Sunday, May 20, 2018

New Music Sundays: 5/20/18


Grouper: Grid of Points

Grouper's 2014 masterpiece Ruins made it onto that year's best albums list, but somehow Liz Harris's stunningly sad project fell of my radar until recently, when I came across her new record Grid of Points almost by accident. Grid of Points is played so ethereally that it nearly collapses into nothingness, but the gauzy weight of Harris's haunting voice keeps you rapt as each line melts into the void. While Ruins incorporated nonmusical sounds like scratching on metal, until the very end of the record Grid of Points is entirely the marriage of Harris's piano with her breathy, multi-tracked voice. And with only these two instruments she's able to do so much, in such a short amount of time; the album as a whole only lasts a little over 20 minutes. It's an album of pure, slow emotion, and its brevity actually works well for what it is: by the time the last song finishes, you wonder if you really heard it at all, or if it was the melody of some half-forgotten memory. 

Dylan Carlson: Conquistador

Twenty-five years on from his epochal Earth 2, Dylan Carlson shows his absolute mastery of the guitar as a tool with the ability to transcend time and space. Conquistador, like many of his records since 2005's Hex, feels like the soundtrack to an imagined Cormac McCarthy adaptation: with little more than his guitar, Carlson concocts deep red canyons and dust-blown plains, and by the time you reach the end of the 13-minute long title track, you can feel the cruel sun reducing you to a husk. The album is entirely slow repetition; Carlson fixates on a single measure and rides it until it can't go any further. The minimalism is haunting, and has more in common with a composer like Steve Reich than with any tenuous links to popular music you expect from a Seattle-based guitar project. And like Reich, instead of being indulgent, Conquistador washes over you and never feels dull for a second. Carlson is a shaman with his guitar in a way that I haven't really heard before, outside of maybe Sunn O))), but their albums exist on a different plane than Conquistador does. Like Grid of Points, Conquistador isn't a long album, but its viscous repetition can act as an anchor in the chaos of our age.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

New Music Sundays: 5/6/2018


Gnod: Chapel Perilous

Gnod's last two albums, the arresting The Mirror and Just Say No to the Psycho Right-Wing Capitalist Fascist Industrial Death Machine, were pure blasts of outrage, more interested in searing the flesh off your face in their outrage than in waxing philosophical like their earlier works. Chapel Perilous manages to bring the best of both words into its pitch black hallways, and the result is astounding.The album is bookended by two enormous slabs of sheet metal in closer "Uncle Frank Says Turn it Down" and opener, the incredible "Donovan's Daughters" which builds in ugliness over its 15 minutes into a stunning denouement. Seriously, "Daughters" could be my favorite Gnod song, and one of the best songs I've heard in a long time; it transports you into another realm, coiling and mutating and swallowing you whole. The songs that make up the middle of the album, the trilogy of "Europa", "A Voice From Nowhere", and "A Body", are similar to their earlier work: more experimental, mostly instrumental, mysterious and labyrinthine. These two halves, taken together, are about the closest to a 'beginner's guide to Gnod' as you can get, and it's such a strong album that it's more than just a good primer. Like with Sunn O))), Chapel Perilous feels like a terrifying religious ceremony...enter the Chapel in chaos, prostrate yourself before its dark core, and leave a changed person.

The Black Lips & The Khan Family: Play Safe

And now for something totally different, for a really good cause. Play Safe is a pairing of ultra-catchy garage rock revivalist King Khan with his Khan Family, and the sleazy fun of The Black Lips. It's an EP made in collaboration with Viva con Agua de Sankt Pauli, a German nonprofit that is trying to get clean water to needy regions of the world like South America and Africa. It's a great cause, but how's the record? Short and amazingly sweet, from garage scuzz to girl group cuteness over the course of just about 10 minutes. Play Safe's songs will get lodged in your brain long after you put the record down, and you'll just want to give it another spin. Like Tony Molina's records, Play Safe shows that you can cut rock music down to its purest essence and come out with something that much stronger.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

National Poetry Month 2018: Justice Ameer

Photo taken from PoetryFoundation.org

Unless the spirit suddenly moves me, this will be the last poem for National Poetry Month this year, I always like hunting for new poetry, or putting up old classics, and I'm really pleased that I was able to make this a weekly occurrence unlike previous years. Today's piece is Justice Ameer's "(After God Herself)" which just absolutely astounded me with the force of the subject and the flow of the words. This is a subject near and dear to my heart and Justice has put it into words in a way I doubt I'd ever be able to. Keep reading and writing, dear reader, and let us all bring more poetry into each other's lives.

(After God Herself)

Adam ate an apple
it got stuck in his throat
and they called him Eve
the progenitor
the creator of all things
the mother of strength
and fortitude
and sadness
Adam ate an apple
choked on it so hard
a rib popped out of his chest
and they called it Eve
the progenitor
the creator of all things
the mother of strength and fortitude
and sadness
it takes the hacking of a body
to make a woman
Adam hacking up a piece of his body
it was just a piece of fruit
they called me fruit once too
they called me fruity
before they called me flaming
before they called me faggot
before they called me woman
i thought i would have
to hack this body into pieces
woman, a name stuck in my throat
right under the apple Adam tried to eat
choked on it for years
waited for my ribs to pop out
my chest to explode
for my Eve to be created
from the fruit i couldn’t swallow
they called me fruit once
until they called me woman
and then they just called me fruitless
as if it took a womb to be
progenitor
creator
mother of all things
strength and fortitude and sadness
they reckon God looked
at the image of herself
and called it Adam
they still don’t call me woman
they still don’t birth me Eve
even though they cast me out
my throat shrunken close
with the fruit still stuck in it
like Adam
before they called him Eve
and suddenly i am a stranger
to Eden
i am a stranger to this body
as if it hadn’t always been mine
i reckon God looked
at the image of herself
and called it me
but i don’t know if that
was before or after the apple
before or after Adam choked
which came first
the progenitor or the mother
the apple or the rib
the strength or the sadness
this body was God’s original creation
but they called it sin
they called it Adam
I reckon God looked
at the image of  herself
and called Adam Eve
after she choked on his name
some fruit that bloomed
in everyone else’s throat
but she could never quite swallow
the fall of man was an apple
hacked up from a fruitless body
a woman learning what evil was
like a man forcing his name upon you
the fall of man was a rib
being torn from a chest
and men calling that violence holy
naming a woman based only
on the body parts she’s made of
the fall of man
was the beginning of Eve
Eve casting out Adam’s name
Eve discovering who she was
the progenitor
the creator of all things
the mother of strength
and fortitude
and sadness
the fall of man
was Eve becoming a woman
with or without Eden’s approval
and now
every time someone
tries to call her Adam
tries to force the apple
of his name down her throat
she laughs
she swallows
she looks at God herself
and she smiles

Sunday, April 22, 2018

New Music Sundays: 4/22/18


The Soft Moon: Criminal

It's been a while since I listed to some straightforward, Nine Inch Nails-esque industrial dance music, but Luis Vasquez, as The Soft Moon, embodies the genre's best qualities while avoiding any of its usual pitfalls. In a way, Criminal is a complement to Gazelle Twin's astounding 2014 record Unflesh, in that both use the trappings of techno and industrial to tell personal tales of anxiety, isolation, and private mental torture. One thing that obviously helps the proceedings is the fact that Vasquez's command over his instruments is impressive; on songs like 'The Pain' and 'ILL' he makes his banks of synthesizes roil and howl like past memories that claw at your brain...this is anguish that you can dance to, after a fashion. Listening to Criminal is a window into a very private, tormented world, and if it lacks the feminist tension of Unflesh, it makes up for it in a more general sense or tortured longing. We all have days where we need a record like Criminal that speaks to our own fears and discontentment, and in Vasquez we have someone using his own negative personal experiences to bring us an album we can all relate to.

Mamuthones: Fear on the Corner

And now for something completely different: Italy's Mamuthones are a bizarre, motorik jazz(?) group, and their album Fear on the Corner is one of those records that's nearly impossible to categorize. The closest point of comparison would probably be Faust, in the kosmische-inspired grooves and the amateurish vocals, especially on the pure krautrock grooves of 'Show Me'. But then songs like 'Cars' and the title track utilize instruments like marimbas and tribal style percussion to dip into the always-fertile fields of Eno/Byrne/Hassell style faux-ethnographer soup that sadly didn't make much traction in the weird world of '70s German experimental music, outside of maybe an Amon Duul album here and there. The album always starts to stretch way, way out at the end, with the twin titans of 'Alone' and 'Here We Are' taking up over a third of the total running time, feeling like leftovers from a recent Goat album left to bake and expand and grow rancid in the sun. Like Re-TROS, another band I hadn't heard of before who seriously impressed me, Mamuthones take their influences from a lot of different places, but blend them into such a unique porridge that they transcend the starting beats and become something wholly unique.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

National Poetry Month 2018: Mina Loy

Photo taken from PoetryFoundation.org

Mina Loy was a early 20th century modernist poet contemporaneous with T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, etc. She wrote more in like Eliot's 'everything is terrible' style than WCW's 'maybe everything isn't THAT terrible' style, and her work had a strong feminist streak to it, even before the Flappers made the scene. "Parturition" is a strong example of Ms. Loy's work, a vicious, ice-cold condemnation of women's lot in life. 

"Parturition"

I am the centre
Of a circle of pain
Exceeding its boundaries in every direction

The business of the bland sun
Has no affair with me
In my congested cosmos of agony
From which there is no escape
On infinitely prolonged nerve-vibrations
Or in contraction
To the pinpoint nucleus of being

Locate an irritation            without
It is                                           within
                                                 Within
It is without
The sensitized area
Is identical            with the extensity
Of intension

I am the false quantity
In the harmony of physiological potentiality
To which
Gaining self-control
I should be consonant
In time

Pain is no stronger than the resisting force
Pain calls up in me
The struggle is equal

The open window is full of a voice
A fashionable portrait painter
Running upstairs to a woman’s apartment
Sings
        “All the girls are tid’ly did’ly
         All the girls are nice
         Whether they wear their hair in curls
         Or 
At the back of the thoughts to which I permit crystallization
The conception                       Brute
Why?
        The irresponsibility of the male
Leaves woman her superior Inferiority.
He is running upstairs

I am climbing a distorted mountain of agony
Incidentally with the exhaustion of control
I reach the summit
And gradually subside into anticipation of

Repose
Which never comes.
For another mountain is growing up
Which          goaded by the unavoidable
I must traverse
Traversing myself

Something in the delirium of night hours
Confuses while intensifying sensibility
Blurring spatial contours
So aiding elusion of the circumscribed
That the gurgling of a crucified wild beast
Comes from so far away
And the foam on the stretched muscles of a mouth
Is no part of myself
There is a climax in sensibility
When pain surpassing itself
Becomes exotic
And the ego succeeds in unifying the positive and negative   poles of sensation
Uniting the opposing and resisting forces
In lascivious revelation

Relaxation
Negation of myself as a unit
          Vacuum interlude
I should have been emptied of life
Giving life

For consciousness in crises          races
Through the subliminal deposits of evolutionary processes

Have I not
Somewhere
Scrutinized
A dead white feathered moth
Laying eggs?
A moment
Being realization
Can
Vitalized by cosmic initiation
Furnish an adequate apology
For the objective
Agglomeration of activities
Of a life
LIFE
A leap with nature
Into the essence
Of unpredicted Maternity
Against my thigh
Tough of infinitesimal motion
Scarcely perceptible
Undulation
Warmth           moisture
Stir of incipient life
Precipitating into me

The contents of the universe
Mother I am
Identical
With infinite Maternity
    Indivisible
    Acutely
    I am absorbed
    Into
The wasisevershallbe
Of cosmic reproductivity

Rises from the subconscious
Impression of a cat
With blind kittens
Among her legs
Same undulating life-stir
I am that cat

Rises from the sub-conscious
Impression of small animal carcass
Covered with blue bottles
Epicurean
And through the insects
Waves that same undulation of living
Death
Life
I am knowing
All about

     Unfolding

The next morning
Each woman-of-the-people
Tiptoeing the red pile of the carpet
Doing hushed service
Each woman-of-the-people
Wearing a halo
A ludicrous little halo
Of which she is sublimely unaware

I once heard in a church
Man and woman God made them
                                               Thank God.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

National Poetry Month 2018: Jesse Ball

Image Taken from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago

With this week's poet, we jump ahead a couple hundred years and change to a modern writer, Jesse Ball. I first read Ball's The Village on Horseback when trying to figure out how to sequence my own multi-genre work, along with Claudia Rankine's Citizen, and those two books have always had a soft spot in my heart since. My brother died on Friday the 13th, a long time ago, so when it rolls around I always have brothers on the mind.

"Inside the Stove"

Inside the stove, he found 
a passageway, leading to a set of stairs.
This caused him a great deal of worry
as well as elation and gladness of living.
He did not, however, venture
into the oven, but sent his little brother in
in his stead. This seemed at first 
a good idea, but when the brother
had been gone three days, he began 
to second-guess the wisdom
of his rash choice. He’d go in after him,
he decided. But the passage
had shrunk by then, and no normal-sized
person could fit through. Yes, that’s it,
I sent him in because, from a purely physical
standpoint, I myself could never have gone.
And besides, he mumbled to himself,
it’s probably nice in there.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

New Music Sundays: 4/8/2018


IG Witzelsucht: Sometimes Puns are the Sign of a Damaged Brain

IG Witzelsucht are Dominic Robertson and Lukas Simonis, the once-and-future Ergo Phizmiz and the director of Rotterdam music lab WORM, respectively. With Sometimes Puns are the Sign of a Damaged Brain, the duo fuse Robertson's usual warped take on '60s pop b-sides with a harder, punkier edge, like Herman's Hermits tried to emulate the Sex Pistols in the late '70s. Despite the slight veneer of viciousness, though, this is still very much a pop record. Perhaps more than anything else either of these men have done before, Sometimes Puns... gives itself entirely over to the melody; every song on the record has an enormous hook that is ridden just long enough to lodge itself into your brain. In this way, this becomes the premier pop expression these two have put out so far, just astoundingly crunchy candy that deserves to be heard far and wide.

Trembling Bells: Dungeness

Dungeness is an album that tricks you. The first single put out for the album, the sublime 'Christ's Entry into Govan', is reasonably straight Fairport Convention style '70s folk rock, a lovely and forceful tale of misplaced religion. But then you get the album itself and you're greeted with the funk suite of 'Knockin' on the Coffin' and you realize this is something much more surprising than you at first thought. Dungeness still wears it's British folk influence on its sleeve, but it's turned and mutated, dosed with almost postpunk sheets of guitar and long, suitelike tracks that morph throughout their durations. All of this makes Dungeness much more interesting than a well-made but staid genre exercise, and all of it is anchored by singer Lavinia Blackwall's frankly stupendous voice, which can reach for the sky just as well as drip with menace depending on the situation. This is an album I had to put right back on as soon as I finished it, and with each spin you realize it's less Fairport and more Sandy Denny fronting Led Zeppelin.