April 1, 2012
This month's installment starts wandering through yet more examples of the experimental americana/traditional genre, staggers through some heavy psych, and ends up floating off through the inner/outer space of mantric drone. My apologies in advance for so many AMG quotes in the text, but I'm wearying of inventing new descriptions when somebody else can do it for me.
Directions In Music is a supergroup of sorts, featuring, according to the Allmusic Guide, "bassist Bundy K. Brown (an alumnus of Gastr del Sol and Tortoise), drummer Doug Scharin (also of H.I.M., Rex and June of '44) and guitarist James Warden (a member of 40k)", that takes the post rock aesthetic and expresses it in a very organic, symbiotic improvisational way. I'm not sure exactly why, since it doesn't really have elements of country western or bluegrass to it, but it nonetheless feels like true American music. Again quoting the AMG, because they're mostly credible on these things, if not the go-to source they were hoping to be (I can say that - I used to write for them - see the sideline on the right of this page), "experimental acoustic duo Human Bell began in 1999 when Dave Heumann, leader of Arbouretum, and Nathan Bell, bassist for Lungfish, began playing music together." So it's a pun on their names! Get it? But I dig 'em for pretty much the same reasons as I dig Directions In Music - something very geographic about their music. Sconnie multi-instrumentalist Michael Jantz (banjo, guitar, field recordings, electronics) records as Black Eagle Child and his meandering pastoral instrumentals conjure idyllic childhoods of running through misty forests and burbling creeks. And minimalist Texan duo Tom and Christina Carter have a very prolific catalog as Charalambides, a minimalist and mystifying body of work that are all somewhat variations on a theme, but it's a theme that has myriad captivating forms. The very definition of freak folk.
Fellow Chicagoans and Thrill Jockey alumni along with Directions in Music, Califone bring swampy blues and country twang to post rock experimentation. And if you have a hard time telling the difference between them and Red Red Meat, that's because they're basically the same band, fronted by intrepid leader Tim Rutilli. Drawing on anglo saxon folk but definitely NOT American, Aussie trio Dirty Three (violinist Warren Ellis, guitarist Mick Turner and drummer Jim White) paint elaborate instrumental soundscapes and storming sea chanties, often exploiting a slow build formula that starts in tentative noodling and closes in furious crescendo. It doesn't hurt that their other gig is as three of The Bad Seeds backing Nick Cave. And experimental extemporaneous desert (aka "stoner") rockers, the three brothers, actually from rural Blue Ridge Virginia, of Pontiak explore the vast expanse of the American southwest as envisioned by peyote-tripping biker gangs.
What to say about the controlled chaos of splattercore freaks U.S. Maple that I haven't already? Their deceptively disjointed everybody-play-whatever-at-once cacophony must be actually tightly scripted - they'd have to be or they'd fall apart (along the lines of Beefheart, Polvo, Thinking Fellers, etc.). I keep imagining them as fitting into loosely into the americana genre but then when I spend some time listening to them I realize it's probably only their name that makes me think that (U.S. for obvious reasons, maple for the neck of an all-American Fender guitar neck?). But as such they make a nice transition here. The hypnotic maxi-minimalist pysch of the Roky-Erickson-meets-Phil-Spector-in-a-60s-exploitation-flick Brits in Clinic has strangely never appeared on the SRC before. Problem solved. Velvets-y garage psychsters Royal Baths, strangely, had to move from the very fruitful SF psychedelic scene to find some NYC grit and produce this Bo Diddlyesque stomp from their very enjoyable second album. Their fellow New Yawk scenesters, the hypno-groovers Psychic Ills have cultivated a sound derived directly from their heady lineage. And how about another track from one of my favorite discoveries of late, spacerocking postpunks The Men? This one emphasizing the Spacemen 3 guitar and motorik rhythm fetishes lurking within the heart this noisy beast.
A side project from half of Portland's Grails (featured many a time here on the SRC - hello Emil!), Lilacs & Champagne explore the members' obscure listening habits, ranging from Turkish psych of the 60s to German film soundtracks of the 70s, from the craziest kitsch to the headspinningest mindfucks, all tied together with sampled beats that wouldn't sound out of place on a D.J. Shadow joint. Speaking of Germans, the O.G. kraut-tronic duo Cluster are obviously one of the previous-mentioned's influences, so a track from them follows. Continuing in this quasi-electronic vein, the cheeky J-pop-tronic kitsch of sadly defunct punky lo-fi SF weirdos ICU (aka IQU), were one helluva fun live act to see - I caught an in-store at the Haight Street Amoeba Records back in the mid 90s - and they will be missed. Again, to quote the AMG (am I getting lazy?): "(with) standup bass, analog organ, oscillators, turntables, drum loops, samples, theremin and guitar... ICU (pronounced ee-koo) lays down its eerie hybrid in the twilight zone between DIY rock's raw edginess and drum'n'bass's trance-inducing netherworld. It's Squarepusher meets Charlie Mingus at King Tubby's studio." And Italian electro-acoustic outfit Port-Royal create swooning instrumentals with standard instruments and mostly analog synths, landing halfway between M83 and Mogwai. Still being lazy (after all, these are pretty obscure artists), the AMG sez "The Azusa Plane was the experimental drone rock alias of guitarist Jason DiEmilio, begun in 1995." Pretty out there and just plain pretty, his guitar work, augmented by a few samples and some multi-tracking, is the very definition of space rock, without the rock, perhaps, and his frequent Terrastock appearances attest to that.
So, I know I've always attempted to never repeat the same artist in any given playlist (unless it happens to be two tracks that blend into one another but are digitally separate mp3s), but here's where I make an exception: a BONUS TRACK from Charalambides! Since the previous track showcased Tom Carter's heady guitar improvisation, and fit nicely with the americana section, here I include a more drone-oriented track better highlighting Christina Carter's heavenly vocalizing, and embellished by Reichian guitar phasing . Because of their extensive catalog and the fact that I've only included them twice before, I believe Charalambides deserve a double play, don't you?
The former rhythm section for Galaxie 500 (who themselves have been done a disservice by not being included on any SRC playlist, hopefully soon to be rectified), guitarist Carl Hultgren and bassist Windy Weber have taken the subtle route of droney, mantric space jams as, simply, Windy & Carl (see the Terrastock link above - they're always favorites there). And to round out this theme we have the majesty of Mountains, "experimental ambient duo (who gather) comparisons to Fennesz, Brian Eno, and Popol Vuh... an ethereal hybrid of electronic and acoustic instrumentation recorded in real time with a small handful of overdubs" (AMG again - I'm running out of adjectives. G'night!).
For you traditionalists who don't mind streaming from this site, the following tracks should appear in the first player below:
The Spacerock Continuum Theme - bRambles
Untitled #1 - Directions In Music - s/t
A Change In Fortunes - Human Bell - s/t
The Quarry Slide - Black Eagle Child - Lobelia
Take The Pointing Finger For The Moon - Charalambides - Our Bed Is Green
Trout Silk - Califone - Roomsound
Rosewood, Stax, Volts & Glitter - Red Red Meat - Bunny Gets Paid
Dirty Equation - Dirty Three - s/t
Shell Skull - Pontiak - Sun On Sun
The State Is Bad - U.S. Maple - Long Hair In Three Stages
Gideon - Clinic - Visitations
Burned - Royal Baths - Better Luck Next Life
I'll Follow You Through The Floor - Psychic Ills - Hazed Dream
Oscillation - The Men - Open Your Heart
Everywhere, Everyone - Lilacs & Champagne - s/t
Halwa - Cluster - Sowiesoso
Aluet - ICU - Chotto Matte A Moment!
Spetsnaz - Port-Royal - Flares
Beyond Infinite - The Azusa Plane - Where The Sands Turn To Gold
Do You Believe? - Charalambides - Glowing Raw
Nature Of Memory - Windy & Carl - We Will Always Be
Choral - Mountains - Choral
But don't forget, you also have the option of spacerock to go:
1. Click on the Divshare logo instead of pushing the play button in the player above.
2. Click "download" when redirected to the Divshare site (put it on your desktop for easy access).
3. Once downloaded, drag it to yer iTunes and sync it with yer pod - simple!