Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Music of Autumn 2012

I haven't been writing much about music lately. Partly this is because of the difficulty of doing so in a remotely interesting way, but it's also really easy to think it doesn't matter at all. I have pretty much no readership, and in a world where it seems like most music writing is tied to "personal brand" or "curating," it feels like a cool record label agreeing to release something is more of an endorsement than I could ever provide. This sort of defeatist attitude, like most defeatist attitudes these days, cedes a lot of power to people with money, so it's time to get back on the horse. Also, keeping on top of what every cool record label puts out is for record collecting nerds with Asperger's, and "personal brands" are for assholes.

That said: The Editions Mego imprint Spectrum Spools is on top of a sizable portion of the chunk of underground in which my friends reside. Their focus is more on music made with synthesizers than my own instincts lean, but hey, I get it, guitar music is on the way out. Meanwhile, Editions Mego itself put out a new record by Fenn O'Berg, called In Hell, which sidesteps the analog synths in favor of milking the laptop for some gorgeous and subtle music. I don't know how to talk about that if you're not familiar with the Mego label- Its proprietor, Peter Rehberg, plays in this trio alongside Christian Fennesz and Jim O'Rourke, and the beauty I refer to is not of a classical variety but in relation to other abstractions that don't show reflect light so cleanly.

A few years ago, Lazy Magnet released an album with the name "Is Music Even Good." Upon hearing the title, I was immediately won over. When I heard the record, I was blown away: Its constant genre switching appealed to some sort of engrained conception of music instilled by a childhood love of Ween and other goofballs, but was being made by a dude submerged in the noise scene, without finding any champions amongst the set that views that sort of weirdness the summit of all art. Not enough time changes for the Mike Patton crowd, I suppose. This could be due to the fact that Lazy Magnet is not a band, but a solo project, or really an umbrella term for the work done by one Jeremy Harris. Things never get too technical, or session-musician-y. Since moving to Baltimore, I've seen him perform a few times: A few sets were performed with a rock band, but the dominant mode for his song composition as of late has been on electronic equipment (drum machines, sequencers, MIDI). I believe the same equipment is used in his band Meager Sunlight, a duo with his partner, who also shows up on his new release, Crystal Cassette, to do some vocals. They hover along the synth-pop axis, vocals are deadpan, cold, fashionable at this point in time, but because of his past I tend to view these things as "songs," first and foremost, rather than as a set of sound and signifiers- One time I played Is Music Even Good for a friend and heard it through their ears, where the switching of genres, the weirdnesses where a country song would be distorted into clipping noise, these bits of structure were there in place of traditional songwriting chops, and the overall effect was not that of a "mixtape" of songs that were strong examples of their respective elements, so much as a collage that gave the overall effect of a goof. I do not mind these things, at all, but in working within a more defined palette over the length of an album you get to hear a single aesthetic tamed into multiple songs and maybe get more of an appreciation for what he's doing. There's a Meager Sunlight record forthcoming on Spectrum Spools, as well as a Lazy Magnet due out on Bathetic in the months to come. Just the other day there was a Twitter conversation between Bathetic and Jeremy about making a country record, which is also promising. This tape is on Night People, who put out little comps on Mediafire so you can check out songs from pretty much all their releases of a given time period. I'm listening to the latest compilation right now, so I can also add this little micro-review: I like the drum sound on this Peak Twins track.

Happy Jawbone Family Band have a new cassette, The Silk Pistol, available on Night People as well. It's also available for streaming/download on their Bandcamp page, so while I wait for a replacement copy (I got a bad dub) I gave it a listen. I like this band: Their first LP "Hotel Double Tragedy" I first heard on a Sunday morning, when it felt really appropriate to the slightly rainy weather outside. I was not hungover, I don't believe, but certainly other people could've been, and this would be as soothing as a good Amps For Christ record in such circumstances. Was it a Sunday afternoon when I downloaded and listened to all those Jackie-O Motherfucker records a few weeks ago? Yes it was! I don't know how you spend your Sundays (church?), but now you know how I spend mine. Anyway, Happy Jawbone Family Band's music seems like mid-90s Elephant 6's dream of the sixties, this-copy-of-a-copy effect not a watering down so much as it is a distortion into clouds of fuzz and cotton. Their 2011 LP, "Okay Midnight, You Win," recorded by a real producer loses this home-recorded charm and loses a certain essence. This music seems like collapsing, falling down. Maybe partly this effect is that while some instruments are playing wandering leads, others chime in with chords, tones? I know nothing about music composition and cannot really tell what is listening within a piece of music. I can, however, tell when someone is making a joke, and these folks do that on occasion, with the Christmas album on their Bandcamp bringing that element more to the fore. These are charming qualities for a band to have.

Jokes are aplenty on the Angels USA - VH1 Drunk cassette put out on Hundebiss a few months back. It is a sci-fi radio play where the only songs are jingles for flavors of chips- There is a chip implanted in your head that allows you to download flavors. The science-fiction vibe of the plot is abetted by the cold electronic ambiences that are basically this band's stock in trade these days, although the jingles throw in some guitar strums for variety. The jokes are great, actually laugh out loud funny rather than the "I appreciate your light-hearted nature" reaction I have to Happy Jawbone Family Band. One unintended bit of weirdness is that (at least on my tape) the first side is mastered much quieter than the second and needs to be turned way up. The other issue of course is the attention span of a listener- I have become distracted and missed some laste-in-the-tape plot twists. Oh yeah: even though each release lists band membership under different shifting aliases, Angels USA is the same band as Angels In America, aka Miami Angels In America, whose Allergic To Latex cassette I have previously held up as their best work. It still is, but this is an nice insight into their world, deepening an appreciation of the personalities at work for those who haven't hung out with them extensively. I have hung out with them only a little, and so these inside jokes were unknown to me. Nice packaging too.

Esra of Angels USA also recently made a movie with Carlos Gonzalez of Russian Tsarlag, and while there is probably no way you can see that unless you are friends or friends of friends with the involved parties, Carlos has also released three records so far this year, the best of which was probably Midnight At Mary's House, which is also the one with the most copies pressed of it. It's now unavailable from the label, Not Not Fun, but maybe copies can still be found at retail outlets that reliably order Not Not Fun releases even though they are not all commercially viable- one of these would be Baltimore, Maryland's very own The Sound Garden. Ah, but what does it sound like? It is some late night music, not emoting its despair, but speaking of its aloneness- there is an on-record request to be sent old horror movies, and if you haven't watched The Abominable Doctor Phibes in the hours between midnight and dawn then you should: It's a great movie and to do so would put you closer to understanding one of contemporary America's most interesting artists. "Colors are fading fast," the man croons, and surely this is true, away from the day-glo of the internet.

Other listening I recommend: The Mike McGonigal curated compilations of gospel music issued by Tompkins Square, James Blackshaw's Love Is The Plan, The Plan Is Death, Charles Mingus, the two Mount Eerie LPs from this year along with 2008's Lost Wisdom. Yes, it is after midnight now, and these things, these things, this is where I'm at these days- The Mount Eerie stuff and the Russian Tsarlag stuff is maybe of a similar emotional tone, coming from geographic opposites of the USA, the northwest and the southeast, the crispness of the mountain air versus the sludge of the swamp, the moleskine versus the VHS tape.

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