Halfway through another year where online music magazines are talking about the best of the year thus far and posting lists of neglected records which are not that neglected in that they received some coverage from online music magazines, my little corner of the world is as small as the corner record store where local yokels peddle their wares. The store I am talking about is The True Vine in Hampden, Baltimore, where the records coming out from Baltimore acts that receive coverage are unlikely to be ordered by proprietor Jason Willett, unless those bands place copies on consignment when they are not on tour. This laissez-faire attitude still wins the respect of local musicians, most of whom would probably still consider The True Vine their favorite local record store, despite/because of this indifference. Here are the records my smallish segment has produced thus far.
The Angels In America Narrow Road To The Interior LP alternates between being stripped down and hollowed out. There's plenty of space, which sometimes translates to too much reverb, but mostly just means a particular mood being conveyed: You have to give it more space and solitude than you do your more common in-the-red mastering jobs. Loose structures of song-husks, as lyrics discuss topics like burning your money, walking in the woods, and the appeal of being beaten up by women, and soundscapes try to convey the same elusive truth. If you have heard and liked the ballads on the proper, song-based Magik Markers LPs you will understand what's happening here, if you can intuit the correlative difference between live drums and drum machine and electric guitar vs pure electronics. Not everyone can but come on. Available on LP, CD, and as pay-what-thou-wilt mp3 download. Weyes Blood and Angels In America also have a limited-to-100 split cassette release on Northern Spy you can download the mp3s of for $4 but I haven't made the plunge yet because I keep thinking one of those 100 tapes will be made available to me at some point in the coming months.
The Weyes Blood LP on Not Not Fun, (probably still available but if you google it the first result is a mediafire link) The Outside Room, is pretty killer, which I was not expecting at all- In the time concurrent with the record being recorded, live performances were based around loops which did not always align and tended to abstract away from the idea of the song, with occasionally a tune or two coming in clear enough for me to stand behind it. Her live shows now are totally great, actually, but all of that is incidental to the fact that this record is a pretty perfect bit of atmosphere. Nico is probably the easiest point of comparison, and "sad" is the easiest emotional descriptor. But "sad" is obviously a lax term, especially when we are talking about music, so keep "Nico" in quotations as well. This is the kind of record that you put on at the record store on a Sunday afternoon and sell three copies. I like records more than live shows anyway, and records like these are a good communicator of that concept.
The Daniel Higgs cassette Ultraterrestrial Harvest Hymns contains lots of organ improvisations, run through with occasional tape distortion. Or at least it did when I heard it- My playing of it caused a tape player to break. I have others but have been wary. His collaboration with The Skull Defekts is great, both on the record Peer Amid and even moreso live, where they played material that I think will be on a followup LP. Live the feeling is that of watching The Fall as psych-rock band, with Mark E Smith's drunken nonsense being replaced with Higgs' clarity of sense in the presence of multiple realities overlapping. The record with the Skull Defekts is on Thrill Jockey, just like last year's Clairaudience Fellowship collaboration with Twig Harper.
Twig Harper's self-titled solo CD on Hanson Records is maybe my favorite recorded material I've heard of his. Starting off with the initial shock of the first sound you hear being that of an acoustic guitar, things start to make more sense as that instrument never gets around to playing a melody, but instead gets melted in with a melange of other electronics. A piano later makes a similar appearance, maybe out of tune, maybe all these instruments are out of tune, but they remain recognizable ingredients, keeping the whole thing processable as "horror movie soundtrack." The film in question would be that of aliens flying about in a space ship with human being on the operating table, but all of this is occurring within the bounds of the mind, and any violence that might be enacted is a liberating act being misunderstood by the body. Psychedelic agenda in effect: If you hear this music and your head thinks "haunted house," your mind is the haunted house, being exorcised of all sorts of ghosts of former tenants.
The new Sejayno record, Interstate 95, is currently only available for download, although the concept I heard awhile back was that the album was going to be turned into a playable Myst-style adventure game you click your way around, with the songs maybe being pressed to vinyl or not. Ideally that conceptual framework gives you hint of what's going on, in this concept album- which is about I-95, the highway that runs the length of America's east coast, being the "devil's corridor," told in terms of an art handler/drug courier making the voyage from Providence to Miami and back and having adventures along the way. This rules, obviously, these goofball parameters should give you an idea of what to expect, obviously this whole thing is an assault on expectations with a lot of laughs if you are tuned in enough to be accepting of a thing too stoned to be called surreal and too esoteric to be characterized using such common drug parlance as "stoned."
Records to come out this year that I had to pick up at Fells Point's The Sound Garden because the people that made them do not live in Baltimore include Micachu And The Shapes' Chopped And Screwed, Terror Bird's Human Culture, and Alvarius B's Baroque Primitiva. The record most widely enjoyed by people I talk to in conversation would probably be that Bill Callahan Apocalypse record. I'm leaving the house now, to go see Jason Willett perform with his fairly amazing improv band Leprechaun Catering.