anguish and hopelessness. It's fucking glorious.

Tracks like "The Mayor" have me thinking Ventura's approach to songwriting works like this: A melody comes to him, but rather than transcribe it from his head to his guitar exactly as is, he does an approximation of the melody; he leaves out a note or three, slows down/speeds up the tempo a tad, plays purposely sloppy. On "Funny Feelings," it sounds like Ventura is simply plucking open strings, like when someone who has never touched a guitar picks up the instrument for the first time and makes an earnest attempt to legitimately play.

The vocals on "Outside" are a bit low in the mix, which creates the impression that Ventura is singing from inside your walls or beneath your floorboards. Upon further thought, this is possibly how Ventura was able to access my most intimate and fervent thoughts regarding cassette releases. I'm now weirded out.