W I N TER 2 0 2 0
I SSU E 1 .1
No Rec ess!
N O T TH E LAST W O RD I N AN YTH I N G
SO OUT IT'S IN!
LETTER FROM Back in 2004, at a dif f er en t pu blicat ion , I h ad t h e oppor t u n it y t o in t er view Lou Bar low ? an d, som et h in g h e said at t h e en d of ou r con ver sat ion alw ays st u ck w it h m e. After asking him what age and experience has done for his songwriting (at the time he was probably 38 years old, and started as early as nine), he replied: ?I?m just slow now? really slow. That?s all. I just move and I write really slowly. I almost purposefully stop myself from finishing things. Like if I get really into something, and then I?ll be like, ?Well, it?s pretty good. But why don?t we just stop for today. You got a verse and chorus, so you know, before you get all hopped up on this? ? What he said made me laugh back then and still makes me laugh today. But it?s with my own age and experience that I?ve maybe truly unlocked what he was saying. When we launched No Recess! back in April of 2017, I?m not sure we knew exactly what we wanted to be. We just knew we wanted to be! We went with the standard online magazine format, intent on fulfilling the content demands of a mostly daily publication. After all, if you weren?t staying on top of it all and constantly staying in front of people on your social feeds, what would we be doing exactly? It was pretty obvious after about two years that our small but mighty magazine collective was not whatever that is. Working extra hard, writing and posting on the fly, trying to keep up with the never-ending press cycle, felt exhausting and at odds with our intention to do thoughtful, long-form journalism. The fact that there?s a bunch of dead-end, burned-out avenues for any hope of sustaining revenue from this format was the kicker (is always the fucking kicker). Coupled with my own dispossessed state while witnessing the alarming rate social feeds are flooded with all this stuff, the sad feeling of desultory scrolling to the point where it all globs into a giant ball of digital static, and the need to slow down had become grossly apparent. There are a lot of great, great articles to be found on our website from the past few years, and they will remain there. There was never any doubt our collective is stacked with talented writers (who amazingly remained dedicated without pay). We were for sure doing something.
But in July of last year, we decided to take a hiatus. We stopped publishing under that online format but never ceased working on a new plan. Slowing down has been, by many twists and turns, life-altering. We talked about things, developed ideas, ruled things out, recalled our original purpose, found our true core again, and then moved forward. I believe we?re emerging from the shadows with a new format perfectly suited to our small but mighty collective ? and therefore, really, to the reader. So, what are we doing? This is a 100% ad-free quarterly digital magazine with real pagination and design that only stands to bring to life the words found within. About 80 pages, in fact, of in-depth articles absent of pop-up disruptions or malware threats. It still has elements of an online interactive experience, such as hyperlinks to sources and video ? we?re keeping the good but throwing out all that other biz. No Recess! is also 100% independent ? meaning, it?s not a music magazine propped up by the same three media conglomerates pumping out versions of the same coverage; or worse, some weird private equity firm with unavoidably questionable morals when it comes to creating an authentic human to human experience (of which music is, for what it?s worth). When you support this magazine by purchasing an issue or yearly subscription, you directly support the people involved while helping to cover the relatively small but necessary overhead to create a magazine like this. It?s an alternate version of ?success,? but one that also seems closer to a mutually respectful world in which we can all comfortably exist in. The best part: You?ll probably never truly guess what?s to be included in each issue. Our overriding philosophy has always been to come straight out of left field with great articles about great music (even back when many of us worked together at the online version of Crawdaddy! #rip). This speaks to the diverse nature of our collective. Sure there?s some adherence to current releases and all of that. But overall, I think you?ll continually find surprises in each issue. Those surprises are what keep us, as music fans, delving deeper and continually forming an even greater, more intimate relationship with music. It?s fun ? just like recess. We hope you enjoy it! ? Jocelyn Hoppa
INTERVIEW wit h Elkhorn The Storm Sessions. An entire two-part, improvised recording in one take. No overdubs. No edits. | by Jocelyn Hoppa
42 ARYAN AZTLĂ N : The Bizarre
World of Azt ec Nazi Black Met al Even for those who?ve been desensitized to Nazi furries and Nazi vaporwave, the phrase ?Aztec Nazi black metal? might still raise a few eyebrows. | by Alex Gendler
54 SO OUT IT'S IN: Sha Na Na No Recess! examines a moment in time when unpopular became the new popular. | by Andrew K. Lau
NO RECESS! Magazine,LLC norecessmagazine.com EIC & PUBLISHER Jocelyn Hoppa SENIOR EDITOR Angela Zimmerman SENIOR WRITER Andrew K. Lau DESIGN: Jocelyn Hoppa
THIS ISSUE'S CONTRIBUTORS C.M. Crockford, Ryan Bray, Daniel Alvarez, Jeffry Theissen, Greg Gast on, Emma Falk Dennis, Alex Gendler, Raymond Cummings, Paul Falchet t a, Amanda Scigaj No Recess! #1, Winter 2020. Published by No Recess Magazine LLC. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted, in any form or by any means (except for short excerpts) without the express written permission of No Recess Magazine, LLC. For more information regarding this issue or upcoming issues, email firstname.lastname@example.org
YOU SHOULD KNOW Young Guv, Santi, Fox Medicine | By Daniel Alvarez and Jocelyn Hoppa
LOOK WHAT I FOUND Relationship Troubles! | by Andrew K. Lau
SIGNALS, CALLS, AND M ARCHES Drone Bomb Me: Anohni and Political Pop | by C.M. Crockford
NEW CLASSICS An American Band: Drive-By Truckers Gritty Profiles in Southern Courage | by Greg Gaston
BAD ALBUM S Shaggy Reputation: Philosophy of the World | by Ryan Bray
SM OKE SIGNALS What Is and What Should Never Be: Exploring Tapeworm | by Jeffrey Thiessen
THE SLEEPER Florist, Emily Alone| by Daniel Alvarez
ART! Ragnar Kjartansson Reminds Us It Is Beauty That Is Going to Save the World | by Emma Falk Dennis
AT THE MOVIES Revisiting Ryuichi Sakamoto's Coda| by Daniel Alvarez
BOOK REVIEW S Hard to Handle: The Life & Death of the Black Crowes & Flea: Acid for the Children | by Andrew K. Lau
CAPSULE RECORD REVIEW S A back issue guide to record releases from the past three months, including: Animal Collective, Battles, Beck, Bonnie Prince Billy, CFCF, DIIV, DJShadow, Elbow, Floral Tattoo, Foxes In Fiction, Kim Gordon, Mark Lanegan, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Obsequiae, Tindersticks, Wilco, Wolf Parada, Vetiver
Youn g Guv Somehow GUV I and II (Run for Cover
pop-inspired rock hath wrought over
Records), two separate records also
the last six decades. You know, the best
packaged as one long player, traverses
many rock-inspired sounds that all
Young Guv is comprised of Ben Cook
weave into a warmly satisfying,
(you may know him as the guitarist for
Canadian hardcore band Fucked Up
These 19 songs bounce around
since 2006), who began putting out
influences ranging from the power pop
singles, EPs, and two full-lengths under
of Big Star to the jangly punk of the
some form of the Young Guv moniker
Lemonheads, the webbiness of Elliot
(see: Young Governer or Guv) since
Smith, British Invasion, Oasis ? with
each track, Young Guv takes the
This collection of new songs took shape
listener on a tour de force of what 60s
when Cook moved to the good ol?USA,
y ou s houl d k now. . . where he?d observe daily life ?as a
overwhelming feeling of sadness and
foreigner ? then holding up in his
Brooklyn apartment to write a song
GUV I leans more heavily on some
every single day.
obvious influences in the guitars and
Anyone who?s lived in NYC will tell ya,
British Invasion harmonies (?Every
you might be surrounded by eight
Flower I See,? ?Luv Always?).
million people in a relatively small
GUV II shows Cook?s ability to put his
amount of real estate, but it?s also
own stamp these sounds, sometimes
incredibly easy to access some
with the usage of synths or a
much-needed anonymity and/or slip
modulated voice (?Trying to Decide,?
into the shadows of aloneness all the
?Song About Feeling Insane?).
These two albums are downright
Lyrically, you?ll find this theme all over
infectious, a pop rock palette cleanser.
The only thing driving my nuts is the
Cook said, "To me Young Guv songs are
movie clip about dropping out of
like people-watching in a foreign
society that kicks off GUV I ? what is it
county in the morning. I'm there and
from???? Jocelyn Hoppa
I'm trying not to cry from the
San ti You probably already know plenty
fuses Afropop with R&B, rap, and indie
about the established stars of Lagos?
influences. It?s affectionately known as
booming scene; folks like DaVido,
Burna Boy, and Wizkid have built
I was introduced to altĂŠ by Santi: a
massive careers for themselves on
26-year-old, former high school drama
both sides of the Atlantic.
teacher who pairs his love of American
And though the city?s top-end talent
hip-hop and R&B with wavy Afro-pop
deserves plenty of plaudits, keep an
melodies and dancehall rhythms to
eye out for the new generation of
delirious effect. You really hear it on his
creative kids rising quickly up behind.
2018 breakthrough single (and one of
Exciting new voices like Odunsi (The
my favorite songs of that year) ?Rapid
Engine), DML Fireboy, and Santi are
Fire,? which soaks his and his cohorts?
crafting a fresh, genre-fluid sound that
nimble, soothing vocals in ultra-lithe
y ou s houl d k now. . . keyboard melodies and trap hi-hats. It
positively floating on the beat, sliding
feels simultaneously hyper-modern and
through cloud-like synths and
rooted in Nigeria?s rich musical
syncopated drums with ease. And the
off-kilter, wobbly ?Morocco? and the
He expanded his widescreen vision
Sadelicious ?Turn Down Mami? prove
even further on his brilliant 2019 debut,
that he can deftly control all different
Mandy & The Jungle.
kinds of arrangements.
Though he opens it up to a few big
Santi is still taking the first steps of his
name American contributors (DRAM,
career, but it feels like things are really
GoldLink), he mostly keeps it in the
starting to happen for him. He made his
family, either flying solo or linking up
first trip out to the States in 2019 to
with other rising artists from the area.
play Tyler, The Creator ?s Camp Flog
Though his versatile tastes keep the
Gnaw Festival and MoMA PS1 and is
listener off-balance, his feather-light
spending the first part of 2020 in
vocals and ear for a hook keeps the
Europe with GoldLink.
project together and the listener
Hopefully, a legit American tour and a
engaged through all 16 tracks.
new project are coming down the pike
On standout single, ?Sparky,? Santi is
soon. ? Daniel Alvarez
Fox Medicin e Portland, OR two-piece Fox Medicine
heavy music do like.
have conjured up some sort of
In terms of their own fandom, they cite
awesomely weird, saccharine
bands like the Melvins, Sonic Youth, and
summoning of an otherwise fictional
Throbbing Gristle as sources of their
music genre: bubblegum doom.
musical inspiration. After laying down
For fans of doom, we know what you?re
some DIY demos, Fox Medicine began
thinking. But it?s worth digging past
playing shows in 2016.
their self-descriptor and song titles like
Holding down the grungy guitar parts
?Cotton Candy Planets? and ?Space
and vocals is Neezy Dynamite. After
Kitty,? because the band?s first studio
playing in some underground bands,
album ProcĂŠdures Mystiques is rife with
she met Vanny Keeps (drums/vocals),
fuzzy, stoner rock riffs, tumultuous
who propels forward the ever present
noise, and a lot of what enthusiasts of
hard-hitting intensity, matching Neezy?s
y ou s houl d k now. . . topsy-turvy twists out of the sludge and
Producer Toshi Kasai (Melvins, Helmet,
into halting discord and dissonance.
Tool, Big Business) claims this is the
Stripping away all of the cutesy
weirdest band he?s ever worked with
imagery created with the cover art and
and sums up Fox Medicine best: ?Black
ice cream fever dreams, ProcĂŠdures
Sabbath with J-Pop vocals.?
Mystiques (released in November on
Is it sort of silly to combine these
both CD and violet opaque vinyl), is
worlds? Probably. But for Fox Medicine
simply put a record that rocks hard as
that?s precisely the point. Though we
hell, regardless of whatever genre label
often crave doomy, distorted music
one wants to put on it.
that so often reflects many brutal
The riffage is all there, from the first
aspects of life, life is kinda better if it?s
track ?Comfort Pony? down to, yep, the
also not taken all that seriously.
100 mph closer ?Space Kitty.? Standout
What?s the Julie Andrews song? Just a
track for me is ?Sympathy for the Prey,?
spoonful of sugar makes the medicine
with its slow-ass build and what feels
go down... yeah, I feel like the same
like whimsically skipping off to go kill
applies to Fox Medicine. In a most
something. Also, points for writing a
delightful way. ? Jocelyn Hoppa
song called ?Orion?s Pointy Belt.?
Si gnal s , Cal l s and Mar ches
Dr o n e Bo mb Me: An o h n i a nd Po l it ic a l Po p By C.M. Crockford
Th e m u sic video f or An oh n i?s 2016 sin gle ?Dr on e Bom b M e? features model Naomi Campbell in a warehouse bathed in tags. She lip syncs to the song as male dancers move in front of her, contorting slightly to the rhythms. Tears fall as she mouths lyrics, like ?I want to die, I want to be the apple of your eye,? yet at other points the look on her face is more? amorous. Similarly the performers are caught in a space between violence and seduction, their faces often clenched and angry. One man looks rapturously into the camera as an explosion reflects on his pupils. Nabil?s video captures the eerie charge of the song: obsessive pop romance finding kinship with the horror of state violence. Many of the songs on Anohni?s debut solo album Hopelessness have a similar political core,
but ?Obama? and ?Four Degrees? feel much more flat-footed. The intended message is sung with little spark of contradiction or creativity in the writing. Anohni?s intention with the album was to be as direct as possible, especially by using contemporary pop and dance instrumentation, but this makes the songs feel didactic and spent after the initial rush. ?Drone Bomb Me? is much more satisfying because it?s an artist deliberately moving into a messy perspective akin to her previous group?s classic ?Fistful of Love.? Verses that could fit seamlessly onto a Brenda Lee 7-inch or an Ariana Grande song (?Let me be the one / That you choose tonight?) merge with ?Blow my head off / Explode my crystal guts / Lay my purple on the grass.? It?s a love song addressed to the bureaucratic, faceless military industrial complex from a willing participant. What is, after all, the purpose of drone strikes but to ?carefully? select a target, to make them the object of absolute focus? The singers on ?Under Your Spell? by Desire aren?t sure there?s any difference between love and obsession; neither does this song. The tactics of the War on Terror are rooted in relentless pursuit as well as a goal ? ending terrorism ? that is obviously impossible. When said out loud, this can seem like a kind of unrequited love, the sort given relentless glorification on millions of pop songs. What makes ?Drone Bomb Me? so powerful is how it connects pop romance with perpetual warfare, both of them cultural forces Americans are unwittingly immersed in every single day. That meshing of these uneasy forces is aided by the superb production of Anohni, Hudson Mohawke, and Oneohtrix Point Never. These enormous but melancholy synths are a perfect counterpoint to Anohni?s
performance. Her heartbroken, fluttery voice had acted alongside chamber pop and R&B melodies in Antony & The Johnsons, but now she worked against the massive dance beats of her new music (akin to her guest spot on the classic ?Blind? by Hercules & Love Affair) and the effect is thrilling. She performs beautifully the desperation and self-loathing of the narrator, the belief in the absolute Truth of being chosen to die by drone. How could the state, so many millions of miles away, be wrong? I?m only in my 20s but the older I get, the lower my tolerance for dogmatic and obvious art becomes. There are people (especially as social media warped our collective minds in the 2010?s) whose preference for movies would be for a character to turn to the camera and state the moral of the story. I am not one of them. Any work that doesn?t insult my intelligence and allows me to process the ideas and themes on my own, without a lecture, has my respect. Unlike ?Obama,? ?Drone Bomb Me? isn?t holding my hand. This is a challenging song, uneasy in how it pairs the language of war with that of love. But the insight that Anohni has been led to through this contradiction is immensel y rewarding. The protest music of 2020 (and throughout this century) must follow similar creative paths: embracing the paradoxes, the chaos of the 21st century, and making uneasy discoveries about our lives in the process. ? CMC
Bad Al bums
Sh ag g y R ep u t a t io n On Philosophy of the World, The Shaggs made one of pop music's most disastrous and beloved debuts. By Ryan Bray
Independent culture?s bone- bred preferencefor music that skews awayfromthemainstreamhas l edto someprettycharitabl eassessments of records that, objectively speaking, don?t deserve them. The history of popular music is littered with bad music across all genres, most of which rightfully falls to the bottom of the heap. But it takes an especially bad record to be so bad that it actually appreciates in value over time. 16
Near the very top of that list rightfully sits The Shaggs' Philosophy of the World. Unlike, say, Captain Beefheart's shit masterpiece, 1969?s Trout Mask Replica, The Shaggs?lone record, also recorded in ?69, wasn?t made with the purposeful intent of fucking with listeners. Instead, the New Hampshire-based 60s sister group fell back on their almost complete lack of musical chops to earn their ignominious standing. Philosophy of the World is cringe-inducing in the purest of ways. Like rock ?n?roll?s answer to Plan 9 From Outer Space, it?s a work approached with the
best of intentions by a band whose spirit and eagerness vastly outweigh its actual abilities. There are many factors that come into critically assessing a band?s music, but rarely does whether or not an artist or band can actually play come into consideration. That much is almost always a given. ?Almost,? because Philosophy of the World is so woeful on the most elemental of levels that you don't have to go beyond the band's lack of skill to make a case against it. Anyone who thinks this sounds like heavy-handed rock critic snobbery need venture no further than the record?s title track. Helen Wiggin?s out-of-time drumming sets the record off course almost instantly, while her sisters, Dorothy Wiggin (lead guitar and vocals) and Betty Wiggin Porter (rhythm guitar), strum along out of tune. Then there are Dorothy?s lyrics, sung in the German speak-sing style of Nico, that dwell on mindlessly charming patter that doesn?t live up to the song or the record?s title (Sample lyric: ?The skinny people want what the fat people?s got.?). The song never gels, nor do any of the others. The sound of Philosophy of the World is that of a band fractured by its individual parts, with each person playing in silos, irrespective of one another. Forget about good songs, there isn?t enough of a foundation here for listenable songs. The Shaggs and their lone record were the brainchild of Austin Wiggin, Jr., who had visions of turning his daughters into teen superstars. Austin?s commitment to the cause was such that, according to lore, he sunk all of his savings into the making of Philosophy of the World. Surprisingly, a Massachusetts-based label, Third World Recordings, took enough of an interest in the band to offer them the chance to make a record ? which they did in one day. Less surprisingly, the label went under soon afterward. The opportunity to make a record by itself was arguably more than The Shaggs deserved, and it?s little surprise that Austin?s visions of turning his band into America?s newest teen sensations fell completely flat. The band never performed much beyond their hometown of Fremont, New Hampshire, while nearly all of the copies from the first pressing of Philosophy of the World went
missing from a local warehouse. But for all of the things The Shaggs had working against them, they were never without their supporters. Those debut copies that weren?t inexplicably lost circulated among a base of supporters that grew over time. By the mid-1970s, the record even started to get some airplay from trailblazing stations such as WBCN in Boston. For all the effort and investment spent trying to turn The Shaggs into the stars they positively did not have a chance of becoming, the door instead wedged open for the band to build a cult legacy. Today, the legacy ? and even influence ? of The Shaggs is such that it warrants reconsideration. Did we miss something? How did one of the worst records in the history of pop music grow over time to become one of its most fabled? Philosophy of the World doesn?t get better with repeated listens, but it?s easy to see how the record?s rough, unvarnished style unwittingly made it an early example of proto-punk. Decades later, when ugly rock ?n?roll became cool, The Shaggs benefited from some renewed cultural currency, thanks to vocal support from the likes of Kurt Cobain. For everything their songs lacked, the band at least had the courage to put themselves out there. As bad as they were, that attitude would define generations of underground rock to come. There?s also a sweetness to Philosophy of the World that cuts through its ineptness. The purity of The Shaggs was the trio?s greatest strength, and Philosophy's heart-on-sleeve style unarguably had a hand in helping shape the twee pop sound that bands ranging from the Modern Lovers and Beat Happening to the Moldy Peaches would dial into with greater success. Fifty years later, that might be the best way to remember Philosophy of the World and explain the backhanded acclaim it?s received over the years. In 12 tracks, the trio reaffirmed what the likes of Chuck Berry, Link Wray, and others before them tried to show us all from the beginning ? that rock ?n?roll doesn?t have to be pretty to be meaningful. In the case of The Shaggs, it was irrefutable heart and ingenuity that won everyone over in the end. ? RB 17
Band photos by Brennan Cavanaugh
I nt er v i ew
El k horn The Storm Sessions An entire two-part, improvised recording in one take. No overdubs. No edits. By Jocelyn Hoppa
Q + A
NO RECESS!: Fir st , ju st w an t t o say h ello
contradictions. All those people packed into
f r om a dan k m u sic h ole in Sou t h Jer sey
one small area has an impact on the minds
? m y h ou se! I see you bot h gr ew u p in
of the people making art, right? Springsteen
t h e Ph illy ar ea, an d so, t o sh ow som e
begets Bon Jovi begets Danzig?
r egion al love, w an t ed t o get you r t ak e
Dr ew : For me, in high school in the mid-80s
on t h e m u sic scen e h er e an d w h at it ?s
in suburban NJ, culture meant City
m ean t t o you bot h :
Gardens, the Court Tavern, WTSR, WPRB,
Jesse: Well, we went to high school
and the Princeton Record Exchange. I liked
together along the Delaware River, sort of
the misfit characters who populated these
nestled between Princeton and Trenton.
punk/alternative social spaces, and I was
Obviously the musical soil of New Jersey is
one of them. Jesse and I were a 10-minute
pretty fertile, being located in the middle of
drive from City Gardens. There was also the
the Eastern Seaboard between Philly and
shore scene, and a lot of acts playing
New York. I?d say there?s just a lot of
Rutgers, where I saw HĂźsker DĂź for the first
musicians and musical ideas being passed
time. We were also not too far from NYC, so
back and forth through that corridor, which
we would drive in to see shows as much as
naturally leads to an eclectic approach to
we could. I remember seeing the opening
music. I mean, New Jersey itself is a state of
show of Sonic Youth?s Daydream Nation tour
at CBGBs. That made an impression on me.
looking for a way to merge the sounds of
In a way, I liked the dramatically bleak
the folk and rock we were listening to, and
semi-apocalyptic industrial vibe of the
suddenly it felt like it had transformed into
Northeast Corridor and also the weird quiet
something new. I had started making
beauty of the Pine Barrens. That dichotomy
friends in the Philly music scene and
might have had some kind of early
someone offered us a gig, which lead to
influence on our music.
more structured jams, which lead to songs,
NR!: Fr om st ar t in g ou t in a h igh sch ool
which lead to recording, which lead to
post -pu n k ban d (M ayf ir st ), you bot h
touring? it was all very organic and you can
br an ch ed ou t in t o ot h er f or m s of m u sic.
see the results now in wax.
Dr ew m oved t o San Fr an cisco w h er e h e
NR!: You r m u sic h as a lot of
got in t o f r ee jazz as a dr u m m er an d t h en
in st r u m en t al du alit y, bu t t h e Elk h or n
t ook u p w it h a Telecast er again t o
sou n d is also in cr edibly coh esive. Is
im pr ovise w it h classic r ock solos;
m eldin g you r m u sical w or lds som et h in g
m ean w h ile, Jesse t ook t o t h e Am er ican
t h at ju st com es n at u r ally, or does it t ak e
Pr im it ive m u sic of Jack Rose w h ile
w ay m or e plan n in g an d w or k t o
f in din g t h e 12-st r in g acou st ic gu it ar .
collabor at e t h an it seem s?
Wh at w as it lik e w h en you f ir st sat dow n
Jesse: I think the ability to meld and the
t o play t oget h er again ?
desire to meld come naturally and are
Dr ew : As teenagers, we were a rock rhythm
supported both by the amount of time
section, with Jesse on bass and me on
we?ve been playing together and our
drums. I suspect there?s something left of
shared interests. What takes a bit more
that old dynamic in our current playing, in
work is making sure the guitar parts fit
the sense that any band has to start with a
together. We?re getting better over time at
rhythm section that?s actually gelling ?
anticipating the areas that will need the
everything else is built on that. I have a
most attention. In a lot of ways The Storm
distinct memory of when Elkhorn started to
Sessions is a reflection of this because the
happen. We were sitting in Jesse?s living
more comfortable you are communicating
room in PA, jamming, with him playing
back and forth, the more you can improvise
finger-picked guitar and me improvising
melodically on his 6-string over it, and I
Dr ew : I always say that what we lack in
thought, ?Hey, this is a band sound? ? The
talent we make up for in hard work. I have
music since then has kind of opened in
a sense that it?s possible to add two musical
front of us, and we just try to follow it.
elements together and get what feels like a
Jesse: I think we were semi-consciously
third thing, ?the band sound,? which is 21
almost a separate character all to itself. Jesse?s playing comes out of American Primitive music, which involves drones, open tunings, and the feel of improvisation (even if it?s composed). I come out of free improv, modal jazz, and Indian music. The history behind these separate paths is already compatible, and we?ve just tried stuff out, listened, and let the music show us how to put these things together in a way that works. NR!: You r u pcom in g r elease The Storm Sessions is t w o side-lon g im pr ovisat ion s. So you w er e sn ow ed in an d decided t o t ak e advan t age of t h e f or ced isolat ion . To give som e color t o t h e m u sic h er e, descr ibe w h at w as goin g on t h at day, w h ich w ou ld set t h e t on e f or t h is r ecor d. Dr ew : Elkhorn had a show booked with our friend Turner Williams in Brooklyn when a massive snowstorm hit the city so fast that people were pretty unprepared. We tried to drive to the show but the entire city was completely gridlocked. It took us an hour to get half a block from my apartment. At a
that we had completely resigned ourselves
certain point, when it became obvious we
to the storm and were completely relaxed,
were not going anywhere and the gig was
as if being physically immobilized had freed
canceled, I was like, ?Well, we?re snowed-in
our minds to explore something vast inside.
in a recording studio... let's make a record.?
NR!: Elk h or n is con sider ed a du o, bu t f or
Jesse: We had recorded two releases in
The Storm Sessions, Tu r n er William s w as
Drew?s home studio already (our
also t h er e t o layer on som e elect r ic
eponymous first album and the Lionfish
bou zou k i an d sh ah i baaja. Cou ld you
cassette), so we were just following what
descr ibe w h at t h ese in st r u m en t s ar e
had presented itself organically to us again.
an d w h at t h ey len d t o t h is r ecor din g?
I?d say the mood of the session reflected 22
Jesse: We had toured with Turner a few
other had been on our minds for a while and was sort of a turn away from the work we?d been doing with drummers over the previous year. It?s always refreshing to add a new ingredient to the stew that Drew and I are cooking and Turner blended effortlessly, both embellishing and redirecting our sound into new paths. Dr ew : A shahi baaja is the child of a zither and a typewriter ? a kind of Indian autoharp, with keys pushing down on strings, and separate melody and drone sounds. It?s sometimes called ?Japan banjo? because there?s a Japanese version call a taish?goto. A bouzouki is a Greek lute, used in rebetiko music. Turner plays electric versions of both instruments through effects pedals. The sounds he gets are really distinctive and very psychedelic. NR!: Af t er h avin g su ch su ccessf u l r esu lt s f r om t h is spon t an eou s r ecor din g session , do you t h in k im pr ovisin g w ill becom e an even gr eat er f or ce f or u pcom in g Elk h or n albu m s? Do you t h in k years prior and he had jammed with us live
it len ds t h e m u sic som et h in g car ef u l
on the last date of that run (you can hear
plan n in g doesn?t qu it e ach ieve?
this track on our Live Fish album) so we knew he would gel with us. He?s just a beautiful human being and an incredibly natural musician (also an amazing artist who painted the covers of our Sun Cycle release) who plays a wide variety of odd instruments that I?d never seen before he pulled them out of their cases. The idea of layering all these strings on top of each
Dr ew : Improvisation is a big part of our music. A lot of what we do involves Jesse playing composed fingerpicking parts and me improvising over that like he?s the whole rhythm section of a band. But we also switch roles sometimes and he?ll improvise over me picking a set part, or we?ll both improvise at the same time. I find it can actually be intriguingly tricky to think of 23
improvisation and composition as being
playing things long enough rather than
that separate. Starting to compose
getting stuck and playing something too
something involves a moment of
long. Every gig is sort of a complex bag of
spontaneous invention and spontaneously
awesome and not so awesome elements
improvising often involves recombining
you have to wend your way through. There
many smaller set phrases, which are
have been one or two times when we
themselves sort of composed, in a lot of
brought a third musician in on a set to jam
different ways. We?re always interested in
with us cold and it has not gone super well,
creating settings to improvise in, islands of
but that?s more about preparation than
sound, ways to get from one place to
improvising. As I said above, you have to be
another sonically. I think that, in general,
very well prepared before you let it all go if
the pattern of music not involving
you want to take flight. But you?re right?
improvisation is a fairly recent
there?s no better feeling than listening back
phenomenon historically, and something
to a show and thinking, ?I had no idea I
that?s mostly unique to Western music.
could play that!?
Jesse: Looking back, you can see that a lot
Dr ew : I find that most of the time I can
of the music we are interested in has
avoid face-planting by just being as
improvisational elements, whether it?s
prepared as I can be for everything that?s
Bebop or Hindustani music. The Lionfish
around the improvisation. The relative
and Elk Jam albums are pure unadulterated
perception of ?is this working?? in
improv. Ultimately, it takes a lot of guts to
improvisation is really an interesting
spontaneously create what you are playing
question to me. I?ve had gigs where it felt
live on stage, but if you prepare properly
bad while I was playing it and I was pretty
and give yourself some reference points you can climb to unforeseen heights.
sure it was not working, and then later going back and listening to a recording of it
NR!: Ever yon e loves a good st u ck in a
and being like, ?This is good? what was I
jam t h at ain?t cu t t in g t h e m u st ar d st or y.
thinking?? The opposite can happen as well.
An y f u n n y live m om en t s t h at w en t aw r y
The one thing I know for sure about
t o sh ar e w it h u s? Th ou gh , w h en it 's all
improvisation is that for it to work you have
con n ect ed, t h at m u st f eel am azin g.
to be in the moment. You have to be able
Jesse: I don?t think we have a ?that one time
to look at the parts of yourself that drag
when everything fell apart? story. Playing
you out of the present moment and get to
as a duo gives us a lot of flexibility to get
know them and try to make peace with
into and out of any musical idea, and I think
them. For me that?s the key to getting off
we?ve probably erred on the side of not
the ground. ? JH
The s l eeper
Fl o r is t Emil y Al o n e (Double Double W h am m y, 2019) By Dan iel Alvarez
Nor m ally w h en people ar e sleepin g on an albu m I love, I r espon d by apoplect ically ban gin g on w h at ever digit al su r f aces I h ave access t o, imploring them to wake up and smell the fresh delicious sound-waves they?re missing out on. And though I?d love more people to get hip to Emily Sprague?s exquisite Emily Alone, in the spirit of the tender, quiet LP, I?ll go with a gentle, loving rouse, rather than a squawking rude awakening. Though I understand why her understated sound and unassuming vibe haven?t captured the masses, even on first listen Emily Alone pulls the listener in and offers so much. Penned in the wake of great transition and pain ? the death of a parent, the end of a relationship, and a cross-country move ? the now LA-based, Catskill native digs deep into the emptiness and pain of loss and the unsettling, yet exciting, feeling of packing up and starting anew. She chronicles both of those feelings beautifully on ?Celebration,? as she considers the differences between California and New York with a startlingly intimate look at life by the ocean without a few key pieces from her old life. On ?Time Is a Dark Feeling,? she tries to figure out where all the hours go, an especially creepy feeling when it?s passing after someone you love has passed. Final track, ?Today I?ll Have You Around,? is another haunting standout, as she spends the day with a memory alongside wondrous, arpeggiated nylon strings. And I appreciate that this all sounds very dark and heavy, but somehow it doesn?t feel that way. Maybe it?s the gorgeous, nimble fingerpicking that lights the way, reminiscent of peak Kozelek and Elverum. Or maybe it?s the spirit of youthful adventure you hear in her voice. The quiet belief that there are seasons of our life. And though this one is difficult, she knows that the lessons she?ll learn will drive her toward the kind of growth we all hunger for. She says as much on the wonderful, ?Now.? ?Darkest hour now, you have learned me now. / You have shown me now, I am fond of this.? So, if you want to keep sleeping, go ahead and listen back to those Big Thief albums for the 4,000th time. The only one who?s missing out is you. ? DA
Look what i f ound
Rel a t io ns h If there was a judgment call to be made based on the covers of records I?ve found while digging through the trash at my former place of employment (a notorious, independent Bay Area record store), I?d say male-female relations were not easy back in the 1950s. By Andrew K. Lau
ip Tr o ubl es !
Xa vier Cug a t: Q uiet Music Al Gold ma n & His O rchestra : Q uie In May of 1952, Columbia Records began releasing a series of records entitled Quiet Music that lasted for 10 volumes, the final being released just over a year later. These records were made up of the most inoffensive music on the planet at that time. (See installment six of this column for a closer look.) Yet, for the covers to the first eight volumes, the label used close-up, stark, almost Noir-ish images of women being seemingly held against their will by a man. Volume one finds a woman being pushed against a wall from behind; Volume four has a woman either thrown onto a bed or forcibly woken; three has a woman?s face being held by masculine hands, her mouth tense, teeth bared as if she?s preparing for a hit. Volumes six and seven are shown here, the former being especially startling: the straight arm inches from her face, the palm flat against the wall, her head tilted up to avoid contact and turned as far away as the wall will allow. A definite forced stop, you can almost hear her gasp. I guess he really wants her to listen to this record ? that, or she knows too much. 30
c Vol. 6 (Columb ia , 1952) iet Music Vol. 7 (Columb ia , 1952) Either way, I don?t care how smooth Xavier Cugat was. No one is relaxing in this photo. The images are credited to Dirone Photography, who did most of Columbia?s cover work in the early to mid-1950s, a reputable photographer and not some in-house hack. Aside from the troubling overtones, the photos themselves are well done, actually: minimal, brash, eye-catching with an emphasis on shadows. This series is also quite different from their other covers, which are bright and suggest movement. These signify a grim stillness. Maybe they were originally taken for another project, a series of fetish photos, perhaps, and were used at the last minute? But why use such obvious images of domination for a record consisting of ?quiet music?? Again, we?ll never know: A year later, these eight titles were reissued and Dirone?s photos were replaced by a more innocuous image of a woman lounging in front of a hi-fi. 31
Ken Griffin: O n the Ha ppy Side (Columb ia , 1960) My oh my, what do we have here? These two ladies are seemingly unaware their respective dates are giving one another the eye. I mean, they are really looking at each other. As a title, On the Happy Side, is a fantastic double entendre; the women are happy, and the men look like they?re going to be happy sooner or later, once they ditch these clingy dames. Plus, the banner reading ?Ken Griffin at the Organ? is just too good to be true ? maybe one of those guys is actually Ken! The track titles don?t lend much to the cover ?s mystery (except for the final one, ?My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time?), which only underscores the fact that the image and music aren?t supposed to correspond, a common occurrence as we?ll soon discover. So, as with many of the records here, the question is not ?how? but ?why.? Even more bizarre, to me at least, are the balloons. Is that what people did for fun back then?
Bob b y Ha ckett: Rendezvous (Ca pitol, 1957) There was a time when cheating on your wife was not just quietly accepted, it was expected. Capitol Records, a major label, mind you, was so behind this theory they designed an album of music specifically for the adulterer. Oh sure, this cover could be depicting a husband and wife getting away for a weekend without their damn kids ? but if that?s the case, this record would?ve been called Escape. No, this alludes to something more subversive, as a few of the song titles make clear (?We Kiss In a Shadow,? ?Two Cigarettes In the Dark?). Hackett?s lilting music was perfect for setting a romantic mood, so the label must?ve envisioned men walking into hotels with a secretary on one arm and this album tucked under the other. More importantly, this record ignores the darker side of adultery: the wives left at home taking care of the kids while their husbands were ?working late.? If the brain trust at Capitol were smart, they would?ve really milked this idea and come up with a companion record, aimed at the lonely housewife with a snappy little title like Bitter Tears or something. 33
Shep Field s a nd His O rchestra : Cockta ils, Dinner & Da ncing (Jub ilee, 1957) The look of utter contempt on this woman?s face might just tell the story of how this date is going; heck, she isn?t even looking at the gentleman across the table from her. Jubilee?s art department must?ve thought she looked alluring instead of disgusted. In order to sell this record, a concept is created with the back liner notes in the guise of a three-act play (ACT I ? Cocktails, ACT II ? Dinner, ACT III ? Dancing), where a guy keeps trying to convince his date to stay with him longer. A kind of ?Baby It?s Cold Outside? scenario. Despite her attempts to leave, he finally gets what he wants after a night of persistence. Any woman reading this stuff may just presume her role in this situation is to grin and bear it, regardless of her instincts. By the way, the front cover claims this was recorded in ?superlaphonic,? a term Jubilee Records obviously made up (translation: fabricated stereo), but may best describe the woman?s mood: ?How?d your date go last night, Betty?? ?Ugh, not good. We hadn?t even finished our first drink before he was making me feel all superlaphonic. I couldn?t wait to leave.? 34
Da niel De Ca rlo & His O rchestra : O ne Night of Love... (Decca , 1956(?) And finally, we have? this. Honestly, I don?t even know what to say here. De Carlo, a survivor of a WWII German concentration camp, probably had nothing to do with this cover ? although given his past, it?d make sense if he had. Instead, the blame/credit probably lands with Decca Records? in-house art department. If we?re going by catalog numbers, this is his first for the label. While the other two covers aren?t nearly as visually nightmarish, they do continue a theme: This Is Romance has a young man chasing a young woman behind a tree, and Moonlight Madness shows a woman wearing a black leotard and fishnets reaching out and tweaking the whiskers of someone dressed in an ill-fitting tiger suit. Look, I?m no Felinologist, but this is all beyond the pale. This is certainly one of the creepiest and most bizarre record covers I?ve seen. I mean, this was acceptable attire for a dinner date back then? I?ll leave it to you, dear reader, to come up with your own scenario, but at least he?s not holding a balloon. ? AKL
New Cl as s i c
An Am eri can Band Drive-By Truckers Gritty Profiles In Southern Courage By Greg Gaston
Unless you?ve been living unplugged since the 2016 election, we all recognize how the last three years have destabilized us as a country ? not to mention segregated us according to our political beliefs. Though there has been some provocative protest music in response, as a whole it?s been dismally lacking. That?s why it?s heartening to go back and rediscover the Drive-By Truckers?2016 album, American Band. This record is one of the most defiant, prescient, and pissed-off dynamo song collections of the last few years to confront our country?s fracture head-on. Raised in Alabama, and based in Athens, GA., this veteran Southern band has been delving into social musical commentary for the last 20 years. But with American Band, their 11 release, Patterson Hood?s and Mike Cooley?s songwriting reaches a new dimension with much more pointed and political lyricism. Considering their Red-state roots, the Truckers?more explicitly left-of-center approach requires a fearless honesty in their treatment of issues ranging from gun rights, race, and class divisions to the creeping, corrosive rot worming its way through the heart of America like some zombie virus. Even the record?s black-and-white cover foretells the band?s more realistic style here. Instead of artist Wes Freed?s Gothic, caricature covers ? which have graced every DBT album up to this one ? there?s a documentary-like photo of an American flag lowered to half-mast, depicting our 38
national malaise, anxiety, and overall state of FUBAR-ness. From the opening salvo, ?Ramon Casiano,? the Truckers abandon subtlety in favor of a full-throated indictment of the NRA and its toxic presence in our lives. Like most Cooley songs, it?s a lean barrage of whiplash guitar and smart ass wordplay. Cooley recalls the disturbing genesis of the NRA, back when Harlon Carter, soon-to-be leader of the NRA, murdered a Hispanic kid in 1931 and hardly served any prison time for it. This subject hits all the trigger buttons, from border and militia policies to white resentment and minority profiling. But best of all, the song rocks, and holds its own rhythmic fire against the weighty lyrics. Like many a Southern rock band, DBT uses the quintessential three-guitar attack ? but thankfully, they don't jam. Instead, Cooley, Hood, and Jay Gonzalez rip and grind on guitar, reminiscent of the Stones' six-string weaving, in full service of their four-to-five minute epics. One of DBT?s core strengths is their formidably varied and vital songwriting. Most bands don?t have two masterful songwriters, like Cooley and Patterson Hood, contributing a steady stream of nuggets to every record. In their peak years, around 2003?s Decoration Day and The Dirty South, they even had a third ringer, the great Jason Isbell, adding his own gems to their canon.American Band shines especially because neither songwriter dominates; both work in competitive tandem, upping the song-quality ante with almost every cut.
Thi s r ecor d i s one of t he most defi ant , pr esci ent , and pi ssed-off dynamo song coll ect i ons of t he l ast few year s t o confr ont our count r y?s fr act ur e head-on.
Hood?s angst spills over on pieces like ?Ever South? and ?Guns of Umpqua.? The former is a loping drawl of a song that parallels the Hood family?s recent move from Georgia to Portland, Oregon with his Irish ancestors? emigration to Ellis Island. In ?Guns,? behind a minor key, acoustic jaunt, Hood contrasts a gorgeous fall day in Oregon with a school shooting as he takes the point of view of a veteran soldier helping students barricade a classroom door. He based the song on a real shooting at a local community college, which may not be a surprise. Hood?s gruff tenor surges with pathos ? this is not reportage, but a full-on, first-hand experience of our weekly national shooting lotto. The last lines resonate as he repeats, ?Heaven?s calling my name from the hallway outside the door.?
What 's r em ark abl e her e i s t hat , whil e t he t opi cs mi ght feel heav y-handed and didact i c at t im es, t he songs som ehow don?t .
What's remarkable here is that, while the topics might feel heavy-handed and didactic at times, the songs somehow don?t. Hood specializes in personal vignettes and gritty tales that usually tear at the heart of the South in some way, whether subverting stereotypes or reveling in pride of place. His Springsteenesque characters try to make a life in today's tribal America, despite knowing just how screwed they are. 40
In "What It Means," the record's centerpiece, Hood uses the Trayvon Martin tragedy, black youth killed by Florida vigilante, to reveal a larger truth about the country. The hoarse regret in his voice stains every word as he sums up the toll of all the rogue police shootings, and how we?ve become numb to the damage we inflict on each other. His stream-of-consciousness, poetic rant is backed by a soulful acoustic shuffle, as the band stretches out into one of 2016?s gutsiest songs. Hood sums it up with, ?Cause we?re standing at the precipice of prejudice and fear / We trust science just as long as it tells us what we want to hear / We want our truths all fair and balanced as long as our notions lie within it / There?s no sunlight in our asses and our heads are stuck up in it.?
Bookending elections, DBT have a new record coming out in 2020, The Unraveling, which further documents a country's moral decay. If Southern-fried swagger, righteous anger, and compassionate empathy seem in short supply these days, consider DBT?s example. American Band stands as the Drive-By Truckers' most furious and sincere record. They mean it, man, and that?s clear on every anthemic song. ? GG
Aryan Aztlรกn : Th of Aztec Naz
h e Bizarre W orld zi Black Metal Su b-h eadin gs
Th e dist u r bin g polit ical r ise of t h e global f ar -r igh t in r ecen t year s has often been accompanied by intersections between fascism and pop culture, ranging from the incongruent to the absurd. But even for those who?ve been desensitized to Nazi furries and Nazi vaporwave, the phrase ?Aztec Nazi black metal? might still raise a few eyebrows. By Alex Gen dler
Of course, the black metal scene is no stranger to far-right ideology. The story of bored Norwegian teens, who decided garden-variety Satanism wasn?t edgy enough and went on to commit a series of murders and arsons in the ?90s, has now become the stuff of multiple books, feature films, and documentaries. In more recent years, the locus of National Socialist Black Metal (NSBM) has shifted to Eastern Europe, and even bands closer to the metal mainstream have come under fire for questionable associations. But given that we in the West tend to use the label ?Nazism? interchangeably with ?white supremacy,? the presence of not just a single band but an entire music scene built almost entirely of non-white people around this ideology merits a closer look. Though the bands themselves range from all over Latin America, and even parts of the United States, many are associated with the
Mexico-based Organizaciรณn Nacional Socialista
Peruvian band Sondor, Incan) mythology, and
Pagana (ONSP) ? a ?political collective? dating
while most are in Spanish, some use the
back to 1999 that mostly functions as a record
indigenous Nahuatl language. Some bands even
label. In true underground fashion, many of the
perform dressed as Aztec warriors or stage ritual
releases are only available on hard-to-find
sacrifices as part of the live show.
cassettes (now making a comeback in the noise
So far, you?d be forgiven for thinking this was just
scene as well), and while ONSP?s Bandcamp page
a local folk metal scene reflecting an innocent
was recently purged, some songs can still be
interest in the culture and traditions of
found on YouTube. The overall sound is rooted
pre-Columbian America. But with a quick perusal
heavily in the Norwegian second wave, with raw
of album covers and song titles, all semiotic hell
production, buzzsaw guitars, and blast beats.
breaks loose. Aztec eagle, jaguar, and serpent
Tlateotocani keeps the formula simple with a
designs are interspersed with similarly-styled
straightforward brutal blitz, while others like
swastikas. SS soldiers stand proudly alongside
Maquahuitl add more epic melodies over a
obsidian-wielding warriors in feathered
mid-tempo wall of sound. The most distinctive
headdress. And songs like ?H.H. (Hail
feature, however, is the use of traditional pan
Huitzilopochtli)? and ?Erradicaciรณn Judaica (Raza
flutes by bands like Eztlacuani and Yaocuicatl, the
Innecesaria)? leave little to the imagination.
latter adding occasional clean and female vocals
So how to make sense of this strange mashup?
to the mix. Thematically, the songs revolve
The simplest explanation would be mere
around Aztec and Mayan (or, in the case of
aesthetic influence ? these bands all took
Though it may seem like a bizarre artifact of the internet age, this worldview has deep historical roots. Cultural syncretism has been a feature of far-right ideology ever since its birth amidst the romantic nationalism and occult mysticism of the 19th century, as various European nationalists sought to establish kinship with the world?s other ancient cultures, from India to Mongolia. It was one of these theories, positing an early Indo-European migration from Central Asia across the Bering Strait, that led Hitler to classify Native Americans as Aryans ? a historical footnote explicitly referenced by Milwaukee-based Sacrificial Massacre. Indeed, an often-forgotten element of Nazi ideology was its attempt to cast itself as an ally of the world?s colonized peoples against the established global empires of Britain and France ? which still finds inspiration from European bands like Graveland and Absurd, adopting the use of Nazi iconography while adding their own indigenous flavor. But the ideological connection runs deeper. Like their white counterparts, the bands of ONSP idealize indigenous paganism and a return to blood-and-soil tradition against the ?degeneracy? of the modern world, while casting Christianity as a force of ?globalism? at the ultimate root of which we find the usual Semitic supervillains. This is what allows Mexican bands to write songs about slaughtering European colonizers while expressing affinity with European nationalists, just as black separatist groups like the Nation of Islam once found common ground with the KKK. Spanish conquistadors, in this view, were not representatives of white European culture but agents of a corrosive Judaic conspiracy which, according to Burzum?s Varg Vikernes, claimed
echoes in the developing world today. And ironically, it is metal?s global appeal as an international language of rage and alienation that has helped spread NSBM across the world, from Latin America to Malaysia. In recent years, there has been a well-publicized pushback against the proliferation and toleration of Nazism within the metal community. But while European bands using SS runes and sieg heils make easily identifiable villains, there is far less of an idea what to do with artists who are not only brown but wrap their far-right ideology in the same sort of decolonization and anti-globalization rhetoric found on the left. And as the world order continues to crumble, while ideas and images spread more rapidly than ever before, we can expect to see more such strange chimeras cobbled together from the corpses of history and animated by the anxieties of modernity. ? AG
European pagans as its first victims. 45
I l l ust r at ion By Paul Fal chet t a
Smok e Si gnal s
W h at Is an d W h at S h ou l d N ev er B e: Ex p l or i n g T ap ew or m T h e U p t ap p ed P ot en t i al of t h e Gr eat es t 9 0 s S u p er g r ou p t o N ev er Rel eas e a S on g By Jeffrey Th iessen
Being a rabid Nine Inch Nails fan from 1992
accepted them as serviceable placeholders by
(release of Broken) to 1995 or so (about a year
proxy (for more on Nothing Records and how it
removed from the gripping afterglow The
affected my musical journey, click here).
Downward Spiral provided all of its adherents, and we rewarded Reznor handsomely with our militant commitment to NIN merch) was quite a run. Life was good! For many of us, The Downward Spiral provided a thrilling, even logical progression from the death rattle of grunge. Indeed, Reznor ?s lyrical vision was more conceptual in nature than the heroin-stained genre that preceded his revolutionary new sound, and he felt more at home with Pro Tools than a roaring Hagstrom. When it was all said and done, for many of us it wasn?t overly difficult to seamlessly transfer our faux-suburban depression Cobain and co. allowed us to collectively cultivate, and allow it to migrate over to Reznor ?s industrial hellscape.
We were a lost bunch, and our jonesing had begun to take ugly forms. Furthermore, industrial was gaining serious momentum, as the mid-latter part of the 90s saw big releases from KMFDM, Rob Zombie, Filter, and dozens more unmemorable acts openly coping NIN and mostly coming out ahead for it. (Stabbing Westward, Gravity Kills, the Tea Party?s lame Transmission album to name a few). Marilyn Manson?s Antichrist Superstar was unleashed onto the world on Reznor ?s Nothing label to boot. It seemed anybody who could make a half-decent industrial album was wasting no time in doing so, all as a direct offshoot of the incredible effect The Downward Spiral had on music at the time.
Sure, his Marquis De Sade fixation tended to manifest itself in some corny ways at times throughout TDS, but the album more than made up for those moments with its rampant nihilism and post-apocalyptic sonics. All of a sudden we had a record that was equal parts Nietzsche and dick references ? things were looking up!
While all this was going on, Reznor was on an intense PR tour for what seemed like years. And who could blame him for a victory lap or two; after all, he thumbed his nose at his TVT label, recording the vicious Broken entirely without their knowledge, and following it up with a complete decimation of every preconceived notion of what a commercially
That?s when things got a little dicey for us card-carrying NIN fans. A couple years flew by with no sign of a follow-up anywhere in sight. We were reduced to gobbling up the remix-album table scraps Reznor would toss our way in a feeble attempt to buy him some time. When those ran out, many of us ran in droves to Reznor ?s Nothing Records label, mindlessly buying whatever we could with that logo on the back. Those truly thirsty souls desperately hoped for something resembling NIN quality, while the realistic ones grudgingly 48
viable album could look like when The Downward Spiral sold over four million units. He deserved to invade our magazine covers, even if it meant us sometimes rolling our eyes out of our heads at quotes about David Bowie taking his calls and still wanting to kill himself. By 1997 or so, all of us NIN apologists basically had to accept the fact that Trent seemed to be in writer ?s block hell, and optimism for a new NIN album had been systematically eradicated with every random side project he took on, each
interpreted as one more nail in the coffin of our
Now, objectively examining the ingredients in
much ballyhooed TDS follow up. To us,
the recipe, it?s nothing short of mind-blowing
composing the Natural Born Killers and Lost
that so many of us were genuinely
Highway soundtracks could be argued as
over-the-moon about the Tapeworm concept.
acceptable detours from new music, but
But if nothing else, hindsight will allow this to
learning he also agreed to score the video
be viewed as a perfect illustration of how ugly
game Quake really left morale in tatters.
group-think can get when things feel truly
Dire times indeed, and looking back on it, I?m reminded of Michael J. Fox?s quote to the commander-in-chief, spoken memorably in The American President: ?People want leadership. They're so thirsty for it they'll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there's no water, they'll drink the sand.? Well, Tapeworm was our sand.
bleak. Anselmo+Reznor+Keenan wasn?t a ?can?t miss? ? it was a textbook ?can?t fucking hit.? Instead, the question we should?ve been asking ourselves was this: How many drugs does it actually take for one of them to say something along the lines of ?Hey, I just heard Pantera?s ?Fucking Hostile?and I think Phil could bring something to the table for Maynard?s new prog demo he?s fleshing out.?
To be more clear, in seemingly every interview he was doing around this time, Reznor found a way to shoehorn in a tantalizing quote regarding the mysterious new side-project called Tapeworm. It was impossible to not be more than a little intrigued by this motley crew supergroup he was describing. Essentially this was the early form: Reznor, Danny Lohner, Maynard James Keenan, Page Hamilton of Helmet, and wait for it? Phil Anselmo of
Maybe at times we were close to asking the hard questions, but then like clockwork, a perfectly timed picture of them hanging in the studio would get released and totally throw us off the scent. Seriously, that?s how debilitated we had become. I can only imagine what other fanbases thought of us when they saw us passionately dissecting leaked Napster Tapeworm demos that were clearly fake.
Pantera. Yes, this is the sort of shit he was
This was the sad reality for so many NIN fans
seriously peddling in the pages of Spin when he
until finally, mercifully, The Fragile was released
topped their most vital artist list in 1997. But
five years after TDS, on September 21, 1999.
Tapeworm wasn?t just mentioned in a one-off
The wait was worth it, as the sprawling double
interview. Instead Reznor took any opportunity
album proved to be a bonafide masterpiece. All
he could to gush about his new band, relying
of a sudden that project with the guy from Tool
on grandiose proclamations and abstract
was ancient history, a passionate fling that felt
musical concepts to really get our blood
so bizarre and shameful, like it didn?t actually
flowing. Not long after, the gang grew bigger as
happen. Or best case scenario, a mutant form
Tommy Victor of Prong and Atticus Ross had
the rope from the treehouse land at their feet. By this point, we were all-in.
In theory, The Fragile should?ve effectively buried Tapeworm. After all, in our heart of hearts, we all knew this band would never 49
actually put anything out, much less a full
our blood sacrifice until that fateful day on
album (and time has proven this assumption to
September 21, 1999. Our meal ticket never
be correct). But somehow this mutant managed
really did make any sense, but when you?re that
to survive long after, and actually continued to
hungry, you don?t pore over the ingredients.
be fairly consistently referenced in forums and
You stuff your face and anybody who questions
interviews until 2004, when Reznor had enough
the taste is thrown outta the kitchen.
and announced it was ?dead for the
Tapeworm, I salute you. The hero we needed,
foreseeable future.? And just in case there were
but not the one we deserve. ? JT
any stragglers holding onto any Hail Mary hope for Tapeworm greatness, he went on to add ?the bottom line is this: If the music had been great, all of this probably could have been worked out.? Well there goes the neighborhood. Truthfully, we?ll never really know how close we were to hearing Tapeworm?s music. Lohner did go on the record saying their debut was effectively done and waiting to be mixed, but the different labels involved created brutal, albeit predictable levels of red tape. If I?m being honest, I don?t ever want any of those recordings to see the light of day. Now that the dust has settled and Reznor ?s legacy in music is safely locked down, it?s easy to look back and see Tapeworm was never about the music, or the potential of a game-changing supergroup album. Instead, Tapeworm served a much more noble role: It gave us NIN fans something to believe in, at a time when we knew we would be outright suckers to believe in anything. It was a smokescreen that transcended itself into a living being. What started out as a welcome distraction rapidly built up to a fool?s paradise we felt was close enough to reach out and touch. The idea, a completely absurd one, had become the institution. And since we had been broken down and reduced to heartless mercenaries by this point, we gamely offered up Tapeworm for 50
Cov er St or y
So Out I t ?s In! No Recess! Exam in es a Mom en t In Tim e W h en Un popular Becam e th e New Popular By An drew K. Lau
Th ey all st ar ed. Thousands of tired eyes gazing up at the stage wondering what?s next. The crowd, an estimated half-million the previous day, had dwindled considerably overnight. Now the sun was rising and the ragged holdouts who refused to give up, give in, and go back to their normal lives of jobs, school, or more bumming around, had already seen a lot over the weekend. They were waiting for the last act, the headliner to this now historical rock festival, the apex of the 1960s counterculture. It wasn?t the apex, though, it was the end. The industry had already grabbed it by the neck and was dragging it into the mainstream. Worse yet, the individuality that made the movement so diverse three years previous had evaporated; now everyone looked the same in their drab, baggy clothes, staring into the same void. Many of the bands, too, had congealed into a frustrating standardization of their former selves, many relying on lazy, drawn-out solos and wayward harmonies. No one seemed to notice. A thousand pair of tired eyes waited to see the headliner, but another band was in the way. They watched as exhausted stagehands had set up the ragtag collection of minimal equipment ? amps, an electric piano, bass, guitar, drum kit. They noticed a handful of strangely dressed guys up there in tight jeans ending above the ankle, white socks, loafers, white t-shirts, and leather jackets. One guy had on a vest, no shirt, black pants, red socks, sunglasses, and a pageboy cap. Then there was someone in a striped tank-top and sunglasses, aggressively chewing gum and combing back his greasy hair. Oh, the hair! All of them had it slicked back. The sneering drummer in a black t-shirt, jeans, and thin moustache sits behind his small kit, hits two downbeats and a drum roll. Those thousand skeptical eyes suddenly widen as three guys wearing gold lamĂŠ suits and matching boots boldly trot out to the lip of the stage, dramatically stretch out their arms, then slowly bring them down, folding them over their groins, heads bowed. The rest of the band stands still. Those not holding instruments have their arms folded defiantly across their chests, heads held high. Tough guys in stopped time. The crowd is restless ? some cheer, many laugh, but most stand still, mouths agape in disbelief. No one was in the mood for West Side Story. They all stared.
The tension is cut when the guy wearing the red socks brings the mic to his mouth and belts out a deep-toned: ?Yip-yip-yip-yip-yip-yip? ? and these hoods kick into their opening song, a frantic version of the Silhouettes?1957 hit, ?Get A Job,? in double time. For the next 27 minutes, greasers bum-rush Hippie Valhalla and churn out 10-year-old R&B and doo-wop covers at breakneck speed, complete with choreographed moves. There was wild gesticulating, and at one point, several of them were all doing The Twist. The Twist on the hippie rock festival stage! And they were serious. Their cover of Mark Dinning?s 1959 song ?Teen Angel? involves over-the-top drama from the singer, who was down on one knee pleading to whomever. They do ?Wipeout,? ?Duke Of Earl,? and even ?Come Go With Me.? It was the past on stage, in the present, pointing to the future genres. Anyone looking back now can see it: obviously punk, but also minimalism, no-wave, even theatrical rock with a conceptualized narrative and character-driven stage presence. More than anything else, it looked like a giant Bronx cheer to the counterculture. These guys didn?t adhere to the rote methodology of the other performers that weekend; they were ragged, fast, and clever. Most of all, they were fun. So out they were in! Sha-Na-Na were one of the most revolutionary bands of that historic weekend. Bruce Clarke was one of the band?s guitarists from their inception until 1973. ?I like your overall thesis, and I do think you could look at what we did and draw a line to the punk aesthetic, but? ? he tells me over the phone and then adds with an audible grin ? ?we weren?t trying to make any kind of statement right at that moment. It wasn?t as if we had a consensus that we?re sick and tired of late-?60s hippie music and we wanted to get in its face. We loved that shit!? Born out of The Kingsmen, an acapella singing group formed in the mid-?60s at Columbia University (and no relation to the band of the same name who recorded ?Louie Louie?), Sha-Na-Na began life in 1969 and quickly became a featured attraction at Steve Paul?s The Scene, a hip club in Manhattan where these kids crossed paths with industry bigwigs. A hotshot producer fell for them immediately and called his friend, a hyper-talented guitarist and cultural icon, to bear witness. He, too, became a fan. This is also where the organizers of a certain upstate New York festival saw them as well. ?We?d do this show two times a night and they?d go nuts,? Clarke laughs, almost still disbelieving it himself after all these years. ?The thing about that show is that it never flopped, it never could flop ? it automatically got people dancing on tables. We did plenty of bad shows, because you?re not on every night, but there was never a time when the audience didn?t go nuts.? As quickly as June of that year, Cashbox, a popular music industry trade magazine, was already talking them up: ?They have been packing the house for over a week with people coming back several times,? they wrote of the band?s run at The Scene. ?Anyone who looked at the show,? continues Clark, ?and said, ?Gee, that?s really different 56
from that shoe-gazing hippie music? ,?that contrast was there for anyone to grab. And I?m sure that had consequences in the fullness of time.? As one of the few remaining original members still performing with the group, guitarist Henry Gross has a rather jaundiced view of that historic festival appearance. ?People saw it at the time as a great moment where people got together and made this thing, which they did and that?s true,? his Brooklyn accent punctuating this words. ?[But] if it was all about peace, love, and respecting your brother, why did Sha-Na-Na?s check for $300 bounce? It was a business thing. People showed up, it rained, it was uncomfortable, they persevered to see the hit acts, which were promoted in the same way [Rolling Stone publisher] Jann Wenner promoted his philosophy and his particular take, like it or not.? The term ?retro? wasn?t popular in 1969, but that doesn?t mean it didn?t exist. This was nostalgia and it wasn?t even that old. A year earlier, a Los Angeles-based musician persuaded his band to record an album of doo-wop songs. The result sold as marginally as their previous three edgy, hard-to-define albums and was misunderstood by many as being a pretentious send-up of the genre. Doo-wop was the music of the band leader ?s youth, and this love lay at the core of the record. Even at that early stage in his career, he was a devout cynic, so it?s easy to see how the record was misinterpreted. There was no mistake in Sha-Na-Na?s delivery, however, nor was there anyway someone could read their act as being cynical, even with the humorous mannerisms. Even their goofiness was honest. The ridiculousness of it all is what made it so amazing. And ballsy. It takes a certain amount of courage to pull off ?Teen Angel? in front of thousands of tired, impatient eyes. Sha-Na-Na, like that band leader from LA, were unapologetic. People often speak of the counterculture of the ?60s as being a direct response to the ?boring old ?50s.? If so, that makes Sha-Na-Na?s act even more powerful. Suddenly, here were 12 guys in the heart of lazy old Hippie Town pulling it all back into the forefront. This wasn?t about being contrarian, it was basking in the rough glory of slap-dash early R&B and doo-wop. How much more counter could a band get at that time? Once the film version of that festival was released a year later, with Sha-Na-Na doing a downright frenetic version of ?At the Hop,? they took their nostalgia schtick and inadvertently sold it to the world. Typically, many dismissed the work as amateurish, a joke. Cashbox, which had praised the band months earlier, did an about-face, contradicting themselves in a live review while Sha-Na-Na opened for two ultra-hip Bay Area acid-rock heavyweights a month later: ?Upon witnessing their act, we weren?t sure where they were coming from,? they sneered, ?We?re still not.? Meeting indifference was Sha-Na-Na?s forte. Part of their act was brilliant use of bait-and-switch ? part theater, part wind-up. ?I?ll never forget the first time we played the Fillmore East,? says Gross. They were opening for two popular acts two weeks before their big festival appearance. ?We walked out on stage spitting and cursing, [drummer] Jocko [Marcellino] had a chain and the kids were all tripping and stoned and they started yelling, 57
?Fascists! Nazis! Get off the stage!?Jocko went back and did a drum roll, and we all got on one knee and the three guys came out in gold lamĂŠ suits, and we started [?Get a Job?] and ? I wanna tell you ? everybody in the place, from the first row to the last [thought], ?These guys just had me bigger than I?ve ever been had.?And most of these kids were a little too young to know [that music] but, man, their older brother did, though. This was their moment to celebrate what they just missed.? Hitting the stage with a sense of bravado was a perfect metaphor for the resistance they would face during those early shows. That missed moment Gross spoke of slowly but surely grew, until soon the ensuing decade?s biggest hits were 1950s-based narratives: Grease, Happy Days, American Graffiti, and, let?s not forget, Sha-Na-Na?s own prime-time variety show that aired on ABC for four years starting in 1977. The act to follow Sha-Na-Na on that oh-so historic weekend, the same one who had witnessed the band at The Scene months earlier, was perhaps the biggest act in rock at that time; a guitarist of unlimited talent. Yet his 15-song, 90-minute set was just more of the same kind of boring so prevalent that weekend. Sure, he was talented. But his endless jamming was as dull and tired as those thousand pairs of eyes that had waited so patiently all weekend to see him. But that?s what the people wanted, so? Yet his 15-song, 90-minute set was just more of the same kind of endless jamming so prevalent that weekend; faded, threadbare sounds to match the faded threadbare bell bottom jeans those tired-eyed concertgoers were wearing. Everything sounded the same, everything looked the same. But that?s what the people wanted, so... It didn?t matter. The genie was already out of the bottle. All movements become predictable ? that includes punk, minimalism, prog. All of it. The only way to keep it fresh is to keep things moving; it?s a natural progression of popular tastes and trends, when one scene looks to be growing stale or becoming co-opted by business, you throw in something new, even if that something is old. This isn?t to suggest without Sha-Na-Na there?d wouldn?t be Laverne & Shirley or even the Stray Cats. That would?ve happened anyway. But Sha-Na-Na were at the forefront and unintentionally cast a light to the upcoming trends. By the time they left the stage that morning in their personalized, choreographed way (cartoonish exaggerated high-step running, arms flailing overhead) the fix was in and everyone understood. The power and glory of fun, simple rock ?n?roll was, once again, the next breath of fresh air. So out they were in! The new-old was now and it was ragged and imperfect, which made it perfect. The amount of dedication and force of will displayed during their 27-minute set was obvious to even the most slack-jawed, faded bell-bottom jean wearing dullard. The reaction from the thousand assembled tired eyes and grubby faces was perfect. They all cheered. ? AKL 58
Ar t !
r eBoy Ragnar Kjartansson Reminds Us It Is Beauty That Is Going to Save the World By Emma Falk Dennis
What are days for? Days are where we live. They come, they wake us Time and time over. They are to be happy in: Where can we live but days? Ah, solving that question Brings the priest and the doctor In their long coats Running over the fields. ? Philip Larkin
The first thing that was brought to mind upon seeing them running over the fields, was this poem, ?Days.? I first read this poem many years ago, and had at once connected it to the uncertainty of existing. To my mind, Larkin is riffing on the angst of life ? the unknowing, trying to understand the unknowing, the anguishes of the everyday, and the dangers we are sometimes confronted with when we try to run away from them. The mental disturbances and illness we are often met with when we try to hurry to the edge of what is real. And yet, the running I was seeing here seemed to be making an entirely different poetic point. In a gallery in Boston, I was bearing witness to this merry group of friends, sprinting exultantly over rolling green grounds outside a grand, old mansion in upstate New York. Running with wide grins and in various stages of undress. Running with haste, but not from anything. Running together, towards nothing in particular. It appeared to me that, through the act of creation, this group had manifested some ultimate joy inside of their own days, by first acknowledging and sitting with sadness. And then working through it. Together. With music. And a cannon. 62
This was The Visitors ? a nine-screen installation by performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson ? one of the most transformative and uplifting odes to human connection I?ve ever seen. For the uninitiated, Kjartansson is an Icelandic artist and former frontman of rock outfit Trabant. His pieces tend to center around repetition ? phrases, actions, chords ? transforming small things into overwhelming experiences. There is a lot of humor and humanity threaded throughout his work, and The Visitors, probably his most famous, is no exception. I had never heard the man?s unpronounceable name when I hopped a train up the Northeast Corridor from NYC for the express purpose of visiting a specific exhibit on its final day of showing. I had no idea what I would be walking into. A good friend of mine just said, ?Trust me, you gotta see it.? I did some digging on the internet beforehand, and based on nothing more than a process of elimination ? there was only one piece I could find closing that weekend at the ICA in Boston ? I found the name of what I was searching for. After my midday arrival, I made a beeline for the exhibit, asking an attendant which floor I needed to be on. She seemed to have been asked the question many times before. Her response was automatic. ?Just up those stairs, through the corridor.? My guess is more than a few others had implored close friends to make the pilgrimage. Perhaps, before we go any further, I should say, there is something wonderful about knowing nothing of this piece before it is witnessed. For those who wish for the pure experience, stop reading now and let me be that good friend imploring you ? just find where it?s showing next and go see it. On the other hand, really the magic of something like this cannot be diminished by comment. And there is a lot I?d like to comment on. So for the curious, read on. I managed to come in at the perfect time. A new cycle of the nearly hour-long piece was just beginning. The room was dark, and suddenly one of the nine video screens lit up, showing a bald man in a waistcoat, headphones on, with a banjo, surrounded by books and sitting at a desk in a wood-paneled office inside of Rokeby Mansion in Upstate NY. One by one, the other screens turned on to show seven other musicians each in their own room, and their own set of headphones to connect them to the other players, instrument at the ready. Icelandic musician Kristín Anna sitting on a chair in a pink silk nightgown, an accordion on her lap, and a Fender Deluxe amp in the background. Kjartasnson?s long-time collaborator, Davíð Þór Jónsson at a piano in the ballroom with a whisky on the lip. Kjartan Sveinsson of Sigur Rós in the grand living room, pulling double duty with a bass around his shoulders and a second piano under his fingers. Ragnar himself in the bathtub next to a wall of peeling blue paint, an acoustic guitar laid over him. 63
The light in each room of Rokeby ? one of the few grand, albeit slightly crumbling estates left in the Hudson that hasn?t been turned into a museum or bought up by a Google billionaire ? was natural, and so some of the spaces came with their own sense of melancholy from the jump, just by virtue of the shadows. But this sense of sadness was brought to the fore by the first delicate notes of the group?s song. It slowly took shape around a riff Ragnar played and the initial lyrics, which he delivered in a faint and emotional voice, like a hollow bone ready to snap: ?You protect the word from me, as if I?m the only one who?s cruel.? This beginning was an instant pin on the map. It rooted everyone in the room to what they were seeing and hearing ? strong emotion that stopped previously milling gallery-goers in their tracks to stand in front of whichever screen pulled at them. I spent most of that first cycle looking at Kjartansson himself, captivated by this charismatic man in a tub, singing a sad song. As the piece continued, it began to build ? plucks of grand piano strings, accents on the drums. Even through the melancholia of lines like ?you?ve taken me to the bitter end,? there was an emerging sense of jubilation, hard-marked by the explosion of a perfectly timed cannon on another screen. This had been set off by a group on Rokeby?s porch, who were providing backing vocals for the piece. These people, I later discovered, were the homeowners, along with folks from the town and other usual suspects from the Rokeby mansion. There was a refrain we heard echoing over and over, present for the span of the whole piece, building upon itself as the performers?voices joined together: ?Once again, I fall into my feminine ways.? About halfway through, I noticed a great many of us observers joining in. It couldn?t be helped. Among us was a feeling made audible ? like our collective frayed edges were being sewn back together, threaded by this voluntary hum of strangers. ?Days,? the poem, although open to interpretation as all great works are, seems almost a steady reflection of the inevitable: no matter how happy we might feel in our lives at any given moment, existing is a struggle, and things can always be counted on to go bad at one turn or another. The Visitors, on the other hand, is almost like a tonic to be used when things surely sour. Kjartansson was in the midst of divorce when he created it ? in fact, the few lyrics he repeats throughout the piece were taken from a poem his ex-wife (artist Ă sdĂs Sif GunnarsdĂłttir) wrote about him. But, he was also hanging out at a grand mansion in a country he?d idolized, which at the time had a Black, liberal president in office. He talks about being imbued with a feeling of hope then, just by virtue of place and circumstance ? with his friends and the Rokeby community in a seemingly progressed America. But then, as we all know, things changed. 64
The Visitors itself takes its title from ABBA?s final album of the same name, an album which was a darker departure from their previous work and touched on many of the same themes as Kjartansson?s piece. The record was written against a backdrop of disintegrating love stories within the band ? and outside, the drama of the Cold War playing out on the world?s stage. It?s a beautiful, funny, and at many points uncomfortable record ? raw emotions creating worthy divots in the sound of a group known for their perfectionist polish. Among their work, it stands out as particularly poignant ? a musical offering made possible by the bond of four friends going through some real-life shit. Things change. Change may bring anguish. And the priest, and the doctor. But I think in Kjartasson?s piece is a small antidote, something to help us remember the good bits of being alive. A different kind of medicine, a lesser talked about form of spirituality: good ol? human connection. Love, fraternity, expression, and the beauty those things can forge into existence. When you put it all together, it?s just pure magic. And though potentially a lofty statement to make, it might just be what saves us all. I stayed to sit and listen through four more showings of The Visitors before the gallery closed for the evening. I wish I could have stayed longer. With each new influx of spectators, I felt a fresh sense of connection. I cried and sang and smiled widely with each new cycle of the gang heading out over that field behind Rokeby. It isn?t often one can watch something so lengthy, repeated so many times in quick succession, and feel an identical surge of emotions well up inside each time. But after all, overwhelming his audience by repetition is what Ragnar Kjartansson does best. ? EFD
At t he mov i es
Revisitin g Ryuich i Sakam oto's
Coda By Dan Alvarez
Ryu ich i Sak am ot o?s exqu isit e 2017 LP async begin s w it h an ot h er placid, gor geou s pian o lin e ? just the kind of contemplative, lonely melody that has become the legendary composer ?s calling card over his 40+ year career. But just before the one-minute mark, you realize something?s not right. Something is out of sync. His trusty piano starts to becomes overwhelmed with creeping walls of flotsam that first come in droplets before giving way to harsh waves of sound. That sonic image stuck with me as I watched Stephen Nomura Schible?s wonderful documentary on async and a pivotal time in the life of the man who made it. In 2014, Sakamoto was diagnosed with stage III oropharyngeal cancer, and the experience forced him to rethink his work and process. On ?andata,? you can almost hear him trying to play his way through the noise, steadfast in the belief that his piano will carry him through the oncoming storm. This time, however, it wouldn?t be the case. No longer would he be able to rely on music alone for salvation ? he?d need more. Coda is about cutting through all the noise and looking to connect. To connect with ourselves, our loved ones, our bodies, and crucially, the world around us. To connect with what is real. And when confronted with his own mortality, there became an even bigger urgency for Sakamoto to do all of those things. And that is what became async. This is a man who is famous for movie music, so no matter how much inner turbulence he was facing, it?s no surprise that much of the noise that disturbs Sakamoto is external. And nothing upsets him more than the state of the planet. Whether it?s the tsunami that hit his homeland in 2011 or the nuclear disaster that happened in that same year, much of Coda is set to the backdrop of the disastrous effects of climate change. There are beautiful passages of the film where Sakamoto ventures to the sites of these tragic events, including an especially touching one where he plays a piano that had been almost destroyed by the flood. It?s a metaphor for Sakamoto?s approach to the planet. Though he is clearly crushed by the critical state of the earth, he strives to not be crippled by it, lending his powerful 68
voice to protest against nuclear power and venturing out to seek inspiration from all the beauty the natural world still offers. The crunch of boots on fresh leaves, a toe tapping against some debris, the soothing sound of raindrops. To demonstrate their essential, restorative powers, he decided to sample those sounds and put them on ?async.? It wouldn?t be a film about Ryuichi Sakamoto ? to my ears, the finest piano composer of the last 30 years ? without plenty of ?Playing the Piano.? There are a handful of stunning performances in here, including a stirring recent version of ?Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence? and a 1999 rendition of ?Oppenheimer ?s Aria.? Importantly, there?s a ton of insight into his creative process. Watching him plunk through notes and play with early sketches of The Revenant soundtrack is revelatory for Sakamoto fans and illuminating for music and film lovers at large. Even listening to him talk about tuning the piano is fascinating as hell. This is a man who feels music so deeply and has a bottomless wealth of understanding about every aspect of its composition, construction, and performance. If you like music, you?ll be enthralled. There?s an especially powerful moment in Coda where Sakamoto stops to consider what really matters. He?s unsure whether he should grasp the moment to continue his life?s work or to trust his doctor ?s judgment that a couple of years off could lead to exponential gains down the road. It?s an impossible question with no clear answer, but it?s a choice he must make. I won?t tell you what he decides to do, but I will very gladly tell you that he?s been cancer-free for more than three years. Hopefully, he?ll be cancer-free for the next 30 years, too. ? DA
Book Rev i ews
Ta k i n g Li f e' s Dif f ic u l t Ex p er i en c es a n d Tu r n i n g Th em I n t o En t er t a i n m en t By Andrew K. Lau
As f ar as t h e m u sic bu sin ess is con cer n ed, t h er e?s n ot h in g w or se t h an a self -im por t an t m u sician . You know the type: those select few who, instead of handling the job of putting music into the world with humility and honor, succumb to their own boring self-interests and ruin everything. Since that?s often the case, we need to hold up and honor those musicians who also loathe their self-important colleagues. Having spent much of his adult life dealing with the stubborn, bitchy, angry Robinson brothers, former Black Crowes drummer, Steve Gorman, knows exactly what I?m talking about. Hard to Handle is the first book to detail the winding history of this group ? but, given what he spills here, it won?t be the last. Expect retaliatory books from one or both brothers who are, at times, lacerated by their former
drummer. They?ll certainly want to tell their side or at least try to defend themselves against Gorman?s brutal, often hilarious narrative. This isn?t just a take down, but also a solid history of a solid rock band often taken for granted outside of their fanbase. Gorman is diplomatic, even lovingly empathetic when it comes to his former bandmates?better personal attributes, equally upholding his respect for them as well as refusing to let their ego-driven lunacy go unchecked. While the drummer is forthright and self-effacing in regard to his own faults, his real strength lies in both his understanding of band/personality dynamics and the ability to articulate them on a level many readers will savor. It?s a testament to everyone else?s patience that the band lasted as long as they did, and Gorman?s undying respect for bassist Johnny Colt,
keyboardist Ed Harsch, and manager Pete Angelus is heartwarming. Best of all, Hard to Handle is extremely funny, with well-paced comedic timing. One chapter in particular ends with a quote from singer Chris Robinson; instead of hitting back with a retroactive zinger, Gorman smartly lets the statement hang on the page, allowing the reader to bask in the glow of ridiculousness. It?s this kind of small detail that makes the book so rewarding. Additionally, I haven?t read a book with as many ?fucks,? ?fucking,? and ?motherfuckers? in it since Miles Davis? autobiography, so be assured Hard to Handle is more conversational than scholarly revisionism. Since it opens at the end of the band?s run (specifically, in a 2014 car ride to Logan Airport which would be the three original members? last conversation together as bandmates), we know right away this group doesn?t end well. As with Bob Mehr ?s biography on The Replacements, 2016?s Trouble Boys, the reader is on constant alert for the always-looming, often self-imposed crash after a successful high point. In the end, The Black Crowes went out with a whimper, and Gorman wanted this book to be a heartfelt ending for the band, or as he puts it, ?a headstone? for their grave. While it?s a shame he had to deal with such turmoil for so long, I selfishly didn?t want the book to end. Brutally honest and hilarious, Hard to Handle is easily one of the best rock bios of the past few years. Another seemingly warm-hearted musician who has no time for pretentiousness, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist, Flea, has also decided to open up ? not about his band but about his
childhood. (It doesn?t take a cynic to see this is merely a lead-up to one, or maybe even two, more books from him.) The result, Acid for the Children, is an often-harrowing tale of a rudderless kid trying to figure out life in Melbourne, New York, and finally, Los Angeles, without much help from the adults in his life. For anyone reading who has kids of their own, this is a heartrendingly grim read, which makes Flea?s happy-go-lucky worldview all the more interesting. Employing different literary devices (song lyrics, italicized chunks of narrative where he breaks into more personal stream-of-consciousness ramblings) makes this read captivating, but also at times choppy and wildly uneven. In one section, he refers to a former employer as a "creep? after spending 10 pages detailing his own coke-shooting habit. Only someone with a giant heart like Flea can get away with that kind of duplicity. Memoirs can be a stale exercise for both writer and reader, but Flea does an incredible job of making his version as original as possible without losing focus. I found Acid for the Children depressing, however, maybe because I?m a parent. If anything, this could be used as a ?What Not To Do? manual for those thinking of starting a family. Of course, one could argue that without the strife, Flea wouldn?t be the person we know today. While that?s true, I?d much rather bargain for a safe childhood for every child than hope for a successful rock band to rise out of the ashes of even one troubled upbringing. I know that?s wishful thinking, but the world doesn?t need another Red Hot Chili Peppers or a Chris Robinson (we barely need the ones we already have), so let?s try for a world with happier kids instead. ? AKL
Caps ul e Recor d Rev i ews
An im al Collect ive Ballet Slippers [live albu m ] (Dom in o) Gr ade: B Live Animal Collective bootlegs are an acquired taste, to be sure; feedback, flubbed notes, ungainly yips, and yelps abound. The key phrase here ? see also the Fiery Furnaces' concert reality ? is "radical reinterpretation." This might be why I prefer Ballet Slippers to its source text, 2009's glossy, art-pop Merriweather Post Pavilion. It's mostly the same record, mostly, but it's weirder, messier, and deeper, dusted with audience whoops and acoustic idiosyncrasies. The tousling redeems the music, reinvigorating it with mystery: "Summertime Clothes" more ecstatic and excited, "Lion in a Coma" tripping thrillingly over its own feet, haphazard, "Guys Eyes" especially psychoactive. Those dancing skeletons are on the cover for a reason. ? Raymond Cummings
Bat t les Juice B Crypts (War p) Gr ade: C Juice B Crypts is Battles?fourth album
and fourth iteration of ensemble artists anchored by John Steiner and Ian Williams, and is the first to be recorded in their adopted hometown of Brooklyn. An ode to or inspired by the borough, elements both analog and synthetic crash into each other at uncomfortable angles much like rush hour commuters on a packed L train. There are key tracks (IZM featuring Shabazz Palaces is one) that I?d listen to alone, but it?s hard to sit with the whole album that has so much at odds with each other in individual tracks. If you want to impress a friend who is into building oscilloscopes, this record is for you. ? Amanda Scigaj
Beck Hyperspace (Capit ol) Gr ade: B Hyperspace continues Beck's journey into a Negative Zone of pop blankness ? a no-man?s-land where personality is illusion or vice-versa. He?s been this for so long now that it?s who he?s always been. He?s at least moved past Morning Phase?s chrome-brushed ambient and Colors? anthemic forced glee into a gear nodding at those great Dadaist stand-alone singles from 2012/2013 that never found a home on an LP. Pharrell Williams plays Svengali here, teasing loose some honey: rave-up hootenanny ?Saw Lightning?, dazed lullaby ?Chemical,? gauzy lighter lifter ?Stratosphere.? Xeno only knows if the man means a word of this, but the record locks into a pure, Valium-flavored cotton-candy vibe; Hyperspace delivers, effortlessly, on what the cover to The Magic Whip, Blur ?s 2015 comeback album, promised. It?s a beautiful bummer, a decent way to lose
track of 39 minutes. And these days, shouldn?t that be enough? ? Raymond Cummings
Bon n ie Pr in ce Billy I Made a Place (Dr ag Cit y) Gr ade: A Made a Place is Bonnie Prince Billy at his best. Lilting American and plaintive remembrances, touched by his honeyed depressive voice, Will Oldham?s newest work remains ever-complicated, rife with nostalgic musings on life and what?s next. Even in the grip of today?s troubled world, with an apocalypse on the (distant?) horizon, he remains tethered, however loosely, to that silver thread keeping him (and us) afloat and looking towards a future. ?When all?s that left is sea and sun, a lonely voice says, ?all?s not done, it?s your child who will be the one, to sing, it?s far from over? ?? ? Angela Zimmerman
CFCF Night Bus 4: Memory of Night Bus (Self -Released) Gr ade: ? ? The Montrealer ?s legendary mixtape
series of emoshunal club music reaches its logical conclusion with a final transmission from beyond the grave. Do you like 90s neo-noir cinema, radio R&B, Sakamoto synths, and Young Thug? Maybe you?ll like Night Bus. So much more than a mixtape, CFCF (nĂŠ Michael Silver) reimagines the work of an insanely disparate collection of artists (from The Blue Nile to Bjork to Alexander O'Neal to Julia Holter to Quebecois rappers PNL) into a cohesive, affecting whole that mirrors the way we all use our favorite artists to deal with heartbreak. And though these aren?t his songs, he makes them his ? twisting them up, mashing them together, and adding new sounds to them that takes them to higher levels. The album peaks with a trio of stunning remixes (which are available as standalones on his BandCamp) from Young Thug, Rihanna, and the kind of ecstatic take on J-Lo?s immortal ?Waiting for Tonight? that I?ve been waiting my whole life for. This might be the last Night Bus, but I know that this ride will last forever. ? Daniel Alvarez
DIIV Deceiver (Capt u r ed Tr ack s) Gr ade: ADIIV turned out another record full of songs about addiction and recovery ? let?s hope this time frontman Zachary Cole Smith has committed to his sobriety. While lines like ?Sunken ceiling and a sideways grin / We lived to use and we used to live? are really good and powerful, it feels too weird to romanticize what all inspired this. Downtrodden and raw, Deceiver harkens back to the shoegaze meets alt-rock of the 90s, as DIIV do. Also it?s worth
mentioning that they either arranged or refined a number of these songs while on tour with Deafheaven, which may speak for the less zonked out, heavier riffs found on Deceiver. ? Jocelyn Hoppa
DJ Sh adow Our Pathetic Age (M ass Appeal Recor ds) Gr ade: B For those who got into Josh Davis? ethereal doom-style hip hop turntablism on Endtroducing. His newest release Our Pathetic Age pulls threads from that groundbreaking record and expands it for our current era (title and all). A double album that is separated into instrumentals and hip hop tracks with East Coast legends and Bay Area luminaries alike could be viewed as a cop-out to the uninitiated; but it gives the listener to choose their own adventure while maintaining sonic through lines. ? Amanda Scigaj
Elbow Giants of All Sizes (Polydor ) Gr ade: A You can hear why they never made it big in the States: from their prog-rock
derived, multi-layered arrangements to their British, Mancunian accent, Elbow often make challenging indie-rock music ? but they also deliver big ? this time on their emotionally topical eighth record, Giants of All Sizes. Single, "Dexter and Sinister " blazes with a hypnotic, off-kilter bass-line and drum groove set behind singer Guy Garvey's husky, warm tenor lamenting these "faith free, hope free, charity free days." Existential doubt rarely sounds so attractive. "Seven Veils," like their best songs, unfold in dark crescendos of spiked melody and grandeur, as Garvey's burnished voice slips into falsetto and wonder, riding the band's dissonant pulse. ? Greg Gaston
Flor al Tat t oo You Can Never Have a Long Enough Head Start (Self -Released) Gr ade: A ?I don't know if we were better then, all I know is that I felt better then,? cries Floral Tattoo singer Alex Anderson from under an avalanche of distorted power chords and crash symbols on penultimate track ?The Art of Moving On.? If You Can Never Have a Long Enough Head Start has a mission statement, it?s that. The suburban Seattle quintet digs incredibly deep into post-grad pain, tackling everything from opiate addiction to gender transition to scrubbing public bathrooms with unsettling, startling directness and honesty. I won?t sugarcoat it, lyrically this record is fucking bleak, but there?s so much light streaming in via its knotty and sticky guitar-lines, triumphant horns, and copious dreamy vocal melodies. For many, music is a release. For Floral Tattoo, it feels like a means for
survival. And long fucking live Floral Tattoo. ? Daniel Alvarez
Foxes In Fict ion Trillium Killer (Or ch id Tapes) Gr ade: B+ Though it was recorded in one of the most chaotic cities on earth, Warren Hildebrand?s new project is full of gorgeous moments of stillness. The Brooklyn resident is a master of crafting layered, lush arrangements that wash over his soft, sweet voice and languid vocal melodies. And though it sounds soothing, this is far from just mood music with lyrical turbulence and tension rife throughout the project. His music will always probably be too subtle to really break through, but if you?re paying attention, you?ll find that his albums always hit their mark. ? Daniel Alvarez
Kim Gor don No Home Record (M at ador ) Gr ade: C+ Far be it from me to take a piss on anything Kim Gordon does. She?s a hell of a lot cooler than I could ever hope to
be. It?s just that I?ll never (ever) listen to this record in daily life ? it?s erratic and pretty damn grating overall. Maybe that?s just the industrial vibe she?s currently riding on, and I would not be in any place to fault her for that. I like her for that. But generally, those are some sounds I?m trying to get away from ? at home or in the office. Performed live in an art gallery or something of a similar ilk? Yes, I?d go for that. ? Jocelyn Hoppa
M ar k Lan egan Somebody?s Knocking (Heaven ly) Gr ade: AFor an artist who?d had so many projects, worked with so many other musicians, explored so many genres of music (soul, gospel, goth, grunge, blues, rock, psychedelic), and who?s been a vital part of the music scene since 1984, Mark Lanegan still never fails to tell it straight, tell it in his own way, in his own words, in a voice that forces you to stop and just fucking listen. In his 11th studio album, Somebody?s Knocking, his gruff vocals, sowed by his thoughts on a divided America and dismal state of the world, have such a blistering gravity to them, even as they dance along a myriad of different beats, tempos, and orchestration. He notably taps into the steely percussion of electronic music, which he says he?s loved ?since he was a kid? and is the bulk of what he listens to now. Anywhere he decides to go, I?m along for the ride. ? Angela Zimmerman
Nick Cave an d t h e Bad Seeds Ghosteen (Gh ost een Lt d.) Gr ade: ABy necessity messy and sometimes flat-footed, Ghosteen constantly rises upward from clumsy humanity towards emotive, religious transcendence. F ollowing Skeleton Tree and the death of his son, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have pivoted even further into hypnotic atmosphere. Songs like ?Hollywood? and ?Waiting for You? exist in a strange pagan space; love and sorrow spread themselves over lyrics fragmented by the weight they carry. The synthesizers are paired with eerie harmonies as well as strings to create a Blakean, mystic music. What an extraordinary, flawed record. ? C.M. Crockford
Obsequ iae The Palms of Sorrowed Kings (20 Bu ck Spin ) Gr ade: B Besides (arguably) a snow-covered forest, there is simply no better place to listen to metal than a castle. For that
reason, it?s a bit of a shocker that it?s taken this long for a band to develop a genre called ?castle metal,? but this Minneapolis malevolents are here to do just that. Led by singer/songwriter Tanner Anderson, Obsequiae boast a tuneful, tenacious sound that feels like it could have fallen off the back of a Century Media compilation from the mid-90s. Anderson is equipped with what feels like a bottomless sack of jagged, triumphant riffs that beautifully compliment his frigid howl and Andrew Della Cagna?s pounding drums. Though the five harp pieces are pretty, they feel a bit disconnected from the rest of the ferocity, and it?d be fascinating to see what they?d sound like more intertwined with their core sound. Maybe something for a future crusade? ? Daniel Alvarez
Tin der st ick s No Treasure But Hope Lu ck y Dog/ Cit y Slan g) Gr ade: B+ Tindersticks turn out another fine melancholy record with the same unhurried, sensual, warm, orchestral overtones they are known and loved for. No Treasure But Hope shows Stuart A. Staples vampiric baritone is in fine form, delivering introspective lyrics amongst beautiful instrumentation. This is a band with 12 records now that all stand together as a testament to the dedication they have for their musical craft ? something no other band has really dared to mimic. ? Jocelyn Hoppa
Beethoven indeed). Spacious and mellow, Wilco proves they are still able to rise above their own conformity, which I guess has always been the key to their beat. Repeat listens, in whichever scenario, whatever setting, never fails to reward those who take the space to do it. ? Angela Zimmerman
Vet iver Up on High (M am a Bir d Recor din g Co.) Gr ade: A Up on High harkens back to Vetiver ?s early days, with concise, simpler sounds, stripped down acoustic folky fingerpickin? and sweet, lighthearted vocal melodies. Though they?ve done it all before, they?ve never done it better ? maybe their best record to date. ? Jocelyn Hoppa
Wilco Ode to Joy (dBpm Recor ds) Gr ade: AOde to Joy delivers what I?ve long thirsted for from Wilco. Jeff Tweedy has remained so prolific over the years, churning out endless albums and projects and tours, but I became too distracted to listen with any great intensity, preferring to devour their earliest stuff over and over. Ode to Joy makes me want to go back and dive deep into the last few studio records I?ve mostly ignored. Despite Tweedy?s voice and melodies being such a driving force of the band, Ode to Joy succeeds in its quiet, seasoned orchestration (ode to
Wolf Par ade Thin Mind (Su b Pop) Gr ade: B The latest incarnation of Wolf Parade ? now sans multi-instrumentalist Dante DeCaro, who left the band early last year ? upholds their signature indie rock sound, only now as a trio. As always, guitarist Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug?s keyboards each stake their territory on the record, which ranges from mad-dash and frenetic to haunting and grand, with drummer Arlen Thompson perfectly complementing both ends of their tonal arrangements. Thin Mind lacks that urgency that defined their earlier work. The album is, in fact, about our diminishing focus in this era of screen time over-saturation. It?s a shame that?s where we?re at, but if there?s anything Wolf Parade has perfectly captured over the years it?s our collective reaction to a moment in time. ? Angela Zimmerman
See ya again t his Spr ing!
This is a 100% ad-free quarterly digital magazine with real pagination and design that only stands to bring to life the words found within....
Published on Feb 10, 2020
This is a 100% ad-free quarterly digital magazine with real pagination and design that only stands to bring to life the words found within....