I meant to write about this in my recent percolations
, but I forgot. So I've basically come to the conclusion that Raymond Scott (writer of silly jazz, cartoon music, and early experimental electronic music) may have inadvertently invented dub about 15 years early. If you take the first track from his second Soothing Sounds for Baby
and slow it down to 3/4s the original speed, you'll hear something that's not that far removed from dub. Add a little bit of reverb and boost the bass and you're even closer. And then play all the Soothing Sounds for Baby
discs for you kids and be the coolest parent ever.
The Brave and the Bold
So it's been almost three months since I posted
about the Tortoise/Bonnie "Prince" Billy collaboration, and in that time it was finally released on Chicago's fine Overcoat
label. I, of course, got it as soon as it was released and listened to it pretty much non-stop for a few days. My intital reaction is that whoever decided it was a good idea to use the unacquitably horrible Umbra
font for the album text should be immediately fired from all future layout activities. The rest of the packaging is nicely minimal, but that godawful Umbra makes me want to gouge my eyeballs out. But enough on typography, on to the music itself.
I've never spend enough time with either Tortoise (once upon a time I had a copy of Millions Now Living Will Never Die
, but it got lost years ago) or the various Will Oldham incarnations (a deficiency I plan on rectifying in 2006), so I can't really comment that much on either's back story and how this album fits in in either's voluminous catalog. What I do know is that The Brave and the Bold
is remarkably hit or miss; the good songs are fantastic, and the bad songs are ponderous at best, and the album vacillates between the two basically every other song. In short, the odd numbers win by a long shot. All of the even numbered songs are langorous, lugubrious, viscous masses of sound that display all the pretensions of Tortoise's post-rock roots. "Thunder Road" is an especially curious, recasting the song as an ominous, imposing dirge, with Oldham's vocals sounding especially pained. Very bizarre. But the even numbered tunes (Milton Nasciamento's "Cravo e Canela," the Minutemen's "It's Expected I'm Gone," Lungfish's "Love is Love," Devo's "That's Pep!" and Richard Thompson's "Cavalry Cross") each show a different side of this pairing. "Cavalry Cross" is essentially the opposite of "Thunder Road," a brittle, gorgeous version that doesn't try to clutter up the inherent beauty of the original. It's probably also worth noting that Oldham sounds very similar to recent Thurston Moore on this track. I've talked about "That's Pep" already, and it continues to be my favorite song of the minute. "It's Expected I'm Gone" is very much in the same vein as "That's Pep," a straight up rocker that has enough space for Tortoise to imbue it with their own signature.
This album proves one thing to me: that Tortoise would make on hell of a rock band. Forget this post-rock bullshit; give them a regular vocalist and they would make the best backing band in the world, provided they don't get bogged down in overly complicated structures or ideas. They're incredible musicians with a great conception of how to manufacture aural spaces (perhaps that's why they float above the rest of the post-rock they spawned), even within the confines of someone else's songs.
A pair of ideas that have been bounding around my head in recent times:
-I saw MF Doom about a month and a half ago. The show itself was good enough, but he had a few sidekicks who claimed to be part of the "Megavillain Academy" or something like that. Their rapping was nothing special, not great but not horrible, but I like the concept of a "Megavillain Academy." I imagine it as a rough opposite to, say, Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, turning out archvillains who not only have incredible powers, but can also put together words in their own unique way. I imagine Dr Octagon and Ghostface Killer would be godfather figures, the kind of elder statesmen who would serve as a guiding force along with MF Doom himself.
-There is a concept in human speech and sound creation known as the vowel box. The basic effect is that you keep a steady pitch going in your throat and change the shape of the opening of your mouth to create all the different vowel sounds. It works because of the acoustic nature of speech, with most consonants (with the exceptions of the nasals) being unpitched, modulated noise and all vowels being pitched. Stockhausen uses the vowel box as the basis for his masterpiece Stimmung
, combining it with the overtone series and various deities from around the world to create what can only be described as an aural depiction of the meditative "om." However, certain consonants, specifically w and y, are actually combinations of vowel sounds; w goes from the puckered "oo" to the open "uh." In the process of opening your mouth in that transition, you create an entire overtone series from whatever pitch you're basing the w on. It's a strange phenomenon, but when you listen closely, it's definitely there.
2005: New Releases
The final edition of Traumatic Harmony's year end wrap-up. These albums represent only a fraction of what I heard and probably like, but they are the ones that have stuck around in my mind the longest (or entered in most recently). They are, once again, in no real order and include commentary for things not talked about in my Dusted year-end piece
.Sleater-Kinney - The WoodsEspers - The Weed Tree
While I'm more excited about their album that's coming out at some point in the next little while on Drag City
, this is a fantastic collection of covers and reinterpretations. Read my complete thoughts here
.Black Dice - Broken Ear Record
This album marks a return to form for this Brooklyn via Providence group. Beaches and Canyons
is possibly the best full-length to come out on DFA to date, combining the elements of hardcore with experimental ambient electronics. But their sophomore album, Creature Comforts
was a flabby, directionless muddle of sound, probably due in large part to the departure of drummer Hisham Bharoocha; his pounding gave Beaches and Canyons
it's dramatic arc. And while Broken Ear Record
is a good deal noisier and more experimental than Beaches
, it is just a compelling and orderly. They've figured out how to organize sound solely through electronic means, giving each song an irresistable logical flow.Venetian Snares - Rossz Csillag Alatt Szulettet
.Gang Gang Dance - God’s MoneyBoredoms - Seadrum/House of Sun
This may very well have come out in 2004, but it only found its way over here in any serious way in 2005. Yamatsuka Eye knows better than anyone how to make a monstrous groove that goes through many different sections while still keeping you interested. They've long since abandoned the noise of their early days, with this album sounding more like Can than the Butthole Surfers, and I can't help but get totally caught up in the tribal joy of each moment here. And I'm still pissed that I missed seeing them when they toured the States last summer.Evens - s/tLightning Bolt - Hypermagic Mountain
I just read a fantastic article/interview of these guys in the latest issue of Wire magazine. It turns out that their move towards the blistering metal that fills most of this album was completely intentional, an attempt at expanding their sound, filling out the mid-range of the audio spectrum, and generally confusing their listeners. I would expect nothing less from a pair of RISD graduates who are just as interested in quirky, subversive art as music. For my initial reaction to this album, read here
.High on Fire - Blessed Black Wings
Relapse continues to put out great metal for the non-metal set. Last year, it was Mastadon's ode to Herman Melville, this year it's High on Fire's homage to Motorhead and Venom. Steve Albini's crisp, heavy production captures HoF's full fury without ever sounding muddy or out of control. Akron/Family - s/tPsychic Paramount - Gamelan Into the Mink Supernatural
The other half of Laddio Bolocko continues very much in the vein of the quartet's original mission. The instrumentals here are monstrously heavy and deceptively hypnotic, sounding like Neu!'s amped up grandchild. Not to mention, they have possibly the best use of delay since the A Frame's "Abstract."Spires That in the Sunset Rise - Found Winds the WalkerKinski - Alpine StaticA Frames - Black Forest
While not as wonderfully robotic as 2
, this fuzzy chugger is still one of the best thing to come out on Sub Pop this year. And they managed to make the switch from S-S without in any way submitting to the tyranny of the Sub Pop "sound." Despite the fact that Sub Pop is probably more popular for the indie pop drek that everyone likes, I would almost consider it my favorite of the big indies on the virtue of its willingness to put out albums like this, Comets on Fire, Wolf Eyes, Kinski, etc.David S Ware - Live in the World
Three CDs of David S Ware's quartet documenting three concerts with three seperate (but equally awesome) drummers. Probably the best live document of jazz recorded in the past few years.Konono No. 1 - Congotronics
Ummm, simply put, wow. Hypnosis, meet your maker. Not seeing them when they toured almost hurts more than not seeing the Boredoms.Keith Fullerton Whitman - MultiplesDanger Doom - The Mouse and the MaskLungfish - Feral Hymns
My friend Art once wrote that listening to Lungfish is like going to church, and for the longest time I didn't quite get it. Then I picked up Love is Love
, their 2003 masterpiece. While Feral Hymns
pales a bit in comparrison to its amazing predecessor, its still a quality release, capturing a mood better than a lot of albums to come out this year. And its monolithic quality is no weakness; it only furthers the strange vision of main man Daniel Higgs.The Fall - Fall Heads Roll
If listening to Lungfish is like going to church, listening to the Fall is like going to work every day; occasionally amazing, often kinda average, sometimes pretty shitty. This is one of those amazing days, perhaps even better than The New Real Fall LP
. I almost didn't get a chance to listen to this record, but I'm very glad I did. After one listen, I was unconvinced, but at the second, it completely made sense. Not only has Mark E Smith finally gotten rid of a lot of the gnarly electronics that hurt so many of his 90s albums, but his current backing band is probably his most rocking since the early 80s, probably because none of them have really listened to the Fall before, so they're all willing to submit themselves to MES's twisted vision of the world.The Gris Gris - For the Season
The more I hear from Greg Ashley, the more I like of it. This is even more ramshackle than the last Gris Gris album and even more in debt to the 13th Floor Elevators and Syd Barrett. Look for a review of this from me in Dusted in the near future.