first published in Arthur No. 14 (January, 2005)
Exploring the Voids of All Known Undergrounds
by Byron Coley and Thurston Moore
Some new and excellent small presses have been rampaging across the USA. First up is Matthew Wascovich’s SLOW TOE PUBLICATIONS, which has been hellbent on issuing stapled 8.5×11 paper poetry screeds at a rate of almost once a month. Most of these are Matthew in conjunction with one or more other writers, either vintage heavyweights from his beloved Cleveland scene or underground noise freaks. The dude has an ear for who out there may be spilling righteous verbiage, such as Elisa Ambrogio and Pete Nolan both of blasted headcase rockers Magik Markers. Anyone who’s seen that group twist and spout will know that, yeah, they must have some kind of wowsville poetry wheel just going off in their heads n’ hearts. And they do. As does Tyondai Braxton, Dylan Nyoukis, Dead C’s Bruce Russell, Charalambides/Scorces’ Christina Carter, Valerie Webber et al. Don’t expect “rock” poetry, this is all way more out there and off the tracks. Wasco hears it with the same brain that has read the primordial greatness of the long-flowing history of Cleveland’s heaviest. Peeps such as Tom Kryss, Kent Taylor and Alex Gildzen, all constituents of the famed Asphodel Bookshop, where the recently and dearly departed Jim Lowell held court and where the visionary and law-hounded poet d.a. levy burst forth. Slow Toe has been slipping out a few CDRs lately as well, mostly of Wasco’s bent brain guitar expressions either solo or in group-mode as Real Knife Head.
There is something eternally appealing about women playing punk rock, negating (as it does) the testosterone monotheism that is so synonymous in the field. A fine new entry in this area is the debut album by Chicago’s MANHANDLERS. Their self-titled LP (Criminal IQ) is more like a vicious update on late period Runaways than some others inside the genre, since they don’t shy away from flash-qua-flash, or rely on the primitivist approach favored by the post-Riot Grrrl generation. The album is just slamming, high-speed, old school punk of the early OC variety. As such it is a splendid thing. Criminal IQ have another punk winner with the eponymous LP by THE FUNCTIONAL BLACKOUTS. It has been out for a while, but it’s really a world-class destroyer in classic CA punk terms. Filled with reckless noise owing small debts to bands like Crime and the Weirdos, but powered by lotsa pumice unique unto itself.
We’ve been languishing in the strictly female scribulations of NYC’s BELLADONNA BOOKS lately. This long running series of pamphlet poetry editions has been edited by the poets Rachel Levitsky and Erica Kaufman since the mid ‘90s, and is getting close to its 100th issue. Each zine is a succinct piece by a female poet, all of whom share a common sense of adventure and active consciousness. Great writing from Anne Waldman, Eileen Myles, Nada Gordon, Lynne Tillman, Lisa Jarnot, Rosemarie Waldrop and so many others. So if you’re in the market for deadly nightshade, this is the place for you. An adjunct press to Belladonna is Erica Kaufman’s own BOKU BOOKS, which is just getting started releasing some good new staplebound killers. Her own the two coat syndrome and Chris Martin’s The Day Reagan Died are verily hep.
Brooklyn label The Social Registry has also released a handload of jake new wax. THE ELECTROPUTAS’ 3 LP continues their strategy of investigating Can Groove Land, then blasting it with all kindsa crude noise hand grenades. I mean, just when you’re about ready to settle back into a ‘Turtles Have Short Legs” mood, the forest starts to melt around you. Pretty cool, and then some. Damn nice, also, to have vinyl on the new HALL OF FAME album, Paradise Now. Samara, Theo and Dan continue to kick out the smoke with their fourth, giving spatial folk stylings a disturbed urban underpinning. The way they layer rondelays of slithering acoustic muzz and scarily genteel vocals is as killer as ever. It’s good to see that the time Samara spent hanging with Jackie O Motherfucker didn’t spoil her campfire ghost-spirit. Dan’s is another story. Give it a spin.
Some really nice tactile offerings have been sloughing out of Woodstock, NY by way of SHIVISTAN PRESS, which is run by the charmed beard of local cosmo-poet Shiv Mirabito. Shiv is one of those cats who somehow manages to trounce back and forth from India a few dozen times a day. How he travels we’re still trying to figure out, but it’s certainly produced some groovy results. The Woodstock community remains rich in deep literary vibes with the likes of The Fugs’ Ed Sanders, nomad spirit seducer Louise Landes Levi, right-on Janine Pommy Vega and hard lovin’ Andy Clausen, all of whom have books pub’d by Shivastan. Meta-thought warrior Ira Cohen, famous for his mylar photo LP jackets of Hendrix and John McLaughlin, has a hip book just pub’d here. Like Ira’s prescient Bardo Matrix press, whose publications are as now rarified as god’s nipple junk, these books are all manufactured in Nepal utilizing Nepalese woven paper. The heft and olfactory sublimation put you in direct line with a strange bliss-out. A good place to start may be with the Woodstock mountain poetry journal series Wildflowers, but they’re all pretty tasty.
Got a really good booklet of poems called Birthmarks & Plastics (So & So Publications) by Bill Cassidy. Know nothing about the guy, except that he seems to live in New York, and has fine-tuned himself to the music of Ted Berrigan and Joe Brainard, and a lotta other really fucking good NY poets. There’s a fake sonnet, a few aphorisms, and some really striking imagist writing about being young and adrift. Cassidy’s work seems untainted by the stodgy academic bullshit that holds so many back, and his stuff is revelatory without being confessional. And that’s pretty cool.
Aa (big a little a) has a very swank one-sided LP out on Narnack. It’s the first release from this Brooklyn combo, and has a very beautiful way of shifting its center in unexpected ways. The album is pressed on white vinyl, the jacket contains a passel of very righteous inserts by a buncha artists who are in (or are friendly with) the band, and the single side of music is a fat-shifting tableau of the kindsa sounds that young people should be making and enjoying in bistros from here to Kalamazoo. Having not espied them, it is not simple to discern their true nature, but what the fuck? Here they club out bite-sized hunks of neo-no, new-wave-electro-murk, disco-noise-readymades, French duck calls and a buncha other stuff. And it sounds quite pleasing!
The Weavers, a weird French publication, has pub’d its ninth issue and it’s worth a sniff. The Weavers’ concept is prose writing in relation to otherworldly music which is essentially writers dream-scribing on matters as tone-zonked as Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, Derek Bailey or just good old harmonic whutzis. This new ish is our fave one to date as it has a great short piece by Heather Leigh called “Disintegration Loops,” inspired by the William Basinski CD of the same name. Heather, as you know, is from Scorces and has been recently swept from our shores by loose Wire maniac David Keenan who keeps her snuggled up in a Scottish love lair. Keenan hisself has a piece ruminating on Matt Valentine and Erika Elders’ Cosmic Dust and the Electrobeam Thrush.
The eponymous debut LP by Santa Cruz trio, Zdrastvootie, is on Holy Mountain and let’s hope that this represents the dawning of a vinyl potpourri from this great California label. The band is a strange, two-guitars-and-drum instrumental outfit, and their sound recalls some of the latter-day SST bands, interspersed with blood spattered from the veins of the Sun City Girls and Beefheart’s later units. So what you get is some rather kick-ass prog that you don’t have to be ashamed about digging. Such a present should be yrs every goddamn day.
From Australia is the perfect bound anthology xochi23. Limited to 100 copies, you may need to move now to secure a copy. This baby has great interviews with the late soprano saxophonist nonpareil, Steve Lacy and the pan-pixie teapot Gong-mind of Daevid Allen. Also unearthed is a piece by Brion Gysin, and an F.A. Nettlebeck questionnaire to Chuckles Bukowski. Oh, and Jurgen Ploog’s “Insect Code: A Cut Up”! So you know you’re there.
Can’t remember if we plugged Fursaxa’s latest LP yet (as opposed to CDRs and whatnot), but it’s called Mandrake (Eclipse), and it is a rippah! Philadelphian Tara Burke (she who is Fursaxa) has lately been doing this great live thing, where she sets up some delays, and creates vast fields of sonic huzzah with her own voice. She sings to that, and against it, sometimes while playing the harmonium in a most mournful way. It is totally brilliant, and Mandrake has sweet evidence of this new practice. In ways it is reminiscent of both Nico and Kendra Smith, but once you’ve heard Tara, it’s unlikely you’ll mistake her for anyone else. And it’s the perfect thing for facing down (and diving into) the many dark nights we are facing now, and will continue to face until the new dawn breaks. Another recent ace from Eclipse is Vibracathedral Orchestra’s self-titled LP. This was recorded by a septet version of these estimable English drone merchants (extra riders are John Gibert, Matt Bower and Tom Greenwood), and their rumble expands to reach a dizzying sorta Amon Duul commune-super-spew. Grab a bucket of nails and play along.
Sylvester Pollet lives up in Ellsworth, Maine and two or three times yearly he unleashes a handful of folded poetry broadsides from some of the better earth/sky poetheads still alive and well (actually, some are fucking dead). These’re called Backwoods Broadsides and each and every one is still available for a solid $1 apiece. Soul-trampin’ figures like Rochelle Owens, Bern Porter, Jackson Mac Low, Dick Higgins, Amiri Baraka, Diane di Prima and Aram Saroyan all let loose with fine jotted jolts. Collect ‘em all!
Carson Arnold is a young guy who lives in Southern Vermont. His dad is a poet and all-around book guy who has encouraged the hell out of him as he has begun doing old-fashioned rock-write over the past half decade or so. Anyway, Carson has gotten a lotta people pissed off because he’s opinionated as hell, but it can be a real pleasure to read his stuff. He really grapples with big themes and the “essential what” of it all, and if it pisses people off, well, isn’t that still better than the bland puh that passes for most rock crit these days? I think so. Lately, lifting a move of his dad’s, Carson has been doing little one-sheet writing things, printed on postcards, mailed out as issues of Listen. They can be interviews with guys like David Axelrod, or more general stuff, and you really might dig getting them. He can be annoying as hell sometimes, but he writes with an honest voice and really stretches to reach some important goddamn apples. Another kid of a poet is Briana, whose new comic, Walk Like Tall Birds, is a small stunner. Different than her earlier work, this story has a nice existential arc, acted out by animal puppets who tell a tale we’re all familiar with. It’s very nice work.
Deserted Village is a super active label from Dublin, Ireland that has been relentlessly issuing new sound harmonia/drone CDRs by the lorry-load. The ones we’ve played so far are Murmansk (DV1) which rips free improv Irish style, and Macro Made Session by Job—weird lo-presence sonic sonorities from France. Also the slippery tripped faerie core of The Magickal Folk of the Faraway Tree, The Cosmic Nanou and microphone/amp/bell destruction from Wrecking Ball. These are the new kids of Dublin making shit happen.
Richard Deming and Nancy Kuhl have started Phylum Press out of New Haven, CT to publish pamphlets and chapbooks of strong new world writing and to date have issued some hot numbers. Books by Susan Briante and Kristen Prevallet stand as tall as anything these two women have published through the last few years. Both are fairly remarkable prose/poet writers consistently pushing their pens into enlightened regions. Phylum has really kicked the lit door open with TULIPS, a collaboration between poet Charles North and artist Trevor Winkfield. North has been published by such luminous agencies as Sun and Moon, Adventures In Poetry and Hanging Loose. He was instrumental in editing the heavyweight Broadway 2 anthology with the legendary James Schuyler, published by Swollen Magpie in 1979. (We recommend any title from Swollen Magpie actually, if you can locate ‘em.) He’s a classic 3rd/4th New York school poet with a slanted/enchanted and humorous grace in every line. Winkfield’s paintings, in the words of critic Jed Perl, “are packed with absurdist heraldic devices. [He] is one of the dreamers. Winkfield, who was born in Leeds in 1944, brings tough-mindedness to his whirling arabesques, and there’s some-thing ineffably English about the resulting combination of fantasy and precision.” All true, we suppose. Winkfield certainly has been off on his own color world since we first laid eyes on his distinctive graphics and it’s always good stuff, worth more than a glance as it’s all hard line and upfront demeanor. It deserves a deeper viewing as it’s deceptively loaded with charm.
There has been scuttlebutt that the band itself is unpleased with the results, but for the average listener, the Urban Concussion LP by Double Leopards (QBICO) is a very lovely poke into the spokes of the underground drone music’s more raucous side. The band is connected to a variety of mid-East Coast scenes, and their previous recordings have been overwhelming in their sheer saffron density at times. But this LP has a conciseness and a patina of grit that makes our aesthetic bowels wriggle in an entirely different way. It approaches the feel of environmental sound assemblage at times, coming off almost like one of the stranger recordings of treated demoltion noise (or something) one finds on the smallest edition 7-inches from the European avant garde. And it’s funny, in a way, since the Leopards are, in our estimation, among the most Dionysian of modern wave-form combos in live performance; yet here, at their virtual apex of raw-meat thrust, most resemble resolutely apollonian models. How American! How wtf! Pressed up as a pic disk, with art by Shadow Ring’s Graham Lambkin, this mother cannot miss.
Here we find the wonderful debut issue of a serious journal, Strange Attractor, dedicated to unpopular culture, and edited by Mark Pilkington. The contents are a splendid jumble of well-written and solidly researched pieces on various cult actions (Indian holymen, John Frum’s “cargo cults”, Henri Oedekoven’s Truth Mountain), cult writers (Lovecraft, Sternbok, David Lindsay, Montague Summers, etc.), cults of phenomenology (mind control, Electric Voice Phenomena), and lots more. Some of them are quite in depth, but most are great introductions to topics (such a Fantasy Hairdressing) that you may wish to explore further. A great toilet read.
Not sure how we missed this earlier, maybe we were drunk. Regardless, finally got around to spinning the In the City one-sided LP by Tamio Shirashi and Sean Meehan (Fusetron), and it one pickle of an energetic listening experience. Tamio and Sean are two of the kings of the micro-gesture. Since time spent with a super early version of Fushitsusha, Tamio has played an recorded in a variety of settings, almost always specializing is saxophone improvisation that involves small ranges of sound, often at levels which are comprehensible only on the molecular level. Sean is a percussionist with somewhat parallel proclivities, although both of them are also capable of monumental eruptions of both sound and fury. This record is a documentation of one of their annual outdoor collaborations. It happened in 2001, underneath the West Side Highway in Manhattan, and now it’s here. There is a blend of traffic wuft, Sean’s un-seamed drum approach, and keen of Tamio’s lungs. Together, they create something far removed from the pace of modern civilization. The etched side is pretty groovy, too.
Prisoner’s Inventions (Whitewalls) by Angelo, is a very interesting hybrid, something halfway between an artist’s book and something that Loompanics Unlimited would issue. Initiated by the Temporary Services art collective, Prisoners’ Inventions is an annotated, illustrated catalogue of devices created by prisoners to get around rules and/or provide a modicum of creature comforts for the incarcerated. The creations range from the mundane (how to craft a pillow when yr in solitary confinement) to the sublime (making melted cheese sandwiches using toilet paper bombs and a prison locker). And the drawings and explanations by Angelo provide a really involving look inside the daily grind of doing time. Given the way things are going in this country, we may all need to know the tips in this book soon. So you might want to read it while you can.
The Spectral Light & Moonshine Firefly Snakeoil Jamboree is one of several musical ensembles led by Timothy Renner, a devotee of old time strangeness and wyrd folk, from the hills of the American East. There’s a new double LP set that collects both the band’s debut, Scarecrow Stuffing, and their new one, Burning Mills, into one gorgeous gatefold package (September Gurls). Unlike Renner’s work in the great acid folk combo, Stone Breath, the music here is traditional. But it dark, ghostly folk music, played in acoustic settings that are usually stark, but can also manifest a very cool lushness when more instruments and instruments are introduced. Most songs are led by the ethereal vocals of Sarada which contrast really nicely with Timothy’s dark presence and banjo. The mood might remind you a bit of Clive Palmer’s work, and it is equally addictive. On the earlier LP the band was a quintet, but they’re a trio on the latter one. Either way, the sound is timeless, lost and as haunted as we all are. Renner has released other similar material on his own Some Dark Holler imprint, which is also well worth checking out.
Okay, that’s all for now. If you have treats you would like to be licked by the Bull Tongue (archaic formats: print, vinyl, vid preferred), send two (2) copies to: PO Box 627, Nortmapton MA 01061.
And oh yeah, don’t forget: FUCK BUSH.
Backwoods Broadsides; c/o Sylvester Pollet, 963 Winkumpaugh Rd., Ellsworth ME 04605-9529 USA
Belladonna Books: http://www.durationpress.com/belladonna
Boku Books: 99 E. 7th St. #16/NYC NY 10009 USA
Criminal IQ: http://www.criminaliq.com
deserted village: http://www.desertedvillage.com
Eclipse Records; http://www.eclipse-records.com
Holy Mountain: http://www.holymountain.com
Phylum Press: http://www.phylumpress.com
September Gurls: http://www.septembergurlsrecords.com
Shivastan Press: c/o Shiv Mirabito at firstname.lastname@example.org
Slow Toe Publications: http://www.slowtoe.com
So & So Publications: email@example.com
The Social Registry: http://www.thesocialregistry.com
Strange Attractor: http://www.strangeattractor.co.uk
Walk Like Tall Birds: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Weavers: email@example.com
Trevor Winkfield: http://www.trevorwinkfield.com
Xochi 23: c/o Theo Green, firstname.lastname@example.org