Exploring the Voids of All Known Undergrounds
by Byron Coley and Thurston Moore
first published in Arthur No. 6 (September 2003)
For the main event this time we were hoping to write of our adventures on the “More Hair Less Bush” tour, which took a group of musicians and poets, ranging in age from 18 to 65, to a few select spots on the East Coast to unload bursts of freedom in the direction of the White House. But there just wasn’t enough time to get our notes in order. Consequently, the closest thing to big news has to be the imminent release of Jandek on Corwood, a documentary film that should blow more than a few minds.
Director Chad Friedrichs and producer/interviewer Paul Fehler, trotted across the world, trying to figure out what the hell is up with JANDEK, the mysterious, Texas-based author of 30-plus albums, whose hermeticism is as legendary as his sonics. Using just music, images copped from albums, a picture of the record label’s P.O. box, and talking head interviews, Jandek on Corwood creates a lovely portrait of mysterious activity. Although I would argue that the interview shots (especially that done with our own, Byron Coley) make the subjects looks far more hideous than they do in real life, the film still holds together beautifully. And it is sure to make viewers curious about the music, so next time we’ll try to present some thumbnail encapsulations of the Jandek oeuvre. In the meantime, this film is scheduled to start hitting the festival circuit in September and should be available for home viewing pretty soon. Calvin Johnson comes off really well, by the way. So I suggest that all potential film interviewees take a good look at his performance, and try to internalize the knowledge he so obviously possesses.
While no one seemed to be looking, Sub Pop Records released some of the best albums of the last coupla years. If you didn’t notice, shame on you. Anyway, one of last year’s best was The Creek Drank the Cradle by IRON AND WINE. It was a CD-only issue in its original form, but now it has been reissued in a spanking new LP format with a bonus 7” containing two great new tracks. Iron and Wine is primarily a solo vehicle for Floridian Sam Beam, and the album is one of the most lovely recent jewels of homemade loner folk karma. Using formal models that are not at odds with commercial stuff (Simon & Garfuck, CSN & Doug, whatever), Beam manages to create exquisite interior vistas of beauty and desolation with simple acoustic plucking and homegrown overdubbed vocals. His work is some of the best stuff in this vein we’ve heard in a golldarn coon’s age, and the two new tracks are absolutely bitchen too.
One of the most genuinely sweet spots in the American underground has lately been Load Records of Providence. Best known for Lightning Bolt, they manage to package up all kinds of other hideous noise as well, and two of their latest albums are very hideous indeed. Smarmy Mob by Milwaukee’s NEON HUNK is another in the seemingly endless line of electronic-destructo duos, costumed like super heroes, intent on obliterating the historical divide between no wave and the BEF scene. As compelling as watching one of those Faces of Death vids if were entirely composed of accidents befalling guys in clown outfits. Wow. Bring me the head of Don Fleming. Even more disturbing (almost), and in the same horrible genre (or close, anyway), is the new MLP by PINK AND BROWN. Shame Fantasy II (Load) is a bit less discoid, a bit more sampler-and-rock in its mungy trajectory, but it is still a flitty bale of masked terror tag with a kind of hip-swinging form-bloat that is a real prostate teaser. There is obviously something harsh in the water down there in Providence, so if you go there, bring your own bottled.
Any talk of Canadian industrial noise will surely get people thinking about GX Jupitter-Larsen and his seminal outfit, THE HATERS. Well, everyone should now that this leather-clad nice guy is still around, and his latest thing is a MLP croak-splice with someone who calls himself Mr. California. Eponymous, this record (Peer Pressure Zombie) is a classic sheet of whacko assemblage. Lots of RRR-style harsh electronics blended with musique concrete joke-tropes and sinister, rapidly expanding rhythms. It’s almost like hopping into a bathtub with Ron Lessard! What an old school joy!
Great sophomore effort from New England’s USAISAMONSTER. The Masonic Chronic 12” (Infrasound) goes from grunge to acid folk to pseudo-Zep boogie faster than a puritan could wiggle his penis into a cider doughnut. This lacks the electro-debauchery of some of the Providence groups, and takes the two man dynamic in a different direction then Lightning Bolt, but it’s in the same genre-slapping, barrel-down-the-fucking-hill direction. Shouting for peace and love in a world run ragged by bagmen for Bush, USAISAMONSTER slither with beauty ad weirdness, in a way that gets close to being jokey at time, without actually pushing over the threshold. It’s a good trick, and they do it like champs. And the silkscreened cover’s made out of hemp, too. So that means you can use it for a rope! Alright!
Italy’s MY CAT IS AN ALIEN is the finest two-brother band from Italy since the end of the Great War. Their sounds move though the air the way that a tub of fine Roman butter moves through a circus ape, and their new LP, Il Segno (Starlight Furniture Company), is another stab into the brilliance of the dark. None of their albums really sounds that much like any of their other ones, but all of ‘em sound pretty great and this ‘un’s no exception. The overall textural cohesion is provided by a simmering wall of electric guitar that gets studded with a whole assortment of things: string plonks, toy instruments, mopey voices, starling urine, pierced nipples, etc. And hey, there’s a third guy on this one, too. But he is not a brother. Still, he helps to widen the palette here, making the creepy stuff creepier, the tinny stuff tinnier, and the blazing curtains of puh blazier. So, maybe he is a “brother,” y’know? Either way, the soundscapes here will tap at so many of yr inner windows that you’ll be flipping your head back an forth like a tuna. And that’s a nice feeling this time of year. Ask Charlie.
Canadian poet VALERIE WEBBER, teams up with staunch Clevelander, MATT WASCOVICH, for a hot duck of collaboration called Figure Order (Slow Toe). Webber’s new poems are even better than the ones in the book of hers we issued (Dimly Lit Wildlife, Glass Eye, hint, hint), and Wasco’s stuff is a new high point for him as well. But it’s the collabs that shred the hardest. It’s hard to tell where one voice trails off and the other picks up, and the images and words dance like bacon puppets in a hot fucking griddle. Really great stuff, and Wasco has a ton of other things in the pipeline, so drop him some money. Pronto!
Totally choogle-riffic new LP from Boston’s SUNBURNED HAND OF THE MAN. Entitled The Trickle-Down Theory of Lord Knows What (Eclipse) it is a more experimental, less-jam-ass document than some of their other material. This is not to say that the music here is not largely built around unending, ceaselessly-circulating rhythms and voices that rise out of the aether like croaks from minor characters in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s early epics. Not hardly. But there is a mysterious carnality and abandon to much of the playing here that some of their more dissolute stuff lacks. Too bad they didn’t make Ed Hardy issue Trickle Down in a gatefold cover. Then it’d be tops for cleaning & rolling. But some people are above that shit, I guess. Still, this is the album thus far most indicative of what many view as the best parts of the huge, fluxating collective that is Sunburned Hand of the Man. While everything lurches in a single direction (more or less), there’s still plenty of room for personal wiggling and expansion. It’s hard to be absolutely sure which of their special weapons they hauled out for the session (Corsano or Capistran), so if anyone asks, just throw yr hands up in the air and giggle a lot. They’ll leave you alone.
The sound of Young Norway is not a topic that gets a whole lotta attention at the breakfast table, usually, but then NOXAGT is not yr average cultural ambassador, I guess. Led/not-led/whatever by Norwegian string-buster, Kjetil J. Brandsdal, this power trio combines Brandsdal’s organ-grinding bass with some solid thud-work by some hapless tourists who were trapped by a clothes rack back in the Reagan Era. It’s all thuggily instrumental (or close enough), so that you don’t have to lose yrself in the event’s rude text. Which is not to say you couldn’t. Indeed, I am just about ready to sink the hell into it. Another fine Norwegian unit is THE DIPSOMANIACS, and their new album, The Tremelo of Her Mind/The Strings of Her Soul has just had a limited vinyl issue courtesy of Apartment Records. The Dipsos are a brilliant and bustling guitar psych band with some instrumental nods to prime-era Bay Area ballroom bands. But they overlay this whole thing with a love of gentler noise textures, insidious Terry Riley keyboard nods, and a kind of rolling explosion of drugged finesse. (The CD issue is on Free City Media.) More fine Norwegian beauty comes from DEL and their new LP, Der Lehnstuhl Sagt Alles (OHM). Using guitars, electronics, drums and croaks, DEL raise a sweet post-core racket with shades of noise-rock, industrialism, and even tangential psych-aktion. They thrub along as though it must be very cold in Norway in the winter. And indeed, we hear that is true.
The Mead Art Museum at Amherst College recently curated an incredibly great FLUXUS exhibit, based on the works that Geoffrey Hendricks had hosted while he worked at Rutgers. It was one of the best shows of Fluxus material we’ve seen, and the catalogue, Critical Mass (Rutgers University Press) is probably the best overall Flux document around. The flow of the essays and illustrations is unparalleled, and anyone who is interested in getting a grasp of the most dynamic art movement of the 20th Century should really dig it. It has tons of pics that have not been around much and the essays really contextualizes the stuff inside the larger framework of Happenings, Pop Art and the general flow of the ‘60s avant garde. The show will be at Rutgers’ Mason Gross Galleries for a month this Fall as well. If you have a chance, catch it.
In live performance, TART are one of the most static combos extant. Scott Foust, Karla Borecky (both of Idea Fire Company), and Graham Lambkin (late of the Shadow Ring), move small knobs with small gestures, and small sounds congregate above their heads. This is not always engaging when we see them, but the new Tart album, Bring in the Admiral (Swill Radio), makes a whole lot more sense as a document. The grinding is gentle, the plunging through space is subtle, but the whole things sways with itself in a way that lets us know that a kind of freedom is just around some corners. Mr. Foust, the goddamn leader here no matter what he says, has been creating this kind of racket since the early says of the cassette revolution. It’s great that he is still working on perfecting the platonic version of bedroom electronic improvisation. He may actually burst through to the fourth dimension yet!
ARTHUR DOYLE is one of the great masters of raw saxophone improvisation. His career has been fraught with perils and pitfalls, but he has seemed to be on something of a roll lately. And that feeling is borne out by the release of a new two-LP set, Live in Japan 1997 (Qbico), recorded in trio with Takashi Mizutani and Sabu Toyozumi. Mizutani is/was the guitarist for the legendary Japanese free-rock ensemble, Les Rallizes Nudes. And Toyozumi was the drummer on many of Takayanagi’s early free-jazz sessions. So this is a really high-level meeting and it sounds totally boss. Doyle displays none of the health trouble that sometimes makes his presence less than it could be. He is in full force on tenor, flute and vocals. Mizuztani is great, too, sending bursts of shredded guitar spew sideways into the huge huffs of Doyle-smoke. And Toyozumi’s brilliant restless crashing holds everything together. Who on earth conceived of this ensemble one can only guess, but it worked impossibly well, and this documentation is just fantastic.
Anyway, keeps that vinyl and print and video action flowing. If you want to offer something for our licking pleasure, please send two copies to: Bull Tongue, POB 627 Northampton MA 01061 USA. Thanks.
Glass Eye: http://www.yod.com
Jandek On Corwood: http://www.jandekoncorwood.com
Peer Pressure Zombie: Ross Scott, 285 Chestnut Ave. #2, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130
Rutgers University Press: rutgerspress.rutgers.edu
Slow Toe: slowtoe.com
Starlight Furniture: c/o http://www.midheaven.com
Sub Pop: http://www.subpop.com
Swill Radio: http://www.anti-naturals.org