Archive | February 2014

(New Album Review) Peter Hammill & Gary Lucas- Other World

The release I was most hyped for this year, by far, was Other World,  a joint collaboration between two artists I have greatly admired for many years, Peter Hammill, best known as a founder of the art rock group Van Der Graaf Generator, and guitarist Gary Lucas, best known as the collaborator and friend of the late Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart). I’m not sure if this release will grow on me more or become one of my favorites of the year, but it is a challenging and at times elegantly beautiful album, certainly a fine release that will likely get very little recognition despite deserving it.

Along with John Cale, Peter Hammill was one of the cult artists who sparked my obsession with music, one of the personalities in rock music who I have related to strongly, at times. With his uniquely beautiful voice, literate lyrics, and strong sense for finding beauty in chaos and the absurd, I took to his music like a fire to a house: Van Der Graaf Generator’s Pawn Hearts was one of my favorite albums when I was a young kid, a visceral and at times profound masterpiece of art rock. I think that Hammill is a very original, inspiring, and honest artist, and, as a writer myself, perhaps part of what has attracted me to his music is the high quality of much of his writing, though it can be perhaps a bit too po-faced and dramatic for some, I can understand. In any case, he has always been something of a cult artist, admired by folks like Nick Cave and Thom Yorke enough, sure, but willfully avoiding anything more than modest success himself.

This has not changed the fact that he has had an absolutely staggering work ethic for the whole of his career, with almost forty solo studio albums to his name by now, nine of which were released between 2000 and the present. Compare this to the output of his friend and contemporary Peter Gabriel, who has been in the business for the same period of time and has more or less retired from recording new music– how long has it been since Gabriel put out an album of new songs? Over a decade.

The unfortunate reality, however, is that most of Hammill’s solo albums in recent memory have been somewhat disappointing to me, as a fan. For a while, the last album of his that I really enjoyed from start to finish was 2001’s Unsung, a set of instrumentals that I quite liked. The last album to even approach the greatness of his seventies output was probably Fireships from 1992. Part of the reason why Hammill’s recent work has left me cold might be on account of the fact that he has chosen to record virtually all of his recent albums completely on his own, playing all the instruments and then giving performances on solo piano when touring. Honestly, it’s good to have the input of other people when you’re making music. This is part of what makes Other World such a breath of fresh air.

Gary Lucas is a highly talented guitarist and fusion-music strategist who I have a lot of respect for; his albums with Beefheart are honestly some of my favorites, particularly Ice Cream for Crow, and I remember enjoying another of his called Gods and Monsters, which I listened to because I thought it had a cool cover. Since Gary Lucas is apparently a fan of Hammill’s in his own right, and was after all able to work for years with the notoriously difficult Van Vliet, who better to collaborate with Hammill, a guy with an uncomprising vision who has literally worked by himself on all his albums for the past ten years? Lucas and Hammill are definitely on the same wavelength and it shows on this new work.

Part of what I like about Other World is that you can tell that it is not just Hammill singing over tracks by Lucas. In fact, the most interesting moments on the album are arguably the instrumental pieces– take, for instance, the mysteriously beautiful, psych-tinged “Attar of Roses” and “Slippery Slope”. For the most part, Lucas provides the arpeggios, Hammill the ghostly textures. The album is, overall, very much in the spirit of Hammill’s work– the gripping dramatics in “Some kind of Fracas” (probably my favorite vocal track on the album), the bitterness of “This is Showbiz” and “The Kid”. Lucas, with his fusion-musican facilitator’s sensibility, really plays off Hammill’s musically-sinister, lyrically-symbolist vision well in a way that others might not know how to.

My only complaint? I feel sometimes as though Hammill needs to abandon this trend of multi-tracking his voice. On earlier albums, like Chameleon in the Shadow of the Night, it added an interesting freakiness and drama to the production. Hammill’s voice has not exactly left him over the years (which is basically what happened to Scott Walker), but it has wizened and softened a little in a way that’s interesting. I would almost prefer to hear his unadorned voice– it has a vulnerable quality now that I like, though it is certainly different from how it sounded on his earlier work.

Overall, this is an interesting album that deserves more acknowledgement. If you’re a fan of art rock, space rock, or avant garde music, check it out as soon as you can.

Meanwhile, Elsewhere…: Suzanne Lizard, Very Rare Artifacts, Consumer, Gangster Computer God @ Slabtown 2/20/2014

Last Thursday at Slabtown was a fantastic opportunity to catch some of Portland’s most interesting talents in Noise music. I was excited to support my new buddy Kieran, performing as Very Rare Artifacts, who I wrote about previously here.

The first act up was the three-piece Suzanne Lizard, making one of their first performances. Suzanne Lizard were brutal and over-the-top, very much in the styles of noise rock and punk while utilizing the tools of harsh noise. This was a really good debut performance– they seemed to be having a lot of fun throwing and receiving energy off of each other and I wish them luck! I hope to see them again sometime soon.

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Very Rare Artifacts was up next. So far, I have seen Artifacts (Kieran McKeon) twice, and he is very impressive for an emerging artist. His set on this night was mostly not-rhythmic and tended towards drones. The tones are exceptionally beautiful, curtains of just-harsh-enough laptop noise that overlap and decay seamlessly. I also really enjoy the samples of various recordings of speeches that Kieran brings into mix. Another night of beautiful noise from Very Rare Artifacts, wish he had a page I could direct you to.

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I have heard for a long time about Consumer, and this was another reason why I was very curious about this show. Consumer did not disappoint; I thought this guy was phenomenal. How could I have avoided him for so long? I guess I didn’t feel the impulse to go to shows like this in the past.

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Consumer (musician Matt Palenske) could be described as a one-man hip-hop-influenced-funk-metal band. He’s this relatively short, polite guy, he sits down in his chair in front of his equipment, and you think that the act is going to be him calmly sitting there, making little adjustments to a wall of noise, but this couldn’t be further from what you get. He’s all jerky-movements, bobbing up and down and flaying his limbs around frantically as he roars and yells into the mic. Consumer’s music is rhythmic and aggressive– harsh but seemingly drawing on hip hop beats and vocal stylings from death metal, with Palenske frequently changing the tempo and improvising modulations to the tones his equipment produces. He’s quick on his feet, nimble with this hands, and really something of a badass. Consumer is a must-see for fans of noise music.

Last up was Gangster Computer God for some enjoyably twisted EDM. The name said it all: Gangster Computer God was electronic dance music with a dark and aggressive edge. Another thing I noticed about Gangster was that he created harsh tones out of a fairly simple palette of samples. He didn’t go the route of trying to create a sense of nostalgia or dream, the textures were crude and violent. A very interesting finale to an interesting night.

It looks like there’ll be another “Meanwhile, Elsewhere…” at Slabtown in a month, so if you missed this installment, you’ll have another chance in March.

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Photos taken on a point-and-shoot by me.

R. Stevie Moore @ Doug Fir Lounge 2/17/2014 (with The Memories)

R. Stevie Moore returned to Oregon Monday night– in a city full of music geeks, he couldn’t be more welcome. I am not necessarily a diehard RSM fan, but what I can say for sure is that if you like pop music, you can’t dislike R. Stevie Moore—I mean, you can, but you shouldn’t. And even if you don’t really like pop music, I’m not so sure that it makes sense to dislike him in that case either. I’ll explain what I mean by this in a second.
Like Kimono My House and John Maus’s We Must Become the Pitiless Sensors of Ourselves, Phonography is an album with a special place in the pop-music legacy: it’s pop but it’s not really pop, it’s an outlier of some sort. It’s one of rare records with at least five insanely catchy songs that seems to be somewhat self-consciously reflecting upon pop music itself. RSM isn’t particularly well-known, but I think that, in a way, he is getting a lot more recognition these days, perhaps in part because, with Maus, Geneva Jacuzzi, and Ariel Pink attaining a moderate degree of success, we are seeing a revival of this esoteric weirdo-pop. It’s a bit like what happened when Beck gave a respectful nod to Gary Wilson on “Where It’s At” (the line “shave your face with mace in the dark” from “Loser” reminds me a little of Gary Wilson too, actually)—the arch-intellectual weirdness gets filtered down from someone else, and then more and more people get into it through second-hand exposure. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mac Demarco has taken a page or two from Moore—if you make “lo-fi” music, chances are RSM deserves your respect as a pioneer. And what a god-damned industrious pioneer he has been, with thousands upon thousands of songs that cover a pretty broad gamut of styles.

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Portland’s own The Memories opened for RSM. It’s funny, I mentioned The Memories in the post before this. I find this band to be pretty damn puzzling, but every time I’ve seen them, I’ve liked them. Their songs are exclusively about crushes, smoking pot, and getting naked. The vocalist, Erik Gage, often soundchecks with cheesy girly moaning noises and thrusts his pelvis a lot for some of their racier tunes. I will say also that he spoke about R. Stevie Moore in a tone of reverence, that opening for RSM was basically a dream come true. The Memories are a pretty good comedy band, and there is an almost touching sincerity to songs like “Higher”.

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RSM came onstage wearing Homer Simpson pajama pants, and I think that the first word out of his mouth was “Swag”. “Swag”, “Let me google that for you”, and “I’m Miley Cyrus” were continually bookended by “Shall we pray?” and “May I be excused?”. If he said a single word the entire night that wasn’t couched in cryptic irony, I didn’t catch it. Of course, there is a sincerity underlying using that much irony, I think. There’s candor to just getting up on stage and talking about the stuff that we are all thinking about anyway, the stuff that we are to some extent trying to get away from with a night of rock. RSM just aired it out and made it a part of the obtuse poetry that he both recited for the “intermission” and seemed to be improvising out of his on-stage “banter”. At 61 years old, he’s pretty damn sharp.

The show was divided into three parts: a couple songs with the band; an intermission in which RSM recited poetry, played drums, and goofed around on the keyboard; and then a few more songs with the band. The show ended with RSM dumping his squealing guitar at his feet and walking off after saying a brief thank you. There was no encore, but no one was complaining.

Very few people can boast to having a grip on the whole craft of making catchy four-minute songs that’s as nonchalantly sophisticated as Moore’s. Because, in spite of all the goofball posturing, true fans of RSM know why we’ve looked into his music and admired him: we were looking for something more sincere and fun than what’s considered to be conventionally cool and in RSM we found it. The version of “Play Myself Some Music” in particular was impressive—the band was polished and clean-sounding. I’ll have to dive deeper in Moore’s vast discography in the future. This old guy is awesome, and it’s clear that he’s still a kid at heart.

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Photos taken on a point-and-shoot by me (I didn’t have time to enlist the help of a photographer).

Fundraiser: Surfs Drugs, Andrew Endres Collective, and The We Shared Milk@ The Firkin Tavern 2/13/2014

The Thursday before Valentine’s day, I went out to the Firkin Tavern to see my friends The We Shared Milk and a jazz band that I was very curious about, Andrew Endres Collective. It’s a trek I’ve made many a time.
There’s just something about this relatively small, darkened bar with a tiny patio that grows on you. That Thursday The Firkin hosted a fundraising show for our friends at Pals Clubhouse. For the past three years, Pals has hosted a free music festival in the summer. They’ve been really fun, but they’ve been costly: there are permits that need to be purchased, and so on. Here’s hoping that last Thursday’s fundraiser will have made this year’s festival a little less stressful!

The first band up was the very weird Surfs Drugs. I have no idea what these guys’ deal was, but they had sort of an interesting aesthetic. Two depressed-looking guys made odd jokes that no one got, scratched on their guitars while one of them mumbled and yelled into the mic, and introduced every song as “Hashtag Kim Kardashian”. One of them started the set wearing a dog mask and occasionally brandished a trumpet during the set.
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Despite not being able to make out any of their lyrics, I felt that these guys had some charm– like a twisted comedy band jocking the blurry aesthetic of neo-psych. I’ll look out for them in the future; they cracked me up in a way that reminded me of The Memories, another really strange Portland band.

What stranger way to follow up this band than with a polished, highly satisfying (and also very polite) jazz band: Andrew Endres Collective!

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I got a lot of pleasure out of this set of forty or so minutes of laid back jazz fusion. It may come off the wrong way to use the word “mellow” but this band was pretty satisfying, with a free-wheeling, bubbly sound married perfectly to considerable technical expertise. The high point of the set for me came in the middle– with the band venturing into some of the vaguely Eastern spaces of quiet-Electric-jazz for one piece. Guitarist Andrew Endres messed around with a soft, plaintive tone on his guitar pedals for a minute or two, then the rest of the band slowly glided in. This was a set of impressive musicianship and humbleness and I will definitely check them out again in the future. Here’s their bandcamp.

The headliners of the show were my friends in The We Shared Milk. It had been something like a few months since I’d seen them play, and I guess I picked the right time to drop in on them, because they were in top form on this night.

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Over the years, The We Shared Milk have built up a loyal following. I can honestly say they’re one of the best live rock acts in Portland. It’s just fun to go out and see them play. And they play quite a lot– at a rate of something like at least two to three times a week, for just about every week for the past two years. The We Shared Milk have a very distinctive, deliberately hybridized sound– drummer Eric Ambrosius likes math rock and the overarching influence of psychedelic rock and grunge comes through in guitarist/vocalist Boone Howard’s lyrics. The We Shared Milk can get the whole room dancing with thrashing, insistent rock that sounds a little fast, a little psychedelic, a little grungey, all the things that people would want from a rock band, really. When Ambrosius, Howard, and bassist Travis Leipzig get cooking, they show an uncommon passion– Ambrosius in particular hammers away like a madman as they careen through a sonic rollercoaster of post-grunge jamming. Here’s a link to their bandcamp; show them some love, as they’ve given away their albums completely FOR FREE in the past and have played countless free shows in addition to opening for big names and touring the East Coast.

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Yeah, I don’t know what’s going on here…

That’s all for today, and remember: support local music!

Photos taken on a point-and-shoot by me.

Oneohtrix Point Never @ the Doug Fir Lounge 2/5/2014 (with Dawn of Midi)

Last Wednesday, the Doug Fir was packed to the gills for electronic music luminary Daniel Lopatin, aka Oneohtrix Point Never. He was joined onstage by visual artist Nate Boyce. This show was a strange and highly entertaining experience– and it  actually significantly changed my perception of Lopatin’s music.

Dawn of Midi, a three piece acoustic jazz group of bassist Aakaash Israni, pianist Amino Belyamani, and drummer Qasim Naqvi, opened the show memorably. This was the Brooklyn-based group’s first time performing in Portland, in fact! Though they bear some superificial similarities to Australia’s The Necks (whose fine albums OpenAquatic, and Sex you have hopefully had time to check out), they have an utterly unique sound. One could describe Dawn of Midi’s music as being fractured, percussive, almost hobbling. Belyamani is perhaps the most unique figure in this strange and captivating musical unit– he stabs repetitively and doesn’t expend energy on pretty (or even unpretty) flourishes. Basically, he turns his piano into a hand drum.

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Dawn of Midi sounds a bit like a a jazz band made up of creaking floorboards, a pail underneath a leak, and a purring cat. I mean this as close to literally as I can. I feel as though I’ve used the stylistic label of “minimalism” many times already in this journal, perhaps because much of the music I like falls under this label. Yet Dawn of Midi takes minimalism to a fairly extreme level.  The music is angular and repetitive, hard without being harsh. There was something oddly meditative about their (usually medium-length) pieces which built very slowly, adding seemingly one note at a time over the span of many bars. Though it felt as though their set was essentially just one piece divided into several different medium-length parts, this band piqued my curiosity and had sort of an eerie, meditative presence. I recommend looking into them– here’s their Bandcamp.

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Over the years, Daniel Lopatin’s music has gotten progressively more and more strange, ambitious, and challenging. His earlier work (which I honestly prefer) often had more of a drone structure and was noticeably influenced by Boards of Canada. I remember being awed by his hugely underrated 2009 album Russian Mind, which saw him very much in this earlier mode. Around 2010 though, his music began to tend towards glitchy computerized art music, with deliberately artificial-sounding choral MIDI presets dominating his sound. Ever since 2011’s Replica, Oneohtrix Point Never frequently gives the impression of someone recording extremely deliberately-synthetic-sounding music on digital synthesizer from the 80s. It’s strange, but fascinating.

While I will admit that I was not particularly impressed with his latest Onehotrix installment, R Plus Seven, I must say that I respect Lopatin and think that he is brave as hell for attempting to make a form of unique art music for the computer generation. This show really drove the point of Oneohtrix Point Never home for me, in part because of the beautiful and highly original collaborative visual projections of Nate Boyce. On the screen behind the two artists, strange disembodied 3d figures, often looking like limbs and machinery, pulsed and gyrated unnaturally amidst flickering oceans of digital liquid. Something about the combination of the visual art and the music reminded me, for some inexplicable reason, of early teen memories of playing weird immersive video games like Timelapse and Myst. Lopatin’s music owes a little bit to electronic dance music and to some modern art music, but what’s interesting about it is that it takes the digital world as its object. There’s more or less a complete detachment from the physical world in albums like R Plus Seven, Replica, and Chuck Person’s Eccojams Vol. 1.

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In the sold-out dark lounge, we all stood in awe. Visually, this show was enormously entertaining, yet the spectacle was also thought-provoking. The oddly profound depths of the computerized imagery held me in thrall, and gave a new context to decent pieces like “Still Life” and “Boring Angel”. And Lopatin didn’t just hit play: he messed around on his laptop with the samples and themes he used on R Plus Seven, creating more or less unique versions of these pieces. I can basically get what Lopatin and Boyce are going for, and I think that Lopatin completely deserves the acclaim that he’s getting as an intrepid explorer of the possibilities of electronic music. Now, if he could bring back the magic and unique beauty of old Oneohtrix Point Never, and tie that in with his other meta-art ambitions, that’d really satisfy me. This show was weird, and interesting, and I think I’ll come back for more the next time Lopatin is in town.

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Photo Credits (top to bottom):
Yousef Hatlani 1, 4, 5
Sean Bradford 2, 3