Originally published in Arthur No. 26/September 2007
C & D: Two guys “reason” together about some new records.
D: Christ on a crutch, it’s hot in here.
C: [winces] Uh yeah, I guess I forgot to mention the “air conditioner, lack of” situation we’ve got going over here.
D: It is going to be difficult for me to do my work in these conditions.
C: [guffaws] You call listening to records “working”? Ha! That ain’t workin’! You get your money for nothin’ and your chicks for free.
D: Where have I heard this before. What money? And I don’t see any chicks around here.
C: I regret that my hosting skills are not what they once were.
D: Yes your place is not only a sweat lodge—it’s sexist. I cannot work in these circumstances.
C: You can do it if you put a beer into it.
D: Okay. Beer me.
C: Of course! [Heads to the kitchen, ceremonially] Come! Let us drink beer and reason together.
C [returns from kitchen with a sixer of St. Pauli’s, starts CD at medium blast]: So for some reason I thought it was a good idea to kick things off with the darkest, most negative thing possible. Alan Vega from New York City electro-rock-minimalist legends Suicide, talking about the condition of this nation. Analysis: dark. Prognosis: bleak to terminal.
D: [listening to “Freedom’s Smashed”] Turn it up! This is the ’80s back with a vengeance! [listening to lyrics: “Smashing down freedom / Smashing our freedoms / Wah! / Smashing our freedom / Freedom’s running scared/ Freedom’s running out of time/Freedom’s gone!”] Shit! I’m flipping out here. I could live inside this sound.
C: The rhythm is really amazing, it’s like John Henry hitting a punching bag—and Alan Vega is the ringside coach talking to himself about how they’re gonna lose, the fix is in.
D: Yeah baby! Freedom’s going down. It’s terminal idiocy, nobody’s paying attention. But Suicide always knew what was going down in the negative times.
C: The vocals really are astonishing in their range, very actorly. Repeated phrases in different intonations, suggesting different moods, different meanings—shock, resignation, despair, hope; and then there are all those Goblin-esque shrieks and gurgles in the background.
D: This is America at its most violent, self-flagellating. [Repeating lines from “Station Station”] “There was a TIME/ When you could dream /Now—NOW / It has become a crime/ to dream! / It has become a CRIME/ to dream.” Talking about the dream losers. Doing a deeper analysis of American society. Sometimes there’s something at work in the culture that normal journalism can’t decipher. And right now is not normalcy, my friend. One thing’s for sure: this won’t be giving comfort to the neighbors.
C: Hey, Springsteen has been doing [Suicide song] “Dream Baby Dream” live lately.
D: [pause] Little Steven was pretty good, but I always thought Alan Vega and Martin Rev should have had characters on The Sopranos.
C: Especially with those world’s biggest sunglasses that Alan Vega always wears.
D: It’s his signature. They belong in Cleveland in that Rock N Roll museum.
C: Yes, right next to all the other sunglasses of rock ‘n’ roll: Stevie Wonder, Bootsy Collins, Ray Charles, Velvet Underground, Elton John, Sly Stone, Yoko Ono, Roy Orbison. Only, Alan Vega’s would be behind cracked glass with bars in front and you’d hear someone yelling at the television in back.
D: [in Alan Vega voice] “Freedom’s smashed!”
D: More ominosity.
C [handing D another beer]: This is the new Magik Markers album, and it’s much more straightahead than you’d expect from their reputation as improv poet noise-stars. These are recognizable drums-guitar-vocal duo songs with relatively melodic chant-singing by Elisa Ambrogio and surprisingly in-the-pocket drumming by brother Pete Nolan. There’s even a pretty good stab [“Empty Bottles”] at a piano ballad.
D: “Body Rot” and “Taste” remind me of the lest-we-forget great dark mystical ’80s Californian band Opal—
C: Respect to Kendra Smith.
D: —and that band the Kills who made one really good album and then….
C: Yeah there’s a similarity—in a driving, on-the-edge-of-something-intense, and she has a similar voice to the Kills singer V.V., but this seems more committed to um, murder, or something. “Last of the Lemach Line” has that good ol’ grimy looming-catastrophe-in-a-dying-factory-city sound… like Godspeed!, or Kim’s Sonic Youth jams. Patti Smith in her freer, less barroom moments. This is not beer music. [looks at band photograph on CD] But you could drink bottles of whiskey to it on a hot Saturday afternoon, which is apparently what they did when they were made it!
D: [in own world] Hmm… What did happen to the Kills?
C: Being confused with The Killers would probably be enough to cause any band to do themselves in. But my best guess is they were killed by a drum machine WITH NO SOUL.
D: That never would’ve happened if they’d used Suicide’s drum machine. Early ’70s SoHo soul, baby! [looks at empty beer bottle, bellows in Jim Morrison voice:] Beer me madly/Beer me one more time today!
C: Life: enjoy it while it lasts!
D: [looking at CD spine] “Blues Control”?
C: I know, sounds like a pimple commercial. “Son, we know you’ve been having a hard time lately. Maybe you should think about using…BLUES CONTROL (TM)? It wipes away those hard-to-kill blues in a matter of minutes. “Control your blues today with Blues Control.”
D: I think my current blues control is a beer with a German girl on it. [pauses, thinks] They are hard at work on something, but I’m not sure who’s at the controls.
C: It’s a di-sexual instro duo on guitars and keys, with a drum machine. Lea Cho and Russ Waterhouse. Seems like they have two major modes: brute force monstrosity trudge in the cloudsmashing style of the mighty Blue Cheer…
D: And impressionist, introspective space and electronic plant music on that subtle plane visited by Eric Satie and Popul Vuh, with the subaquatic melodica of Sir Augustus Pablo…
C: [chuckles] That’s a team-up to be reckoned with.
D: These other songs are some pretty heavy duty stuff! It’s music you hear when you dig a hole deep enough to listen to what’s going on inside the earth. Troglobite rock, baby. And I am a troglophile!
C: [carrying on] If they put this out on vinyl, and I think that they did, it should be on coated 540 gram for the needle’s sake.
D: It should be on shellac. [finishing another beer] Analog all over your face! Ya heard?
C: Maybe I should put something else on before things get any more out of control…
The Modern Tribe
D: Well, here’s our first obvious album-of-the-year contender.
C [listening to “Pressure” and “Pony”] The singer’s totally going for it. It’s like Johnette Napolitano … fronting a shit-hot psychedelic-funk-dance band on an electro-church run to the dub castles of Jamaica. And yes, I just made that up.
D: The singer is not holding back. Fuck me…two times!
C: [ignoring C’s outburst] Like a more passionate, more organic and more, dare I say ‘soulful’ LCD Soundsystem, fronted by a belter of a singer, who is a woman. [rhetorically:] How badly do we need this?
D: Women are DEFINITELY where it’s at right now.
C: [quizzical] And maybe always…? But yeah, so awesome. Produced by Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio, and those guys sing on it too but you can tell that. Reminds me of Moonshake, or Laika, only more muscular, funkier.
D: There is a certain Eurythmics-soul quality apparent here. [pauses] But she may actually be undermixed. Underrepresented. I want to hear the words.
C [listening to “Hands Off My Gold”]: You were right at the top, this is the album to beat, there’s hit after hit here.
D: [self-righteously] But of course, music is not a competition!
C: [smug] Oh yeah, of course not.
D: So, interested in a friendly wager?
D [listening to the opening track “Krautrock”]: Well, this is pretty clearly the source of Spacemen 3’s “Revolution,” even down to where the drums come in And there’s that Can-Hawkwind motorik rhythm. It must be… FAUST! What is this, 1973?
C: Yes and yes and yes again—sir, you are the sweepstakes winner!
D: Thank you veddy much, ladies and gentlemen. [pauses] Whoops, I mean no ladies and one gentleman.
C: Yeah well, if there were ladies here, I’m sure you’d be to busy checking your blackberry instead of actually talking to a live female human being.
D: [snorts] Silence in the lower ranks!
D: So, I never listened to Faust, they were always a big question mark for me.
C: Me too.
D: They might have been one of the most radical, political bands in Germany. Then again it was a very political time in Germany. And it’s not anymore. There’s no nail bombs anymore, just police teargas…
C: The bass sound on “Jennifer” is amazing is insane, timeless. It’s Syd Barrett inside deeply abstract bass sound, that’s essentially, basically electronic. The mix is so daring. What else sounded like this, ever?
D: This [“Just a Second (Starts Like That”)] is what we’re talking about. That certain pulse that only the Germans and Hawkwind could do.
C: Yeah, and, um, remember this band called Creedence Clearwater Revival? “Suzie Q”…
D: —is pretty much the template for everything. Highest praise to John Fogerty, one of the last surviving Great Americans of the Golden Age. You better recognize! [four minutes into “Giggy Smile”]: But—did Creedence ever dare to get this far out…into giddiness? And electronics?
C: The La Dusseldorf guys were pretty goofy. But, yeah this kind of multi-genre hopping —folk, motorik, drone, psychedelic pop—in such good spirits, so fearlessly, so without a care. Zappa? Mutantes? Amazing that there was some kind of audience for this, enough for them all to make careers. What a time that was… [drifts off]
D: By the way, I have an addendum to make. No one had cooler sunglasses than Om Khalthoum. Egyptian Moderne will always be the number one fashion look.
D [mysteriously]: Those who know, know…
Prism of Eternal Now
(Marriage vinyl/Kranky cd)
D [jaw agape]: I feel like I’m listening to the soundtrack to the truly great cosmic film Ralph Bakshi was never allowed to make.
C: [also gone] Wow…with super guitars and tablas and some seriously Steve Reich maneuvers on the vocals…
D: [at end of seven-minute first track] This is what Strawberry Jam wishes it could sound like.
C: And it’s all one guy. Remember? He did that “vibrational healing chamber” at ArthurBall a year and a half ago.
D: [one minute into third track] Serious pedal-oriented vibrations on this one. This will take a long time to investigate properly.
C: It’s like half Fripp/Eno “Swastika Girls,” half Terry Riley “Poppy Nogood.” Multi-tracked guitars riff away over a bed of raw synthesizer grooves. Incredible!
C: I think we may have just left the beer portion of the evening.
D: Which can mean only one thing: Bring on the papalolo!
Old Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon
D: Ah, not this guy again. Every single record of his, we have to review. Why?
C: Well, those at the controls of this operation like to keep tabs. See how things grow. See how the organism evolves.
D: [takes a tug on the pipe] This is Devendra’s White Album. Or the truest Tropicalia tribute album.
C: He took a longer time to make this record, really took the opportunity to stretch out and go for it with his band. The whole thing is a sprawling beauty, but there’s two kinds of songs, basically: some party goofs – reggae, doo-wop, Doorsish epics, Crazy Horse workouts—and gorgeous quiet slow-goers. A band, a talent, in full-bloom.
D: Plus Vashti Bunyan and Linda Perhacs on here? It can’t be true!
C: And yet it is. Another album-of-the-year-contender.
[E barges in through door out of nowhere]: Agh! This slow breakup shit is killing me! [grabs beer, sits down on couch]. You know you’re in trouble when you’ve been staring at a pulsing Apple logo for three days straight! Agh! It’s slow torture, everything I’m doing right now. [chills out] Hey, what is this?
C: The new Devendra.
E: The do-what now?
D: The new Devendra!
E: [listening to “Seahorse”] This is actually pretty good. I thought I didn’t like this dude, Mr. Defreaky McWeirdbeard, but…
C: It’s those canyon vibes. Chill out…
DANIEL A.I.U. HIGGS
Atomic Yggdrasil Tarot hardcover book with cd
C: New album of extended instrumentals by Daniel Higgs, housed in a hardcover book of paintings and large type text.
D: [Reads from book] ”Our actions are God’s food.” Whoa. “Devils Establish Absolute Truth Here.” “Grief Obscures Delight.” I don’t understand any of this but it is clearly a major artistic statement.
C: The first letters from each word in those phrases forms another word. So—
E: Give me that. [Reads from book] These paintings are beautiful, like Miro on a serious hermetic trip. “TERROR: Tirelessly Extending Rays Reaching Our Reality.”
C: Maybe I’ve been unadventurous, but Daniel Higgs the spookiest performer I’ve ever seen who’s not named Diamanda Galas. With black candles and a fog machine, this could send you into that void for sure.
D: He is clearly on his own path into the big infinity void, telling it like it is.
The Source: The Untold Story of Father Yod, Ya Ho Wa 13 and the Source Family book with cd
by Isis Aquarius with Electricity Aquarius, foreword by Erik Davis
C: This is the long-awaited group autobiography/history of the Source Family, an early-’70s cult in Los Angeles led by super-charismatic older dude who called himself Father Yod, or as he was known later, Ya Ho Wa. He had 100-plus followers, including 14 wives.
D [piping in]: And Sky Saxon from The Seeds!
C: [puts book’s accompanying CD on] They had a rock band that recorded studio albums and played daytime shows at schools. They had a big mansion, VW buses and Rolls-Royces, lived in Los Feliz. The whole thing was funded by the super-organic restaurant they ran on Sunset Boulevard that all the celebrities ate at.
E: Yeah, right. Give me that. [grabs book, reads caption of photo of Father in a pool surrounded by naked women] “Teaching water aerobics?” This guy… This is some weird fucking white pimp shit is what this is. What the heck is this, man? I guess in California, if you look like God, you are God.
C: He was a practicing Sikh and they don’t cut their hair. And he says on the CD that it’s hair that gives your body vitamin D, so the more of it you have…
E: Hey there’s some great breastfeeding shots in here.
C: It’s one of the cults that ended well.
E: What, they were the one cult that didn’t kill people or themselves?
C: He died after a serious hang gliding crash in Hawaii, he refused hospital treatment.
E: [reading] “His pain was so intense that YaHoWha wanted anything to relieve it, and he took what we had on hand to help him through it: Darvon, aspirin, champagne, Sacred Herb, Sacred Snow, and nitrous oxide.”
D: Well, that would do it.
C: And not long after that, they split up.
E: “Sacred Snow”?!? With capital S’s?!? [cackles] “The word of God cannot be copyrighted.” This is the most classic shit ever. I’ll take it. [Runs out the door, cackling] Hahahaha!
ANGELS OF LIGHT
We Are Him
D: I know that voice. Swans!
C: Yeah, it’s Michael Gira’s new album. It’s got quite a sound—the Akron/Family dudes are all on here, but so are the old Gira hands like Bill Rieflin and Christoph Hahn. Layers of stuff, perfectly arranged: guitars, banjo, piano, flute, strings, accordion, melodica, hammer dulcimer.
D: [listening to “Promise of Water”] Still menacing and grand after all these years.
C: It’s…ceremonial, melodic, yearning. [“The Man We Left Behind”] is like a slow Johnny Cash waltz, just beautiful.
D: [Listening to “My Brother’s Man”] And he can still punish at will.
C: “Not Here/Not Now” throbs with life; and this (“Joseph’s Song”) has the most unexpected Gira move ever: it goes uptempo into a trombone-led jamboree.
D: A Giramboree!
C: [laughs] Like the Devendra album, this his opens up so much new territory. Unbelievable, wonderful to hear, especially coming from a veteran artist. Another album of the year contender that demands further examination…
WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM
D: [looks admiringly at black album cover with a single wolf’s skull on it in gold.] This is the best cover tonight! This is what awaits. [maniacally] As Brother Theodore, said: “Friends flee. Lovers leave. Worms wait.”
C: I might be headed back into the metal direction again. It makes the most sense when you loathe what’s around you and want to block it all out. And this is huge, majestic. Like Mogwai with a power drummer—
D [interrupting]: I think the drummer may have had some interaction with Sacred Snow.
C: —and a black metal wraith on vocals. This song is now in its ninth minute.
D: This is the one! This is heavy work in the dark metal machine. When he sings, no human entity can be identified.
C: This could be the end of the wolf bands.
D: They’ve killed them all and are roasting them on the barbecue. Where are they from? Sweden?
C: What does it say on the sleeve?
D: I can’t make out a single word. [Third track, with angelic female vocalist, starts] This has the stamp of truly obsessed.
C [reading “Artist Statement” from band’s website] “Our project is based in the forests of Olympia, Washington—
D: The land of the mighty Thrones!
C: “Our music is a reflection of the land in which we dwell; it draws its power from the long, dark winters, the perpetual mist… Our philosophies are anti-modern, romantic and anti-human, a musical expression of an emerging eco-black metal consciousness that has taken root here in the Pacific Northwest.”
D [dazzled]: “Eco black-metal”?
C: “We are unique in that we express a deeply underground ideology on a larger stage. Our Black Metal is highly local and personal—not beholden to the expectations and demands of any scene. Our music is rooted in the traditions of Black Metal, but we subvert the aesthetic and ideology to remain true to our personal manifestation. To us, Black Metal might be understood as the Death card in the Tarot or the number 13, which represents not an end to life, but the shedding of an old and outmoded way of being: death and rebirth, transformation and enlightenment. Our music is perhaps what happens after the initial, necessary, hateful burst; after the psychic explosion that is Black Metal wipes away that which came before: the sick and twisted “truths” of our modern condition. For in Black Metal, we see great truth, transcendence and power. Black Metal is the cleansing fire that frees us from the bondage of rationality, science, morality, religion, leaving us free to choose our own path.”
E: Well, there you go.
C: [musing] Does Daniel Higgs know these guys?
D: This band should curate the next Wagner Ring Cycle. They need it, the young edge, some new blood. And they have extreme people doing extreme Rings all the time, like Schlingzief is going to do the new one. He’s the biggest cultural star of Germany. He made Freakstar 3000.
C: Is he the Matthew Barney of Germany?
D: In a way, maybe. He’s a total anarchist.
C: “Thank you Cremaster, may I have another?”
D: You know that’s where all the old Nazis come out of hiding, at the annual Ring Cycle. It’s the biggest cultural event in Germany on this old-scale, old-school level. That’s where you see all of them together. [shivers] Everybody knows about it but it’s not talked about.
C: What can I say but: Send in the Wolves!
Faces in the Rocks
D: What can I say? A beautiful voice of nature, singing about nature, in nature. Contentment and beauty. Forest-folk.
C: [listening to “Friendboats”] Gorgeous. She’s another one of these amazing folks from the Nevada City area in California. Terry Riley, Gary Snyder, Joanna Newsom, Noah Georgeson, Alela Diane, Dream Magazine… Something is going on up there.
D: Maybe it’s the same thing as what’s going on in the woods outside Olympia, only…
C: No two forests are alike. I am picturing her singing next to the Yuba River on a summer afternoon, everyone’s high on old-growth oxygen and riverside blueberries…
D: [Listening to “Flowers and Blood,” closes eyes] Ah. Please do not interrupt my serenity.